Wonderful World

Max and I had an intense conversation one evening five years ago about creationism versus evolution. Max was concerned that there were children who were being taught that the world was created by magic space fairies (I didn’t even know that was a thing) and that science had no part in it. However, he also questioned whether existence was really based on matter or thought. Big stuff for a 12-year-old. As he left my room and headed to bed, he turned to me and said, “Mom, if I walk out of this room and you don’t see me anymore, does that mean I cease to exist?” “No, Max,” I said, “I know for a fact that you exist because I am very sure about where you came from and I am pretty sure it wasn’t magic space fairies.” “Okay,” he said. “Just checking.” Sometimes my kid thinks himself right into and out of a corner.

This past Monday at 6 a.m., I walked in to make sure Max was up and ready for school. His red hair was piled on top of his head, like mine. Both of us were wearing sweatpants and yesterday’s regrets. “C’mon, dude,” I said. “We can do this.” He lifted his head up and groaned. I flipped on his lights and said, “I’ll be back at 6:30 a.m. You HAVE to get up!” Again, he groaned and fell back onto his pillow. I had court and was pulling on my shoes. “MAX, get UP.” At 7:00 a.m., I went back in and said to him, in my best Mother of Doom voice, “MAX you have to get up NOW RIGHT NOW or you are going to be a TRUANT today!” He lifted his head up and opened one eye and said to me, “Mom, I don’t have school this week.” It took a moment to register. Oh, right. Thanksgiving was Thursday. No school. Shit. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll turn these lights off. Get some rest.”

I’ve had so many of those Bad Mom moments. I forgot snack day. I was late for pickups. I didn’t wash uniforms. I didn’t sign homework. I was late and missed the race, the award, the performance. I fought with their dad. I got a divorce. I didn’t save their pets from dying. I didn’t keep their hearts from breaking. I missed the memo and picture day. I begged the yearbook teacher for one more day to include photos. I didn’t check the school calendar and see that this week was a break.

Last night, my sons and my mother and I sat down for Thanksgiving dinner together. I told Max, “Do you remember when your dad used to take the whipped cream and squirt it right into your mouth?” Max said, “Is that what whippits are?” I said, “Close enough.” After about a half hour of eating and listening to classical music, Shane asked me, “Do you have anything more upbeat?” I put on another playlist. My playlist was a compilation of unexpected covers. When Joey Ramone began singing “What a Wonderful World,” I started dancing mosh-pit style behind Max. Shane said, “Mom, did you do whippits tonight?” I said, “NO, but my generation invented the Pogo, Shane. So I’m gonna dance” Then I was breathless from mosh-pit dancing in my kitchen Maybe I did need some shots of Reddi-Whip.

Later that evening, I went out for a walk in a chilly Northern California evening. I walked out the door that I honestly thought I walked out for the final time a month prior, when the Kincade Fire forced my entire town to evacuate. Some of the blocks I walked were so dark I couldn’t see the sidewalk in front of me but I’ve walked there so many times, I didn’t need light. I knew where they started and ended. I’d wondered when I returned from the evacuation. Should I leave? What if the next time fire takes my home? Do I want to risk that heartache? Am I a bad mom for staying – or will I be if I leave?

I returned to my house after my walk and it was warm and cozy. My house still smells like smoke. There may be more fires. And more rain. But this is the house my sons grew up in. Where leaving a room does not mean you disappear. Because you belong here. It’s messy, there’s a lot of pets and laundry and unfiled papers. This house is where my kids are, where there’s a kitchen with a mosh pit, and where you can hear Joey Ramone singing “It’s a Wonderful World.” Yes. This is home.

#donebetter

A few years back, Max called to ask me to bring home pepperoni hot pockets. I said, “How was your day?” He said, “Actually not that great.” “Oh,” I said. “You know, I think you’re starting to go through puberty.” He said, “MOM, I HAVE BEEN GOING through puberty. It’s very stressful.” Oh I understand. Because adulting – same.

A few weeks ago, I texted Max and asked him if he wanted me to get him anything from the grocery store. He texted me back: “Can you get Oreos, milk, cheezits and hot pockets. I need it for my stress eating diet.” I doubled up on that request. Because -well, just – same.

I just bought Max more pepperoni hot pockets and the other stuff on his list. I know. They’re not healthy. But let’s be real. It’s all relative. My boss said to me several times when I was struggling as a first-year attorney. “Perfect is the enemy of done.” What we do – and what my sons do – are with an intent to make this world a better place because we were here. It does’t have to be perfect. Maybe if it’s done with love, it’s perfect. I’d like to think so.

There’s a lot of perfectionist notions, great sweeping assumptions, that could give way to done. Or at least to the next step. Like: Getting to the perfect weight. Falling in love with “the One.” Eating organic/vegan/carb free/keto all the time time. All of these perfectionist goals have a silver lining. They can be subject to change, Which means, to get there, wherever you want to be, just means you have to change your mind. That’s the greatest power you have, by the way. To take a step and not judge yourself for it. And to know that the goal is whatever makes you happy, whatever that goal may be.

About a year ago, I had a text conversation with Max:

Me: I’m sorry I yelled at you this morning. I was having a bad morning and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. 
Max: The damage is done. 
Max: Jk. I love you Mom.
Me: I love you and I’ll pay for therapy.
Max: It’s ok. I’ll sell my body to make the money.
Me: Omg.

It is easier to be mad at yourself and admit defeat than to take one step towards a goal. It’s hard to apologize when you’re wrong. It’s hard to let something go from your life and admit it no longer serves you. Both are equally difficult. And equally necessary. You can’t take the next step if you’re stuck in the past.

My kids have never let me off the culpability hook, so whining about change has never been an option. For me or for them. Whether they know it or not, my responsibility to raise good men has been the underpinning to almost all of my major decisions. I am a better person because of this, I think. I may be a better human overall because I’m their mom.

As I write this, I am waiting for my Max to come home from his latest gig so we can finish college applications. As I write this, my Shane and I have come to an agreement about how to take an online class on writing together, which took some serious texting and a few smart-ass (typical) comments. As I write this, I realize I am hungry and I go downstairs and warm up a pepperoni hot pocket. Pretty sure Max will be okay with and understand me eating one of his stress diet staples. Often, as I am sure you do, I get stuck in what I should do versus whether what I am doing is right. And then my sons remind me.

From Max’s tenacity, I am reminded that if you get to a place where you are stuck, you just have to keep going until you are not stuck. From Shane’s steadfast calm and smart-ass humor, I am reminded that wins may be incremental but as our Samurai ancestors knew, incremental courage wins the war. And that is how imperfectly “done” will change the world. Which is really the point. We want this world to be better for our kids. And so I’ll get up tomorrow to be better and to do better. For my kids. And for yours. Keep going.

Current Balance

I set my kids up with checking accounts with debit cards to teach them about finances and how to manage money BEFORE they graduated from high school.  In early 2017, I found myself in the throes of trying to explain bank logic to a 14-year-old including why the bar mitzvah check he had kept in his drawer for a year didn’t count as “savings.”

Yesterday my Shane called me on the way to his bank to ask me if he should start using checks to pay his rent. I began explaining check registers and reconciling check registers to him and that there may be a charge for getting checks from his bank. Finally, he said to me, “Mom, I think I’m just going to get a cashier’s check for this month’s rent.” I said to him, “I think that’s a great idea.”

Today Shane called me and asked me if I could confirm that he had written his first check correctly. He’d decided to go with getting checks. He asked me what the various items on the check register were and we covered how to fill out his check register and how to reconcile his account. He got it all. Perfectly. I said, “You’re doing a lot of adulting today.” He said, “Yeah, I’m not sure I like it.”  I’m damn proud of him. And yes. Adulting sucks.

I never learned in high school how to balance a checking account. In high school I learned how to sew a straight hem and bake muffins (I still cannot do either, thank you). I did not know what a checking account was or that I had to balance it until I got my first job as a legal secretary after college and bounced multiple checks. It was not until after law school that I finally figured out how to balance my checkbook. And it was not until after my divorce that I actually began to do it.

One of my favorite bands, Poi Dog Pondering sings, “Complicated – it’s all right. Wanna get it right this time.” I am grateful for all that I have. For sure, it’s complicated. The law degree. The home. The car. The stuff. The shoes. I want to get it right this time. I really hope I get it right this time.

I did not go to school and graduate just to pay for school for the rest of my life. My dream of being an attorney should not be subjugated to the loan that paid for it.  I do not want my kids to believe that dreams die for mortgages and debt. Yes, pay off your shit. But your salary, your debt, and the money in your bank account do not represent your value.

I think our available balance is the difference between infinity and some random number (eight dollars did not then or now at all represent the Maximum-ness of the Max for sure) in a bank. I think our current balance is the minutes left in this day. I think our true currency is love and we need to spend it every damn day and as often as possible. I think our value is defined by how much we give, not how much we keep. I believe, maybe, it isn’t that complicated. And we’re all going to get it right this time.

Cracked Heart

Max told me when he was still in elementary school, “I was immature in 2nd and 3rd grade, but then I started getting pretty grown up once I got to 4th grade. Now that I am in 5th grade I am definitely getting grown up. Then in middle school I will be a teenager so there’s that.” I asked him, “What about high school?” “Well, I will be all grown up then and I will probably have my own place. But my girlfriend and I will still come and visit you. But not every weekend because I don’t want her to think I am a mama’s boy. Maybe more like once a month or something. You’ll be okay with that, right?”

At a certain point your kids become adult-ish. They no longer require you to feed them, sign them up for stuff, wash them, drive them. They actually don’t include you much in their lives any more. It’s a moment you should have been prepared for because let’s be real. You did it, too, back when you were in high school. Back when you became adult-ish.

When Max first started high school, I remember going into his room to get him for dinner. “Dinner’s ready!” I said. He looked at me and returned to his phone. I said, “Don’t give me the teenaged angst eye-roll. I have a copyright on that.” He eye-rolled at me again and said, “I will be down IN A MINUTE.” I did the mature parenting move. I walked out of his room, closed the door, did an eye-roll (copyright 1976) and said, “THIS is how it’s done.” I take my momming wins wherever I can get them.

I have been divorced since 2015. I’ve learned a lot, dating again in my 50’s. About a year ago, I gave up completely on dating for a while. I was tired of putting my heart out there and getting it handed back to me. But I now believe that every relationship is a lesson and it brings you closer to being the best version of yourself. That’s your gift. And you are here to bring your gift to this world. If you don’t, the world will never have it. And that would really suck.

It’s been a hard fight against my own brain to get here, but I am truly fucking grateful. For each relationship in my life. For the one-time dates that went nowhere. For the amazing friendships with badass women that sustain and support me without judgment. For my divorce and for all the relationships that cracked and broke my heart. Because I think if you’ve got a cracked heart, that just means there’s more space for love to be poured into it. Like gold gets poured into the cracks of broken pottery in the Japanese art of Kintsugi, to emphasize and celebrate and make the breaks beautiful.

Last summer, my sons, my nieces, and I went to Oahu’s Northshore to stay for a week. To visit our family and just to be together. We stayed in a two-bedroom local cottage, happily crammed together. Every morning we wandered into the kitchen and made coffee, tea, and our own version of loco moco. We spent our days exploring the local beaches and restaurants. We met up with our family and body-surfed at Ewa Beach.  And we promised that we would come back again. As soon as possible. Because being together filled up and made beautiful all the cracks in our hearts.

For every relationship that never happened, there are so many more that do – and will. Those are the ones that fill the cracks of your broken heart and make it shine. That is your gift to the world, your shining, beautiful, brave heart. That and maybe – your teenaged angst eye-roll. But I still hold the copyright to it.

The Trail

One evening several years ago, Max and I were sitting outside in our backyard and it was getting chilly. I asked Max if he wanted me to get him a sweatshirt. “No, Mom. I need to get used to being uncomfortable. Life is not always going to be comfortable. I am not always going to be perfectly warm or perfectly cool so I have to practice being cold right now.”

Last month something happened to the HVAC in my office at work. For a week during the hottest week of the summer, there was no air conditioning at all. My office was like a hot yoga studio. Or hell. Take your pick. And then, miraculously, the air conditioning came on. And it didn’t go off. It was fucking freezing. I realized that I had gotten complacent and a little princess-y about being too hot or too cold.

Right about then, my niece India called me from the Pacific Crest Trail. “I think I need a doctor. My feet have blisters and I am getting on the next bus to Sonoma County. Can I stay with you?” While India’s feet healed, we went to REI a lot. She got new socks and trail clothes. I got some hiking shoes. After a week, we put India and her fresh feet on a bus to Oregon to finish the PCT. And I got back on some trails myself. And I found the girl I used to be, growing up in the foothills of Colorado.

I realized I’d missed her. I’d been staying too long in classrooms. In libraries. Behind books. Behind a wall. Hanging onto nonexistent relationships. Holding onto boxes of old memories. Sitting in an office that ran hot and cold. It was time to to lace up and spend more time with the girl-who-was-me, who loved being in the wild, on a trail, in the hills, up a rock, on a mountain.

Last week my mom told me, “I need to do more weight bearing exercise for my bones,” after her visit to her oncologist. I came downstairs the next day to go to work and she was getting ready to take the dogs for a walk. She had on a backpack. “What do you have in there, Mom?” I asked her. She said, “My i-Pad, my book, my phone, my glasses.” Then she got the two big dogs, Lilo and Atticus, and went out the door for her weight-bearing walk.

Tonight, my Max skated outside in the moonlight then came in and gave me a big sweaty hug. My beautiful India is finishing the Pacific Crest Trail. My mom put on her backpack today and walked the dogs and kept kicking cancer’s ass. And I’m looking forward to being in the wild, even if it’s just a park trail, very soon.

Max was right. Life is not always going to be comfortable. But there’s beauty on the trail if you keep going. Keep going.

Keep Dancing

“You don’t stop dancing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop dancing.” – Jellybean Benitez

My birthday is in two days, August 16. I will be 57 years young. I recall a time when, four years ago, I was driving Shane and Max to the skateboard store. Shane said to me, “Mom, what’s your best dance move to bring to the dance floor?” I said, “Duh, it’s the Smurf!” Shane turned up the radio and I started car dancing to 50 Cent (because teenagers picked the music). Max yelled from the back seat, “Mom, STOP! You’re making God cry!”

My Max, my youngest, my baby, began his senior year of high school today. When his older brother, Shane, was starting high school, he would announce himself whenever he came home. He would slam the front door open and yell, “SHANE’S HOME!” When he stopped announcing himself, I missed that. I still miss that.

Today, on social media, I saw all the photos of my friends’ kids heading off to the first day of school. I don’t have pics of my kids’ first days of their last couple of years of school. First of all, they were usually at their dad’s house and he’s way more relaxed than me about that kind of stuff. Second, that’s not their jam. But here’s what I did do today, for Max’s last first day of high school. I went into his bedroom this morning with my headphones on, listening to a playlist that I made for him. And I danced. “Ooh-oo child, Things are gonna get easier. Ooh-oo child, Things’ll get brighter….Some day, yeah. We’ll get it together and we’ll get it all done.”  And so – I danced the Smurf to the Five Stairsteps in my high school senior son’s bedroom at 7:00 a.m. on a Wednesday. I’m pretty sure it made God laugh until they cried.

A few weeks back, Max was hanging out on my bed while I was practicing salsa steps. And I realized that we had gotten past the whole car dancing debacle. It’s an anti-climatic moment when you realize that you no longer have the power to embarrass your kid with your old school dance moves.

When Shane was here earlier this summer, he didn’t announce his entrances. But he would come into my room each day and tell me his comings and goings. He still calls and texts me enough to let me know that he has not been eaten by bears in Oregon.

I think, perhaps, maybe, this whole mom thing may be working out in my favor. My sons are moving on and out and I am going to have this entire house as my dance floor. Silver lining. And yet, I will always have them here – in my heart, my soul, my amazing kids. Yeah. This mom gig, it’s turned out to be the best job I never got a job description for.

During my 56th year, I said goodbye to many beloved friends and family. One of my dear friends told me the day before she passed away, “Know that you are always loved. And keep loving and appreciating. And don’t forget to dance.” Every morning, I get out of bed and I put on music. And I boogie downstairs to get coffee, with my beloved furry co-counsel Atticus Finch in tow. Starting with that first cup of coffee, I remind myself. This is good. Know that you are always loved. And don’t forget to dance until you make your kids and God cry. Happy birthday to me. Happy every day to you.

#Truant

When Max was in third grade, he told me that he had too many sick days to get into a good college. He said: “The government isn’t going to let me have another chance, unless I figure out a way to reverse the time-space continuum and re-do a couple of tests. And I’m not sure I want to do that.”

My greatest joys and proudest moments in my life have come from being the mother to my two sons. As have my most vulnerable and scared moments. My fired-up-tiger-claws-out-I-will-eat-your-face-if-you-hurt-my-kids-moments. My moments of deepest despair and shame came from the times when I felt like I failed my sons as their mother. I didn’t sign them up for the thing on time. I didn’t sew the patch on the right sleeve. I forgot to bake the class snack and I sent in a pack of Oreos and a side of sorry. I have this thing about the time-space continuum. I usually end up behind it. But I hope I have shown my children through this process that I am imperfect, I am compassionate, I am vulnerable, I am creative, I make mistakes, I fall down, I get back up again, and I’m going to be late.

I am the kind of late where I am trying to do one more thing before I left the place where I was. I’m trying to do a load of laundry. Read and respond to an email. Answer a text from a sad friend and I don’t want them to feel alone. Listen one more time to a song that someone I love shared with me and it makes me think of them.  I’m the kind of late who stayed up the night before reading an amazing new book or transcribing music on my cello or writing a poem or practicing salsa steps. But I promise, I’m not going to be really late. Maybe 5-10 minutes. And I promise. I will be there.  

My son Max – he’s that kind of late, too. Up too late, and in the mornings, during the school year, this meant he showed up to his 8:00 am class often 10, 20, 30 minutes late. At the end of the year, I got a warning letter from the school district letting me know that my son was a truant. My creative, brilliant, son, who gets letters from colleges weekly, who spends his free time playing jazz and busting his ass working as a grocery clerk, who stays up too late because he is trying to do better and be better. Well, according to the school district – he is a truant. But what the district doesn’t mention is that he always shows up. He just shows up late.

In a world that allegedly celebrates creativity and thinking outside the box, the problem is, we are unwilling to relinquish boxes. We crave definitions and certainty. In many ways, I get why we need that. I’m an attorney. I’m a bit of a rule-follower. But I also see, day in and day out, that we forgo the practical because it’s “safer” to cling to a definition and stay in a box. As an example. One of my favorite quotes from “The Breakfast Club” is:

“Brian: I’m a f*in’ idiot because I can’t make a lamp?

Bender: No, you’re a genius because you can’t make a lamp.

Brian: What do you know about Trigonometry?

Bender: I could care less about Trigonometry.

Brian: Bender, did you know without Trigonometry there’d be no engineering?

Bender: Without lamps, there’d be no light.”

When he was in middle school, Max said to me, “Mom, I don’t understand why we take some of the classes that we do. I understand why we take Language Arts and Math and Science. But I don’t know why we take Social Studies. I mean, yesterday we learned that Mayans considered big noses a sign of beauty. When am I ever going to need that in life?” I said, “Max, maybe one day you’ll be at a cocktail party and you’ll see a pretty girl and you’ll need a conversation starter. You’ll walk up to her and say, hello, ladies. Did you know that in the Mayan culture big noses were considered a sign of beauty?” He said, “Yeah, I’d say, hello ladies, did you know that you would be considered beautiful in Mayan culture? Your big nose would actually be a sign of beauty.” Definitions are mutable. Boxes are different sizes. Noses are relative and relevant to faces. It all depends on the lamp and the lighting.  

A friend of mine, who was an NFL football player, once told me, “You’re always a twisted knee away from oblivion.” And – his career ended because of a knee injury. But before that happened, he accomplished amazing goals. And that’s the thing. You can either be diminished by what might happen or other people’s expectations and definitions of you. Or you can keep going and take care of sh*t right now.

No matter where you are, no matter when you get there, you are perfect and exactly right. And if I’m supposed to meet you there, I’ll be a little late. But I promise. I’ll be there.

Keep Going

A few years ago, at camp, Shane and Max were involved in a game called “color wars.” Shane’s team was green and Max’s was blue. The night before Max asked me, “Mom, do we have any blue face paint?” I was really tired and said, “No, we do not and I don’t have time to go get any. You’ll just have to figure something out.” In the morning I heard him and Shane in the bathroom. He was saying to Shane, “Shane, that looks great. Now put more green stripes on your forehead!” I yelled, “Hey, where did you find the face paint?” Max said, “I found some paint in my room and you can use it for regular painting AND for face painting.” I ran into the bathroom and found them there with a tray of acrylic paints and paint brushes. Max had blue stripes on his cheeks and Shane looked like a green Rambo. Shane finally got all the green paint off his face the following morning and Max had blue hands for a week. When I tell my kids to just figure it out, they will. And I am so damn proud of them for that.

I grew up an overachiever. I lived for straight A’s and certificates and accolades. When I had kids, I swore that I would not ever demand that they do the same. Because like any overachiever, I eventually hit the perfectionist wall and froze, in my 20’s. I didn’t know what to do anymore. Because I had never done anything without the approval of someone else, whether it was through a grade, praise, a scholarship, a piece of paper. Obviously, I recovered. But a LOT of therapy, some terrible hairstyles, and rebellious relationships with musicians, had to happen first. I’m probably more of a laid back, hippie kind of mom (my kids say I’m a hippie mom, for the record). But I think, for sure, love and acceptance gets you a lot further towards happiness and a good life than judgment and criticism. And P.S. coming from a lawyer, I have a front row seat to judgment and criticism, every day, and no one is ever happy about it. Also, using my hippie mom method, you may end up with kids with blue and green faces – but it’s temporary, I promise.

When my Max started middle school, he was chubby and shy and a little bruised by the square box intractable systems he kept getting shoved into. But here’s the thing. When beautiful star shaped souls realize that they are not supposed to be in boxes and get their shine on, it’s so amazing to watch. And Max got his shine on.

In 8th grade, Max told me, “Mom, I want to give the speech for my advancement ceremony.” I said, “Okay, what does that mean?” He said, “I have to write an essay and submit it for a contest.” We talked about it for a very long time and about the topic. We finally decided on the topic of failure as being a necessary part of learning to succeed. And he figured it out from there. Not only did Max get selected to give the speech. He was asked to give the speech again as part of a nonprofit presentation, in front of a board of directors and donors.

I am sharing my son Max’s speech, with his permission. I felt like it was important to share because I think, very often, we should remember that we are, each of us, unique and special and shiny. None of us can or should be crammed into boxes. And sometimes, often, love means letting go and letting your loved ones figure it out and paint their own way. Because they will.

Shine on and believe in your damn selves, beautiful star shaped souls. You are special and amazing and the world needs your gifts. Your failures do not define you. They only make you better at what you are meant to do. Keep going. Keep drumming to your own beat.

This I Believe (Max Rosenthal,Copyright 2016)

“Drumming has been my path to confidence. Whenever I feel stressed or angry, my drum set is there to make me feel better. When I need to, I can pop in my earphones, go into the garage, and jam. I have been playing for only 3 years, but in that time I have become fairly proficient. I have not always been confident in my drumming abilities. But after I learned to accept my mistakes, I developed self-assurance in not just my musical skills, but in everyday life. I believe that no one should be afraid of failure.

I had this revelation of self­-confidence toward the beginning of 8th grade year. I practiced my drums everyday playing along to music, but whenever I attempted to solo or even do a small fill, I would hesitate and stop. One day, after I had a particularly difficult drum lesson, my instructor told me that I was a very talented drummer, I just needed to be more confident in myself. I contemplated his words as I sat alone at my drum kit in my empty, dimly lit garage. My head was buried in my hands with my elbows propped up on my snare drum. I had my earphones in and was listening to a playlist of Buddy Rich’s famous drum solos. I was so disappointed and frustrated that I could not play as well as Buddy. The garage was completely silent except the moments I would sporadically break out in anger, throwing my sticks across the room and cursing loudly at myself. I had been languishing at my drum set consumed by self­ loathing for an hour when a thought occurred to me. I realized I was too busy worrying about messing up than actually playing. I was too worried about failing to succeed. I discerned that the thing holding me back was my lack of self-confidence. I decided to stop being afraid of failure and instead embrace it. Since then, I have applied this mindset and gained great confidence in my musical abilities.

This confidence began to leak into other parts of my life. I have always felt like an awkward person and have had a hard time talking to people, but I found it became easier once I had found this confidence. I saw positive changes in my social skills, art, and writing. I became less hesitant. People have too much potential in them to let it be killed by fear and judgement. It is not fair to deprive yourself of great things because you are too fearful of doing them wrong. I believe that once you overcome the fear of failure, then you have the courage to do anything.”

Happiness Day

About five years ago, sometime in late June, I told Max, “You can’t spend the entire summer lying around in bed watching your i-Pod. You need to be productive and active, too.” In response, he wrote a list of what he planned to do every day: “15 minutes practicing saxophone, 15 minutes practicing percussion, 15 minutes practicing Hebrew, 15 minutes doing jumping jacks, push-ups, and sit-ups, 15 minutes walking the dogs, 15 minutes eating healthy food.”

Ironically, these days it’s rare for me to have more than 15-minute intervals with my sons. This is not a bad thing, I tell myself. First of all, they’re both adult-ish. Second, the point of momming is to raise your children to survive on their own in the wilderness. To live separately from me. To be brave, healthy, happy, independent, human beings.

Two hundred forty-three years ago, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. Fifty-six representatives from the thirteen colonies signed the declaration and pledged their lives and honor to the cause of American independence. The declaration was an act of treason: levying war against the king, King George the Third. The punishment for treason was death – and not a merciful one. Drafting, signing, and adopting the Declaration of Independence was a revolutionary act.

The last time my son Shane traveled to Washington, D.C., he returned with a copy of the Declaration of Independence for me to frame for my office. I have it in my home office: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to Secure these Rights, Governments are Instituted…deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends it is the Right of the People… to institute new Government… organizing its powers in such form… most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” I love that the revolutionaries who wrote this 243 years ago wrote not once, but twice, in the preamble, the word “happiness.”  

Today is Independence Day. My revolution is this. Love instead of judgment. Gratefulness instead of criticism. And happiness for the time I get to spend with the loved ones in my life. Even if it’s in 15-minute intervals. I hope you enjoy your revolution on this Happiness Day.

A Hill to Live On

Max and Me

Max once called me in my bedroom on my cell phone from his bedroom on his cell phone. “Mom, can you come in here please?” I went down the 10-foot hallway to his bedroom and opened the door. He was lying in bed, cell phone on his face, blankets piled all around him, lights on. I said, “What’s up, honey? Is everything okay?” Max said, “Can you turn out my lights? I’m super cozy and I don’t want to get up.” (And parents –  this is why cell phones were invented.)

Last weekend was Memorial Day weekend. I spent the weekend with my friend in Pismo Beach and drove home Monday. I stopped to pick up a couple things at the grocery store. The store was crowded. As I stood in the line for the self-service register, a woman in front of me yelled “Ouch,” then turned and grabbed the grocery cart behind her and rammed it at the man who was pushing it. “I told you before, stop ramming the cart into me!” He said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” but she was so angry and upset, I don’t think it mattered. It wouldn’t have mattered if Ryan Gosling was apologizing with a dozen red roses. And I get it. I have been there.

Lord I have so been there. When the anger and the pain and loneliness was just below the surface and I knew the slightest unintended nudge could release the mother-pain-rage-Kraken.  I think I held it all in for a while after my divorce with a combination of years of A’s on report cards, decades of diets, 1980’s aerobics, law school Socratic method, and my lizard brain’s expectations of perfection as a basis for survival. But no one can keep that all in, not for long. We all have ways of busting out. Maybe it’s eating Oreos. Maybe it’s drinking a lot of wine. Maybe it’s exercising until your body is crying out for rest. I’m listing all of these because I’ve done them, by the way.  Maybe you get so angry that rage overtakes you and you get angry at the people you love the most. And in my case, when I busted out, I was newly divorced and scared out of my mind to be alone after 20 years of technically not being alone.

My dear friend C., my O.G., would say to me then – and still does, when I spin out over what to do next, or what decision to make, “Is this the hill you want to die on today?”  When I’m figuring out which legal argument is worth keeping or abandoning. When I want to send an incendiary email or text. When I consider commenting on a friend’s political post that I don’t agree with. When someone says to me, “But I want to talk to the real lawyer. Where is he?”

“Is this the hill I want to die on today?” Usually, the answer is no. I don’t. I don’t even want to be on this fucking hill.

The phrase is used in the military when deciding whether it is worth holding a position despite all hazards. Usually the answer is, as mine is, “no.” However, it’s also assumed that when you decide it’s worth it to defend the spot no matter what, the response is, “No better place to die.” I’m pretty sure defending to the death is not an intended consequence for my lines of work – mom and lawyer. (Well, maybe for the mom job, but that’s implied. Semantics.)

I once had a very frustrating day dealing with an internet service provider. After a few unsuccessful calls, and no resolution, I let loose with some less than kind language at the dinner table about what had happened. Max said, “Mom, you have great rancor towards telephone help lines.” I said, “Max, rancor is a very strong word.” He said, “Of course it is. It’s right after ‘rancid’ in the dictionary.”

I definitely have less rancor lately. I realize there’s still a lot of hills, and I often consider my O.G.’s question. But I also think I have figured out, as my Max did a while ago, that what’s really important is to get super cozy with your life and know you can ask someone you love to be there for you when you need them. I will gladly live on that hill. Goodnight, loves. I’ll turn out the light.