Turn Down For What

When the Dude was a baby, he refused to sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time. He’d fall asleep in my arms, looking all angelic and harmless, and I’d set him in his crib and shuffle back to bed. As soon as I was about to drift off, however, I’d hear his whimpers through the monitor and trudge back in to pick him up.

For six weeks, my husband and I traded shifts. One of us would sleep and the other would hold the child.

I mentioned our problem to the pediatrician, and she asked how I knew I had to go pick up the Dude.

“He cries.” Duh. What kind of pediatrician was she?

“Does he cry?” she asked. “Or does he ooch.”  My blank stare was a mix of confusion and exhaustion, so she continued to explain.

“An ooch isn’t a real cry, it’s sort of a whimper of discomfort, like when you complain about dinner taking too long to arrive after you order, or your husband leaving his dirty socks on the floor.”

When I thought about it, I picked the Dude up the minute I heard any sound at all. It was ooching, not crying, but when my husband can’t sleep, his stare is enough to keep me awake, let alone an ooching baby.

That’s when the pediatrician gave me the greatest advice of all time. “Turn the monitor down. Better yet, turn it off. if your baby needs you, he’ll let you know.”

Funny, once we turned the monitor off, the child slept through the night. Now he can sleep through just about anything, including his econ class.

When I was working as a consultant, I’d get calls at all hours of the day and night. Once, I even got a call at 3 a.m. from a manager who was looking not for me, but for a woman who worked for me. In Canada. I said, “I looked around my bedroom and she’s not here.”

When I asked him why the hell he was calling me to find a woman in a completely different country, he answered, “Because she doesn’t answer her phone, but you do.”

Most of the work calls I received after reasonable business hours weren’t urgent. In fact, most of them were complaints about events I couldn’t alter or correct because they were already over. Some were only half-thought out–a knee-jerk response to an event without any real call to action.  I’d trained my coworkers, however, to expect that I would answer any call that came in, no matter how trivial. It was ooching. I needed to turn off the monitor.

From that point on, when I left my office, I left my office. No phone. No checking email. If something urgent needed my attention, folks could find me. They were creative that way. Funny, once I stopped responding immediately to every call and email, the ones I did receive were less reactive and more thoughtful.

The Dude is grown and I’ve left consulting, but I still find quietude in rare supply.

Sometimes I feel like the world is screaming at me. So much media, so much noise, so much anger. Devices ping and ring and play snippets of music to let me know they’re tired of being ignored. I get email notifications from blogs that I follow, websites that purchase from and groups I belong to. My landline rings with surveys and sweepstakes and political robocalls.

Even now, the Dude ooches, only now he does it via text. I used to respond right away, glad to provide assistance, even for problems he could have solved himself with nothing more than a google search. I spent an entire afternoon at a museum listening to him complain about how much his life sucked at college–a problem I couldn’t solve, at a time when I should have been enjoying where I was and the people I was with. When I realized I was hurting him more than I was helping him, I stopped answering his texts right away. It’s only fair. He takes his own sweet time in answering mine.

This constant connection to the ooching universe leaves me with little time and space to think. So much crowds my brain, the words and stories get all tangled up with the competition.

So every day, I turn off the proverbial monitors once a day. No email, no phone, no Facebook, no texts. I allow the house to be totally silent. It’s sort of creepy at first. We aren’t good at being still, or being around stillness. Most of what tugs at our skirts all day, however, isn’t urgent. It’s just stuff.

And you know what? While I’m enjoying silence, the world spins along all the same. Just because the universe runs on the idea of “I ooch therefore I am”, I am not required to listen, and sometimes the universe is better off for not having been heard.

I suggest this to others, and I get a lot of pushback. We all want to feel important, and turning off the monitor requires us to accept that maybe we aren’t as invaluable as we think we are. It also requires us to deal with the unhappy people we’ve trained to expect our ubiquitous availability.

What makes it all worth it? When I’ve had enough of the silence, I’m ready to really listen.

So I thank you for taking a moment to read this blog. Now turn off your computer and take in some quiet. I’ll all be here when you get back.

TBT – Vintage Momaiku

“I love you,” he said

You need a ride somewhere, right?

Yeah.  That’s what  I thought.

“I do work, you know.”

“When? You mean the writing thing?”

“You are so grounded.”


So I changed my mind

I am not inconsistent

It’s called “flexible”


Rules of Possession

Mothers have no property

Your stuff is their stuff


I’ll be out tonight

Don’t leave without a ride home

“Like, other than you?”


“He tells me you nag”

He says you micromanage

Divide and conquer


In Homecoming clothes

He thinks he’s the next James Bond

Pie in the Skyfall


Othello sucks, man

Everyone dies–what’s the point?

I’m playing Black Ops


Parental requests

instantly cure teen boredom.

You’re busy? Since when?


“I’ll do it later.”

Really? “Okay, I won’t, but

At least I’m honest.”

Go Out And Vote Dammit, The Local Edition

voteTomorrow is election day and I am ignoring my phone. I don’t know why politicians think robocalls are effective. Robocalls make me want to relocate to Canada. I know their elections are over.  And that Justin Trudeau is hot. That much has made the national news. If you want more info, listen to the BBC.

Last week at dinner, my husband repeated the old adage; “all politics are local.” I asked him since his local politicians were so important to him, perhaps he could name a few of them. This was not conducive to marital harmony. I state for the record that my husband is a brilliant man. He was having an off day.

There are a lot of local issues to care about in Northern Virginia, and I suspect it’s no different where you are. I haven’t heard about many school budget surpluses out there. Yes, what happens in D.C. is important, but I would guess what happens in your local government effects you more personally. It’s not as entertaining as the Donald Trump show, but what else is?

Yes, you have to find time away from work, but it’s totally worth it.

Last year the both parties gave out donuts. Since I’m technically an independent, it was a total breakfast win.

You don’t have to stand in front of a tank, run a military gauntlet, or choke on tear gas to cast your vote. All you have is fill out a few circles or tap a few buttons. Navigating my doctor’s call center menu is more complicated than that.

When you’re done, you’ll get a nifty I Voted sticker. It creates halo of self-righteousness for the rest of the day. Do remember to take it off. If it goes through the washer and dryer, you end up with a sticky white oval on your favorite sweater that even Tide won’t budge.

If you want to turf the asshats that are running the joint, vote.

If you’re even more afraid of who is looking to replace the asshats that are running the joint, vote.

If your polling place has donuts, let me know. When it comes to baked goods, I have no pride.

And if you’re trying to reach me, try email. So far, that’s a safe haven.

No Dude, there is no dream college

It’s the fairy tale we tell our children from the time they are very young.

…and one day, you’ll meet the college you’ve always dreamed of, with small class sizes, abundant clubs and opportunities to study abroad. You’ll lock eyes across a grassy field crowded with wandering peasants after a brief meeting in a ballroom where, despite knowing very little about you, they will tell you that they are the only one for you and you will believe every word. Choose them and you’ll live happily ever four years with challenging but not too hard classes and weekends full of awesome yet responsible parties.

It seems like a benign fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to meet their perfect match, the one that will lead to their ultimate destiny–a well-paying job and the opportunity to move out of their parents’ scrutiny?

School counselors talk about it, so does the media. How to find your dream school. Break the mold to get into your dream school. Behold the Name-your-source “Review Top 10 Dream Schools until we need to sell another edition”, edition.  The Dude and his classmates swam in the collegiate primordial soup of hyperbole. No wonder he’s flailing.

Not that he’s at college, the Dude is miserable. The work is hard. The food is awful, and if someone is throwing those parties, he hasn’t been invited. Somehow, he managed to choose the only university that has outlawed fun. As much as I explained that this was perfectly normal in the first term of freshman year, he feels he’s been lied to. He questions his decision-making ability, and blames his father and me for unduly influencing his choices. There is a dream college out there where his life would be perfect, and it’s not where he is.

He’s not the only one questioning his decision-making. I’m revisiting every step of the process, wondering where we went wrong. I struggled my freshman year too, but I thought it was just me. I wanted it to be better for him. Maybe he wasn’t the only one viewing the situation through the rosy glass of hope.

College isn’t a fairy tale. Prince Charming didn’t charge Cinderella $40K a year for the privilege of his company, and oh by the way, he’s dating another 10,000 fair damsels and maybe, if she proves herself worthy through a series of increasingly complex challenges, he’ll put a ring on it. It’s an important four years, and charging into it with dewy eyed fantasies of the best years of one’s life is bound to create some post purchase dissonance.

The Dude has a decent head on his shoulders, and even he admits perhaps he romanticized it all too much. He just feels that he had help.  The avalanche of propaganda began the second he signed up for the SAT. “Why don’t they just tell us the truth?”

Good question.

It feels better to say it will be the best time ever, but college is an investment not an all-inclusive resort, and maybe if we talked about it that way with our kids, they’d be happier in the end. I certainly have friends whose kids were happy from the moment they stepped foot on campus. I know more, however, whose kids are wrestling with homesickness and the difficult adjustment from high school to college.

Sorry Dude, but it’s time to wake up. College is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. Companies don’t choose to hire from universities because the students have a great time making friends and joining clubs, but for the skills they possess. A college can’t make you happy. You have to do that for yourself.

And it’s time for me to wake up, too. There may not be some magical moment where my son becomes happy with where he is, and I cannot make him happy with it either, through eloquence or persistence.

The best we can do is deal with reality, one step at a time. And if had it to over again, that’s probably what I’d say There is no dream college. Choose a real one instead.

The Democratic Debate in Haiku

Anderson Cooper

Is in a serious mood

His glasses say so


The jumbotron set

Makes it look like a game show

Miss the big ass plane


Does CNN see

Their facebook logo placement?

Someone ****ed it up


Cheryl Crow can sing

She even hit the high notes

(The tight pants might help)


I know it’s sexist

But I wore Hillary’s suit

When I was pregnant


I love you Bernie

But who pees in your cornflakes

Every damn morning?


Who is this Jim Webb

He was once my senator?

Uhm. Yes. I knew that.


Martin O’Malley

Says that he fixed Baltimore

What about those O’s?


Hey Lincoln Chafee

Nineteen seventy nine called

Want their yardsticks back


Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah

Blah Blah Blah Working people

Democrat Intro


Bernie Sanders says

Congress speaks like Eskimos

Thousand words for “no”


Wedded to the polls?

Hillary asks for numbers

“I’ll get back to you”


Martin endorsed Hill

‘I’m allowed to change my mind

Just like you change yours’


Our first Trump mention

“I may be a barker but

I own the circus”


Chafee asks for slack

We don’t care that your Dad died

If it was your dog…..


I don’t care about

Hillary’s emails either

Let’s all unsubscribe


And I still don’t know

Anything about Jim Web

But he can tell time


Hillary is asked

How she’ll differ from Barack

“Pee breaks take more time.”


This is so civil

There’s nothing to make fun of

I need more cowbell


If O’Malley wins

I really hope he invades

New York’s Trump Tower


What is Communist

Versus Social Democrat?

Putin bores Bernie


Jim Webb gets to speak

And what does he choose to say?

Yup. I killed a dude.


Damn, I’ll never know

Which chick they’d put on the ten

Who will I vote for?


And Twitter weighs in

Martin won’t be president

But the man’s a DILF


Huckabee live tweets

And I trust him like I trust

His foot near his mouth


That’s all I got folks

Until we get the next round

On the 28th

Five Podcasts You Should Be Listening To

1-IMG_0994-1I am a podcast addict, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

The beauty of the podcast is its utter portability. I listen while I drive, while I run, while I cook, clean and do laundry. It’s like having a conversation with a really interesting friend, only I don’t have to talk at all. As for my real-world friends, I regularly regale them with tales of my latest finds, surprised that not everyone has heard of these nuggets of diversion.

My favorite podcasts, like my magazines, are more numerous than I can possibly listen to every week, so I’ll start with the biggies–the must-haves for the podcast uninitiated.

  1. Serial. Serial explores the case of Adnan Syed, currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. He was a high school senior at the time, and was convicted largely based on the testimony of another person, Jay Wilds. Hosted by Sara Koenig, she explores the evidence against Adnan, the inconsistencies in the investigation that led to his arrest and conviction as well as her own journey of discovery. Is Adnan a victim of judicial injustice or a really convincing sociopath? (Cue foreboding music)
  2. Undisclosed – The State vs. Adnan Syed. It’s sort of a cheat, I suppose, including this as a separate entry, but it’s my blog. Hosted by three lawyers, Rabia Chaudry, Susan Simpson and Colin Miller, Undisclosed dives deep into the evidence and matters of case law. Ms. Chaudry is a friend of the Syed family, and was the individual who brought Adnan’s case to Sarah Koenig, so she definitely has a point of view, but the window into police investigation and criminal trial process appeals to the geek in me (which is pretty much all of me). If you’ve ever watched Law and Order and wondered how this process works in real life, or doesn’t, Undisclosed is for you.
  3. This American Life. This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass is the grandfather of all storytelling radio shows. You can listen to it every week on your local NPR station, or download the podcast and listen at your leisure (and without bleeped curse words). Each week has a theme, with a series of personal stories that relate to the idea at hand. Some are socially relevant like school segregation, the dynamics behind the sub-prime mortgage crisis (for which they won a Peabody award), and the real-time story of a Somalian refugee trying to make his way to the U.S. Others are just really fun, like a Riverdance troupe that pooled their money for a lottery ticket, and were convinced that they were giving their final performance before making enough money to never work again, or a police officer who locked himself in his own squad car.
  4. Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Yes, it’s another NPR show. But face it, the degree of separation between podcast geeks and NPR listeners is pretty small. It’s a weekly quiz show covering current events with panelists like Paula Poundstone, Adam Felber, Tom Bodette, Amy Dickenson and Peter Grosz. The show includes segments like “Who’s Bill This Time?” where newscaster Bill Curtis re-enacts quotes from the news of the week, and call-in listeners have to guess who he is, or the “Listener Limerick” where the contestant has to guess the final word of a news story in, you guessed it, limerick form. My favorite segment is “Not My Job” where famous guests have to answer questions about odd topics somehow related to what they do, but without any real connection to what they do, like asking Surgeon General Vivek Murthy about “General Hospital”. Participating in this segment is my life’s goal. I dream big.
  5. The Moth. Real people telling real stories in a few short, riveting minutes. Moth shows are recorded live across the country. Storytellers use no notes or cards, and share experiences that have shaped their lives. Some are funny, like a temp worker who accidentally sets the office on fire while working late, to deeply moving, like a man throwing a final birthday party for his dying mother. It’s a great reminder that people are awesome and interesting and that we all have stories worth listening to.

All of these podcasts are available on ITunes and they are free–that’s right–free, or you can click the links on each title and stream episodes from your computer.

This is just a handful of my obsessions–it was hard to cut it to five (Sorry Invisibilia, The Gist, WTF, Dinner Party Download, Studio 360, Radiolab. I’ll get to you late.) Give them a listen, and let me know what you think.

What podcasts do you love? Please share – I have a lot of laundry to do.

If Only We Could Lock Down Guns As Easily As We Lock Down College Campuses

At 2 a.m. on Saturday night, my IPad sang from across the room to let me know someone was calling. My husband shook me awake. I’d forgotten to mute the electronic offender, and surely I’d hear about it in the morning. I picked up my IPhone just as it stopped vibrating. I had to wait until the missed call registered so I could find out who it was. Late night calls generally aren’t good ones.

The call originated from the town where my son attends college. A fist clamped around my heart. The phone buzzed in my hand, signalling the message’s arrival at the same time my IPad let out a happy ding, telling me I’d gotten a text. I thought the joy was a little premature.

A robotic female voice filled me in on the news. The cadence in her words was off, which lent a sinister tone to what was meant to be a precautionary message. A convenience store at the edge of campus had been robbed by two armed men. The suspects were headed away from campus, but just to be safe, the University asked the students to take shelter and lock the doors. The text confirmed I’d heard her right.

I checked my Mom-stalker app and saw that the Dude was not at home in his dorm, a safe distance from the scene of the crime, but somewhere unfamiliar, a little too close for comfort. Did I mention it was 2 a.m.?

So I texted him to make sure he was fine, which he was, but he’d been at the convenience store just an hour prior. Buying snacks, I’m sure. He decided to reassure me by bringing up the fact that he still had to walk home, but he had nothing on him but his I.D. so he wasn’t worth the bother. I thanked him for his sensitivity and told him to stay put until the University lifted the lock down.

It took about a fifteen minutes for the all clear to come through, and another hour for my chest to loosen enough for me to breathe. I did not, however, sleep.

I knew the Dude wasn’t in any danger; that wasn’t what kept me awake. It was the thought of the parents of students at Umpqua Community College and how they must have felt. I knew that whatever I imagined would be off on a logarithmic scale. Add to it a certain hopelessness. Nothing will change.

The Onion posted the article “No Way to Prevent This”, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens, only it was a rewrite of their June article about the Charleston shootings, which was a rewrite of their May 2014 column about the UCSB shootings.

I find it ironic that I have to fill out more paperwork to adopt a cat than I do to buy a gun. I also find it ironic that politicians find the idea that rounding up illegal immigrants and sending them on their way is easy, but reducing the prevalence of guns in the U.S. is impossible.

The ever-present “they” say we have a mental health problem (which we do, but their characterization of it scares the shit out of me). We have a hate and a fame problem. We have an education problem, and an economic disparity problem.

But we also have an inertia problem, a campaign funding problem, an unwillingness to compromise problem, and an all-or-nothing-our-side-must-win-at-all-costs problem.

Most of all, we have an it-won’t-happen-to-me problem.

Let’s hope “they” never get a 2 a.m. robo call about their own child. The thought that anyone might get that call keeps me up at night. Doesn’t it keep “them” up too? We could all use a good night’s sleep.