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.


  1. If nothing else, Lisa, your life is interesting. You know you wouldn't have it any other way!

  2. True, though the theoretical prospect of peace and serenity beckon from afar :)