Monday, January 3, 2011

Where It's At

I'm going to seize upon some momentary inspiration and allow myself to keep it brief. A friend posted something on facebook to the effect of, appreciate where you're at in life when you're actually there. I couldn't agree more yet there are days it seems an impossible dream. Of course my boys' toddlerhoods seem precious and perfect now, but at the time I know I had many days when the clock just ticked...and ticked...and ticked. And now, staring down Ethan's soon-to-begin teenage years, I can only imagine the moments where it will take extraordinary self-restraint not to scream bloody murder at him (and days that restraint will fail me), much less experience much by way of appreciation.

So can it really be done? Can we really appreciate the time we're in, without fast-forwarding (or rewinding) a little? I guess for me, it's maybe yes and no--how's that for a committed answer? I guess what I mean is, I would love to be so optimistic or wise that each day and moment were a gift unto themselves. Many are. But I guess it would be foolish of me to try to deny that most days too have their share of barrel-through-it moments.

So for those moments/days/stages...maybe the best I can do is to breathe deeply and remember something one of my aunts said to me awhile back. As I was deep in the throes of baby/toddlerhood and could barely string a sentence together, she told me that when I was her age, I would give ANYTHING to have even a crappy baby day back. And she's right. I would.

So while being knee-deep in the minutiae of wherever you're at--diapers, PTA talk, moody and demanding teenagers--makes it not always possible to be constantly appreciative, taking the time now and again to consider your situtation from a different vantage point might make it...not only where it's at, but exactly where you want to be.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I'm not claiming to have put forth a whole lot of originality with any of my previous blog entries--in fact, largely it's the lack of original-yet-not-too-self-absorbed-sounding topics that keep me from writing more frequently--and admittedly, writing about resolutions on December 29 lacks much panache. Yet it feels kind of unavoidable, so hopefully you'll bear with me.

According to the Source of All Things, the internet, the "popular tradition of making new years resolutions also has origins in Ancient Babylon and Rome." And according to the REAL Source of All Things--Wikipedia--only about 12 percent of participants in a "resolutions study" achieved their goals. So while I'm not really sure of the exact point at which we start dating Ancient Babylon and Rome,all in all, that's a lot of failed attempts by generations upon generations of folks. Why is that? If another tradition had such an astounding fail rate, wouldn't it have died long ago?

I don't have the answer but, as one of the consistently failing 88 percent, I can give it a stab. I guess it's the same concept as why we put ourselves through other frustrating and elaborate rituals--to follow and create traditions (see previous blog entry) and to mark time in a meaningful way. Plus resolutions also have the added bonus of creating a feeling of hope and renewal--who knows, sometime, with one of those little promises, you might be among the 12 percent who is actually able to stick with it. And won't that feel just amazing!

So for the heck of it, I'll let you know what I'm overwhelmingly most likely to fail at in the coming year, in no particular order. (Feel free to do the same in the comments. I love comments!)

1. Motherly patience. You can look at this in one of two ways. My failure rate is a solid 100 percent, as I am generally screaming at the kids by January 2, having spent 10  or so cold days cooped up with them over the Christmas break. However, most people who know my kids seem to like them and tell me I've done an OK job. So I guess the resolution itself is a consistent failure, but I like to look at the bigger picture on this one. (Right?)

2. Train for a triathlon. It seems like doing something physically extreme would be a nice way to say "bring it on" to the big 4-0. Then again, see 2007. Did a marathon. Did not catch "the bug." Oh, and I HATE swimming in the winter. And I don't own a bike.

3. Work on work. I did make some substantial achievements in this realm this year but I know it's not enough. As I revealed just now in point #2, I am not getting any younger and it is entirely debatable as to whether writing a very sporadic blog and reporting on Sudbury town government counts as "resuming my career." This one, I might actually have to force myself to be among the 12 percent if I want to be making a living from writing, which I do.

then again...

4. Cut myself a break! On any given day, in any given situation, I can tell you truthfully that I almost always try the best I can in that moment. Is that "try" often a failure? Yes. But I'm also a big believer and practicer of the do-over. I am not afraid to look at and confront my "stuff" and to own it, and learn from it. But ultimately, I've learned nothing during my (see #2) years on earth, it's that you can't please everyone, right? So stop trying so hard.

So resolved.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tradition, tradition

Every year the holiday season inevitably sets off a torrent of...well, lots of things. Stress. Anticipation. Stress. Exhaustion. Stress. Joy and magic? Yes, but honestly, most of that is limited my kids' squeals of shock and awe during the 15 minutes of paper-shredding-frenzy that is Christmas morning. Same for everyone, right? Lots of stress and work for a few moments of unmitigated joy.

Why such a pessimistic grinch, you ask? I don't think I am, really; just a realist. But the holidays do have a way of shining a light on an issue I've struggled with for some time now: a lack of reliable traditions. For years, like most folks, we did the same thing--went to my parents' house. But as they got older and found it difficult to host the growing clan in their small home, things changed...some years for the better, some not, but never into something consistent. I hear people talk all the time about how they always go to Aunt Marian's for Thanksgiving and their sister-in-law Sue's for Christmas Eve. It's been many years since I've had an "always" for these such occasions. And it can be a bummer.

So you can imagine I've really taken it to heart that my older son, through no mom-driven osmosis (I keep my thoughts on this quiet around him) has turned out to be as tradition-bound as I am. Perhaps it has a greater meaning in the context of his nearly teenage mind, I'm not sure, but he is borderline obsessed right now with what we "usually" do. So I've had to explain that due to various circumstances, many beyond our control, we don't do the same thing every year. It might be nice to know what to count on, I tell him, but on the other hand, it could become routine, which is something I do hear from friends who are stuck year after year listening to Great-Uncle Jim prattle on about prices in the 1930s. And then I try to emphasize the same things we DO do every year. We eat turkey--somewhere! The day after Thanksgiving, we go to the movies. On Christmas, we wake up in our own house. And on New Year's Day, we splurge on a nice dinner. (OK, we just started that a year ago and it didn't go very well, but dammit, traditions have to start somewhere.)

So lo and behold, as is a great gift of parenthood, teaching him has taught me too...or if not quite yet, it has helped me chill a little. Traditions take time, right? And they're not carved in stone. There's no magic to "always," is there?

To leave this on a fun note, post your favorite holiday tradition, or the one you'd most like to get out of if you could. I do like the day-after-Thanksgiving kids' movie and may insist on it long past the point when the boys are interested.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dreams can come true...?

I had some pretty strange dreams last night. I was pregnant with twins (!). Even stranger, though, I spent $25.03 on doughnuts, which I would never, ever do. Chocolate or wine? You bet. But not doughnuts, even the oft-moaned-over Krispy Kreme varieties.

In any case, as I don't have the greatest dream recall, waking up with these images made me think about dreams of both the soporific and fantasy variety. What were my long-ago dreams? Have many, or any, of them come true?

I don't have many memories of childhood dreams. The earliest ones I really recall clearly took form in my early college days, when I fantasized about becoming a newscaster. I planned to call myself Liz Vincent (Vincent is my father's name; Stankiewicz was a bit...problematic) and completely envisioned myself behind a desk, all blond bangs and round, rosy cheeks.

But that's as far as the vision went. Never in those imaginations did I see myself toiling away year after year, waiting for my big break as I stood outside on a freezing night at 11 p.m. for a background shot for some story or other. I was always just conveniently plunked behind the newsdesk, smiling away at my own living-large self.

I guess that's the thing about those kinds of dreams. While they're worth having, and for some of us worth pursuing, they don't come for free. It's all well and good to believe you can do or be anything you want to--and you can--but not without a lot of effort and sacrifice. And time would soon reveal that I hated standing outside in the cold, so to speak. A warm kitchen and hot bath turned out to be more my speed.

And as I (and the majority of those reading this, I imagine) find myself at that point of life where this is "kinda it for now," as one of my friends says, I look back on that old dream and wonder if I really let myself down somewhere along the way. Would that girl ever have imagined the culmination of her journalistic fantasies would be covering board meetings at age 39?

On the surface, the answer to that is an obvious, huge no. But what the hell did SHE know? Because maybe it isn't just that the shape of your dreams changes...the definition does too. Because through 39-year-old eyes, two healthy kids who've always had a parent present, a solid marriage, a home, and the ability and desire to resume a calling--writing--that never quite left me all seem kind of...dreamy.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

No Impact, No Way

First off, I can't seem to figure out how to change the title, so the clunky "unnamed" will have to do for now...apparently, much like a facial tattoo, you should really be sure you know what you're doing before picking a Google blog title.

Scott and I started watching a movie earlier this week that was somewhat related to the local and national events of the week, at least to my way of thinking. Called "No Impact Man," I can't say I exactly "liked" it, but it would be hard not to find it intriguing on some level. Its protagonist, a guy named Colin Beaven, decides to go on a year-long quest to minimize--I mean to the point of nothingness--his own carbon footprint. He and his (supportive but somewhat horrified) wife take the project on in stages, first giving up more obvious luxuries--Starbucks coffees, new clothing, etc.--and gradually moving toward realms most of us would shudder to consider. No food that has traveled more than 25 miles to their plates (think about that--NYC, in the winter). No electricity. And--the understandable source of much of his wife's horror--no toilet paper.

The reason I, and many critics, couldn't get completely on board is because as with many such endeavors (Eat, Pray, Love or Julie + Julia, etc.), setting out to do something with the immediate intention of publicizing it immediately cheapens one's intentions somewhat, genuine though they may be. In other words, seeking attention for reducing his carbon footprint doesn't exactly fit the premise, does it?

But regardless, I guess ultimately you do feel like at least Colin and his hapless spouse DID something, whether or not components of that something were somewhat self-serving. I suppose that is my point, finally. The efforts to remain a decent suburban footsoldier (not my phrase, but I love it) sometimes ring hollow in the face of the staggering problems we face as a planet. Some days, it only takes one more article, news report or book on the effects of global warming and overpopulation to make you stare at that modest pile of recyclables in your closet despondently and say, this? This is what's supposed to save us all?

Well, yes. Yes, it is. For the counter to being that footsoldier, turning off that faucet, casting that vote--is a world where we truly lose the one thing without which we cannot effect any change: belief in ourselves, in each other. The rest of the country may have forgotten, but I remember the campaign slogan of not too long ago--don't you? Yes, we can. YES, WE CAN. Now, I'm not naive, and I'm certainly not a Suzy Sunshine optimist type. But what would be worse than the frustration of one more broken promise, one more unmet initiative? NOT feeling that frustration. Not believing in anything or anyone. THAT would be worse.

For his part, where I left off in the film, Colin said he intended through his extremism to figure out that which was truly vital to his existence, and to add a few of those conveniences back to his daily life. God, I hope toilet paper makes the short list.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Day One, Age 39

Let's clarify that. Blog day one, blog writer day...14,240, more or less. WOW, that's a lot of days. But why dwell on that downer, I only mention my age because, well, those of you who know me know it's a minor obsession (my age and others') and also because I had kind of had my recent birthday as a goal to get this thing off the ground. I didn't quite meet it but close enough, I guess.
All right, that's not a great introduction. Let me start again. Hi. I'm guessing you know me already if you're bothering to read this at all. Writing a blog has been a minor goal for some time but one I was reluctant to pursue for a number of reasons. I've spent the last 12+ years primarily as a stay-at-home mom but always planned to get back to writing and editing somehow. As the years passed--for that is what they do during the busy-ness of attending the many, varied needs and wants of growing boys--I felt a growing sense of unease that I had let my professional and creative aspirations get too far from me, with no clear path how to right my own ship, so to speak. And you know what? There still isn't a clear path, really for any women I know who stay home for any length. So I'm slowly but steadily trying, now with 14,240 days of experience behind me, to create my own path.
How this blog will end up being part of that, I'm not quite sure yet, but I do have some sense that the very act of doing it, even if for my own eyes only, will fit into something greater at some point. Thus answers the "who cares" aspect that has plagued me a bit. My life is pretty small and I don't pretend otherwise. And public self-indulgence of any sort really irritates me. So why do a blog at all? Well, a couple of folks have been really instrumental in showing me that sometimes the process is really the whole point. Funnily, one person who really lit a fire under me didn't mean to at all--at least I assume not, since I've never even met her. One night I stumbled across the blog of the wife of a college friend (and by "stumbled" I mean "I was being nosy on facebook and saw it there"). Her name is Vickie and I found the entries I glanced at so insightful and amusing...but more to the point, I "got" that she--also a 39-year-old mother of two boys who seems to be en route to making her path--was doing it for herself and for the process most of all. Not once did I think "self-indulgent, who cares," which had been my latent fear of writing one myself. So thanks, Vickie, for the inspiration and for putting yourself out there. Keep on keeping have a great voice.
I'd also like to mention my former Northeastern professor-turned-friend-of-many-years Jerry Berger, who, beyond encouraging me years ago to start a blog, any kind of blog, to keep myself writing regularly, has been a wonderful mentor/resource, even when I had nothing going on except for diapers and school conferences. Just knowing he's around as a voice of wisdom and encouragement has been incredibly helpful at times.
You know how some people come into your life at exactly the right time? For that I offer my thanks to my good friend Kris Asselin, herself an aspiring/quickly-becoming-accomplished writer whose persistently positive outlook has really helped me try to keep the big picture in mind, even when the little picture is so darn...little. Thanks for that, Kris.
And though like Vickie I'll probably steer pretty clear of marriage as a topic, I do want to say that although Scott's relentless logic can make me want to tear my hair out in a day-to-day sense, is it ever helpful as I try to wade my way through something so uncertain. And it is only because of his continued support, both financial and emotional, that I am able to take these slow steps forward. (Don't tell him I said ANY of this.)

Any suggestions for a blog title? Vickie is already using the one I had vaguely thought of and "39 for the first time by Liz, not Vickie" sounds decidedly clunky...