Archive for the ‘Perfection’ Category

Procrastination is Making Me Wait

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
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There’s a saying that couples who have been together for a long period of time start to look like each other.procrastination

I don’t think my husband and I have taken on similar physical characteristics, but I do fear we are becoming more alike.

When we got married, people constantly reminded us about how different we are. I’m high strung and feel guilty if I’m not doing something productive. My husband isn’t and doesn’t.

I worry about deadlines and returning phone calls. My husband doesn’t believe in unnecessary stress and knows how to prioritize what is truly important. Needless to say, I’ve sometimes accused him procrastinating.

But lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve started waiting until the last minute to do things. I never did anything well in advance, but I never put things off either. That’s seems to be changing.

Recently, I had a report for work due on Friday, and at 3:00 on that Friday afternoon, I finally started the paperwork. At 3:05 I got an email telling me that the deadline had been extended until Tuesday. Instead of finishing the report, I started working on something else. I didn’t actually complete the report until, you got it, Tuesday afternoon.

Such  behavior defies my innate philosophy about the need to plan for unforeseen circumstances. I’ve tried to teach this to my children, but they have adopted their father’s philosophy of, whenever possible, putting off until tomorrow what you don’t want to do today.

Last month my children should have realized the wisdom of my advice when the unforeseen did happen. I had been hounding my son to finish his science fair project, but he was dragging his feet. With the science fair scheduled for Monday, on Saturday morning I told Shepherd that we would spend the afternoon organizing the data so he could put together charts and his display. With that said, I took the dog for a walk, slipped on ice, shattered my wrist and spent two nights in the hospital.

On Sunday, I had only been out of surgery about an hour when I received a phone call asking if I was up to helping Shepherd with the data. With less than 24 hours before the project was due and literally nothing done, I told him to come by. With laptop in tow, he did, and we put together the charts. For the rest of the day and well into the evening, I got updates about the project. Around midnight, I even received a text with a photo of the display board.

When I got home, very little was said about the project, but I was pretty sure my daughter had assisted with some of the artwork. I was also sure she would take note of the pitfalls of waiting until the last minute. That’s why I was surprised when Kendall didn’t take my advice to work on her social studies fair project during Christmas break. Instead she, like her brother, chose to wait until the weekend before the project was due.

I grumbled, but since the project was her responsibility, there wasn’t much I could do. Besides, Kendall is at that age when she takes great pleasure in testing her mother.

She made that quite clear as she finally cleaned off the coffee table in the family room, dragged out the blank cardboard display board and dramatically opened it on the table. Then, Kendall looked at me and gestured at the table. “It’s procrastination station,” she said. “It worked for Shepherd and it will work for me.”

I wasn’t at all pleased that the kids had actually named the spot where they work on last-minute projects, but my husband seemed to be. He actually grinned when I told him.

I’ll never know for sure, but I’m pretty sure he thinks the children actually inherited that trait from him.

There may be something to that theory, and investigating the existence of a procrastination gene might make a good science fair project.

I’d suggest that to my kids so they could get a jump start on next year, but something tells me that’s just not going to happen.

Behind the Closed Door

Wednesday, October 16, 2013
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Keep-Door-Closed-Notice-SignSometimes, the lessons we need the most arrive before we know what to do with them.

They are handed to us, and we simply put them to the side, let them simmer and almost forget about them. Then one day, a crisis, a random comment  or a moment  of self doubt triggers the memory, and we are reminded that we are infinitely wiser than we once were.

I had one of those moments last week.

I was out with a group of friends who met for dinner, drinks and a strategy session. A friend of ours with two young children is facing a tough diagnosis and the fight of her life. We all want to help and were developing our battle plan.

But as often happens when a group of women get together, we also talked about ourselves and our own battles. One was dealing with a daughter whose behavior has recently involved entanglements with law enforcement and an on again/off again criminal boyfriend. Another has a child who is fighting drug addiction and yet another is dealing with a mother with dementia. After the discussion had evolved from our problems to therapists and solutions, someone said, “I don’t need a therapist, I have girlfriends, and if they can’t accept that I’m imperfect, then they are too busy trying to hide their own imperfections.”

And that’s when my lesson hit me.

Years ago, when I was still counting my daughter’s age in months, my children and I were invited to the first birthday party for the son of  a colleague.

I felt obligated to go even though I didn’t want to. The child’s mother did absolutely everything right. She was working full-time, and her older children were excelling in their activities.  She cooked a real dinner every night, was always making crafts and had been sharing details for days about the decorations and the cake she had made for her son’s party.

At the time, I was relying on my husband to cook most dinners (for the record I still do), and I hadn’t made crafts since Girl Scout camp. We’d been advised to take my son in for a developmental screening, and I was in no mood to listen to other parents talk about their amazing children. I just wanted to ignore the rest of the world and walk my dogs in the woods. I was sure that going to that  birthday party would simply leave me feeling inadequate. And, initially, it did.

But then, I discovered something. When looking for the bathroom, I accidentally opened the wrong door. Inside that room was my lesson.

I could barely open the door.  I could only push it in enough to see that the room  was crammed almost to the ceiling  with clothes, books, toys and other stuff.  The room looked as though someone had taken every loose item in the house and  shoved it into the room so  no one could see it. The woman holding the party wasn’t nearly as organized as she wanted everyone to think, and she was trying to hide her imperfect housekeeping skills behind a closed door.

At that moment, I realized everyone has some kind of mess in his or her life. Some of them we create ourselves while others are simply a result of the complexity of relationships and personalities. Some of us leave our doors partially shut to some people and wide open to others.

But the only meaningful relationships in our lives are those in which we trust ourselves and others to leave the doors open.

A Meaningless Word

Wednesday, July 31, 2013
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I absolutely despise the word popular, and I truly believe it is the most meaningless word in the English language.

Its lack of meaning is followed closely by the word “successful,” but popular still tops my list.

Technically, it has a definition, but the way people throw it around, popular is a word with no substance.

But some individuals, even parents, use the word as though it has profound implications.

For example, I recently heard a parent say, “I’m so proud that my daughter did the right thing instead of the popular thing.”

I can’t relate to the father’s choice of words.

If he’d said his daughter didn’t succumb to peer pressure or had made a decision with which her friends didn’t agree, I would have understood.

But “the popular thing?”

popularThat just doesn’t resonate with me.

When I was in high school, there was a self-proclaimed “popular” group, but, ironically, no one outside the group much respected or even liked most of the members.

Granted, they controlled certain spaces in the school, wore overpriced clothes and were generally considered good-looking.

But popular?

They certainly didn’t meet the dictionary definition, which means regarded with favor, approval or affection by the majority of people.

Elite? Maybe. But popular? Not so much.

As an adult I appreciate how most people mature, pursue their own interests and broaden their circle of friends and associates.

Which is why I don’t understand why some parents give any weight to the word popular.

Even now, my children don’t care about how their friends are labeled.

My daughter, who loves the musical Wicked, has proclaimed that she doesn’t understand Glinda, who is pretty but obsessed with popularity. Instead, she relates to Elphaba, the unique and gifted lead character who demonstrates love and compassion for the plight of others, regardless of how they look or what others think of them.

I can only hope I’ve raised my children to do the same.

And if those beliefs don’t make any of us  “popular,” I don’t really care.

Make-Up Test

Monday, July 8, 2013
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Katy Brown isn’t cool. Maybe Katie Holmes is.

The second Ava turned 10, she asked if she could wear makeup.  No.  Could she have a cell phone?  No.  Could she open a Facebook account? No.  Could she sit in the front seat of the car?  No.

No. No. No.

It seems as though the knowledge of being a “double-digit age”, which she will be for the rest of her adult life, has sparked an interest in all things grown up.  It’s hard enough to keep appropriate shoes on her feet now that she’s into a lady’s size 8.  That’s right. She can wear my shoes, and she wears them well.  A little too well, I might add.

“Can I wear dressy shoes now?”   No.   “But I have to shop in women’s shoe stores,” she argued.  Where they sell flats, I countered.

But as I try to slow life down (since I can’t shrink her feet), I remember how I used to spend my playtime as a child.  I wore my mother’s high heels around the house, sashaying like Daisy Duke; I tried on her lipstick just to blot it on Kleenex; I hosed myself down with perfume like it was a can of air freshener.  It wasn’t.

I wanted to be like her.  I wanted to act like her.  I wanted to dress like her.   And she let me.  And we both looked ridiculous.

Perhaps it was their advanced age, but my parents treated me like an adult from day one.  They didn’t play with me — they talked to me.  They didn’t buy toys — they bought clothes.  They didn’t plan family trips — they arranged historic tours.  They didn’t order tickets to the circus – they watched evening dramas.  I knew more about Falcon Crest than the Justice League.

When I turned 14, my mother took me to the cosmetics counter at Stone & Thomas and had the sales consultant tackle my eighth grade face.  I left with a bag of expensive products, from full coverage foundation and powder to a saturated lipstick.

“You need some color,” my mother announced, filling in her lips with British Redcoat.  “You’re fair, so you can look washed out if you aren’t careful.”

I went to school the following Monday wearing the Estee Lauder palette. Within five minutes of homeroom, I was wiping smudged mascara off my pale cheeks.  “IT’S KATHRYN CLOWN!” one boy shouted.  (I heard he’s in prison now…).

I went to the bathroom and cleaned my face with stiff, brown paper towels and were fanned into an accordion pattern from being jammed in the machine.  I wouldn’t need blush for a week as my face was raw from scrubbing. But other girls were wearing makeup, too — blue eye shadow being the toy of choice.  After that, I stuck to powder to cover up the blemishes from oil-based foundation and some frosted pink gloss.  Then, I moved onto hair products that would keep my 80′s helmet head secured in case of a Cat-4 hurricane.

Now that I’m 40, I can wear British Redcoat with confidence, as long as my Starbucks-stained teeth don’t ruin the look. But a tweenage girl?  No ma’am.  When the time is right, the girls and I will plan a mother-daughter weekend at the Easton Mall in Columbus to learn the tricks of the trade.  I like makeup artist Bobbi Brown’s philosophy of teenage beauty, which is to accentuate rather than recreate.  She teaches young women the proper way to take care of their skin, how to cover up problem areas and play up their best features.  Colors are subtle and natural looking, and they’re virtually error-proof for the untrained hand.  For now, Ava’s cosmetic bag will contain Chapstick and suncreen. To pass the time, she can read about makeup in Brown’s book, “Beauty Rules”, which covers a lot of the topics left out of the popular manual, “The Care and Keeping of You”.

And that reminds me:  The American Girl store at Easton opened on June 22nd. Ava can take her doll to the spa and salon for a “day of magic”.  I’ll be happy to pay for that makeover.

The nearest Bobbi Brown counter is located at Nordstrom in Columbus, Ohio.  For the eager tween, there are minimalist products such as Yogi Bare lip balm and artistry workshops. 

This is an opinion piece. No discounts, freebies or samples were accepted (or offered!).

 

Enough Said

Monday, July 1, 2013
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School daze.

I may have learned more about life in sixth grade than any other age, stage or phase.  It was an awkward time fueled by being in the same building with the same people since kindergarten. We were growing up and growing irritable, with each other and with our limited surroundings. It was easy to go from the most popular girl in class to the least. To say the least.

Toward the end of the school year, students were treated to a class bowling trip. On the day of the event, the class was rambunctious — goofing off and talking out of turn. Our teacher warned us to calm down or else. The class continued cutting up and as promised, our trip was canceled. Those of us who had parents slated to drive students were told to go to the office to tell them we weren’t going.

I was first in line to call my mother from the secretary’s desk.  What happened? My mom inquired. “Oh, a couple of guys got us in trouble.  Probably Mike and Steve.”

The kids behind me gasped.  “Awwwww!” one of them taunted.  Little did I know, the culprits weren’t Mike and Steve.  I had assumed the class clowns were responsible for ruining our day.  I was wrong.  I was so very wrong. 

The kids beat me to the classroom to tell Mike and Steve what I had said.  The two were furious.  Everyone in the class looked shocked that I would do such a thing.  There was a blend of “That’s cold, Kate!” and “You’re so stupid!” chants and rants.  Girls in the class scowled in disappointment and disbelief. The teacher reclaimed control of the excitement.

“Enough!” she shouted.  “This is exactly why we’re not going.  You can’t control your mouths.”

I became lunchroom poison within the hour.  When I asked my friend to sit with me, assuming the flair up had died down, she turned her back.  I moved on to another girlfriend.  “You just don’t get it,” this friend spat. “You had no right to blame them. It’s unfair.”

I sat by myself that day and the day after. For a week, the usual crowd ignored me. They whispered to each other, rolled their eyes, pointed fingers and laughed at jokes that couldn’t possibly have been that funny.

I apologized to Mike and Steve. They rejected my apology. I apologized to my closest friend. She rejected my apology. I called former friend after former friend on the telephone and asked them to forgive me. They hung up.

I was miserable.

When the field trip was rescheduled, our teacher asked whom we wanted to ride with us to the bowling alley. She called my name, and I looked around the classroom at boys and girls who wouldn’t make eye contact. They doodled in their notebooks, picked at their fingers, shook their heads to warn me in advance. I announced four familiar names. They protested.

I begged my friends not to be mad, but each time I tried to engage them in conversation to hear my side — to hear my regret — they told me off. I made a mistake and I’d have to suffer the consequences of being an outcast.

The teacher called my mother to fill her in on what was going on. That night, my mom asked why I would blame people for something they didn’t do. I explained that I simply guessed, in a private conversation, which was overheard and then spread throughout the class.

“Did you say you were sorry?” Mom asked.

“Yes. Many times.”

“And are you sorry?” she questioned.

“Yes.”

“And they still won’t accept it?” she continued.

“No.”

“Then that’s their burden,” she said.  “Staying mad is hard work.”

On the day of the field trip, three girls that I didn’t usually spend time with climbed into my mother’s Dodge Minivan. I asked if they wanted to ride with someone else. I was prepared for them to jump out the window.

“No. Why?” one girl asked.

Because of what I said about Mike and Steve…

“That’s between you, Mike and Steve,” the girl replied.

But everyone despises me, I told her.

“They’ll get over it.”

And they did. It was a long haul until June, but I was slowly accepted by my classmates once the sting wore off. I learned a valuable lesson, though: Adversity is allowed in our lives for a reason. We don’t grow from perfection. The damaging situation should be our discipline, not the power of other people. I don’t agree that we should break down and beg others to let us back in their lives or their good graces.  I also don’t believe self-pity is an appropriate use of our time or tears, and I don’t think we should consider ourselves victims in situations that we created. But, I do believe that we should shut up and learn from the silence. There’s something to be said for keeping our mouths closed. Stop begging. Stop explaining. Stop arguing. Stop debating. Stop insisting. Stop proving. Stop campaigning. Stop trying.

Just stop. Let people distance themselves if that’s what they want to do, or feel they need or have to do. If friends bolt, then let them go. If they want to harbor resentment, whether the reason directly involves them or not, then accept that the relationship is over. Maybe it’s for the best.

We moved on to junior high, where I met kids from different elementary schools, and it launched what would become the best years of my young adult life. What happened in sixth grade would be forgotten. However, I still remember the feeling of being wrong, particularly when my own children apologize for something they’ve done. And I take their word for it.

….

Blogger’s note: Identities have been changed for privacy. Mike and Steve are my husband and brother-in-law. I hope they don’t mind me using their names.

A Real Page Turner

Monday, June 24, 2013
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There are certain childhood memories that refuse to fade.  I distinctly remember coming home from a friend’s house one afternoon to face my mother, sitting in her living room chair, smoking what had to have been a pack of cigarettes. I said hello. She said nothing. I asked what was wrong. She pounded her Viceroy into the ashtray and looked at me with an icy stare that I can still feel.

“Never leave an opened diary.”

Diary of a not-so wimpy kid.

I turned as quickly as my heavy feet would allow and walked into my bedroom, where I searched for the diary that was left in plain sight.

There it was, on the floor, by my stereo.  I usually stuffed it between record albums, but for some reason, I’d failed to return the book to its proper hiding place.

At least, I assume I left it out.  To this day, I’m still not sure if I left an opened diary for my mother to pick up — and read — or if she looked for something to read while I was at my friend’s house.

I was about 14 at the time, so the entries could be described as “coming of age” thoughts and confessions.  Sitting here typing a version of those observations, I can still recall the ringing in my ears and nausea swimming in the pit of my stomach.

I flipped through the pages. Dear God. Did I have to write all that? Why did I write any of that? What was I thinking? Better yet, what was I doing?  I know the rules.  If you don’t want it read, don’t write it. If you don’t want it told, don’t say it.

The experience grounded my writing interests for years.  I didn’t write one word outside of class assignments, and I changed my college interest from journalism to advertising.  When a Manhattan publisher returned my packet of poems with red check marks on each page indicating that the editor wanted them all, I hid the envelope under my mattress.  I was too afraid to show my parents what I had written, fearing a similar reaction.

Most of the poems were about being dumped by a boy.  Young heartbreak. Teenage angst.  Immature attitudes. Insecurity and uncertainty. Naivety. Poor judgment. Material that was good enough to be in print. A writer who was talented enough to be endorsed…in junior high.

I didn’t revisit my love of writing until my mother passed away.  By this time I was 27, and I inched back into the creative world by penning letters to her every day for a year. More than 400 letters sealed in envelopes, identified only by the date on which they were written, filled a hat box.  I still have them, but they’re tucked away in the basement, where I worry they’ll be found by my daughters.  They were grief-stricken summaries…updates on what was happening (or not), what was going on with my dad, with Mike, with work.  Girl talk.  Topics that weren’t and still aren’t to be shared with anyone else.

Is the content that scandalous?  Hardly.  But like anything written, words have permanence.  My bad mood expressed on a dreary Tuesday in 2001 could hurt someone today.  My frustration with this project or that client could end a business relationship. My irritation with a size 6 frame that fought to be a size 4 might unveil a perfectionist past (that has loosened up like an elastic waistband).

Yet, they reveal too much information.  And the troublesome part about writing is that the author can’t use the phrase, “Oh, that was in the past.”  We can’t accuse someone of reading too much into things. You see, when something is written, it remains in the present.  Having written something a long time ago means nothing to the reader if the revelation is a little too honest.

My daughters are starting to jot notes to each other, and every time I find a folded square or triangle under the couch or bed, my heart skips a beat in anticipation of what I’ll discover.  Part of me wants to toss the droppings into the trash, unread, to protect myself.  Do I really want to know that one of them thinks I’m so mean!?  Do I want to know that older sister has ranted away in ink about younger sister, who gets on her nerves and bugs her day and night?  Do I want to be reminded that AVA LOVES HARRY! on every flat surface?  Do I need to see that Maryn feels a little left out when she advertises for someone to play with her (mark ‘x’ for YES or NO)?

In the age of cyber-parenting, moms and dads who are connected to their children through Facebook and Twitter (even Pinterest), find themselves engaged in “Did you have to post that?!” debates on a daily basis.  But counselors, admissions directors and human resource specialists argue that people who refrain from social media altogether give their families, friends and colleagues much more to worry about.  What are they hiding?  What are we not supposed to know? But there’s a fine line when it comes to reading the fine print:  Should we disrespect our children’s privacy in order to teach them to respect themselves?

After my parents died, I started two blogs that became the foundation for material I contribute to the Daily Mail.  I wrote a book last year about life at home, and I have a children’s story slated for publication later this summer.  I know for a fact that my mother would have hated my Monday column.  But it wouldn’t have existed because I would’ve been afraid to write it.  This opened diary — which gives the world a clear view of my marriage, my home, my career and my mind — has served an important purpose, though.  Not only have the essays cataloged my daughters’ lives in a way that serves as a time capsule for our family, but they’ve uncovered a lot of lessons that I’ve had to figure out on my own.  Hopefully, they’ve generated a “that’s me!” reaction from readers who find themselves in my stories on occasion.  They can relate to this or to that.  They’re not alone.

E.B. White admired “anybody who had the guts to write anything at all.”  So the next time I find a balled up piece of notebook paper, the diarist in me will demand that it be placed in the trash.  But the mother in me now understands why it’s so critical to remain in the know.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Monday, June 10, 2013
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She slept through it all.

Ten years ago, I ate a pound of tortilla chips dredged in hot salsa, chased it with Mexican combo dinner #6, washed all of that down with sweet tea, and then walked a mile around our neighborhood park. Four hours later, I was having my first baby.  She was delivered in part by a friend from college who was training a new nurse, who would end up buying our house.

But wait! There’s more!

Ava Elizabeth was born on June 10th and went home, the color of a Georgia peach, on June 12th. We pulled into the driveway to discover neighbors in our yard, eager to see the interior of our house, which had been flooded when a drain on the hillside became clogged with debris following a violent rainstorm.  Only the bottom level of the house was damaged, but the laundry room floor was beneath several inches of muddy water.  Maternity clothes, which were borrowed, floated on top.  The washer and dryer were ruined.  The phone lines were ruined.  The walls were ruined.  The carpet was ruined.  The furniture was ruined.  Everything seemed ruined.

It had to get better.  It just had to.

But, it didn’t.

A week later, more rains drenched Charleston, and the same drain (which didn’t belong to us or the city) clogged again.  The basement, newly bleached and recently stripped of everything down to the car in the garage, would undergo another soaking.  My husband climbed the hill to clear the drain, but the force of the water snapped his shovel in half, sending the wooden handle to the road.  I was certain he had died…a drowning…possibly a heart attack..maybe a stabbing…possibly a beating.  I just knew he was gone.

With hormones raging, I called 911.  I informed (correction: screamed) that my husband had been overtaken by rapid waters.  I yelled for him, but he didn’t respond.  I couldn’t hike the hill to check on him because I had just given birth to a baby girl — with jaundice.  She was by the window, by the way, wearing only a diaper…

First the police pulled in, then the rescue squad, and then the longest firetruck in the fleet.  BIG JOHN, I think they called it. Superheroes jumped out of their vehicles in black hats and rain gear.  They pounded on the door to check on us and to find out where my husband was last seen.  I pointed to the hillside behind our deck.  I cried. I shook. I hyperventilated.

A paramedic sat with me as the others tackled the waterfall.  Getting to the top was still nearly impossible, so they started shouting for Mike.  “CAN YOU HEAR US?” a fireman bellowed through a bullhorn. “MIKE! ANSWER IF YOU CAN HEAR US!”

When the skies cleared, a confused voice could be heard from the top of the ridge.  “Hello?” Mike replied.  He was alive!

“ARE YOU OKAY, SIR?” asked the fireman.

“I’m fine!” he yelled back.

“WE THINK YOU SHOULD COME DOWN, SIR.  YOUR WIFE IS VERY UPSET!”

Mike obeyed and slid down the hill with the bottom half of his shovel, which then resembled a trowel.

“Is she all right?” Mike asked, breathless, cold and extremely wet.

“She’s fine, but she’s worried about you,” answered the fireman.

Mike informed the Superheroes that he had broken his shovel trying to dig out the stopped-up drain, but his wife had lost her damned mind.

A news crew had filed in behind the string of emergency vehicles.

“She wasn’t in danger, but she was scared,” a paramedic told the reporter.  “We sent mother and baby to the neighbor’s house across the street so she wouldn’t be alone.”

But, mother and baby had to return home because the neighbor had pneumonia.  It really wasn’t a good time.

That evening, as I sat on the couch because I wasn’t allowed to get up or even think about making a telephone call, I noticed that Ava couldn’t open her right eye.  An infection had set in, which I feared would render her as blind as Stevie Wonder. Mike phoned our new pediatrician.  Medication was called in for Ava. Rest for Mama. A bottle for Daddy. Doctor’s orders.

The next morning, June temperatures swept through the house and roasted all of us like baked potatoes.  Ava’s chest, stomach, arms and legs were covered in red bumps.  I broke into a familiar hysteria, calling the pediatrician again to beg for an appointment. She worked us in within the hour and diagnosed our new baby with a heat rash that would go away once I took the winter pajamas off her.  After that, we replaced the central cooling unit at a cost that could have sent our next daughter to an Ivy League school of choice.

Once the house was dry (and cool), and the weather crisp (and calm), we sold our home (to the labor nurse) and the first memories that went with it.  A decade later, this beautiful little lady with blonde hair, healthy blue eyes, deep dimples, long legs and even longer feet, represents everything motherhood has to offer.  With her love of Harry Styles and the British band, One Direction; for reading and writing; for all things formal and proper; she is so lovely.  And it has been wonderful.

Happy birthday, Ava.

Click on the Harry Styles hyperlink for a very special birthday message to Ava. 

Lordy, lordy! Look who’s…

Monday, May 13, 2013
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The beginning of May is a tremendously stressful time for my husband.  It begins with my birthday on the seventh and it ends with Mother’s Day weekend.  Two behemoth holidays (yes, Katy Day counts in my bizarre world) mean that Mike stands at the greeting card racks, suffering in search of someone else’s thoughts to sign his name to.

And as I read the wit and wisdom of Scooter the Squirrel, I began to ponder four decades.  FORTY.  I’m now at the age I most associate with my mother’s life.  An era of maturity and maternity.  Yes, at this moment in time, she was holding a newborn. This was headline news in 1973.

But then as I think about the decades that have passed, I also think of the labels that have passed with them.  For the first phase, I was someone’s child.  For the next, I was someone’s student.  Then, in my twenties, I became someone’s employee.  As that chapter evolved, I became someone’s wife, and then someone’s mother.  That role changed a little as I became someone’s caregiver.

Now that I’m forty, it feels like the “f” word stands for “free.”

I guess I won’t be 100% free until I’m retired in a paid-off house with college-educated children.  But for some reason, forty feels different.  I don’t feel older or wiser…but I do feel more secure. I feel like I can finally say “NO!” to things that made be feel obligated along the way.

As a child, I felt a duty to obey.  I felt a duty to perform well on assignments and tests, because I was being graded by teachers.  I felt a duty to land a scholarship to ease the financial burden of higher education that turned a retirement portfolio into a college fund.  I felt a duty to show up at work by 7:30 a.m. and stay until 7:30 p.m., to prove my value to a company.  I then felt a duty to work at least part-time to help diminish expenses that rested squarely on my husband’s shoulders.  I felt a duty to take on every volunteer post and special event to prove my dedication to two daughters and their school.  I felt a duty to care for aging, ailing relatives who had loved me when I wasn’t capable of taking care of myself, either. I felt that duty three times.

But now, I’m entering a phase that seems to have a clearer calendar.  I feel as though I have some control again, even if  “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” (according to John Lennon).

Until the day I die, I’ll be a loyal wife and mother.  I hope to remain a writer in some way or another.  I’m certain I’ll always be a pet owner (because these nine animals seem to be in perfect health). I want to “be” these things. But I’m hopeful that this new decade — my forties by any other name — will be about strengthening a relationship.  I hope this is the stretch in which I realize a sense of duty to become a great friend…to myself.

Generation Why

Monday, April 1, 2013
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Young and set in her ways.

On the morning Ava was born, my husband and friend stood at the nursery window and stared at the 7.3 pound baby girl who had just failed her sucking test. Her lips remained pursed; her brows wrinkled between two puffy blue eyes. It was her first protest.

“Oh my God,” said my friend, covering her mouth.  “That’s Katy’s mother!

Yes. I gave birth to my mother down to the feet. Ava’s stamped footprint was so long that her heel smeared off the cardboard certificate. My mother wore a 7.5-AAAA shoe. Long and skinny, like a rabbit. Ava wears that size now.

Nearly a decade later, I am more convinced than ever that Ava really is Betty reincarnated. Between the facial expressions and attitude, I know exactly what to expect from this petite person who insists on wearing a robe and house slippers for shuffling around the house. Oh, yes, she does.

Is she a little old woman? Well, not really.  She’s just…mature.  And I have to tell you (as I start a sentence with the word I was taught NOT to use in grammar class), she didn’t inherit this trait from me.

The other day, Ava asked a loaded question about equality after reading my blog blasting Sheryl Sandberg (the chief operating officer of Facebook) for being out of touch with real, working women.

“Why do women want to be like men?” she asked.  “I don’t want to be like a boy,” she announced.

That’s not exactly what it means, I began. The writer wants women to be competitve; to go out for the same positions in jobs or sports.  She wants women to get the same level of pay for that work, and she wants them to stop being afraid of trying things that are hard.

Ava wasn’t impressed or inspired.

“But I don’t want to be treated the same way,” she insisted.  “I like being treated like a girl.”

And how is that? I asked.

“I don’t want to be rough,” she said simply. “Boys get crazy and I don’t like that.”

Have you seen your sister? I asked. She’ll go out for the football team, and I feel sorry for the boy who tries to block her.  The kid likes Pink Floyd and has asked to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to see “The monster from ‘The Wall’”.   Clearly, this is Mike’s child.

But my throwback means what she says. I also feel sorry for the poor chap who tries to ask her to the prom.

“But, Ava, what do you want to do with yourself?” I know the answer to this question, but I was curious if it had changed.

“I want to go to U.C. and get a degree in elementary education so I can teach kindergarten,” she announced.  “Then, I want to get married and have a boy and girl.  And then, I want to stay home and take care of them.”

(You see? Last week’s blog wasn’t b.s.)

Whom are you going to marry? I asked.

“Harry Styles,” she replied, giggling.   The British boy band has invaded our house to the point that the Union Jack hangs in her bedroom.  (I can’t be a hypocrite. I have a life-sized cardboard cutout of Paul McCartney in mine.)

Be serious, I demanded.

“I am serious!” she protested.  “I’m going to marry a man from England because they have better manners,” she announced.

And where would you have learned anything about manners? I countered.  Her father opened the car door for me last Saturday night because the child safety locks were stuck and I couldn’t get in.

“Harry has beautiful speech and he wanted to study law and business before he became a singer,”

Oh. I see.  You intend to marry well.  Then what?

“I don’t know yet,” she said. “But I want a spa tub in my bathroom so I can relax.”

Later than evening, Ava entered the kitchen carrying the book, Scat, by Carl Hiaasen.

“Mummy,” she began.  I swear, she called me Mum.  “This book has bad words in it,” she confirmed, handing the well-worn paperback to me.

Oh? How so? Didn’t you get it from the library?

“They say the “D” word and the “A” word.”

Are you new here, Miss? Have you not observed your father watching “Morning Joe” on TV?

I think you’re old enough to handle those two, I said.  While I don’t want you to use foul language, you’re going to have to get used to hearing people express themselves in cheap ways.

“Well, I don’t like it,” she said.

Forget marriage.  I’m now worried about middle school.

The next afternoon at elementary school, Ava emerged with a new book and a new experience to report. She stepped into the car with her pea coat and stuffed backpack; her blond hair tucked behind her ears.

“Guess what?!”

What.

“Today was our physical fitness test in gym, and I did an entire set of  BOY PUSH-UPS without stopping!”

Boy push-ups, huh?  Why’d you do a thing like that? Why not the girl kind?

“Everyone had to do the same ones. We had to be equal.”

Oh. I see. There’s that word again. And how did that work out for you?

“Well, I got really hot and really sweaty, and my face was red, and my shirt was sticking to my neck, so I want to go home and change, please.”

And with my throwback in the backseat and little sister belted in next to her (wearing blueberry yogurt on her shirt), we went home so one of them could slip into something more comfortable.

 

 

To be or not to be…

Monday, March 25, 2013
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…that is the question.

This past Christmas, I bought myself a special gift.  I ordered the weekend edition of The New York Times.  On Sunday evenings, I kick everyone out of the living room so I can indulge in stories that are above my reading comprehension level.

In the latest New York Times Book Review, there is a Q&A section with Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg.  The mega-executive, mother and author  seems like a woman I should idolize based on her workplace and home-life practices. She claims to eat dinner with her children every evening, she prefers “real” books to iPad downloads, she enjoys the humor of Tina Fey, and she never leaves the house without a spiral notebook and Bic pen to capture ideas.  Her career is steeped in advanced technologies, yet her personal approach is rather old school.  I think I might really love this woman if I could get to know her, but something makes me want to cover her face with my coffee cup.

Why?  Because she wants me to “Lean In” and I want to sit back.

It’s another book about balance and the way women ought to be.  Another 300 pages of why I should do this and why I should do that.  Another anthology of ways to get the life I’m supposed to want.  Another guide to having it all.

News flash:  I don’t want it all. 

What kind of message does this send to my daughters, though? What type of influence is this having on them?  They didn’t know me when I got my first essay printed in a national magazine at 14, or when my poems were accepted by a Manhattan publishing house at 16.  They didn’t know me when I produced and hosted talk shows, or when I graduated from college a semester early.  They didn’t know me when I became the marketing and business development director of a high-powered law firm in my mid-twenties, or when I drove a cute Audi A4 to and from that job.  They didn’t see me in New York or Scottsdale or Miami or Boston.

I had that life.  And now I have this one.

My daughters see me tapping on the laptop at all hours of the day and night, pounding out blogs and pages for a children’s book.  They see me in jeans and a button-down shirt, running in and out of their school with flyers for this event and that fundraiser.  They see me pushing a cart of groceries to my SUV– a Chevy Equinox with Goldfish cracker dust jammed into the seams of the seat.  They see me without makeup and with hair out of place.

So I’ve had parts of “it all” — just not all at once.

Let’s jump ahead for a moment:  What will I do or say if Ava (almost 10) comes to me one day and announces that she wants to go to a local liberal arts college and get a B.A. in English, become a writer, get married, have three kids and work from home?

What will I do or say if Maryn (age 7) comes to me one day and announces that she wants to go to Harvard all the way through medical school, become a plastic surgeon and move to Los Angeles to snip and tuck the faces of the Beverly Hills elite?

How would you respond? How should you respond?

Lean in or sit back?

Now sitting back is not the same as sitting on your a**.   I sit to write, and that’s about it.  I’m usually very busy as a commercial writer, newspaper blogger, communications instructor and PR consultant. But I’m not shattering the glass ceilings at Facebook or Yahoo.  Am I a leader in my daughters’ eyes?  Maybe. I certainly know how to get them out the door in the mornings.

But as a mother, aren’t I supposed to setting a more ambitious example?  Shouldn’t I be  motivating them to reach higher?  Shouldn’t I be the type of mom who coaches them to dream big but to achieve bigger?

As a parent, I’m leaning in.  I’m ALL IN.  I’m actively involved in everything our girls do, from homework to outside interests. I push them to try hard and study, to get good grades and positive feedback.  I demand that they behave and conduct themselves like young ladies.  I want them to do well and go far.  Don’t we all?

However, when it’s time for Ava and Maryn to make their own life choices, am I going to encourage them to lean in and take charge or sit back and assist? That’s where it gets complicated.  I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.  I love my simple life, so that makes it successful in my book.  I was in charge of a lot of things at one time in my career, but then I discovered that my best work was performed on the sidelines, helping.  I found great purpose in being a follower.  Tell me what you need done and I’ll do it.

But is a seemingly easier life a waste of potential and talent? If my daughters want to be “housewives” one day, will I be (secretly) disappointed?

I don’t have the answer to that.  I do know that we’ll give them the best chances to make the best lives for themselves, however that phrase is defined.  But whether the girls choose to lean in or sit back, I feel certain that both of them will find a way to stand out.