An ode to Edmonds, WA

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I am not a native to the PNW. I will never be a lifer. I came here from decades in sunny Scottsdale, AZ and sparkly, smoggy Los Angeles, CA. However, My roots are midwestern, born and raised in Chicago, IL.

This gives me a unique perspective on people, life, climate and geography. I grew up living through snow storms of monumental proportion. I learned to shovel, snow-blow and salt before I hit puberty. I know how to flawlessly navigate a vehicle in ice and sleet. I am not even a little afraid of weather.

Until now. For the past three winters, I have lived here in Bothell, WA. It has snowed, iced over, and shut down the entire region every single year. This year was obviously the longest and worst. But snow, panic and freaked out drivers are not a PNW anomaly.

Unless you ask anyone who is from here. “I don’t understand why they don’t plow the side streets,” I’ll often mention in local conversation. “If we cleared and salted the streets effectively, the busses could take the kids to school. And we could avoid the plethora of car wrecks we see year after year by drivers careening into other drivers due to the ice sheets that form across the entire transportation grid.”  Invariably the answer I get is, “But it never snows here.”

Well, I beg to differ. As I mentioned above, it has snowed, closed the schools, created havoc in the streets, and shut down the airport every winter I have lived here. So in fact, it does snow here. And I would venture to guess that if you literally calculated the lost revenue this region experiences every time we all get snowed in, you would find that it would cost a whole lot less to invest in a few snow plows and some salting machines. They actually make snowplows that retrofit to garbage trucks for those of you who insist we don’t have the room to store fleets of snow removal machines. Really, this is a pretty simple fix.

But what gets me more than the incompetence of snow removal plans, process and personnel here is the blatant rudeness of my Bothell neighbors as we nearly froze to death in our crappy little rental house. First let me say that I have never lived anywhere else where power outages were as constant and irritating as they are here. Whether it’s rain, wind, snow, sleet, micro aggressions, the power outages here in the Puget Sound are frequent. I have also never lived anywhere that didn’t have access to heat via radiators, gas furnaces, or central heat and air.

So this past summer when the temperatures hit upwards of 105 degrees, we were more than a little uncomfortable. I did learn an important lesson, however. While residing in one of the most expensive real estate locales on the planet, dig deeper when presented with atypical affordability options for a rental lease.

Likewise, with all electric heat and power, when you have an outage for days on end, you will get hungry, cold and filled with a certain sense of panic. Welcome to my world. My children were out of school for two full weeks! We couldn’t buy a shovel or salt to save our lives. The supermarkets ran out of eggs, milk and bread. And my neighborly neighbors who all have generators, acknowledged what a bummer it must be for me, my kids and dogs who were holed up in a freezing bungalow as the temperatures fell to the low 20s.

Did anyone invite us over for vegan chilli, fair trade coffee, or a mere cup of filtered hot water? No, they did not. What? You don’t actually think this Seattle freeze thing is real, do you? My neighbors turned their backs and fled into their comfy, climate-controlled houses while I stood staring at them in the snowy street with utter disbelief.

This was truly disheartening. The reality is that a multitude of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances from Edmonds did open their homes, offer their beds, and welcome our popsicle pups for sleepovers. The problem is, we had no way to get there.

Our truck was crashed on the side of the road a few blocks away after hurtling across a plane of ice into a parked car. My little yellow Fiat did not have a prayer of escaping the garage (whose door was locked shut anyway due to the power outage.) And when the guys in the hood snortled about the last time the power was out for nine days, I was sincerely frightened for my kids’ and dogs’ safety and well being.

I know I could’ve broken down and asked any of my Edmonds’ pals to trek over in their trusty Subarus. But I’m a proud woman and I didn’t want people to laugh at me for being scared. I also felt like I’d bring shame to my midwestern heritage by crying uncle in two feet of snow.

So we burrowed under blankets, ate defrosted veggie lasagna and a  whole lot of pretzels and Mini Wheats. And we survived. But not without a lot of sadness. It’s hard to find a community. It’s hard to feel alone. It’s hard not to live in Edmonds. Be grateful for your friends, your neighbors, and your amazing community. You are truly blessed.

Barf Boy

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Even God enjoys a good sitcom every now and then. I know this because, while I haven’t yet managed to syndicate my own “Debra Rich” tv show, I am a walking breathing sitcom that delights god every time he/she/they tune in. (And I’m making the conscious choice to end that sentence with a preposition.So deal.)

For as long as I can remember, people have compared the odd characters and situations of my life to a well crafted sitcom. As a student of fine television comedy, I’ve often thought of my life in the genre of classic situational comedies like The Dick Van Dyke show and I Love Lucy. But I have to admit that much of my current chaos feels a lot like “My Crazy Ex Girlfriend,” minus the musical interludes. My soundtrack to my life isn’t a bunch of clever riffs on Broadway showtunes. It is instead an annoying, ever-looping, instrumental version of “Abba Dabba Dabba Said the Monkey to the Chimp.” (Longer explanation to follow…someday. Suffice to say, this song mysteriously plays everywhere I go every day of my life.)

Season 227 episode 11

I board a plane from Seattle to Phoenix where I am producing a big fundraiser gala and Cabaret for “Kid in the Corner,” the foundation to which my life has become dedicated.

I am traveling alone over New Years because I cannot take care of 25 performers, a full tech staff, and oversee this important event with children in tow. While my kids (14 and 18) are older and very responsible. I chose to leave them home in the hopes of avoiding awkward family drama and distracting everyday disfunction.

All seems well as I settle into my roomie Premium class window seat on, my now least favorite airline on the planet, Alaska Air. I watch as others board and clumsily hoist their carry ons in the newly constructed overhead compartments which continue to shrink with each economical redesign. Suddenly I notice two parents, about my age, overly happy and perhaps even a bit intoxicated. They are leading two young boys, nearly the ages of mine, behind them. I notice that the younger boy, maybe 11 years old, seems a bit anxious and out of sorts. The father, a boisterous, designer clad fellow who emits the air of a realtor or other sales related executive points the younger boy to the middle seat next to me. “But dad,” the kid stammers. “I don’t feel so…”

“You’re fine,” says Pops who then pushes the older boy down in the aisle seat of my row. “You and your brother can play on your Switch. It’s only a 2 and a half hour flight.” Then he and wifey, whom I assume is the mom, grab a couple of exit row premium seats a few rows back.

Full disclosure, this feels a bit off to me. I leave my kids at home in order to focus and perhaps even relax a bit. But I immediately find myself burdened with someone else’s even younger duo. I talk myself down though because I am not responsible for these two kids and this serendipitous situation provides me with a great chance to test out my new “not my problem” approach to life.

The flight attendant approaches shortly after take off and offers me a glass of ice water. As I reach for the refreshing liquid, young boy #1 projectile vomits all over himself, the seat, and me. Suddenly this has become my problem. We all seem immobilized as if we’ve been shot by some villainous time freezing weapon. After a few seconds, I snap out of my paralyzed state and call to the parents, three rows behind me, “Your kid is sick. He just threw up all over.”

When dad insists “No, he didn’t.” I sense that this is going to be a stressful trip. Flight attendant is still under the frozen time warp spell. I snap my fingers and yell, “He needs something to clean this up.”

She looks at me as if she has never encountered a nauseated traveler before. Then she reaches into the seat pocket in front of the boy and hands him a plastic, waterproof barf bag. He is perplexed but attempts to wipe up some of the copious vomit puddle in his lap and covering the seats and armrests.

I call again to the oblivious parents, “He needs help.” Then I suggest to the less than  competent attendant that she get some rags or paper towels. Dad arrives in time to lambast the child for barfing on purpose as the rest of us glare at him in disbelief. Next mom appears in giggly apology, “It’s nothing,” she assures all of us, “he does this every time he flies.”

“NO HE DOESN’T,” snaps dad. “He’s never done this before.”

“What are you talking about, hon.” inquires mom, “He does this on every flight.”

At this point, I feel entitled to the rage, frustration and disbelief that are flooding my psyche. Kid gets cleaned up and mom replaces his soaked tee shirt. Other flight attendants have brought over more useless barf bags and a few cocktail napkins to clean up the remainder of the liquid. I excuse myself to go throw up in the lavatory because this is BEYOND GROSS!

There are of course no open seats anywhere on the plane. So I get to stay in the stench for two more hours. Evil dad forces older son to sit in disgusting vomit seat so he can occupy the aisle seat and barf boy ends up back with mom in a clean seat.

Again, I try to convince myself that suffering is a state of mind and that I am free to choose happiness and acceptance or struggle against the reality of my present circumstance. Noxious odor makes it more challenging to remain blissful in a tightly confined airbus with vomit dampened clothes, shoes and lap top case.

I find solace in fantasizing about stripping out of every disgusting item on my person, dumping them into a soapy sanitizing washing machine cycle, and showering off this  hideous film of stranger scum. My form of relevant meditation. I breath in as I imagine the hot droplets of water careening over my scalp and body. Breath out as I envision myself covered in sudsy Pureology shampoo and body scrub.

As we begin our descent, I look back at the boy and feel true compassion for this horrifying experience. I smile at the mom and begin to say something as the kid’s face shifts from pink and rosy to pale and viridescent. And as he violently vomits across his mother and nearby seat mates, I acknowledge my success in creating another hilarious episode of God’s favorite sitcom which I’ve begun to recognize as my true purpose in life.

Here’s to being picked up next season!

Take me off this thread before I turn it into a noose and hang myself!

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“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE TAKE ME OFF THIS THREAD ASAP. I CANNOT DO IT MYSELF AND NEED TO BE PERMANENTLY REMOVED. Thank you and happy new year.”

That is the first text I sent this year. It was 12:02am on January 1st, 2019. After receiving a flurry of ridiculous celebratory texts with exploding fireworks, streamers, and flashing metallic symbols, I simply snapped.

Texting can be useful. I am still young enough that I prefer to text than call via old fashioned cell phone. Texting is easier, less complicated, more to the point. I admit to being frustrated by folks who insist on a more “personal” approach and only respond to an actual voice a la old- timey Ma’ Bell telephone line. But come on, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

I joined my most recent group text because my good friend was undergoing back surgery in Phoenix and I wanted to be kept abreast of all surgery-related details. I fully understood how overwhelming it would be for her out-of-state brother to text all 35 of her BFFs  with multiple and individual updates. I dutifully followed her as she prepped for surgery, went under the knife, and began her convalescence. That was two weeks ago.

I’ve been able to talk with her since, visit her in person, and gratefully acknowledge her slow and steady commencement towards recovery. So why am I still receiving 50 texts a day from her family and entourage? I know I sound mean. I sound selfish, nasty and uncaring. But I can’t take it.

I have a lot of people in my circle who require time, energy, attention, patience, bolstering, etc… I do my best to be there for those to whom I’ve promised those things. I also love meeting and inviting new people into my personal realm. But I did not choose all 35 of these newcomers and I don’t need to know how much “love and healing energy” every one of them is sending twelve times a day. I really don’t. Nor do I need to know who is making the CVS run at 2pm, who is “not really stepping up,” or who looks best in their NYE sparkle.

Plus I’m fairly annoyed by technology in general these days. 1. It works for everyone except me and only works for me when I don’t actually need it. This serves to piss me off on an hourly basis. 2. Nothing technological is intuitive to me. For a time-saving, revolutionary mode of communication, it takes me an absurd amount of time to accomplish the simplest tasks. The other day I spent 3 hours (literally) trying to figure out how to post a blog on my new website. (Luckily my 14 year old son heard me sobbing in a corner of my closet and accomplished this nearly impossible feat within seconds.) 3. Apple is evil.

I have a love/hate relationship with Apple. I love my MacBook pro, my iPhone 10, my awesome camera and video capabilities,  and  the ease of editing on iMovie. I hate that every few months all of my charger cords stop working, you constantly need to upgrade hardware and software with the newest and shiniest stuff, not because it offers you any improvement in performance whatsoever, but because the almighty Apple stock holders and executives need access to ever- growing revenue streams. Finally, I hate Apple because  I cannot stop iTunes from randomly playing “Abba Dabba Dabba Said the Monkey to the Chimp.” every time I put my Fiat 500 into reverse. It’s weird. And creepy.

But now I have truly discovered their sick, twisted plot to drive us all insane. There is no way out of group texts! Oh sure you can find easy-to-follow instructions on line. They tell you to simply click here and here, then  hit “leave this conversation,” and you’re free. But that only works if everyone on the flippin’ list is using iMessage. If there’s even one Android user, you’re screwed. I am not making this up! If it’s not a “pure race” of apple users, the best you can do is mute the ever-constant notification bings. But you can NEVER fully escape!

I am not a big “regulate the internet” advocate. I actually dig the whole wild west spirit of bold risk leading to bold rewards. But somehow we need to protect those of us who made the mistake of gently joining a thread of well meaning do-gooders, only to learn that they are eternally and inextricably bound to this gaggle of arbitrary strangers until death do us part.

Please, write to your senator or something. Or at least remove people from your thread efficiently, kindly and respectfully.

koob cafe

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I get depressed…often. I hate it. But it is my reality. I used to feel totally alone in this state of dismay. But since I’ve committed to shattering the stigma around mental illness, and have been increasingly vocal about my depression, I’ve discovered how frightfully communal this dark state of being actually is.

So I started pressing people for specifics about their particular depressions. “Is it purely a chemical imbalance?” I would ask. “Or angst over a particular hurdle in life? Painful  family situation? Lack of social network?” The answers have been fascinating. But one in particular continues to stand out to me.

“I just feel like I’m missing all this joy,” one of my interview subjects proclaimed. As we talked further, I surmised that her feelings had a lot to do with envy. “It just seems like everyone else is so happy and connected and out there enjoying life.” And suddenly it hit me, this is about Facebook. OK, not just Facebook, but social media in general.

Social media is destroying our happiness. Now this isn’t a new concept.There are lots of studies that prove that the more you’re engaged in social media, the higher your likelihood of suffering from depression. Plus the numbers don’t lie.

We have teens killing themselves in epic proportions. The teen suicide rate has increased more than 70% over the last decade. Our median age of death in this country has decreased for the past two years in a row to 78.7,  which now falls below Canada, Germany, Mexico, France, Japan, and the U.K. Consensus is that both suicide and substance abuse account for the decrease in life expectancy in this country.

But if we look a tad deeper, I say we are depressed, suicidal and self medicating because we are constantly being bombarded with images of everyone we have ever known looking ecstatic, loved, successful and sexy at every moment.

So I have the solution to all of this! It’s my new social media platform called Koob Cafe! It’s the opposite, well almost the exact opposite, of Face Book (Think anagram, sort of). It’s the dark platform where everyone tells the bitter, jealous, angry truths about their lives. You can only post hideous pictures of yourself and anyone you know. The ones where your husband is picking his nose or your kid’s eyes are crossed. Or the ones where you’re like, “Seriously, do not fucking take this picture!”

We plan to closely monitor the site for anything that resembles positive personal PR, hyperbolic happiness, or polished photoshopped images. Koob Cafe is 100% bleak. You tell the truth no matter what. Your fucking husband left you because you got old and fat and you’re tired of pretending it was a mutual decision that’s “best for both of you.” You’re 28 year old son is in rehab…again. And the good news? He’s moving back in with you if he ever gets clean.

You’re addicted to pain meds.You’re broke because you keep spending every last dime on Botox and Restalyne injections. Your sister is having an affair with your husband. Your lawn is dead and the HOA wants you to move the hell out of the neighborhood. Your neighbor threw a dead raccoon on your porch because he thinks your non-organic fertilizer killed his beloved Western Larch tree.

JUST TELL THE FUCKING TRUTH!  Then we can all get back to living our stupid, empty lives without feeling like we’re missing out constantly on every good time party, love affair, family event, or travel expedition.

It may sound negative. I get that we’re supposed to project positivity, visualize the dreams we have for ourselves, fake it till we make it. But enough is enough.

Examples of acceptable posts:

This is what I look like when I wake up in the morning.

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My kid told me he hates me more than life itself before he slammed the door and drove off in my BMW because I suck as a parent.

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My house looks like it was hit by a natural disaster. But this is how it always looks!

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If we start owning up to the reality of our lives, maybe we wont all feel like we’re always missing the happiness mark. Life is not easy. And it’s not perfect. But it is what we make it. So find your bliss in the inconsequential successes of your son taking out the garbage without being asked, or your spouse remembering to text you that they’ll be home late, or appreciate the five minutes of sun that shone in the Seattle sky today. It’s really that simple.

And please stop comparing your life to the best moments of everyone else’s

 

6B

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Don’t judge me. Just hear me out. Okay? Is it right to go into a store and buy one sweater but leave with two? Is it decent to pay for a meal and grab someone else’s dessert as you leave the restaurant?  Do you object to “saving” a seat in a movie theatre and not moving your purse, jacket and Target bags even though the film’s sold out and someone bought the ticket next to you?

I cannot imagine that most people find these missteps of justice  to be fair, reasonable or even acceptable in civil society. But the minute I tell you my story. You are going to get angry, accuse me of being a bigot, and insist that I lack compassion for humanity. None of those things are true. But I will lay out the facts and allow you to form your own decision.

My husband is currently working in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Our home life is bizarre at best. I’m here with two high schoolers, two dogs and a lot of personal and professional angst. I visited my husband last weekend in OKC and upon my return, I was feeling a bit stressed. Full disclosure, I was weeping in the airport terminal awaiting my flight back to Seattle. All the other travelers were kind. They pretended not to notice. But I knew my mascara stained cheeks, flowing nasal mucous, and heaving shoulders were not easily ignored.

I am excited for this flight home. it offers me a period of relaxation and peace. I have carefully crafted this opportunity for self pampering. I booked early, paid extra and arrived several hours ahead of time (just so I could sit calmly crying in front of 200 strangers.)

I board the plane, deeply looking forward to my 4 and a half hour flight home where I will stretch out, have a cocktail and watch a mindless movie that I wont be able to hear very well because my hearing isn’t great and the plane motor drowns out the voices of the actors.

I have secured my favorite seat: 6B. Row six is the first row behind first class. 6B is the only seat on the plane that doesn’t have a seat in front of it. Since I am unusually tall, acquiring this seat is a priority and I do pay extra for the privilege of extending my legs and feeling less claustrophobic than I would in some middle seat in the rear of the aircraft.

When I get to my seat, my seat mate (in 6A) has already settled into her window seat. I am stunned to see her there. She has lifted the arm rest between the seats and has spread her 400  pound frame across both seats. There is barely 6 inches left for me to squeeze my entire person into the premium seat that I purchased very purposely and for which I did in fact pay more.

I set down my purse and briefcase, smile, and casually walk back to the flight attendant at the plane entry door. “Excuse me,” I say, feeling terribly awkward and self conscious. “I have seat 6B. And…um…I can’t fit into it.” She looks at me with utter annoyance and says, “What are you talking about?” I ask her to calmly gaze over my shoulder to take in the situation at hand. She literally does a cartoon character neck stretch that draws everyone’s attention and she gasps upon comprehending my plight.

“There’s nothing I can do.” She says. I inquire about an upgrade. But first class is full. “But, um…isn’t there a weight limit on this airline? Isn’t there a point where someone has to purchase a second seat?” I ask in hushed decibels. “Yes, of course,” she reasons, “But it’s hard to enforce. It’s up to the individual to self assess.” I walk back to my seat. Tactless flight

attendant nipping at my heels. “There is a middle seat in the back row of the plane,” she bellows directly in front of my seat mate. “If you want to move, you can go there.”

Not only has this situation gone from uncomfortable to awkward, it has now traversed the path towards complete mortification. My seat mate is disgusted by me. She is obviously hurt. I’m guessing this is a rather frequent happening in her world. I am deeply sorry for causing her  pain.

But I am also really upset. I would never shame another person for their race, religion, body size, gender, sexual identity, or anything else for that matter. I tried hard to keep this issue confidential. I know that people struggle with physical and mental challenges that are not always visible on the surface. I respect all people and whatever lifestyle they embrace.

But don’t I deserve the same level of deference? Just because you can’t see all of my issues and challenges, does not mean that I don’t deserve to take up my fair share of space in the world. Do you disagree?

I cannot stop contemplating this experience. I feel like a bad person for even raising the question. But I believe my seat mate is the person at fault in this equation. I paid for a full seat and got only a quarter of it. She paid for a single seat and took more than her share.

At some point, there is a matter of principle involved. If you can’t hold your baby on your lap, you have to pay for a seat. If you need to fly with your support bunny, you may struggle to find an amenable airline. If you weigh a certain amount and you cannot physically fit within the allotted seat capacity, you need to purchase more space.

OK, that’s it. I just needed to share. Feel free to tar, feather, stone, draw, quarter as you see fit. All I ask is that you look at this objectively and tell me what I’m missing.

PNW Problems

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When my kids were younger and we were living under the sunny skies of Scottsdale, AZ, I would tease them about the difference between real problems and “Scottsdale” problems. For example, a desperate cry from a naked boy awaiting a soak in our jacuzzi tub that sounded like this: “MOM, HELP! WE ARE OUT OF LAVENDER BATH SALTS,” was clearly relegated to the “Scottsdale problem” list. A tearful lament that  a sibling wouldn’t share any of his gluten free banana pecan scone, was also quickly shifted into the “Scottsdale” category. My favorite was the “There is nothing to eat. Someone finished my salmon skin sushi roll!”

I tried to kindly explain that these minor inconveniences were not really problems for most people in the world. Real problems had to do with homelessness, poverty, world hunger and the deteriorating ozone layer which is leading the planet towards its fiery destruction.

Now we live in Seattle and I have finally realized that each and every geographic region has it’s own set of hideous problems facing todays children and young adults. No, it is not the epidemic of youth suicides, the plethora of school shooting massacres, or even the long term harmfulness of rampant opioid addiction. I have found the PNW problem that is ruining our children, destroying their sense of self and contributing to the powerlessness and depression overwhelming young people today. Composting.

We dutifully have separate garbage cans for garbage, recyclables and compost. My children are avid supporters of composting and have also insisted that there are undercover refuse police who go through our garbage cans in search of an errant unwashed yogurt container or a bags of pungent pet poop, (which surprisingly is not compostable). While I have researched extensively regarding the hefty fines imposed by these “refuse regulators,” I have found inconclusive and confusing reports of fines ranging from public shaming to $1 per oversight.

Since the thought of actively allowing food scraps to accumulate on my counter or under my sink was more than a little unsettling to this city girl, I embarked on a research project to find the most convenient, sanitary and bug-free method of composting I could find. I settled on a YukChuk under the sink and a small (dishwasher safe) mini bin for the freezer. I got compostable bags and explained the system to my kids.

The key to successful composting is simple. EMPTY THE BINS OFTEN. I’d love to say this lesson wasn’t extremely disgusting, stench-filled and painful to learn, but that would be untrue. Once we got the proper system set up and running, I found myself being the sole compost remover of the clan. This bothered me quite a bit.

“Take out the compost,” I urged multiple times a day. Sometimes I would even remove the bags and set them outside the back door for easier disposal. But my children merely saw that as a stumbling obstacle and stepped over the bags in order to avoid touching their disgusting contents of gross, moldy, food remains.

One night I emptied the compost trash and as an experiment decided not to fill the bins with the compostable green bags beside them. The next morning I awoke to find the unbagged bins filled with food waste. I snapped. “That is it,” I announced to myself since I’m obviously the only one who pays any attention to me. Then I washed out the bins, dried them and hid them deep in the garage.

My younger son was dismayed about this. But I calmly explained that I was not willing to be the sole composter in the family and had unilaterally decided to revoke all internal composting privileges. He took that in and then acknowledged that he understood and believed I had made a sensible choice.

But when my 17 year old son discovered the missing bins, the fireworks began. “How can you do something like this to me?” He raved. “You are literally ruining my life!” “How can you be this cruel and unfeeling? I’m literally horrified.” (Literally seems to be the word of the week in my house).

While I totally acknowledge that feelings are real and emotions are nothing to laugh at, this reaction struck me as a bit over the top. “Are you serious?” I asked. “You’re melting down over compost?”

He left in a huff.

When he returned from school, he was still ruminating on my sick, twisted effort to destroy the planet. “Look mom, this is extremely important to me,” he stated with clear, calm coherence. “I’d like to make you an offer.”

Since I am unable walk away from this type of intriguing proposition, I say, “I’m listening.”

“I will pay you for the privilege of indoor composting,” He reasons.

“Hmmm,” I say with an open, inviting lilt. “How much?”

“I’ll give you a dollar,” he proffers.

I laugh heartily and recommend he come back when he has a serious offer to submit.

“Okay,” he acknowledges. “I’ll give you five.”

I walk away with an expression of disappointment at this lame attempt to negotiate a settlement.

“Ten?” he suggests.

Still I say nothing.

“Okay, I’ll give you twenty bucks for the tiny little freezer bin,” he pleads.

Since I could actually use the extra twenty, I offer my hand and we shake in agreement. “But,” I add, “Failure to empty the freezer bin will result in permanent loss of internal composting privileges.”

He nods in resigned assent.

“And,” I insist, “This twenty is non-refundable.”

It’s been several months since the compost accord, and I’m pleased to report that the Gettleman household is actively composting, recycling and garbaging according to all State and local government regulations and statutes of political correctness.

 

Baby on board

 

maxresdefaultAs a young 20 something back in LA, there was a story on the news about a woman leaving her beloved Schnauzer in a hot car in the middle of July, only to return and find the poor creature no longer alive. I remember brainstorming with an artist pal about how we wanted to make a social statement about this kind of horrific act. So we came up with this live art installation concept. We were going to call it “Baby on Board” and we were going to glue an infant car seat on the roof of his Volkswagen Jetta, stick a life like baby doll in it, start driving, and observe the reactions from everyone on the road.  We roared as we imagined panicked motorists with rolled down windows screaming and pointing at us as we sped along the PCH.

As a responsible human being and a mother of two boys who are my life, I am horrified to think that I even momentarily thought this was a clever idea. I remember back in the Arizona summers when you would hear tragic reports about busy, stressed out parents who actually left their babies in the back seat while they frantically went into an office or lunch appointment.

I lived in fear of making an unforgivable mistake like this due to sleep deprivation, “mom brain,” or just some momentary lapse of attentiveness.

I often became paralyzed with grief over stories like these. Friends of mine were concerned and would ask about my overwhelming depression at those times. I would tell them that I understood how a parent could accidentally do something like leave their beloved child trapped in a hot car and only realize it hours later. For me, I lived in deep gratitude every day that I didn’t make some kind of disastrous mistake like that. As a working, stressed out mom, it seemed all too easy to suddenly lose focus and watch as one by one each of my proverbial spinning plates crashed to the ground.

Once in a while another mom might nod in agreement and tell me that “she got it.” But for the most part, anyone I confided in about this told me that I was crazy and that they knew I would never do something  unspeakable like that. But some other parent somewhere, had done just this and had to try to live with themselves for the rest of their miserable life. It was a staggering thing to ponder. (Full disclosure, I am also the woman who recognizes how thin the line is between my happy little suburban life and a few bad financial decisions that land you in Tent City. )

I learned to not share this particular insecurity with other parents. It tended to dramatically reduce the number of mom groups to which I was invited. But I realized that I was right. Tragedy can befall any of us. And yet, most people were so afraid of accepting that reality, they simply dismissed the possibility that anything as careless and shameful as forgetting to take your kid out of the car could actually happen to them.

I tell you this story because Wednesdays are early release days here in Seattle. We’ve just moved into a new house to be in the right high school district (no open enrollment out here). Unfortunately, we are no longer on a bus route for my 8th grader to get to and from his middle school. So I’m back with full time driving duties and frankly, I’m seriously out of practice.

Today over lunch with a friend,I lamented my new chauffeur duties  and checked my watch repeatedly, telling her I had to have enough time to get to the bank, the dry cleaner and pick up my son at 3pm. We departed around 1:30 and I popped into the bank to make a deposit.

As I left the bank, I saw I had received several texts from my son inquiring about my whereabouts. Then a few minutes later, another text came in asking who was en route to pick him up. Then finally, a text that just read, “Um…hello???”

Suddenly the reality that it was Wednesday flooded into my consciousness. I became frantic and texted him back that I was on my way. “Are you okay?” I texted. “I’m an idiot.” “I forgot it was Wednesday.” But nothing I could say could quell my horror.

I got to school at 1:47. He was casually hanging out under a tree reading a book. He had been there for exactly 22 minutes. But to me, it felt like 22 hours. I wrapped him into my arms and apologized over and over again. He put on a brave front. “It’s okay, mom. I figured eventually someone would notice I was gone.”

I took him to Baskin Robbins for ice cream and bought him a giant Hulkbuster Funco Pop. If he had asked for the moon, I would’ve found a way to get it for him. He played it up with his big blue eyes and sad pouty face. He was having fun with me.

I told him that this was definitely the moment that would drive him into therapy someday and to please understand and explain to the therapist that this hideous event had nothing to do with my love and devotion for him. Instead it was an illustration of my inability to do anything right as a parent and that he should never think I didn’t cherish him in every imaginable way.

“You do a lot right, mom,” he said, “And I love you. But it is kind of fun to have my own chocolate muffin moment.” He was referring to a vacation where I woke up starving in the middle of the night and scarfed down his older brother’s chocolate muffin. I’ve never been able to live that down. “I guess everyone has a chocolate muffin moment,” he sighed.

I felt parental shame wash over me anew. But then I realized something huge. “Well, most people have those muffin moments when they’re too little to fully comprehend them,” I pronounced. “Luckily for you, I waited till you were 14 and had the smarts and sophistication to handle it, before I traumatized you.”

It really is all in how you look at things, isn’t it?

Nerf gun violence

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“Mom, he’s got a gun!” I hear my 17-year-old son, Levi, scream from the den where he’s doing his homework. I race to him faster than a cheetah pursuing a wildebeest. When I get to the den, Levi’s sitting on the couch, his computer open on his lap, the television blasting. My 14-year-old son, Joe, (not his real name because he refuses to allow me to mention him in anything I write), is calmly sauntering past, his hand in the pocket of his basketball shorts.

“What are you talking about?” I scream at Levi for practically causing my untimely demise. “Why would you yell something like that?”

“Because it’s true, mother,” he insists in the condescending tone that only a snarky teenager possesses. “It’s in his pocket.”

I look at Joe as he pulls a 4-inch neon orange Nerf gun out of his pocket. “What, this?” Joe innocently inquires.

“Levi, that is a Nerf gun. Did he shoot you with it?” I ask trying to find some hint of reasonable concern.

“Well, no,” Levi conceded. “But that’s beside the point. It is still a gun, mother. And we do not play with guns in this house.”

“Um, last I checked,” I say with my own intimation of snottiness, “I was the parent, and I make the rules. But thanks so much for your input.” I begin to walk away in a huff.

“Mom,” Levi yells, “This is a really serious issue. Please do not walk away.”

I immediately turn back and sit down on the couch next to him. “Levi,” I ask, “What is the serious issue?”

“Gun violence!” He asserts aggressively. “Teenagers are shooting up schools because they don’t understand the distinction between play guns and real guns. How do you know Joe isn’t stockpiling weapons under his bed?”

“Well, first of all, he sleeps in a loft. Secondly, I’m 100% certain Joe knows the difference between a Nerf gun and an AK-47.” I turn to Joe who is staring at his brother in complete incredulity. “Joe,” I ask, “What is the difference between the Nerf gun in your pocket and a real gun?”

“This is idiotic,” Joe too has the air of an annoyed adolescent. “Um…one is a toy, and the other is a weapon that can actually kill people.”

“My work here is done,” I quip and turn on my heels.

“No!” Levi insists. “I am uncomfortable with him having a gun in this house. I do not feel safe here.”

“You don’t feel safe here?” I ask.

“No, I do not,” Levi insists. “You and he are part of the problem in this country. You are perpetuating the cycle of gun violence by treating this issue so flippantly. I cannot live in a house where gun violence is condoned.”

Now I’m seriously irked. “OK,” I counter, “First of all, no one in this house condones gun violence. We do not own guns. We are not plotting to form a militia and take over the government. We don’t hunt. But I’m totally comfortable with your brother having a Nerf gun, Foam Blaster, or even a Super Soaker. And even though I always prohibited you both from playing with toy guns as toddlers, you both used wooden blocks, LEGOs, and even plastic bananas as pretend guns from time to time.”

I applaud the sincere commitment these young people have made to fix what is clearly broken in our society. Their passionate voices need to be heard. But I worry that blurring the line between reasonable judgment, and hyperbolic rhetoric will undermine the critical message they are trying to send.

I told Joe that he could use his Nerf gun in the privacy of his own room, but that he needed to keep it out of any common areas since his brother was so uncomfortable with it. My compromise infuriated both boys for its perceived insufficiency and unfairness. But that’s my job as a mom, to always be the most unpopular person in the room. And just so you know, I do my job well.

31 flavors. But only 2 matter!

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I am the opposite of a creature of habit. I never buy the same laundry detergent twice. I switch breakfast cereals each time I replenish my supply.  I have never repeated the same nail polish color within a two month time span.

But there is one thing in this world about which I am completely consistent: Baskin Robbins ice cream. I have ordered the same two flavors of Baskin Robbins ice cream since I was seven years old; Mint Chocolate Chip and Pralines ’n Cream. These two flavors are not only the finest ice cream flavors on the planet, but they are also the flavors that bring me back to everything beautiful from my childhood. (And there wasn’t a lot of beauty back in Lincolnwood, Illinois.)

We used to go to the Baskin Robbins store on Touhy Avenue that was owned by a sweet older man named Mr. Marmelstein. I remember the first time I tasted the icy delight, the first time my top scoop plummeted off the apex of my sugar cone, the first time I experienced an authentic brain freeze. Baskin Robbins was the one place in the world where things were constant and you always got exactly what you wanted.

I do remember one frightful visit where peer pressure persuaded me to order Pink Bubblegum instead of one of my trusted favorites. I regretted it instantly. Once I discovered the first nugget of bubble gum and started chewing, I had a horrible realization. How could I chew and lick at the same time? It was a conundrum of epic proportion. The more gumlets I uncovered the less pleasurable my ice cream lapping became. It wasn’t until recently that my husband, Mark, schooled me in how to eat Pink Bubble gum ice cream. “You pull out the pieces of gum and spit them into a cup,” he said with a condescending tone.“Then when you finish the ice cream you chew the gum.”

I don’t think it would have mattered one iota had I known the proper Pink Bubble Gum protocol. It was still a betrayal of my Mint Chocolate Chip and Pralines ’n Cream faves that I would have to live with for the rest of my life. Since then I have never strayed from my tried and true ice cream BFFs.

Cut to today. My eldest son, Levi, got all four wisdom teeth out. It was a traumatic experience for my 17 year old son who has never met a medical procedure that didn’t totally freak him out. On the way home from the oral surgeon I asked Levi if he wanted me to stop for a BnR milkshake. “Reary mom?” he asked, his mouth full of gauze, “Dat ould ee great.” I assumed he’d want a mixture of Chocolate Fudge and Gold Medal Ribbon, his obvious favorites. But when I asked him just to double check, he seemed uncertain.

I was stunned. I figured it had to be on account of the anesthesia. Clearly it was messing with his brain. But he explained in his mealy mouthed stupor that he could never pick favorites of Baskin Robbins ice cream because there were so many delicious flavors and that BnR was always introducing more. I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t have favorites? How was this young man related to me?

He ended up ordering a Chocolate Fudge/Gold Medal Ribbon milk shake because the choices were too overwhelming. I wondered if that was the reason I’d never tried the other 29 flavors.

Maybe I had always buckled under the weight of such a pivotal decision, and had mistakenly judged my risk-averse behavior as unwavering loyalty. I suddenly didn’t recognize myself.

“Aren’t ou gonna get some?” Levi asked as I readied to pay for his shake. “Of course,” I assured him. “I just need to decide what to order.” I sampled Pistachio Almond, Mississippi Mud and York Peppermint Patty. They were all delicious. A line was forming behind me and I started to feel pressured to make a quick decision. “I’ll have a…a… double scoop of…um…well…um…Mint Chocolate Chip and Pralines ’n Cream,” I blurted out feeling half ashamed and half proud of my steadfast allegiance.

Levi looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and a knowing grin, “Ood choice, om,” he snickered as we walked back to the car.