For years, I’ve asked my kids the same uninspired question when I pick them up from school: How was your day? And for years, they’ve answered with the same uninspired answer: Fine. In fact, we’ve been round and round on this so many times that last year my daughter begged me to please stop asking how her day was because, “It makes me want to scream. No offense or anything, Mom.” Okay, fair enough. No offense taken. That question wasn’t pulling its weight anyway.
I needed a better way to get at what exactly was going on with my kids at school and more importantly how it made them feel. (I am big into how things make my kids feel, much to their continued aggravation.) So I, like any good parent in the digital age, turned to the Internet for advice. And the Internet heeded my call! When I typed in “how to ask kids about their school day,” Google showed me list after list of questions I could ask my kids that, Google promised, would really get them talking. These questions would be the key that would unlock the secret world of my children’s innermost hopes and dreams. They would make our bond stronger, our love deeper, and bring us closer together than ever before. I wanted the key to that world! I wanted to be closer than ever before!
So I read article after article and synthesized the information to create one super list. And I got in my car and drove to school ready to be transported inside their teenage brains. I have transcribed the conversation that followed:
- What did you eat for lunch?
Why? What’d you hear?
- Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
Um, no. This is middle school. Nobody does anything super nice for anyone.
- What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
Didn’t I just answer that?
- Who made you smile today?
Mom, are you okay?
- Which one of your teachers would survive a zombie apocalypse?
Is this for a new book your writing?
- Did anyone push your buttons today?
Other than you?
- Who do you want to make friends with but haven’t yet?
Why? What’d you hear?
- Tell me something you learned about a friend today.
I thought we weren’t supposed to gossip?
- What challenged you today?
- When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
That joke about this conversation was pretty good.
- Tell me about a new word you heard at school today.
Why? What’d you hear?
- What new fact did you learn today?
Time is relative. For example, this car ride home- while technically only five minutes long- feels like an eternity.
- If aliens came to school and beamed up three kids, who do you wish they would take?
Seriously Mom, are you having some sort of crisis? Should we call Dad?
- Tell me about three different times you used your pencil today.
Why? What’d you hear?
- What is one thing you hope to learn before the school year is over?
The bus schedule.
As you can see, the conversation didn’t give me any special insight into their world. Or take our bond to new heights. Or bring us closer together. At one point, my daughter faked being asleep to avoid answering any more questions. But it did get us talking— granted, mostly about how weird I was— but still. We talked, we laughed, we made fun of me, and then we all went inside and had a snack. And I figure that’s better than nothing. . . and certainly better than “fine.”
This post is from a while back, but I was reminded of the subject today when I saw a man in the grocery store walking around eating a banana. A banana, my friends! I don’t know how he planned to pay for it, or what he planned to do with the peel – but it reminded me of this essay and so I thought I’d repost. And no, before you ask, the man I saw wasn’t Jimmy.
This morning while we sat at our island eating breakfast, my husband revealed something about himself that nothing in our 17-year history could have prepared me for. And he said it like it was no big deal, like I should have expected – even approved of – his commentary.
It turns out that I most certainly did not approve, and to put an exclamation point on it, I’m going to reveal his dirty little secret here. On the Internet. Where it will never go away. And because I think it will be most dramatic this way, I’m going to do it via a live-action dialogue sequence.
Me: I took a chance and bought these new cherries at the store yesterday.
Husband: Oh yeah?
Me: Yeah. It was a bit of a risk because I’ve never had this kind before– but they were like $3 less per pound so I decided to go for it.
Husband: That’s good. (Pause) Why didn’t you try one first?
Me: Couldn’t. They were in a sealed bag.
Husband: Oh, I would have just opened the bag and taken one.
Husband: Yeah, totally. I do it all the time.
Me: You do?
Husband: Yeah. I’ve been burned too many times with bad fruit. I always test it first now. Trust me.
Me: Wait – what? You test fruit? In the grocery store?
Husband: Yeah. All the time. Like if I’m thinking about buying one of those big bags of apples, I’ll just open the bag and eat one. You know, to make sure they’re good.
Me: Wait… you’re telling me you open sealed bags of fruit and eat, like, an entire apple, orange, or nectarine – right there on the spot?
Husband: Yeah, all the time.
Me: That’s horrifying.
Husband: No it isn’t. It’s practical. Fruit is expensive and I want to make sure it’s going to taste good before I buy it.
Me: That’s unsanitary. Plus, it’s kind of stealing.
Husband: No it isn’t.
Me: Yeah it is.
Husband: No it isn’t. They know people do it. They expect it. Trust me. I do it all the time.
Me: But you’re eating something without paying for it.
Husband: Not really.
Me: Yes really.
Husband: No, it’s fine. They expect people to do it. Trust me.
Tense silence while I try to integrate this new information.
Me: Okay. So forgetting about the stealing for a minute, your method doesn’t even make sense. Just because one apple in the bag doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t mean they all will be bad.
Husband: Yeah it does.
Me: No it doesn’t.
Husband: Yeah it does. Trust me.
Me: No – it so doesn’t. There’s a whole cliché based on how wrong that assumption is. You know, ‘One bad apple…?’
Husband: Yeah, that expression proves my point. One bad apple spoils the bunch or bushel or whatever.
Me: Hm. Well… maybe that’s how the expression started, but I think the real point of it is what a shame it is for one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch. You shouldn’t throw away the whole bunch because of one bad apple.
Husband: Yeah you should. Trust me. I do it all the time.
So here’s the takeaway: My husband, who has bungee jumped off a cliff in Australia, raced cars on the Nurburgring in Germany, skied double black diamonds, and married a temperamental Jewish girl from Chicago and brought her to live in a small town in Missouri, is apparently so risk-averse when it comes to fruit that he will break social conventions and basically steal from our local grocery store to avoid… what? A sour taste in his mouth? (This is the same man buys the $18 box of sour patch watermelons every time we go to the movies.)
I think what surprised me most about Jimmy’s feelings on fruit buying, was his attitude of entitlement. Like he is owed a decent piece of fruit or something. Good or bad, it took the farmer every bit as long to grow the fruit, and the grocer just as much overhead to sell the fruit. Aside from bruises or obvious mold or something, you can’t tell how a piece of fruit is going to taste before you eat it. Therefore the only method of determining if the fruit is worthy of purchase, takes the option to buy it off the table. Because by then it is already in your stomach.
Call me I’m old-fashioned, but I think certain things in life come with inherent risk. Buying fruit is one of them. Marriage is another for that matter, along with putting your face under at a water park and eating sushi at a gas station. You pays your money, you takes your chances. There are no guarantees in this life and if you want to be 100% sure your fruit is going to taste perfectly sweet, you’d better buy it out of a can and be prepared to eat all the sugar and preservatives they add to make it that way. Unlike my husband, I am not a risk taker by nature, but I believe there are certain things in life worth the gamble. Appalling fruit-buying behavior aside, my husband was one of them. A good nectarine is another.
And you can trust me on that.
I’ve been working on a piece for the Arts issue of the magazine I write for, and it got me thinking about an issue that all artists- and parents – have to deal with at some point: rejection. As a writer, I am rejected on a daily basis. Please do not mistake that for hyperbole. I literally receive rejection letters almost every single day for work that I have spent hours and days and months creating. I’m not going to lie, it kind of sucks. But art is a subjective business, and if you’re going to work in a creative field you have to realize that rejection is just part of the gig.
I did not, however, anticipate how much rejection was going to be involved in the parenting gig. Maybe because when you have a baby, rejection seems impossible. After all, your helpless little creature couldn’t possibly reject you because, for starters they can’t even talk, but more importantly they need you for fundamental things like food and shelter. As newborns grow into babies and then into toddlers, need is still a prime component of your relationship. They need you to change their diapers. They need you to get them dressed. They need you to give them your iPad. They need need need to the point that a little rejection would be a welcome change.
And then somewhere toward the end of elementary school, subtle changes set in. “No, mommy, you don’t have to volunteer for my field trip.” “You don’t need to walk me into school.” “You don’t have to hug and kiss me goodbye when you drop me off at Timmy’s house.” Okay, you think, my child is becoming independent. That’s a good thing, right? And during this phase they still need you, of course, because they can’t reach the top shelf in the pantry and that’s where you keep all the candy.
But then somewhere during the middle school years, their needs change again and begin to center around two things: transportation and money. These are not their only needs, but they are certainly the only needs they want to talk to you about. So that means that the other things you offer your children—your values, hopes, dreams, wisdom— are often rejected. And let me tell you, rejection from an 11 to 14 year-old who has not yet perfected the art of constructive criticism can be… severe.
No joke, my daughter asked me last week why my face was “like that.” She literally rejected my face. I wasn’t sure how to respond to this, as this is the only face I have, so I just gave her my most sympathetic look and said in a loving tone, “I don’t know, honey. We’re just going to have to get through this together.”
And I think that is the key to rejection— treating it with one measure of acceptance and two or three measures of perseverance. Because rejections will happen in every aspect of our social and professional lives whether we choose to become artists, or parents, or lawyers, or athletes, or anything other than a giant pile of cold hard cash. It kind of sucks, but there it is.
So I try not to let my kids subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) rejection bother me too much. I don’t let it stop me from parenting. I don’t let it dictate how and why I make decisions about their well-being, nor do I take it too personally. I also use my own stories of rejection to help them become comfortable with the idea that they, too, will one day face rejection, despite what all their “participation” ribbons have taught them. I tell them about all my writing rejections. I tell them how sometimes it makes me feel bad. I make jokes about this or that editor’s lack of vision. And in the end, I show them how I go back to work and try to improve. Because to quote every successful artist—and parent— ever, “Rejection doesn’t equal failure. The only way you fail for sure is if you stop trying.”
Because I am both lazy and an opportunistic multitasker, I like to work on my parenting skills while doing something decidedly more fun, like watching a movie. Movies are way better than hours of self-reflection. And who needs to spend time agonizing over how to impart good values to our children when Hollywood has already done it for us?
In perhaps the most perfect movie of the 1980s (which is saying something since it’s the decade that brought us Weird Science, Die Hard, and The Goonies), The Princess Bride offers parents all the information we need to raise competent, well-adjusted, thieves, pirates, and princesses. Here are ten of the best pearls of wisdom and how to adapt them into your parenting routine.
- “Who said life was fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair.”
Granted, this bit of advice has been a parenting mainstay since the beginning of time (or at least since the beginning of whining), but it remains relevant today. Because it’s true. Life isn’t fair. And fairness is overrated anyway. Next time your kid bites you, take the opportunity to point that out.
- “You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.”
Never has a generation been more invested in the concept of immediacy than the kids we are raising now. Instant gratification has become the norm. But patience is a virtue (another pearl of wisdom gleaned from pop culture – thank you Trix Rabbit!), and kids need to know that there are things worth waiting for. Like love and success and a really good marinara sauce.
- “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”
When the day comes that you have to look into your child’s eyes and explain to them a painful loss, these words will come in handy. Whatever your religious or spiritual beliefs, the idea that love transcends all is universally comforting.
- “When I was your age, television was called books.”
To update this for today’s world, you can say, “When I was your age, texting was called actually talking to people.” Or something like that. This quote illustrates how every generation feels like the next is being ruined by technology, and how they are both wrong— and right— about that.
- “Rodents of unusual size? I don’t think they exist.”
Westley says this a moment before he is mauled by, you guessed it, a rodent of unusual size. This illustrates why you should teach your children to expect the unexpected. It is also a handy thing to remember when you are in Mexico. Ever seen a capybara? I have, and it haunts my nightmares. . .
- “Cynics are simply thwarted romantics.”
I think this is true. Behind every cynical snipe or jab, is a person who has been hurt and is afraid of being hurt again. Knowing this may help heal your romantic’s soft heart, or help your cynic become more self-aware. Either way, it bears repeating because everyone lands on one side of this equation or the other. Often times, both, depending on how well-fed, well-rested, and well-chocolated one is at the moment.
- “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Inigo Montoya says this to Vizzini when he keeps using the word “inconceivable” to describe things that are completely conceivable. Today, we can use this comment when our kids say “literally.” When a person under the age of 21 uses the word literally, it literally never means literally.
- “Get used to disappointment.”
This is another parenting mainstay, but one that bears repeating. If there is one problem I see over and over again in children today, it’s that they have no capacity for disappointment. This is because we, as parents, shield our kids from disappointment like it is an incoming Tomahawk missile. Medals for everyone? No keeping score? Let’s not pick a winner? Please. When we take away disappointment we also take away the hunger for achievement. It’s ridiculous. It isn’t fun to watch our kids be disappointed, but it is absolutely essential to raising a human being who doesn’t feel entitled. And I promise you, there is no greater disappointment than getting out into the world and realizing you are not the brightest star in the sky, as you were led to believe your whole life.
- “There’s not a lot of money in the revenge business.”
This is my personal favorite. (Mostly because Inigo Montoya says it in his fetching Spanish-tinged-with-Jewish-New-York accent.) But if there is one thing I hope I’ve taught my kids, it’s that old adage about how holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die. Which leads me to my last piece of advice. . .
- “Never go in against a Sicilian where death is on the line.”
I’m not exactly sure what parenting application this has, it just seems like good, solid advice.
Parenting is little bit like learning to cook. When you first begin, you’re nervous, afraid that one wrong move will ruin your precious creation. After a while, however, you begin to trust your instincts and improvise as you go, throwing in a little of this and a little of that. You know that if things don’t turn out perfectly, chances are it’ll still be good enough. And after you’ve been at it for years, day in and day out, you realize that even if everything goes up in smoke, you can always order pizza. (In parenting, as in cooking, pizza is the answer 97% of the time.)
Here’s a look here at the evolution of 10 common parenting practices from those first precious days as a parent when you wanted everything to be perfect, to the days, three or four kids down the road, when “perfection” is everyone making it out of the house with their clothes on.
|First Baby||Second Baby||Third+ Baby|
|You stare at her for hours while she sleeps, drinking in the peaceful sight of her little chest rising and falling and the sweet, gentle sounds that only a newborn baby can make.||The minute she goes down for a nap, you convince your firstborn its time to “snuggle.” You fall asleep instantly in your bed while firstborn watches two hours of Doc McStuffins.||You assume the baby is sleeping, but it’s hard to tell because she is in her pumpkin seat in the back of your minivan while you run your other kids all over town.|
|You lovingly pick out each day’s outfit complete with matching socks and hats. Then you take 25 pictures and post on Facebook and Instagram.||She mostly wears whatever she slept in the night before unless company is coming over.||A diaper is an outfit, right?|
|Baby drops her pacifier and you swoop in like a Peregrine falcon to catch it before it falls to ground. You sterilize it for five minutes in boiling water just in case.||Baby drops her pacifier and you wipe it on your pants and hand it back. Five second rule!||Baby drops her pacifier and you hand it back without wiping it on your pants because you’re pretty sure whatever is on your pants would only make it worse.|
|You spend hours making homemade, organic baby food from fresh fruits and vegetables.||Your definition of fruits and vegetables has been expanded to include fruit snacks and French fries.||Baby’s first solid food is a Cheeto.|
|You have everything personalized with your baby’s initials – burp cloths, blankets, sippy cups, growth charts, backpacks, etc.||Personalizing now means using a sharpie to scribble your baby’s initials on the tag so you can distinguish it from the other kids’ stuff at daycare.||You smartly decided to name all subsequent children so that their initials will be the same as your firstborn’s. #winning|
|You document every milestone in his baby book –first smile, first roll over, first haircut, first steps, first words.||He doesn’t have a baby book, per se. It’s more of a baby-plastic-container filled with notes scribbled on the back of doormail coupons and a few stale Cheerios.||There is little to no physical evidence this child actually exists.|
|You leave pages of detailed notes for the babysitter, including feeding, changing and napping schedule. You may have even created a spreadsheet for her to track size, color, and shape of poops.||You leave your cell number and $20 for pizza.||You leave strict instructions not to call unless she sees blood.|
|The minute baby gets fussy, you take her temperature three different ways and even though it’s in normal range, you take her into the pediatrician because you just feel “something is off.”||You hesitate to take baby to the doctor’s office because your firstborn always catches something while there. Probably because he likes to lick the fish tank while you’re waiting.||You feel like you’re basically a pediatrician by this point. You treat everything at home with baby Motrin, an ice pack, and/or a magic kiss.|
|Packing for any outing requires an hour’s preparation and three steamer trunks full of supplies.||You’ve streamlined your supplies into what can fit into your existing purse. Diaper bags are for rookies.||Supplies now consist of a pile of Starbucks napkins and a lollipop.|
|You think you can never love another baby as much as you love this one.||You can’t believe you love another baby as much as you love your firstborn.||You know that just like your growing sleep deficit, yearly expenses, and yoga pants, your heart will continue to expand and find enough love for every new member of your family. (And isn’t this is all the evidence of their existence you really need?)|
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis nine months ago. I’ve been struggling with how to write about it ever since. I wanted to find something funny, or at the very least, insightful, to say about the experience. But so far I haven’t found anything remotely funny about it and my insights are banal at best, self-indulgent at worst. Mostly what I can think to say is that I hate that have MS. (See, I told you.)
But I feel compelled to try to write something, because writing is how I make sense of the world. And if ever there was something I needed to make sense of, this is it. So here goes…
My journey to MS has been a long and complicated one. For almost nine years, I had troubling neurological symptoms and abnormal brain MRIs. I had some, but not enough, evidence of the disease. Then last fall, I developed new symptoms that my doc thought might be coming from damage in my spinal cord. Turns out, he was right.
In MS, the body attacks itself by eating away at the protective covering around nerves in your brain and spinal cord. It interrupts the way messages are sent and received throughout your central nervous system. Because your central nervous system controls most of the functions of the body and mind, this means MS can affect nearly anything and everything you do. It can affect your ability to see, speak, go to the bathroom, think clearly, and/or properly use your hands, arms, feet and legs. In one person, MS can mean a bit of tingling. In another, it can cause severe paralysis. And no one can predict the course your disease will take. It’s a crapshoot with your quality of life on the line.
The day I went to get my doctor’s suspicions checked out, I walked out of the hospital and his nurse called before I even started my car. “We need you to come in to talk about your MRI.” You know you are not getting good news when you get a call like that. My doctor walked into the room. He told me I had MS while he was still standing up. He said now that it was in my spinal cord in addition to my brain, it was time to start treatment. I asked if I had to. I was scared. He said that the spinal cord is “valuable real estate,” and while none of the medications could stop the damage from occurring, they could potentially slow it down by 30%. Those weren’t the best odds I’d ever heard of, but I put my money on the drugs anyway.
So that is where I am now. I don’t know if the medication is working. I won’t ever really know because how do you measure a drug that is 30% effective at preventing something that may or may not happen? I do know that it has made half of my hair fall out, which I’ll admit with shame has been harder on me than I thought it would be. (To all the women who have gone through chemotherapy: Every single one of you is a stone-cold badass.)
I take my pills everyday and very occasionally try to sort through my feelings about the whole thing. Some moments I feel like this is no big deal and I’m stupid if I feel stressed about it. Other times, I feel a resigned sort of sadness. Most of time, however, I am just not sure how to feel about it. Feeling sad seems defeatest, while feeling upbeat about it seems naive. The quote I keep coming back to about living with MS is from American writer, Joan Didion. In her memoir, The White Album, she writes about her experience of being diagnosed in the 1960s. “I had, at the time, a sharp apprehension not of what it was like to be old, but of what it was like to open the door to the stranger and find that the stranger did indeed have the knife.”
Leave it to Joan to get it exactly right.
Practically speaking, I am doing fine. I have been extremely lucky so far. The worst thing I have is neuropathic pain in my feet. This pain, while not intense, is constant. Like 24/7 for months now, constant. So my feet hurt whether I’m sitting still or running around. They hurt in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, and in middle of the night. They hurt all the fucking time. And it is quite possible they will feel like this everyday for the rest of forever. Sometimes I catch myself feeling frustrated or sorry for myself about this. When that happens, I almost immediately send this transmission out into the ether: I don’t mean to complain! If this is all that I have to deal with, I’ll take it! I make bargains with my MS. I’ll take the pain, if I can keep my eyesight. I will gladly accept the numbness, if I can walk without assistance. Give me tingling in my hands, but leave me control of my bladder.
So in many ways, for me, that is the worst part. At least right now. It’s the fear of the unknown. I think we all fear the unknown to a certain extent, but in this case it’s a little different because there is a clear and present danger. To take Ms. Didion’s metaphor a step further, it’s like being locked inside a building with the stranger who has the knife. You know he’s coming for you, you just don’t know when, or how much damage he’s going to do.
This bit of writing aside, I don’t sit around obsessing about my health and I try not to give into self-pity. I am, at this moment, a healthy, active woman with far more immediate fish to fry. Like the literal fish I have to make for dinner. Or the metaphorical fish of throwing away a bunch of my kids’ junk before they get home from camp. I work every single day at making sure MS doesn’t become more important than it needs to be. This involves a healthy reliance on denial. And champagne. And Pringles. But most heavily, I rely on my husband, without whom I would fold like a cheap suit. And my dear, dear friends and family, who have made this stupid disease almost worth having by being so unbelievably nice to me these past months.
So as promised, this essay was neither funny nor insightful. It actually turned out a bit more self-indulgent and gloomy than I had hoped. I’m sorry for that. But this is just my first try and it has only been nine months (and honestly it has been a pretty shitty nine months at that). Please know I am working on getting back to the annoyingly positive attitude I once had. And next time I write about this, it will be filled with exclamation points and smiley faces. Because who doesn’t love writing filled with those? For now, I just thank you for reading. I’m not sure I made sense of anything by writing this, but I do feel a bit lighter for having shared it. And that would not have been possible without you!!!