Tuesday, October 20, 2009


We recently had the opportunity to travel to Chicago. We were gone for eight days. Eric had business to do, but for me it was a great break from everyday life. We stayed on the 89th floor of the Suisse hotel and had an amazing view of the Chicago River as well as Lake Michigan. I walked up and down Michigan Avenue, swam in the hotel pool, went to the Chicago Art Museum. We had some wonderful dinners. We took the architectural boat tour and absolutely loved Millennium Park. Chicago has the most incredible public art.

It was fun for me to observe a new city. Downtown Chicago is very clean and well-kept. The flower boxes were brimming with seasonal Mums and ornamental kale. People were conservatively dressed in black and gray business attire. I don’t think I saw any tattoos or strange piercing. It was obviously not San Francisco. We only saw a couple dogs in all of downtown, even in the park, and they were very small. It’s probably too cold in winter to walk dogs in the city.

The last two nights we stayed at the Palmer House which is a gorgeous old historic hotel. We ate dinner in their lobby restaurant and I said out loud what I’d been thinking for days. It was so unique and special to be away but not have part of me feel I should be home. For the first time in memory I didn’t need to feel guilt about being away. The nest was empty and there was no need for me to be there. I even briefly contemplated extending the trip and going to Connecticut to visit Allie, but she had weekend plans. All I had at home was a little finch, Coco Chanel, and finches are very low maintenance. It was a wonderful epiphany.

I spoke to Lana the next day. She’d been coming by every couple days to feed the bird. She reported that Coco had pulled out almost all his feathers and the floor around the cage was covered with them. She opined that being alone so much had made him a nervous wreck. I felt terrible but then I got a little mad. This three ounce creature was lonely? We couldn’t leave him without feather pulling and anxious pooping? Bird guilt? Say it isn’t so.

When we got back the next day Coco did indeed look terrible. The songbird was virtually mute. He pulled apart his bed. Nothing looks sillier than a four inch bird with a beak full of cotton. He is an exceptionally interactive finch which I think he got from Eric. He keys into little household sounds like the push buttons on the phone and the timer going off and then imitates them. Sometimes when he’s alone a lot I’ll leave some music on for him. He loves The Doors.

It took a couple weeks but he’s back to his normal self. It’s obvious this little creature can’t be home alone. Arrangements will have to be made the next time we go away. I’m thinking of leaving him with the neighbors who have three kids and a bulldog puppy. We’ll see who has any feathers left at the end of that trip.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Wagon


One of the beauties of spending time with a two year old is sharing their gift for observation, clarity and simplicity. My daughter, Allie, has taught me this again. At two years, eight months, Allie is sweet and bright and beautiful . She’s got two big sisters to contend with as well as an innate desire to master the world around her.

Some months back Allie and Lana (six) were playing out front. Allie rode in the wagon while Lana pulled it up and down the sidewalk. At one point Lana made a sharp turn and Allie was pitched from the wagon. The injuries were to the soul rather than to the body and after the initial insult, the tears were dried and the game continued. I thought that would be the end of it. It wasn’t.

The incident with the wagon keeps recurring whenever the topic of safety is broached. If I’m strapping Allie into her car seat I’ll explain that I’m doing it because I don’t want anything bad to happen to her. She’ll say, “Yeah. Like the wagon.” Or we might be crossing the street and I insist on holding her hand. I tell her that I don’t want her to get hurt and she’ll repeat her mantra, “Like the wagon.” To her, the most devastating thing possible has happened to her. She was jolted out of a wagon and fell twelve inches to the ground. Her mind cannot fathom a greater tragedy. Being hit by a car or some other horror is just too abstract to comprehend. Allie, I have a wish for you. As your mother who loves you infinitely, I hope falling out of that wagon is the worst thing that ever happens to you. But what are a mother’s wishes worth?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Reply All

I miss the old days. While I love the benefits of technology, and am somewhat addicted to my instantaneous electronic communication devices, there are glitches in the system. My husband says that computers and cell phones work just well enough that you depend on them, but not quite well enough that you CAN depend on them. iPhones have become ubiquitous among the hip and not so hip, but there have been reliability problems and messages can be pent up in the system. My daughter recently met a guy who called on a Monday night to ask her out. She didn’t get the message until Tuesday morning at which time she returned his call. That message didn’t arrive for a day and a half and so on throughout the week. It took until Friday to get the iPhones synched up for an actual conversation. Carrier pigeon would have been more efficient.

I miss having people call me at home to chat on the phone. I have several older women friends (and one man) who still do and it seems so quaint, reminiscent of an earlier time. Now I am almost universally called on my cell phone and it’s rarely a convenient time to talk. Frequently I’ll let it go to voice mail, but so often I’m having a conversation in a location not conducive to having a telephone conversation. We all are. Movies, hospitals, dressing rooms, toilets in public restrooms, zoos, highways, biways and every mode of public transit but planes. What airplane travel has lost in civility is partially redeemed by the lack of cell phone conversations.

What’s more disturbing to me is that communication itself has become so impersonal. We’re a Twittering, Face-booking, texting, emailing world. I miss actually talking to people. We all have our ways to be reached, but each of us has a preferred route through our personal firewall. A friend recently mentioned that she had repeatedly tried to reach someone through all the usual channels: emails, voice mail, to no avail. She discovered that if she “Face-booked” him there was an immediate response. I have another friend who lives several blocks away from me. I’ve left a couple messages on her cell phone, one suggesting a lunch date and there was no return call. I noticed that every day she posts song lyrics on Face book so people can guess the artist. She has time to do this but not call back and say yes or no to lunch? I can only conclude that it’s a statement on the friendship, but that may be too harsh an assessment. Maybe it’s a statement on what I am hereby calling her PMC - preferred method of communication.

There are so many choices in communication that we can pit one against the other and use them to buy time. If someone I don’t feel like talking to calls me I won’t answer the phone but I know I have to respond in some fashion. To give myself a little space I’ll send a quick email saying I’m swamped, blah, blah. Twitter is the fad of the moment, but texting is absolutely ubiquitous. Even my mother sends texts to the grand kids. You need an account for Twitter - to text all you need is a phone number. I do not text. After my daughter went twelve hundred messages over her limit I kicked her off my plan and cancelled text messaging. People still send me texts sometimes but I answer back with email.

My twenty-something daughters do much of their communication through text messages and it’s brought a very impersonal aspect to the dating life. Some guy she hasn’t heard from for months will send one of them a text message around ten p.m. on a Friday night that says something like, “In ur neighborhood. Want to get a drink?” Excuse me? Even the booty call doesn’t require an actual call anymore? Just a text? They can even text one woman to make plans while they are with another woman. So efficient. Whenever the girls are seeing a new guy I’m always very interested to know whether he just send texts or will go to the “trouble” of making a phone call. I’m sorry. I don’t care how much times have changed. If a guy can’t be bothered to put himself out there to such a small extent, then I don’t feel there is much chance it will develop into a worthwhile relationship. If a man is interested in YOU, he wants to hear you laugh. A little emoticon will not be enough. Trust me on this, girls.

I miss seeing nannies talking to their charges in strollers rather than to their friends on cell phones. What is being done to developing language skills, to manners, to nurturing in our cellular society? I’m so glad there were no cell phones when my kids were little and we were on outings. I was with THEM and talked to them and listened to them. I’m sure my life would have been more enjoyable and interesting, but I’m certain I was a better mother without a cell phone attached to my head. In some ways our culture is so child-centric. We schedule the family meals, vacations, weekend and daily lives around their enrichment activities and sports schedules. We are constantly running ourselves ragged to do FOR them, but what are we doing TO them and ourselves in the process?

I love email, or at least I think I do. My email is right there on my blackberry, the blinking red light signaling new messages. I can do more business in a shorter period of time. I don’t have to be chained to my desk and when I go out somewhere I needn’t wonder whether I’m missing an important message. Now I can react immediately. Instant results are expected. We’ve cut out the thinking time. Read, reply, send. Read, reply, send. Oops. Shit. Did I just hit, “Reply All”? Oh, no. Oh, shit. I did NOT mean to do that. Look, here’s an email coming in. It says, “Did you mean to Reply All?” Crap.

The “Reply All” trigger finger is an emailing etiquette disaster. I should know. I’ve done it twice. The habitual “Reply All” is annoying, inconvenient and sometimes self-serving. You send a group email trying to put together a tennis game and mistakenly neglect to specify, “ Only respond if you can make it.” Replies start to come back. Sore elbow, sore throat, kids home from school, already playing, on Safari in Africa. Just had to throw that in, huh? Stop checking your email and concentrate on those animals.

I must admit this economy (and two kids in expensive colleges) has given me serious vacation envy. My black belt in travel has faded to a dull gray so please forgive me for my lapse. I got a group email from one of my teammates looking for a game. I wrote back something like this: “So sorry I can’t make it. It’s my birthday and I’m in Palm Springs having brunch twenty feet from James Blake and Andy Roddick who are playing a private practice match.” Reply All.