I confess. I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” but I get the gist. I did view her successful Ted Talk that inspired her to write the book. In that talk she made a point of saying to women, “Don’t leave until you leave,” suggesting that women pull back from workplace opportunities long before they have children, simply because they plan to have a family — some day. That’s a valid point. No use preparing to leave the workplace for your family years before you even have one. But I’m taking it even farther back. I’m taking it to school. I’m suggesting that women and girls should not let others do all the talking and just freaking raise their hands in class . . . and say something. It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure if you ever want to run a Fortune 500 company or even whether you like the class. If you’re in school, raise your freaking hand. The corporate world is tough. In many ways it is not an even playing field. In some professions you’re not even allowed to speak if there is someone more senior in the room. So while you’re in school? Before you get out there in the real world? Dang it — if you’ve paid your tuition and you’re going to sit your butt down at the desk for the next two hours, you might as well say something.
As a child I remember accidentally seeing the movie The Paper Chase on television. The Paper Chase is a 70′s flick about a first year student at Harvard Law School. I was a kid. I had no dreams of going to law school. I’d never met a lawyer, to my knowledge. I guess in my ultimate laziness I didn’t feel like changing the channel, so I watched the movie. It stuck with me. In the film, the main character noticed that everyday in class only a few students raised their hands, only a few volunteered answers to questions posed by the imposing professor. Of course, the professor called on unwilling participants via the Socratic method, but only a few dared volunteer. They were the Upper Echelon.
At this point, I think it’s important to note that law school exams in the first year are usually anonymous and not given until the end of the semester. There are no extra points for prior class participation.
So why bother speaking in class, then?
First, because it helps to learn and analyze the material.
Second, it establishes the student as being in the Upper Echelon, and
Third, it makes the student think of herself in the Upper Echelon.
Fourth, being in the Upper Echelon might get a student noticed, and some perks.
In The Paper Chase, the main character made a conscious decision to “jump in” and raise his hand, to join Upper Echelon. Once he did, he was viewed — and viewed himself, differently. Other students sought him out for assistance during the study period for finals. He eventually got an “A” in the course, if I recall.
I’m not sure why seeing this movie about Harvard Law students had such an impact on me whilst I was in the 6th or 7th grade or so, but it did. There was something about the guy deciding to jump in with the other students who had the bravura to do it from day one.
Fast forward a decade and then some. I found myself in Law School (not Harvard).
Like the main character in The Paper Chase, I noticed that there were only a few people who volunteered answers in class. And it was always the same people. The Upper Echelon. Most of Upper Echelon were men. I think there was one woman. She, no surprise, was not well liked.
The second tier was comprised of those students who spoke when called on and would speak voluntarily on occasion — on very rare occasions. These students were sitting ducks, waiting to get called on. If the professor was not teaching the Socratic method they were quiet, relaxed ducks, passively letting the material wash over them. (Well, wash over us. I was with them, with my highlighters and colored pencils and markers.)
And then there were The Quiet Ones — the ones who never volunteered to speak, and would even “pass” when called upon.
In law school, there was a saying, “Beware of The Quiet Ones” as they were often the ones who, when grades came out, seemed to have pulled a 4.0 out of their asses. With that 4.0 they could get on Law Review, and continue to collect academic credentials that would yield many, many opportunities in the legal profession or other any chosen professional career. When grades came out, suddenly The Quiet Ones were the cream of the crop, yet no one had ever heard them speak or even noticed they were there. In my years at my school, The Quiet Ones were women. Reluctant geniuses. Secret weapons, possessed of powers unknown to man (literally). Statistically, however, there are only a couple of those kinds of Quiet Ones. Most silent students were left crying or shaking their heads when grades come out. The straight-A Quiet Ones were an enigma. There’s only one Batman . . . but I digress . . .
I’m not really talking about grades, anyway, I’m talking about perception and learning and opportunities. We learn by engaging. We are perceived to be knowledgeable by engaging. We show what we’ve learned and how we think — by engaging.
So I decided. I would jump in. I would raise my hand. I would talk. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a conscious decision. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a decision that would take me out of my comfort zone. The thing about it was, I was there anyway. I was doing the reading anyway. We were all students. No one had any grades yet. Might as well jump in. If those guys (and one woman) could throw themselves into the Upper Echelon from day one, why not me? I would be just like that guy in that movie I saw when I was an impressionable youth.
I admit, in the night before I decided to jump in I was a little more attentive to my reading. My array of notes was a colorful masterpiece. (It was the markers and colored pencils, you see.) I didn’t know in what direction the professor would be taking the discussion, so I simply vowed to say something about . . . something.
And, the next day, just like in the movie — I raised my hand. I don’t believe I had ever spoken voluntarily in class before.
Heads turned. I was no longer invisible.
After I spoke that first time, I raised my hand again. I argued. I answered. I wasn’t always right, and since it was law school, there wasn’t always a right answer, but my words were heard, my point of view considered, and even when I had no real point of view, I practiced taking a side anyway. I became one of the Upper Echelon, just like in The Paper Chase. I’m guessing that I also joined the ranks of students other students disliked, but whatevs. I walked a little taller.
One day after class a Professor asked to see me. Admittedly, this dude scared the crap out of me. He was not the Professor I had a crush on. See Another Embarrassingly Moment, Another Crush. No, this professor was a classic unapproachable (or so I thought) academic whose pearls of wisdom often seemed to float out of reach above my head. This was the professor who made me nervous, and though I spoke in his class with an unsteady voice, I was always convinced that what I said — or what anyone said, for that matter, was just — not quite right. I didn’t know why this professor wanted to see me, but I dutifully went to his office.
To my surprise (utter shock, actually), the professor asked me to be his research assistant.
Not one of the original Upper Echelon members.
Little old me.
The music student who was really just acting out a scene in a movie she’d seen by accident as a kid.
I accepted his offer, and my research (for which I got paid work-study money) contributed to his book, in which he gave me credit by name when the book was published. He also became a mentor and a professional reference, and my work with this professor, who was a former clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, certainly didn’t hurt me in securing my own Federal Clerkship, a position coveted by many.
All because I raised my hand. All because I decided to raise my hand.
If I hadn’t starting talking in class, he wouldn’t have known who the hell I was, and the research position, along with the opportunities and experience that flowed from it, would have gone to someone else.
But it didn’t. It went to me, because I raised my freaking hand.
I’ve tried to explain all of this to my kids, especially my girls, but they don’t get it.
I’m all, “Did you raise your hand?” And they’re all, “No way, I don’t talk in class.“
And I want to kill myself.
Time to break out the old movies, methinks. One of my daughters has seen The Paper Chase (thanks, Netflix), but I don’t think she got it. I must try again — on her — and the other kids.
One of these days somebody will listen to me.
Just Me With . . . my hands in the air, waving like I just don’t care . . .
I just had a horrifying thought. Much of this was triggered because I happened to see the movie The Paper Chase on television when I was a kid.
Think of the things kids “happen” to see on TV these days. I shudder at the thought.
Related: Tales From The Bar Exam
Many moons ago I worked at a high-powered law office. Long hours, doing anything and everything for the client, emphasis on family or work-life balance was actively discouraged, there were glass ceilings, glass doors, and glass elevators, along with supervising attorneys or opposing counsel who were equal opportunity assholes. Sometimes it seemed as though people took great pleasure in making junior associates’ work life miserable, and making sure they had no other life. The money was good, though, so I can’t really complain. Plus, I learned a lot.
I’ve left that particular practice behind, but now I’m dealing with teens. Demanding, self-focused, pompous, teens. I’m outnumbered. Most of them weigh more than I do. Some are taller than I am. At times they behave as if I couldn’t possibly offer anything of value while simultaneously requesting everything I have to give them. Recently it occurred to me that some of the tricks of the trade I learned in my high-powered white shoe law practice can be transferred to how I deal with these large, smelly, mouthy people I grew in my womb and propelled from my hoo-ha (except for the ones that were surgically removed).
Sometimes, it seems, these once cute and cuddly balls of smiles and coos are quite simply, the enemy, trying to break me down.
But Mommy, Esquire, is used to dealing with the enemy, the big boys, the man. These children don’t scare me. I have life and legal experience behind me. Here are a few tricks of the trade I learned from my law practice that I use on my children.
1. Stand up.
When dealing with a difficult opposing counsel, client, or supervising attorney, it helps to stand up, even when on the phone. It’s a power stance and works even if your opposition is taller than you are.
Once a senior partner stormed into my office to yell at me about an expense form. This partner had a reputation of screaming at young associates for ridiculous things in order to break them down, hoping to draw tears. He usually got them. I was just waiting my turn, but I have a strict policy against crying at work. It is one of my few rules. Do NOT cry at work . . . but I digress. Remember “How I Met Your Mother” the Chain of Screaming episode? When being yelled at is just part of the job? Well, that stuff happens. But when my number came up I was busy. I didn’t have time for his crap. So when he found me in my office sitting behind my desk and started to ream me out . . .
I stood up.
He was not expecting this physical display of strength from a first year, female associate. He actually sputtered like a truck with an empty gas tank going up a hill. (I admit I was slightly taller than he, but still . . . ) I listened to his rapidly dying rant, and while still standing I calmly explained why I had submitted the perfectly valid expense form, and he left — quietly. He never yelled at me again.
It was a beautiful thing. A beautiful thing.
I’ve tried the standing thing with my teens as well. It works. My son is seven inches taller than me, which I expected to happen. But I have a daughter who is model tall — she’s got four inches on me, and I’m not short. Still, when any of them come at me with ridiculousness, I stand up. It unnerves them.
I will not have them standing over me. I will not.
2. Create a Paper Trail.
No matter what was said, what was agreed upon, whose “word” was given, or whether there was a handshake, it doesn’t count unless it has been memorialized in writing. Opposing lawyers can amicably agree on the smallest or the largest of issues, but they always follow it up with a letter, “Thank you for meeting with me today. The purpose of this letter is to confirm your agreement to produce ABC documents to be by X date.” Is it repetitious? Sure. But it’s better to have it in writing if there is a sudden memory loss down the line.
Works the same with kids. It could be something simple like telling them what you expect, but also writing on a whiteboard an instruction, like, ”Empty the Dishwasher.” Or it could be a matter of more importance like, “Curfew is at 11pm.”
Or an issue of public policy like, “I will not bail you out of jail or raise your child.“
Equally effective is to request something in writing from the kid. Then later, when the child inevitably forgets what he or she said, you can whip out the document and gently “refresh his or her recollection” of what actually transpired.
Me: You’re late.
Kid: You never said . . .
Me: Yes, yes, I did. I told you. Then I texted you, and you responded.
(Slowly pull out smart phone, begin to scroll. Pause for effect.)
Kid: . . .
Mom: Shall I print it?
3. Some conversations should be had “behind closed doors.”
As an associate, nothing caused more fear than to be summoned into a partner’s office and told to “close the door.” The partners knew what they were doing. They were creating a power balance, or, more accurately, they were reminding the associate that he or she is not in a position of power. And the associate? A sitting duck.
So, as a parent, I find it effective to summon a teen into a room, tell him or her to close the door, and invite him or her to sit down. (And if you can pull off Denzel’s facial expression above, you’ve got it made.) Pause, always pause before you begin to speak. (I learned from depositions that the pauses are not reflected on the record, but they make people uncomfortable and the witness will have a tendency to fill the silence with golden nuggets of information.) The teen might start to explain something you didn’t even ask about, at the very least he or she will listen to what you have to say, and may be thankful that he or she made it out alive. Bonus, if you have more than one kid, the others will become deeply concerned that they will be next, and may be more likely to evaluate their recent behavior and/or any (written) lists of things to do.
In conclusion, end the meeting with, “Let’s keep this between us.”
Just Me With . . . lessons from a law firm.
This is just a note to let you know one of my short fiction pieces “Baby Goggles” has been published over at The Indie Chicks. Please take a moment and drop by there where wonderful things are happening, including soon-to-be released Special Print Edition that you can pre-order – would make a great Holiday gift for the independent lady in your life.
In the meantime, check out “Baby Goggles” online !
Just Me With . . . a short story.
My other publications at The Indie Chicks:
I Clean Up Well – Fiction Contest First Place Winner!
Two Sinks: Now standard in new construction for Master Baths. It’s another “must have” shown on the real estate shows. Having previously written about the “Open Floor Plan” a commenter suggested I discuss other popular real estate “must have” amenities. There are many, from walk-in closets, stainless steel appliances, and granite counter tops. But here I’ll address Two Sinks in the Master Bath. People just have to have these, according to many of the House Hunters couples on HGTV. Some of these HGTV couples are so disappointed when the master bath doesn’t have two sinks, it’s a deal-breaker. By the way, HGTV does a good job of showing same-sex couples on their shows, but the two sink thing seems to be proffered has a heterosexual couple “must have.” I’ll address it in kind.
From what I understand, these are the reasons why this is so popular:
1. We can get ready together in the morning!
2. I don’t have to deal with his/her mess in the sink, I’ll have my very own sink!
3. His and her sinks in the Master Bath means “I’ve Arrived!”
Yeah, okay. I get it. I really do, but I’m not sure that requiring two sinks in the master bath is the best use of construction dollars or should be a deal-breaker.
1. We can get ready together in the morning!
Oh, that’s cute, but think about it. In this world when everybody has personal devices for everything, when people don’t share cars or phones or computers or even closets, why are high-end houses still designed so that a couple can share a bathroom in the morning? The whole point, from what I understand, is that couples can both be brushing their teeth or whatever at the same time. Really? In a large home, especially a home that is new construction, or one that carries a price tag that starting at over a half a million dollars, or one where each child, nanny, and guest has his/her own bathroom, why are the husband and wife supposed to brush, rinse, spit, and floss together? Not to mention pluck, shave, or otherwise groom. I don’t care what you say, HGTV, but most husbands and wives are not going to openly share their nasal maintenance. And though I’m not completely sure what men do in the bathroom, I’m reasonably sure I don’t need to see it.
Let’s face it: regardless of the existence of two sinks, some things will be done behind the closed bathroom door while the spouse is elsewhere — anywhere – but standing at the adjacent sink.
And for those couples who are completely comfortable sharing bathroom activities with each other? They don’t need two sinks.
2. I don’t have to deal with his/her mess in the sink. I’ll have my very own sink!
Even when couples won’t use the bathroom as the same time, they want their own space. As I’ve heard repeatedly on HGTV, this breaks down to two concerns:
a. Women want/need space for all their skin, hair, make-up products.
b. Men leave shaving stubble in the sink, and women don’t like to see it, clean it or use a sink with said shaving stubble.
Alrighty then. Having two sinks will create two separate areas for two different kinds of messes, right next to each other. His and her sinks? His and her mess.
Ew. (Doesn’t anybody clean?)
I think we can safely say that both a man and a woman have the potential for leaving a mess in the bathroom. Given blow drying and flat-ironing of long hair, the skin and make-up products, it seems like the women would be more likely to be the slobs in the bathroom sink area, though on HGTV they are usually the ones to complain. The complaint about the man’s mess seems to be mostly about shaving stubble. It appears HGTV women are very put out about seeing shaving stubble in the sink. Does having two sinks make it better? Not really. I doubt that the woman who is really bothered by the sight of beard stubble will be able to enjoy her adjacent sink within view of said beard stubble. Again, isn’t somebody going to clean the bathroom?
Having two sinks will only ensure that one is always surrounded by woman’s mess/stuff and the other will be surrounded by a man’s mess/stuff.
Still, somebody will have to see and wash up next to the other person’s mess — and now there are two sinks to clean — or not. It’s kind of like the Hoarder who, instead of throwing stuff out, simply rents a storage unit.
But I get it. It’s a perk.
3. His and her sinks in the Master Bath means “I’ve Arrived!” (I really think this is the true reason why couples crave the two sinks.)
But . . .
a. Not everyone is in a couple.
Yes, you’ve arrived, but uh – not all adults are coupled up. Sometimes you arrive all by yourself (pun not intended — well, maybe a little). It’s not always a his/her, his/his or her/her situation. Sometimes it’s Just Me . . . heh heh heh. I remember a scene from the movie “It’s Complicated” where the main character, a divorced woman, was redoing her bathroom and wanted to get rid of the second sink. It was just a daily reminder that she had no partner, which she was okay with, but the sinks apparently were not. My single sister has a two sink master bathroom that came with her newer construction home. She uses one sink, and the other holds her curling iron. Seems a waste.
Two sinks in the Master Bath are just kind of stupid for single people, and a bit insulting. I can almost see the existence of two sinks being a deal-breaker for a single person. And if person becomes single after having insisted on the double sinks? Might as well tile “Failed Relationship” on the back splash.
b. Not everyone aspires to be in a couple.
Having a second sink when single might invite a relationship where one is not welcome. Remember vintage Barney in “How I Met Your Mother”? When giving Lily the tour of his Fortress of Barnitude, he explained, ”I make it crystal clear to every girl who walks in here that this is not the place to leave a toothbrush, this is not the place to leave a contact lens case, this is a place — to leave.” I mean, the guy has a king size bed with only a full size blanket and just one pillow. As to the bathroom, Barney added, ”What? Only one towel? What? No hair dryer? You know where I keep that stuff? Your place. Beat it.” Clearly, the Master (or Lady) of the house does not always have or welcome a guest planning to stay long enough to warrant a second sink. Nope. As Barney said, sometimes a person wants his or her home to say, ”Our work here is done.”
I know I can be a rebel, but I think that what I think people really want is — wait for it —— their very own bathroom!
Why stop at the sinks? I mean, if you’re loading down a house with all the must have stuff let’s go all the way — I’m talking his and her separate, private bathrooms! In the old days, many of the very wealthy couples had his and her bathrooms. Let’s extend the royal treatment to suburban McMansions.
You hear that, new construction designers? You wouldn’t necessarily need that much more room, depending on the design and a bit of creativity. Some of these high end master bedrooms have a separate seating area and his or her walk-in closets. If there is space for all that, they could design his and her bathrooms, especially in those palatial homes and possibly even in more moderate homes. It’s funny in these houses with every amenity imaginable and the cars get their own room and guests have their own suites, can’t the Lady and Lord of the house brush their teeth alone? And I’d bet it would be a huge selling point. Huge.
Even for singles, we can keep that second bathroom on lock down and not within view, and only a privileged few could earn a key to this “executive washroom.” It would be a “special guest” bath. As an added bonus, it would serve a dual function of keeping our guests the heck out of our stuff. “No, I’m sorry, honey, you use that bathroom.” heh heh heh
But I get it. For most of us regular folk there might not be space for two completely separate baths connected to the master bedroom.
I’ll offer another, less radical, suggestion. When remodeling or buying new construction or house shopping, consider having only one sink in the Master Bath, make the assumption that a couple will not actually be in the bathroom together, or if they are, they are not both using the sink at the same time. Instead, use the money saved to install a larger, easy to clean counter space, creating an area that can accommodate all the products with great lighting and plenty of mirrors. Or, better yet, design personalized storage for all of those products and hair appliances so they can be used and put away (or left out) while still hot. And that one sink? Make it and the counter easy to wipe clean of the shaving stubble, you could or even install a sprayer. (Or get a maid.)
Let’s put a second (or third) sink where it belongs — in the hall (children’s) bath. It always amazes me when this is missing in a space that would allow it, especially in homes that are meant to accommodate more than one child. It’s kids that brush their teeth together while another small child is sitting on the toilet. Kids aren’t concerned about modesty, have less products and consequently less need for counter space. But trust me, you want them washing those grubby hands. Any preschool teacher or parent will tell you kids tend to wash better and brush teeth longer with a buddy. So let the kids live dorm style. Just teach them to clean the sinks, all of them!
Just Me With . . . no master bath at all, so I’m talking, excuse my expression, – out of my ass. We are a family of six sharing one bathroom. I would love to have another sink — anywhere!
Many thanks to the commenter David Travers, who inspired this post, and to HGTV, a channel that I watch, enjoy, and criticize frequently.
Maybe I’m just jealous.
See also: An Argument Against the Open Floor Plan
Many thanks to Annie, at Simple. I Just Do. for nominating me for a Liebster Award! The Liebster Award is meant to recognize and promote bloggers who don’t have a ton of followers (under 200, to be exact). I’ve said it before, but I tend to break most blogging rules. I didn’t mean to take so long to respond to this though, truly I didn’t. With apologies for my tardiness, here it goes.
First , some random facts about myself:
1. I could go the rest of my life without eating ice cream or chocolate and be okay.
2. I have never seen Pocahontas or Finding Nemo.
3. I have a hard time thinking of facts about myself.
4. I once received a kiss on the cheek from a member of The Rat Pack.
Now, I’ll answer Annie’s questions:
1. Mac or PC?
PC. One day I’ll get a Mac, but no can do on the budget right now.
2. Best book series you’ve ever read?
I haven’t read a book series since I was a kid. I guess I’m not one for the series. One and done.
3. Favorite section of the art museum to visit?
I haven’t been to one in an embarrassingly long time. But I like paintings more than sculptures.
4. Most annoying thing (that bothers you)?
I honestly can’t break that down. There are too many. Lately, well consistently, it pisses me off when people say “Oh, that poor boy,” when they find out that my son has four sisters. Don’t get me started . . .
5. Night Owl or Early Riser?
Both, which is not good. Not good at all.
6. What would your friends say is your best quality?
I don’t know, funny?
7. At what temperature do you turn on the AC?
Hmmm. It depends on who is home. I often turn it off and open the windows.
8. Beaches or Mountains?
Beaches, the sound of the ocean is comforting.
9. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Food, meh. No answer here.
10. Worst chore?
Cleaning the toilet, or more accurately, the floor around the toilet.
11. Current guilty pleasure?
Honestly, sometimes I feel really guilty about, yet derive great pleasure from, blogging. Weird.
Now I’ll nominate my own people and ask them questions! I will massage the rules and nominate only 3, and ask only a few questions, easy ones.
I hereby nominate the following blogs for the Liebster Award:
Please take a bow. I invite my followers to drop by the above blogs, as I have found them enjoyable. Click on, baby, click on.
Now, here are my questions for these freshly minted Nominees, answer as many or as few as you’d like:
1. How do you like your eggs, if you eat them?
2. How many TVs are in your home?
3. Did you go to your senior prom, if there was one?
4. Do you use more than two fingers to type?
5. Do you have other writing projects, apart from your blog?
6. Do you have a smart phone, if so, what kind?
7. How do you like your coffee, if you drink it?
Here are the Liebster Award “rules” :
1.Thank the Liebster-winning Blogger who nominated you and link back to their blog.
2. Post 11 interesting facts about yourself.
3. Answer the 11 questions your nominator asked.
4. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
5. Nominate 11 blogs of 200 followers or less which you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.
6. Display the Liebster Award
I’m honored to have received the award (again — yay!). Soon, I hope, I will be technically ineligible for this award, as I’m almost at 200 followers! Thanks to my readers and followers for finding and sticking with me! And thanks again, Annie at Simple. I Just Do. for nominating me!
Just Me With . . . a Liebster Award.
My oldest is going through the college application process. It’s stressful. I’m not sure whether he’ll get his first choice, I’m not sure how it will all work out with financial aid/scholarships, etc., but that is my stress. I want him to concentrate only on getting in somewhere, somehow we’ll figure out the rest. He and I agree on one thing. The goal is for him to go to a residential college and live on campus, preferably hours or even a plane ride away. I know there are many different ways to get a college education, from living on campus to strictly online. And I know it’s a personal and family and financial decision. But I want my son, and then later my daughters, to go away. It’s largely because of the divorce.
For years the children have had to navigate a visitation schedule on top of all of their many activities. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The cute little visitation schedule that divorced families create when the kids are little turns to a burden when those same kids hit middle school and beyond, especially if the kids are involved in sports or other school activities. You can divide time all you want, put at some point there are many other demands on those same hours. You think you can’t split the baby? Try splitting a teen. When kids get older, parents are no longer in control of their time, other people and institutions set your kids’ schedule, and let me tell you, they don’t care about the custody order. But for us, when something pops up on the calendar, our first thought for years has been, “Wait, is that a Daddy day?” The schedule has given the children an added stress that’s frankly getting really old.
Also, though I was able to keep the kids in the same schools, we had to move to a neighborhood that carries a bit of a stigma (understatement). It’s safe; it’s just not very nice. The kids had no choice in this. I barely had a choice, except as a compromise to keep them in the same school. It was an obvious compromise, just like so many things in our daily lives, occasioned by the divorce. My Ex-Husband has remarried, and I’m assuming happily remarried, but for the kids that carries with it an obligation to meet and mingle with an entirely new extended family. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the new people, it’s just yet another community that the kids are unfamiliar with, did not choose to join, and to which they have no connection. It’s an addition to already divided time.
“Wait, where are we going now?” is something my kids have to deal with a lot.
So yes, fly, fly away, little bird. Go and study and stay in one place.
I support my son trying to get into a school where he would have to live on campus, one that is not close to home, where he will not have the ability or expectation to come home on weekends. I want him, for the first time in his life since childhood, to live and STAY in a community of his choosing and not commute between two or more worlds. I want him to make friends and have the ability to hang out with them whenever he wants, without regard to his parents’ schedules.
Right now, my kids are living in a very artificial world. Usually, for two parent families or single parent families when the other parent is not in the picture, a teen is not required to spend Saturday night with his or her parents and siblings. Normally, a kid is not required to travel to another house for a three-hour dinner on a school night unless they have a valid, acceptable excuse not to go. In our house there are days that my kids leave the house at 7:00 am and do not return until after 8:30 pm on a school night and then start their homework. Don’t get me wrong, family time is great. Having dinner together is important, but as kids get older on which days that happens and how much time it takes should naturally change, without getting lawyers involved. The way it is now? Not natural.
And as my son ages out of the required visitation schedule, I do not want him to be anywhere nearby where he’ll either feel pressure to continue to honor the visitations or guilt when he doesn’t. Imagine if he was living at home while his younger siblings still went on the visits. His not going would be a statement. His choosing to go would be a statement. I don’t want him to have to make statements anymore. I just want him to study and grow as an adult and connect with family because he wants to, not because he’s required to, or is afraid of the fallout if he doesn’t. I want him to be able to make plans for consecutive weekends. (Gasp!) And I don’t want him to need a ride or a car or permission or explanation. I want him to manage his own schedule without regard to the custody order entered into when he was elementary school. And I don’t want him to have to adapt to new people, extended families, and sketchy neighborhoods that were the choices of his parents– not him. It’ll be the first time he’ll be on an even playing field with fellow students of similar abilities. He’ll actually live where he fits in and won’t have to commute elsewhere to put time in different communities. I want him free from being defined by his neighborhood, his parents’ marital status, or an old court visitation order.
I want him to be somewhere where no one is expected (or required) to spend time with either parent.
My son is troubled. He’s a complicated, quiet young man. He’s anxious to go away. He understands the difficulties of the home situation more than he talks about and he plays the game. He picks and chooses when to approach his dad about a change in the schedule, knowing that asking too often will make his dad angry and might draw a “no” when he really needs a “yes.” My ex-husband is sometimes less open to the kids choosing to spend time elsewhere unless it is a sanctioned school activity. He takes it personally. In response to the boy’s request to go to an end of the season sports party (they’d won states — yay!) on a “Dad Day” my ex-husband texted me, and said,
”He’s going to have to miss things to spend time with me. The kids need to know that.”
Well, no more. I want the boy to live in a community of his choosing, day and night, a community that reflects his interests, his abilities and his personality. And one that values his time. Of course I’ll miss him and I’ll look forward to him coming home on holidays and some breaks, but I think it would be a breath of fresh air if, for the first time, when Mom or Dad want to see him, we will have to carry our behinds to him, on his schedule, that is, if he’s available.
Just Me With . . . a little birdie planning to leave the nest — or should I say “nests.”
All of this reminds me of when I went away to college many moons ago, and my ex-husband, then boyfriend, still scheduled my time with him. See, The Night I Became Cinderella.
It was with a heavy heart that I heard confirmation that the A&E reality show “Hoarders” would not be filming new shows. Hoarders has been cancelled.
Having purchased a partially hoarded house I found some comfort in Hoarders, which profiled one or two homes an episode and “cleaned house” with the help of Psychologists, professional cleaning crews and the hoarder him or herself.
I know that some folks complained that the home owners were being exploited and objectified for entertainment, since audiences seemed simultaneously to enjoy and be disgusted by seeing the filth and mountains of mess (and sometimes poop). It seemed to me that the hoarders were getting help that they would not have otherwise received and were the better for it. The crew never laughed at or belittled the hoarders, instead they just tried to convince the hoarders that something had to change. Getting rid of the hoard was always a safety and mental health issue, and usually a financial necessity. Yes, it was a television show, but it wasn’t just about entertainment.
As for me, I found some brethren. I was not aware of the show while I was cleaning the worst of the worst out of my new house, a friend told me about it and said I should watch. When I did, I found that the shows gave me comfort.
Comfort you ask? Among the piles of wet papers and rotten food?
Yes, comfort. Because until I saw Hoarders I didn’t know that I was not alone in stumbling upon a collection of bottles of urine. Hoarders showed me that people other than the former inhabitants of my house have found themselves at a point in life where the kitchen is as likely a place to dispose of human waste as the bathroom. In Hoarders I saw how, like with my house, a home’s smell can make visitors gag while the inhabitants remain completely unaware of the stench. And at the end of each episode of Hoarders, I was amazed at how the hoarded houses looked after they were cleaned out, and it reminded me of how far my house had come.
So yes, comfort.
Now, as I help my parents clear out some of the decades of accumulated clutter in their house, I find myself using the techniques I viewed on Hoarders. I’ve learned to understand how so many things can simply be piled up — unused or incorrectly stored. My parents are not clinical Hoarders, and their house is still functional and the front rooms pristine. However, the private areas and attic and basement are full, and unsafe. My parents are like a lot of true hoarders in that they are old and grew up with next to nothing. Though my parents went to college, married, had children and bought a home, they were never wealthy. And they never moved. As a result, decades of stuff has never been relocated or inventoried.
My parents, and their parents before them, lived through some of the most economically and socially challenging times in United States history — the Wars, the Depression, the time both before and after the civil rights movement. I think they grew up with an underlying worry that they could lose what they have at any given moment, or that someone would try to steal it from them. So, like some of the clients on Hoarders, they ascribe value to things that no one would buy, and by piling up mountains of stuff, they endanger the most valuable possession they have — their house.
The show Hoarders helped me to know that even the most unlikely item has a story, that sometimes the story needs to be told before the item can be discarded, and that when the smallest treasure is exhumed from its grave of stuff, it triggers a memory — of a different time, a different place, a different person.
As I help my parents clean out I have specifically utilized a few Hoarders tricks:
1. Lay out a tarp to place items on, they look different in the light of day.
2. When cleaning out a closet, dresser, or any area, I don’t stand there and pull out items one at a time. Instead, I take everything out at once and set it all out, assuring my parents that we’ll return the items they choose to keep, but we need to get everything out first.
I’ve learned it’s easier for most people to justify keeping an unused item in a closet– it’s not hurting anybody — but it’s a lot harder to justify putting useless things back in once they’re out.
3. Try to do as much in one day or sitting as possible. It’s never a good idea to allow extra time to think about items.
This was the genius of Hoarders. It wasn’t just for filming that the task had to be accomplished in two days. It’s better for the hoarder to have to make quick decisions.
4. Remove discarded items immediately.
Even when possessions are marked for trash, there can be a “declutter remorse” if there is a bag or piece of furniture or appliances or tools left in view. It’s just too tempting for someone with hoarding tendencies to revisit the trash, go through it and bring stuff back in, promising to fix it, or find a use for it, or sell it — later. I’ve been known to load my parents’ trash in my car and take it home to put out in my own trash, just to avoid the temptation to “trash pick.”
A&E’s Hoarders may be cancelled, but it has and will continue to help me. Now, as I watch my Dad go through piles of once expensive clothing piece by piece, stuff that’s over forty years old, suits that he has never worn and he probably inherited, clothes that have mice dirt on them and moth holes in them, I think,
“What would Matt Paxton do?” and I feel better.
And as I clear an area, making it easier for my parents to get around and find the things they actually need, I know that no matter how hard the fight was, the process is important, especially when it helps them locate and display — or even sell — the things that do have real value. Plus, I feel better making the home safer. But it ain’t easy. No, it’s not.
So thanks Matt and the whole Hoarders crew. You helped. You really did.
Just Me With . . . among many other things, a collection of vintage Ebony and Look magazines, a couple of flat mice (but not cats!), a tractor, bowling shoes, and more patience than I thought I could ever conjure up.
Piss, Puke, and Porn – The discoveries I made inside my new old house.
That Hoarders Smell – How to get rid of that awful smell.
Toilet or Kitchen Sink —- Who Can Tell? — I saw some nasty stuff in the old kitchen.
Exhumation by Accident – I dug up something in my yard.
Craigslist Angels — One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure – Giving Away Christmas Decorations Can Be A Very Good Thing.
My Ex-Husband had pissed me off again, with a modified Nanny text that illustrated the fact that the inconvenient visitation schedule is my obligation to uphold and his option to ignore.
I’m sick of it.
To the inevitable comment that “at least he seems them, ” I refer to Misplaced Praise of a Father is Not Good Manners.
The whole thing sucks. No other word for it. Well, there are other words but that’s the one I’m going to use.
I was pissed. Actually, I don’t even want to talk about it. There are so many things wrong right now and I have so very few acceptable or advisable or helpful responses or resources. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. Five kids ain’t no joke. Yes, sometimes things get to me, despite my blessings. I’m human, and often treated like much less.
To cool down I went for a drive. Well, I drove and parked. First I parked at the kids’ school, then the grocery store parking lot, then the bank lot, then on the street outside of a pizza joint. When I remembered that I hadn’t eaten in almost twelve hours I figured food would help my mood. Since I was alone I figured I could treat myself to dinner at a diner. The diner would be open for another hour and a half or so and there were some people still there so I went on in.
I took a booth for comfort. No reason to perch on a stool when there were so many empty tables available. I was thankful no one I knew was there. I was not feeling like small talk. Overhearing one waitress complaining that she was so tired and that her shift was just too long and another waitress complaining that she’d only made $9 the whole day, I made a mental note to leave a decent tip.
I enjoyed the quiet, the children can be, let’s say, over-stimulating. (That sounds so much better than saying my offspring can be a pain in the ass, don’t you think? Don’t worry, I’ve withdrawn my application for Mother-Of-The-Year.)
I ordered and resumed my texting and tweeting.
When I looked up all the other patrons had gone. I was the only one left. Basically, the restaurant was staying open just for me.
I took dining alone to a whole new level.
I ate quickly and gave a fifty percent tip on a cheap meal. I was calmer by the time I got home.
Just me with . . . NO ONE!!!!!! I mean it. Nobody at all. Whatever.
I’ve been invited to a dinner party. A fancy sit down dinner party with a cocktail hour preceding it. It’s a happy occasion, celebrating the wife’s successful battle against cancer. I still remember her tearful message on my voice-mail, canceling her son’s lesson because she had found out she had cancer, “I just want to see my boys grow up,” she’d said.
But after multiple surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy treatments, she’s been cancer-free for ten years, hence the party. I’m not usually invited anywhere, let alone a society-like dinner party. And even though I often avoid social settings, I decided that I would go.
The pink invitation was addressed to me, ”and Guest.“
I immediately started to think of who I might bring, though no good choices came to mind. It was a bit of a stressor, still, I fantasized about what it would be like to bring a smart, well-spoken man who knows his way around a dining room table. My old college friend (with seldom used benefits)? No, too complicated. As I was pondering my situation, I eventually checked my voice-mail. Cheryl had called to make sure I’d gotten the invitation. She was afraid I’d gone away on vacation and would miss it. She added that she didn’t know whether I was seeing someone or had someone I take to events like this but she wanted me to know that she’d be happy to see me come alone. She said I should feel totally comfortable coming alone and that would be just great. They’d just be thrilled to see me, and I could come alone.
That was nice.
She wanted to make me feel comfortable about COMING ALOOOOONE.
I delayed in responding. I’d recently attended her son’s graduation party alone and though it was nice, I was a bit uncomfortable and felt very conspicuous. See I Almost Crossed One Off of My Bucket List of Men to Do.
As I continued pondering, a possible potential date came to mind — a man I’d met through group therapy. He’d recently quit group so it was completely appropriate (if freaking weird) to see him outside of the therapeutic context. I was going over in my mind how I’d introduce him. “We used to work together,” sounded plausible. (Yes, we worked out our tortured psyches, but no one need know that part.) It would be weird, maybe too weird, since he knows much more about me than a casual friendly date would need to know. But he’s a smart guy who, I have no doubt, would be able to talk to the people at this dinner. I tweeted a random query about it to my friends who live in my phone about whether that would just be too weird. I received a response that I should just go alone because being single is awesome.
There it was again, “Go alone.“
Suddenly I felt that it was some sign of weakness that I even considered bringing a companion.
In the end, I left a message for Cheryl saying that yes, I would love to attend, but that, “As it looks now, I’ll be coming alone.” I guess I just wanted to leave the door open, even just in my mind.
Shortly after, I happened to be outside when Cheryl drove by my house (in her very nice Jaguar convertible). She stopped and exclaimed how thrilled she and her husband were that I would be coming. Then she elaborated. She said she thinks it’s just great for me to come alone, that she was single for a long time and she became so tired of bringing someone she’d have to entertain. She started going places alone, she explained. ”I can’t tell you how many weddings I went to alone. I’m just like you. It’s better not to bring just anybody. If it was somebody special, sure, but there’s no need to have to entertain somebody else. Plus, there will be plenty of people you know. Some of the folks from the graduation and The Martin’s and . . .” She proceeded to name couples.
The one couple I did, in fact, know, but I’ve ever had any meaningful conversations with them. At the graduation party they extended a warm hello and then walked around the pool hand in hand. I can’t fault them for that, I mean, it’s not their job to entertain me.
Then Cheryl said — again, ”I’m just thrilled you’re coming and I think it’s great that you’re coming alone.“
I know she meant well. I do not fault her at all. But it had an effect on me. I abandoned any thought of bringing an escort.
But why wasn’t I encouraged to bring a date? This is a dinner party! It’s not a wedding, Baptism or Bar/Bat-Mitvah. For family religious ceremonies it doesn’t really make sense to bring a rent-a-date. Those occasions are sacred and there will be pictures that the family will look at forever — and I don’t want them looking at a picture of my random date and think — “Who the hell was that?”
But a dinner party? Why not bring a companion, even if he’s not someone special?
I know why. It’s the new black. It’s the new black for women to go alone.
Well, it’s not so new for me. I’ve done it for years, both before and after my divorce. See, “ The Night I Became Cinderella” and “The New Walk of Shame for the Single Woman, Going Out Alone.” My ex-husband hated going anywhere. I could get him to go to my work formal once a year and that was about it for those kind of events. Other times I went solo and told people my husband had to work. After we had children, I would just say my husband was home with the kids. So for me, I’ve done the new black. For me, it would be the new free to go somewhere with a man.
I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’ll talk to people. I’ll be my own designated driver and won’t drink. See, ”My Kids Think I’m an Alcoholic.” I’ll be prepared to be seated with all couples. But truthfully, sometimes that’s just not festive. See, “I Went To A Wedding Alone.” Yes, as Cheryl pointed out, I would have had to entertain a date, but he’d also have to entertain me. If the couples are uncomfortable or just not gregarious I’d know I’d have someone to sit with. Let’s face it, this isn’t a get together with old college chums or a girls night out. It’s a sit down dinner party in the wealthy suburbs, and all that that implies.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but being single means I can have a date if I want, right? Isn’t that the bonus of being single? Choices? Options? — Even if the options put me outside of my comfort zone? But according to Cheryl, my only logical and fiercely independent option seems to be to go, bravely, alone, yet again.
Damn it. I’ve been out of the game for so long now I’m not even allowed to have a partner — for anything!
In the end, even though the invitation originally said I could bring a date, the multiple congratulatory comments persuaded me to RSVP for one. ( I chickened out.)
I needed Cheryl to say, or for me to say to myself, ”You can go alone, but it’s fine if you want to bring a date, or companion, or whoever.” Oh the sweet freedom — to bring a male friend, or gay male friend, or hell, a paid male friend (not that I could afford that — heh heh heh).
But because of the new black, it has been made abundantly clear to me (in my warped mind) that I should go alone. So I will.
Screw the new black. Next time I want someone to walk in and out with, and know who I’ll be sitting with ahead of time. Yeah, yeah, I can go alone, but I don’t have to, damn it.
Oh well. Maybe I’ll get lucky. Or maybe Cheryl is planning to fix me up with one of the older men of means who is similarly unattached.
Just Me With . . . no date, boldly going where no man has gone before . . . or with . . . at least, not as my date, anyway.