Worrywart

I was born without a sense of humor. I am, however, very high-strung. Not a good combination. A few years ago, I decided that the key to managing stress in my life was humor. I just had to learn how to find the funny in life. It was helpful that my partner has a hair-triggered wit. Funny, clever things just fly out of her mouth. But there are different kinds of funny and hers is sometimes a little dark. So I starting reading every book by every funny writer I could get my hands on – the idea being that complete immersion might help even a hard case like me. It did. I grew a sense of humor. Not only can I laugh more often, sometimes, I can even make people laugh. Happy day.

My next t-shirt (via zazzle.com)

But I have to practice pretty regularly or it goes away. The following is part of an exercise I try sometimes as a tool for managing stress. I made a list of all the things I was worried about and then tried to write a funny version. Some of the tougher items never made the funny list but a few did. And if you’re honest, a few pretty stupid things will appear too, which is always fun. Anyway, it helped to change my mood.

Some of the things I worry about:

…that my partner sometimes talks about herself in the third person (and I can’t always tell if she’s joking).

…that #2 son seems to be experiencing a kind of school-induced narcolepsy which may someday lead to a permanent position at Burger King.

…that #3 son can play Minecraft for 6 hours straight without stopping to eat or to go to the bathroom.

…that #1 son might decide to get another enormous skull tattoo.

….that menopausal is my new normal.

…that global warming will flood my favorite vacation spot.

…that I won’t be able to stand the winters in Canada when we move there to escape the climate of intolerance in the US.

…that nobody will notice that pun.

…that Nintendo is putting out a new damn expensive game system.

…that our sons will decide not to have a Halloween party and I won’t get to decorate the house. (No fun without an audience.)

…that my computer might crash leaving me to deal with the real world without Facebook, email, Photoshop, or my blog.

…that my dogs get bored.

…that unless he learns to do his homework, #2 son will be living in our basement when he’s thirty spending all his time off from Burger King playing Dungeons & Dragons or video games with Friday-night interludes to watch movie classics like Jackass 2 with his big brother.

…that #3 son will be living in the basement with him.

…that they’ve already seen Jackass 2.

…that it made them laugh.

…that whether I’ll get skin cancer was probably determined by a sunburn I got in Ft. Lauderdale in 1977.

…that I really am a hoarder.

…that my IQ is inversely proportional to my age.

…that God is real and she’s pissed.

…that hip hop won’t die.

…that I’ll never own my own bookstore or little beach motel.

…that when I clean out my email inbox, I will find messages that I really should have responded to weeks ago (Happened this morning. My apologies to Catherine, Jennifer, my brother, Scott, and Daddy.)

…that one day, instead of washing the dishes, I will take them out in the driveway and smash them one by one against the concrete.

…that I am forgetting something important (often true).

…that if my short term memory and attention span keep deteriorating at the present rate, I’ll need a full-time keeper by the time I’m 50.

…that I’m going to think of something super-clever to put on this list after I’ve published it on my blog.

So what do you worry about? What would be on your list? How do you deal with stress?

The Hesitant Herbivore, Part 3

In which I examine the pros and cons of cutting almost everything I like to eat out of my diet.

When we left off, I was on the precipice of making the decision that might fundamentally change my life:  Leap into the scary abyss of a plant-based diet or stay safely on the cliff of selective compassion, constant fatigue, and general digestive distress

In the cons column, I had: “I might starve” and “Is life worth living without the cheese and ice cream?”

On the pros side, I had “It might be worth it if I could fit into size 8 jeans again.” Yes, I am that vain. But amazingly, vanity wasn’t the factor at work here. Sure, I want to lose weight and I was hoping a new lower-fat diet would help me do that. But mostly, I wanted very badly to feel better. My forties have not been kind, and I’m still trying to learn how to live in my changing body.

Wouldn’t it be great if all cows, and people, got to feel as good as this one?

And that’s why, after all these years, I was willing to take the leap. Though I’d love to be able to say it was my compassion for farm animals that finally won out, in reality it was a completely selfish motive that finally gave me the edge I needed.  I have come to believe that the human body is not designed to process dairy products as an adult and that amount and nature of the meat we eat is not necessarily a healthy thing, either.

So with my odds of fully-functional longevity in mind, I started compiling my “pros” list.  Here are the basics.

Health:

–          Weight – I gained 50 pounds after I quit smoking 6 years ago, and it’s caused a whole host of problems for me from my aching feet to how I breathe when I sleep. And I’ve had no success at losing weight and keeping it off. According to the Mayo Clinic, vegetarians (especially vegans) usually consume less fat and fewer calories and have lower body weights that their meat-eating counterparts. No guarantees of course since there are still plenty of fatty, sugary foods I can eat but if I avoid those too, my chances are looking good.

–          Cholesterol – Mine is borderline high and I would really like to stop it there. Now the jury seems to still be out by how much this is controlled by diet and how much by genes, but the consensus seems to be, it’s a combination of both. So doesn’t it seem slightly insane to end up taking medication to control the adverse effects of your food when you can just change your food instead?

–          Type 2 diabetes – This is very possibly looming in my future if I don’t take extreme measures. See “weight.”

–          Your colon will thank you, said a vegan friend of mine who maintains that colon cancer is a big danger for dedicated carnivores. From what I’ve read, there does seem to be a positive correlation,

–          Recently, a long-term study by some Harvard folks that tracked the eating habits of 110,000 people over 20 years claims a high correlation between red meat consumption and early death.

–          Society – Can you imagine how much the cost of health care would drop if the population switched to a vegetarian/vegan diet and the numbers of people suffering from high cholesterol, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and a whole host of other diet or weight related maladies suddenly plummeted?

Humane reasons:

via Humane Society

–          Living conditions for domestic animals are appalling.  Meat and dairy are big businesses and everything is secondary to the profit margin. To produce meat, milk and eggs quickly and cheaply many animals are confined for their entire lives– in barns, in gestation crates, in veal crates, in stacked cages. The animals often have little room to move, aren’t allowed to forage or graze or go outside at all.

–          Conditions in slaughterhouses are often horrifying.  Again, the profit margin seems to demand speed over humanity. The animals are “processed” with little regard for the terror or pain that they feel.

Years ago, I read a book by Dr. Temple Grandin called Thinking in Pictures in which she describes her experience as a person with high-functioning autism as motivation and fodder for her work in developing humane livestock handling processes. If every slaughterhouse in the US was designed (and managed) by Temple Grandin, a woman who has championed the ethical treatment of animals I think I would feel much better about the method, if not the need, of putting food animals to death.

–          People insist on eating things which call for brutal practices. Ever heard of foie gras, for instance? It’s the liver of a duck or goose fattened to unnatural proportions by force feeding the birds by stuffing a tube down their throats into their stomachs. The French, the largest (though certainly not the only) producers and consumers of foie gras, even have a term for this barbaric practice. It’s called gavage. According to French law, “Foie gras belongs to the protected cultural and gastronomical heritage of France.” I think that’s a fancy way of saying, we’ve been doing it for a long time, so it’s okay.

–          And finally, if all this cruelty is practiced in the name of feeding people, consider this: The grain used to feed animals could feed hungry people. And the water used for raising food animals could be used for raising crops and for human consumption.

The issue of farm animal welfare is pretty huge and I only touch on a few things here. For more information about the treatment of farm animals and about health issues related to a meat-based diet, you can follow the links below.

 

For the scoop on lactose intolerance, see this article in USA Today based on a peer-reviewed paper recently published in PLOS Computational Biology: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2009-08-30-lactose-intolerance_N.htm)

For info on red meat and colon cancer see http://www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/Red-meat-and-colon-cancer.shtml

For the link between read meat and early death see this article in the LA Times:  http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/13/health/la-he-red-meat-20120313

For the information on farm animal welfare go to:  http://www.humanesociety.org/news/publications/whitepapers/farm_animal_welfare.html

For A Report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production:  http://www.ncifap.org/_images/PCIFAPFin.pdf

For PETA’s reasons to go vegetarian see:  http://features.peta.org/ChewOnThis/chewsheet.pdf

The Hesitant Herbivore, Part 2

Yup. Hate it all.

I hate fruit. I hate oranges because they’re pulpy, bananas because they’re mushy, and grapes because they pop like eyeballs might when you squeeze them between your teeth. I hate mangos because they’re slimy without their skin and smell like pepper. I hate watermelon because it smells like cat pee (to me). I like kiwi because they’re pretty, but I hate the way they taste.

I also hate most vegetables. Beets, broccoli and asparagus are all gross. Brussels sprouts are beyond disgusting and I’m not overly fond of peas or carrots.  And beans. I really hate beans. Pretty much, I hate almost everything people eat that grows in the dirt.

So naturally I decided to become a vegetarian. And then I thought, Oh shit. I’m going to starve.

I’ve been a carnivore all my life and always figured that’s the way nature intended it to be. And I’ve probably spent more time than your average bear contemplating nature’s intentions. I’m a natural history buff – fossils, bees, birds, trees – I think it’s all pretty fascinating stuff.  As a kid, I was one of those nerds who loved a good nature documentary but I had to cover my eyes when the lions caught the zebra or the polar bear dragged a seal out of a hole in the ice. Nature is grand and glorious and brutal. And that’s not good or bad, it just is. It’s the way life works.

And so we human beings, as part of nature, are also brutal, because we have to be. Animals are food. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Or is it?

A hundred thousand years ago, our ancestors ate what they could gather in the forest or the fields and also what they could hunt, kill and cook in order to survive. Even when agriculture was invented, supplementing their diet with meat from newly domesticated animals was a logical choice for early people. But things have changed. Now there is Kroger. Now there is Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Costco, Safeway, Publix, WalMart Supercenters, and The Pig (or Piggly Wiggly for those of you not familiar with this fine southern grocery establishment).

Gathering ain’t what it used to be.

There’s a supermarket on virtually every corner in this country where a person can go and buy a wide variety of nutritional plant-based foods and a bottle of B-12 supplements and be just fine even if they never ate meat again. So after 46 years, I finally realized the problem with the logic I used to justify my carnivorous diet. There is nothing natural at all about our modern way of life, so why would I use nature as a model for my behavior?

I learned a new phrase recently:  “selective compassion.” It just what you might imagine – the act of compartmentalizing the compassion you allow yourself to feel for other living things. On the one hand you have people, dogs and other pets, animals in the wild, and wild animals in captivity and all of these, as amazing living things, are deserving of our compassion. And then there are animals that become, or provide, food – cows, chickens, pigs are the most common in our culture. And seafood. (Isn’t is interesting how we use our language to reduce a whole host of ocean creatures to food with one compound word?)

I realized I’ve been practicing selective compassion all my life (as most of us do). Though I’ve believed for a long time that there are more humane dietary choices for us modern humans, it took me 46 years to get up the gumption to even try a meatless diet, because I was afraid that if I allowed myself to feel compassion for our “food” animals, I would have to stop eating them. And then my retarded palate might just kill me.

So for me, the time had come to put up or shut up. It’s hard to be a bleeding-heart animal lover and a carnivore. I was either going to have to learn to eat more things that grow in the dirt, or admit that human beings are brutal by choice not by necessity…

Look for part 3 tomorrow in which I will expound upon the evidence that finally helped me overcome my fear of “death by vegetable” and led me to become a vegan convert.

The Hesitant Herbivore

via National Geographic

I am a creature of habit, entrenched in my routines, glacially slow to alter my course. I cling to the familiar with the powerful grip of a 3 toed sloth and move toward any new direction with such incremental velocity that algae grows on my furry metaphorical coat. I don’t like change.

So for me to alter something as fundamental to my life and being as the food I eat took nothing less than years of passive contemplation and a growing a mountain of evidence that grew so high it finally fell on me. And I suddenly realized that becoming a vegan was not only the ethical thing for someone with my beliefs to do but the healthiest choice for my body.

via dummies.com

Six weeks ago, I removed dairy from my diet – a heartbreaking task for me. I believe cheese to be the glorious result of the most inspired bit of culinary resourcefulness the human race has ever displayed, a brilliant example of biotechnology born long before that term was coined. What a delightful variety of food we’ve learned to coax from the curd of sour milk – sharp aged cheddar and smoked gouda and herb infused wonders like Havarti with dill. Cheese is, quite simply, culinary wizardry at its best. And it makes the majority of the humans who consume it poot. Whoopsy.

I read an article about a recent study that found that sixty percent of human beings are lactose intolerant. Yep. Six out of ten. And here I was thinking all this time that the inability to process lactose was abnormal, and that only a few physically delicate nerdy-types can’t manage it (like the loveable but nerdy TV sitcom character, Dr. Leonard Hoffstater of The Big Bang Theory). In reality, the majority of us stop producing lactase, the enzyme necessary for breaking down the sugar, lactose, when we’re somewhere between two and five years old – presumably because we generally stop drinking our mother’s milk after that and don’t need it anymore. So the “abnormal” ones are actually those 40% who retain the ability to break down lactose and so drink milk or eat cheese without worrying about clearing the room later. Scientists call it lactase persistence and it’s the result of a genetic mutation.

Most commercial milk cows don’t get pretty meadows to roam in.

The funny thing is, I have known for a long time that cow’s milk is not a particularly healthy or logical dietary choice for me, but my love of cheese and a few other dairy delights (like ice cream!) clouded my judgment. Okay, so we aren’t designed to eat stuff made from cow’s milk, so what? It’s so good! So it’s high in calories and has a lot of saturated fat. It has protein too! And calcium that the dairy lobby says I must get from milk! And it tastes good! Really good!

But once a person hits a certain point in life (the one I’m apparently at now), digesting foods that our bodies aren’t ideally designed to process finally becomes an issue. I’ve gained weight and am having a hard time losing it. The cholesterol numbers in my blood work say borderline high and are creeping upward. And I feel bad a lot after I eat. I was tired of being tired and feeling crummy.

So I gave up dairy. I got used to drinking my coffee without creamer and actually like it that way, now. I got used to pasta not smothered in butter and cheese and am experimenting with spices and oils. I’ve found a mint dark chocolate with no dairy that I like better than milk chocolate now. And I can live without ice cream. Whoops. No I can’t!

Ice cream is right up there with cheese. I love it too much to ever let it go. And so was born the Friday exception. On Fridays, I get dairy because life is too short to live forever without ice cream and cheese. And the cool thing is that if you go six days a week without these things, small amounts of them are more than satisfying by the time I get to Friday. So my days of stuffing big soup bowls full of frozen dairy goodness are over.

But this was just the first step in my dietary revolution. Come back soon for part two about the conversion of a lifelong carnivore to a plant-based diet and get the answers to questions I know you’ll be dying to ask. How hard is it to give up meat? Is it worth it? What are the benefits? Do you have to start making your own granola, hugging trees, and/or wearing Birkenstocks?

Let’s Talk about Sex: 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People, part 4

Three months ago, a very small percentage of the registered voters in North Carolina managed to pass an amendment to the state constitution that illegalized gay marriage. In the weeks leading up to the vote, I started a series of posts about some of the more common and frustrating myths about gay people. I got discouraged for a while and didn’t finish but I just got my second wind.

For those of you who missed the first 5 myths, here’s a quick recap:

1 – Being gay is a choice. Because somewhere between 2 and 10% of the general population so love being social pariahs, we’ve chosen to become lifelong targets of bigotry and hate.

2 – Lesbians want to be men. There are some people who are so enamored of their own exterior plumbing that they, and their followers, seem to believe that there are just 2 kinds of people in the world – men and the rest of us who are just sad that we don’t have a penis, too.

3 – Lesbians hate men. The rationale seems to go like this: Some women are so upset about not having a penis that they become angered with all men and sleep with women to spite the men. Or something like that. Bottom line is, women couldn’t possibly love other women. It must have something to do with the penis. (For the long version of the first 3 myths, see part 1 of this series, I Used to Be a Tomboy)

4 – Being gay is a mental illness. In spite the fact that the American Psychiatric Association defines homosexuality as a normal variant of human sexual behavior, there are a lot of people out there who just “know” that gay people are sick, just like they “know” the earth was created 6,000 years ago and all the fossils in the world are just an elaborate hoax and proof of a vast conspiracy against God-fearing, extremist Christians. (For the long version, see part 2, Who’s a Heretic?)

5- The Bible says that being gay is morally wrong or evil. To borrow a line from Shakespeare, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” and it would appear that he does, every day, from the pulpits and altars of churches all over our country. (See part 3, The Bible Tells Me So)

So moving on. Here’s another of my favorite myths to hate:

6- Being gay is just about sex. Now doesn’t this seem a teensy bit like the pot calling the kettle black?One of the best ways to undermine an opponent, apart from demonizing them, is to minimize them, as this little myth tries to do. It separates sexuality and romantic, spiritual love. But only for gay people.

So when the subject is heterosexuality, sex and love are two sides of the same coin. And the fact that so many of straight people spend their single youth doing it like randy bunnies with anyone who will get into bed with them, that breaking faith with one’s wife or husband just to have sex with someone new is commonplace in our heterosexual culture, or that the huge pornography industry was built mostly on the desires of straight men – none of this refutes that notion that heterosexual sex is all about choosing and remaining dedicated to a spiritual soulmate? But being gay is just about sex. Gotcha.

7- Gay people are promiscuous. Yes we are. As a generalization, I accept this one. Now that I’ve just pissed off some of my fellow lesbians out there, let me explain why:  Because people in general are promiscuous. I know it. You know it. We all know it.

Really, Ted?! You’re talking to your children!

That’s why popular American culture is steeped in sex. That’s why these TV shows like Friends, Sex in the City, and Two and a Half Men were so popular. There’s even a popular show with the unabashed premise that the main character is telling his future children about the sexual exploits of he and his friends as a necessary preface to the story of how he fell in love with their mother. I’m not judging here. I loved Friends and I like How I Met Your Mother. (Well, except for that telling it to the kids part.)

But these shows aren’t really about friendship or love or family or the complexities of modern living. They’re about sex. (And call me a prude, but I can’t believe what they can say on prime time TV now.) Whatever else happens in each episode, sex is the tent pole that holds these shows up. (Who thinks that’s a phallic reference?) Without the pretty people having sex or talking about sex, the whole thing collapses.

Got to admit I love the irony of an actor who is gay and a committed family man playing a straight man whore.

My point is, human beings (especially young ones) are obsessed with sex. Our lives revolve around it. Except for maybe food, it seems to be the single most motivating force in our lives. And that makes sense. Nature designed it that way so we wouldn’t die off. But let’s get real here. Gay people are not any more (or less) promiscuous than straight people. We just prefer different partners.

A note for the romantics:  This generalized view of human promiscuity does not call attention to the inevitable exceptions. They’re called women. Okay, feminists, that was a joke. Kind of. I’m not trying to minimize the female libido. I’m sure there are plenty of randy women out there, too.

But there are still those of us who prefer the romantic notion that sex is just a part of the whole love thing. I am one of those. I was never promiscuous, am completely convinced that I’ve spent the last 12 years with my soulmate (a woman with whom I share much more than a sex life), and have no desire to sleep with anyone other than her for the rest of my life.

Aging Still Sucks

Disclaimer: Reading this essay may cause mild to severe panic in individuals approaching middle age.

Maybe it started when your arms got shorter. Suddenly they weren’t long enough to read the small print on your pill bottles. So you bought your first pair of reading glasses. Or maybe it was that first pill case you bought with compartments for each day of the week to remind you to take your “meds.” These are all signs that you have reached your biologically-predetermined peak in life and are now making your descent toward your “silver years.” It really is all downhill from here. The only question now is, will you remain intact enough to enjoy the trip, or will you get caught up in an avalanche and be swept away in a crushing tumbler of metaphorical ice, snow and stone?

The first signs of impending catastrophic aging are gradual and sneaky. You can get used to anything – even the ground shivering occasionally beneath your feet. If it doesn’t go away, it becomes your new normal. For instance, I’ve recently invested in stronger reading glasses, and if I get caught without them, I have to have one of the children read labels for me. I’ve also graduated from a simple 7-cell pill case to a pill condo with 28 individual compartments, four for each day – a reward for scoring badly on my last blood test.

I’ve noticed many other signs of aging escalation that I’m sure many of you share. If you’re over 40, chances are you grunt or groan when you sit down or stand up. It may be subtle. You may not even notice you’re doing it. Ask your husband/wife/partner. They’ll tell you. He or she will also probably tell you that you snore. It’s also likely that you have trouble sleeping, that you feel like absolute crap first thing in the morning, that you suffer from some kind of chronic anxiety or depression, that you have frequent headaches or acid reflux or both, that various joints are showing signs of irreparable damage, that you are overweight, that you have to exercise twice as hard or long as you did 10 years ago to achieve the same effect, and that there are foods you can no longer eat without extreme discomfort (or without clearing a room). And if you’re a woman, your reproductive system is preparing to shut down spurring a whole host of fun symptoms (which deserves a whole essay of its own, so I won’t elaborate here).

Don’t despair. There’s a bright side to aging. Or so I’m told.  You get to develop character. “That which does not kill us…” and all that, right? Yes, I know. What a crock of shit. See, now we’re finally old enough to really understand what a nutcase Nietzsche was. Pain is just pain and it sucks. It doesn’t make you stronger. It just is and most of the time, we endure it because we have no choice. So no, aging isn’t for wimps but even the wimps will do it. They’ll just whine more.

But the good part is, if you can learn to live with the change without whining, you start noticing things. Maybe you stop taking so much for granted. You appreciate little things like you never have before – a good night’s sleep, not passing gas during a meal in public, or just the time you get to read a book while you’re in the waiting room at your doctor’s office.

Or maybe you notice just how amazing being alive really is, breathing out and breathing in, and thinking about every living thing that ever breathed that same air, or where the water in your glass was a million years ago or the exploded star your molecules came from. Just being able to think about all that while feeling the sun on your face, well, that’s a lot.

But it’s not everything. C’mon. There are going to be times when you can’t manage that isn’t-life-amazing-I’m just-happy-to-be-here mojo. So here’s my advice, just a few things I do when I’ve had a rough day of living:

1-      Watch a monster movie.Nothing will make you appreciate being alive more than watching other people being eaten alive by a giant, angry shark. Or an alien with acid for blood. Or a pack of zombies, pirate ghosts, guild-ridden werewolves, pissed-off angels, vampires with a conscience, wise-cracking demons who want to be human, giant desert worms, or 3,000-year-old reanimated mummies of ancient aliens. Fill in your monster(s) here.

Funny monster movies are even better.

2-      Read a funny book. It’s hard to complain while you’re laughing. I can personally attest that any of the following authors will make you snort your coffee:  Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Tom Holt, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris, and Janet Evanovich. And special kudos to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett for Good Omens.

3-      Spend time with your kids. If yours are teenagers, this might be a little more difficult than it was when they were little. But even mine are willing to patronize the parents once in a while and have a family movie night or go out for snow cones. Even if you just get them talking while you drive the carpool to school, they can be quite entertaining and something about their enthusiasm is infectious.

That’s about all I have in my arsenal except for going hiking with my camera which you already know about if you’re a regular follower of this blog. So what do you do to combat the rigors of aging? I’d love to hear some suggestions.

For those of you who are interested, see my first post on this subject: Aging Sucks.

Distressed Relief – Eighteen Ways to Manage Extreme Tension and Latent Hostility in Your Life

  1. Don’t pay for therapy. Stress management that costs that much and doesn’t involve a beach house and a hot tub is counterproductive.
  2. Do exercise. Vigorously. Every day. Then you’ll be too tired to choke the living s*** out of all the idiots you have to share the planet with.
  3. Don’t turn on the news. Just because the world is going to hell in a bucket, doesn’t mean you have to watch.
  4. Do have furry pets. (Not hamsters, though. Hamsters are little balls of evil with teeth. And it’s hard to reduce your stress while you’re bleeding.)
  5. Don’t drive. Ever. Sharing a road with maniacs who speed, tailgate, weave through traffic, or honk at you for stopping for the school bus in front of you (true story) all while talking on a cell phone will do nothing but make you fantasize about choking people again.
  6. Do spend as much time as possible outside. Away from people. That part’s important. Away from people and by the ocean is ideal.
  7. Do lighten up. If you don’t have a pirate hat or a puka shell necklace, buy one now.
  8. Don’t open your kids’ progress reports. If you feel obligated to see it, be sure to have a couple of cocktails first. (Points for style if you put little umbrellas in the drinks.)
  9. Do listen to Jimmy Buffett. The man is a master of stress reduction. And he sings too.
  10. Don’t go to dentists. They are harbingers of pain and misery and they own tiny drills. Not a good combination.
  11. Do read funny books. It’s hard to be stressed when you’re laughing.*
  12. Don’t teach your teenager how to drive. You’ll be doing him a favor, because bracing your feet on the dash board and screaming every time he steps on the gas won’t do much to improve his skills or build his confidence.
  13. Don’t allow your children to make any major life decision on their own until they are at least 25. Add 5 years for boys.
  14. Do watch The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon is the funniest character ever written for TV. Watch it if you haven’t already. You’ll see.
  15. Don’t go anywhere you may have to stand in line. A little known corollary of Murphy’s Law dictates that the person directly behind you will either be a bitter old lady who will bump you in the butt with her cart until the line moves or a large sweaty man in a dirty t-shirt who has no concept of personal space.
  16. Do eat mint chocolate chip ice cream. (But send someone else to the grocery store to buy it.)
  17. Don’t talk politics with friends (that you want to keep) or family. I think every American kid knows this one by the time they’re old enough to join an adult conversation, but it’s good to review the basics.
  18. Do throw away the To-do List. (Ya’ll know why.)

*My favorite funny authors: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Tom Holt, Christopher Moore, Janet Evanovich, Bill Bryson, David Sedaris.

Boys Are Gross

I heartily approve of a kid who goes to play outside and comes back thoroughly filthy. Every boy (or girl who’s so inclined) should wade in ditches to catch polliwogs and climb trees and wander the woods investigating everything or play with pill bugs in the dirt. They should have sword fights with sticks and play kick ball in the street and ride their bike until they’re thoroughly sweaty, tired, and grimy. Getting dirty is a necessary consequence of having quality kid fun. So you’ll know I’m not talking about dirt when I say, boys are gross.

I don’t think boys necessarily corner the market on being gross. I’m sure some girls are gross too, and I completely support a girl’s right to be gross. No gender stereotyping here. But we’re raising sons, and I have come to believe that they have a genetic inclination to some of the things I’m about to describe.

So after a lifetime spent observing and gathering data – as a sister, a friend, and mostly, as a parent to boys – I think my conclusions are sound. Boys are gross and I have years of field observations and anecdotal evidence to support it. Here are a few simple assertions I have found to be true when it comes to boys:

1. Farts are funny. – From the time he was very young, before he went to school, when I spent almost every minute with him and knew exactly what books had been read to him and what TV shows and movies he had watched, even then, before any outside factor had a chance to influence him, our middle son thought almost any bodily expulsion of gas was hilarious. He couldn’t burp or break wind without bursting into giggles. If someone else did it, he laughed even harder. And if someone else could do it on command, like his big brother, he just completely lost it. He was five then. He’s sixteen now and still giggles when he farts.

2. Table manners are unnatural. – Our boys eat like barbarians. Sometimes I think I should just give them all turkey legs and let a pack of hunting dogs lounge under the table to eat the bones they throw down. The youngest, who is 14 now, still prefers his hands to a fork or spoon. Our middle son still can’t remember to chew with his mouth closed or to avoid talking while his mouth is full. And the oldest, at 24, eats like someone is going to take his plate away at any moment.

The conversation is even worse and often involves the youngest trying to gross out his big brothers and the middle boy pretending to throw up in his mouth (which he learned from his older brother and they all think is just hilarious).  I take what comfort I can in knowing that one day, when they have children and/or pets of their own, they’re going to spend more time than they ever imagined cleaning up vomit, and this little bit of dinnertime karma is going to come back on them.

3. There are no trees in the bathroom. – Until 3 years ago, we lived in house with one bathroom. One. It’s the source of unending delight to me that our current house has 2 and a half baths and I don’t have to share with the boys anymore. But the bathrooms they do use are still a problem, and I have invested considerable time in trying to convince our sons that the toilet is not a tree and requires a little more finesse in terms of aim. I beg, I plead, I threaten. If they invested just a little more time and attention, I implore, then life would be ever so much more pleasant for all of us. Much to my dismay, many of my friends who are married to men assure me that this often remains an issue well into adulthood.

4. Tidy bedroom is an oxymoron. –  When the oldest still lived with us, his room was a mulch pile of dirty clothes, wet towels, and organic remains of snacks. Banana peels and empty Mountain Dew cans were prominent. I once found a pile of a broken glass under a layer of clothes next to his nightstand. A large irregular area of the hardwood floor around it had been dyed a powdery Kool-Aid red. Our second son has proudly followed in his footsteps. We make him clean it thoroughly once a week, but through the action of a mysterious and spontaneous natural process (i.e. our son), it returns to its original disheveled state with remarkable speed.

So while concepts like “restraint” and “tidy” and “etiquette” are not a natural part of our boys’ philosophies, we are determined to teach them. One day, we hope, they will each be the kind of housemate a future wife or partner will be happy to share a home with. When all the wives are sitting around trading horror stories about their husbands’ habits, I want ours to be the ones that make all the other men look bad. It’s worth a shot, anyway.

Why I Hate My Cell Phone

An overall view of an LG EnV mobile/cell phone.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1977, Star Wars premiered in the theaters, gas cost 65 cents a gallon, Elvis (reportedly) died, and my sixth grade class hosted a student teacher with the boundless enthusiasm of a true zealot. We liked him because of his unusual lesson plans. He showed up one day, for instance, wearing a wide brimmed cowboy hat and a gun belt with an antique Colt revolver (unloaded but quite real) and reenacted the gunfight that took place at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881.

On another afternoon, he described in enthusiastic detail the technological wonder ground the world would become in our lifetime. By the time we were thirty, he predicted, we would all be carrying phones that required no wires and would fit in a shirt pocket. Because that sounded very much like Captain Kirk’s communicator, I heartily approved of the idea. I didn’t actually believe him, though. I mean, come on, no wires?

The young teacher went on to lament that the rampant changes to society brought on by the technological revolution would traumatize a whole generation (mine) as it was currently befuddling his own. He referred us to a book called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. (Still on my reading list, for about 33 years now. See a future post for more on procrastination.) The gist, as he would have it, was that we were going to have some pretty cool gadgets but be stressed out and disoriented by the whole rampant change thing. I didn’t believe him about that either. I was ready for change.

I was wrong on both counts.

About three years ago, well after most of the rest of the country, I got my first cell phone. It was tiny, fit in a shirt pocket, and flipped open much like Captain Kirk’s communicator. I only agreed to carry it so my partner would let me go hiking alone. The problem is, when I carry the phone, I’m not alone. It can ring at any time and that’s one of the things that appalls me most about modern living. People expect to talk to you any time they want. Sometimes, they even hang up on the voice mail and call right back on the theory, I suppose, that maybe annoying the snot out of you will make you want to talk to them.

It’s that attitude, that assumption that the social contract now has a clause stipulating that you must speak to people anytime they choose no matter what you may be doing, that makes me fantasize about culling the gene pool. Because I have all kinds of reasons for not answering the phone – maybe I went hiking to enjoy the peace and solitudeand am currently sneaking up on a Tiger Swallowtail with my camera. (Actually happened. Butterfly got away.) Or maybe I’m writing and the infernal phone breaks my train of thought and makes me forget what may have been the most brilliantly conceived sentence I ever captured in print. (It’s amazing how many times my brilliance has been thwarted by a ring tone.) Sometimes, I don’t even have a good reason. Sometimes, I just don’t want to talk to anyone.

But now, even I am brainwashed that I mustn’t go anywhere without my phone or something bad might happen. What if it’s my partner or one of the boys’ schools calling? (I always answer for them.) It might be an emergency. They might need me. So I’m always on guard, ready to dash off to a loved one’s aid. But more often it’s just my dentist office calling to remind me I have an appointment or my neighbor wanting to borrow something. So I ignore it. It keeps ringing and frightens the butterfly (or the brilliant sentence) away before I can turn off the ringer, and I resist the urge to smash it with a rock. I feel stressed and disoriented. And mad at Alvin Toffler for being right.

So I really wonder how we all managed to get along for so long without being connected to everybody else all the time. It makes you wonder about the reasons that so many of us are taking antidepressants these days. Actually, I have a whole bunch of ideas about what should make that list, but what do you think? Should cell phones be on it (if only to keep people from talking on them while they drive)? Was life less stressful in 1977? Are those silly Bluetooth gadgets that people wear in their ears a sign of Armageddon? Was the original Star Wars trilogy obviously superior to the new one? (Just threw that one in for fun. My kids don’t get it.)

Please Don’t Anger the Deli Gods

A shopping cart filled with bagged groceries l...

 

“Smile,” she whispered urgently.

I pulled my attention away from the two toddlers climbing their mom like a tree as she tried to choose a loaf of bread, and focused on my partner. I wouldn’t get credit for accompanying her on this outing unless I stayed present and attentive. But my stamina was flagging. So I said:

“Huh?”

My partner’s smile widened to a disturbing dimension. She whispered through clenched teeth.

“Smile at the lady or we’ll never get out of here.”

I had no idea what she was talking about, but I smiled anyway. Or I tried. Unfortunately, my forced smile looks very much like a rictus of pain (if years of photographic evidence is to be believed) and my partner visibly winced.

“Nevermind. Stop that.” I relaxed my face in relief. “Just try not to make eye contact.”

“With who?” She gestured in the direction of the two ladies in hair nets manning the meat slicers behind the deli counter.

“The deli gods. If we anger them, we’ll be here all day. But if we smile and say please and thank you, and never ever get caught looking impatient, we might get out of here in a few minutes.”

I eyed the hair-netted pair and knew she was right. The ladies at the deli counter had all the power. Our cart was groaning under the weight of a week’s supplies for our teenagers, this was our last stop before the checkout line, and I really wanted to go home.

One of the hair nets turned toward us. I panicked and tried smiling again. My partner elbowed me. I stopped. The hair net approached the scale, laid the offering on it, and spoke:

“It’s not quite a pound. Is that close enough?” My partner’s smile could have lit the heavens.

“That’s perfect. Thank you so much.”

“I thought you ordered a half a pound,” I whispered when the hair net turned away.

“It’s close enough,” my partner hissed and smiled again as the deli god handed the meat now wrapped, bagged and labeled across the counter. My partner glanced at it, then handed it to me to put in the basket. I did.

“You know that was smoked turkey, right?” I whispered. “Didn’t you ask for the Cajun chicken?”

“Do you want to go home sometime today or not?”

“I like turkey. Turkey’s fine,” I asserted.

I went back to watching the young mom with the two toddlers. The taller boy had just dropped a box of donuts into the cart while the little one was endeavoring to scale the opposing side. Mom turned back from the shelf she had been perusing, noticed the teetering cart, and made a frantic lunge for her youngest just as gravity began to assert itself. Righting the cart, she pulled the little one off the side and settled him on her hip where he clung like a koala bear.

I felt a little guilty for being amused. Just a few years ago, I was that woman. So I knew that shopping with little ones is not for the faint of heart. I had learned the hard way that the key to food gathering with small children was to get in and get out as quickly and efficiently as possible, before they had a chance to ransack the shelves, slip too many things into the cart while I wasn’t looking, or to poke at each other until one of them inevitably melted down before I got halfway through my list.

I looked back at the deli to check on our progress. One of the hairnets was handing another package to my partner. That should be the last one. We were free! My partner pushed the groaning cart over to where I was standing.

“They’re adorable, aren’t they?” she said nodding at the young mom and her boys. Her voice had a wistful tone. Now that our boys were teenagers, this happens to us sometimes. It starts with this poignant, bittersweet pang when you see a young parent with little ones and graduates to a lump in your throat and teary eyes as you remember that you’ll never again rock your babies to sleep or fix their boo boos with a kiss and a Band-aid.

A few feet away, the young mother had paused at the intersection of her aisle and the bakery area. The little one was now firmly ensconced in the seat in front of the cart a kiwi in each little fist while his brother was standing next to his mom waiting, calmly and patiently. They looked like angels.

“Do you miss it?” I asked, knowing the answer. The little one chose that moment to twist in his seat, pull back his arm, and launch a kiwi at his brother’s head. His aim was remarkable. The older boy burst into tears and starting wailing like a mad foghorn. The little brother looked shocked at this reaction and then started wailing too. The mom heaved a sigh, scooped up the older boy, kissed his head and carried him to his brother who looked heartily sorry.

My partner’s wistful look was gone. She looked at me, grinned, and said:

“Not so much.”

And we headed toward the checkout line and home.

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