Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Painful Realities of Socializing

'Tis the season ... for socializing, which is fine if I'm socializing with people I've socialized with before. But put me in a new setting with new people and it's like high school all over again. I'm awkward, self-conscious, anxiety-ridden and convinced my time would be better spent studying.

During the past couple years, my social life has seen relatively few new faces. My circles have stayed basically the same, and in some cases they've begun to overlap as friends from one circle get to know friends from another. There's comfort in those intersecting circles, unless things go too far and friends from those ven diagrams of my social life start getting together without me. Admit it. We all want our friends to like us more than they like any of the competition their other friends. Learning that a friend is going away for a weekend with college buddies or ditching me for someone I don't know can cause slight pangs of jealousy and concerns that I will be forgotten and left behind. It's creepy and controlling immature and silly, I know. If you're my friend I simply request that you don't put me through that. Then everything will be okay. But I've gotten off track here. We were discussing the great Dale Carnegie test of socializing with new people.

Two weekends ago, when Rob and I were in Charleston, SC, I was challenged with a scenario that I hadn't faced in years. We were spending time with Rob's fraternity brothers, two of whom threw their significant others into the mix even though I was relishing having them all to myself doing fine without them. These were women I'd never met before. I don't know about you, but it's been a very long time since I had to put on my game face and spend an evening with complete strangers. Do you know what's involved when a woman meets another woman for the first time? It's second only to prom night in terms of the stress level. All your feminist tendencies go out the window as you become ridiculously obsessed with your appearance. You want the competition her to be unattractive. Preferably with bad hair and a big butt. You want this "cheese" (fraternity-ese for "that girl is mine") to be shallow, vapid, clueless and completely without humor, wit or charm. You hope that she will be dressed inappropriately. That she didn't go to a more prestigious college than you. That whatever job she has involves no brain power whatsoever. You pray she's not one of those fitness freaks who makes you feel like a schlub. Rather than face the possibility that you won't measure up, you decide to suddenly develop chills and a fever, rendering you unable to leave your bed. Just like high school.

This coming weekend I am again faced with the opportunity to socialize with others whom I do not know well. Though I will most likely recognize many faces at this party, I will fail to remember the names of 95% of them. That's assuming we were ever introduced in the first place. While the presence of men means I won't be subject to a head-on, woman-to-woman competition, I will be even more likely to feel insecure. See, although women in the South are beautiful and have charming accents, they aren't nearly as smart and accomplished as women here in the Northeast. That's a fact. Women in my community are typically bright, cultured and excellent conversationalists. They usually dress well and have terrific figures given that 90% of them are freakin' triathletes. They make good money and/or are married to men who do quite well in their impressive careers. Most own another house somewhere in the mountains or at the beach. And should you naively believe you can hold your own with your intelligence, witty banter, basement renovations and Nordstrom Rack shoes, you'll soon learn that their kids are attending Ivy League schools on scholarship.

Besides setting women back 50 years with my gross generalizations and focus on physical appearance and income levels, what this post is really trying to say is that once you have a circle of good friends who don't cheat on you, you should show your appreciation and stop socializing.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my faithful friends!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Finding Light When Life is Heavy

It looks like 2013 is going to be the year I officially grew up. It's not so much that I feel older, but I think I've matured. I've had to. The past 12 months have been challenging. The loss of family and friends, adjusting to a new job and all that that entails, managing concussions, walking with my church family through the shocking events that have affected our spiritual home, raising increasingly teenage-like teens. You get the idea.

Given the heaviness, you might think I'd be craving more fluff in my life, especially on the entertainment front. More light and silly television, movies, reading material and even music. Surprisingly, that hasn't been the case. It occurred to me the other day that my choices in entertainment are increasingly reflecting the gravity of real life. It seems I've decided to put away childish things. Take television, for instance. In September 2011 I wrote a post dissing reality TV and confessing that, "When I turn to Hollywood entertainment for my ticket out of Funkville, I look for a dreamy escape, something that will make me laugh, or sigh (a happy sigh), or simply put my brain to rest for a short period of time." Back then I wasn't much of a television watcher, but I decided that it was time to see what I'd been missing. With my Entertainment Weekly 2011 Fall TV Preview issue in hand, I selected ten shows that I thought I would enjoy as mind candy. Two years later, six of those programs are still on the air and I've given up on all but one of them (Homeland). I exchanged Once Upon a Time for Scandal. Hart of Dixie is being replaced by Masters of Sex. I opted out of Glee. Even one of my former favorites, New Girl, is on borrowed time. It's not that I don't want to laugh, but it seems that what was once amusing is now silly, senseless or downright stupid. The dramas I've switched to better reflect my mood (and possibly my subconscious desire to sleep with the president, a terrorist and a sex researcher). Perhaps I've grown to realize that consuming fantasy and fluff doesn't make life any easier. Damn, that's depressing, isn't it?

Another tell-tale sign of this maturity trend is my Dial America magazine subscription. For years I've helped support the PA Special Olympics (at least that's what they tell me) with my yearly renewal of Entertainment Weekly. In 2013, however, I opted for TIME instead. Thought it was time I knew what was going on in the world. Though keeping up with the weekly issues is definitely a challenge, I must say that, three months in to the subscription, I already feel considerably smarter, albeit considerably more depressed about the state of our country and the world.

Then there are my choices in books. While I was never particularly fond of chick lit or Harlequin Romances, I did gravitate toward fiction. My last two reads? The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL and Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Both true stories. Both heavy. Heck, even my music's heavier and a little bit harder. All the better with which to vent my aggression and stress. Maybe I should go back to martial arts training, too.

The good news is that with all this weight I've taken on (including about five pounds), I was recently reminded of one source of light and lightness in my life. Believe it or not, it's a man. My husband, to be exact.

Rob and I spent the weekend in Charleston, SC where we met up with three of his fraternity brothers. Great guys. Funny-as-hell guys. Single guys. One is twice divorced and engaged. One is divorced and in a relationship. One has never been married. As fellow Fij came up in conversation, it became increasingly obvious that Rob's and my almost 19-year-old marriage is an anomaly. More importantly, it became obvious that I'm married to a man who understands what's important in life (me), whose values match my own, and who sees the world not through beer goggles rose-colored glasses or cynical eyes, but as it is -- the good and bad -- and never fails to recognize all of life's tremendous blessings.

Life can be heavy and hard, but I can take comfort in knowing that I'm married to a man who stands beside me and lightens whatever burden I carry. I may just try to do the same for him. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Of Vitamins and Tutus and Notebook Dividers

You might be kind enough to think that I'm not nearly as a bad a mom as I say I am, but I'm serious when I tell you that I was born without a mothering/nurturing gene. This week offered ample proof, starting with those damn concussions. The fact that I refer to them as "damn concussions" is case in point. I went from being appropriately concerned about the kids and cognizant of the danger of these injuries, to being annoyed. Here's the deal: I become irritable when things inconvenience me, whether it's Congress or my children.

On Tuesday, both Ian and Abby saw concussion specialists at the Rothman Institute. Abby was found to be in relatively good shape. Some balance issues, but hell, I have balance issues every day, and not just from the drinking. She should be cleared to play sports again this week, right after the season ends. Ian's diagnosis was significantly worse than Abby's. From the tests they gave him to eye tracking and dizziness, the kid's a mess. He will be reevaluated this coming week, but personally I'm not seeing any improvement. In fact, I think the symptoms have worsened since the doctor told him how severe the concussion is. Read into that what you will.

The diagnoses did not in themselves inconvenience me. I didn't even go to the appointments; Rob took care of that (he has the nurturing gene). It's the recommended care that's bugging me. Namely, vitamins. Apparently concussion docs have come up with a cocktail of four vitamins that should relieve headaches and promote healing. Of the four, we had one in the medicine cabinet - fish oil capsules. This meant a run to the store to hunt down the other three, in the correct dosages. Have you ever tried to find vitamins on the shelves at a supermarket? There is no logical organization behind their placement. And did I mention neither of my kids can swallow a pill? The only scenario in which this is a good thing is at high school parties where prescription drugs are being traded like baseball cards. The rest of the time, it's a major pain in the ass. While manufacturers are offering increasing numbers of chewables, they aren't available for every vitamin, and those that are available are in such low doses that you'd have to eat a bunch to get the right amount. I think Ian is eating 8 fish oil gummys twice a day. The rest of the pills are being crushed and added to sandwiches and cupcakes and smoothies. It's like a pharmacy in our kitchen with powdery residue on everything. I'm just waiting for the feds to show up. All of this inconveniences me; therefore, rather than being worried sick about my kids' brains, I'm annoyed. I'm also more than a little stressed at the amount of work Ian is missing in school.

So that was Tuesday, and the week went downhill from there. On Wednesday, Abby had to have a red tutu for her devil costume for Halloween. I'm pretty sure I've never seen a picture of the devil wearing a red tutu, but whatever. Running errands after I've come home from work is right up there on my list of most inconvenient and annoying things ever.

While in shopping hell (appropriate, given the devil costume), Ian called to say he needed me to stop at an office supply store on the way home to pick up "professional notebook dividers." It seems that the dividers with the plastic tabs that we all grew up with - and used in the office, for cryin' out loud - are not considered professional. He needs these professional dividers for health class. For the notebook check. Seriously. At this point my head is about to explode, but mercifully God intervenes, arranging for Rob to call while I'm on the phone with Ian. He senses my madness, probably because I told him I was going mad. He offers to take Ian to Staples while I wrap up my expedition with Abby. Crisis averted.

Throw into the vitamin-tutu-notebook dividers-mix a minivan that's three months overdue for an inspection and oil change. Then add a kid who mopes around the house like a dictionary illustration for "pathetic." And there's no relief in sight for this weekend. Rob leaves tomorrow morning for Vegas and will be gone until Tuesday night, and I'll be spending the entirety of Sunday at church for various commitments. And my house is a mess.

But then it happens. It almost always happens. I'm given some much needed perspective. We're having dinner (out) when I check my email and see there has been a flurry of exchanges between the angels. This January is the official opening of the Dr. Ann Bates Memorial Children's Hospital in Ghana, named in honor of our dear friend who lost her battle with cancer a few years ago. Freakin Angel Theresa will be there, putting her new nursing skills to the test on a service trip with others from our church. The email exchange begins with FA Kim G. suggesting that we have a plaque made with this photo (Ann's in the baseball hat, in the center), dedicating it to Ann, and hanging it somewhere in the hospital. Theresa responds that she has already ordered the photo, having had the very same idea. Gotta love those God moments.

Well, I burst into tears at that point. Overwhelmed by the love I feel for the angels in my life. Overwhelmed by the loss of Ann. Overwhelmed by the needs of those in place like Ghana. Overwhelmingly embarrassed by my childish, over-exaggerated complaints about my comfortable, secure and basically awesome everyday life. It occurs to me that, even though it doesn't make for humorous blog posts, perhaps I should practice gratitude and appreciation rather than give in to annoyance and irritation. It took me about 30 seconds to come up with this list of blessings:

  • Access to top quality health care to diagnosis my children
  • Access to vitamins and medicine and medical treatment
  • Life in a community where it's safe to send my daughter out for Halloween dressed as the devil
  • Excellent schools that want what's best for my kids, even if that extends to professional notebook dividers
  • Being able to afford a car and the maintenance that goes with it
  • A church that means enough to me to make it worth spending a whole day there
  • Food, and not having to cook it
  • The ability to communicate with my friends with the click of a button
  • A husband who knows when to step in before I check out
Finally, I leave you with this thought: Whomever creates a chewable/gummy that combines all four concussion-related vitamins, will be a very wealthy man or woman. And I want half for giving you the idea.