Sunday, November 9, 2014

This Secret Will Self Destruct in 10 Seconds



Secret-keeping, or the inability thereof, is common fodder for sitcom scenarios. One character has something they’re dying to tell, but their best friend/sister/crotchety grandmother is notorious for being unable to keep it to themselves. As the scene unfolds, character #1 invariably tells the juicy tidbit to character #2 and hijinks ensue. 

On an episode of Modern Family, Mitchell found out that his friend Brett had gotten calf implants but didn’t want anyone to know so he could make them believe he’d been working out. “Don’t tell anyone, especially Cam!” Brett admonished Mitchell. Cam is Mitchell’s partner, notorious for blabbing any secret. ("OK, well I didn't know that was my reputation. Maybe that's a secret people have been keeping from me.")  
After much prodding by Cam, Mitchell gives in and spills the beans about Brett’s legs. Cam immediately mass-texts all of their friends…giggle giggle, hijinks, apologies, end scene.

Similarly, every season of every incarnation of the Real Housewives franchise has seen at least one betrayal *dun dun DUN!* because someone violated a confidence. Watching the most recent reunion show, one woman tried to deflect blame off herself by inferring she didn’t have a choice in the matter. “YOU put me in a bad position by making me aware of this information” she told her cast-mate. In essence, she thought she couldn’t be blamed for perpetuating gossip simply because she was given the knowledge of it. Personal accountability be damned. Self control? Never heard of it.

Now, I understand that sometimes you hear things that make you go not only "Hmmm…" but flat out "Whoa!" It’s thrilling to hear something we perceive to be breaking news. We can feel a sense of power telling others what we know about someone else. 

Somewhere around my college years I realized that keeping secrets actually displays MORE power. I guess I’d been betrayed enough that I decided I didn’t want to be like the people who’d hurt me before. Through very concerted effort I kept a couple secrets that came my way. Shortly after seeing an episode of Seinfeld I half-jokingly told my roommate, “You can tell me. I’ll put it in the vault,” a reference to character Elaine’s euphemism for keeping a secret. Since I said I would, I kept my word. With time, I noticed people told me more secrets. It’s not something anyone really mentioned; no one ever told me that they noticed I don’t blab so therefore I was their go-to confession booth. But that’s what happened. 

Retelling secrets gives a short-time high, but keeping secrets earns long-time trust. 

Last evening an entertainment show did a story on everyday people who sell out celebrity secrets for a payout from paparazzi. A waitress might get 100 bucks to tip off a photographer about a starlet barfing in a nightclub. “They’re not my friend. I don’t owe them privacy,” said one club worker who wished to remain anonymous (I bet!). The same show interviewed a limousine driver who had seen his share of ill behavior by celebrities. “I could have sold her out,” he said about one young actress who passed out in the back seat of his vehicle after a night of partying. “But I didn’t. I drove her home. I carried her into her house and made sure she was safe.” And he never told who that was. And he has steady work as a nicely-paid private driver. He won't sell out a client just to make rent.

Again I say, telling secrets gives a short-time high (or payout), but keeping secrets earns long-time trust. 

The truth is, I still get the high from hearing a secret. If there wasn’t something juicy about them it wouldn’t be a big deal to keep quiet. For various reasons people sometimes need to tell their secrets. “Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets” said Swiss author Paul Tournier. Sharing them creates a connection with another person and can unburden the secret-holder. But I have learned to receive them, offer whatever support the confessor needs in that moment, and then lock the secret away in a mental safe deposit box. Processed and sealed up like the Ark of the Covenant was in the final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, deep in a vast warehouse with countless other sealed crates.

A confession from Postsecret.com
Consider the popularity of the website PostSecret. What began as one man's blog forum for people to mail in postcards with a single anonymous secret has grown into multiple published books and an ongoing nationwide speaking tour. Everyone has secrets. Sharing them, even anonymously is therapeutic and allows us to connect with others via our own fears and faults, regardless of whether we actually meet or speak in person.

But don’t mistake that personal connection as permission to do with the information as you wish. Instead, use it to strengthen a bond of human trust. Put it in the vault. At some point the secret may become irrelevant, but the fact that you kept it will not.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Eat, Play, Love

Our second dog trainer told us one day that, “You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need.” Ahh, philosophical dog trainer Mike, trying to calm me out of my frustrations with a knuckleheaded puppy. He meant well, but I wasn’t falling for his zen of dog training.

I’ve heard countless testimonies from people who’ve adopted rescue puppies like we did, who speak emotionally of how they thought they were rescuing a dog, but in actuality the dog rescued them. Sigh. It’s become the overused mantra of the rescue dog adopter.

Day 1. 
I haven’t bought into that philosophy. We clearly did all the rescuing. We saved our pup from a shady rescue organization that played dumb claimed ignorance of his Parvo disease. Another week in their “care” and he would have surely died. In turn, Milhouse saved US from having any money in the bank (Parvo treatment ain’t cheap). Did I need to go through that emotional and financial crisis?  I don’t think I did. I have been poor before and didn’t need a reminder. I have also been emotionally drained and taken advantage of by dishonest businesspeople; lessons still fresh in memory and not in need of reminders.

I also did not need the blood draws I incurred from puppy teeth, the resulting bruises, or the deep scratches. I am reminded of this everyday by the 3-inch permanent scar on my right shin from a sickle-like dew claw sustained in the midst of behavior training. The only thing that taught me was that I should wear thicker pants.

If my puppy was cosmically sent to me to teach me a great truth, or to save me from something, it has yet to be revealed.

But that’s fine. We did not adopt him because we thought the universe was trying to tell us something. We adopted a puppy to save him from being unduly euthanized, and we wanted an energetic exercise buddy. (Here’s a tip: always aim lower in the energy level you think you want.) Plus, we wanted a schmoopyface to cuddle up with. Ok, that was just me; I never had a pet growing up and I felt I was long overdue for one.  

Conquering the A-frame like a champ!
At almost two years old, Milhouse is allegedly a teenager *in dog years*. In reality he’s still a knuckleheaded puppy. He enjoys agility classes where he rocks the hurdles but hates the teeter-totter. He gets countless daily walks and has mastered double tennis ball soccer. He defies us daily, is sneaky as a weasel, and has covered my house in a permanent layer of dog hair. We have gone through 3 behavioral trainers, each with varying levels of success, but none of whom have earned testimonials of success from us. But no puppy is more loved and snuggled. He is my Englebert Schmooperdink, a nickname he clearly dislikes, as evidenced by his teenager-like groan every time I call him that.


He's a mama's boy at heart, but dad has a good lap, too.
I’m not going to wait for the universe to reveal to me a great truth through the eyes of my dog. Happiness is a warm puppy and all that. 
Sleep, eat, play; repeat.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Saving Time in a Picture Frame

Today was my mom’s 72nd birthday. I once again experienced a day that was a collision of life passing by meeting things staying exactly the same.

While I was there, her aunt Vonna called to wish her happy birthday. Her aunt…in whose wedding my mom had been flower girl. Before he died a few years ago, my mom’s uncle Fritz had always called her on her birthday, and now his wife Vonna carries on the tradition. I can remember being 8 years old and Uncle Fritz calling at 6 a.m. because he knew mom worked the early shift. So of course it made sense to get that phone call today.  

Mom still gets candles on her birthday cake.
My family has enjoyed extraordinary luck in terms of long lives. No one has died unexpectedly, no one has died young. Every parent, sibling, cousin, aunt, and uncle I’ve ever had is still living. My grandparents were into their 70s and 80s when they passed, as were the great aunts and uncles I knew. This is part of the reason things seem the same year after year. 


But this year my mom seemed a little older, though most people would agree she doesn’t look her age. She’s recovering from a recent car accident and isn’t moving around as well as she’d like. I couldn’t really hug her because of her injury. She’s fragile.

We spent part of the day going through closets. She’s been trying to pare down things in her house that are taking up space. I’ve written before about how much I enjoy going through my own closets and getting rid of non-essentials. My mantra has become Keep Only What You Use. I embrace this because I have hopes and dreams of moving to a new state, of keeping my baggage light, of not being weighed down by my stuff.

But I suspect my mom has a different view of thinning out their possessions. Her resistance to my attempts at getting rid of what I saw as just a few duplicate items and outdated decorative things seemed out of proportion to my pushing. She took multiple attempts and made various excuses to stop what we were doing, to delay it until another time. 

But there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do once you find them...

I believe everything she owns has a memory attached, and getting rid of anything feels like throwing away a part of her life, or her kids’ lives. I reassured her that she should not feel guilty for getting rid of something that was a gift, that we’re not keeping track. 

I have the best of intentions. I'm trying to make her life easier, to help unclutter some dark corners that might be weighing her down. I don't know where the line is between taking control and respecting a boundary, even if that boundary is purely sentimental. 


Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Headline Said These Are the Best of Times

A recent Buzzfeed list was 19 Reasons Your College Friends will be your Friends for Life. It was posted on Facebook by a grad school classmate who’s 15 years younger than me; much closer to college and more gullible likely to want to believe this headline. 

Before you call me cynical—which I totally am—I will admit that I have my moments of sentimentality and dedication to certain friends with whom I shared utterly humiliating situations between the ages of 18-24. But I don’t have a core circle of friends that has lasted for two decades as this list infers should have happened. Many of my freshman friendships didn’t last through sophomore year.  Nonetheless, a few of the items in the list hold weight for me 25 years after I began college:


1990, me and Lisa on my 18th birthday

You lived together.

There is something about sharing a 12 x 12 dorm room with a stranger that makes you learn things you never thought you’d learn about another person. Somehow knowing those things binds you together in ways you can’t undo. You learn ways of knowing when they’re lying, when they’re upset, or when they’re hiding something by the most subtle, and sometimes unusual, of ways. Wearing certain shoes means she’s lying about who she’s going out with. Eating squeeze cheese means she’s homesick. And no matter how hard you try to not know, you always know when she needs to poop.

They’re the best people to do absolutely nothing with.

I experienced this just last week when my freshman year roommate, Lisa, and I got together for a girls’ weekend. We live 2 hours apart but haven’t seen each other in 3 years.  So we rented a place on the beach halfway between our homes for 2 days. Midway through day 1 Lisa said she was going out to read on the patio. I took a nap on the couch inside. We were only going to be together for 30 hours or so, and some might think we should have been DOING STUFF and hanging out TOGETHER…but I was happy just having her nearby. I didn’t need her literally at my side nodding at my conversation to know she was still one of my besties. Despite many years apart, we still share brain waves. I say with complete seriousness that we have conversations without speaking. I cannot explain it, but it’s the closest I’ve come to understanding the connection twins have. Our *doing nothing* is never nothing.

Nothing can beat the hours your spent bonding in the dining hall, gaining the freshman 15 together.  


For real. The dining hall at FSU was the best place to people watch, and it’s where Lisa and I came up with endless nicknames for cute boys and sorority girls, watched couples meet and break up, and eavesdropped on other groups who were most likely doing the same thing we were doing.  There was one guy in particular we called Cool Hand Luke. If he only knew the great pleasure we got watching him build his lunch at the salad bar….

You’ve witnessed each other’s terrible decisions.

And pass no judgment. Because whatever dirt I have on her, she has on me. It’s a Mexican standoff. As long as nobody tells, nobody gets hurt. But like a mom who can scold her kid with a side-eye glance, Lisa and I can still remind each other of a long-buried memory of a behavioral indiscretion merely with a raised eyebrow or nonverbal utterance…those well-timed grunts and snorts that convey entire scenarios that would rather be forgotten. 

 But in all honesty, you’re actually thrilled that she still remembers, because it means you mattered, and that you were important in that time in her life. When you are at someone’s side through their best and their worst, over time it ALL becomes the best of times.

 
Summer 2014, me and Lisa 25 years after meeting as college freshman

 




Sunday, March 30, 2014

America's Biggest Threat: Little Girls

It’s been a tough week for 8-year-old girls in America.

In Virginia, Sunnie Kahle was denied return to her current Christian school for not being girly enough. In a letter to her grandmother--her legal guardian--the school inferred that Sunnie’s alternative gender identity was causing confusion among other students and that it was not in line with the school’s biblical teachings. Administrators admitted that she was a very good student and that they “love” her, but I guess not enough to let her keep learning in their institution…unless she wears a dress and grows her hair. 

In South Carolina, Olivia McConnell asked her state representative to sponsor a bill making the Wooly Mammoth the official state fossil. With strong historical and scientific support behind his young constituent’s proposal, Representative Robert Ridgeway brought it to vote in the House, and it passed 94-3. All was a go until Senator Kevin Bryant insisted on amending the bill to include a passage from the Bible explaining the creation of life…which is another banging-head-on-desk essay for another day. Olivia’s bill is currently stalled, not for lack of historical significance, but because a Christian fundamentalist cannot remember that religion has no place in our government, or that the earth is over 6000 years old. He must've missed third grade.

And in Colorado, Kamryn Renfro was suspended for shaving her head, which she did in support of her best friend who was bald due to the effects of chemotherapy treatments. Her crew cut was deemed courageous and supportive dangerous and distracting by school officials.

So we’re punishing young girls for being themselves, for honoring scientific discovery, and for standing with those who are too weak to stand themselves. We’re alienating them, diminishing them, and telling them to hush up and sit pretty.

What. The. Heck.

At an age where these girls should be encouraged in their research, individuality, expression, intelligence, initiative, and ability to connect with others, these schools and politicians are stifling their mental and emotional growth which so necessary is to become well-adjusted adults.

I don’t know the circumstances that led to Sunnie being raised by her grandparents, but situations like that rarely arise because the actual parents are doing an awesome job. So let’s assume she has had some emotional discourse in her past. If she does indeed have gender identity issues, kicking her out of school and away from her friends is not helping the situation. Remember, this is a Christian school... I guess they forgot that line in the Bible about “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” Nothing in that passage about just the pretty ones.

Kamryn said she shaved her head “because it seemed like the right thing to do.” And it was. That sense of empathy is to be applauded in a child, because it shows strong character. Instead of being sent home, Kamryn should have been given an assembly in which to explain her action and inspire her classmates.

And really, Senator Bryant. Leave your Bible where it belongs, in your church of choice and your own home. Keep it out of Congress. Try to learn something from this third-grader today. Olivia will lend you her science book. 

Don’t banish these girls for their haircuts and their boyish t-shirts. Don’t dismantle their budding interest in government and science while hiding behind your Bible-shield. The times, they have a-changed. 

Keep at it, girls. When grown men in positions of power are threatened by your drive, your passion, and your fortitude, you know you’re doing something right. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Doodling Hearts On My Trapper Keeper

I love my husband. He’s awesome and cracks me up every day. But right now, I have a new crush. He’s a 12-year-old boy named Adam Goldberg, and he’s fictional. Sort of.

The real Adam F Goldberg was 12 years old in 1980-something, and was the dork who always carried around a VHS recorder, capturing the shenanigans and hijinks of his suburban ‘80s family. Now he’s the almost-40-year-old writer and executive producer of ABC’s new sitcom The Goldbergs, which recreates those same shenanigans and hijinks in 22-minute capsules. Episodes are built around footage from those vintage tapes, glimpses of which we are treated to during the closing credits.

The show is brilliant and funny in a Wonder Years-for-the-Gen X-crowd way, but it’s the actor playing Adam who has stolen my heart. Sean Giambrone plays the kid who is the aggregate of every boy I went to middle school with in the mid-1980s. He’s my neighbor down the street with the Midwest accent who thought his new Lightning Bolt t-shirt would finally make him popular. He’s my other neighbor whose prized possession was his Lego Millennium Falcon set. TV Adam Goldberg is the real Adam Goldberg reliving his childhood on film, and he is magnificent. He’s innocent and genuine, excited and hopeful, frustrated and confused. And he’s so darn cute.

“Hey mom, take my picture, I want to remember this outfit forever!” Adam yells to his mom after his grandfather (“Pops”) buys him a new pair of back-to-school  Z.Cavaricci pants.

(Don't try to deny the existence of the same scene at your house featuring OP cord shorts, Duran Duran fedora, or "Frankie Says" t-shirt...)

When Pops takes him to the movies to see Poltergeist, Adam is so scared of his clown doll at home that he fakes a tummy ache in order to sleep in his parents’ bed at night.

I just want to pinch his cheeks, give him a Fruit Roll-Up and juice box, and challenge him to a game of Missile Command.

To me he’s the nice boy who held the door open for me in the school library. He’s the boy who didn’t notice the three girls giggling at him on the bus because he was too busy drawing the Star Wars logo on his spiral notebook. And he’s the kid who didn’t understand why his dad was always yelling at him for everything because he was basically a good kid who sometimes got too excited. Come on, he’s 12.

I live for this show. I don’t know how this millennial actor has so expertly perfected a persona from an era long before his birth, but somebody owes him a lifetime supply of Whatchamacallits and a subscription to 3-2-1 Contact magazine for his achievement. He wears a home-made Tron costume like a true Gen-Xer, and seems to genuinely understand the zen of the Karate Kid.

TV Adam Goldberg, my 7th grade self is leaving an intricately-folded note in your locker, written in sparkly purple pen, asking if you like me. Check the 'yes' or 'no' box and meet me by the bus stop after school. 
Luv, Me. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Achtung, Puppy!



"So why haven’t you written lately?"

It’s a simple enough question but it conjured up anxiety when I heard it a few times over the past month. Where I used to post here once a week, this blog has been silent since January. 

“Are you giving up the blog?”
“Do you have writer’s block?”
I shrug. Yeah, I guess. Both.

But there’s more. Right after my last post went out to the masses, this happened:

 
That’s Milhouse, a rescue puppy. As best as we can tell, he’s part Pug, Beagle, and Rhodesian Ridgeback. We adopted him on February 2, and on February 7 he was diagnosed with Parvovirus. The evening prior to the 7th he was on the porch with me and ate a begonia flower, which he threw up shortly after.  Just to be safe, I Googled “are begonias poisonous to dogs.” Yep, they are. Crap.  But, he threw it up, he should be okay, right?   

Around  6 a.m. we got up to take him to pee. He did more than pee. A lot. And he was trying to throw up again. All he wanted to do was curl up on his pillow. He was listless, but still awake and still licking our hands and wagging his tail. We still thought it was “just” the flower and thought it would pass with time since he had thrown in up entirely. Even so, we took him to the vet first thing. On a hunch the vet asked to run a Parvo test because the symptoms were similar. We agreed. We really didn’t think that would be the case as the paperwork from the rescue indicated he’d had his Parvo shot before we'd adopted him.

It didn’t matter. He was Parvovirus positive and also positive for Giardia, which is an intestinal bacteria. Parvo usually kills puppies this young, and we knew that. Five days we’d had him. We were already fully attached to him. 

He spent four full days at the vet getting constant IV fluids to keep him hydrated and instill nutrients. Parvo destroys the intestines’ ability to hold onto food, so an infected puppy cannot retain any nutrients from food. Death typically occurs from dehydration and malnutrition. There is no cure for Parvo, you have to wait it out and hope for the best. Treatment is palliative.

We visited him twice per day, every day. Because the virus is so contagious, we had to clean everything at home that he might have touched with a bleach solution…the floors, his crate, our driveway/sidewalk/porches/yard where he’d “gone”, his toys and bedding.  The virus can live in an environment for up to six months so treating the outside was imperative to keep other neighborhood dogs from becoming infected with it should they step in our yard. When we visited him at the vet we had to step in bleach water at the doorway to prevent tracking out any contaminant on our shoes. We had to wear scrub gowns to hold him. The poor pup was quarantined in a tiny room all alone, but the vet techs there quickly fell in love with him and gave him lots of attention. I believe this had a big impact on his recovery. Even now when we go to the vet for a checkup Milhouse makes a beeline for those girls and showers them with licks.
  
Those four days were utterly exhausting. When we weren’t cleaning, we were cursing the rescue (who refused to return my phone calls!!) or crying. It was emotionally draining, terribly expensive, and we were angry. We thought we had done a good thing by supporting a local dog rescue, but it turned out that once they had our money they didn’t care one bit about this puppy. Our faith in this rescue was demolished. But we comforted ourselves knowing that we rescued him from such a shady outfit where he surely would have died that week if we had not adopted him.  

Somehow that little guy persevered. He spent the night of Day 4 at the emergency vet office to get one last full night of IVs. It was there I caught this moment between Milhouse and my husband. 

                                                   “OK, Daddy. I’ll get better for you.”



When we brought him home he was down to 7-1/2 pounds. But he ate. For the first time in 5 days, he ate solid food, out of Jeff's hand.

What followed was 10 days of multiple medications to make sure the bacteria was gone, to help heal his gut, to promote digestion, and fight other flu-like symptoms.  Pills, powders, squeezy-syringes at round-the-clock intervals. We needed a spreadsheet to keep it all organized. 

Yesterday he reached 10 months old. He’s now 30 pounds, all muscle, and runs like a cheetah.



He has a girlfriend down the street named Charley. She’s a one-year-old Beagle who also survived Parvo. From the first day they met each other they’ve been in love. They whimper and howl if they catch a glimpse of each other in the neighborhood. When set loose in the house they tussle ‘til exhaustion. It’s freaking adorable. 

The past eight months have been so tiring. Even after the illness, we had behavior issues to address. Countless hours of training sessions and constant trips to the off-leash dog parks for socialization have helped immensely, though he’s still a rockhead.

But when he hops up on the couch, rests his chin on my lap and sighs deeply, I swoon.


So no, I haven’t written lately.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

If (Gen)X = 40, Solve for Why



I was really excited when I first saw the preview for This is 40, the latest movie from GenX writer and director Judd Apatow. I turned 40 this year, and I love when movies coincide perfectly with my life. In much the same way I was super psyched when Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion came out two years before my own 10-year reunion.I was also glad to see that Forty was a comedy, and not a total downer like The Big Chill was for Boomers at this age(though I totally concede Chill is a great movie that still holds up). 

So now that it’s been out for a month or two I finally got around to seeing it today. Friends asked for a review. Okey doke. Here goes.

Holy crap. I didn’t expect it to be so emotional! In the trailer it looks FUNNY. And it IS. Hilariously so. Many times I was near peepee pants from laughing. But then suddenly and out of freaking nowhere I was practically in tears. When the teenage daughter character had a breakdown at the breakfast table I nearly had one of my own. When the two main adult characters had one of their what-are-we-doing-in-this-marriage freakout spats (and there are a lot of them) I held my breath that they wouldn’t break up. The juxtaposition of the adoration between spouses and the shit that happens in life was very real and relatable. The weird physical changes that come with aging—the ones that are best not shown head-on but rather hidden behind a strategically placed hand mirror—offer fodder for some of the funniest moments in this movie.

Some of the dialogue was overly clever, in a way that makes you realize nobody is that adroit at witty repartee that spontaneously (I made the same comment about Reality Bites almost 20 years ago). And though I personally love Leslie Mann, I could see how some people might get a little tired of her whiny baby voice, but it’s not enough reason to avoid seeing this movie. 

Above all this is a movie that will make you laugh. You’re in serious need of Zoloft if you don’t bust a gut, though you and your spouse will probably find different scenes to be the funniest. But be prepared for a little soul punching if you’re hovering around forty, a parent, married, having career issues, money issues, health issues, parent issues, or any combination of those problems. Just make sure you stay into the closing credits; the outtake reel of a scene featuring Melissa McCarthy is 60 seconds of crass bliss.

My just-turned-40-husband’s comment:  “There were some very funny moments, but I thought it was kind of disjointed. And it was predictable based on the preview. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd played off of each other well. They blamed everybody but themselves...but that’s our generation.”  Point delivered, Mr. Apatow.