Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Let's start by saying hello: teaching manners for communication

Sometimes, my kids don't even seem to hear the phone ring.

They will sit there on the couch with the handset right next to them, and they won't so much as flinch as it rings, loudly and insistently for about 30 seconds, until the caller gives up.

"ANSWER THE DAMN PHONE!" one of us will roar. And then they will jump, and fumble for the phone, trying to find the right button to push, acting as though they had never seen a phone before, sometimes going so far as to talk into the wrong end. It's like some sort of Abbott and Costello skit, except it's 2014 and they should know better for crissakes.

For a while, my concern was only that they had good manners in person. And then I heard them answer the phone, and while my gut instinct was to wrestle the phone away from them with a warning to never touch the phone AGAIN, I realized that I needed to spend a little time working on their phone manners.

I would hand them the phone without warning: "Here. Answer the phone."

They would look at me with their mouth hanging open.


So one of them would obediently press the green button.



"It's a question, not a statement."


"Better. Now, pretend the caller is asking to speak to me."

More staring. A little more confused, if possible.

"May I speak to your mother? Pretend they just asked you that."

Whoever was holding the phone would silently hand me the receiver.

"What the hell are you doing?"

"You said they wanted to talk to you. I'm giving you the phone."

"You have to ask who is calling."

"Oh. Who is this?"

"No no no. May I ask who's calling?"

"May I ask who's calling?"

"Okay, what if I'm not home?"

"She's not home."

"OH MY GOD NO. You don't tell people you are home alone. You say 'she's not available right now.'"

"She's not available right now."

"Now take a message."

"Should I just make something up?"

"No. Jesus H. Say "My mother isn't available right now, may I take a message."

"This is stupid."

"No. This is clearly necessary."

It took years. YEARS to teach them how to answer the phone. Years to remember that people can't see you nod yes or shake your head no during a call. To remember that you must turn off the radio or television, put down the iPad or controller, and tell people around you to be quiet so that you will better be able to pay attention to the caller. There were many illegible notes scribbled on scraps of paper before they learned that you must take careful messages, repeating the number back to make sure you have it right.

After years of practice, I can finally say with some measure of confidence that they have got it. And now that the phone manners vis a vis receiving calls are fairly well developed, they are learning to place calls as well as they receive them. This is a whole new ballgame. Besides dialing the number correctly, and remembering to identify themselves, they have to learn the more subtle nuances of both calling and texting.

Rule One: How early is too early, and how late is too late?

We use the 8 to 8 rule at our house. No calls before 8am or after 8pm (with a few exceptions, because I call my mom at some really godawful hours. of the day). Because we live six time zones away from our family, they have a heightened awareness of time zones. They usually remember to calculate the time zone they are calling, to make sure it falls within the 8 to 8 rule. This also allows me to confiscate all phones and tablets at bedtime without debate or protest.

Rule Two: How long is too long?

When I was in junior high school I had a crush on a boy named Chuck. (Fun fact: this would not be my last Chuck crush, and neither of them were very good on the phone - but I still called them exhaustively.) Anyway, Chuck Number One and I started calling each other - though I suspect I was usually (always?) the caller - on a regular basis. And we stayed on the phone for hours. We had nothing to talk about, so I have no idea how we passed the time, but pass it we did. So how long is too long? Here are my guidelines: If you need to use the bathroom or get a snack during the call, you have been on the phone too long. If your battery starts to die, it's time to wrap up the conversation. If someone else needs to use the phone, say goodbye. If you are running out of things to talk about, or being distracted by the things going on around you and not able to maintain a conversation, politely excuse yourself and call them back later.

Rule Three: How many times is too many times.

This is a harder one - as I said before, I was definitely the caller in most of those early phone calls. It is easy to become drunk with the freedom of communication. Once your kid has their own phone or tablet and can start messaging people, you may find yourself getting A LOT of messages in the early days - mostly because they don't know anyone else's phone number yet - including their own. So I have given my kids a two call/text limit. You cannot call or text someone more than twice without getting a response. This will prevent people from thinking you are a stalker and/or terribly lonely. It also encourages you to find other things to do and other friends with which to communicate.

Rule Four: Don't leave them hanging.

If you get a call or a text, you should respond. Even belatedly. Even if only to signify that you received it. I think the height of rudeness is not returning a call or text. And as my kids are finding their way through the various forms of communication, I am noticing that some of the kids have a delayed response, because they might be (gasp!) doing something else. Some kids, however, do not respond at all. I have pointed the difference out to my children, and assured them that yes, the friend saw their message (because look - it even says what time they read it!) and no, apparently you are not going to get a response to your question/invitation/greeting. So move on. This is a solid piece of advice in general.

And so here we are. My kids are both armed with devices to aid in communication, and some form of guidance in how to communicate both effectively and politely. Whether they choose to follow these guidelines is entirely up to them. Considering that Max still has no idea what his phone number is, I think we're safe practicing on telemarketers for now.

Monday, July 21, 2014

This one is for the girls on the couch

You know who they are.

When you were a kid, she was the classmate who would come visit you when you got your tonsils out. Even if she was terrified of hospitals/needles/doctors, she would still show up, not minding that you couldn't really talk.

It's the best friend you called from the bathroom when you were trying to use a tampon for the first time and couldn't figure out where it was supposed to go and how it was supposed to feel if it's in the right spot.

And when you got to high school, she was the chick you could count on to come sit with you on the couch during parties when you felt totally shy and awkward, watching the world go by while the two of you passed a beer back and forth.

These are the girls who came over to your house when you called them crying so hard that they could barely make out what you were trying to tell them.

And they are the ones who hugged you tight while you cried and told them that your parents were getting divorced, and you both swore that you would never do this to your kids.

These are the wingmen who taught you how to drive stick, and held your hair out of the way while you barfed, and helped you hide the keg in the woods when the cops arrived to break up the party.

They were the only ones wiling to drive you over to that cute boy's neighborhood and cruise by his house casually at least three times in one afternoon hoping to "bump into him" in his driveway.

And they were the ones to drive you to your now ex-boyfriend's house to get your stuff back from that asshole.

You know who I am talking about.
And these girls - now women - are still a part of our lives.

Now that we are all grown up, they are the friends who can show up at your house with little to no notice. They don't care if the bathroom is clean, or if the dishes are done and it does not faze them in the least when there is an enormous pillow fort in the middle of the living room.

They will come in, carrying their own food and drinks, grab a pillow off the fort and throw it back on the couch, and make themselves at home.

If you are standing in the kitchen in your underpants, they won't notice, except to tell you what a nice ass you have on their way to get some ice out of the freezer. If you are out of ice, they will refill the ice cube tray and make a pot of tea instead.

If the toilet paper has run out, they know where to find another roll, and they know where you stash the maxi pads (because they also know you never got the hang of those tampons).

They are the ones you call when you are crying so hard they can't make out what you are saying, so they just hang up and drive over in their pajamas.

And they will hold you tight while you cry and tell them that you are getting divorced, and they will know that the reason you are so upset is that when you were a kid you swore you were never getting a divorce.

They are the bridesmaids and the godparents and the ones who know you have a living will, and they have solemnly sworn to pull the plug and put a pillow over your face if the doctor says there isn't any hope.

They take your call in the middle of meetings.
They pick you up from the airport at 2am.
They text you when you post a morose Facebook update, to make sure you are okay.
They give you weird gifts that no one else would like, but that you love.
They remember to bring kleenex when you go to a sad movie, and don't mind if you ugly cry during the whole second half.
They bring you food when you are sick, comfort when you are sad, and community when you are feeling all alone in this big world.

You have a song, a handshake, a catchphrase, and matching shirts that you bought separately and only discovered when you both wore them to the same party.

And they are always there for you. In good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, on the phone or in person or maybe on Skype because those international phone calls are pricey, man.

My point is, we all need someone.
A wingman. A cheerleader. A confidante. A partner in crime.

A girl on the couch.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

So I guess it had nothing to do with Mercury in Retrograde

For the past few weeks (months? Maybe months.) I have been feeling sort of.... down. Maybe skewing a bit negative in my opinions. Perhaps a little cranky.

Wearing the proverbial hair shirt, if you will.

Usually, the mood passes or lifts.
However, there have been a few days when everything has felt wrong somehow.

Everyone has been stupid.

I was aggravated.



Actually, being annoyed? That happens a lot. I am annoyed at home. I am annoyed in the car. I am annoyed with people I love and people I already can't stand.

I have a lot of sympathy for my family, who really do not know how to deal with me when I am "in a mood", behaving like a petulant toddler. And it must be a relief at the end of the day, when I tumble into bed as soon as Ella drifts off.

I don't want to be hugged, or kissed. Or touched, actually.
But I don't want to be left alone.
I don't want to go anywhere or see anyone or do anything, either.

I don't want to drive, or be driven.
I don't want to eat, or prepare food for others.
I don't want to get dressed, nor do I want to lie around in my pajamas all day.

I hate my hair. So I got it cut. I hate the haircut.
The color was gross, so I dyed it. Worse now.

This is like Alexander's Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day combined with Groundhog Day, but Bill Murray isn't around.

It's a pity. He might cheer me up. He looks like a fun guy.

But no. Not even Bill Murray is coming to my rescue.

Desperate for relief from the doldrums (and bored out of my mind) I scrolled through Pinterest one afternoon as a last resort, looking for something to inspire, entertain or enlighten me.
An activity to pass the time until I did not feel like screaming into my pillow.

Alas, I just got more pissed off.

We, as a species, spend a lot of our time doing some really dumb things - all of which is carefully documented via well-lit photography, appealing fonts, and charming illustrations, to be gleefully bookmarked and pinned for a later date which more than likely will never come. Scrolling through the pins only served to remind me how little I get accomplished, how poorly I dress, how awful my house is, how boring my parties are, and how uninspired I am in general.

As my kids would say, "Epic fail."

Concerned? Don't be. I talked with my therapist about it. It was my first appointment, the first time we had ever met, and the poor man sure opened a can of worms with some of his questions. But in the end, we agreed. I'm not crazy. I'm just bitchy.

Is it menopause? Who the hell knows. But I will say this: it doesn't help that it's miserably hot.
It doesn't help that the news from around the world is pretty fucking depressing.
It doesn't help that I had to cancel our annual vacation to my hometown.
It doesn't help that I am missing Rollercon.
It doesn't help that my kids guilted me into adopting a cat.
I hate cats.

So in an effort to cheer myself up, I am making a list of things I love and cutting it into little pieces - one item per square - then dumping the whole thing in a bowl. Every morning, and any other time I start to feel a little bleak, I will pull out one guaranteed-to-please activity or special splurge, and commence said activity FORTHWITH AND POSTHASTE.

You should stick a pin in that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Foundling at Columbus Circle

It is hard - so hard - to imagine.

Stepping off a train, pushing a stroller - with your infant strapped inside - onto the platform, and then stepping back onto the train as the doors close. And leaving.

Leaving your baby behind.

And the woman who watched it all happen. Who stood there on the platform in disbelief as the train left the station. Who looked down at this small human being in the polka dot stroller, and realized that this child was indeed alone. The woman who had the decency to believe - to hold out hope - that the child was not abandoned intentionally. Who waited there, with this child, watching over her, scanning the crowds pouring off each subsequent train until enough time had passed to assure her that no one was coming back.

I cannot imagine being in that place - either one.

I can't imagine a desperation and darkness so deep that I would leave my child to the fates, alone on a subway platform.

I can't imagine waiting there with this child - this foundling - and then finally pushing the stroller over to the call box to notify the police.

It's not that it is inconceivable. Postpartum is a time when anything and everything is possible. New motherhood can lead a woman to choices that are really not choices at all. And as for discovering a baby on a subway platform, well. All I can say is that every infertile woman has dreamed of that very thing. The only difference being that they might not have notified the police. Because infertility can also lead a woman to do desperate things, and make choices that are not really choices at all.

Every time I read about an abandoned child, my heart goes out - not to the mother, who was obviously existing in a crush of fear and confusion that led her to that point - but to every woman who cannot have a child, who reads the story and wishes that the baby had been left on her doorstep.

I spend a lot of time dreaming that there was some way to connect these two women - women who both cannot be mothers for one reason or another (or for many, many reasons all at once) and who make choices that are not really choices. Then children would be passed from one set of arms to another, seamlessly. No subway platform required.