be a better human, books, giving, kindness, lists, reading, talking

Mothers, loving and liking them

In all my stages of employment (retailing, teaching, nannying, librarianing) I have worked with lots of mothers, and on some catering occasions, sometimes even worked with my own. I’m surrounded by them. Many of my friends are having their first or second babies, even more social media acquaintances. Maybe it is my biological clock waking up, but I’ve tuned in closer lately to how these women relate to and talk about their children: some combination of everyday responsibility, joy, exhaustion, stress and devotion. I like (and love a few of) these women, and I love hearing about their relationships with their kids through their eyes. Whether the objects of discussion are infants, tweens or twenty-somethings, their stories give me perspective on how at any given age I got along with my own fantastic momma.

So far the only nuggets of info I’ve shared about my mom are:

  1. She has told me for years to write a blog (and book).
  2. She nags me to take care of myself, which is sometimes annoying, but this happens because she cares about me, her firstborn and only daughter.
  3. She puts her unread hand-me-over books from her BFF Kathy on my bookshelf that she is babysitting for me quasi-indefinitely.

These are all true! But they are hardly the whole picture.

First off, though I do advocate reading all the books you own and display, bookshelves are a convenient place to rest them before you get to them. Mom does read books, but I have to physically put the book into her hands; I used to just tell her titles that moved me and that I thought she’d like, but she would lose the envelopes she wrote them on. I suggested she use the library. Then one August I visited to find a book with a NEW! MARCH! sticker and calculated that encouraging her to check out library books was doing a disservice to the library. When I librarian-ed her (ie. asking in a panicked tone, “what if someone else was waiting for it?” and guilting with “they probably had to assume it was lost and replace it!”) she took it back to its home. As a “senior” (in numbers only), she learned from that experience that she doesn’t have to pay ANY fines or replacement fees! And they let her keep the book, to boot!

She runs a little backlog of books I now buy for her. (I learned from the 100-page library book I checked out for her with my card and its ongoing 18 renewals and started buying them.) Prone to savoring books (or just getting through a few pages before getting too sleepy to continue), it takes her a long time to finish one book. This both drives me nuts because I want to talk about the books with her, and also epitomizes intentional consuming of the content. She may have a great time taking the book slowly, where I may have devoured it and moved on. (Or, she may forget what she read the last night and proceed to spend a fortnight on one chapter. Anyone’s guess.)

And despite the backlog, I continue gifting her books. (Viva las bookstores!) I know that when I have a profound connection to a story or concept or retelling of real life events, that she will respond to it also. The books I choose for her generally resonate with us on a personal level, topics ranging from a young person who experienced loss and how he carried on (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer–my mom claimed changed her life) to a nonfictional chaotic family that produces strong women (The Glass Castle and Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls–ditto), to an adult and his mother talking through life events he was too young to understand when they happened (The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper & Gloria Vanderbilt–seriously, start it already, Mom!)

I love being able to talk to my mom through the books we read in common. I love when she loves a book as much as or more than I do. I also love when we both dislike the same book (our first “official” mother-daughter book club selection H is For Hawk was more like D is for Dud/B is for Boring/O is for Overrated). Our shared opinions and similar sources for inspiration reinforce that I am something like her–even though sometimes that is not ideal, as in the case of this list that I have to recreate from memory because I wrote it out on a sticky note and lost the sticky note.

List of books I think Mom will like*

*and you might too!

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (fiction)
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (fiction, bit of a mystery!)
  • What Unites Us by Dan Rather & Elliot Kirschner (memoir/USA)
  • My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (memoir)
  • Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders (politics, USA)
  • A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren (politics, USA)
  • The book I’m purchasing for her, so it will remain undisclosed until she receives it

At any rate, my brother and I are super lucky to both love and like our mom. We are fans of hers not only because she cooks like I read: a variety of genres, super well, and all the time. Mostly, we are fans because she is supportive, sweet and loves us a lot. I wish she would read more, and she wishes I would cook more, so each of us should probably listen to the other and balance our book time:food prep time ratios. We don’t have a ton of traditions as a three-person family, but the approximately two that we have are perfect: banana cream pie for my brother’s birthday (and my gluten intolerance means I now get just the bananas and custard, aka the best part) and wrapping our secular presents on Christmas morning, five to fifteen minutes before exchanging and unwrapping them.

Though our in-person Mother’s Day celebration has to wait until the end of the month when I’m home, I hope her sons (biological and fur) treat her extra well this weekend. Being a mom is a big job, and it seems like it doesn’t get any easier with age, so, kudos to my mom, all the moms I know (and don’t). We kids, young or grown, may fight you on a number of things, you may always embarrass us, but we love you!

gf

anxiety, giving, judgment, kindness, stuff

Mission: simplify.

I consistently stare into my closet. For what I deem unhealthy amounts of time. Every day, if the door is open, I peer into it and try to acquire a new target for my not-new, but not-often-practiced skill of culling my personal possessions.

This will not sound remarkable to anyone who has lived through the four-month lease cycles of New York City, but in the 7.5 years since graduating college, I have lived in 3 different states and 8 apartments/houses. In March, I will move for the 5th time in 2 years. (Heads up, penpals.)

Moving is the absolute worst. (Melodramatically, of course.) It forces me to touch all the crap I have dragged around with me to all of these places. (I or other awesome humans who help me move the crap, that is.)

So perhaps it is a mere response to my rambling woman status, but: I need to get rid of clutter.

The symbolism isn’t lost on me, a person who suffers from anxiety. At my worst, every sentence that leaves my mouth, text or email I send, as well as statements said to/about/near me can rattle around my head for days/months/years. My mind at its worst is a pinball machine, with tiny thoughts hurling around at warp speed and maximum volume, carrying self-chastising/self-doubt/FOMO/self-analysis/self-judgment. (See a pattern?) A pinball machine where I cannot let ANY OF THE THOUGHTS go down the little chute, defending its exit.

Mind clutter is real, it is deafening and it is not healthy.

Depression is a filter, but anxiety is a magnifying mirror I hold up and see all my faults, failures and ways I don’t measure up, and I need to step away from the mirror.

So, I prune the closet. Normally, I prune the closet AND STILL feel anxious.

One of my biggest stressors is money. It would make sense, then, that since I began an almost-every-day meditation practice and committed to the decision to spend money on experiences rather than items, I have been less anxious. (And this is even BEFORE I read The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, motivational text about not spending money on non-essentials.)

Two things needed to happen: 1, I need to divest my non-essentials. 2, I need to stop stress-shopping, which is my entirely nonhelpful habit of buying clothing for the joy it will bring. Though the joy is real, it is temporary and does not mask or replace the anxiety about x, y, nor z.

Ultimately, what I need to address is a simple question. What do I actually need?

For the physical clutter: I have fewer books than any other librarian I know; I know how heavy they are to move, and I donate them. I either unsubscribe or immediately delete marketing emails. I donate clothing (using Marie Kondo as a suggestion, not a religious text), recycle papers I wrote in high school/college (and yet I still retain some, because I am a pack rat). If I can’t or don’t use it, I’m at the point where I am content with losing it. Someone else needs it more than I do.

For the mind clutter: it is cleansing getting rid of stuff, and worrying less about what to buy is freeing for both my head and my financials.

All this said, one of my 2018 resolutions was not to spend money on ‘stuff.’ January did not see any progress in that regard. February has seen a rock solid commitment thus far, though, and I feel great about paring down. I feel great about planning a trip to Italy for a friend’s wedding because I know it will be memorable and rejuvenating, delicious and beautiful, and it means quality time with people important to me.

Simplifying my life will hopefully turn this pinball machine brain into a gumball machine… Instead of all the mental noise, I’ll be able to focus on one thought-gumball at a time with mindfulness and calm and intention.

Get me out of my head/closet/apartment and into the world.
Librarian Moment/Suggested Reading:

bookstores, giving, strangers

Bookstores before Christmas

Let me begin by saying I love Christmas. I am Jewish, and I love Christmas. It is more complicated than that, obviously. Half of my family is one religion, Jewish, and the other is Catholic. At different times throughout my life, I have identified as a Cashew, or as Jew-ish. I’ll save my religious identity for some other time, because it has nothing to do with my love for Christmas.

Christmas, to me, is about presents. This comes from being raised in a household where religion was either forced upon us kids or nonexistent after we rebelled against it. (We were spoiled, and if we refused to go to Sunday school, we won!) We didn’t go to church, didn’t go to temple after second grade or thereabouts, but we still selected, wrapped, gave and received presents. I’m sure my conditioning as an American consumer also influenced my love for this most famous gift-giving day, but I prefer to think that I enjoy celebrating family, togetherness, and giving tokens of care to my family and close friends.

And, I love a sale.

There are two types of retail employees you’ll encounter at the holidays. When I was a bookstore employee, I was generally of the camp that is just SO FLIPPING EXCITED to be a part of holiday joy that no amount of snow or lack of parking would harsh my vibe. I was Happy to Help, and it helped that my position was mostly cashier and not customer service; that meant that I didn’t have to spend a great deal of time dealing with frantic people and trying to find whatever godforsaken item they wanted. I just got to take their money and send them on their way. With a smile! And sometimes forgetting to put their bookmarks into their bags! Bookmarks are small, you guys, and there is so much Necessary Cash Wrap Shit (manuals?? Yes. Gift card covers?? In spades. Random detritus, you bet!!) under the counter that you can’t see.

The other retail employee variety is sullen, angry, and resentful of all this joy bullshit because what the hell, there were no parking spaces and if one more person screams at me about a book that sold out in stores AND online, I swear to god… Given my anti-people tendencies, I could have ended up being this bah-humbug person, but I was spared by the mercy of seasonal work. I worked during breaks from college, and so got to recharge my batteries and surround myself with pleasant (or not pleasant, but at least non-Customers) people in my daily life.

Even when I was depressed, hated my first full-time job & my ex-boyfriend & my new city & myself–in the classroom and out, coming home and working over Christmas worked its magic. I dressed up in all the reds and festive dress and enthusiastically shouted “I can help you here!!!!!” with a little wave. I became the best version of myself I knew to be. Friendly, perky, helpful and funny. My managers had my back, my coworkers made me laugh, and there were no parent emails to answer. There were no children talking back, and if someone didn’t listen to me, I waited until they were ready, wasting no one’s time but their own.

Here, in addition to Customers, there were people who cared about other people and wanted to show them that through books (or stationery, or music, or puzzles or games or Lego). Here, there were people with seven extra dollars to donate to children who were spending the holidays in a hospital. Here, now, there was nonstop Christmas music, and the giftwrapping volunteers –hallelujah!– so we didn’t have to wrap cylindrical items with micromanager Customers watching like hawks, eager to interject!

When that same ex-boyfriend’s intimidating mother ended up at my counter due to some divine curse of timing, my face did not break its fierce smile. I squeaked through small-talk, nervous and an octave higher than I usually use, but I was polite and helpful and kind and I can’t remember but I probably said “give my love to everyone” or made a joke, or some such desperation. After all, it had been exactly one year prior that I had met her son, in the very same place. When her transaction was complete, I could not unglue my frozen smile from my face and in a jittery voice told my next customer, “that was my ex-boyfriend’s mother! Do I look okay? Was I cool!? Or weird?!” And she, a beautiful, friendly middle-age black lady, told me “you look adorable. I love your [red] skirt! You did great, honey!”

And that impulse towards kindness is one example of why I love retail. And bookstores. And shopping in brick-and-mortar buildings, with human people to Help you checkout and Help you be a human.

This week, I fear I have become a Customer. I called the bookstore yesterday, while driving there before work, and asked whether a book was in stock. As is now the custom, they placed it on hold for me so I could glide in and not have to dilly-dally, heading straight to checkout like a VIP. I was disappointed when I approached the counter to learn that I had gotten the non-cheery version of retail employee. She was not unkind, and did not rush me, but when my coupon didn’t work, I did the previously-detestable and walked out without buying what a bookstore employee had specifically taken the time to locate for me. I had turned my back on the retail codebook.

I mean, shit, I might as well have bought an Elf on the Shelf.

But, tomorrow is another day, and today, I received another coupon. So I’ll be back this week to redeem myself and buy that hardcover book because this gifty season is the only time I would ever consider doing such a thing. I might even blow $5 and get a peppermint mocha, with almond milk and maybe extra whip, and drink it while browsing.

And, you can bet your ass that when that beverage is empty, it will find its way to a garbage can. I have not forgotten everything I learned in retail.