Thursday, October 30, 2014

Advice for Myself : Don't Negotiate with Crazy

It's good to find common ground. But not every single time. There are going to be circumstances when commonality can't happen. One of them is when I am face to face with crazy.

There is no middle place between myself and crazy. I have nothing in common with crazy. I have nothing  to gain from crazy. Crazy and I will never be friends. I need to listen to me now. Crazy and I can't be acquainted. Even cordial is up for question. Be careful with cordial. Even that.

Quirky and I can be friends. Eccentric and I can be friends. Even boring and I can be friends.

But crazy is a different story. With crazy, nobody wins. In any negotiation with crazy, I will always lose. Crazy's idea of friend, fair, nice, funny, loud, soft, neat and good will always be filtered through crazy.

Say hi to crazy but then keep on walking.

Don't be fooled by crazy. Crazy can seem okay at first. It can walk among the rest of us. Then it reveals itself.

 Nothing can change crazy.

When the crazy detector goes off listen to that. Even when it is so quiet no one else can hear it. Negotiate with that voice that is everyone's friend. That voice is negotiable. But crazy? There is no conversation, no language no device for that.

I've been to the university of the old college try. I'm an alumnus of that. Crazy need not apply. I'm not talking to crazy anymore.

Advice for Myself is a new series I am working on to remind myself of things I learn and then forget. I am hoping that collage and writing will help me remember some important lessons I've gained through life experience. Maybe it will help you too.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The David Bowie Show

The prospect of writing about the David Bowie show is an intimidating one. In the end I decided to go ahead and do it. Writing about it imperfectly is better than not writing about it at all.

The show is called David Bowie Is and my family traveled to see it at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

This post is not from a musical scholar or a critic. It's not from a museum curator or historian. It is from a David Bowie fan. It is from someone whose childhood and teen years happened in the 1970s and 80s. Someone who watched American Bandstand, MTV and listened to the radio.

I remember just where I was and what I was doing when David Bowie and Bing Crosby sang Little Drummer Boy during the 1977 Christmas special. Apparently, Bowie himself doesn't remember it all that well. My young brain was clear as a bell and not compromised by substance. I'm not a rock star, so I'm in a good place for recall.

I am a person with an unapologetic enthusiasm and connection with popular culture. That's the place I'm coming from.

My husband Jeremy is coming from a different vantage point. He has the same pop culture roots as I do. But his relationship to Bowie's music goes very deep.

Anyone who knows Jeremy at all can tell you that he is absolutely passionate about music. Music of all kinds and all genres. He has always loved listening to music, sharing music, writing about music for his brilliant blog AnEarful, and during certain periods of his life has made music.

Jeremy can hear things in music that other people don't. He makes connections other people can't. He remembers stuff about every piece of music he has ever heard. He's not shy about spreading what he knows around.

I kept referring to the trip as a religious pilgrimage for Jeremy. This turned out to be no joke. His blog post about the show is here

Here's what it was like for me.

Our whole family went. We spent a little time together in there, then split up and each did our own thing. We were all content with this arrangement. It was the kind of show where it felt natural to do this.

I looked at some stuff quickly but didn't skip or skim over anything. What I do get to do was whatever I wanted. I've never done this in a museum before. If I wanted to watch Bowie performing a number on Top of the Pops five times in a row, then go back later and watch it three more times, I did.

I'd catch sight of Noah drifting about, swaying a bit to the music, quite engaged. They gave us headsets with music and commentary. Usually, I don't take the headsets in a museum. I don't want some dry voice telling me how to see and what to think. This was different - it was a large part of the artistry of it. It was an integrated and rich experience.

This part is what I meant when I said earlier that I'm intimidated. I've been to a lot of shows in a lot of museums. I am a museum type person. This was the very best show I have ever been to in a museum. The show was so amazing and so inventive that it actually re-defined what can happen in a museum and what a show can be. There was love and brilliance infused in the curating and design. Bowie made his entire collection available and I felt a grand sense of generosity in that. I kept saying that I am glad Bowie doesn't like to throw things out.

Spending time at this show was entering another world. We were no longer in Chicago or even the Museum of Contemporary Art. We were in an all consuming, singular space where we have never been before and would never be again.

I already mentioned I've been to many museums. I've seen the work of countless artists. It's something I love doing.

I've never felt so strongly that a show allowed me to enter an artist's mind the way this one did. I got to experience a piece of what it is like to actually be Bowie. I learned that he truly lives the life of an artist. Not just when he is on stage. Not just when he is in the recording studio. He's living the life. He's doing what he wants to do. He takes breaks from music and focuses on painting. He has elaborate costumes he wears on stage. He has thoughtfully designed daywear.

The show made me think of an experience that I had right before Christmas last year. As I usually am, I was fed up with the holidays. That is a time of the year when Jacob's absence is even more painfully notable. The forced cheer of the culture around me, which more often than not feels depressing. Feeling exhausted with fitting gift shopping into an already challenging time. The whole thing made me feel like a fraud. If I could have fired Christmas I would have.

I got off of the subway in Brooklyn on a Monday. This neighborhood is bustling over the weekend, but on a weekday winter morning, it was quiet, and almost sleepy. I breathed in the cold morning air and reveled in the near silence.

I went into a brand new, just opened record store to do some holiday shopping for Jeremy. It was thrilling to do this because at the time he didn't know I was there. The fact that I was visiting this much-awaited new store before he did gave me a fun, slightly illicit feeling combined with a sudden sense of happiness. I anticipated the gifts I would buy him there.

I walked in, list in hand and began to piece together a musical gift for Jeremy. I combined a special box set that I knew would give him hours of enjoyment and scholarship. I also got him a biography from the store's extensive collection of music-inspired books. I also gave him a gift of experiencing the store himself in the form of a gift certificate. There is nothing Jeremy likes better than poring over music in a record store.

Of course, the store has a high quality sound system. Of course, the acoustics in there were good. Seeing as though it was close to Christmas, they played the David Bowie and Bing Crosby performance of Little Drummer Boy. It had been years since I heard it. It was a seminal experience in its beauty and authenticity. It was a sparkling moment. It turned the holiday tide for me. Bowie connected with me in a way that Crosby alone wouldn't have. Art can do that and it did.

David Bowie Is can be viewed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago until January 4th, 2015.

Read about the 1977 Christmas special and watch the video here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Seats At Starbucks

I live in NYC. Most neighborhoods here have a Starbucks sprinkled about every few blocks. One neighborhood I frequent has two of them on the same block.

Because of my lifestyle, I find myself at Starbucks frequently. I live very far uptown. Oftentimes I don't have time to go home between meetings or between an appointment and picking my child up at school. I'll find a Starbucks, get some coffee or tea, iced or hot, depending on the season. I'll get out my iPad and do something useful until its time to do the next thing on my agenda.

I consider myself an expert at Starbucks.

Everything I am about to write applies to every Starbucks I've ever been to. It is also true for every independent coffee shop and smaller chain establishments.  Anyplace that serves a variety of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages.  Anyplace where some people take their drinks to go, some people stay for a short time, and some people stay there and work for hours on end. Any place that has individual tables and communal tables.

It might be a Starbucks in midtown. It might be that tongue twister of a place, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Sometimes I’ll get confused and refer to it as the Coffee Tea and Leaf. It could be a homey establishment in Williamsburg built with responsibly sourced materials. The one that only serves organic coffee grown in Brooklyn.

For the sake of simplicity, I will just keep referring to all of these places as Starbucks.

If you are the person taking your coffee to go, who is texting the office as you wait, slightly impatiently for that beverage, then I'm not writing about you today.

If you are the person getting the coffee to stay, who has a laptop, some folders, some drawings, a to do list of stuff that you want to power through at Starbucks, then I am writing about you. If you are an interior designer, here to meet with some perspective clients, you too.

I see the same behavior every time I go. You get on line. Your eyes dart nervously around. Casing the joint. Anywhere there's a limited supply of something or a sense, real or imagined, of scarcity, the behavior surfaces. In this case, the perceived scarcity is seats.

Your head goes back and forth from the object of desire - the seat - and the barista making your beverage. At this point, you are in a bigger hurry than the type-A business lady ahead of you. She's rushing to a meeting. You're rushing to a table and chair.

So much adrenaline over so little.

Sometimes it unfolds differently. You walk in and before getting on line you stake your claim. You snag a chair with your jacket before ordering. Maybe you're choosy. You want a seat near an outlet. This unleashes a barrage of nervous hovering.

Sometimes you table stalk.

For a while, all of this was happening outside of my consciousness. But when things are consistently happening and we're not really thinking about them, behaviors can become contagious. That is what happened to me. I started doing some of these things because the people around me were doing them. I started feeling urgent because the people around me were feeling urgent.

Until I didn't anymore.

One day, I became aware of the fact that there is a predictable set of anxieties that seems to overtake people at Starbucks. I began to watch this anxious behavior. It was interesting. It was a lot like watching a documentary.

Then the anxiety ceased to be contagious. Then I started an experiment. I was the only subject of this experiment. Here are the results.

Every time I go to Starbucks with the intention of drinking beverages and working I will focus only on ordering my beverage in the beginning. The universe will provide me with a comfortable place to work I say to myself. I will not look around for available seats while I am ordering. I will not scan about while adding sweetener or milk to my beverage.

Once my beverage is all nice and customized and I've grabbed some napkins, then I allow myself to choose a seat and sit down.

It always works out. Every single time.

The vast majority of the time, I find a seat immediately. Oftentimes, in spite of it being crowded, I have more than one seat to choose from. Sometimes there is an abundance of seats. Sometimes, it's pretty tight, but someone will get up just in time for me to sit down.

There was one time recently when things looked a little dicey. Every seat was taken, and there were people standing and  anxiously circling people who were seated but looked like they might get up soon. It reminded me of this show I used to watch as a kid called Wild Kingdom.

I wanted no part of it.

It was a beautiful day. There is a lovely, shady public space with tables and chairs half a block away. I parked myself there for a bit. I got some work done. I got some fresh air.

Again and again it worked out, one way or another. Then I realized that it would always work out. That the feeling of not enough was a feeling and not a fact.

I idly thought about what might have happened if I had all this work to do but there were no seats at Starbucks and it was raining or snowing, making the public area impractical.

There is a public library two blocks away. There are regular tables and chairs along with these comfortable leather armchairs with a little desk attached. You can't drink coffee there but you can take some time to book shop. I have a particular fondness for the new fiction and new non-fiction sections. As long as I have my iPad and a to do list there will be space for me. Having plans A, B and C takes all of the concern right out of it. It’s all good. It's all something to look forward to.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Important Advice For New Parents

Here is what I won't do. I'm not going to give you any crappy advice. I'm not going to tell you to enjoy your infant boy now because before you know it he will be growing a hipster beard and dropping out of college.

I'm not getting involved with your circumcision decision. I'm not going to tell you whether to breastfeed or bottle feed. I would like to point out that even though I breast fed for a grand total of seven years, I would really like the breast feeding activists to shut up.

I am going to pass on practical, non- crappy advice that was given to me at my baby shower. Advice that I have then passed on at countless baby showers I have attended since. I have shared the advice verbally. I have also written it down in the special blank journals that hosts of the baby shower put out for guests.  They do this so that everyone can write something inspirational to the parents to be.

I believe my sister-in-law gave me this advice. I'm starting to notice a pattern here. My sister-in-law gives me advice. Then, years later, after implementing the advice, I blog about it. This is an excellent arrangement for me. She's given me a great deal of content.

If you are a brand new parent or parent to be, you will be gifted many beautiful baby clothes. There will be your family and friends baby shower, your work baby shower and the gifts that come as soon as you send out your birth announcement. People will visit you in the hospital after you give birth and many of them will bring clothes for the baby. Your mother's friends will also send you baby clothes. This is only right. That is because your mother sent their daughters and daughter in law baby clothes when they had their babies. There is an unspoken agreement between all of these women.

You will get all kinds of gifts. Experience has taught me that if the gift is from your mother's friend, or your mother-in-law's friend, it will usually be clothes.

If you are very fortunate, someone might actually make something especially for your baby. My God! There is nothing like the feeling of opening a gift and discovering someone has crocheted your baby a sweater!

This will not end when your baby is born. There will be subsequent birthday parties where clothes will be given. Then there is what I call freelance clothes gifting. This behavior is most often seen with the child's grandmas or aunts. The grandma or aunt has seen something darling at a store or craft fair. They may have spotted a baby clothes sales event. They buy these clothes for the baby. Then they send them or bring them over. And it isn't even a holiday!

Then there are the hand me downs. What a bounty! You will receive tons of clothes from childbearing friends and family.

If you are lucky, you will like most of the baby clothes you receive. If there is something you do not like, you will appreciate it when laundry day has come and gone and your baby has had their 3rd leaky diaper or a massive spit up and all the burp cloths are dirty.

Then there are the clothes, so fetching, so adorable, so amazing that you cannot believe your good fortune. This is when you truly appreciate that you have a real live baby to dress in whatever you like. The teeny cardigan that perfectly matches the baby's eyes. The fashion forward outfit that is hip but not too hip.

You've been buying clothes for yourself for a long time. If you're anything like me, maybe you've spotted the perfect sweater dress at Marshall's. This thing is name brand, but the price is just outrageously reasonable. Then later, you find some nubby tights that match the dress without being too matchy-matchy.

If you are a guy, maybe you could substitute a vest or shoes. Unless you don't think about clothes, then skip this part.

You wait in a really long line while reminding yourself that you're not paying retail. While you're waiting,  you plan the debut of this new outfit. You don't want to waste the first wearing on just anything. Christmas eve mass seems about right. Maybe the secret Santa gift exchange party.

So you receive something for your baby. A tiny onesie with tiny bunny rabbits all over it. There's a matching pair of pants but close inspection reveals a pattern of baby chicks.

The clothes are a little too big for your baby now. Naturally, the specialness of these clothes along with their quality - these are not from Target - cause you to come to a very logical and understandable conclusion. You will save these special clothes for Easter.

You will feel very smart and congratulate yourself on the multitask-y planning ahead. Until you get the outfit out and try putting it on the baby. It's Easter Sunday. It's baby's first Easter. And try as you might, you cannot put these clothes on the baby because the baby has outgrown them. There is no negotiating. You can't even squeeze it over that poor baby's head.

This, my first-time parent friend, is a baby clothes planning fail.

As counter intuitive as it may seem, no matter how special the outfit, how handmade, how hand dyed, how plush, how utterly adorable - you must put it on the baby as soon as it is feasible. My own method with the cutest things was to dress the baby in it while it was still a little too big, but not ridiculously so. Then they kept on wearing it until they outgrew it. Which, depending on the outfit and how much the baby demanded to be fed, could be as little as two times.

I am the mother of three children. All of my babies were fat. But one of my babies was the fattest. That baby was my daughter. I'll have you know that she is a completely regular height and weight teenager now. She wasn't destined to be a giant.

When my daughter was 3 months old, she was no longer on the growth chart at the pediatricians. She skipped entire sizes of baby clothes.

There was one day when I dressed Hannah in five different outfits that had been gifted to us just so I could photograph her in them. On this brisk April day, I put Hannah in the tiniest little bikini because I knew it would not fit her come summer. My easy-going baby cheerfully endured more wardrobe changes than a Victoria’s Secret model with surprising equanimity. She smiled for all of the pictures too.

The good news about not saving the nicest clothes for a special occasion is that you will get tons of compliments at baby group and the Stop & Shop. These days you can also post pictures of your new baby son wearing a miniature imitation leather jacket on Facebook. If that isn't a special occasion, I don't know what is.

With all this baby clothes-gifting combined with prodigious growth, you'll need to keep on your A game with the baby's drawers and closet. Keep those things circulating! You don't want to miss the window of opportunity for the Hanna Andersson romper or tee shirt from Brooklyn just because you forgot about it.

You can try ignoring my advice because "this won't happen to me." It's your choice. But don't come crying to me when it doesn't work out.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This Is Hard

I don't remember who gave me this advice. It may have been my sister in law. It may have been a friend. It may have been me asking for help. It may have just been a conversation that led me to this useful nugget. Whatever it was, I'm grateful.

I do know that my kids were toddlers at the time. I wanted to be an excellent mom. I had high hopes for myself. I was ambitious about it.

I enjoyed reading parenting and child development books. I admired the way my friends and family members handled the difficult things their kids were dishing out.

But sometimes I had the feeling I wasn't measuring up to my own expectations. The kids were bathed, happy and in bed but then I'd look around my house and notice that it was a mess. I hadn't gotten to the dishes.

My children would be napping in the afternoon and I intended to tackle my to do list. Here's what would happen instead. I'd spend 5 minutes staring at a blank wall. Then I'd have lunch while watching John Edward. Out of all the televised psychics who communicate with dead people, he's my favorite.

The next thing I knew, the kids would be awake and I hadn't gotten to most of the things on my list. I'd imagine other moms whipping the house into shape or running a home based business while their toddlers slept. They'd be wearing makeup and would go about their houses with a commuter mug of coffee. They didn't need much sleep. They were always thinking two steps ahead.

There would be a subtext of self-criticism playing through my mind. There would be a subtext of these other, stellar moms doing a better job than me.  Moms from magazines. Moms from the playground.

The fantasy moms didn't love their children more, or take better care of their needs. They simply made everything look prettier, easier and cleaner. They were better at multitasking.

So this other mom told me something one day that changed everything. She said that sometimes she'd hear her own self-critical voice too. Then she would catch herself.

And instead of saying why can't I? or when will I ? or why didn't I, she'd replace those thoughts with This is hard.

The good thing about this is hard is that it is simply a statement. It isn't good. It isn't bad. It just is.

It takes the meanness right out of the equation. This is hard feels kind and understanding. It's acknowledging without comparison or judgment.

When my three-year-old girl would grab something from another child at a birthday party. My prior knee jerk response would be: Why haven't I been able to teach my daughter to share? What's wrong with me?

This is hard. It helped me to realize that a roomful of kids and toys combined with birthday cake that hadn't made an appearance yet was hard. Watching your child grab something from another child is hard when the other child's mom is watching. It's hard for three year olds to share.

This is hard helped me shift from why didn't I to what am I going to do now? The truth was, lessons about sharing were not going to be absorbed at a kinetic and charged birthday party that had already gone on too long. I opted to make a graceful exit with my over-tired child before things got worse. She fell asleep in her stroller on the way home and I snacked on some yogurt while she slept. Neither one of us particularly needed cake that afternoon.

This is hard assisted me through some pretty messy business. Loud, public tantrums. Food strikes. Lack of sleep due to late night sessions with croup. Developmental delays.

It's helping me now that I have teenagers. Sometimes they can be mean. Sometimes they don't make sense. They didn't come with a guidebook. It's hard to be them. It's not their fault. It's not my fault.

I see parents everywhere. The subway. The store. The waiting room. College night.
Sometimes I relate to what's happening. Even if it's been years since my children had trouble keeping it together on the train or had a meltdown because of a missed nap, it's still very fresh in my mind. This is hard.

Other times, it's difficult to relate. Even as a mother of three, there are behaviors I've never encountered. Sometimes I'll witness a small crisis, an impatient tone or what looks like sheer  ineptitude in another parent. Then I quickly realize the limits of my understanding. I know nothing, nothing, of what it's like to be them.

There's only one true thing for me to say to myself in that situation. This is hard. That covers it. That covers everything.