Rediscovering my superpower


With the Dude in college, the day-to-day operation of Dude.inc went from being my primary enterprise to not my business way too quickly. They don’t make golden parachutes for mothers. We’re ejected from the plane without remorse or apology, while making it look as graceful as possible. After all, this is how it’s supposed to be.

So after all of these years of thinking “What about me?” in my more frantic and  less generous moments, I had plenty of time to answer the question.

What about me?

I’ve worked as a volunteer and substitute librarian in our school system for years, and every so often I’ve toyed with becoming a librarian.I’d look at master’s degree programs, think about the time and expense required to make it happen, and each time I’ve walked away. It would take too long, I’d be too old, libraries are a dying institution, it doesn’t pay well, and I already have an MBA–haven’t I had enough education? I had a lot of reasons not to move forward.It made no sense.

Then one morning it did. It happened without lead-up. No pondering or fretting, no lists of positives and negatives, no break even analysis or internal debate.

My husband came home from work and I gave him the good news. I was going back to school. It was not unlike when he came home from work and I told him that I’d quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. He was totally supportive. He knows I’m not impulsive. As much as I might fret and wonder, once I decide upon a course of action, it’s a done deal.

Unfortunately the world does not move in accordance with my plans, so I have to apply to programs and wait to be accepted. For now, I’m taking some prerequisite classes. I’m glad I did, because going back to school is much harder than I thought it would be.

Much of today’s education is available online. It gives one great flexibility, and saves me the discomfort of being a 52-year-old in a sea of 20 somethings, but it’s foreign to me. I started to worry that I’d made a mistake.

My husband reassured me. “Learning is your superpower.”

My superpower? Did I have a superpower?

I’ve always believed that I could do anything with time and instruction, if I wanted it enough. This was different though–the learning environment was different, the technology was different, and I’m pretty sure my prof was on a beach in the Outer Banks. “Even Superman had a transition period,” he said. “Besides, it’s not the notes and tests and papers that make you super. It’s that you actually do what you set out to do.”

My husband is the best. He has my back.

Ninety five percent of the world supports my decision–my husband, my friends, my parents–the people who matter. That five percent though, they throw me for a loop every time. Instead of “Good For You” and “Congratulations” it’s “Why do you want to do that?,” “That’s ambitious,” “You need a degree for that?,”  and my favorite ,”You’re so brave,”  which comes out sounding more like “You’ve got to be crazy.”

It’s totally possible that I’m projecting. It’s also possible that I’m not.

I get it. It’s crazy. Another master’s degree at this point in my life? Starting an entirely new career? Why do it?

Because I want to. Because I have a mission to teach students how to do real research to make informed judgments. Because I can. Because I’m worth the investment.

The Dude finds my scholarly ambitions amusing. He came into my office last night where I have a detailed diagram of a computer network on my whiteboard.

“You did that today?” He admired my use of multicolored pens. It’s an information technology class, I have to amuse myself somehow. “When is it due?”

“Tomorrow.”

Was that admiration I saw in his eyes? “This is hard,” I said. “Not just the classes, but the whole thing. The tests, the application process, the not-knowing how it’s going to turn out.” I didn’t have to say “The risk of failure,” we both knew it was underneath it all.

“I know, right?” I had new-found empathy for the Dude. No wonder he was a wreck last fall. “This is just like KT201.” We spent a lot of late nights texting over that class, using baseball analysis to make database structure less mysterious.

“So when you move into an apartment, I can help you set up your network.”

“And when we both run into issues, we’ll call Dad.”

“Exactly.” Good IT support is hard to find, unless you marry it.

“You’re very brave.” For once, I didn’t hear “crazy” in the undertones. “A lot of people say they are going to do things. You do them.” It was a hug made with words.

“Thanks.” Maybe I wasn’t crazy. After all, learning is my superpower

 

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Behavior of an un-becoming parent

frogI sent the Dude a tiny frog. It’s supposed to bring him luck. Luck was the one thing he wanted most for me to send, aside from Pop-tarts and something to stop his typical winter to spring nosebleeds. They have a CVS not too far from campus, but I’m happy for something I can do for him, even if his father does think I spoil him. As far as I’m concerned, I’d be spoiling him if I bought him a car. A pack of NasalCease is not much of an indulgence.

I’m struggling with having him gone. As much as I love the freedom of my days, the lack of detritus in my car, and the ability to cook foods that not only touch each other, but intermingle, some days I still feel the warmth of his toddler-sized body on my shoulder. It’s an ache that goes through to the bone.

I miss his humor–the lightness of his spirit. When winter’s gray reaches in and curls its tentacles around my heart, I have to pry them off by myself. Some days it’s hard to conjure the will to try. He will always be my son, but he is no longer my child.

Which is why I can’t write about him anymore.

It’s not that he’s no longer entertaining, or interesting. Our common love of humor, baseball and Cadbury Robin’s Eggs are bound in our shared DNA, but his story is no longer mine to tell.

People have often asked what the Dude thinks about my writing, and I tell them I’m not writing about him. I’m writing about me. While they think they know him, they only know the Dude that exists within the context of my relationship with him. He was the sun at the center, and I wrote about the view from orbit.

Without his gravitational pull, I became untethered. My day was one big, blank page, and there is nothing a writer dreads more. I stared at the white space, reached for the words and found absolutely nothing.

I hunkered down in my sweats and watched television. I can attest that at any given time, some variant of Law & Order is airing somewhere on cable. Every so often, I’d haul myself out of hermitdom and do something drastic to bring me back to my life. I even dyed my hair pink. If I was looking for some sort of personal anchor, that wasn’t a good way to find it. It only made me feel more foreign to myself.

My only solution is to go back to the beginning, to strip away the habits and practices linked to my old life, and find the ones that serve the new. Like the Dude, I am a student, but in a different classroom.  He is learning how to become  who he will be.I am doing the same, but first I have to do the opposite. I will need to un-become the Dude’s Mom and experience what it means to be me absent of the label.

I need to face the empty page, and fill it with adventures of my own. I’ll need some luck. Maybe I’ll get a frog of my own.

Ditching the electronic calendar

1-IMG_1077Sunday morning began in the usual way. Turn off the fan. Turn on the lights. Turn on the lightbox. Move the cat. Check email.

Check email.

Where the f*** were my emails?

I rebooted my phone. My Gmail account was still empty, so I ran to my desk to check the account on my laptop. Nothing.

This was a disaster.

Google wasn’t much help. The best they could do was restore the mail from my promotional tab so I could relive every website deal from Thanksgiving until Christmas. All of my business correspondence? Forget it. The holiday best wishes from friends and family? They would have to live in my memory. Anyone who asked me to do something or be somewhere, good luck with that.

Then again, I had an empty mailbox, which felt pretty cool.

How much of what was lost did I really need, and how much was I hanging on to because I could? I knew who I needed to ping to get critical information back. As disasters went, I’d survive.

I had a similar situation last month when my computer died. My advice for today–do not drink near your computer–especially if you gesture a lot when you’re on the phone. That sizzling noise the laptop makes as water seeps into the motherboard is your files saying goodbye.

Luckily I had a backup of my files on the server. Luckily I have a server, thanks to my husband to whom I apologize for rolling my eyes behind his back when he talks about security and recovery because like most people, I assume these inconveniences won’t happen to me.

I had a shit-ton of stuff in my archives; Multiple versions of the novel-that-will-never-see-the-light-of-day, Four year old orchestra press releases, Every iteration of the Dude’s college essays.When I thought about the files I really needed access to, it was a small fraction of what I had in storage. Did I really want my new laptop to inherit all of the clutter and chaos of the last one?

I decided to manage it like moving boxes. I’ll bring a file over to the new computer when and if I needed to. Otherwise, it could stay where it is.

Having the Dude leave the nest has had a similar effect on my life. For eighteen years, his schedule dictated mine. I loved being an at-home mother, but I was definitely in orbit, held by the gravitational pull of the Dude. Now that he’s on his own, the slate is wiped clean.

I have always kept a detailed electronic calendar, a throwback to my consulting days. It’s color coded by type of activity, participants and purpose. That calendar was the extra set of hands that kept me from dropping the ball, but the Dude took the ball with him when he left for school, and my calendar still looks exactly the same.

My father-in-law gave me an engagement calendar as a Christmas gift. When I opened it, I thought, “how quaint,” but I’m starting to reconsider.

The beginning of a new year serves as a reboot for me, a time to consider what to take from one year into the next. if how I live my day is how I live my life, how does my electronic calendar measure up? Like my email account and my computer files, maybe my schedule could do with a little electronic obliteration.

The booklet that my father-in-law gave me is beautiful, but not complex. It shows a week at a time, without demarcations for hours and minutes. It doesn’t call itself a calendar, or a planner, but an engagement book. Perhaps the term isn’t one of pretentiousness, but one of intention. An engagement can be a commitment, but engagement is also a state of being. This calendar requires a pen, and writing, and some consideration. I have these 24 hours. What will they mean?

Of course, I have appointments to keep, for which I’ll maintain my Gmail calendar, but focusing on life at the granular level is like bad musical theater, where time becomes no more than filler between songs.  Instead of focusing on what I need to do each day, I can decide what I want each day to be.

So I’ll add my engagement book to my morning routine, right after moving the cat. My email can wait, assuming there’s anything there.

 

 

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.”

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.