Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Letter to My Children

In 2001, when Mike and I lived in Germany, we had the privilege of attending a 25th wedding anniversary party for our landlords, Henry and Gisela. The party was held at a castle in Kamien Slaski, Poland, near where our landlords were originally from. This was in the region of Silesia, an unlucky area disputed by Germany, Austria and Poland for centuries. About a hundred guests traveled to the party, and many of these guests were of an age and from a place where World War II changed the course of their lives. 

There was a woman who, at the time of the war, was a little girl who's father had been an economist-turned-soldier, who fought and died for his German homeland. After the war, this fatherless child grew up poverty-stricken in a war-destroyed country. There was a couple who now lived in Canada, both of whom had fled their native countries - Hungary and Czechoslovakia. One was orphaned during the war and moved from orphanage to orphanage seeking safety, one had fled from country to country seeking safety with his family. Both had ended up in Canada, where they met and married. There were so many other people there who had been displaced, people who had suffered, people whose lives were forever changed by the circumstances of the politics of the time. The many people we met and the stories they told were almost unbelievable, except that history books prove their truth. It was a formative and humbling experience to meet so many who had been through so much.

During this trip, Mike and I boarded a train and traveled from Wroclaw to Krakow, where we got on a bus and traveled through rolling, sparsely populated countryside to the sleepy town of Oswiecim, home to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Auschwitz was neither the first or the last concentration camp we visited during our years in Germany but it was, however, the most profoundly emotional and horrific place we ever visited.

The Russian forces that liberated Auschwitz recorded finding 350,000 men’s suits, 837,000 women’s garments, and 8.5 TONS (17,000 pounds) of human hair, shaved from the camp’s victims. The camp became a museum in 1947 (in the two post-war years, it fittingly served as a German POW camp), and in the 1950s, an exhibit opened displaying these remnants, stolen from the million+ people exterminated at this one camp. Enshrined in these buildings are rooms full of eyeglasses, mountains of shoes, entire rooms full of infant clothes, and so, so much hair.…all taken from human beings terminated in gas chambers, in ovens, against the brick walls that remain, still full of bullet holes. The horrors still haunt this hallowed ground, the silence deafening, as visitors mentally conjure images of the atrocities that happened here. One person in our group vomited into the dirt, so horrifying is this memorial. 

Hitler’s reign resulted in the deaths of more than six million Jews, but “six million Jews” is too broad, too generic, too simplified. Those “six million Jews” consisted of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, children, infants, brothers, sisters, grandmothers, and grandfathers. There were also non-Jews, the sick, the mentally ill, homosexuals, gypsies, and those in whatever group Hitler deemed unworthy and expendable. People from many nations, all classes. People who were loved by others. People who became victims as a twisted ideology took root and grew into something horrific that changed the entire world, while claiming tens of millions of lives in the process. 

Our three years in Germany were a constant history lesson. It is with this personal experience that I look to what happened in Charlottesville earlier this week, and wonder where the disconnect is between the white nationalists of today and the truth of the reality of the past. The people who identify themselves as Neo-nazis, or white nationalists, or whatever terms they choose, are clearly incredibly limited in their grasp of history. They say they want to “take America back,” but America has never belonged to any one type of people. The original Americans — the Native Americans — would argue they are perhaps the ones America belongs to. But then came the first foreigners - white Europeans, who stole and enslaved other foreigners — the Africans, who helped build this country on the strength of their whipped backs. Then came generations of more foreigners, fleeing religious persecution, famine, poverty, tyranny. Each new group of immigrants was vilified and loathed by the people who were here before. Yet somehow, so many people have forgotten that every one of us who has white skin came from someone who was once a foreigner. Except for Native Americans, we are all immigrants, some of us more recent, some of us from generations ago. 

While I hold this truth to be self evident, that we are all created equal (and not just Americans, I believe that ALL human beings born ANYwhere are created equal), we are not born into equal circumstance. Because of the color of our skin or our sex or our sexual orientation or the class of our parents or our religion, we will all have differing experiences that will shape our lives and chart our course. Racism exists. Sexism exists. Xenophobia is real. Poverty is its own self-fulfilling problem. I would never presume to assume someone else’s experiences are the same as my own, without having walked a mile in their shoes. 

In short, the intention of this letter is fairly simple: Don’t judge. Love one another.  Tell other people to do the same. Make the world more tolerant, a better place, by your words and actions. If someone is misinformed, try to help them see the light (this will NOT be easy but nothing worthwhile is). Know history. Travel if you have the ability to. Read. To borrow a quote from Ghandi, be the change you wish to see in the world. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

This is Them

They’re your above-average, all-American family. The dad is an internal medicine doctor, the mom a primary care physician. Their three boys are all smarter and funnier than your average kids: the oldest is a soccer-playing, straight-A student who loves to sing, dance and play guitar; the middle and youngest boys are 14 months apart and always together, always being comedians. Grandma, a former architect, lives with them and helps out with the boys, and she’s “always on her phone, playing Candy Crush,” or so says the oldest boy. 

They’re also Muslims. And from Iraq. 

Abdul and Zara met in medical school in 1996 in their hometown of Baghdad. They are Shi’ite, and life under Saddam Hussein and Sunni rule was hard. Each family experienced their own hardships - Zara’s uncle had been killed by the Hussein regime, and Abdul had a cousin who’d been unjustly imprisoned for eight years under Hussein. Without being Sunni, Abdul knew he had no future in Iraq, despite being a doctor. When he finished medical school in 1996, he left the country of his birth — his home — for Jordan, with his parents’ blessings, knowing he would never be able to return.

Zara, six years his junior, stayed in Baghdad to finish medical school, graduating in 2002. During her residency at a hospital in Baghdad, the Americans began their quest to oust Saddam Hussein. “I’d go to the hospital and I’d walk on blood because everyone was dying and there wasn’t enough time to clean it up,” she remembers. “Ever since I was born, there was always war.” She was 25 years old at the time, watching her country disintegrate. 

Zara left Baghdad late in 2003 and joined Abdul in Pittsburgh, where he’d secured a residency in 2000. During their time in Pittsburgh, they welcomed their first child. After residency, Abdul got a job in New Mexico. Obtaining employment wasn’t easy, and Abdul could only apply for a job that had been posted and unfilled for six months, to be sure he wasn’t taking a position away from an American. In New Mexico, they had two more children. Zara took and passed tests in between having babies, and eventually found a residency in Maryland, where the family moved in 2011. 

The process to become legal U.S. citizens was lengthy and expensive, and they earned their citizenship in 2012 after a requisite five-year wait after receiving their green cards. It was official…the entire family were Americans. Over the years, many of their family members left Iraq, settling in the U.S. and Canada. Zara and Abdul always knew there was some anti-Muslim dissent in America, but people were mostly quiet about it. They felt safe here, which is why they’d left their homeland in the first place — for a place where they could have opportunity, be free and feel safe. 

And then Donald Trump came to the forefront of American politics, first as a candidate and then as President. Zara and Abdul, and half of America, watched in alarm as Trump’s following grew and grew, though they never thought he would be elected president. Trump had no filter, but people loved him; he said outrageous things, but people loved it. After the election, Zara hoped that he’d been all talk and that he wouldn’t be nearly as provocative as he’d been on the campaign trail, that he wouldn’t do the things he talked about doing. But, as it turned out, Trump’s doing what he said he’d do. And his supporters love him for it. Zara thinks his election gave people the ‘courage’ to speak their prejudices openly. After all, if the leader of the free world can say it, why shouldn’t they be able to?

While Trump’s travel ban didn’t specifically apply to them because, legally, they are American citizens and hold American passports, they are frightened. They cancelled their trip to the Caribbean over spring break, fearful of what surprise executive order might come while they’re out of the country. Grandma, who is here on a visa, was affected by the travel ban. She had a trip planned to Dubai on February 10 to see the son she hadn’t seen in almost two years. Though the ban is now lifted, she cancelled her trip, fearful of being unable to get back into America, subject to the president’s whims. 

Zara tearfully acknowledges that while she doesn’t worry about herself, she is definitely worried about her children. She says she doesn’t care what people think of her, or her faith, because she knows who she is. But the boys are young and innocent, and she is fearful for their safety — fearful they will encounter hateful people who will say hateful things to them. Some boys at school called her oldest son “ISIS;” and when he found out about the travel ban, he worried whether their family and cousins would ever be able to visit again. 

Zara and Abdul want their children to grow up in the Muslim faith, to be knowledgeable about the language and culture and faith of their ancestors. Abdul recalls the hard times in his own life, when he felt all alone, except for Allah. He knows, statistically, people who have faith are generally happier, more successful, and less likely to turn to drugs, alcohol and suicide. But now Zara worries about sending their kids to the local Islamic Sunday school, a fear legitimized by the recent murders of six Muslims praying in a mosque in Quebec. The shooter was a Canadian, white-Nationalist who admires Trump.  
Emotionally, the election of Trump has taken a toll on Zara. She has less interest in social activities in their mostly white, Anglo neighborhood. Some of her patients and co-workers are outspoken in their admiration of Trump. Since the election, she second-guesses everyone and everything, unsure of how they might feel about her or her religion or where she’s from. 

Abdul is hopeful that the future will be better, but still worries the day will come when he will have to register as a Muslim, submit his phone for monitoring, or wear an identification badge of some sort. He worries that it is within the realm of the president’s powers to strip him and his wife of their citizenship, of what would happen to his American-born children if that happened. He doesn’t know where their family would go; he says he no longer has a country. They have no more family in Iraq; Zara’s father, a cardiologist, was the only one in the family who’d stayed there, in an attempt to help his failing country and countrymen, and he recently died. The family wouldn’t want to go back to Iraq anyway; they left so long ago on a quest for a better life. America has been their home for almost half their lives, and it’s the only home their children have ever known. But Zara says that, if things ever truly became terrible in America, they would leave because “the world is bigger than America.” They left their homes once before and, for the sake of their children, they would do it again, if they had to.

Abdul and Zara still believe in the goodness of America and most of its people. But they are also fearful for their children, in the very land they adopted and that adopted them, in the country that has been their home for so long. Words and actions have consequences, and both the common people and especially those in power need to think of the actual people who are being affected by their policies, implemented without thoughtful analysis…people like Abdul and Zara and their kids, people who are the face of the American dream.
___________________________________________________________________

Abdul’s and Zara’s story is compelling for so many reasons: they are highly educated and fluent in English. They are the neighbors we call when our kid has a cough that makes us nervous; they are our doctors. They are taxpayers who pay more than average; they are our fellow soccer mom and soccer dad. They set a powerful example of courage and hope by sacrificing everything they knew to make a better life for themselves and the children they hoped to someday have.

I know all this about them because I’ve asked them at the bus stop, at neighborhood gatherings, in random conversation. I wanted to know their story because everyone has one, especially those who were born somewhere else. 

Do you know someone who is of the Muslim faith? Do you know someone who left their birthplace in search of a better life? Have you ever talked to them or asked them questions about their background? As a personal plea, I beg you to ask questions every day so that you can put a face to “the Muslims,” to “the immigrants,” to “the gays,” to “the blacks,” to “the women,” or to whoever else happens to be in the group being persecuted. 

Find the individual stories before forming an opinion about the group. The only way to refute a stereotype or to confront a fear is to learn. So I offer to you the story of Abdul and Zara, an all-American family, so similar to my own. Who just so happen to be Muslim, and from Iraq. 



Friday, December 9, 2016

A Titanic Birthday

I just turned 40, so I’ve been doing a lot of rumination and taking stock of my life, so far. I thought I’d craft a witty, insightful blog about how I’m fine with aging (I’m being totally honest…really. That wasn’t even sarcastic! I swear!) and how I embrace getting older/having more life experiences/savoring the wisdom that comes from experience. My basic philosophy is this: age is just a number, and I didn’t turn a year older on my birthday…I was just one day older than I was the day before, which is the same truth as every other day. Then there’s this: the alternative to aging is…well…death, and if I have a choice between getting older or dying, I’m on the side of aging. Hands down.

So I’ve been doing an inventory at this “milestone” of 40 – marriages (one), kids (four), boyfriends that lasted longer than a month (five), houses bought (two), cats (ten), cars (seven), places I’ve lived (12 homes in two countries and six states), births witnessed (six), surgeries (two), countries and states I’ve been pulled over/ticketed in (three and three), roadtrip miles embarked on – alone - with kids (more than 10,000, with kids between infancy and age 10). Yep, that's a lot of living and a lot of adventures, indeed.

In the mental blog I’ve been drafting, I was going to parrot how I’m still no genius, even though I’m so much smarter than I used to be. And that, hopefully, I will grow wiser and better with the years that are hopefully still ahead of me. I wanted to acknowledge the good juju I’ve been feeling these past few weeks…put together, somehow, with a new maturity and sense of peace.  Either my medication has finally kicked in, or I have reached some kind of inner peace. Wow. Forty really is fabulous!

Then, as I was lying in bed last night perusing Facebook, I took one of those quizzes that I think are stupid but still occasionally take, just to reaffirm how stupid they are. The quiz was “Which movie best sums up your life?” I didn’t know if I was headed for Forrest Gump or The Godfather or Napoleon Dynamite, but I was anxious to find out. I thought it might make a good tie-in for the ‘Turning 40’ blog percolating in my mind. And then, twenty-eight questions later, I got my answer. The movie that most resembles my life is….drumroll, please…Titanic.

Titanic?!?!? Are you freaking kidding me, Facebook?!?! My life most resembles Titanic?!?! What is that even supposed to mean?!?! And that’s when my newfound maturity and composure went straight out the window, just like the billions of gallons of water that rushed in Titanic. At the age of 40, according to the renowned social scientist called Facebook, my life most resembles a movie about a sinking ship in which three-fourths of the people involved died in freezing water. How the hell is that supposed to make me feel, as I reach the tender age of 40!?!?!? Thanks for NOTHING, Facebook. Thanks. For. Nothing.

I often joke that I’m up the proverbial creek without a paddle, or that we – as humans – are all in the same boat together…I just didn’t realize that the paddle-less boat was actually Titanic. Am I supposed to be the ship? Am I the vessel that rams the iceberg and tries to stay afloat? In all honesty, that kind of sounds like me. The iceberg is my life. I personally am the ship, and it parallels my life because, like the ship, I’m just trying to stay above water. Yikes. How depressing.

Could I be the heroine, Rose, perhaps? There’s a scene early in the movie where she says to Jack, “I feel like I’m standing in the middle of a crowded room, screaming, and no one hears me.” As a parent of four, I live this statement – both literally and figuratively – every day. Sometimes I am actually screaming (Pick up that meatball! Stop sitting on your brother! Who drilled a hole in the bureau?!? Where are the scissors??) and no one  acknowledges me. Sometimes the screaming happens inside my head and is only visible in my eyes, but I definitely can relate to Rose. Damn you, Facebook…suddenly, I feel less put together, less confident and even slightly doomed.

I definitely couldn’t be Jack. I never win at card games and I can barely draw stick figures. I’ve never even been to Wisconsin. I’m certainly not of the ilk of a Cal Hockley or any of the wealthy passengers…no parallels in the mindset of privilege or class-based society. I could, perhaps, be Molly Brown. She was a sassy broad with a conscience, and that’s how I like to think of myself. But that’s probably not where Facebook was going with its choice.

I kept thinking about what the meaningless Facebook quiz meant. I needed a positive spin, to recapture my turning-40 buzz. So maybe I’m the latter-half Rose, and that’s my blog tie-in. Maybe I’m on my way to being the adult Rose and, eventually, the old broad who lives long enough and survives adversity, who makes the moments count - and comes out on the other side stronger, better, and wiser. Maybe I’m that woman – the one who will wow people at age 100, with stories from my past. And hopefully I’ll have a giant diamond in my possession as I recount the stories. Yes, this is the parallel I choose to take from the stupid quiz.

So my 40-year-old-good-juju is back. There are so many perspectives to be found in a singular story – both good and bad. And maybe the lesson is that, when you get old enough, you can see more of them and find the one that suits you best. Maybe that’s what wisdom is. Or maybe that’s where inner peace comes from. Maybe I'll have the answer in another 40 years.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Sometimes Porcelain, Sometimes Metal Throne

I blame this turbulent political season and the constant reminder that our political system is in the crapper, but I’ve been thinking a lot about toilets lately. I was 17 when I first realized that, like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two public toilets are alike. I was on a school trip to France – my first trip abroad – and, of all the amazing things for a 17-year-old to learn in a strange land, one of the most profound for me was the discovery of the wide variances between French and American toilets. From the bowl itself, to the style of flush, to the location of the handle, using a public toilet in France was frequently an adventure (clearly, I grew up in a pretty small town, but an adventure it was!). In my collection of photos from the trip, there were A LOT of photos of the many public toilets I used; including a self-sealing/cleaning variety on the streets of Paris and a rudimentary hole in the ground with two footholds, complete with an overhead shower-style flush (get out of the way!!!!!), at an old chateau. Twenty-two years later, some of my strongest memories from that trip are of those toilets.

But the toilet fascination didn’t end there. Six years later, when I was 23 years old, Mike got stationed in Germany and my appreciation for the public toilet – formerly just the French variety – expanded to include the many variations of European toilets we found in the many countries we were fortunate enough to visit. In Italy, my favorite restroom featured a sliding sink that alternated between being in the shower (if you happened to be using the toilet), or over the toilet, if you happened to be using the shower (I love practicality).  In Germany, I encountered a metal toilet, with no lid or seat. It was the equivalent of a butt-sized metal mixing bowl, with exactly the same comfort level. In Poland, I was shocked by the human-staffed, pay toilet, where no one cares how badly you have to go if you don’t happen to have any money…no zlotys, no toilet! In Switzerland, there was a wood outhouse on the side of a mountain, with a view like no other toilet anywhere.  

While my toilet experiences have been limited to North and Central America and Europe, Mike (that lucky bastard!) has also gotten to experience public toilets in many Asian countries, ranging from luxurious porcelain to less-than-luxurious holes in the sand.  He implies I didn’t miss much, for whatever that’s worth, but I do hope to someday explore more public toilets in more foreign places.

My appreciation, if one wants to call it this, for public toilets in America exists for completely different reasons. In America, it’s almost always less about the physical toilet and more about the ambiance, and oftentimes the lack thereof.  On a recent pit stop in West Virginia, it was the reading material on the wall of the bathroom (the ladies room, of course) that got my attention…an advertisement for a “treeing contest,” advising me to bring $5, along with my “guns, knives, bows, arrows, dogs and traps.” I had no idea what was being referred to but the picture of the raccoon on the flyer helped me put it all together. Though I completely oppose this practice that I know nothing about, I find it a fascinating social commentary that it was advertised in the ladies’ room. Recently, in the raccoon-friendly, chill area of upstate New York, I encountered the cleanest gas station bathroom EVER with this hopeful graffiti: “Everything will ALWAYS be alright.” I left that bathroom feeling so much better about the world than how I felt about the world after reading the treeing contest advertisement in West Virginia.

Occasionally, an American toilet will move me based on aesthetics or engineering. It was in Kansas that I first discovered the porta-trailer, which transforms the disgusting porta-potty experience to a whole new level of luxury. Imagine, if you will, walking into an air-conditioned room with several toilets, complete with a flushing mechanism and fresh smell, in private stalls, as well as a row of individual sinks with faucets with running water. But the “room” is a trailer on wheels – a glorified, souped-up, porta-potty on wheels. I still get a tear in my eye, remembering the magnificence of that first experience.  It just goes to prove that ingenuity is alive and well in America.

I never gave much thought to the toilet before that first French adventure, but in the years since, I’ve probably spent more time thinking about toilets than most people.  By no means am I bragging but, in my defense, after lots of travel, four pregnancies and four kids, I’ve seen A LOT of public toilets in a lot of places. Sometimes I think I might be on to some deeper sociological discovery exploring a culture’s level of toilet ingenuity and their level of overall success. But until I write that exhaustive study, I quietly relish in the occasional discovery of a unique toilet. After the trip to France, I wrote a note to my French teacher, thanking him for exposing me to the wider world, and to an amazingly wide world of public toilets. Who knew, 22 years later, this dubious relationship would continue?


The Sometimes Porcelain, Sometimes Metal Throne

I blame this turbulent political season and the constant reminder that our political system is in the crapper, but I’ve been thinking a lot about toilets lately. I was 17 when I first realized that, like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two public toilets are alike. I was on a school trip to France – my first trip abroad – and, of all the amazing things for a 17-year-old to learn in a strange land, one of the most profound for me was the discovery of the wide variances between French and American toilets. From the bowl itself, to the style of flush, to the location of the handle, using a public toilet in France was frequently an adventure (clearly, I grew up in a pretty small town, but an adventure it was!). In my collection of photos from the trip, there were A LOT of photos of the many public toilets I used; including a self-sealing/cleaning variety on the streets of Paris and a rudimentary hole in the ground with two footholds, complete with an overhead shower-style flush (get out of the way!!!!!), at an old chateau. Twenty-two years later, some of my strongest memories from that trip are of those toilets.

But the toilet fascination didn’t end there. Six years later, when I was 23 years old, Mike got stationed in Germany and my appreciation for the public toilet – formerly just the French variety – expanded to include the many variations of European toilets we found in the many countries we were fortunate enough to visit. In Italy, my favorite restroom featured a sliding sink that alternated between being in the shower (if you happened to be using the toilet), or over the toilet, if you happened to be using the shower (I love practicality).  In Germany, I encountered a metal toilet, with no lid or seat. It was the equivalent of a butt-sized metal mixing bowl, with exactly the same comfort level. In Poland, I was shocked by the human-staffed, pay toilet, where no one cares how badly you have to go if you don’t happen to have any money…no zlotys, no toilet! In Switzerland, there was a wood outhouse on the side of a mountain, with a view like no other toilet anywhere. 

While my toilet experiences have been limited to North and Central America and Europe, Mike (that lucky bastard!) has also gotten to experience public toilets in many Asian countries, ranging from luxurious porcelain to less-than-luxurious holes in the sand.  He implies I didn’t miss much, for whatever that’s worth, but I do hope to someday explore more public toilets in more foreign places.

My appreciation, if one wants to call it this, for public toilets in America exists for completely different reasons. In America, it’s almost always less about the physical toilet and more about the ambiance, and oftentimes the lack thereof.  On a recent pit stop in West Virginia, it was the reading material on the wall of the bathroom (the ladies room, of course) that got my attention…an advertisement for a “treeing contest,” advising me to bring $5, along with my “guns, knives, bows, arrows, dogs and traps.” I had no idea what was being referred to but the picture of the raccoon on the flyer helped me put it all together. Though I completely oppose this practice that I know nothing about, I find it a fascinating social commentary that it was advertised in the ladies’ room. Recently, in the raccoon-friendly, chill area of upstate New York, I encountered the cleanest gas station bathroom EVER with this hopeful graffiti: “Everything will ALWAYS be alright.” I left that bathroom feeling so much better about the world than how I felt about the world after reading the treeing contest advertisement in West Virginia.

Occasionally, an American toilet will move me based on aesthetics or engineering. It was in Kansas that I first discovered the porta-trailer, which transforms the disgusting porta-potty experience to a whole new level of luxury. Imagine, if you will, walking into an air-conditioned room with several toilets, complete with a flushing mechanism and fresh smell, in private stalls, as well as a row of individual sinks with faucets with running water. But the “room” is a trailer on wheels – a glorified, souped-up, porta-potty on wheels. I still get a tear in my eye, remembering the magnificence of that first experience.  It just goes to prove that ingenuity is alive and well in America.

I never gave much thought to the toilet before that first French adventure, but in the years since, I’ve probably spent more time thinking about toilets than most people.  By no means am I bragging but, in my defense, after lots of travel, four pregnancies and four kids, I’ve seen A LOT of public toilets in a lot of places. Sometimes I think I might be on to some deeper sociological discovery exploring a culture’s level of toilet ingenuity and their level of overall success. But until I write that exhaustive study, I quietly relish in the occasional discovery of a unique toilet. After the trip to France, I wrote a note to my French teacher, thanking him for exposing me to the wider world, and to an amazingly wide world of public toilets. Who knew, 22 years later, this dubious relationship would continue?


Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Curious Nature of Time...or, An Ode to North Jersey

I had some free time this week, thanks to the time in the van driving to and from New York, and spent a lot of the drive-time thinking about the curious nature of time. It was probably just a waste of my time, but I still had a good time ruminating about the philosophy of time. While I’m confident I had no thought that hasn’t been thought before, I say with admiration and some trepidation that time is a very peculiar thing. The debate whether time is linear - a continuous, forward march away from a start point to an end point - or cyclical - with patterns and repetition - has been around since the Greek greats of philosophy. And while I spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of time, and the changes brought about by time, I also enjoyed my personal discovery of another component of time - what I will call stationary time, the random point that connects to nothing else, without change or progress or movement in any direction. 

Whew, I just got dizzy! I don’t know if it’s all the deep thoughts or the stiff margarita I’m working on, but I need to slow down. Over spring break, the kids and I drove to New York for a few days. For many miles, I thought about how, road trip after road trip, the kids have grown up and changed so much - linear time - from four infants who needed me for absolutely everything, to one tween who is frequently embarrassed that I even exist, a nine-year-old who is developing an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Star Wars, a near-six-year-old who uses words like “magnificent” to describe the new juicer, and a four-year-old with an advanced vocabulary who says things like, “This freakin’ chair!!” with an excessive amount of disgust. 

For the record, to put into perspective how much time I’ve spent in the van with those kids (and these are trips with just me and the kids, not Mike), I easily tally at least 10,000 exclusive miles on various cross-country or coastal jaunts (not including moves). I became a little sad thinking about time in this reference, which is clearly linear, moving me away - every day - from where I am, where I’ve been, where I know, away from the good times, and away from the bad, always changing, always evolving. I have mixed feelings about linear time, but one of those feelings is definitely melancholy. 

And then I had a brush with the cyclical nature of time. While we were in New York, against my better judgement, I let the girls watch the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg movie, Daddy’s Home. After the movie, Nadia commented on Mark Wahlberg’s delightful abs, which reminded me of his frequently-shirtless, Funky-Bunch days (c’mon…feel the vibrations!!) and how I’ve actually met Mark Wahlberg twice. Realizing Nadia didn’t know this, I told her, and now she thinks I am famous, simply because I met a famous person…twice. My coolness factor, at least in Nadia’s eyes, totally skyrocketed with that nugget of knowledge (yay, me!!).  And that’s when I realized that time is as much circular as linear. Twenty-five years ago, I was admiring Mark Wahlberg’s abs and cracking up at Full House (while also having the hots for Uncle Jesse and his marvelous mane). Today, two-plus decades later, my kids are admiring Mark Wahlberg’s abs and commenting on how fabulous Uncle Jesse looks, as they watch Fuller House in binge doses. And so I have mixed feelings about cyclical time, as well, including some worry and skepticism, as I know that time embodies change and things evolve…except, apparently the mysterious hair of John Stamos and abs of Mark Wahlberg. 

And speaking of mystery…enter New Jersey, which is where my theory of time-as-a-fixed-point developed. I hadn’t driven through New Jersey in almost a decade but when I did this week, it was like time had stood still. As soon as we reached North Jersey, Liam immediately asked, “What smells so bad?!? Who farted?!?” And I had to explain to him that that’s just how North Jersey smells, that it’s always smelled like that and, I fear, may always smell like that (ironically, as soon as we hit North Jersey on the way home, Liam said exactly the same thing). Then one of the kids said, “It’s so ugly here,” and I remembered various road trips through New Jersey over the decades - the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and now the ’10s -  and realized how nothing had changed for so many years. For the record, I hate stereotypes and I apologize to the state of New Jersey, but that state does all it can to enforce every New Jersey stereotype in existence.

For those of you who many not have had the pleasure of driving threw New Jersey for four decades, go watch the opening credits of The Sopranos to see what I’m referring to (the scene could’ve been filmed a half-century ago, or 15 minutes ago). There was the delicious irony of the “luxury apartments” I saw in The Oranges, starting at a mere $600, with the complex almost sitting on one of the dozen lanes of highway. Off the highway, I discovered a Lamborghini dealership next door to a Hooter’s (hats off to you, Paramus!) and couldn’t help but smile, chuckling at every boy’s ambitions, rolled into one glorious, pot-holed, New Jersey parking lot. At one point, I was sidled up next to a silver pick-up truck being held together by hot pink Duck tape and driven by your classic bleached-blonde, heavily-tanned 50-year-old Jersey girl; at another point in Clifton, I swear I saw Paulie Walnuts’ younger brother driving an ’80s model, red, convertible Cadillac. The sun glinted off of the heavy gold chain around his neck and all I could think was, Thank you, New Jersey, for your constancy in an ever-changing world. 

And, unexpectedly, for 40 miles or so, in the marvelous bastion of North Jersey, I reveled in ‘stationary’ time and felt a little better about change and the peculiar nature of time, or at least this particular embodiment of it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Someone Has to Set a Bad Example

I’m pretty tired of feeling bad about myself. So, in the spirit of empowerment, it’s long past time to do something about it. Which means I’m giving up Facebook and my latest failed diet (not necessarily in that order). I often mentally lament that I didn’t live during the Renaissance, when “plump” was pleasing (as evidenced in all of those magnificent paintings of fat-bottomed girls making the rockin’ world go ’round) and Facebook didn’t exist, but then I come to my senses when I remember that women probably didn’t live past 30 years old. Socially, I like to think I’m ahead of my time; physically, I’m a few centuries behind my time, at least when it comes to societal standards of beauty. But I digress.

While I’m airing grievances and handing out blame for my inferiority complex, I’d also like to assign some blame to the Founding Fathers and their magnum opus, the Declaration of Independence. For a long time, I confused the “all men are created equal” business with the misguided idea that we all have equal things to offer to the world. With age and wisdom, I’ve seen the errors in my thinking (but still am blaming the Fathers for their ambiguity). While I now know that it meant we are all equal in the eyes of our varying deities, in our value as human beings, and in the eyes of the law, talent and natural ability are other matters altogether, and I definitely got the short end of the stick in these departments. 

I was recently complaining to a ridiculously crafty friend (who is also an amazing cook and one of the truly good people in the world) that I feel really ripped off that so many people get actual and useful talents, while all I got was an abundance of sarcasm and a painfully sharp sense of humor. If only I were musically or athletically inclined, I suspect I’d probably be happier, and likely less in need of the aforementioned diet. Created equal, my ass… Which brings me back to Facebook. If ever anyone needs a daily reminder of all the ways they lag their peers or fail to measure up, look no further than Facebook. For this, I, of course, blame Mark Zuckerberg who, in the process of being a visionary and making himself a gazillionaire, essentially made the vast world a smaller and more interwoven place, and yet also, nearly singlehandedly, enhanced the inferiority complexes of more than a billion people and counting. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, right?

I’d like to put out a disclaimer and say that I mean no disrespect to all the people whom I genuinely like, but I just can’t be happy for all of you and your various accomplishments any more. It’s exhausting, and even more so when I’m calorically deprived. So, for all of the Facebookers with amazing abilities, talents, child-rearing skills, genius offspring, culinary prowess, craftiness, ways with animals, incredible fitness and health, phenomenal careers, etc, you are oftentimes inspiring, yet you also serve as that constant reminder that while we may have been created equal, we certainly don’t get blessed with equal ability. My meals won’t be featured in a Bon App├ętit spread any time soon (though last night’s Fried ’Nana & Nutella Sandwiches were pretty spectacular). My house isn’t particularly clean, and I rarely know whether the cat is indoors or out. My idea of trendy was captured beautifully in Macklemore’s Thrift Shop video, and I have more socks missing their mates than with mates. My kids aren’t award-winning athletes who started training for the Olympics in utero, nor are they STEM geniuses who brought wifi to Third World countries using only a paper clip, rain water and a watch battery — which is, surely, all my fault because I’m not that gung-ho, home-schooling mom who was simultaneously teaching her children their first words in both English and Mandarin. Pig Latin, maybe, but definitely not Mandarin. 

So, it is with a heavy heart that I announce the only thing I seem to excel at — besides sarcasm, inappropriate comments, and taking naps — is NOT excelling. I excel at being entirely average and, as I’ve said before, being a good bad example (click here for just a few examples of how well I set the bad example). In the constant attempt to find the silver lining of my mediocrity, here it is…I lower the bar for everyone else. After all, we can’t all be spectacular, because then no one would be spectacular. I don’t do it on purpose, and I don’t do it for the gratitude, but someone has to set the bad example, and that someone, apparently, is me. You don’t have to thank me, but you’re welcome. I do it so you don’t have to.