Monday, March 29, 2010

I'm Too Young (To Be This Old)

I don't lie about my age, and I like to think that I'm growing older with grace and acceptance - but maybe I'm more in denial than I know. My right knee is acting up - which is because I'm so active, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. So I went to see an orthopedist who specializes in athletes' knees (and who didn't tell me to stop dancing, like the last few doctors I'd seen), and who would have been an absolute delight except that I realized I was several years older than he was, despite his vast experience.

The next bad omen was going in for the MRI. I'd heard horror stories about the claustrophobia, but for me the worst part was when the technician offered me a selection of music for the headphones. (I'd brought my iPod, but she insisted I use their system with the old fashioned ear-covering headphones, because she said "the machine can be somewhat noisy" - which is like saying the Titanic took on a little water. The noise was a mash of police sirens, car alarms, and R2D2 beeps on steroids!) Head banging heavy metal wouldn't have drowned out the MRI sounds, but I appreciated the effort. However, the music selections were Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, or Nat King Cole (but not their hip jazz, the borderline muzak numbers like New York, New York, Hey There and my personal least favorite, Lazy Crazy Days of Summer, which still reminds me of those cheezy King Family Singers specials I saw as a kid). It was a 'duh' moment - realizing what those selections were telling us about the demographic they expected at a facility catering to people with bad hips, knees, and other joints. Jeepers, they think I'm old! (And that was a joke, I'm not old enough to have ever said 'jeepers' except ironically.)

I started thinking back on all the 'you're old' insulting moments I've suffered over the past few years; the subscription to the AARP magazine that starts the day you turn 50; dressing up for a night out and hearing my 16-year-old say 'Mom, women your age look slutty when they wear short skirts'; the time I got carded buying wine at Safeway, and when I told the cashier he'd made my day, he said, "Oh, no, ma'am, we have to card everyone, no matter how old you are".

However, the MRI music thing really got to me - see, I listen to vintage music, but I thought that was a fun quirk in my taste, a historical appreciation, like my love of vintage clothes and Astaire/Rogers musicals. (And I prefer the more hip choices - Benny Goodman instead of Glenn Miller, Andrews Sisters vs. Maguire Sisters, and only the early, cool Sinatra stuff.) But I didn't think of MYSELF as vintage. I mean, what's next, offering me samples of Metamucil and Depends? MRIs with a choice of Glen Campbell or Mitch Miller?

Unfortunately, my kids know how old I am so I can't lie about it, but I am now officially in denial. I'm going to go buy something cute and age-inappropriate at Forever 21, and listen to some Green Day while I touch up my totally premature gray roots!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Licorice In My Pocket

Not all surprises in life are welcome, which makes it even more delightful when you stumble across an unexpected treat. Yesterday, I reached in my coat pocket for my car keys (as I finished a slew of errands, including trips to the bank, the doctor and the orthodontist), and found a piece of gourmet black licorice wrapped in a paper towel, that I'd grabbed on my way out the door to reward myself for running all those errands. I'd forgotten all about it, and as I popped the licorice in my mouth I couldn't help smiling - and thinking about all those other times we get fun little treats. About once every couple of months, I come across cash in my pants pocket, and once I got a lovely reward for cleaning out my closet when I found a pair of terrific shoes I'd gotten on sale and then misplaced. And I love those times where I thought I had an appointment and didn't, so I end up with an unexpected chunk of time off.

But a lovely surprise doesn't have to involve money or accessories - sometimes all it takes is an unexpected facebook message from an old friend, a song you love coming up on the radio, or a really good New Yorker cartoon. Your husband brings you flowers 'just because', your kid does dishes without being reminded, you get a back-ordered mail order package you'd completely forgotten about. The other day I was stuck in rainy-day traffic when I spotted a rainbow, which I got to enjoy more than usual because of the traffic I would have otherwise cursed.

One thing about surprises is that you can't plan them for yourself, you just have to be open to noticing them, and able to appreciate small pleasures. But appreciating the value of a nice surprise makes it fun to plan them for other people - picking up your husband's favorite snack, leaving a friend a fun voice mail message, serving the kids milk in wine glasses to make dinner seem special.

And little treats are so subjective - one friend might love it when you surprise her with chocolate, another might prefer a live plant. (Like one of my favorites - black licorice gets people more polarized than health care, they either love it or hate it. I love the sweet-hot spiciness, plus it also has that Proust's madeline quality, of reminding me so strongly of the Good 'n' Plenty I loved as a kid. Fortunately, I'm the only one in my family that likes it, so when I indulge in the good kind, I can make it last! )

But I think what I love more about surprise treats is that they're actually a reward for absent-mindedness. (Which I prefer to think of as 'my hard drive is too full'.) Instead of cursing myself for misplacing new shoes or forgetting about cancelled appointments, I can enjoy the surprise I inadvertently created. And when I'm more on top of things and not getting those unexpected treats, I can always buy some licorice, browse the New Yorker cartoons I've collected, or hope my husband got the hint about the flowers!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happiness Is A Thing Called (Trader) Joe*

(*Okay, you have to be of a certain age, or a connoisseur of old music, to get that song reference . . . )

My affair with Trader Joe started slowly, and innocently enough; I was a loyal Safeway customer, but a friend told me that this funky alternative store had a cheaper price on Crystal Guiser Juice Squeeze (the carbonated juice beverage to which my kids are addicted). I just popped in for a second, honestly, but then I noticed their vanilla soy milk was cheaper, and it turned out to taste really good. Okay, just for Juice Squeeze and soy milk . . . and wow, those wine prices are fabulous, and pretty soon I was going every couple of weeks for a few key items. You could say the soy milk was my 'entry drug', and now I'm completely addicted to their prepared salads, storebrand humus, great deals on frozen shrimp, terrific baked goods, reasonably priced coffee . . . stop me, I'm starting to salivate! Plus there's always something to taste, and while the samples can be weird, there is an occasional winner (the polenta coins with bolognese sauce were to die for).

Oh, I patronize the supermarket for basics, but it's big, impersonal, and overwhelming. Instead of a large aisle with 200 brands of sugar-laden cereals, I love seeing Joe's small section, including several low-sugar, high-fiber choices that actually taste better than cardboard. (Barry Schwartz has written a whole scholarly book, The Paradox of Choice - Why More Is Less, that backs me up in thinking most stores offer too many options.) And I love the funky, hawaiian-shirted clerks, the men with ponytails and the women with tattoos, and the way it feels like going to a Berkeley food co-op (even though I know it's a large chain and it's probably more evil than Starbucks).

But if I ever start wavering in my devotion, the floral section brings me right back. Just like Renee Zellweger told Jerry Maguire, 'You had me at hello', Trader Joe's had me at the $1.29 daffodils. (Where else can you find a treat that makes you smile, lasts for several days, has no calories, and costs less than a plain cup of coffee?)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Baby, You Can Drive My (First) Car

There are so many maternal milestones to celebrate, from your baby's first smile, to the first night without diapers, to the first time your child stays home alone while you run to the store (and check your cell phone every 3 minutes). And so many significant purchases - the first big-kid Thomas The Tank Engine underpants, the first school backpack, the first training bra (or, since I have no girls and a boy who's serious about dancing, his first dance belt was equally embarrassing for him). But nothing is as big, or expensive, or as scary (to a parent with any imagination who reads the statistics about teen drivers) as the first set of wheels.

We tried to be good liberals and not add to our carbon footprint with an unneccessary vehicle, but like many teens, David has an extremely busy schedule and parents whose schedules don't always give him the car access or rides he needs. So we bit the bullet and let him buy a used Taurus with summer job & barmitzvah savings (and a bit of parental help). As we sat there filling out paperwork, I tried to impress upon him the significance of the occasion. "Someday, you'll tell your kids about this, and I hope it's meaningful for you. I still remember buying my first . . . " "Thanks for the history lesson, mom, now let's go check out the car!"

And I understand - a first car means independence, wordliness, and a huge sense of accomplishment if you earned the money. I worked 3 jobs one summer to pay for my first car (a '76 VW Rabbit with 150,000 miles on it, a sun roof, and a neon yellow exterior). I loved that car, and I was also really proud that I earned it all by myself. And oh, the car seemed to love me back, and ran like a dream until some moron in a Buick ran a stopsign and totalled my baby. (The Buick suffered minor bumper damage - life is NOT fair!)

It's wonderful to revisit that thrill, as I watch David proudly showing off his car, revelling in the automatic trunk release, and bossing his younger brother around when Ben tries to touch the doors. But it's also sad - the first hints of having an empty nest, sort of like that first day of kindergarten, when you realize your kid is starting to grow up. But it's also exhiliarating - since I was one of those kindergarten moms who got choked up for a moment, and then gloried in the freedom of a few hours to myself. But it's also dismaying - I don't think of myself as someone who is old enough to be the mother of a car-owner. But it's also incredibly cool - I raised a kid who works hard, saves money for a car, and is mature enough to handle driving. But it's also disappointing - no more heart-to-hearts in the car (when sitting side by side makes teens feel comfortable enough to open up a bit). But it's also gleefully liberating - I don't have to plan my schedule around when he needs a ride or a car, and when Husband 2.0 and I need some privacy, we can send him and his brother to the store to buy something we don't really need! But it's also unbelievably nerve-wracking - having your teen drive is already scary, but naturally everyone I know
has a story about some teen getting into an accident the first week in a new car. That's like my ex-mother-in-law, who had to tell me about someone she knew dying from anything I ever experienced, from childbirth to hangnails. Trust me, I worry enough without additional provocation!

To my husband, and most men, it probably sounds like I can't make up my mind how I feel about the whole thing. No, I feel ALL of those extremes, and more, just like mothers have a jumble of mixed feelings about every significant transition. I'm thrilled, sad, exhiliarated, dismayed, gleeful, nervous, and more - good grief, by the time I become a grandmother, I'm going to need a thesaurus! (Maybe by then I'll feel old enough - but I doubt it . . . )

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The evil convenience of fast food

Okay, I get it - I've read the newspaper, and my mom has described (in lurid detail) the more disgusting scenes in Food, Inc. Our eating habits are terrible and I want my family to be healthier. Unfortunately, I'm also coping with busy schedules, picky teens, and a bank account that doesn't allow me to indulge in Whole Food's organic produce at $2 per blueberry.

I try - I clip recipes from Cooking Lite, I watch the Food Network nutritionists turn tofu into a work of art, and I buy fresh, seasonal produce that I even sometimes use before it wilts in my crisper drawer. But sometimes I run out of time, and frequently the kids turn up their noses at my efforts. (And even I thought that whole-grain spinach/mushroom lasagne was pretty gross.) Or my good intentions don't go far enough, like the day I felt so efficient, I had all the ingredients for a fabulous split pea soup in the crockpot by 8 a.m. (including sauteed onion & garlic), and came home at 7 anticipating a wonderful dinner only to find I'd forgotten to plug in the crockpot.

And sometimes, the thought of a meal- any meal - someone else prepares and cooks is so tempting. When one kid's band practice lets out 15 minutes before the other kid's study session, I haven't been home all day, and there's a Burger King right there on the corner, calling to us, it's nearly impossible to resist. (And it's even harder to resist my kids' pleas for fast food when, I have to admit, I love a good french fry!)

So I'm trying to compromise, cooking when I can (or when I remember), and when I do need help, usually opting for healthier options like Subway or Fresh Choice - we save the deepfried grease for a special treat. But I have to ease up on myself. After all, my ideal of 'perfect motherhood' was formed by 1970's sitcoms, but Carol Brady didn't have a job, AND she had a full time maid (who didn't just do laundry and dispense advice, but she prechopped Carol's vegetables, competed with her over jam recipes, and served the Bradys coffee in an avocado-hued living room - now that's luxury!). Without "Ann B. Davis as Alice", I'll get by with an occasional "Welcome to Jack In The Box". (By the way, their rice bowls are almost good enough to keep me from eating a burger!)

Monday, March 8, 2010

But it was December yesterday!

Time passes more quickly the older you get - but I was still surprised that it's March already. Between my sleep-deprived brain and the grey weather, it just felt like December had kept going, until I sat down to write a blog post and realized I hadn't been here in 3 months. What happened? It's not like I've been on a secret mission, or visited Haiti with philanthropic movie stars, or visited a Swiss clinic for a carefully disguised facelift. And I haven't written a novel, or re-organized my house (not even one drawer), or kept up an exercise regime.

Somehow days, then weeks, then months, zip by, doing nothing else but sort of treading water. We start to feel like George Jetson on a sped-up treadmill, struggling to keep up. I once tried to explain the relativity of time to my kids - when you're 7, a year is one-seventh of your life, but for grownups, it's a much smaller fraction, so it seems shorter. But they still view it as relative to their enjoyment level - if they're having fun, the time flies, but a boring day goes on forever. (I don't think that equation works for adults - even when we're not having fun, time flies!)

Of course we should 'cherish the moment', 'stop and smell the roses', 'live each day as if it were our last', and other homilies from greeting cards and posters of wide-eyed kittens (or cutesy mass emails, if you're not old enough to remember posters). But that type of advice doesn't tell you how to juggle the demands of kids, homes, jobs, in-laws, spouses, committees, or really-wonderful-causes-you'd-support-if-you-had-more-time-and-money. How are we supposed to do it all?

Since I never 'do it all' anyhow, why not decide it's okay and relish imperfection?
I am finally getting around to New Year's resolutions (in March);
- Don't do today what you can safely put off til tomorrow (and by then it probably won't need doing)
- Say no to three requests a week
- Only do exercise that's fun
and - 'Perfect' is a dirty word (but take-out isn't)
And my new mantra is
- Good enough IS good enough

Say it a few times, and then put your feet up. After all, procrastinating, ignoring clutter and forgiving ourselves can be exhausting!

PS For me, I'll add one more resolution, which is to post once a week - not out of any puritanical work ethic, or sense of duty to the people who read this blog (although I love you both!), but when my kids (husband included) do something annoying, I can view it as material instead of as a reason to explode.