Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Good Humor Man

My son Chris's high school graduation this week was a walk on the wild side.   This was unexpected because I've been to ten or more graduations at this school, including my own, and never seen anything like it.

Some of the errors were inadvertently comical, like no one moving the mike so the only the two sub-five foot speakers could be heard.  Others were meant to be funny, like rows of seniors standing up randomly.  Some were personal, like one of my sons coming to the ceremony but not coming over to say hello, staying with his friends laughing and ignoring the ceremony so he could fill his lip with dip.  Clearly some were unintentional, including how many of the women and girls parading by us in the stands were dressed.  I wish, honestly, that I could scrub those particular images from my mind;  though I thought I had given up gawking, I relapsed, repeatedly, for the animal print underwear worn as outfits.  And some were just mystifying, like the salutatorian whose address said their class was particularly badly behaved because, somehow, of being toddlers at the time of a big Snoop Dogg album.  At least I think that's what she said;  she hovered at five and a half feet, just out of range.

My overall reaction to all this mayhem, however, was annoyance.  I hadn't realized how much I expected law and order and at least a nod to social convention at such occasions.  Go for the gold.  Live your dreams.  Thank your teachers.  Appreciate your parents.  Something.  That I had two kids with me without attention spans who couldn't hear a word made it especially ripe for griping on my part.

I know that complaining does me no good.  There was a wristband campaign highlighted in People magazine a year or two ago that said "No Complaining" on it, and people did things to the bracelet when they found themselves complaining, like turning them inside out or moving them to the other wrist to remind themselves to "start over" in their quest for some period of time, specific numbers of days or weeks or months, without inflicting this kind of negative energy on their friends and family, or even their local grocery clerks.  It's morphed into the campaign for a complaint-free world, a lofty goal but one that ten million people (so far) have bought into, and there's now a widget and an app to help you track your complaining-free days.

I understand the desire for self-improvement.  When I complain my mood plummets.  Still, the best alternate I can usually muster is a grumble, or at best effectively staying silent.  This helps, but not enough.  I'm still not happy.

This is why it was especially fortuitous that my brother Michael was with me at the graduation.  His girlfriend Kelly was there, as was my Mom, and we ladies kept our irritation in check, trying to make light of the chaos, but the only one who could effectively do so, over and over again, was Michael.  He kept Billy entertained, kept a running commentary of the proceedings that was hilarious, and was brave enough to come out with us for a dinner for the ages--witnessing spilled everything from my toddler granddaughter, overeating to the point of nausea by Billy, nonstop nonsensical chatter from both of them and an absolute inability for my mother and I to maintain any dignity whatsoever, even (especially) with our carafe(s) of merlot.  Michael, for me, made all this okay, with his reassurances and smiles and amusing anecdotes and appreciative comments.  He is the Good Humor man in my life.

I know it is not easy to be such a person.  He gets overwhelmed, annoyed, upset, anxious and depressed just like the rest of us.  He has his moments.  It's just that he forces himself to bounce back from it, and truly enjoys the randomness and "you can't make this stuff up"-ness of life, and he makes a constant and heroic effort to be upbeat, optimistic, attentive and involved.

Michael and Chris on Graduation Day
He's young, and this helps.  Life may take a bit of wind out of his sails down the road, but like most twenty-somethings he's had his share of troubles and he's weathered them with this sunny temperament so I expect it will survive relatively intact.  I worry about this a bit--he is open to hurt and vulnerable to disappointment as a result of his expecting the best out of others--but mostly I value it.  For the last few cookouts I've coordinated with him he cheerfully has taken the grill, cleaned the pool, bought needed groceries and cleaned the house.  When my kids have events he shows up, with the proverbial bells on.  Especially in contrast to the more volatile moods some in my family have, at times he's not only a breath of fresh air, he's the only available oxygen source.  He makes tough situations bearable, and everyday life better.

For this reason it should have been a given that he was moving to California next month.  Happy people are drawn there, and thrive on the vibe of good intentions.  He may not come back East even after he's done with his psychology program at Berkeley.  And my life will be a bit more Dickensian without him nearby.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Born and Raised

I've been a bit addicted to my new John Mayer album. It's CSNY thing--first he calls out to Neil Young in Queen of California then he uses David Crosby and Graham Nash in the backup vocals for the full version of Born and Raised, but what I love the most is rhythm and the lyrics of the song's reprise:

Born and raised
Locks of brown and streaks of gray
I was brought up in brighter days
It's good to say
Now I'm born and raised

Born and raised
In half the time I'll be twice my age 
Better learn how to turn the page
'Cause time is strange
When you're born and raised

Though I bemoan how long it is taking for my kids to be full-fledged grown-ups, I took my own sweet time as well.  Sure, I married young and had kids right away and lived independently in another state, but my mother still buys most of my new clothes, and sews up my old ones.  My father still supplies lovely upgrades to my life, from bagels on Saturday mornings to the swing set and grill in my backyard.  Even before I moved back they, along with my same-aged brother Kevin, have been my most constant companions outside of my husband and kids.  Am I fully raised?  I have my locks of brown and streaks of gray, but it is understandably confusing when you have the gift of having your parents nearby for the majority of your life.   

While I know much of their influence took place early and often, I see how it continues.  It just takes a word, here or there, and I think about what we were discussing differently.  It helps that they are frugal with overt advice--that I seem to resist--but their thoughts and musings still soak into my psyche like it's dry and they're water.  And though they are very different people, their imprints nearly the same.  Today is Father's Day but I can't seem to separate his influence from hers.  They made me in their collective image.  

My mother Lucie and brother Kevin
My mother is Lucie Allen from Holyoke, Mass.  She's second generation Canadian (both kinds) and loves music and reading and baseball and family meals.  She was on a swim team, and wanted to be a teacher before finding another career path she worked hard at and loved.  She's pretty and smart and adventurous and good-humored.  She was an appreciative daughter and a devoted wife, though she's always voiced her opinions and they are uniquely her own as she does her own thinking on just about everything.  She's a down-to-earth liberal Democrat who raised her kids to be as open-minded and unprejudiced.  She tries to be a good older sister, and her sister is her favorite travel-mate still.  She married young, to her high school sweetheart, and had kids early, then did whatever it took to raise us right. A natural homebody, she is still social whenever she is out, with a memorable and easy laugh.   She can hold a baby for hours, and calm them in a minute.  She's a tigress in defending her own when she feels they are under threat, and has a fresh and sarcastic mouth that she tries to tame, most of her curses kept in her head or muttered.  She loves afternoon tea and popcorn, scrapbooking and movies with happy endings, the beach and dogs, gardening and grandchildren, and will always put aside whatever she was doing when someone comes looking for her.  She's a matriarch, and love incarnate.

My father John and me
My father is John Creane, also from Holyoke.  He's first generation Irish Catholic, warm and giving, a bit of a hellion as a teen but soon-enough responsible and settled.  He's bright and went to Brown even though most of his friends went to college locally, if at all; and he struggled there as an outsider in the world of prep school exclusivity but it also lit intellectual fires that have never really dimmed.   He has worked hard nearly every day of his life since well before age sixteen, and still has more to accomplish.  He reads voraciously, and writes with discerning skill, and has a critic's eye for the work of others.  He's a social progressive, who advocates for the underdog; he keeps his own counsel. He's consistent, and dependable, and kind.  He likes to eat and cook good food, and has sculpted a grand list of favorites that make people swoon.  He also loves cereal and sweets and peanut butter on english muffins and water views and Broadway shows and quiet.  He reveres his coffee and his paper in the morning, and his coffee and books at night.   He's been hindered by some sore bones but that has never stopped him from being active, and he's a world-class traveler, soaking up whatever culture he's visiting.  He walks his dog even when he doesn't feel like it. He's attended just about every game, show or event any of his kids have ever been in, even if it is with a book or newspaper and coffee in hand taking up some portion of his attention.  He takes beautiful photographs, which he displays for the pleasure of remembering, and showing.  He enjoys having a warm and comfortable home, and he doesn't mind doing shopping or laundry or dishes.  He loves his kids beyond all reason.  

And through the alchemy of childhood, I am an amalgam of both of them, all of these things in different degrees and combinations, unique but still a clear reflection and iteration of them.  Sure, they have character flaws, which I also share, and other people have lent a hand along the way, but the majority of me is good and happy and them, because they raised me with devotion and a reckless abandon for their own hearts and needs.  

Even if I am an ongoing project, I think their work is largely done.  I thank them, and love them, in return.  

Sunday, June 10, 2012


This is the time of year my competitive juices begin to gurgle.  Yes, my daughter Ciara went to States for track;  yes my daughter Lizzy made baseball all-stars, those are both fine and wonderful things but I am often the least interested parent on the sidelines, often reading and asking other parents to nudge me when something interesting happens, often an injury.  I like sports and I love my kids but today I watched a tight, competitive soccer game on a beautiful day from my truck.  My kids tell me it's enough that I'm there, and available to bring them for post-game treats, and I take them at their word.  I'm proud of them.  They know.

No, what gets me laser-focused is my son's swim competition.  For the Special Olympics.

Of all the things I may go to hell for, this is likely in the top ten.  I look at the competition and I say "manageable."  I look at Billy and say "potential."  I look at a pool and I get goggle-eyed, the chlorine concentration in my blood going just from approaching the parking lot.  And what comes out of my mouth is new for me:  Win.

He's at the state games this weekend, and what I am supposed to be saying is that he's doing fine.  In reality, I think he's far too distracted by Olympic Town, staying in dorms, the Pirate Dance tonight, his hoped-for girlfriend across the tent, the ring pop I brought him and his progress in his Pokemon White game to really focus on his swim time.  He told me before the meet even started that there were a lot of faster swimmers there and so he probably wouldn't medal.  This, I had to take him aside to discuss.

Billy, I said.  You absolutely can medal.  Remember how you got the Gold, the Silver and the Bronze at the regional games?  That nice police officer put them around your neck?  Remember how great that felt?  These  are a lot of the same swimmers.  You can do the same, just try your best, don't worry about any of that other stuff for the minute of each race, okay?

He looked at me like the idiot that I am.  Billy is a perceptive boy.  And he said it:  Mom, it's only a race.  It's okay to let other people win.  Then it makes them happy.  I have a lot of medals already.  Then he wandered off to throw balls at a tree to pass the time until he was called.

I've already blamed my concussion for enough, and don't have room to detail my general character flaws that would make this less surprising, so I'll blame this insane drive to push Billy to win his races on my love of swimming and the needs of a Special Olympics parent.

Lynn Sherr in her new and gripping (to me) book Swim does a much finer job than I ever could in describing how happily obsessive swimmers can be.  Though I haven't swum competitively since high school, all this proves that I probably should, if only it would shut me up.  There are Masters meets;  merely a practice would likely do me in.  The adage "just swim faster" is so inane that I can't, honestly, believe that I'm saying these words to me.  Once, I took his morning med dose by accident (don't ask) and slept for 36 hours straight.  That was only his morning dose.  It's half his evening dose.  My God, how he even gets down the pool ladder without falling into the drink in a stupor is a miracle.  Yet his hyper-driven little body makes me think he can zip through the water, and sometimes he does!  Rather than simply give thanks for that, I want him to do it all the time.  Foolish, greedy mother.

And herein comes the needs of the Special Olympians' parents.  I am aware that I am one of the youngest.  In contrast to my grammar school daughters' parent events where my husband and I are ancient, here I am among the Very Young because with genetic testing, the number of kids born with Down Syndrome and other genetic anomalies shrinks more every year.  Since Special Olympians can and do compete their whole lives (a heartfelt shout-out to the Special Olympics founders, coaches and volunteers for this), their average age thus creeps up a bit each year.  And, most critically, we parents never really fade into the distance.  We are not at home waiting for visits. We are feeding their child breakfast, cleaning their clothes, getting them onto buses, bringing them to the doctor and filling their prescriptions just like when our child was ten--but we do it still when our child is thirty, fifty, and beyond.  Why not let us live vicariously through our kid every once in awhile?  Our responsibility for our child never drops off because they never reach true independence--it stays in the stratosphere of intensity reserved for recalcitrant toddlers and temperamental teenagers, forever.

I of course understand why pregnant people would not volunteer for this, and yet I have the same bittersweet knowledge that they're missing out that all the other parents there have.  It is truly fun lots of the time, and much easier to do a good job.  Love them, care for them, encourage them, accept them.  How hard is that?  For every other parent there, seemingly not hard at all.  For me?  I want more.  I want to motivate, to push, to bask in glory.  Because every parent has that right, whether they exercise it or not.

So I am literally fighting my urge to post the picture from regionals of Billy getting the gold for the 50 backstroke in under 40 seconds.  It was a very proud moment for us.  Yet, if I asked him, Billy would tell me to post the 4th place ribbon he got from this morning instead because he's proud of it.  Says the race was hard and he did his best.  I hugged him, I kissed him, I told him I was proud, and now I'm going to post... both.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Everyday Sex

Sex is good for you.  It feels good and elevates your mood, the physical exertion helps your body, it's an elixir for your relationships, it boosts your self-confidence and it brightens your outlook on life.  Dr. Oz goes so far as to say it is one of the best things you should do with your body everyday.  We live in an affluent culture and often have the time, resources and ability to  cook and eat interesting and healthy foods, find physical activities we enjoy even if they involve gear and travel, spend time outdoors and at concerts, play with children, live in comfortable homes, get massages and medical treatments for our bodies, shop for nice clothes, read good books, enjoy sports and beaches and vacation in exciting places.  Sex is making its way onto this list--as a healthy pleasure for our mind, body and marriage.

The other list is the work list, the things we have to do:  going to our jobs, doing the laundry, sitting through a  another baby shower or contentious family dinner, disciplining the kids.  For many women sex has long been on this work list, not as a frequent pleasure but an occasional obligation.  Even now, the majority of Americans have sex once or less a week and in a predictable routine, one that is so frequently linked to rewarding men for help around the house that the pre-sex tasks have their own word, 'choreplay.'

What the Fifty Shades books have done so effectively is to take sex off the work list and put it on the play list for these women, mainly by taking the work out of it for them.  Like most erotic romance using bondage and discipline there is a fantasy at play:  an extremely hot sex-god with a lot of money and no children or ex-wives in the wings is waiting, no begging to worship your body in such a way that you will have sexual pleasure beyond what you have ever imagined.  The hitch?  Only that you give total control to him, as he not only gets off on that control but can be trusted to know your sexual responses better than you do and to stoke your passion in such a perfectly orchestrated rhythm that you will in turn beg him for more, more, more of whatever he wants to do to you.  And, that you accept his punishment when the rules he lays down for you are broken.  This "power exchange" between the sexual dominant and sexual submissive will include, be forewarned, use of vibrators, restraints, spanking benches, role play, nipple clamps, paddles, blindfolds, orgasm control, exhibitionism, sex clubs, high heels and other various sex toys and games.  Sign up for this and you are guaranteed to be happily having sex of every possible iteration all the time, and to be desired and cherished to within an inch of your life.

I have yet to meet a woman (though I know they're out there) who has not been turned on by the Fifty Shades  trilogy.  My husband played for me the Saturday Night Live clip from Mother's Day weekend that was hilarious showing all Mommy really wants for her special day is some "alone" time with the book and the nearest available vibrating surface.  But really, most people don't want to only have sex with themselves.  The author, E.L. James, writes compelling relationship drama that pulls you along through adventures and arguments and sex and more sex until you fall asleep wondering when you will ever experience such passion and pleasure with another person, in real life and not just books.

Since it is a romance book, feel free to indulge in the fantasy.  If you're looking for a mate it's always possible that someone like Christian Grey could come along for you.  That is, a billionaire genius with a tortured soul and a gorgeous body who will see the real you and become obsessed despite your average looks and abilities; offer  you love and intimacy he's never dared to bare before;  worship your body to daily sexual ecstasy (as above);  love you endlessly, and use your love to heal his psychic wounds;  care enough to make sure you are fed especially well by his in-home cook and housekeeper in an unspeakably beautiful home;  protect you with his special ops assistant/driver; dress you with his personal shopper at the store of your dreams;  engage in clever and flirtatious repartee on your blackberry;   fete you with his family who will similarly adore you for making him happer than he'd ever been before;  take you on thrilling adventures that your being present makes much more exciting for him;   and recognize your true talents and provide you with the perfect forum for them so that you can be independent and successful in your own right.

Or, you can adapt the fantasy to real life, and accept that you will continue to have to do most of those things for yourself,and perhaps live without the more exotic gear and tricked-out 'playrooms,' but you can read erotic (or regular) romance to help get you in the mood and find other ways to be more open to new sexual experiences and acquiescent to your sexual partner.   Allow him free reign and see where that goes.

For there often is a handsome someone who is looking to unlock the sexual mysteries of you and bring you to sexual heights you've never reached, and he's usually sleeping right next to you.  After you turned him down.  Because he didn't clear out the drain like he promised.  And the slowly pooling water in the sink is making you too stressed to contemplate sex.  And it's not yet Saturday.