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funner

Funner

Are you cringing? The word funner tends to send people off the deep end. But the word runner is fine. And yet beautifuller is a big no.

Why? Something about the way two syllable adjectives pattern. I’m not completely sure.

Welcome to English grammar. It’s really confusing here and lots of super smart people disagree about ideas I don’t understand. Noun phrases still make me cry. So why am I talking about grammar?

Well, I live in Los Angeles County and our Covid-19 numbers have spiked and we are going back to our safer-at-home behaviors. I am stuck at home and I am at loose ends. I have organized all the closets. I have failed at homeschooling. I suck at knitting.

So I am working my way through The Great Courses Plus catalog and I thought I would fall asleep to a course called English Grammar Boot Camp. I don’t like three of the two things in that title. Grammar is confusing and any form of bootcamp is garbage.

Instead, I have been watching this thing for hours and a good amount of it makes some sense. I got lost in determiners and skipped the rest of that lecture. I like learning as an adult because my patience level is much higher. When I was young, I would get confused, get angry and assume I had no ability with the subject and move on.

Now I know that I can be good at some aspects of a subject while being incompetent in others. It doesn’t mean I have to drop the subject all together. I love algebra but I suck at geometry. Does that mean I suck at math?

No, it just means some aspects of the umbrella term math are boring and stupid and confusing and others are fascinating and fun to figure out. Just kidding. I’m sure geometry is great. (It’s not.)

When I was a kid, my brother and his wife watched every documentary series PBS had to offer. They particularly loved NOVA.

I would watch TV with them and be amazed. Why were adults who were no longer required to learn anything they didn’t already know learning things they would never need to know?

My brother worked in a warehouse and my sister-in-law was a tax preparer. The age of the universe was never going to come up at their places of business and yet they were fascinated by these shows. When the shows were over they would talk excitedly about what they had learned, sometimes discussing older shows and how this show fit into what they had learned earlier.

My parents did not watch these kinds of shows. They watched Matlock and Golden Girls and Perry Mason and Falcon Crest (the best of the nighttime soaps). Now, my parents weren’t dummies. My mom read as if her life depended on it. My dad would rather mow the lawn and yell at the tree in our front yard than read a book. But he did read a couple of newspapers everyday of his life and he watched the news the way other men watched sports. He had strong political opinions. I sometimes think he may have discussed those opinions with the tree in our front yard since my mom would rather eat glass than talk politics.

So maybe my brother and his wife weren’t so different from my parents. My mom only read fiction but she read in so many different genres that she knew a little bit about a lot of subjects. And, as I said, my dad was a news junkie.

It didn’t occur to me until I was puzzling out the difference between a restrictive relative clause and a nonrestrictive relative clause that my nerd tendencies were a family affair. All my relatives were adult learners.

My cousin watched so much PBS that when I asked her to donate and she said, “Nah, the WM Keck Foundation has it covered,” I said, “If you can make that comment, you watch a huge amount of PBS and should probably donate.”

If my sister doesn’t own stock in The Animal Channel, she should.

Do we ever lose the urge to learn new things? I don’t think so. I think humans can’t help doodling around the edges of their known personal universes. I know a man who works for NASA, studying weather patterns using math that makes my brain cramp up when I see it. He also plays flamenco guitar. And yes, math and music are closely related but that is such a beautiful juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated disciplines that whenever I think about my heart leaps.

I know it isn’t a popular position to take but I like humans. We are so inexplicably weird and wonderful and hilariously funny (I started in on The Great Courses because I became addicted to TikTok) that sometimes I watch people dance or hear them sing or listen to them talk about something they find fascinating and I marvel.

Yes, we’ve ruined the planet and we keep killing each other for no good reason but let’s not forget that we are amazing creatures who, if we can ever get our collective shit together, could be the making of each other.

Also, I just really miss everyone. Stay safe.

Taking Control of Her Mental Health in a Pandemic

Taking Control of Her Mental Health in a Pandemic

Something about the quarantine life unleashed a darkness in Helene Skantzikas. It insidiously snatched joy and plunged her into the depths of hopelessness. Nothing and everything has changed in her life in the last three months: she lives at home with her mother and her son. Same as before, but everything is different. 

Even though the days blend together, there is one sure marker of time: before and after quarantine. Before, Helene (pronounced simply as Helen) ferried from one social scene to another like a stage actor with ever-changing backdrops: playdates at a park and sleepovers at home. There were dinner parties and moms’ nights out, and at the center was Helene — surrounded by people — often over good homemade food or a large spread at a noisy restaurant. It was a fast-paced lifestyle that suited her need to feel accomplished and connected.

After the start of quarantine, when the backdrop stayed the same and time seemed to melt, Helene felt herself sinking. Anxiety wrapped its fingers around her and squeezed tight. She would feel it in the back of her head where her reptilian brain would take over. Scream, it hissed. Break something.

“It feels like I’m going in hyperdrive. It feels unstoppable,” said Helene, 45. “It’s there and it needs something to grab onto to live.”

In anxiety’s grip, a stubbed toe — painful, sure — could unleash a disproportionate torrent of anger and frustration. Then she lands in sadness, the kind that anchors her body to any soft surface with dark, self-loathing thoughts: I feel like I’m losing my mind. I’m going to be mentally ill. I’m going to let down my son.

And the tears come, so many tears.

She wonders to herself: is this feeling going to define her? Will it blind her to the beauty of her 9-year-old’s face lit up with delight while reading Calvin and Hobbes comics? In the theater production of her life, is this the part where she loses control?

Helene has shoulder-length brown hair and eyes amber like the sky after the sun has slipped away. She has been here before, so she decides, no, she will not be robbed of joy.

Then just like that, Helene changes the narrative of her story. She contacts her doctor: You know the last time we talked, you said to call you if it doesn’t get better? Well, I can’t function. I can’t be there for my son, she sobs.

Her doctor listens compassionately. You are not the only one. There is hope.

In the battle to slow the spread of COVID-19, much of the focus has been on bodily care. Protect your face with a mask. Protect essential workers with personal protective equipment, and let’s count the ventilators. The mental health effects of a pandemic have largely been overlooked. In normal times, over 40 million adults in the U.S. had an anxiety disorder. The psychological effects of a pandemic like COVID-19 will endure even after the return to normal life.

Stay-at-home orders help slow the spread of Coronavirus, but it can also amplify mental health issues. Fear of the unknown and disruption of routine can collide in isolation to create a soul-crushing weight.

For Helene, the seed of her current state of mind was planted years ago in Toulouse, France where she was born to Daniele Rimbault and Elias Skantzikas.

It was nurtured by loneliness.

Daniele worked in sales, which required a lot of travel. When Helene was an infant, Elias left the family to answer the call to military service in his home country of Greece. To work and support her family as a single mother, Daniele placed her baby daughter in a home-based overnight daycare, which were common at that time in France, said Helene. She lived in one from infancy to 10 years old.

In this house without her mom for days, Helene would lay in bed at night waiting for sleep to settle her body. The sound of the television would waft in, and she would think, “I’m just sleeping here. This is not my home. This is not my parent.”

Depression is murky and insidious because it can travel silently across generations and over borders. It can lay dormant and take over without warning.

“Depression was a companion all my life,” said Daniele, 80. “Even when I was a child. I did not know what it was. Now I know.”

It was planted in early childhood when Daniele herself was abandoned by her mother. What happens when a young child is separated from her mother? It can create a legacy of pain that seems doomed to repeat itself. For Daniele, the decision to place Helene in an overnight daycare was difficult and heartbreaking, especially considering her own history. But it was necessary.

“Was it a good decision? I don’t know,” said Daniele. “At the same time when I see this marvelous woman with all the gifts she has, I think also the price she paid.”

Today, amid the pandemic, Helene lives in a suburb of Los Angeles in a white house that peeks through a wall of white roses. The 3-bedroom house holds three generations between its walls: Helene, her mom, and her son Pablo, 9.

Taking Control of Her Mental Health in a Pandemic

‘This time, I feel we have a real, real family life,’ said Daniele Rimbault (right) about the quarantined life with her daughter, Helene, and grandson, Pablo. Photo credit Karilyn Owen

Pablo is vivacious with a deep gaze that belies his age. He calls his grandmother “Mamette” and interchanges easily between speaking English and French, especially during intense games of Monopoly.

Since her childhood, there have been peaks and valleys in Helene’s emotional landscape, but the lowest of the lows seemed to disappear when Pablo was born. Even through divorce and an untimely death of a close friend, Helene kept it together for Pablo, the little boy with the musical laugh.

That’s what moms do.

In quarantine, there has been so much cooking in the white house. Sourdough bread and pork butter fly out of the kitchen, because if they have to stay at home, at least they can eat well.

All the togetherness has also created friction and remembrance of things past. Before quarantine, Helene and Daniele shared the same space, but in passing in a modern, fast-paced life — a hug or a few hasty words before rushing to the next appointment.

Now in a slower paced life, mother and daughter — like so many —are learning how to be together.

“This time, I feel we have a real, real family life,” said Daniele.

It’s not to say that Helene’s sadness and anxiety is all because of one thing or another from her past or her quarantined present. Who knows what caused it. Who knows what triggered the darkness. The important part is Helene took control and changed her narrative.

Helene’s doctor prescribed Lexapro, which works by helping to restore the balance of serotonin in the brain. After a few weeks of taking it, she feels like she can function again. She is also going to bed earlier and working out regularly. All these things have helped.

“Once in a while, I will feel anxiety, but it doesn’t overtake me. It’s like a passing thought. I can actually see it pass as opposed to being crushed by it,” she said.

For generations, people suffered with depression in silence. Helene wants to have an open dialogue with her son about mental health. She told him about her state of mind and the steps she has taken to help herself feel better.

“I share with him so he does not internalize this or somehow think this is his doing.”

Little moments of joy sprout from the cracks of an isolated life. Long bikes rides with Pablo in the Southern California sun often lead to adventures and laughter. In the fall, Pablo will not be returning to the school he left abruptly in March. They have started the unschooling process, which Helene describes as a home learning experience that is child-led.

The sequestered life unleashed a darkness in Helene, but it has also proven to be a blessing. It has allowed for reflection and insight.

“It has shown me what I have missed out on when I’m on non-stop mode,” she said.

All a sudden there’s time to observe and see what is actually happening within us, with the people around us.

“It’s not to say I am out of the woods, but if you could take a step and then another step. It just gets a little easier.”

The voices of moms parenting through the COVID-19 outbreak lives here. This series, “Parenting in a Pandemic” features stories and people from the home front — the leaders of the families who are balancing the world from their living rooms. Should you or someone you know be featured here? Send details to llgrigsby@gmail.com.

This Dance Is Hard

This Dance is Hard: Motherhood at the Quarter Century

With Older Son’s 25th birthday quickly approaching, it’s time for me to write up a few things I think I know about motherhood.

I have been a mom for a while, longer than some, not as long as others. 25 years so far. I have two children, one is 24 years old and one is 8 years old. There are no two people I love more in this world or beyond. They have been my great adventure and terror and joy and…well, all the things. They have given me dimensions I would not have developed if it were not for them. I think I am a better person because of them.

They have done and are doing a good job of raising their mother. The older one did a lot of the heavy lifting, especially there at the beginning and then 16 years later when his brother was born. For that I am grateful. The younger one had to live through enormous emotional and physical upheaval and throughout it, he has been unfailingly cheerful and just generally up for it, which if you have ever been on a disastrous vacation you know how much it helps to have that kind of person along for the ride. A mother couldn’t ask for two better guides through this ongoing shitshow we call motherhood.

And then there were two…

Giving birth is so personal and complicated I still don’t fully understand what happened. I was pregnant and then I wasn’t. There wasn’t a baby and then there was. I remember saying to my younger son, right after he was put on my chest, “You weren’t and now you are.” That’s about all I have ever understood about childbirth.

The first year is always the most psychotic

I did not know parenting was going to be so mind-numbing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s terrifying and glorious and all the big things people say it is but what people tend to leave out is what a mental freeze it can be. I watched all of Glee over a two month period in little bits and snips between the hours of 1 am and 5 am and I cannot for the life of me tell you anything that happened. There was singing. The clothes were awful. Jane whats-her-name was in it. That’s all I’ve got.

I have made chili once a week since 1997 and yet when I went to make chili a month after my younger son was born, I couldn’t remember how to make it. I stared at my older son and said, genuinely panicked, “I can’t remember how to make chili.”

“Good,” he said and left to go buy the family yet another bag of tacos.

I’m still not certain I have the chili recipe right. Every time I make it there is a corner of my brain that whispers, “You’re forgetting something important and you know it.” I’m left muttering over the pot on the stove, like a disheveled suburban witch, “Is it chives? No, that’s tacos. Garbanzo beans…gross, no. Goat cheese? No, c’mon, get it together here. What lunatic puts goat cheese in chili?”

Maybe you had help the first year. Maybe you had that holiest of grails, a night nurse. Or maybe it was no one but you and baby. No matter how much or little help you had, it was still a wrenching shitshow, right? Why can’t we accept that something can be both glorious and everything you ever wanted and yet it took everything you had to carry it off. That’s success. You look back and think, with genuine wonder, “How did I do that?” And yet you obviously did because here you are, the first year is over, everyone made it through and now you’ve only got the rest of your life to get through. I have raised two kids, one all the way into adulthood, and no parenting experience was as relentlessly difficult as that first year.

Do not let anyone tell you different: this dance is hard. It’s a dance so there is joy and grace and beauty but the learning and the daily practice and the sacrifice it takes to learn…that is beautiful, too.

Three year olds should never, ever be left alone

It’s a better idea to leave your teenager in front of a computer with a credit card and your Amazon password than it is to leave a three year old alone anywhere at any time. And yet you can’t be with a three year old all the time. Mostly because they are annoying. I mean, there is no one on this planet more adorable than a three year old but man, they are terrible to deal with. Two year olds are NOTHING compared to a three year old. There are all sorts of important physical and mental developmental reasons why three year olds are the way they are.

That is immaterial. Your job is to endure. Also, squash all behaviors that if someone ten years older engaged in, would be untenable. Hitting, biting, yelling. Throwing anything unsanctioned. Talking to you as if you work for them. You do not work for them. I know it feels as if you do but you don’t. Please try and remember you are the adult.

Three year olds need to know that:

  1.  You know how the car works and they don’t so hand over the keys.
  2. You control the flow of snacks in the house as well as what appears on all screens.
  3. They are safe with you in charge and can relax.

Nobody feels safe with someone who gives the impression they have no idea what is going on or how to deal with it. Before GPS was widely available, I was lost most of the time. When we were lost, my older son would announce, “We’re lost again.” I would nod and say, “We are but I always get us home so don’t worry.” And we got home. Obviously. But I have to be careful. Confidence that rolls over into arrogance isn’t comforting. It just makes you look incompetent in a different way.

The best thing about parenting three year olds is, when all else fails, you can still just pick them up and put them somewhere safe. Teenagers…not so much.

Schooling, volunteering and other bad ideas

(I obviously starting writing this in February 2020, before our national distance learning experiment in terror began. Oh and I was right to break out in a sweat, I am an incompetent, lazy teacher and I feel sorry for Six)

Welcome back to school. It has been going on without you, lying in wait, getting weirder and more complicated. From preschool to college, you will guide your human through the process of being socialized, educated and squashed into a pigeon hole they will then spend the rest of their lives trying to pry themselves out of. And that’s okay. You can homeschool and many people do an excellent job. We should find someone to talk about homeschooling because whenever I hear the word homeschool, I break out in a flop sweat.

So, school. I really have nothing here. I endure and have endured as best I could. I’ve got one through college and the second one is in 2nd grade. Yesterday he was complaining about homework as we were driving to the store. After I parked, I turned in my seat and said, “You think I want to do homework? This is my third trip through 2nd grade. If I missed anything the first time I caught it the second. This is all pointless review for a test I will never take. Now, we can do this the hard way or we can do this my way.”

My younger son frowned. “Those are the same.”

“Yes. Good job. You have learned the great lesson of school which is someone older, tired and over it is in charge of your education. Figure out how to pacify them and you will go far.”

“Can I have a puppy?”

As you can see, he missed the point completely. But that is okay. No one teaches multiplication as well as Schoolhouse Rock and I have that shit on every delivery method known to man. There might even be a set of VHS tapes somewhere, left over from Older Son. (It’s on Disney+)

You will get through schooling. However you are doing it, you are doing a good job. Volunteer or don’t. Park and walk in to get your kid or stay in your car in the pick-up line like the antisocial troll you are (that’s what I do). No one needs me standing around making pithy comments while other parents are trying to answer work emails and make a grocery list and keep their younger child from eating a rogue Cheeto she found under the lunch table.

It’s okay to love being deeply involved at your child’s school. Don’t let the grumps ruin your fun. Do it up, throw yourself into it, make it big and loud and pour some glitter on it. Sign up and then show up. Chair a committee, run for PTA office, take over the school website redesign. Be the mom other moms dread. You own this moment and it’s yours just as much as it’s the cynical, frankly bitchy mom who makes fun of you with sly comments. Ignore her. Ignore all of us. You’re doing great and yes, I got your email and I’ll…I mean, yes I do know how to bake and wait, who told you I know how to sew?

Or don’t. Don’t volunteer. That’s okay, too. No one wants your put upon vibe at the bake sale or whatever else we’re doing to raise some money to pay a gym teacher so we can all stop feeling so guilty about the flotilla of screens anchored around our lives. This shit is hard enough without herding someone who doesn’t want to be there. I have placed a moratorium on volunteering until May. With my older son, I was constantly volunteering and going on field trips. I loved it. This time around? Not so much. Something has changed. Maybe if I could volunteer with the grandmothers rather than the moms? I love moms but grandmas know how to conserve their energy. They know three hours in the booth at whatever fun fair we are in the midst of is a marathon and to keep the chit chat on a slow roll. It’s not a first date. We are never doing this again. And if we do, what the hell are we going to talk about next time? Leave them wanting more. Or, just stay home and pretend you forgot there was a funfair this weekend and take the kids to the movies.

Never let them forget that this thing they are doing is hard

Middle school is garbage. From beginning to end. High school isn’t much better but if you are lucky you figure out a few bedrock things by sophomore year. Also, having at least one person who cares if you show up to school is a plus.

I’m probably still processing my high school experience and I graduated 30 years ago. When Older Son was in middle school I got the impression he thought there was someone at his school having a better or easier time than he was. No one was.

“This is hard. Go up to any functioning adult raised in the US and say ‘middle school’ and watch them crumble,” is what I told him. “Don’t ever forget that this is all hard and you are doing a good job. I am proud of you.”

I said this all through middle school, high school and college. I say it to him now.

People love to act as if youth is some magical time. It can be but it’s hard becoming who you are going to be. Never forget that. If someone tells you there is an easy way to do this, they are selling something and it’s probably a cult. Run, do not walk, to the nearest exit.

That about covers it

You are not going to be a great parent at every stage of your child’s life. There are going to be stages you are just better at than others. I am not the world’s best mom of children aged newborn to about when they start talking. I find this stage infinitely frustrating. I know they want something but I just can’t seem to figure out what. When they start talking, I can say yes or no and then we can negotiate from there. There is no negotiating with a screaming infant.

Weirdly enough, I tend to handle middle schoolers pretty well.

The best field trip I was ever in charge of was when I took 7 middle school boys to the zoo. Allow me to explain.

I have taken four year olds, 1st graders and middle schoolers to the zoo. The 1st graders were the worst. We got in that gate and they scattered like spies dropped behind enemy lines. I still mentally scold a 24 year old adult woman every time I see her for the disappearing act she pulled that scared the bejesus out of ten adults for half an hour as we scoured the zoo looking for her.

The 4 year olds stuck to me and each other like glue. It was sometimes hard to walk without tripping over them. But then they somehow managed to get into the gift shop and it took an hour to get them all out. I think a few of them shoplifted but I didn’t care. The 1st graders loved the gift shop as well. Some of them had money but most of them didn’t and there was a lot of smug parading of cheap stuffed animals amid quiet, envious tears.

The middle schoolers were great. They shuffled from enclosure to enclosure, mumbling to each other and gesturing in a very constrained, I would go so far as to say decidedly British, manner. They snickered at the chimpanzees, gazed with our peculiar human longing at the elephants and when we hit the exit I said, “I will buy everyone here ice cream if we can skip the gift shop.” To a person, they agreed. We were the first group back to the bus. I passed the driver a slightly melted ice cream sandwich and she fired up the bus for us. We sat in the air conditioning, eating ice cream and looking everywhere but at each other.

It was glorious.

Our Lives Will Never Be the Same Without Them

Our Lives Will Never be the Same Without Them

Someone somewhere once said that the death of an old man is not a tragedy. I think what they meant was that even though there is sorrow in the loss, there is no sense of a life unlived or potential unrealized. We mourn but we don’t wonder what could have been. That being said, our lives will never be the same without them.

Across both our nation and our world, we are losing those we love. 100,000 Americans have died of Covid-19 as of this writing. Are the lost overwhelmingly elderly? Yes. Does that mean hearts are any less broken? No.

I think of the families trying to make sense of the loss of a loved one amid the fog of confusion brought on by living through this pandemic. My 80 year old dad died on a normal Thursday last January and I was so spun around by the loss I kept accidentally throwing away my keys and forgetting where I parked my car.

I worry that with all the attention on people railing against wearing face masks to Costco and having to admit they dye their hair, that the broken hearted among us are being overlooked. 100,000 Americans have died in the past few months. The deaths came so fast, our fellow Americans have been stacked into refrigerated trucks parked out back of hospitals until morgues or funeral homes can be found for them.

And there are people who want to protest their right to go to the beach? I can only assume it wasn’t their Nanas stacked up like cord wood in a truck outside of a funeral home in Brooklyn.

I cannot conceive of a person who loves America and yet doesn’t give a shit about Americans. And yet that appears to be what is happening. I understand that staying home is difficult and that the economic fallout will be with us for a decade, at the least.

But so will the mental anguish of people who sit in their cars in the parking lot of a hospital, looking up at a window and knowing their loved one is dying and they can’t be with them. I held my mom’s hand as she died and it was both wrenching and one of the most important moments of my life. She was with me when I came into this world and I was with her when she left.

Thousands of people have been denied that experience. But let’s talk about how you think a public health order violates your Constitutional rights. It doesn’t and you are behaving in a heartless manner I hope you will one day have the good sense to be thoroughly ashamed of.

I lay in bed at night next to an open window and listen to the silence of a city that once kept me up at night with all its chaotic noise. I worry that my older son will lose his job and won’t be able to pay his rent. He’ll have to give up his hard won independence to come live with me. Then I worry that I won’t be able to pay my rent and then where will he go? And what about my increasingly fragile younger son, who asks at least once a day if we have enough money to pay for food because he overheard our neighbors worrying about their situation. Where will we all go if I can no longer support us? And even if I can keep paying rent, I worry about inflation and food shortages and gun owners deciding their 2nd amendment rights extend to taking from anyone who isn’t as heavily armed as they are.

And then the first bird chirps into the slowly graying dawn and I realize I’ve stayed awake another night. And I get up and shower and take the dog outside and make my younger son breakfast. This is hard but nothing I go through comes close to what my fellow Americans endure. I live every day knowing that for literally thousands of families, today is the day they will lose someone they love. Someone who, as Mister Rogers used to say, loved them into being and now that person is gone.

And there will be no funeral that looks or feels familiar, no somber potluck back at the house where spontaneous, inappropriate snickering erupts in the back corner of the sun porch, well out of earshot of the steely eyed Aunties taking up all the comfortable seats in the front room. And no one knows when these kinds of gatherings will be safe because the Aunties are getting old (don’t say that in front of them) and a funeral in these times can set off a domino of funerals within the same family.

The phrase ‘thoughts and prayers’ keeps surfacing in my admittedly hazy brain. Republicans have been ordered to stop saying and tweeting it after mass shootings but they might want to think about reviving it. Of course, what exactly are they thinking and praying? I think their thoughts are with the voters who will run them out of office if they don’t keep silent regarding the chilling sight of armed civilians filing into the Michigan statehouse. I wonder at the mental gymnastics needed to ignore the real pain and suffering of their neighbors while passively supporting the misplaced rage of a small number of predominantly white men, many of them armed to the teeth. And what were these heavily armed men thinking?

They weren’t thinking that people in their state were some of the hardest hit by the pandemic and maybe those people needed help picking up or dropping off relatives at the airport. Or that someone needs to go get Grandpa’s stuff from the VA hospital but everyone is too sad or old or immunocompromised to perform the task. If only there was someone who was young enough and healthy enough and not as afraid of the virus to help…but instead of lending a helping hand, they gathered up their guns and stormed the statehouse.

Sometimes, when you need saving the most, it’s not the big hand of power, privilege or position that plucks you from oblivion. It is, instead, the humble hand of a neighbor who’s felt the urge to do a little good in the world.

To all my fellow Americans who think this whole thing is a hoax that is ruining our economy? Do something constructive. Put down your sign, stop wasting the time and energy of your local police department, put on a mask and lend a hand to help rebuild this great nation. Volunteer to drive the bloodmobile or deliver meals to seniors. Get in on your church’s efforts to make contact with every parishioner past and present to make sure no one is suffering in embarrassed silence. Older generations are less likely to ask for help even when their need is great. Act like they are doing you a favor by letting you help them. Be sneaky.

Take your cue from the Cajun Navy. Gas up the truck and get out there, your fellow Americans need you.

To Parent or not to Parent

For possibly the first time in human history, people are able to ask themselves if they want to be a parent. Think about that. For thousands of years you had children for reasons out of your control. Your culture, your parents, your place within society dictated whether or not you became a parent. For millions of people, that is still true to this day. But for millions of others, there is a clear choice to be made.

To Parent or not to Parent, that is the question. And good God what if you make the wrong decision? There is a wrenching, painfully honest thread on Quora that asks the question, “What is it like to regret having children?” I think it is important to allow people a place to be honest about their experience of parenting, especially when it doesn’t match up with what the wider culture tells us. Would there be as much resentment and regret if we were to give parents a break from the constant requirement that we adore every aspect of our parenting life?

Also, stop having an opinion about whether other people have children. You made your choice, let other people make theirs. Just because being a parent made you less of an asshole doesn’t mean the same will be true of your friend/sister/cousin/co-worker. Leave people alone. Read that Quora thread and you will likely never express an opinion regarding whether someone should spawn. Go home and cuddle your kid(s) and be grateful you actually enjoy being a parent.

I became a parent when I was 22. I was single, I lived in my cousin’s unfinished (rodent infested) basement and I had dropped out of junior college at the age of 19. The only thing that would have made me a worse candidate for parenthood was if I’d owned a machine gun. I think back to where I was and I can’t believe people didn’t laugh in my face when I told them I was planning on becoming a parent. My son was born in 1995. I drove a 1984 Honda Civic that lacked both A/C and insurance. I drove him home from the hospital in it. I lived in an apartment that registered 90 degrees inside by the end of July and just pretty much stayed there until the end of September. The furniture was hot to the touch.

To parent or not to parent? Did I make the right choice? I think I did. Despite everything we didn’t have going for us, we survived. Does that mean other people in the same situation should make the choice I made.

Nope.

And fuck anyone for using situations like mine as an argument for maintaining pregnancies they don’t want or feel certain they can’t handle. I wanted my son. He was unplanned but he was never unwanted. There is a very important distinction between unplanned and unwanted and no one gets to make it but the pregnant person.

My second son was born when I was 39. I had been married since 1997, my car had air conditioning and was insured. I was a homeowner (there were rodents in the detached garage). I had a college degree. I had some idea of what I was in for. Was having my second son an easier, better choice?

Nope.

Parenting doesn’t work that way. Maybe it did once but not anymore. You can be wealthy beyond measure and have an absolutely nightmarish parenting experience. Money helps. I won’t lie about that. It was wonderful to have enough money to afford air conditioning and not be hot all the time. Aside from that (and being able to buy a bag of tacos for dinner when I couldn’t remember how to make chili) money doesn’t change the fundamental aspect of parenting. Metamorphosis.

You are not a parent and then you are and that change is ongoing and never ending. It isn’t as if someone plops a baby on you and the heavens open and suddenly you know exactly what to do. Maybe for some people this happens and I have to say I am jealous. I have been stumbling and bumbling my way through parenthood for 25 years and the only solid advice I have is, “Be gentle with yourself.” You should be gentle with your children but also with yourself.

What does it mean to be gentle with yourself? I think it means treading lightly across your weak points. Not a morning person? Give up the dream of cooking everyone a big breakfast. You aren’t making anyone happy. There is no french toast and you feel bad about yourself. I also think being gentle with yourself means going big on your strengths. Were you a theatre major in college? Make your bedtime reading a show! Play the guitar? Reading is fun but a bedtime sing-along is a thing of joy (we used to enrage our crazy neighbor with them). What if you are a stodgy bore who favors three piece suits and leaving off the vest is how you join in for casual Friday? Teach your kids how to dress for success. RuPaul says that if you want to make money, wear a suit. No one argues with RuPaul when it comes to appearances.

You have gifts, abilities and joys your children will benefit from. Share them. This is your journey, not your mom’s or your neighbor’s or anyone else’s. If every child is different, it follows that every parent is different. Celebrate what you specifically bring to each of your children. And that might be different for each child. Maybe that is the thing about parenting that feels both beautiful and impossible; there is no destination, only journey. That can feel exhausting.

And that is okay. If you are in pursuit of perfection you might want to pass on becoming a parent. Perfection and parenting do not go together. It’s like oil and water or worse, toothpaste and orange juice. I could not tell you the purpose of parenting beyond making humans who go on to make more humans who then make cake that the rest of the humans get to enjoy. I should have paid closer attention in biology class. I have enjoyed being a parent. I like reading kid books and playing endless games of Uno. Going to bed at 9PM seven days a week brings me joy. Spontaneity, in my opinion, is just a fancy way of saying you don’t want to make plans for fear of something better coming along. And ‘going with the flow’ means you are the type of person who goes on vacation with the idea that you will roll into any city or town in the world and magically find a clean, comfortable, safe place to sleep. That is how people get murdered.

What I am trying to say is that many aspects of parenting match with my boring personality. Maybe yours doesn’t. You can still be an excellent parent. Just make hotel reservations in advance, okay?

Please. For me.

During the COVID-19 Outbreak Don’t Tell Me to Count My Blessings

During the COVID 19 Outbreak Do Not Tell Me to Count My Blessings

If you ask me how I am feeling, I will tell you I am marginally okay.

In the age of a modern day outbreak, I can’t tell you I am well or fine — those platitudes seem to describe a different, more carefree time before Coronavirus insidiously crept into all our heads.

Slowly, freedom has been peeled away. The virus called COVID-19 has become larger, more pervasive and insidious. What was first a series of heartbreaking headlines from distant lands is now lingering right outside my door, so I go inside and hope.

Being safer at home makes it feel dangerous everywhere else. From behind my mask, I can’t smell the sweetness of blooming Wisteria anymore.

Like I said, marginally okay over here.

Just over a month into staying at home, I still feel anxiety, anger and grief. But I also feel gratitude for health and safety. These feelings often swirl together and cross sides, creating a nebulous storm on the inside while on the outside, I calmly lead my family through their day.

Because I am mom of two kids, ages 8 and 4, who count on me to maintain some semblance of calm, I can’t fall apart. Moms run towards projectile vomit with bare hands and a plan. We run into burning buildings with a blanket and a bucket.

We get things done.

So in a pandemic of course it’s family-first, feelings later.

I coordinate Zoom calls for my first-born son to engage with his teachers and classmates. I print out assignments and spend what feels like hours trying to figure out new basic math concepts (I only cried twice). I try to balance the 8-year-old’s Zoom school schedule with my 5-year-old’s remote preschool song time schedule and countless FaceTime conversation requests from many different little human beings, who miss seeing my kids at their schools.

Like most Americans, I have a new way of getting food to feed the family. I stand in long lines and suffer panic attacks when people infringe on my 6-foot comfort zone.

I keep working at home, calmly on the outside, while the storm of feelings brew on the inside. But I am not okay.

Things I normally love to do feel empty and belabored. I am a writer by birth and trade. When spoken words fail, I sing them bravely through written words. But in my social distancing world, the white screen of my Word document screams at me with its emptiness. Then I go sanitize the doorknobs and light switches again.

As the storm swirls on the inside, one feeling keeps bubbling to the surface: guilt.

In the age of COVID-19, I feel guilty. I live in a blue house in the suburbs of Los Angeles. We have a grassy front yard with succulents and a backyard with a pool waiting for hot summer days. My kids can do their remote schoolwork in a sun-drenched illegal room addition built long before the house became ours. So when I want to put my hands in front of my face — without actually touching — and lament my fate, guilt hisses in my ear, “You have it better than most. You have no right to complain.”

In a way, my guilt is valid. Many families are facing an uncertain future. A record number of people have filed new jobless claims. Those who are “lucky” enough to have a job, work at their own peril.

My brother and sister-in-law both work in hospital emergency rooms. Their approach to COVID-19 is when, not if, they are exposed. They, like many other health care workers, have taken extreme safety measures to protect their young children. Their fear is acute because their bodies, which they use to save others, will become weaponized against the people they love most.

What do I have to complain about, my guilt demands? Heck, Central Park in New York City may become a temporary burial site. Should I — still of sound body and mind — be crying over a little freedom lost?

Guilt makes me compare my hurt to other people’s hurt and tuck away the sadness. It invalidates my feelings before I feel them, because I should be grateful. I should appreciate life, livelihood, family, chirping birds and blooming flowers I can no longer smell.

But the truth is social distancing, sheltering at home and feeling like a ticking time bomb of anxiety sucks. And I hurt.

I mourn my personal space and my creative ability to express myself in written word. I fight back tears to see my 8-year-old social and academic interactions reduced to 2-dimensional faces in boxes on my laptop. And I want to raise my fist in the air when it rains and our world gets even smaller.

Yes, I can focus on gratitude to help shape my perspective in this uncertain time, but it should not be used to torpedo any feelings. Stop telling me to count my blessings, it isn’t helping.

The COVID-19 outbreak dramatically shifted all our lives in different ways and the feelings that come with missed milestones, canceled events, missed human connections are all real and valid.

So I tell you I am marginally okay because that is the truth. 

Sometimes the margin skews more towards good, like when we all went to rescue worms after the rain. Sometimes it skews into darkness, like when my oldest son dug his fingers into my arm and said he wished he weren’t here anyone, so he could be free. These moments, and their feelings, can live side-by-side as real examples of what it is like for my family and I to live through this time.

No guilt needed.

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

There are two types of people in this world. People who are fine with and sometimes even welcome movies where a great romance ends in the death of one or both partners. And then there are people who really hate that.

I am in the second group. And that is okay. Neither group is right or wrong. We are just different. Sometimes we have trouble agreeing on what movie to watch. I say if you are in that situation, watch The Great Race or Auntie Mame. Or just go bowling.

In this time of political upheaval, worldwide pandemics and possible toilet paper shortages, here is a list of Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead.

You’re welcome.

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

Love & Basketball

The story of Quincy McCall (Omar Epps) and Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan), two next-door neighbors pursuing their basketball careers before eventually falling for each other. Directorial debut of screenwriter Gina Prince-Bythewood. This is the movie you have been waiting for and wanting to watch. It’s funny and smart and everytime I watch it my heart…oh, my heart.

 

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

It Happened One Night

This movie has it all. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert directed by Frank Capra. It won all the major Oscars (even Best Picture) in 1934. It isn’t long or boring and the female character flouts her father’s authority and she doesn’t end up dead or a nun! It’s also a charming road picture between equals, a mouthy man who thinks he knows it all and a woman who refuses to live the way her father and the world at large expect her to. A favorite of movie snobs and grandmas alike. As Roger Ebert put it, “‘It Happened One Night’ is one of the easiest movies to love and one of the hardest to think of as a work of art.” Read his wonderful review here.

 

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

Say Anything

This was the movie that won my heart when I was in high school. Lloyd Dobler from “Say Anything” wears a long tan trench coat while holding up the boombox playing “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. It’s in iconic scene and even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve seen that part or some version of it. This is a movie about love and truth and lies. Roger Ebert loved this movie as well, he rated it 5 stars.

 

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

His Girl Friday

I love this movie because I love Rosalind Russell. And Cary Grant is just so very Cary Grant in this one. “A scintillating battle of the sexes. Rosalind Russell plays Hildy, about to leave journalism for marriage to cloddish Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). Cary Grant plays Walter Burns, Hildy’s editor and ex-husband, who pretends happiness about her impending marriage as a ploy to win her back. The ace up Walter’s sleeve is a late-breaking news story concerning the impending execution of anarchist Earl Williams (John Qualen), a blatant example of political chicanery that Hildy can’t pass up. The story gets hotter when Williams escapes and is hidden from the cops by Hildy and Walter–right in the prison pressroom.”

 

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

10 Things I Hate About You

I am so old I saw this movie in a theatre. It’s a loose retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. The performances are top-notch, Heath Ledger’s smile makes me both swoon and tear up and Julia Stiles remains a criminally underused talent. The paintball scene is boring, use it to go pee or get a snack.

 

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

Crazy Rich Asians

The beginning is a bit slow but once they get going, it is on! Awkwafina’s performance makes me happy to be alive. Her father is a crack-up as well. A synopsis from the Warner Bros. webpage, in case you missed this juggernaut the first time around. “Crazy Rich Asians” follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life. It turns out that he is not only the scion of one of the country’s wealthiest families but also one of its most sought-after bachelors. Being on Nick’s arm puts a target on Rachel’s back, with jealous socialites and, worse, Nick’s own disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh) taking aim. And it soon becomes clear that while money can’t buy love, it can definitely complicate things.​”

 

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

Plus One

The male lead, Jack Quaid, is Meg Ryan’s son so that is why he looks familiar. He has her charisma and I think her eyes. The female lead, Maya Erskine, is from PEN15 and I would defend her with my life. She is so funny and bright and talented, I can’t wait to see what she does next. What’s the movie about? Ben and Alice, longtime friends, agree to be each other’s plus one for the endless number of weddings they have been invited to. Wackiness and romance ensues.

 

/Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

The Princess Bride

There is nothing I can say about this movie that hasn’t been said before or better. It is a fairy tale. It is a comedy. Anybody want a peanut? Here is Roger Ebert’s review from 1987, when the film was released. “It is filled with good-hearted fun, with performances by actors who seem to be smacking their lips and by a certain true innocence that survives all of Reiner’s satire. And, also, it does have kissing in it.” -Roger Ebert

 

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

Leap Year

Anna (Amy Adams) travels to Ireland to propose to her boyfriend on Leap Day. Apparently there’s an Irish tradition, Bachelor’s Day, that a man who is proposed to on Leap Day must accept the proposal. Thank God there is not one of those for women, well, except the sport stadium proposal. You have to say yes to that or be treated like a Red Sox fan anywhere but Boston. But she ends up far from Dublin, where her super successful surgeon boyfriend is. And there is Declan (Matthew Goode). Now, I would have just moved into the bar where Declan worked and watched him for the rest of my natural life but I am creepy. Wackiness ensues. Declan is a jerk but he’s handsome and Irish so what in the hell does anyone expect?

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

Friends With Benefits

Adorable comedy starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. They are beautiful, talented and charming. You can not go wrong with this little gem.

 

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This is a better movie than the synopsis makes it sound. I generally avoid Jim Carrey movies because he exhausts me but in this I am charmed by his character. Kate Winslet is as always a delight. “Jim Carrey stars as Joel Barish, a man who is informed that his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has had her memories of their relationship erased from her brain via an experimental procedure. Not to be outdone, Joel decides to have the same procedure done to himself. As bumbling underlings Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Patrick (Elijah Wood) perform the operation on Joel — over the course of an evening, in his apartment — Joel struggles in his own mind to save the memories of Clementine from being deleted. Kirsten Dunst, David Cross, and Jane Adams also star.” ~ Matthew Tobey

 

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

Out of Sight

Okay, this movie has it all. Steven Soderbergh directing, Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney starring and the line that is famous in my family, “What do you need a hatchet for?” Here’s a useful synopsis from Bhob Stewart, “Steven Soderbergh directed this crime caper adapted from the novel by Elmore Leonard. When ex-con Jack Foley (George Clooney) robs a bank, his car goes dead, and Foley lands in a Florida prison. His escape from prison doesn’t go as planned, since it’s witnessed by deputy federal marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). Foley’s pal Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames) intervenes, with the result that Sisco winds up in the trunk of the getaway car with Foley, and the two realize they’re attracted to each other, despite being on opposite sides of the law. However, that doesn’t stop Sisco from her mission to capture Foley.”

 

Romantic Movies Where No One Ends Up Dead

sex, lies, and videotape

Another Soderbergh film, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” was made in 1989, hence the videotape. It is a quiet film and can be slow but I think it’s one of Soderbergh’s finest. There’s a lot of talking about sex and depictions of sex so be advised. James Spader is absolutely beautiful. Andie MacDowell in one of her best performances.

A note on the film from Roger Ebert’s review: The story of “sex, lies, and videotape” is by now part of movie folklore: how writer-director Steven Soderbergh, at 29, wrote the screenplay in eight days during a trip to Los Angeles, how the film was made for $1.8 million, how it won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, as well as the best actor prize for Spader. I am not sure it is as good as the Cannes jury apparently found it; it has more intelligence than heart, and is more clever than enlightening. But it is never boring, and there are moments when it reminds us of how sexy the movies used to be, back in the days when speech was an erogenous zone.

mothering in the time of covid-19

Mothering in the Time of COVID-19

With the deep concern currently circling the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought we would talk about it. Being a health care provider and a new mother definitely has me feeling conflicted. On one end of the spectrum, my health care side is telling me to relax, continue to wash your hands (something I constantly preached way before any of this came about!), and to remain cautious yet calm. After all, I have seen a lot of sickness, trauma, and chronic health issues in my career. Then I have the mom side of me, wanting to disinfect everything, stay away from all the people, and look deeper into the issue. Welcome to mothering in the time of COVID-19.

It is easy to start to panic if you’ve been watching any type of media. It’s all the news is talking about. It’s all over social media with highlights about celebrities and major athletes testing positive, cancellations of any major or minor gatherings, and travel restrictions. While it’s great that we’re taking things so seriously, frankly, it’s scaring the crap out of everyone. The grocery stores are empty, pictures of shelves completely bare, even Amazon is out of stock. I saw a 12-roll pack of toilet paper being sold on Amazon for $78! 

I have so many questions swirling around in my head. What is the right way to go about doing things? Stay inside and ride it out until this all passes? Continue living your life in hopes that the people around you are healthy? I think the fear of the unknown is the scariest part. As a health care provider I want to see statistics, facts, and what’s happening in the other cases. As a mom I want to frantically Google everything I can to see how to best avoid this for my family. Keeping my daughter safe is my number one goal, but with a husband also in the healthcare field, keeping him safe is also important. He’s out there every day caring for people, sick or not, and doing his part for the health of others. Selflessly risking his health for others. All the health care workers are, and I hope everyone is thinking about them.

The moral of my story is this is a scary time. I know we will get through this, and hopefully fairly quickly. I tell myself to remain calm, do what you can to keep your immune system up, sanitize, wash your hands, stay away from crowds, etc. As a new mom, part of me totally understands the panic people are feeling. You just want to protect your babies, no matter what that takes. I too am feeling that panic inside of preparing for the “what if ” situations.

Just know that no matter where you are in this, whether you think it’s all ridiculous and are living your life per usual, or you are prepared to sit at home for the next month with your 10 packs of toilet paper, you aren’t alone. We’re all in this together, and we will get through this!

movie series social distancing

5 Movie Series to Watch While Social Distancing

Here are 5 movie series (and a couple of lists of movie series) to watch while practicing social distancing. Once this is over, I think we are all going to realize that we don’t hate each other as much as we thought we did. We might very well become lonely for each other. Who knows, stranger things have happened. After 8 years of drought here in Southern California, I don’t know anyone who complains when it rains. Before the drought, the entire region lost their minds when it rained and now everyone smiles and points at the sky and happily chirps, “It’s raining!”

Well, I’ve stress shopped and stocked my house. I did not overbuy toilet paper but I do have 3 dozen eggs. We all have our weaknesses. Six is out of school for three weeks and I am trying to get Older Son to come home but thus far to no avail. I do want Older Son home but what I really want is his dog, Barbara. Barbara will let me cuddle and coo and fuss and fidget over him whereas my kids won’t.

In lieu of Barbara the Dog, I have turned to TV, movies and books. And it occurred to me that there are people who have been living full, productive lives and might not have a list of books, TV and movies they want to watch. So I thought I’d make some lists and share them. Let’s start with movies in a series.

Harry Potter- Did the last book need to be split into two movies, especially considering so much of it was magical camping? Decide for yourself. Also, you’ll never get the theme song out of your head. Don’t forget the prequels. I liked the first Fantastic Beasts movie but the second one was downright confusing. And if you’re feeling it, reread all the books!

Hunger Games- Okay, so dystopian fiction might not be the best thing for your mental health right now, so think carefully before indulging. These are solid movies with solid performances and I couldn’t leave them out. Not up to watching the story? Maybe think about reading or rereading the books? There’s a new one coming out in May so might be time to brush up.

 

Star Wars- Good lord, where to begin? I have no idea. I watched the three prequels and I still can’t figure out why but that is entirely up to you. There are so many movies and TV shows and LEGO video games (which I highly recommend) that I will link to a webpage where people who know more about this than me make suggestions on how to consume all of this.

Pirates of the Caribbean-There are more of these movies than I realized. I think I stopped at the third one? Who knows. These movies are some slickly produced mind candy and that is what we are after here. The first movie is still a delight to watch.

                            

Marvel Universe- Where to begin? I have no idea. So I asked the internet and there were as many opinions as there are movies so here is the one that seemed the least hysterical about the idea of watching them in the wrong order. Does this universe include the Xmen? Is that how you write Xmen? Does is matter? DeadPool is horribly, horribly violent. Is that in this series? I’m obviously lost.

Best Movie Series- If none of those caught your fancy for movie series to watch while social distancing, IMDb has a list as does Ranker  and here is just a list of every Disney movie ever made. 

Good luck and let me know what you decided on.

 

Im So Angry and It Feels Weird

Why Am I So Angry?

It’s time to start talking about anger. Healthy anger motivates, makes waves and instigates change. But there is some anger that just builds, layer on layer, until it fills us up and comes pouring out. Why am I always so angry? Nothing goes quickly in life. No. Thing. Not traffic. Not doctor’s appointments. Not any transaction at any retail establishment anywhere ever. My food order is usually wrong. My jeans don’t fit my thick middle. Nothing about my daily frustrations are new. Same shit different day. So why am I still so angry about it? Read more