happiness · intentional happiness · motherhood · neighbors · sons

Fewer wrinkles

I’ll be the first to admit: America’s post-pandemic economy and post-pandemic societal norms are slowly robbing me of the will to live. Everything costs too much. Everyone’s tired of each other’s shit. People honk their horns and flip birds at each other over the slightest perceived transgression. (I confess I almost daily want to ramrod someone with my own vehicle.) Boundaries are subjective and unclear and therefore disrespected and overruled on a near-daily basis. Nothing is sacred, and yet somehow everything is sacred, and how dare you not know the difference. Microagressions abound, and you don’t even have to mean to hurt someone to be taken to the mat and given a dressing down best reserved for people who wipe boogers on things. Your bedroom is your office, the workday has faux bookends, and cc fields on emails are where wars are waged. It’s very confusing. Oh, and everything’s made in China and will stop working the second you brush your arm against it. Perhaps most concerning of all: Some lady on social media with a wad of gum wedged in her molars seems hellbent on selling me crotch deodorant. (Hi, Lume! I’m accepting free samples!)

But I know this to be true: Whatever we humans train our attention on will appear larger than it is. People who rescue dogs are forever stumbling across strays. People who collect heart-shaped rocks find them every time they look down on a hike. If you love owls or pink sunrises, model trains or vintage cars, big noses or small ears–whatever floats your boat–I guarantee that you see these all over the place and far more often than other people do. By that same reasoning, when you look for wrinkles, you find them. This blog is about seeking more pink sunrises and fewer wrinkles. On that note…

My son finished up junior high this week, and the school parent-teacher organization sold custom graduation yard signs as a way to raise funds while honoring the occasion. I bought one and placed it in the front yard. It just says, “Congratulations, Beckett! Class of 2023 [School Name] Junior High School!” Nothing fancy.

Mind you, in our new neighborhood, people communicate only through the same three barking dogs that wake us all up in unison each day. They don’t actually know each other or seem particularly interested in changing that. So I had no delusions anyone other than my son was going to read or care about the sign. But then an envelope showed up the day after I posted the sign. It was wedged in our front door, and this was what was inside:

How sweet was this? How thoughtful and kind? How generous? It made such a big impact on all of us and was a very bright spot in a seemingly endless string of stressors in our lives. In response, my husband picked up a nice card in the grocery store. My son wrote inside, “It’s good to know that there are people like you in the world.” I walked with him to the address listed in the card–several streets away from us, as it turned out–and we knocked on the door, hoping to meet these neighbors in person. They weren’t home, so we left the card in their own front door and walked home together holding hands, him chattering away in his cracking voice about one day traveling to Norway, plans to audition for jazz band, how exclamation points are announced in some African languages, the reason he doesn’t want a cell phone, and a zillion other things that I wouldn’t have otherwise heard had we not set out on that walk to meet the nice strangers. Through one single act of kindness, they created such joy!

If you are having a seemingly endless string of stressors or wanting to ramrod strangers with your car, I highly recommend giving yourself a homework assignment to notice something good each day. Fewer wrinkles, more sunrises. It’s contagious, and it helps.


New Traditions: Acknowledging (and Celebrating) the Suck (from the Momplex Blog archive)

Five years ago, my then-husband and I moved into separate homes within a short drive of each other and began the second phase of our forever-joined lives. Learning to be co-parents with the attendant emotional acrobatics of disentangling our souls through divorce wasn’t easy after 15-plus years together. But I was at least proud of the way we behaved.

By the time we reached our first Thanksgiving as divorcees, we had both pivoted into dating. He invited over me and my new person for a turkey dinner that also included our own kids, his new person, and her kids. We cooked together in a kitchen and then happily feasted together, never a lull in the conversation. My date, to whom I would become engaged years later, left the dinner saying something like, “They’re pretty great. This might seem weird, but it would be nice to hang out with them more.”

I remember saying, “I think that’s too much.”

Even though I had enjoyed the evening, I couldn’t imagine things evolving in that way. And no matter how much I liked my ex-husband’s new partner or how much he liked mine, trying to jimmy together this new way of being together was awkward.

Since then, our holiday routines have gone through a lot of changes that have felt like a devolution at times. A suggestion last summer that we not even try to make it possible for the kids to spend holidays with both of us left me unraveled for a few weeks. But we eventually agreed the kids would spend every Thanksgiving with their dad and every Christmas with me. After all, their dad slays cooking in a way I never will, and I had always delighted in Christmas traditions in a way he never will.

But as Thanksgiving neared last year, it hit me like a 25-pound frozen turkey that I wouldn’t ever share that holiday with my kids again—maybe wouldn’t spend it with any family, because I’m so far-flung from my parents and only sibling. It was a terrible feeling, so I came up with an idea to help.

That day, I set out our usual foam-form wreath and colorful construction paper leaves for the kids to write on. For years, we’ve been doing this thing where they write what they’re thankful for on these leaves and pin them to the wreath during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. But this time I also set out a second wreath, one wrapped in black fabric, and added a pile of black paper leaves.

“Write down your grievances on these,” I said. Then I showed them the Seinfeld episode about Festivus, the fake holiday celebrated by George Costanza’s family. My partner even bought a metal pole to place in the Christmas tree stand, just like Costanza had.

The kids were unexpectedly thrilled, far more than I ever expected they would be. They seemed almost giddy to air their grievances. And it was harder than usual to get them to fill out the gratitude leaves.

When our arbitrarily chosen Festivus date arrived, I cooked a festive meal and set a festive table: the good china, candles, silver, crystal goblets, fresh flowers, and artfully folded cloth napkins. We all got dressed up for the meal. Then we took turns reading the leaves aloud to each other as we ate, laughing and nodding– maybe an AMEN or clapping here and there–and voted to see which grievances we could all really get behind. Once we’d narrowed it down to two, the kids arm-wrestled for the championship grievance, a nod to the “feats of strength” portion of Festivus. And the winning grievance was written in permanent black marker on the pole, which we brought out again today.

This year, the kids were beyond excited about Festivus, so full of complaints are they from dealing with the pandemic since March. They actually started asking about the black wreath before Halloween. When was I going to set it out? How many more days until Festivus? My pathologically kindhearted son has really surprised me in all of this, taking great and obvious relief from having an official occasion where complaining is not only sanctioned but encouraged.

“Slow walkers.”

“People who say like all the time.”

“People who loudly enjoy their food.”

Those were a few of the popular ones from last year. Here’s some on the wreath this year:

“Getting headaches from being online all day.”

“When you’re forced to work with a stupid person.”

“Cancelled Top Gun.”

“Baby Yoda.”

 “Video meetings when you’re required to keep your camera on.”


The kids awoke today with an almost Christmas-like glee. They were excited to get to turkey time, so we could finally read through all of the grievances and vote while we ate. Several times, we had to resort to feats of strength to hash out which grievances should advance during the bracket portion. Then we were evenly, passionately split between the two finalists, neither of which accurately represented what’s deeply important to any of us. Sound familiar?

Zero lawsuits later, we agreed to a tie, a somewhat-dissatisfying-conciliation we found apropos of 2020. My daughter wrote both grievances on the metal pole for posterity, right under last year’s winning complaint.

“Hey, mom,” my son whispered to me this evening, after making sure we were alone. “You know how Grandma and Grandpa figured out which things you and Aunt Kristin will get after they die? I WANT THE POLE .” And I don’t think it’s an overstatement at all to say this made me as grateful as I can ever remember being on Thanksgiving.

It’s been five years since our family experienced divorce, a few years since we began struggling to figure out new blended family dynamics, and just hours since I felt like the holidays are going to be okay — and so are we.

P.S. The tie was between (a) anti-maskers and (b) the Tiger King being jailed while “that bitch Carole Baskin” roams free, in case you were wondering.


Have you COVID’ed your COVID today? (from the Momplex Blog archive)

A lot has changed in the zillion years since I last wrote. Like right now, I’m sitting in my makeshift home office wearing a “What’s a Bra?” t-shirt that I wore to bed last night and also wore to several Skype work meetings today (video off, thank you very much). I’ve just finished playing another round of Who Snagged My Mother-Loving Laptop with the fam. And next, I’ll Google the prognosis I should expect from the plum-black bruise that appeared on the bottom of my foot overnight. It’s probably you-know-what.

Facing my small wicker desk is a vintage photo of Senator Barry Goldwater playing baseball in boyish sneakers. With his mitted hand reaching behind him, he’s about to tag the rump of a blonde co-ed jogging to base in short-shorts. His team shirt says BARRY’S NUMBERS, based on a comment someone made when his poll numbers were looking grim. His long pants–khaki and hemmed–are an odd choice for a ballgame in the dry, hot dirt of our beloved Arizona. But as the world has come to know this summer, there are lots of odd choices made by people in this state.

I love this photo more than ever now, because it shows people doing Old World things such as playing team sports and standing sardine-close with their mouths and noses exposed. My traumatized brain is jarred by such spectacles. It wants me to scream PUT ON YOUR FACEMASK! But I bought the photo during the #metoo era as a sort of joke for my slightly right-of-center partner. The photo was a nod to a few years in our 30s when I stopped talking to him over a politically incorrect joke he sent to me. I was married to someone else at the time, so it didn’t seem a huge deal to call “uncle” on one too many political differences with a childhood friend over Facebook. “Even your beloved Goldwater grew up and would have disapproved of that,” I think I replied.

Funny how we’re now engaged to be married. Yet we’re unable to hold our September wedding thanks to far more troubling things than an offensive joke. I mean, we’ve all seen the numbers.

“Have you COVID’ed your COVID today?” my partner sometimes asks now. This is usually when we get another work email or school email or family email about the dread virus. It’s about the word, the mention of the word, how it’s wearing us out from repetition. This is sort of like when you notice, like, the number of times someone, like, says the word like while you’re trying to, like, pay attention to what they’re saying but, like, all you hear is like.

We tend to read these COVID messages over our strained network connection, which we’re sharing with my two kids who are going in and out of Google Classrooms all day. I’m OK with this “struggle,” although I sometimes picture our bandwidth as Donald Trump in size zero lycra pants that are one manspread shy of bursting open at the seams. Online school has been good to us otherwise: No more discovering at 2 p.m. that neither kid had bothered to eat until they bothered to eat an entire sleeve of graham crackers, for example. The familiar routines of homework and schoolwork are a welcome relief after a summer of fluidity and uncertainty, including two times when my kids were here longer than their usual 50-50 split time due to a COVID scare at their dad’s house.

“You know, we’ve had disproportionately high numbers from dual households,” the pediatrician told me last month when I thought my son was infected. Sporting a hazmat suit and heavy sighs, she walked him outside to a little chair where she could swab his nose, far from the conditioned air of the office. I watched from inside, looking through a glass door with a nurse. Damn, that swab went deep. His eyes filled with tears, but he didn’t cry. “He’s our bravest patient today,” said the nurse, but I wondered if a piece of his brain might come out with the sample. And I was fixating on the doctor’s stern comment about our numbers. “Sorry,” I wanted to say. For what, though? Doing our best under challenging circumstances?

That night, we were up until midnight again–freewheeling pandemic schedules and all that. My son wanted to know if he’d stay with me or go to his dad’s if the sample came back positive. Worried he’d get me or my partner sick, he was wearing a mask, and I was wearing a mask, and I was trying not to inhale any of his exhale while also refusing to socially distance because–oh my god–I just couldn’t. To prevent me from being downwind of any nanoparticles that might escape through his mask and into the air, my son shut off the clip-on fan that normally blows over us. Then we half-sort-of-kind-of cuddled instead of draping our legs over each other’s and spelling words on each other’s backs with our fingers like we normally do.

A few days later, I took him outdoors to cut his hair with clippers, another of my newfound pandemic skills. We were still keeping him pretty separate from the ol’ family unit otherwise. “It’s such a relief to be touched by another human,” he said. He sighed like he’d just returned from a three-month walkabout in the wilderness. Not just for that reason, I was relieved we got the call that night that his results were negative. He went back to dad’s house the next day, and today he’s back to mine.

Things are normal again, but by that, I mean the normal we’ve created together over the past five months. I mean the normal we’ve molded with this strange new pandemic clay made of time and perspective and isolation and the proof in our souls that we really need to be touched by other human beings.

“We’ve got to shut up,” I’ll tell my son around midnight tonight as he begs to tell me one more bad joke. “We need our sleep.” But then I’ll sit through another and another of his made-up euphemisms for balls as we giggle away. After, as I’m about to head downstairs, a door will creak open: “Wanna see something hilarious?” my 16-year-old will ask. It’ll be the 25th funny thing she’s shown me on Instagram since noon. I’ll say yes, though I’m pooped, knowing this unexpected mom-kid love fest during her teen years is sort of stuffed in size zero lycra pants. The bust will come soon enough, with a vaccine or herd immunity, and then she’ll resume her perfectly normal job of finding me ridiculous. But tonight, we’ll talk and laugh for an hour in the dark. We’ll discuss everything and anything. We’ll disregard the grim numbers of our own house: 87 dirty dishes in the sink, nine glasses left around the house, two unfinished loads of clothes occupying the washer and dryer, three meetings to prepare for in the morning, and so on. Because this is really how we’re COVID’ing our COVID, and you know what? I’ll take it.

Barry’s Numbers