Friday, July 30, 2010

You'll get there: Noncompliments Part III

Compliment someone and ruin their day at the same time!

Blindside friends with poorly-timed motivational statements!

Offend by omission, gracefully rub the wrong way, leave a vaguely unsettled feeling wherever you go!

(In truth, I appreciate people who can react to art/music/writing/outfits/hairstyles/marriages in many of the ways I’m listing. At least they are honest. When they do hand out praise, you know it’s genuine. When they say, “Wow!” just assume they mean something good.)

Let me know if I'm repeating any from Parts I and II.

It's a good start.

Go for it!

There's something intriguing about it.

You definitely have a unique style.

You cut your hair...well, it'll grow back soon.

Your work has really changed.

Never hurts to experiment.

You have some neat colors in there.


I’d love to see the rest.

Only you could get away with that.

That was brave.

My friend Bill really likes your songs.

Catchy title.

It’s good to take risks.

You look good lately.

The hard work is starting to pay off.

It's worthwhile even if you just do it for yourself.

I don't know if I like it so much because I know you or...

It's a start.

It shows that you put a lot of work into it.

More power to you.

I can't wait to see how your work develops.

I'm glad you're not self-conscious about how you dress anymore.

You're letting it all hang out.

Well I like it but it’s gonna be a tough sell.

I really like your earlier work.

It could actually turn into something kind of interesting.

Love the Dylan quote in there.

Look at you!

You’re really willing to put yourself out there.

You’ve got a great memory so your stories are good. I have to remember to jot things down more often.

Quiet intelligence is much better than blatant brilliance.

You’ll get there eventually.

You looked like you were having fun up there!

Also Jason, once of Satellite Lost said "How do you not mention 'Hey, good set' in the comments?"

One last thing. Liz sent this in:

"And -- the best part of the Seinfeld episode, the clincher, is actually towards the end of the episode, when Elaine tries (but fails) to get closure on the "breathtaking" comment --

Elaine: Well, to tell you the truth, Dr. Feffa, I, I was surprised to hear you use a word like breathtaking to describe a baby, I mean, because you also used it referring to me.

Ben: Well, you know Elaine, sometimes you say things just to be nice. (Elaine relieved, then confused, not knowing if he was being nice to her or to the baby)."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Retrograde Motion

Just to illustrate how rabidly uninterested I was in anything to do with babies -- a few years back a close friend of mine told me her brother's wife was having a baby, that day, and I wondered where she was going with the story, what the point was. When I saw others around me acting like it was a big deal, I tried to summon up at least as much enthusiasm as if I'd caught sight of a Mr. Softee truck. Same thing I do when I hear about an engagement. Maybe because it's all so overdone that a blasé reaction is just one way to try to combat that. And the truth is newborns really are incredibly dull if they're not your own. But...

Yesterday Wally called a pen a "Mommy crayon". And given that we'd never referred to it as a crayon (and he's pretty delayed in speech compared to other kids his age) I was really happy. That was my first thought followed immediately by -- don't tell anyone! Make sure that doesn't come up in conversation (or make its way to the blog -- ha!). That's the kind of inane drivel that makes people hate people with kids. "You won't believe what Tommy said today" and all that. But later I was thinking -- why is it that things that are big (kids learning to walk, to talk, to ask questions about the sky) are treated as small? Why do they feel so small? But someone drinking coffee or starting to get a cold is reported on Facebook like late-breaking news. And seems to be treated that way. I guess partly it's that most of us know how to walk fairly well and use a spoon and there's no reason we should care that someone else is learning how to do this. And maybe it's because we, legitimately, care what friends are up to, but not what their kids are up to (see Elinor's brilliant comment on New Parent Rules).

But I think it's also partly our disconnection and isolation. Generations don't mingle a whole lot. Grandparents live on their own. Families live far away from each other. People are not overly involved in each others' lives. Visits are short. In-laws don't come by on Sundays. No one asks for big favors or wants to be roped in to giving them in return. No one drives anyone to the airport (or the New York equivalent). Walks each others' dogs. Babysits each others' kids. People don't want to go one block out of their way most nights. ("Which way are you heading?" "East." "I'm going West." "Okay, bye.") Like even to finish the conversation, I'm always surprised when someone says they'll walk me a little ways. I used to do it all the time to people then realized they were just rushing along to catch the 5:15 to Valley Stream and I gave up.

I am speaking in broad terms of course and yes some people do babysit and some of my friends have, including Dario (How's that for free-range parenting?) and others have offered. Plus most people have so many friends, so scattered and spread out, that they're not going to be super-ultra close to one person's kids. They're not going to be an "aunt" or godparent. They're not going to sit squeezed between someone else's offspring in the back seat of a 2-door 1973 Plymouth Duster no air, no radio in August for a 4-hour car ride to Cape Cod.

In general.

I know some people will.

Some people might even go so ludicrously far as to try to convince me that they like knowing that Wally said, 'Mommy crayon'.

And some people are going to respond to this like they respond to every argument I posit: "Well, it is and it isn't." I won't know which part they're referring exactly to but either way that's often true but not too exciting. Just like it pretty much always "is what it is" (hate that expression, hate it). The fastest way to end a conversation, I think. Other than, "You should donate your brain to science -- and fast."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I know who you are but what am I?

It seems tacky for me to comment in the comment section, like someone who dominates conversation all through dinner and then the minute other people open their mouths to respond, you jump right back in and talk louder and bang silverware around (which actually sounds a lot like something I would do). What I wanted to clarify, though, about asking -- what is the problem with writing something in public -- is that I didn't mean -- why don't you people admit that you hate your boss and you're having an affair? What are you afraid of? I just meant any off-hand thought or question. Plus when you send me witty, clever emails in response to something I wrote I always wish it could be part of the discussion and that other people could see it. Basically it would add to the blog and make me look clever because the last thought people would have after they read a post is -- wow, that was funny and insightful -- and it would be something you said, but the good feeling would sort of stick on to me.

After a couple months of keeping up this blog I have finally gotten through that initial backlog of all the things hounding me while I was out at Waterside Park or the sensory gym without having anyone in the moment to talk to who would answer back more than "Dat's silleeeeeeee". Wanting to say -- isn't all of this incredibly odd? This whole parenting scene? Exhausting sometimes? Frustrating? But as I wrote in You didn't have me at hello or any other time I felt like a kid who had changed schools halfway through the year and I was just trying to go along and act like everything was normal and trick myself into believing that. Anyway, so I've gotten through that build up of confusion and frustration and I am grateful for all the feedback and "I know exactly what you mean" emails and other signs of understanding.

Okay the weird part is, now that I've started to get past a lot of that built up irritation about the over-the-top, luxury stroller, isn't she just an angel on earth? mom scene, I am actually starting to -- I know this is going to sound crazy -- kind of understand in some cases why people say and do some of the things I outlawed in my New Parent Rules. Not that I forgive saying "You are just the sweetest little baby on earth" in front of people, but I kind of want to write an addendum to the NP Rules--Rules for Friends of New Parents or something. I am really starting to see how much moms and dads and other caretakers have to fight against to protect their kids and look out for their interests because people without kids are so stridently clear about their own (career, relationships, travel plans, having "so much to do"). I myself had no understanding at all about what it was like to be a parent. I preferred dogs and cats to babies any day, and even still I have to blink several times just to figure out if I'm seeing a newborn in a swaddle or a fanny pack and I don't know which would interest me less. When people said they were tired I thought they were those low energy people who like to have their teeth brushed by 9:30. There's a lot to push against as a new parent when you've become someone who is much less fun, always anxious, always distracted. You try to incorporate your kids as much as possible into plans with friends but for me at least, most of the time it doesn't work.

On the first day I worked with the OT who comes to our house, she said something as she was leaving about how we have to do everything to make life great for Wally and he's what is important now and he should be the center. I kind of recoiled. That's the attitude that I'd been terrified of having. Or if I did have it, I felt like it should be hidden from other people along with dirty laundry and compromising photos from college. But more and more as I see not only my own absurdly dragged out childhood swan song, but how people my age put demands on me that are way more "age-inappropriate" than Wally's whining for freeze-dried strawberries, I kind of think I had it wrong. Also something my mom said really struck me, that when she had young kids (of course she had 2) she didn't have anything else going on in her life -- no social life, no hobbies, no freelance work, no following the news or going out at night. There's such resistance in our generation to giving everything up to focus on your kids. Those "all about the kids" couples are just revolting. It's like giving the middle finger to your friends and and your past life and renouncing women's lib or something. Going back to Jello molds and frilly aprons. Moving out to the suburbs. Plus it feels selfish to make people eat dinner at 5 and "hold onto that thought" while you run to put a baby to sleep and expect your guests to be okay with the hollering that goes on for an hour afterward. That's the part I can't reconcile because you had a certain way of being friends, and the kid changed that. But when I was a kid I was lucky enough to have parents who were more than happy to change, who made my dad's PhD advisor, a nationally renowned psychologist, play Duck Duck Goose with me and Dara when he came over for dinner. Now I'm not asking you guys to sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" on the steps of the China Ruby with me. But I am starting to think those people belting out "my kids are the best thing that ever happened" are at least clear about who they are, or who they are trying to be. And they're honest about the fact that the kids are their priority, and that's how it should be.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I think I am about to turn all the way around. Oh and note to self: "Grow up" is not a noncompliment. It's a put-down, plain and simple.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Super-Soakers hanging on the livingroom wall

I've had at least five people tell me the reason they wouldn't want to comment here is that it's searchable by Google. My question is -- why is that a problem? I don't mean that in a mocking way like grow some balls or something. I don't mean it in the way Margaret and I would wonder why our friends wouldn't join us singing and dancing to "I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair" on the steps of China Ruby. I'm just really curious as to why. Is it that prospective employers might find it? Potential future husbands, wives, sperm donors? And if they were to find it, what would be the problem then? I think this may be one of the many things I missed in How To Grow Up to Pass for a Normal, Semi-Functional Adult in 21st-Century America. Then again my parents had a super-soaker hanging the livingroom wall for a large part of my childhood and the most valuable piece of art we had was the 6-foot poster of a Coca-Cola bottle taped up in the kitchen. Which is why I know I should like the movie A Thousand Clowns but I just can never get past that interminable interview with the social workers. I do, however, love that opening scene where the boy reads aloud the job listings and Jason Robards says, "Are those the want ads or the obits?" Oh man, I can't believe I didn't put this on the noncompliment list (and there are so many more I still have to post). Grow up! A freshman girl once said that to Margaret and I when we were seniors and we were just floored, horrified.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The psychological disaster of late afternoon naps

I am still puzzling over the perception that I'm "putting myself out there" on this blog. Many people confirmed in email (not in the comments section, because they didn't want to put themselves out there) that I do do that. But there are just so many topics that I feel I can't even touch with a ten-foot pole. I'd really love to complain about family and friends on here, but I can't. (The therapist that I went to last fall/winter, I'll call her M. going forward, would say "I won't" which is of course more accurate. I could easily go buck wild about all kinds of annoying stuff the people around me have done lately, but I don't want to. And harkening back to the first or second post, I don't think it's even out of kindness or a sense of decorum, but because I don't want people to be angry with me. And the anger itself isn't even as pernicious as the awkwardness that would ensue.)

I've looked at blogs where people go into great depth about their husbands or coworkers or parents, knowing those people don't read them. Must be liberating. Wouldn't it be great if there were a place you could just say anything at all that no one would ever see? Like some blank pages bound together that you could hide under your bed or something? Maybe even have a little lock on there.

It is so much fun keeping a blog. But...just the idea...even the word makes me a little uncomfortable. There's this whole weird world to it. Like giveaways. There are millions of these mom-type blogs that are full of contests for Organic Baby Kimonos and Facial Care Regiments. What is that? I don't get it. And pictures of "Tyler had apple sauce for the first time today" with 74 comments underneath. I like the idea of getting these thoughts down I've had rattling around in my head the past few months. One semi-legitimate concern I have is people catching me in some inconsistency because I've written this stuff down (put it out there). I'm sure pretty soon if I haven't already I'll completely contradict some earlier statement and they'll have the proof right there and I'll have to go in and delete any related posts and do that cartoon "doo da doo" whistle that means "There's no funny business going on here".

When my dad's mom found out my dad had published a book on gambling she said, "Myron (forgot last name) has 500 pages published on the internet." Anyone can publish on the internet, we wanted to tell her. (Then again, anyone can publish off of it, a fact unfortunately proven ad infinitum during my tenure at B&N.) But this was the woman whose greatest compliment to my dad in the 64 years she knew him was that in a photo for the cover of a local newspaper his face was clearly visible. She certainly wasn't going to commend him for being the first author on a self-help book. At least she didn't handle the actual hard copy like hazardous waste, the way one of my dad's friends did when he gave her a copy.

Anyway, I wouldn't, for example, go into details about my relationship with Alex, or tensions that arose on a visit home with my parents, or really inappropriate dream fragments. I'd hesitate to get into the force field I feel I confront when going out after it gets dark in the afternoon in the winter. Here M. was way off -- "Are you scared of the dark?" No, that is not it at all. Maybe dark like in the Cedar Mountain Wilderness in Utah at night, but not walking in front of Duane Reade on 8th avenue. It's something else. Something feels so primordially terrible about it, until I get outside. Similar to going to sleep in the light and waking in the dark. The psychological disaster of late afternoon naps. I'd hesitate to get into certain crazy patterns I got into when trying to sleep train Wally and my whole history of intrusive thoughts. Actually, I'm contradicting myself already, a few of these are things I really want to get into, I just "haven't had time" yet. (Quotes around that because, as you can tell from earlier posts, I think that is one of the worst lies we tell ourselves so I'm going to at least put quotes around it from now on when I tell it to you.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

In the end it was my toddler that bit me, not my pit-bull.

I discovered a few months ago that Wally and my once-and-future-past dog Sky are actually the same person. For example, would you be able to tell which one I was talking about if I said, "Cannot be confined" or "Eats off floor"? How about:

Most often described as "high energy", "rambunctious" and "a handful".
Takes up our entire bed.
Easy on road trips.
Runs at full-speed every opportunity.
Very affectionate.
Super high pain threshold.
Sometimes scares people.
Takes a nap every day.
Pushes boundaries.
Knocks things over.
Breaks things.
Makes inhuman, high-pitched noises.
Great companion.

Then again only one of them bites, and it's not the one who descended from a wolf. (He's stopped doing this, thankfully. In the past, when he did, and I'd whisk him into the stroller and take him home, this line would go through my head. I thought maybe it'd be a good opening to a short story. In the end it was my toddler that bit me, not my pit-bull.)

Oh, and here are a few pieces of photographic data which contradict above theory, but in the days of Photoshop and given the generally-agreed upon Principle of Newborn Indistinguishability, I'd say they're inconclusive at best.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Does anyone have kids anymore?

I want to recount a few little blips of conversation I had recently, which made clear to me how much of a non-breeder world I live in. Despite recent exclamations about how “this blog is not remotely private” I actually am a little nervous to relay this stuff because I don’t want the friends quoted here to feel bad. I still say stuff like this all the time to people, and much worse.

Okay, first. A writer friend of mine and I were talking about doing freelance work and she said, “You’re lucky, you can get up whenever you want to.”

I got up today at 4:43. Yesterday I slept in until 4:50. One day last week I made it past 5:30.

Now she’s one of my closest friends and she knows Wally and sends him T-shirts that say “Wally Whale” on them and asks to visit him whenever she can. So it’s not like she’s a professional contact that wouldn’t know my daily life. She knows what flavor iced tea I’m drinking right now. She later recanted and said, oh yeah, that’s right, but in a distant way. Not like, wow, it’s actually the total opposite.

Second. I was at Hein’s art opening a few weeks ago. After an hour I told two friends of mine, (a couple), “I’m gonna go. Alex has to leave.”

“Alex? I didn’t see him, where is he?” asked B.

“He’s home,” I said.

“Then why do you have to leave?”

“No, he has to leave, I have to go home.”

His wife turned to him. “That’s how it works. They have to trade off. They can’t leave at the same time.”

Third. Back in February at Birch on 27th street at what was supposed to be a meditation hour (the leader never showed), my friend asked me how things had been lately. I launched into an incredibly self-indulgent and annoying monologue about how overwhelmed I felt, how unable to fit everything in. She said, “Imagine if you were working.”

I smiled, waiting to see if she was kidding but she wasn’t. I actually felt kind of proud of myself for telling her that my life was much simpler before I got laid off, even after Wally was born. The “old Rachel” would have said, “I know, right?” just to keep the conversation going and not make things awkward.

I’ve had two hard jobs in my life. One was working at Friendly’s Diner in Concord, Massachusetts at the end of my senior year of high school. No one was ever around to make the food or clean the dishes so I had to do that on top of being a waitress and making the sundaes and ringing up the bills. Once I had to chase two teenagers out to their car when they left without paying. I developed a pronounced forearm muscle on my right arm from scooping nearly frozen ice cream. Multiple times I got screamed at for mixing up the Reese’s Pieces Sundae and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Sundae. I left most days in tears and quit after only two weeks to go work a desk job at the Automotive Information Center. The only other hard job I've had was being a substitute teacher at MS 54 in Morningside Heights. I once took thirty 8th-graders whose names I did not know on the rush hour subway to MTV in Times Square. By myself. I returned that afternoon with four of them.

That was it. Sometimes at various other places I took work home and worked nights and weekends and been yelled at by bosses and many times I’ve been ridiculously “stressed” and shaky and out of breath and nearly in tears. But the point is, I can imagine what it’d be like if I were working at any of the long-term jobs I've had. It’d be easy. Or a lot easier anyway.

I know of course there are people with five kids (or 19 and counting) and triplets and kids who are in myriad ways much, much harder than Wally to care for. And there are single moms with full time jobs who manage to go to night school and make organic dinners and still have lunches packed by 6 am in the morning. I know my day is an absolute walk in the park compared to most people on the planet. But I don’t always feel that. Often I feel I’m the only person I know who has kids, other than my parents, and certainly the only one dumb enough to stay home with one. These days, especially in New York, being a parent is just so passé--isn't it?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

For all your revelations, the price will be paid

Alex unearthed some recordings from the spring of 2007 -- those far away days when I used to throw my wallet out in front of scrap metal factories in Gowanus, Brooklyn and find it the next day completely intact, cash and everything. He posted the song "New Phase" on his facebook page -- Alexandre Pérez -- (we are at the present moment arguing over whether he usually writes his name like that, I say no) -- but if you don't know him personally you can find it through the Dimestore Scenario page on facebook.

Am I delusional?

I've been getting a series of "You really put yourself out there" noncompliments about my blog. Of course to be fair that is usually preceded by nice stuff. Anyway, the question I have is -- am I delusional? I don't feel like this blog is remotely personal. At least it's nothing I wouldn't say to someone I just met at the Toddler Room or McSorley's Old Ale House. I think I have very odd standards about what is appropriate to discuss. Then again I am the person who suggested Naked Fridays at my first official B&N lunch. Have to say Peter and Jeanette (Director and VP) took it well and put it down for consideration. And what's really scary I guess is the number of things I think about during the day and reject as "too out there" to write about.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How to Waste Your Life

1. Check email obsessively, with the same urgency as if you had a friend who went up in the space shuttle and you want to make sure he landed okay. Don’t answer any messages right away. Instead let them pile up in your inbox and plague you.

2. Answer the phone every time it rings, or at least check to see who’s calling.

3. Read the first paragraph of dozens of news stories throughout the day. Email interesting ones to friends. Click on any link anyone sends you.

4. Make sure whenever you’re working you’re also partly not working (i.e., still checking email/yahoo news, voicemail, worrying about some social event that night) and make sure whenever you’re having fun you’re still partly not having fun (i.e., checking email/yahoo news, voicemail, fretting over a big project due tomorrow). In short, make sure wherever you are you're not there.

5. Snap pictures of anything that might look cool to post on Facebook. Never lose a moment and most importantly never lose yourself in one.

6. Use any free time you are given to complain about how busy you are and much you have to do.

7. Defer dreams indefinitely.

8. Always say "yes" when you want to say "no" (and vice versa).

9. Take no responsibility for decisions that you make. Blame your bad mood and lack of time on your job, your boss, demanding friends, selfish neighbors, overbearing parents, dumb teachers, bad luck. Make no real effort to change anything.

10. Text someone whenever you have an in-between moment, like walking outside or waiting in a bar.

11. Make sure your major life priorities are the last things you tackle each day, if you tackle them at all.

12. Give the most important people in your life the least amount of attention.

13. Whenever you get a chance in conversation, no matter how off-topic or tangential, point out that you rarely watch TV. If someone says, "That reminds me of Seinfeld" or "There was this great song on So You Think You Can Dance last night," make sure you slip it in there.

(Did you ever notice that the people who are so quick to point out they “hardly ever” watch TV aren't the same people who don’t own one? If you don’t watch, why do you have cable? What is the point? How is "only watching Netflix" superior? Do you only rent Italian art films and watch the "Bonus Feature" critical analyses first? I also wonder what it is they are doing with all that free time. Surely they must be on their way to writing the Great American Novel or proving the Riemann Hypothesis?)

Of course most of this is just advice to myself. Or to my shadow. Paraphrasing Jung – whatever annoys you to an irrational degree in someone else is either something that annoys you about yourself or an undeveloped part of yourself (someone correct me if I'm wrong). And part of the problem is, to quote my friend Ivan, "Having all kinds of fantasies around time.” I inherited this trait from my dad. Thinking--really believing, no matter how many times we've proven otherwise--that we can fit every single thing in. The persistence of fantasy. My mom and sister are more realistic; plus neither gets the adrenaline rush thrill we get of almost just missing a train or pulling up to the Post Office closing on April 15. My father perhaps takes this the furthest: when he worked with his friend Alan at City College back in the 60s he was late every day to pick Alan up on the way to work. Why? Because it took “no time at all” to drive from East 83rd street to West 103rd. So he left himself no time at all to get there.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

wide you say youd see me on saterday and your spost to pick me up friday

Dear mom and Dad
I miss you and I cry alot at camp I'm home sick please pick me up at 2:00 on friday
I wish you were here rite now Did you get my Letters? I hope the newhamsher house is nice.
See you Soon.
wide you say youd see me on saterday and your spost to pick me up friday from to to four.

(I was scared all week, even though I was there with my best friend Heather, and my sister was in another section, so at worst it would have been the three of us.

BTW, this was at Camp Wabasso during the summer after 2nd grade when I was 8. My kindergarten teacher had predicted I'd be a terrible speller. How she got that from looping capital As and Bs I'll never know, but she could not have been more rite. Even 30 years later.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Everything's great" to "I'm so f*cking irritated" in 10 seconds flat

I love gray days like this. Not for picnics in the park or weddings obviously, but for just those routine times where you have an infuriating magic trick of a to-do list that never gets shorter no matter how much you hack away at it and little indecipherable post-it note reminders plastered around and a toddler shaking sand-filled shoes over the rug you just vacuumed and deadlines you're way behind on. The gray is calm. Like this placid high-school history teacher when you come to class panicking about the exam and she reminds you that no one is asking any more of you than you can handle and now you can just sit quietly and focus on showing her everything you know about the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles. On sunny days, even the sticky, awful days when you burn your hand just touching the slide, there's so much guilt and uneasiness about not being outside enjoying yourself.

There's this great Italian (maybe Sicilian -- will have to ask Alex) poem by Matteo Campagnoli called "In Principio" which has a verse translated as:

Try to love the gray days, the dullness
of days when the sun denies itself.
Remember: in the beginning it was a gray day.

Then again I still find on these days my mood can suddenly shift from that coffee-buzz, everything sort of flowing along, Wally occupied with a little truck he found behind the couch, to I-am-absolutely-going-to-punch-the-wall if he doesn't stop pinching me and grabbing onto my legs from behind. He's learned now to undo his stroller straps, so even that little minute of calm--no one's asking any more of you than you can handle-- before leaving the apartment has reversed to the hysteria of previous months. But just as suddenly he's let go of my legs and is making helicopter sounds happily looking out the window. "Where did it go?" he asks, smiling because he knows that on gray days the clouds block out the airplanes as well as the sun. That mystery pleases him. He can still hear the sounds but can only marvel at such a good hiding place.

(Now back from putting the laundry in. There are people in this building who, I swear, sit in the laundry room with the express purpose of saying, "You dropped a sock" to me before it hits the floor even, "You dropped a sock!" while it's still airborne and meanwhile I'm holding Wally's wrist so he doesn't run out to 9th avenue and putting his soaking wet sandy outfits into the machine, pouring in the soap, putting money on the card, etc. There are lots of other things I could use the help for but one thing I don't need is someone standing sentry for a ratty old beige sock of Alex's which probably lost its mate before the start of the new millennium. Is there some 5-second rule with dirty laundry like there is with snacks that hit the floor that I don't know about?

I should probably end the post with a moment of great tranquillity and enlightenment -- a sense of purpose about how isn't this just all so completely worthwhile and meaningful once you get past all the little minute-to-minute irritations and setbacks? The sun just came out really, literally, right this second, just beaming in like it had been there all the time, which of course it had.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's good for that style: Noncompliments Part II

  • Good for you.
  • Just keep at it. (When someone shows you their writing, artwork, or any other project they're working on.)
  • That sweater doesn’t do you justice.
  • You seem much better today (when it was never established that something was wrong).
  • It’s good for that style.
  • You have a lot of energy.
  • “You don’t look a day over 35” (to someone who is clearly much younger – this is a real life incident, in response to wedding photos).
  • I wish I was as good as you at saying “No”.
  • I was expecting you to be much heavier.
  • That’s one of your more becoming hats.
  • Well, it’s not the worst idea I've ever heard.
  • Your shoes look comfortable.

  • "I feel so miserable without you, it's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop

  • "He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know." - Abraham Lincoln

  • A modest little person, with much to be modest about." - Winston Churchill
Seinfeld ref contributed by hawkeye yesterday. Here's the complete dialogue from The Hamptons, Episode 85.

Ben: Elaine, you have children?

Elaine: Me? Oh no, but I'd love to have a baby, I mean, I can't wait to have a baby. I'm just dyin' to have a baby.

Ben: A beautiful woman like you should. You're quite breathtaking.

Elaine: Breathtaking? I'm breathtaking?

(later, after Ben calls the baby "breathtaking")

Elaine: Nobody ever called me breathtaking before.

Jerry: I've never been called breathtaking either.

Elaine: I mean, if he thinks that that baby's breathtaking, then who's not breathtaking?

Monday, July 12, 2010

You did your best: The Art of the Noncompliment

A few years ago my friend Jeannine and I began collecting “noncompliments”, a spinoff of a list of band comments that another friend and I had compiled after sharing post-gig stories from our bands. (His was called Satellite Lost—I’ll have to find out if they’re still out there somewhere.) Here’s a sample from that first list:

Post-gig comments * I can’t believe you pulled that off. * Don’t worry, there will be other gigs. *You've gotten a lot better since the last time I saw you. * I love Alex's new guitar. * Have you been practicing a lot? * That was a really long set. How many songs was that? *You guys are fun to watch. * It's not your fault. The sound guy f&cked you. * “You guys are good” where “good” is too high-pitched and reveals the speaker’s strained attempt to cover up his or her real feelings. (Credit due to Dorothy Hui for this last one.)

I think my all-time favorite was: "How do you think you did?" [As our drummer Joe put it, “I didn’t realize it was a test – I think I passed.”]

Anyway, Jeannine and I discovered countless ways to courteously offend others from asking an off-topic question when a compliment is called for to giving self-improvement gifts to handing out praise for meeting bare minimum standards. Here are a few examples --more to come.

  • I can see what you’re trying to do.
  • You’re very practical about clothing.
  • It had its moments.
  • You look cute (when dressed for a prom, wedding, or other grand occasion when “cute” is not the goal).
  • Wow, you cut your hair!
  • Is that a new outfit?
  • You got up there and did your thing.
  • I don’t know why people don’t like your artwork.
  • That sounds like an interesting job.
  • That seems like a worthwhile thing to be doing.
  • She’s pretty enough.
  • You had the date of a lifetime and the night is reported back through a friend as “We had a few laughs”.
  • You look happy.
  • You are glowing.
  • He's actually pretty good at his job.
  • They balance each other out (for a couple).
  • You're lucky you found someone.
  • I wish I had the balls to wear that.
  • Trust me, one day you’ll be glad you picked someone who is stable and hardworking.
  • You’re great at setting limits for yourself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A huge piece I left out

There's a huge piece I've unintentionally left out of this story and that is how complicated I made things, how much I contributed to the chaos that went on here. I'll have to "blog" about that tomorrow.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Here are the bare outlines which sound at best apocryphal

We never had to support Wally's head, even as a newborn, even the day he was born. We didn't have to pass him carefully from one person to another, making sure to "watch the neck". You just tossed him around like a football. Anything he needed to hold up, he held up himself.

By two months, he was supporting his own weight on his legs. You could just lightly help him balance.

I don't have any pictures of anyone holding Wally where he wasn't struggling to break free.

At the 6-month visit our pediatrician told us Wally was the strongest baby he'd ever seen.

Until recently, he never seemed to register pain of needles for more than a split second.

He crawled for a day at around 5 months. From then on he was standing and trying to walk.

At 8 months Wally walked holding on, by 10 months he was walking all over the place by himself no hands, including climbing stairs (one leg, one stair, like an adult, same going down).

He runs barefoot on pebbles, blazing hot pavement, and pointy mulch.

Wally never sits by choice (except in the car or a swing). He never walks if he can run. I'm sure he'd never run if he could fly.

He has many times taken enormous spills and had no reaction. In April he ran headfirst down a hill into the Atlantic Ocean, tumbled in, and when he surfaced, let out the tiniest whimper and continued on, lunging about in the waves.

Wally did not respond to his name for the longest time. He has only started to, at nearly 2 1/2 years old. That combined with speech delay and something else, something just off, hard to put a finger on, led my sister to suggest that we get his hearing checked last November. His hearing was fine. He was steamrolled along to all kinds of different evaluations and scored poorly enough to be accepted in New York State's Early Intervention program.

I've been trying on this blog to get to the story about this sensory integration disorder or hyperactivity or "He's just a boy, that's how boys are" stuff, but every time I start to do it, I get tripped up in all the different pieces. There are so many off-shoots. One is the whole out of breath feeling that we had keeping up with him and not knowing what was going on, and the huge relief when all these trained professionals said, "He cannot attend for even one second. I can't even test him on anything to see if he's delayed." Another is the frustration I had with people who, having seen him for all of 2 hours on his best day after a great nap, said, "It's totally normal. Boys are just more active." Another is the fact that he remains a puzzle. And part of it is that when you begin with a physical aptitude that so far exceeded age appropriate development (something we know for sure he did not get from my side) and combine it with significantly delayed speech you're already going to get something a bit experimental. So to me that always seemed like part of the story too. Like even if you took away the neurological piece (or missing piece), you'd have something unusual. And I guess part of it is the fear of people not believing me, about the stuff above, or about sensory integration disorder being a real thing, (one of the therapists that we have would fall in that category). So I guess this sort of preemptive defensiveness creeps up.

As we were laying out the plan for service, one of the Early Intervention Officials said if the world were safe, Wally would be fine. We wouldn't be having this conversation. That stuck with me.

If the world were safe, he'd be fine. He could just go on exploring, being a scientist, keep trying to figure out every light switch and drain pipe and rock formation and body of water. Keep pushing boundaries. Running instead of walking. Charging straight into the ocean. He could disregard our warnings and follow that siren call luring him ever further away from the safe and familiar. Once you have kids, the world seems so much less safe than it used to. One look at the babyproofing section of Babies 'R' Us makes that obvious. We've chosen this unsafe world. To eventually let them loose into it. To live in it ourselves now, crossing our fingers, making secret bargains with some greater power we don't really believe in. As soon as you have a baby, one who insists on trial by fire or one who prefers to be held even on the playground, the world is just so full of potential danger. Sometimes it seems funny to actually choose that. Makes me think of Midnight Train to Georgia -- "I'd rather live in his world, than live without him in mine."