Monday, April 18, 2011

It's Good for Me

Recently I saw a news story on “soft addictions.” As I half-listened, half-answered-emails, I chugged my second cup of coffee, groggily letting phrases enter my consciousness: 
“Not life-threatening. Blah. blah. blah. You can quit but don’t want to. Blabbedy-blah-blah blah blah. Really comes down to when it affects personal time or productivity.”
The word productivity pulled my lazy eyes upward to the television, where the newsfolk continued their reportage. Some higher being whispered to me that I needed to pay attention, so I did. Eventually, as the caffeine hit my veins, I cranked up the volume and came to the slow realization that the folks on the screen, far, far away in NYC, were talking about ME. I felt embarrassed, taken by surprise. This was an intervention, and it was in MY living room. Wow. I didn’t see it coming, Meredith and Matt.
Let me first say that I certainly would never, ever make light of anything associated with the word “addiction,” because, let’s be honest, there is nothing funny about addiction. I know this: I found myself paying extreeeemely close attention. And it did strike me at that moment that just about anything we, as human beings here in the 21st century, do to help ourselves relax or unwind or be distracted for a while could be considered counterproductive. I put the computer away and strained to actually pay attention; it was the least I could do, since they were lecturing me and had my best interest at heart. Sure, I thought, I could probably be a little more productive in my life. I really, really should give up . . . I should immediately stop . . . Certainly, I could live without . . . 
And that’s where I got stuck. What would I give up? Now, before you go thinking I’m a living, breathing angel who could not possibly find one personal flaw, think again. I sat there befuddled because I was stumped. Really, there were so many soft addictions to choose from. Where would I possibly start? Should I drop everything that’s remotely bad for me or really annoying to others or “interfering with normal life?” How would I function? Would people still like me? Would I even BE ME any more??!!!!!
As you can tell by the exclamation marks, I started to get a little nervous about my (many) shortcomings and began to wonder if they were more than shortcomings. By the time I changed the channel (it was hurting my head to think so hard), my answer was clear. 
In the time since the news piece, I’ve done a little research (i.e., Googling and Wikipediaing). Judith Wright is largely credited for coining the term “soft addiction.” As Wright herself told WebMd, “Soft addictions are those seemingly harmless habits like watching too much television, over-shopping, surfing the Internet, gossiping -- the things we overdo but we don't realize it . . .” Then she added, “Yes, this means you, Tracy.”
Again, I would never mock addiction issues, soft or hard. But I like to heal through humor, and admitting my problem(s) is the first step in the right direction, so I present you with the most profound soft addictions I face. Perhaps you’ll recognize yourself in some of the behaviors and you’ll realize that you’re not alone. You'll always have me.
Angry Birds: Yes, I know this is a video game. And yes, if I were being honest, I would admit that it can occasionally slightly interfere with my productive time. Or with my bed time. But you’d be angry, too, if someone took YOUR eggs. I tell myself that it’s good for my brain, for my problem-solving skills. And each time those snide little green pigs oink their victory oinks at me, I tell myself that it’s okay to play the level “just one more time” to show them who’s boss. They deserve each black eye I give ‘em.
Yelling at the Contestants on Wheel of Fortune: Tell me this. If the clue currently reads “H _ P P Y   B _ R T H D _ Y,” for the love of God, why do you need to buy a vowel? WHY! Do these kind people not realize that buying a vowel means taking away from their own winnings? When watching, I shout these same questions (again and again and again) out loud and elicit eye rolls from my children, who love the show and are still too young to be tarnished by the foolish playing of clueless (hee hee) contestants.
The Bachelor/Bachelorette Franchise of Brilliance: I have actually had peeps on Facebook get angry at me because I watch the Bachelor/ette. To them I say, lovingly, suck it. It’s my brain I’m disintegrating, not yours. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I love to see who will get so drunk on the first episode they puke out their nose. Oh, and will they, WILL THEY?, accept the key to the fantasy suite? The suspense, plus the exotic world travel, plus the sincere professions of love in the hot tub all combine to create the perfect concoction of cheese. 
Correcting the Punctuation and Grammar Mistakes of Others: My children will cower into any public corner if they hear me gasp disgustedly and then reach in my purse for a pen. I simply cannot let the “Lets Celebrate!” sign go without that apostrophe, and I WILL add it. A dry-erase menu board advertising “All You Can Eat Crab Leg’s” will compel me to add three hyphens so fast your head will spin. And of course I’ll delete the shockingly oft-present apostrophe in a plural noun. I have my integrity.
Becoming BFFs with Strangers with Whom I Wait in Line: We’re on the planet for a short time. Might as well strike it up in the post office line with someone who is also mailing their taxes at 11:58 p.m. I’ve actually learned a lot about others, myself, and the smallworldness of life by striking up a conversation. When I was bald from chemo and sick as a dog, I met a woman named Kimberly in DSW after I complimented her four-year-old son on his tennis shoes. “They’re UNC colors,” I pointed out, “Do you like UNC?” He thought for a moment and then pointedly replied, “I think that’s a question you’re going to have to ask yourself.” Kimberly and I both laughed. A lot. Turns out she was new and knew no one; turns out I was lonely and sad, although I didn’t tell her that. We exchanged numbers. I lost hers, just like I lost much of my memory from that time, but one day during a particularly rough patch, I listened to my messages and heard the nicest one from her, thanking me, of all people, for making her feel welcome. I wish I could find her number, because I should be the one thanking her. I wouldn’t have gotten that gift if I had not said hi.
Planning Mythical Vacations: I will map out entire itineraries, plan make-believe show times, research probable dinners out, and decide which fake flight would give us enough of a layover to catch our next fake flight. I love the daily life in which I live, but man, do I love a good vacation.
Google Map Touring: I have seen the Eiffel Tower from the streets beneath it. I have done a full 360 right down the street from Parliament in London. Want to find the perfect adorable Italian village, nestled at the foot of the Alps? I’ve found it (Torino). All of this worldly travel was brought to you by Google and its amazing “Maps” feature. When I was on chemo and couldn’t leave my chair, I could still see the world. My favorite haunt: Beverly Hills. I'd go all "street level" on Rodeo Drive, just hoping to see a celebrity. In fact, last summer, on a real-life vacation, exiting off the interstate in Los Angeles just ‘cause we could, I got us straight to the Playboy Mansion without the help of a map or a GPS, simply because I remembered the route from good ole’ Google. That’s either insanely sad or super impressive. I’m not sure which.

Are these things time wasters? I’m sure some would argue that they are. But I feel as though I’ve learned a lot about myself, my husband, my daughters, and those I love because of my soft addictions. Maybe I’m kidding myself by saying that, or by believing I’m exercising my brain. The truth is, I feel fairly well-rounded most of the time. I like to read, walk, hang with my girls, laugh a lot, and write. So perhaps I’m not really exercising my brain with these soft additions (or the dozens of other ones that were too pathetic to mention here), but, rather, getting the rest I need. 
There. That sounds better.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Other, Less Glamorous, BMW

Last week featured a series of Bad Mom Days.
You can read that any way you want, because each possible interpretation is fitting. Add the implied, invisible hyphen after “mom.” Bad mom-days. A handful of this mom’s days that were gross. Not horrific, not painfully painful. Just bad, a succession of ill-timed events, poorly planned meals, grumpy kids, and a stinky dog who seemed to need to urinate more than ever before . . . these combined to make yucky days.
If you placed periods between the words, as is a writers’ trend these days, you’d get “Bad. Mom. Days.” You can practically smell the exasperation, the fatigue.
Should you throw in a hyphen to magically create a modifier, voila!: you’d get “Bad-Mom Days.” This would imply that I was, during any number of more than one 24-hour period, a bad mom. Okay. I’ll give you that. In hindsight, I could see that last week, I was not doing my best work.
So, take five to seven Bad Mom Days. If you toss in not just a tired Mom but a sick Mom (sprinkled with a dash of Multiple Field Trip Volunteer Obligations and a steaming side of Dad’s Out of Town), well, then, you have the perfect recipe for the Bad Mom WEEK (BMW), a true masterpiece.
Bad days, bad weeks, are not altogether uncommon. But what stood out as being so grody to the max about last week was my kids’ roles in perpetuating the grodiness to the maximus. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got two great kids. Anyone who knows my girls knows that certain adjectives come to mind when describing them: funny, kind, creative, compassionate. They are also, how shall I say?, 10 and 11. And anyone who has any familiarity with 10 and 11 year olds knows that other colorful adjectives can occasionally come to mind: sassy, independent, annoying, lazy . . . I could go on, but I’ll stop while I’m ahead.
Last week was one of those rare weeks when I needed kindness and compassion beyond the level my daughters are developmentally capable of giving me. Could they drive to the store to get my antibiotics? No. Would they say, “Dearest mother, should I make you a warm compress while my homemade casserole is in the oven?” Not a chance. They did what they could, when they could, and it wasn’t their fault I had an overcommitted wacky week to begin with.
Throughout BMW, I found myself facing the profound truths that my daughters are actually growing up, turning more toward their own interests, and, perhaps the harshest reality, becoming more and more honest with their feelings. At more than one point during the week, I found myself actually questioning: Do my own children even like me? 
Snippets from one day went a little something like this:
Scene: Three Lynch women reading in den.
Me: [flipping pages of the new book I’m reading] Wow! I really love my book.
Girl 1: [silence]
Girl 2: [silence, flipping own page of own book]
Me: Yep, sure do like it.
Girl 1: [annoyed silence]
Girl 2: [annoyed silence, punctuated with a side of aggravated shuffling]
Me:  Um. Does anyone have a pen I can borrow?
[Cue both girls exiting room in search of silence]

Wednesday featured getting my hair highlighted for the first time since its rebirth after chemo. My hairdresser, Sarah, the angel, did my hair twice (the first time around was way too subtle for me, and I was really itching to get rid of the unusual shade of steel). I had therefore spent almost five hours at the salon. I raced back home in time for the bus to meet me with its blinking lights.
Upon greeting my younger daughter, I gave her a hug and then treated her to a little flirtatious, look-at-me-notice-anything-different-about-me dance. Not taking the hint, I asked, "Notice anything?" She looked me up and down, up and down, frowning in the sharp sunlight. “Nah,” she told me, as a way to end the conversation (and, more than likely, the dance).
“I got my hair highlighted!” I practically giggled as I skipped after her.
“It looks exactly the same,” she said, melting the grin off my face as she continued walking home.
Did she know the weight of that highlighting session? Did she realize that I had been waiting almost two years to make myself look at least a little like the ME I used to know? No. She’s 10. But still. 
At 3:30 that same day, I picked my older daughter up from the bus stop. In the car on the way to her allergy shots, I made conversation about school. She was stressed about not having a field trip partner. I was feeling sad for her, so I tried in vain to think of ways to find a field trip partner. This went back and forth and back and forth until, finally, she shut me up good: “Mom. Stop. You don’t understand.”
How couldn't she know that her not having a field trip partner kills me? Why is she so mad at me all the time?
Why hasn’t she noticed my hair?
The week went on in much the same way. Me, waking up, thinking to myself, the sun’ll come out today! One of them walking down the stairs, saying, by way of greeting, “Where’s breakfast?” and my reproach turning me into the bad guy. Me, asking one of the girls to help me set the table for dinner and getting the response, “I’m not finished with this yet.” There I am, the bad guy . . . again.
What I'm finding is that our relationships are changing. There are new boundaries here, here in a time and place when my girls no longer follow me around from room to room, wanting to know what I’m doing, telling me that I look pretty with my new lipstick on, and asking if they can brush my hair. I remember the sounds of their socks slipping across the floor as they scattered to find me when I would walk in the door; can still hear them screaming, “Mama!” as they run in for their hugs. Things change, and I have to learn to take their affection in the doses they are comfortable giving me, I guess.
It’s going to take me time to learn to navigate these new waters. And to not be hurt by my fellow sailors, who are learning to navigate, too.
I’ll never forget one of my first Bad Mom Days. I was about 30 months pregnant and had faced a long, long day with my older little girl, Kylie. She was only 17 months old and all day had fought sleep, cried, made messes all over the house, and generally didn’t realize that I was pregnant and tired. In a rare moment of insight, I decided to take her out of the house, get us both out of the toxic environment we were in, and treat her to her very first vanilla ice cream cone.
We got the cone at Ukrop’s. As I ordered, my little blonde girl waited, holding onto my leg and trying to peek into the compartment that held all the magical flavors of this food I was introducing her to. With the cone in one hand and her baby fingers in the other, I waddled over to a table, handed her the treat, and carefully lifted her into the chair. 

I can see her now, little legs resting on the chair, forming an L shape with her tennis shoes barely hanging off the edge of the seat. She held on to the cone with two hands, staring at it, smiling, with her blue eyes open wide. “Go on,” I urged her, telling her to lick it carefully. She did, and she looked at me with amazement, as if to say, “Can you BELIEVE this?!” She giggled and licked and giggled and licked.
To my left, a beautiful black woman was staring at us, smiling from the same place in her heart from which I write this now. She was witnessing a mother and her child, sharing a moment, and just then, I saw what she saw: love. Not the tears or the frustration or the dirty diapers or the exhaustion. Just the love. I smiled at the woman, and she smiled back at me and said, simply, “So cute.”
Kylie noticed someone else was in the supermarket at that moment and stopped to look at the woman who had just spoken. Kylie seemed to give her a nod, as she smiled and showed her her ice cream cone. My heart felt like it would explode, and right then, Kylie spoke directly to the woman in her baby-talk, clearly uttering the phrase I have never forgotten:
“Hi, Oprah!”
I thought of this memory--the one that still makes me cry and makes me laugh--last week, in the middle of Bad Mom Week. Ten years later, and I feel clueless some of the time. I still get my feelings hurt because my children have the audacity to be themselves and not be able to figure out my every whim and wish. I’ll learn to be patient, and I’ll try to figure them out even as they’re trying to figure themselves out. And, when a Bad Mom Day devolves into a Bad Mom Week, I’ll be the grown-up and do whatever I can to get us out of the rut.
Me and my babies: old hair, same sweet girls.

Like an ice cream cone for dinner. Which is exactly what we did last week, right there smack-dab in the middle of Bad Mom Week. Things have seemed a lot better ever since.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Music Machine

Growing up, even before I was a certified dork with a worldview the size of my permed bangs, I loved music. I would listen to Casey Kasem’s “golden voice” (as Dad called it; he listened, too) on America’s Top Forty each Sunday afternoon, my ear glued to the giant speaker, radio dial set to K92 FM, with giddy anticipation. Who would be in the top ten? Who would have the top spot?! For God’s sake, why does this have to take all afternoon?!!!! I can’t stand the excitement! No, Ma, I can’t dust the forty Encyclopedia Britannicas--Casey’s on!
When I was younger, I had albums. Actual, physical LPs, gently tucked into their sleeves. My first musical crush was on Mac Davis. Oh, Mac, how I loved you. You and your big, curly hair and velvety smooth voice. My five-year-old self could not get enough of this man who sure knew how to get his groove on. I must’ve played “Something’s Burning” until the vinyl did, in fact, burn.
The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (the cover to which actually opened to reveal the wonder of pictures inside!). The Jazz Singer soundtrack (yes, the Jazz Singer). Shawn Cassidy. Michael Jackson. My sister and I elaborately choreographed a little dance ditty set to “Let’s Get Physical,” by Olivia Newton John. I felt it in my soul.
Then, as I got older, I discovered the beauty of the 45. I would save my babysitting money, head to the record store at Tanglewood Mall, and flip through the 45s, looking for those amazing, brilliant songs Casey had introduced me to. Ultimately, my collection consisted of probably hundreds of 45s. “Centerfold,” “Come on Eileen,” “My Sharona,” “Africa” . . . these I would play over and over and over, gently resting the needle on that outer thick line of the vinyl, placing a penny ever-so-gingerly on top to avoid the skipping that had the potential of ruining my groove (no pun intended). 
I would play “Careless Whisper,” by those sexy Brits, Wham!, over and over again, crying harder each time. How did they know? How could they so beautifully express the teenage angst that was welling up within me at that very moment as I pined over the boy I had a crush on, the one who thought we were just good friends. “Yes,” I said aloud, without the faintest hint of melodrama, “You get it. You know, Andrew and George, you hunky men in the shorty shorts. You, too, have been in love with a member of the opposite sex and had it hurt so bad that you had to sing about it.”
I was so young.
Next came actual cassette tapes that I could play on my actual boom box. I believe the first tape I ever owned was Prince’s 1999. The purchase of this cassette began a long, passionate relationship between me and The Artist, one that continues today. But 1999 holds a special, covert spot in my little red heart . . . because it was naughty. Two words: Darling Nikki.
This was the first song that was banned in the Rothschild house. My mother, Tipper Gore, decided it was inappropriate and forbade me to listen to it. So of course, I found ways to listen to it. I would shut my door, turn my boom box way down low, close to the “zero” on the volume knob, lie down on my pink shag carpet with my ear as close to the speakers as I possibly could. I would listen intently, heart racing . . . trying to figure out what in the world any of the song meant. Why was it forbidden, raising the eyebrows and ire of adults all around? I better listen again . . .  
By the way, the other song? “She Bop,” by Cyndi Lauper. At that age, I never knew why, but now, listening to it, it grosses me out that my parents even “got it.” (“They say you better stop, or you’ll go blind.” Need I say more?)
Once I discovered tapes, listening to Casey K became an adventure in determination and an exercise in precision. There were exactly 0.53 seconds to press “play” and “record” simultaneously, else I miss a millisecond of the Wisdom of Toto. With these new and amazing songs on the radio AND on mix tapes I made MYSELF? Well, the world was my Billy Ocean.

I am not lying when I say "big hair." That's me, with the blue sweater and matching blue eyeliner.
As an older teenager, the advent of CDs brought me to a new level: cheesy. No longer was I just dorky, but I was super duper cheesy. The perm got bigger and so did the Firenze sweaters. My music repertoire (which, as a side note, makes me want to vomit today) consisted of the Steve Miller Band's Greatest Hits, the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, and more Neil Diamond. Sure, there were hints that taste resided deep inside my musical soul: the first CDs I bought, after all, were R.E.M., Terrence Trent D’Arby, and Sign of the Times (We meet again, Prince.). But mostly it was all cheese, all the time. Casey Kasem still dictated my likes and dislikes. 
In college, something changed. I evolved. I owe most of it to my ex-boyfriend, a musician (girls: swoon now) who introduced me to true music. Real, live, good music. The Replacements and the songwriting genius of Paul Westerberg. Drivin’ and Cryin’, the Connells, Husker Du, the BoDeans, and dozens and dozens more. I knew exactly when a new CD was coming out; I would buy it and listen to it in my dorm room repeatedly until I knew every word. The ex-boyfriend would make me mix tapes (girls: swoon again) with amazing artists, beautiful songs, and intensity the likes of which I had never experienced through the Bee Gees. 
And I made friends who had my best musical exposure interest in their hearts. The best thing that ever happened to me, musically of course, came the day my friend Charles threw my Dirty Dancing soundtrack cassette tape out of my car window. Sure, it hurt. But only for a minute. 
I had found music.
Ever since I was 18, it’s played such an important part of who I am that I still regularly daydream of being a female lead singer and regularly practice my go-to cover songs in the car (one of which is “Shimmer,” by Throwing Muses, in case anyone's hiring). Now, at the age of 41, music defines me. Truly. I look forward to live shows of bands I love with the same giddiness that once led me to sit on the stage, right under Kevn Kinney, swooning under his sweaty face. Sure, I may have to (as was the case at a recent New Pornographers show) purchase a pair of earplugs from the bartender. And yes, I’d rather sit than stand and get beer spilled all over me (unless I’m seeing Morrissey, when standing five feet from him was too much of a once-in-a-lifetime experience to pass up). 
My girls are headed in the direction of some fine music-lovin’, too. Cammie’s love of Elvis borders on obsession, as does Kylie’s love of Taylor Swift. I approve of both of these, and I have a great time listening to their music with them. There’s nothing that makes me more excited than overhearing Cammie belting out a Mumford & Sons tune or Kylie humming along to Rilo Kiley. Even Mike, he who once asked me if a song was sung by “Three Blind Melons,” is becoming more and more musically inclined. I’m impressed, so I burned him a copy of the new ADELE cd the other day as a thank you.
What will I do when I’m 60? Still go to shows? Listen to songs cranked up high while cruising in the minivan? Still alternate between downloading the new 50 Cent and Shins songs? Yes, probably. And likely, I’ll still get angry at crappy songs I’ve heard 500 times in my life, still inexplicably playing on the radio today (see also: “In the Air Tonight,” [or, really, anything] by Phil Collins) 
But I’ll also need music as much as I need it now, a fact that became clear when I was on chemo and any sound, from ice crunching to bell ringing to song singing, was simply too much. I missed my music, and when I finally went for that first long drive one night, iPod on shuffle and the open country roads of Goochland County ahead of me, it felt right again. It felt right because music is the piece of me that’s 100 percent, always and always, mine. Not dictated by who I am as a wife, mother, employee, friend, or volunteer. It’s mine, and it reminds me of who I am.
And I haven’t even started on the Modern Miracle that is Pandora.