Monthly Archives: February 2012

Peter Principledom (Principledumb)

Secretsauce

Scaling up. It sounds great, right? It’s what most entrepreneurs strive to do. Spend enough time with any group of driven people and you will notice that they are always on the cusp of the next great accomplishment. Planning, executing, failing, dusting knees off, trying again. And again. Their business plan is always at their fingertips, laminated, and rarely subject to change.

Motherhood has taken me on this ride a few times. This undying quest for greatness and a badge of honor. The desire to claim the best employee parking spot. There seems to exist this insane notion that we must do more STUFF with our kids to be a good mom or dad. More activities. More hobbies. More language acquisition for the future diplomat. More, more, more- until our calendar looks like a football coach’s scrimmage playbook over the past two years.

Forget quality and downtime to just be. To relax, talk, breathe, stare at a cicada’s very strange mating habits in the driveway. I wouldn’t say that my wipeouts from trying to keep up the cuckoo-mom pace have ended with just a smidge of grass stain either. No, more like the aftermath of a Tough Mudder competition or, in more realistic terms, like a pig who’s been steamrolled by another pig after the great spring deluge. Meltdown city. Ok, meltdown province.

It is exhausting to try and keep pace with some of these manic moms these days. I think that at one point, my efforts even gave me the shingles. Sorry, manic mom friends. I still love you but you are tirrrrring company sometimes. How is it that we got to the point of believing an hour (or day- gasp) of idleness will annihilate a kid’s quest for presidential candidacy down the road? Come on, even Clinton inhaled and exhaled.

At some point after you score the raise that comes with no longer having diapers on the grocery list, your child (YOU) may become obsessed with this new form of Keeping Up With The Smiths. Here (see below) is how this rat race often ends before the cycle (courtesy of selective memory) likely begins anew with hindsight blurred enough to block recall. Note: The roles below are most often switched- meaning the adult is the perpetrator.

Pottyword

You know this drill that I speak of. Is my kid going to test into the magnet school? Oh-my-god, I should’ve breastfed-now-her-IQ-is-screwed. Am I kiboshing any hope of his musical career by refusing to pay for piano lessons for a kid who would rather chew tin foil than sit still for 45 minutes? You mean you let your kid watch Spongebob indiscriminately? (Friend shakes head, as if to say your kid is destined to become the Steve-O replacement on the next Jackass installment). Your life, if you’re not vigilant, becomes a windshield pelleted by unsolicited parenting advice and pressures to scale up, do more, breathe less, sign up for that T-Ball class that teaches Buddism or Mandarin Chinese in the huddle.

And since some of us are in the business of raising kids, there is an analogy worth mentioning here. Business has its risks BUT the risks increase steeply when you get into something that you don’t know. So it goes in this parenting industry too.

I could end this blog here and the message would be fully in tact. I’ll elaborate though if you will stay with me.

Occasionally, after I have just finished some hedonistic fiction book for fun, I will try to read something slightly out of my reach like Malcolm Gladwell or those dudes that wrote Freakonomics to counterbalance the indulgence. Like my brain on a diet, I guess. What happens during these, let’s say, more complex books is that 95 % of the material ceases to ping my brain at all. However, some valuable miniscule lesson in fine print (sometimes in a caption or bar graph) seeps into my field of cognition like a sideways coffee filter.

Gladwell argues that the economic crises has been caused, in part, by something called The Peter Principle. It is the phenomena that has been blamed for taking down entire companies. Dummies end up in charge, to be precise.

In a hierarchy, every person tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence.

In other words, we get promoted (self-promoted counts too) until we land in a position that we just aren’t capable of handling. We sign up for responsibilities (because who doesn’t want a promotion?) that we simply cannot manage. Eventually, the new and improved gig will be one that exists outside of our skill/management set. We take on so much that we render ourselves flailing, ranting idiots while our talents wave from the rearview mirror – abandoned in the simpler world that we left behind.

Allow me to show you a few examples in which I have Peter Principled right out. Flat on my back. KO in the first round. Walking papers floating down from above before I’m even back on my feet.

  • When I listen to other people’s parenting advice instead of following my own hunches.
  • When I hang my hat on how many activities my child is signed up for and how many Girl Scout Cookies we have sold.
  • When I think that making sushi sounds like a better idea than going out for it because we want to be a multicultural home, ya know.
  • When I agree to travel with kids more than once per month.
  • When I agree to travel with other people’s kids more than once per season- depending on the kid(s), make that a full year.
  • When I agree to driving a carpool every day that ends in the letter y.

So the next time you feel like promoting yourself to Supermom status, instead of signing up for that office window (aka, carline spot wedged between the craziest gossipers ever) and a new title, perhaps you can just ask for a little raise instead of the CEO package? I don’t have to remind you that household CEOs do not get to have golfing meetings, expense accounts or turndown service with chocolate on the pillow. A pedicure works just fine, gals. Does it ever. Any day that ends in y.

* Cliff Notes: Quality. NOT Quantity.

Peace and happy bug watching, SB

Whatever

Two Slippers

Yoda

It is still a curious phenonema to me when someone asks me to recommend a book for them. I am a terribly slow reader and yet it is my favorite way to spend any spare moments that life occasionally affords. The truth is that it is also an incredible source of pride when someone asks me for a book suggestion. The kind of honor which makes me feel- if even for a few moments- like someone who actually knows something important. Being asked to recommend a book is like your best friend asking for an opinion on a wedding dress. Even better in my world. Almost on par with being asked to actually choose the spouse to go with the wedding dress. A book is a commitment of sorts. An endeavor on which hours, days- sometimes weeks can be spent. The right book and its rippling afterthoughts when well written can, quite frankly, outlast many-a-marriage as the perfect book becomes the well-loved bedstand talisman that makes our crosses to bear, well, bearable? 

In my life, a book is also the safest, most comfortable way for my to escape the busy place called my head for short periods of time. Respites from the traffic jam, the fuzzy channels, the burned dinners. The time spent in a book is a non-refundable commodity, thank goodness. Good books stay with us for a long time. For that reason, I take it pretty seriously when someone asks me for a book idea, whether it’s for their beach trip, maternity leave or husband’s stocking.

Over the past year, I have read quite a few books despite my lethargic reading pace. In that time, one particular epic story stuck to me in so many spots that I’m pretty sure I wandered through the following weeks wearing it like a cloak or aura – in carpool lines, sitting in plastic chairs in the diesel smelling oil change office, into the holiday post office line. One book whose hundreds of pages are honestly impossible to summarize with enough poignancy.

The book is called Cutting For Stone.

Yes, I recommend the book to anyone who has so far been denied its experience. Full disclosure: It is a long one. Dauntingly long for slow but loyal readers like me. If it had not been downloaded to my eReader and I had spotted its thickness on a bookshelf, I actually might have avoided it altogether. In case this happens to you, I would like to share with you a nugget from within it….

Lodged somewhere in the middle of this book is the short tale that is known to children all over Africa: Abu Kassem is a grouchy Baghdad merchant who has maintained possession of some seriously battered slippers even though they are the object of everyone’s disdain. People ridicule him over the nastiness of these slippers as though they are as foul as Gaga’s prime rib getup might be to the most vegan tree-hugger. Finally, even Abu Kassem himself can’t stand the sight of the slippers. The problem? Everytime he tries to get rid of them, disaster ensues. He drops them in a canal and the slippers choke off the main drain and cause flooding. This lands Abu Kassem in jail. 

One night, another prisoner, a quiet dignified old man, said, ‘Abu Kassem might as well build a special room for his slippers. Why try to lose them? He’ll never escape.’ The old man laughed, and he seemed happy when he said that. That night the old man died in his sleep.

Then we all saw it the same way. The old man was right. The slippers in the story mean that everything you see and do and touch, every seed you sow, or don’t sow, becomes part of your destiny……You see what I’m saying?

I didn’t but he spoke with such passion I wasn’t about to stop him.

In order to start to get rid of your slippers, you have to admit they are yours….

The key to your happiness is to own your slippers, own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. If you keep saying your slippers aren’t yours, then you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only your actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.

Abraham Verghese, Cutting For Stone

I certainly won’t burden you with my metaphorical slippers. Not today anyway. We all have our own set of slippers…some smellier, dirtier and more battered than others. My slippers are not necessarily unique. In fact, I sometimes wish that they were more so. I own these slippers nonetheless. So often, we think of hardwon facts and mistakes as something to bury as hastily as possible. What an exhausting way to live this life. If I had to bury all of my mistakes (slippers), I would resemble the diggingest dog with my derriere in the air and dirt spewing backwards as fast as my paw trajectory can take it.

Diggingdogjpg

No thanks. That looks much too tiring. My point here is two-fold. First, go get yourself a copy of Abraham Verghese’s book or put it on your Bucket List. You will thank me later. Secondly (and most important), own your slippers. Heck, rock your slippers if you can. Now you don’t have to wear them like a badge of honor. That will not be necessary. But take your hardwon lessons- that feeling of being in complete defeat or at rockbottom- and unpack them every now and them. Look at them. Turn them over an over in your hand for a moment….regardless of what shape they are in. This, friends, is akin to going back and taking a quick peak in that hazy, fingerprinted window just to see how far you have come. No harm, no foul. Unless you try to throw them away. Don’t throw them away. And when choosing your next book at your local bookstore or on Amazon, I’ll leave you with this: Go BIG. Then, go home and start Cutting For Stone.

Cutting-for-stone

Snap

Golf-ball-hit-camera-funny-picture

My kids are going to start paying me a dollar for each time that they roll their eyes at me. I have figured out a quick way to make a buck on this. Just pull out the camera. It drives them batty. I admit that they are probably wandering through their formative years with splotches of green flash blocking their periphery because I always have a camera in their face. Snaphappy woman am I. If the shoe were on the other foot, I also admit that I would probably be pulling a hand-in-the paparazzi face or beating back the camera with an umbrella in hand and a crazed, shaved Britney-glare in my eye too. I hide at dinner parties behind curtains pretending to have lost a lipstick to avoid such Kodak moments.

The ongoing picture battle with the kids is one that I choose to fight because these candids seem to be the only way that I can win this ongoing crusade to keep them young, innocent and free.  Bottom line, this is a world that is trying to grow them up faster than I ever gave it permission to do so. Shows like Jersey Shore, middles fingers and bosoms at halftime shows, and genetically modified foods from top to bottom shelf at the grocery store are the tip of the iceberg as the culprits for growing our kids up too fast. Noticed the phenomenon of pre-teens being as well-endowed as the college kids? Blame Monsanto, the gang elite of fake seed pushers and hormone saturated milk. (Different blog, another day very soon.) I watched ten minutes of Jersey Shore once and swear I depleted more brain cells in those 600 seconds than a week in Amsterdam in my 20’s.

So this morning, Turner blasted me with “Mom, WHY do you always take so many pictures of us?”

This, after he gently- then fiercely- shook me awake with his Halloween masked face inches from my nose. After the initial startle, what do I do? Grab my camera phone to capture his asymmetrically glorious bedhead. 

My answer: “I take pictures of you because you are growing so fast.”

His response: “Well, then let me take some pictures of you too.”

Me: “But I’m not really growing up anymore like you are.”

Freeze frame. Rewind. Not exactly the message that I meant to send. We adults are, in fact, growing too. Not just the kind of growing associated with those calipers that measure body fat index. I mean still growing up. I took the opportunity to backtrack with my kid this morning and admit that, yes, I am still growing up too although not in the sharpie hash mark inches on the laundry room wall sort of way. I even conceded to let him take a picture of me in all my crusty-eyed, pimple creamed glory. Pimple cream at 38? Yeah, not exactly what I planned but I blame it on the genetically-modified food engineers too. 

Let’s think about this though. Grown-ups … still growing up? A significant part of my growing up has happened as the last decade or two have trickled through the hourglass. In my 20’s. Got married. Had a kid. 30’s. Did a 180 degree u-turn on my political views, had another kid, faced post-partum depression headfirst and slightly sideways. Discovered the value of lasting friendships. Discovered that not everyone is qualified for that category but that it’s a good idea to be nice to them anyway. Discovered what it feels like to live above my means. Discovered what it feels like reclaim those means one day at a time. Discovered what it feels like to help my own child deal with a bully without wanting to cauiflower the bully’s ear on a wrestling mat myself. Oh yeah. I am still growing. Exponentially. Everyday. Growing up and learning up can be used interchangeably here but I think that if I had to pick the most powerful growing up lesson that I have endured lately, it is this.

With each year that passes, I seem to like my world more and more colorful. Bring on the color that drips from the right side, the only functional side, of my brain. Clothes, opinions, books, movies, scarves, offbeat travel, Toms shoes. I like having at least one friend with a purple mohawk who reads philosophy books for kicks. I also like my friend who suppresses a smile and her Baptist roots when I tell a profane joke. I like people who are still perfectly profound even when they rarely nail subject/verb agreement because they were too busy holding down their first job on a farm or at McDonalds when that grammar lesson was covered. I like people who are not afraid to do the broken-leg dance at wedding reception (because I only have enough guts to practice it in the mirror). I like people who aren’t afraid of the words I don’t know. Even a doctor as long as they follow it with but we’ll figure it out. I like people whose ipods showcase a little bit of everything from Nirvana to the Mumford boys. People who push limits but respect tradition. 

On the other hand, I don’t like it when people always agree with me. Difficult, huh. I like to surround myself with people who wonder. Who question the status quo. Maybe that it why I enjoy my kids 99.9% of the time. They are perpetual wonderers and habitual questioners. Too bad that we cannot document this kind of growing with a camera. I guess it would still look a little something like the pictures below with some very honest captions like:

This is the year that I realized that it’s true what they say- money cannot buy happiness

or

This is the year that I realized that people who don’t don’t vote generally forego their right to complain 

or

This is the year that I realized that anything over 90 degrees outside makes me a veritable lunatic who struggles to be a nice person

or

This is the year that I traded in the baby oil for SPF 801 and $40 eye cream

or

This, YES, this is the year that I side glanced the first wrinkle in the mirror and knew exactly what hard wisdom had won its spot

…or (See bottom pic)

THIS is the year that I realized kids- each and every single one of them-  are better than most adults at this growing up thing and it is never too late take a few lessons from one

In the meantime, guess what kid? That will be a buck. Now, say cheese. 

Growingabubble

Skates
Growing

Age Old Debate

Eggtimer

The results are in: Madonna’s halftime show for Superbowl whatever-number-it-was is still garnering mixed reviews as I write. Facebook and Twitter continue to blow up with Madge critiques and accolades. Some reviewers are calling the Superbowl performance a rekindling of her glory days, some are glad she didn’t choose Like A Virgin for the 12-minute set list, and more than a few were completely freaked out by her pom pom prop Glee-ish skit at what is apparently considered the ripe old age of 53. She’s too old is the general consensus of the folks throwing out a thumbs down. My opinion? So glad you asked.

She rocked the gladiator getup and is a phenomenal entertainer. The only issue on which I am undecided would be the whispers of lip-syncing which is just sacrilege to the stage in my book.

But back to the she’s-too-old-argument for a minute because that is why I am even wasting a bit of breath on this topic in the first place….I very well might have chimed in on this eyerolling of the elders a few years and grey hairs ago. Now, I find myself jumping on the defensive here even for a woman who is the catalyst for the word diva having a place in the dictionary.

I am going to go with the age old adage for the haters: jealous much? Who wouldn’t want to be that in shape at 53? Madonna’s style has spawned many others who currently occupy the music pedestal. Gaga, Minaj, Katy Perry and her whipped cream spewing assets? If you can’t hear Madonna’s influence in Gaga’s stuff, perhaps it’s time for a an audiologist checkup. So what of her using Minaj and Cee-Lo and a sprinkle of LMFAO to young-down the stage with flavor-of-the-moment props? The woman has earned that right to recruit a protege or two to her side.

Did people dive off of the Steve Jobs bandwagon when he turned 50 because he is just too old to produce anything good? Not exactly. In fact, nearly 15 million of us signed on to buy an iPad in the first nine months that they became available. Stood in line overnight. Camped out. Bet there are a handful of diehards who have camped out for Madonna tickets in her heyday. But now, she is just too old? At 53.

Take it easy on the Boomers, people. They’ve still got it. They still need to show they’ve got it. And one day in the not too distance future when you late bloomers come up with something brilliant while scratching the grey hairs on your head, you will want someone younger to listen to and appreciate it all that you have become (and are still becoming).

Shake it, Madge….and thanks for the awesome Halloween costume idea too. Gladiator. I am sure that my husband will appreciate that more than the previous year’s lederhosen.

P.S. Nice job, Giants! 

Cheerleader1


 

 

Good Wife

Funny_hubs_wife

 Just about once per lunar orbit, I have a full-blown spousal meltdown over whether or not I am a good wife. For starters, I don’t cook. Can’t even touch raw meat with the exception of sushi without rubber gloves on both hands. I note that my friends are always tallying up their coupon savings from the grocery list that is arranged by the meals that they plan to cook for their families during the upcoming week. Say what? So to pull my weight, I joined the Occupy Monsanto Facebook page to try and help eradicate genetically modified foods from the grocery shelves. That’s an active and culinary wife, right? In my defense, I do get excited about saving on my gas card or the clearance shelf with the latest craft craze at Hobby Lobby. So I can be frugal when I focus. Thing is, I am not a terrible cook. Clueless, yes, but not totally incompetent. My husband loves all things culinary so we are good that way. He cooks. I clean up. We split the grocery shopping duties. Scoreboard tied there. But what about the rest?

Here are the other things that I associate with being a good wife because society has gone and socialized me to believe it is imperative for avoiding divorce and/or a Craigslist advertisement for a sister wife. 

Things I Do:

  • Clean underwear is always available in everyone’s chest-of-drawers.
  • My own undergarments actually match one day per week.
  • I NOT ONLY refrain from griping when the Stanley Cup finals are on but even concede to get the kids out of the house during the final period.
  • I hold the whole family accountable for thank-you notes being written in a timely fashion.
  • I never ask my husband to buy feminine products or US Weekly (unless I have a temperature above 103 and am bedridden).
  • I maintain an overly healthy phobia of lice and forbid friendships that might entail the passing of such so as to avoid a mandatory evacuation of the home during a Superbowl or March Madness.
  • I make physical comparisons between well-known media figures and my husband. “Are you sure that you and Daniel Tosh weren’t separated at birth?”
  • Throw away undershirts whose armpits are stained yellow…sometimes turning them into dust cloths.
  • I make morning coffee in the Keurig now that it requires a lever pull and one button push.
  • Keep him abreast of men’s fashion in a non-forceful way (check out this camel blazer).
  • Encourage him to demand his worth professionally (Now, when was your last raise?)….not recommended in this economy.
  • Excuse him from ogling the Elle Macpherson lookalike because I am probably ogling Tim Tebow too.
  • Praise him for saying Fergie is gross during the half-time show.

Things I Do When It Is Convenient:

  • Pick up the drycleaning when they call to remind me that it is about to be sent to Goodwill.
  • Endure the hell-hath-no-fury like a bikini wax if we are going on our annual Couple’s Trip.
  • Buy him those Superman themed briefs for his half marathon at Target even though the boy or girl at the checkout counter will suppress a laugh while scanning them.
  • Refrain from throwing plates when I burn a birthday cake.
  • Listen to his playlist despite the fact that the rap is highly profane and is corrupting our children.
  • Tell him to go play his colleagues in a game of golf so that he can beat every one of them. It makes him feel good for at least two weeks.
  • Ignore the stench of running clothes and stale sweat in the laundry room because he ignores the fact that I have not washed them yet.
  • Refrain from hiding the remote or flushing it down the toilet.

    Things I Do Not Do (And am not sure that I really should….):

    • Spoonfeed him Jell-O when he is sick.
    • Wait for him to pull out my chair at the dinner table.
    • Compare him to others (they would suffer).
    • Check his internet history.
    • Interfere when he is trying to save the beta fish whose 9 lives long ago expired.
    • Leave a honey-do list more than once per lunar orbit…I sit on my hands and the post-it notes to make good on this one. It is not a walk in the park.

     

    I guess what I am learning as I make this list is that being a good wife, like being a good anything, starts with being a good person. So, exhale, maybe I’m not so bad after all.