Disclaimer: I usually write about my life and share things that I think are funny or entertaining, but that hopefully don’t get too personal or over-sharey. But to prove I’m not a one-trick pony, today I’ve written about something intensely personal that totally over-shares and isn’t funny at all! Enjoy!
My doctor tells me that he believes I may have Multiple Sclerosis. He isn’t 100% sure. He said it could also be this other condition that is apparently so complex that even Google can’t paint me a clear picture of it. But he says he doesn’t really think it’s that – and thank goodness because it would be so much more convenient to have a disease everyone has already heard of. Less explaining; more sympathy. And let’s be honest: Sympathy is the only good thing about having a disease in the first place.
Over the past few years, I have had every test imaginable. Some have been positive. Some have been negative. Recently, more evidence in the “for” camp has emerged. But MS is a slippery bastard and I’m told it isn’t always easy to diagnose, ‘a diagnosis of exclusion’ they call it. So at this point it appears that my white matter disease falls into a grey area. In other words, they know something is wrong in my brain, they just can’t tell me exactly what it is.
My doctor told me there is nothing to do but wait and see. Since I am nothing if not obedient, for a while I did this. And as I waited, I considered whether or not to fall apart over this situation. I even tried it for a short time – doing an internet residency in Neurology and learning just enough to scare the shit out of myself. This was not a good idea. But eventually I decided that the possibility of having MS – or the actuality for that matter – is not something worth going to pieces over. For one thing, who has the time? For another, I just don’t want to give my life over to that kind of fear. When I think like this, I feel righteous and strong and capable and in control. I like that feeling. And I feel that way most of the time. Most of the time.
But there are times, in the quiet moments when I’m not thinking about the things I have to do, or what to make for dinner, or how I can crash my minivan for the insurance money without hurting anyone– that the fear sneaks in. It pounds at my chest wall and swirls in my gut. It keeps me awake at night with images of “What if?” Fear will do that to try to get my attention. Just like a tantrum-throwing child, fear gains strength from my tolerance and responsiveness. I used to think that worrying about something could prevent it from happening. Like my worry was proof that I was not so egotistical as to believe that it could not happen to me. I thought that if I worried about it enough, the worry would form a shield over me forcing the Big Bad to skip me and move on to some arrogant sumbitch who thought they were invincible. (Ironically, it was pretty arrogant of me to think that.)
But now I know better. The truth is that things happen whether you worry about them or not. Fear – or the absence of it – cannot stave off disability or prevent disease from striking or keep your loved ones safe. If only it could. Unfortunately fear can do many things, but it can’t change your fate, except maybe to ruin the present while you are waiting for the thing you’re afraid of to come and get you.
This brings me back to my doctor’s “wait and see” advice. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that waiting for something like MS to show itself – or not – seemed like just another way to be afraid of it. So I decided against waiting. I’ve opted instead for denial –stuffing a sock in the mouth of my Jewish ancestry and giving my Northern Irish roots permission to take over (which is fine considering the Jewish part of me still has to whisper M.S. when she talks about it). Denial, while not normally my go-to response, is the strongest response to this situation. It is a brick wall, an impenetrable fortress. Denial will kick fear’s ass and stuff it down deep inside where it can’t take anything away from me. Because once again, like a whiny child, fear will not perform without an audience.
So even with my doctor’s advice to wait and see, I’ve made up my mind that I am not going to sit around and wait for MS. I know that it will get my attention if it needs me. And until that day comes, if it ever does- I will wait for my kids to stop fighting with each other, for someone to invent zero calorie potato chips that tastes the same as regular, for my husband to take an intense interest in housework – but I will not wait for MS.
Goodness knows it won’t wait for me.
At the risk of sounding like a phony, I’ll admit that when I see someone and casually ask how they’re doing – I’m really only looking for a summary. Doing great. Keeping it real. Living the dream. Something along those lines.
However shallow, this sort of exchange is the generally accepted social convention. “How’s it going?” is not the question you answer with, “I just had four bunions removed… would you like to see my scars?” If the person you’re talking to is a good friend, chances are you already know how they are. Or if the person answering the question wants to share more information, they can give a lead-in response like, “I’ve been better,” and see if anyone takes the bait.
But there is one instance in which people almost always over-share: When it comes to talking about their kids. When you see someone you haven’t seen a while and you ask about his or her children, you’re looking for a basic, “Janie’s great; Sam’s getting so big.” Boom. Done. What you are probably not looking for is, “Ohmigoodnes, Janie said the cutest thing last night while she was taking a bath – wait… here! I have a picture! Oh, and while I’m at it, let me show you what she looks like when she does this new little dance move. She calls it her shaking her ‘too-shie’ –isn’t that cute? Wait… here! I have a picture…”
I am not suggesting that there is never a place for sharing this kind of “cute” information, but pick your opportunities wisely. Because while these stories can be mildly yawn-inducing for people who have kids, they have to be mind-meltingly boring for people without children. Most people are simply not interested in the minutiae of everyday life with your kid. They just aren’t. They may love you. They may even love your kid. But they don’t want to hear every tiny detail, no matter how cute you think it may be. And it’s insensitive to blather on in this way.
Think about it, if you asked your insurance salesman friend how things are at work and he launched into a detailed description of accidental death benefits and annuitization schedules and wait… here! He has a picture! You would probably run away screaming. Or at least think twice about ever engaging him in conversation again. It isn’t that you don’t care, it’s that you don’t care that much. You care enough to know that your friend has been really busy/ had a great quarter / is thinking of making some changes, but that’s about it. If you were really interested, you’d ask more detailed questions like, “So tell me more about how you calculate overall liquidity ratios!”
Likewise, when people ask about your kids, they want to know how they are doing generally speaking. If they ask detailed follow-up questions or to see pictures, that’s your cue to whip out your smart phone and go to town. But the broad-spectrum “How are Fletcher and Ellie?” is to be only met with a one, two, or possibly up to five word answer: “Awesome. Just like their Mom.”
That’s my standard response. You can use it if you want.
This post is an oldie, but a relevant-y. It supposes what might happen if Wile E. Coyote were to throw his hat in the presidential election ring. (Hint: At the very least, the debates would be shorter.)
My mother lost her father this summer. He was 90, frail in body and mind, and by all accounts, probably ready to go. In the end, he didn’t suffer. He died peacefully, surrounded by people who loved him.
But it’s still sad. It’s always sad to say goodbye to those we love, especially when we have years of long and complicated relationships to sift through in the wake of their passing. For me, it’s sad to think that the sweet, little, Irish-accented man who told me the legend of donut-trees is now no more than legend himself. He was a good grandpa, always ready with a joke and a hug, impossibly cheerful, a talented artist, an amazing athlete, a devoted husband, and a world-class whistler. I will miss him.
But mostly it’s sad for me to think of my mom who has lost her dad. Her mom died a few years ago and so she is now, along with her brother and sister, an orphan of sorts. And it makes me sad for her – for them.
Even the best relationships between parents and their children are complicated – some more than others- and my mom’s relationship with her dad was no different. But she loved him. She loved him the way daughters love their fathers – with a combination of respect and affection, pride and fear, ferocity and deference. And always with a longing for approval and acceptance. That is just how it is for girls and their dads.
In the days preceding my grandpa’s death, the hospice nurse called and suggested that my mom say goodbye to her dad over the phone, as no one was sure if he would last the hours needed for her to reach his hospital bed. She was caught off guard. She knew he was sick and that he “had started down a path” as the nurse had gently put it, but she hadn’t thought about what she wanted the last words she’d say to her father to be. He had been slipping in and out of consciousness, mostly out, but before my mom could react the nurse had put the phone to his ear and she was up.
Perhaps it was better that she didn’t have hours or even minutes to toil over these words. The pressure of the Last Words Ever would have been crushing. But in the abrupt moment that she was faced with she simply told him she loved him and that it was okay for him to go. She told him she’d miss him. And she told him she loved him again.
After the call, my mom worried that maybe she should have said more. She wondered should she have said all those things we don’t say in the course of normal conversation: final absolutions, forgiveness for all the ways – little and big – that we’ve hurt each other over the years, thanks for the sacrifice our parents made for us that we can’t understand until we’ve become parents ourselves, gratitude for loving us, permission to leave, reassurance that we’ll be okay without them. These are not things we say when we talk to our parents. We talk about the weather. The kids. The job. The house. The traffic. The game. The damned politicians. We don’t talk about goodbye. We don’t talk about the Last Words Ever.
If the rightful order of the universe holds true, then most of us will outlive our parents. We know this. We grow up believing this. Our parents hope and pray for this. So why is there a question of things left unsaid at all? In a perfect world we would all make sure that we say how we feel while we still have time. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And we don’t always do the things we should – even when we know we should.
I guess we don’t do this because it’s hard. It’s hard and awkward and uncomfortable for most of us to even think about The End, let alone dredge up all those feelings we’ve had throughout our lives towards our parents. There are just so many of them… and they’re not all warm and fuzzy.
But I think the ones that matter are. I think the component of the Last Conversation Ever ought to be as warm and fuzzy as our selective memory will allow. We should use that last conversation for expressions of gratitude. For reassurance’s that even though they may not have been perfect, we know they did the best they could. For appreciation. For kindness. For love. For forgiveness. For approval and acceptance. For permission to go on.
I want my parents to know all of the above – and more. I want them to know that I forgive their shortcomings, I appreciate their sacrifices, I admire their strength, I know how hard they tried to do the very best for us even when it was hard. And I’m sure if I asked them, they would have a list of warm and fuzzy things they’d want to be sure I knew too. But chances are the next time I talk to them, we won’t talk about those things. We’ll talk about the debates, the price of gas, what a nice Fall we’re having, how the car is running, etc.
Maybe what we need is a code. Like, when I call to talk about my air conditioner that needs replacing, what I’m really saying is – “Thank you for all the ways you’ve been there for me.” Or when my Dad complains how expensive his medication is getting, what he really means is, “You’ve been a good daughter.” Or when my Mom talks about her Pilates class, what she means to say is, “You may not be perfect, but I love you anyway.” Maybe if we could do that – there would be no need for Last Conversations Ever, because everything we needed to say would be said – over and over, buried in the mundane details of our lives.
So, on that note – I’ll end my more-maudlin-than-most post with a simple message to all of my lovely readers out there: I need to clean the lint out of my dryer vent.*
*Code for “Thanks for reading – I appreciate you taking the time!”
In a decidedly un-narcissitic gesture (if I do say so myself), I am going to share with you something written by someone else that made me laugh out loud this morning. Those of you who know me, know that I do not laugh out loud often -so, even though I am scared that you will all stop reading my blog in favor of her blog I’m posting a link to a hilarious post entitled, Peter Pan Moms: We Won’t Grow Up. I found it on Ann’s Rants, a consistently funny blog about all things motherhood and womanhood. I hope you like it. But not so much that you will forget about me.
This is the first in my three-part series, Don’t Hate the Playa; Hate the Game (alternatively titled, What’s With All the Judgy-Judgy?). In this series I will explore the many ways that narrow-minded people try to make others feel small so they can feel superior.
Specifically, I will examine the self-righteous judgments some people make based on three factors: the books you read; whether or not you stay home with your kids; and finally, the amount of food you choose to snarf down on any given day. I have found people to be especially judgmental of others where these three things are concerned.
Today’s installment is about the odious practice of book snobbery.
I think there is a special place in hell for book snobs. I don’t mean people who happen to enjoy well-written, thoughtful, literary fiction. That is fine. Great. Good for them. I’m talking about people who make judgments about what sort of person you are based on what you read. For instance, there are those who assume if you read Jackie Collins, or Stephanie Meyer, or John Grisham, that you are somehow intellectually inferior to people who read Dave Eggers, Joan Didion, or Michael Chabon. Or worse yet, that Jackie Collins, or Stephanie Meyer, or John Grisham themselves are intellectually inferior to the Dave Eggers, Joan Didions, or Michael Chabons of the world. Which they may be. Or they may not be. But the fact that they choose to write plot-driven books about sexy vampires or lawyers, as opposed to the rich interior life of tortured souls, does not reflect on their intellectual status.
Some people read to learn more about the world around them; others read to escape it. Most of us like the advantages that both literary and commercial fiction have to offer. Neither has the moral high ground. The people who read nothing but gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, soul-crushing stories about genocide are no deeper, no more cerebral, no smarter than those who read about shoe sales. Reading is, like any other art form, completely subjective and should remain in a judgment-free zone.
Even more upsetting is when people inside the publishing industry proliferate these kind of snarky attitudes. As an aspiring author, I read a lot about the world of publishing and frankly, I am shocked that an industry faced with such an uncertain vicissitude would engage in such petty in-fighting. I read articles everyday about how this author or that book critic discounts the efforts of writers who choose to write “chick lit” or “mommy lit.” (The genre titles themselves are misogynistic and patronizing, but that is another post.) Critics say the same about people who write mystery, horror, sci-fi, YA, etc. These critics suggest that authors who write books to entertain, and who are perhaps less focused on craft, are somehow “less than” those who write to enlighten the human condition with a precise and stalwart dedication to language. This kind of blatant snobbism is gross. It diminishes peoples experience of books – which is something the publishing industry can scarcely afford right now.
It would seem that people in the business of writing and selling books ought to stick together during this tumultuous time in the industry’s long history. It would seem that We, the Book People, in order to form a more perfect union between those of us who write books and those of us who read them, should establish literary justice, insure bookish tranquility, provide for the common imagination, promote the generally well-read, and secure the literary blessings of freedom to ourselves and our book-choices.
Reading is reading, folks. No matter what book you choose to pick up, it beats the hell out of playing Super Mario Bros. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
Next post on 5/15: Working Moms vs. Moms Who Say at Home: You Pays Your Money, You Takes Your Chances.
For my birthday one year, a friend gave me a card that had a picture of two women sitting in a diner talking. One woman says to the other, “Where’s your birthday party at?” The second woman says, “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” You open the card and the first woman replies, “Sorry. Where’s your birthday party at, bitch.” My friend and I both thought this was hilarious, as we had found ourselves in similar conversations many times throughout our long friendship. We’ve managed to stay friends for so long because she ignores my corrections and I ignore her dangling participles.
And while my friend and I have an understanding, I often wonder what the larger implications are of correcting someone when they mispronounce, use incorrect syntax, or just plain say something wrong – not inaccurate, but literally say something the wrong way. Is it helpful or is it douchebaggery?
Personally, I like to be corrected. As long as it’s done nicely. I feel like mispronouncing words and/or using incorrect grammar, is the intellectual equivalent of having spinach in your teeth. You want someone to kindly and discreetly let you know. If not, you end up walking around all night smiling at people (or ordering ex-presso), looking like a fool.
For example, the other night I attempted to sing the first line from the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’,” and I belted out – a capella nonetheless – “Just a small town boy!” It took me a few seconds to realize I had gotten it wrong (she’s just a small town girl), and I immediately corrected myself. My sister-in-law who was sitting next to me, laughed – obviously embarrassed for me and said, “Yeah, I didn’t want to correct you.”
But what if I hadn’t caught myself and she didn’t correct me? I would be doomed to live the rest of my days singing the wrong words to that song. That would be tragic, right? Think of the embarrassment at karaoke night. Or at the piano bar. Or in my car driving my kids home from school. (That song comes on a lot, no?)
On the other hand, there are certain times when you should not attempt to correct someone – even if you think you’re being helpful. Your boss, your in-laws, your parole officer, the large dude in line in front of you – they all get a free pass. I don’t care if they order the Poe-low chimey-chaaaangas with a side of tor-till-la chips and then say they are chomping at the bit to eat it. You keep your mouth shut. In order to correct someone, there has to be a certain relationship in place. Otherwise, you’re just looking for an ass-kicking.
But even among friends, correcting someone can get sticky. After all, some people feel chastened or embarrassed when they get something wrong. And sometimes people’s mistakes are so bad that you can’t really correct them without looking like a total snob. Gaffs like saying supposably, acrost, heighth, drownd, irregardless, and orientate – to name a few – cannot be corrected unless the person you are correcting A.) asks you directly if they said it right, B.) Is your student, or C.) Is your kid. Otherwise, you will look like a big ol’ D-bag. And nobody wants to do that.
I was recently reminded of a story about the Queen of England who noticed one of her foreign guests at a formal State dinner sip from the finger bowl, believing it was soup. So rather than correct him, she drank from her finger bowl as well – so as not to make her guest feel embarrassed. Now that is gracious. I guess they teach you things like that at Queen school.
But for the rest of us, the lesson here (if there is any lesson here) is if you choose to correct -and some of us are genetically incapable of stopping ourselves from it – pick your time and place. And be nice about it. Otherwise, just keep your big mouth shut.
Or, if you want to be classy like the Queen, drink from the finger bowl before you eat your case-a-dill-a.