Divorce, Why Gray Is The New Black

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The baby boomers have exploded, and their marriages are the first casualty.  Divorce rates among people older than fifty have risen to one in four, a rate that has doubled in the last two decades.

These aren’t the one dimensional, commercial interrupted Kim Kardashians and Bachelor, Bachelorette, marriages either.  On the surface these people have made it.  They have stayed together to raise their children, and they have likely gone through some other traumas too including loss of a parent, job or change in health status.

Why are they baling now, when the kids are out of the house, they’re close to retiring and the have plenty of time for each other?

The WSJ reports that it’s a result of the “Me” generation.  Individuals who married expecting to be happy instead of expecting to stay married.  Researchers in white coats are investigating why this marriage ending cancer has infiltrated middle age American marriages, but before we complacently accept this statistic into our already lowered collective conscious, let’s do our own research.

A simple trip to any neighborhood restaurant, a walk around your manicured block, might reveal more than the article in the WSJ.  What’s missing from these pictures is the presence of these gray haired couples.  They forgot how to be together somewhere on the way to soccer, or piano  lessons or during the business of parenting, holding down a job and running a household.

It’s not a simple lesion to fix.  Once you get out of the habit of being together, the natural resolution is to be apart.

But it didn’t have to be that way.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  The couples in the WSJ weren’t abusive, malevolent or fiscally irresponsible.  They were unsatisfied.

In a society where an answer to a question is determined by the speed of your internet connection, where TV guide is obsolete because you can watch hand picked programs on your computer, satisfaction has become a tricky word.

We may have become a society of emotional masturbators, happy to satisfy ourselves alone or quickly rather than to patiently explore the constant reinviting, of another person into our pleasure.

I have no doubt that at fifty plus, after 10-15 years of emotional dissatisfaction these couples are done.  I just wondered what could have happened if 10-15 years ago they were able to turn to each other instead of turning away.

Being with someone is not as easy as falling in love on a reality TV show, or sparkly Disney movie, it’s a constant, daily commitment to invite someone to your table.  Someone with their own agenda’s likes and dislikes.

So tonight.  When your kids are about to slip away into the dark realm of their internet worlds, stop them.  Make them talk to you.  Talk to them.  Talk to your spouse.  Engage them.  Teach them to engage.  Teach them that the compromise required in vital relationships reap much more than you ever give up.

Who knows?  You may just be saving your own marriage.

Puppy Love? How about Lion Lust?

It happened. Arising like a pimple on an adolescent face, love hit my youngest and it knocked him out. All this poor boy could think about was his girlfriend, when could he see her,   when can I see her after that, and after that….

You get it. I had just watched the Avengers so I felt a little empowered as my 5’3” neck gazed up at his 5’9 face.

me:We have discussed this before and as wonderful as you, are you know that early dating can leads to early sex

him: ( the concept didn’t intrigue him at all) That’s not going to be a problem

me, dropping Thor’s hammer on my bad toe, shucks, I can I make this a win, win.

I knew that any of my attempt boundaries would be seen a suffocation, and if there’s one thing that makes adolescents itchier than rolling in the poison ivy it’s being forced to comply with one ridiculous adult  who the adolescent is prettty sure never has a girlfriend as hot as his is. This was an important problem. I bit my lip and thought through the problem and lined up the players and values as if the were on a chessboard. Could there be a solution that gave him some empowerment? Because without his complicit help it wasn’t going to go well, not just this weekend but forever.

And that’s when I got it. Ratios!!!!!!!!

Darling, (me again) why don’t we sit and try this one more try (eyeballs make their universal rotation around whatever makes them teens,

Sweetheart. (me again) As wonderful and magical and powerful as your love is…you also have really important male friends that care about you. Male friends need to feel important and cared about. What if for every time you see your girlfriend you have to see  your  friends three times (and this is flexible, you can anything your kids care about.

Done. Lion back to puppy, puppy back to play, games, sports and a love than can be managed and doesn’t let love rule him. I always do my best thinking in WIldnerparks, it must remind me of the danger of being an adolescent parent! 

It’s working so far although I keep a pound of stake in my truck just in case.

Potty Tales

No, this article will not be about Harry Potter Potty tales, although I am sure that the British have unearthed some dignified potty training method which includes a little time out for tea and back seasons of Miss Marple.

This is a personal potty tale. One of my own children. For the sake of ever having him talk to me again I am going to try hard to keep his identity unknown.

As a new mother and a physician, I approached potty training with clinical curiosity. After all it had been quite a while since I had been potty trained and there was much confusing advice in the literature. “Make them potty,” “Don’t force it” (I was secretly wondering what college was going to accept diapers which seemed the direction we were headed. What was a mother to do?

I threw Cherrios in the toilet. “Target practice,” I yelled after extracting an especially grown up formed doody from my child’s diapers. No luck. Those little oat 0’s became fishing fodder for suburban boys denied the chance to really fish. Well that had to end. I watched as my perfectly coiffed friend kept her child in the toilet and locked it, reminding him he could get out until he went. That seemed extreme, although my father had ben locking himself in the bathroom with the NYT for years, it didn’t seem to transfer well to smaller backsides who couldn’t even read.

I bought books  for children on potty training. Peed on, every one. Finally my Hawaiian neighbor knocked on the door with a look so grave, I thought that something awful had happened. “Ellen,” she said nodding her head back and forth,” we need to get these boys potty trained or they won’t be accepted into kindergarten. Really? I hadn’t known that, that put a little vigor and energy into our plans. She swore to me that her great Auntie Kaholani used put all the kids outside in the yard naked and that allowed that to connect what was going on, well you know where, with the neurons in their heads which was currently kept busy with, shave ice, musubies and Thomas  the Train Engine.

I had two reservations about this au naturel experiment. One was that we lived directly on a very expensive golf course where most of the golfers did not expect naked children trying to compete with them for their very own hole in one. My second reservation was I didn’t know Auntie Kaholani and didn’t know whether this intervention would end up with my boys becoming nudists.

What could I do? Cleaning adult sized human waste becomes not cute around three years old. And we really wanted to start kindergarden. The whole thing was pretty shitty. 

I took my neighbor, some plastic bags and a bottle of Glade outside and off came the diapers. Oh the freedom of wind and the magic of being uncovered. Yes, we received menacing looks from the golfers, the this was Hawaii, aloha man! About fifteen minutes into the exercise one of my sons yelled in a horrified voice “There’s doody on my toe.” 

And yes there was. A tablespoon brown mess sitting on his toe.

He was hysterical, but my first order of business was identiying the doody’s owner. This wasn’t easy as we had the neighbor, and two dogs. A quick and cursory investigation it became clear that it was his. Amazing to me that up until this minute this child had not recognized his that yes, he indeed was the owner of that brown smelly stuff.! He hopped around the yard in agony, while I tried to clean him up. Well after he calmed down that was it. He was potty  trained. We ran out and bought him Thomas the Train underwear and he kept his sweet little caboose clean from then on.

 

Potty training may not be epic, but it is a form of freedom, so Happy Fourth of July!

Ah, That’s The Problem

My teenagers hated me. Of course they didn’t really, but their behavior seemed to convey that. You know, that snarky, barely acceptable language, accompanied by the mandatory eye roll, (what was in that calvareum that was so interesting that they kept looking up there), the “You’re Embarrassing Me” charge (what, what was I doing breathing?) flew from their mouths constantly.

I tried everything in the Mother’s Make Believe Handbook. I went at them directly like a lion tamer. “No rude behavior, you shouldn’t talk to me that way”. “I am the adult here.” But my efforts of taming my teen lions with a whip and a chair were a disaster, all I did was turn up the heat and make the lion hungrier.

Then I tried guilt. “After all I do for you this is how you treat me?” All that got was so many eye rolls I almost called 911 to make sure my child wasn’t seizing.

I wasn’t above the bribe. I sat at my kitchen table drumming my fingers. “No, Goldfish won’t do it. Gummies are a big no. iTunes gift card? It turns out I couldn’t reward them for being stinkers. It was against the moral code of my motherly religion. Boy this wasn’t easy. You should see the things I used to get them to do for a smiling orange fish cracker. Now I had the feeling if I couldn’t provide something 5’8″ and female they weren’t going to be very interested.

Shucks. What I had here was a real problem. But I had to do something. Unchecked these wonderful kids could turn out to be rotten and I wasn’t about to let that happen after eighteen, sixteen, and fourteen years of investment in them.

A problem. A problem. A problem. Then I got it! It was a problem, a math problem and here was the equation

My kid + X = Respectful human being

All I had to do was solve for x, and I was a little ahead of the game since I had already failed a bunch of times. Note, this is the ironic secret magic of managing teens, if we can outlast them, then the game is half won.

So I kept trying. I lowered my New Jersey accented voice in public, I car pooled like I was training with Michael Phelps, Yummy dinners appeared on my table. There was a slight improvement that could only be measured on an incredibly accurate scientific scale, but I still wasn’t getting the warm, respectful tones I yearned for, it felt more like walking on land  mines.

But I love math. There’s always an answer and the one thing I had was plenty of will power and investment. So this time I tried silence. I super glued my lips and used my hair dryer on my ears to make sure the path to my brain wouldn’t be hindered by, well, you know.

It worked. After a few days of only listening, only supporting, not jumping in with “the answer” their tone changed. Their shoulders softened and I think the eye roll quotient reached an all time low. And that’s when I struck. “Guys I will always embarrass you, it’s a law of the universe as sure as gravity and it happens between children and their parents since the beginning of time. But if you quietly and respectfully tell me how I can change, I will do my best to respect you. But I won’t tolerate rude or pararude behavior. I am not intentionally embarrassing you, but you are intentionally acting unacceptably and hurtfully to me.”

Wow, before my eyes, my equation was solved. Instead of rolling their eye, an actual  light of understanding appeared.  Smiles, better behavior….for now. Then onto the next math problem… At least now I am prepared.

The Day My Puppy Tried Out To Be the Good Year Blimp

I didn’t realize the dog was ambitious. After all, mostly what he did in our New Orleans home is sleep, chew shoes and chase squirrels, who would curse his barking in squirrel slang, until the puppy got bored and refocused his interest on a blade of grass, a bug, or the heavenly smell of cat poo.

He was a two month old yellow lab. Except for his tail and his nose, you could barely make out his front from his bottom he was such a darned cute fuzz ball.

Well, this event happened in New Orleans where even non events manage event status. It was King Cake season which is an awful lot of fun. For the uninitiated, a King Cake is a Mardi Gras essential. It is a beautiful ring of sweet bread, covered with glittery gold, green, and purple sprinkles. And the most exciting thing about this sparkly confection is that there is a little plastic baby hidden somewhere in it’s doughy existence.

Watching kids go at a King Cake is a little bit like watching Sherlock Holms solve a mystery. There would be about ten seconds of staring at the cake, imagining where the baby was and then diving in with a plastic knife at a piece where they thought they could unearth the treasure. This is a big thing.

As a novice bread maker, I decided to have a try at baking a King Cake. At the time I had three boys under four, two dogs, one of which was the aforementioned puppy and a husband. On my King Cake Day I ignored them all. I measured, I kneaded, I set clocks and made sure I had the freshest ingredients. I practically willed the first rise, tensely marching back and forth in the kitchen as if I was an expecting parent.

I had just delicately shaped the four pounds of dough into a resemblance of a circle, when I realized that I didn’t have enough sprinkles, which is like saying you don’t have any beads, or tabasco sauce or beans (these are confessable crimes).

I warned my husband that I was making a short trip to the supermarket which was less than a mile from the house. I’m not going to lie to you. I had spent so many hours with that King Cake I was a bit misty about leaving it.

I rushed through the store, made my purchase and returned home. And this is what I saw. No King Cake. I whipped my head around, four pounds of rising dough is hard to miss. I pinched myself. Had I dreamt my whole experience? When in toddles my puppy, or something that looked a little like a puppy. His stomach was HUGE! As if someone had given him a Mr. Potato head stomach from a St. Bernard. And he lilted as if he was on a ship. And the final bit of evidence was his sparkly lips, you got it, purple, green and gold.

I do what I reflexively do when something is going wrong. I yelled for my husband.

“What happened,” I said shaking my finger pointing to the dog who was getting bigger as we spoke. At first my husband was confused. He is seldom heralded into the kitchen, but I persisted pointing to our “rising” dog.

“Wow, that’s something,” he said giving the dog an appreciative nod as this was the new replacement for Monday Night Football. As if.

I was mortified. My day of careful planning was a bust, but now I was a little worried about my dog. I wasn’t sure our leashes would keep him tethered to the floor his tummy was growing so fast.

I called the emergency vet, who remained ultra calm. It appears several dogs attempt suicide by King Cake every year. Labs are gluttens. She told us what to do and a few minutes later I was holding the dog while my husband stalled.

“I’m a surgeon,” he said as he counted his fingers. We had to make the dog vomit. Even a two month old Lab has an impressive bite.

“Fine, I’ll do it.” We traded positions and with the help of some Kosher Salt we managed to get my dog to expectorate the partially digested King Cake. A few weeks later, the baby appeared in a lump of steamy refuse. The dog looked back at me proudly as if he were the actual King of Mardi Gras, and all I could manage was “Don’t throw me that Mister.”

Mother’s Day

First of all I’d like to wish everyone a very, happy Mother’s Day. Whether you are a newbie wet with breast milk and pee stains, or a veteran empty nester, or a virtual mom, those delightfully generous people who don’t have children but make your children’s life that much richer.

Phew. That’s over. Now let’s talk about the beast. The holiday. Actual Mother’s Day. As many of you know I have three boys, some unspoken wishes that I’ve had for Mother’s Day are no pee anywhere on a bathroom floor, leftovers that would last two nights,  conversation without grunts, more eye contact and spontaneous help around the house (garbage full? let me empty it, recycles need to go out in 30 degree weather? I’ll do it) and of course less electric time, more face time looking at their actual faces.

So I’m never disappointed with my card flowers and cleaned out car (nothing says I love you better than degrunging my van from three boys, one of which plays on soccer turf fields and leaves little turf turds behind him as if he was Hansel and Gretel).

But this Mother’s Day we have one of those crazy crises regarding soccer tryouts and an elective practice on, you guessed it, Mother’s Day. There’s a bit of drama this year with soccer. Some opportunities did not go well, elevating the meaning of this elective practice.

My son who is not a basset hound but can transform his beautiful blue eyes to cisterns of sadness says “Mom, it’s Mother’s Day we don’t have to go.” My husband was already nodding in agreement, but something in me alerted as if I was checking on a crying baby, or doing an intricate carpool move, or administering Motrin to a sweaty, sick head. After a moment or two of confusion, I recognized the sensation. It was my Mom alarm, the intrinsic half mystical, half practical, half lysol, part of me that recognized that my child had a need.

“Of course you’re going to the practice,” I said smiling proudly. “It’s Mother’s Day, the best day in the world to demonstrate how much I value being your mother.

Jaws were dropped, game controllers went silent.  “But it’s Mother’s Day,” he insisted as four pair of eyes searched my face for signs of early Alzheimer’s.

“I love being your mother, and if can do something for you as simple as getting you to this practice then I am going to be very happy.” After all, trying to be a good mom on Mother’s Day kind of makes sense.

Silence, uncomfortable shuffling, looks of gaping doubt. I just smiled. It always feels good to be a mother when you know you can do something important for your child, especially since my kids are beyond juice boxes and Goldfish. It’s harder to come to their rescue or find something that physically demonstrates your love. I had this important opportunity and I seized it. I couldn’t think of a better way to convey how much I loved being their mom, than showing them that their needs were more important than an imposed day of adulation.

So this Mother’s Day I will be in my clean car doing what I do best, car pooling my kids to activities that they are passionate about. And I couldn’t be happier about the whole thing.

Happy Mother’s Day, because the secret is that it is truly a day of mutual admiration, a little for me and my whole heart full for them.

The Obtuse Magic of the Right Fielder

Okay. We have all been there. Our six and seven year olds are  either good athletes or they are more like blind botanists pulling weeds from the grass than they are a ballplayer. A child who would gladly volunteer his “cup” to provide water to the flowers he is collecting rather than whatever that uncomfortable thing it is doing anyway. Every team has one . And I can’t speak to to the collective history of the right fielder, whether they start loving sports and move to the infield, go up in the batting order, or in our case, just became more proficient at picking flowers, bugs, dirt, anything that wasn’t a baseball.

What to do? For a while they made him goalie on the soccer team, not because of skill, but because he didn’t like to run.

Those games were PAINFUL to watch. Not because we were embarassed (or not only because we were embarrassed) but because he looked so unhappy.

Most of my best mothering is reactive, I mean in hindsight. This son didn’t have the words to give me a two hour discourse on why he prefer being on a stage. I don’t think he could have articulated what would have made him happy because he hadn’t experienced it yet.

So I had a problem. I had two younger kids who loved sports and one child who mildly acquiesced to them but showed to real interest.

What’s a mother to do? It wasn’t a skill problem. My son didn’t care about getting better and beside, how good do you have to be at six? But it was effecting him adversely, no one wanted to pick him for teams, it was torture to see his little face so unhappy on a beautiful day beneath baby blue skies.

And that’s when I turned into Detective Perot. I started watching him, not merely making sure he brushed his teeth, got dressed, changed underwear but really started noticing what made him smile.

The answer arrived in Kindergarten. With outfits more elaborate than some seen on Broadway, our kindergarten curriculum put on a lot of shows. He wasn’t subtle. He was the kid standing a foot closer to the audience even thought they were supposed to be in straight lines. He was the kid who knew all the words to the song as well as the hand movements, and probably the composer too. And you could hear his voice soaring over 29 other kids because he had been told that singing loudly was synonymous with singing well.

I sat back in absolute wonder. He was an artist. A performer. He wasn’t not interested in sports, he was extremely interested in the arts.

From that point on life got better. Not just for him, although he bloomed a little bit bigger with every program we found, but for us. To have this child be driven by something foreign to his parents turned into one of family’s best blessings.

Because of him, we have been to Broadway, because of him, his middle brother who hurt his back is in school plays, because of him we have the most eclectic, wonderful musical library the world could imagine. And as he got confident in these little ways, he became more confident in big ways. Acting is communication and it is hardly any surprise now that he is a gifted writer. And that confidence of knowing who you are and becoming better and better at it is a gift he gives himself and us everyday.

So be careful if you have a Right Fielder, he might be the next great thing!

The Most Undervalued, Never Talked About Quality

I have had over 16 years of education, together my boys have had 31 years of schooling and not once was kindness on the curriculum. I don’t blame the teachers, that wouldn’t be nice, and the job of teaching kids kindness does not fall on teachers alone, but can you imagine if they did talk about it at school? What if instead of bullying we were encouraged to be proactively nice?What if at the end of the year awards we could give a nice award to the child who exemplified the best kind of kindness? Wouldn’t that be something? 

We have to be so careful in this world of disengaging technology, that kindness does not go the way of learning script or Saturday mail. Being kind may be as old as the antiquities but it should not be foreign to our 21st Century Life.

There are more ways to be kind than there are petals on the entire world’s daisy population. There’s smiling, holding open doors, thanking people for their efforts and then the big stuff like philanthropy and service. 

But maybe that’s the problem. Are we leaving being nice to someone else? 

I just finished a wonderful book called Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It is a book targeted for middle school but it should be required reading for everyone. It is about a boy with horrifying facial deformities who goes to school for the first time. It is a really good book, which means it is balanced and plenty so plenty of realistically bad things happen.

But just like in life, there are moments, teachers, surprising friends that reach above the startling look of this boy’s face and they can see the boy beneath the disfigurement.

This book made me feel so good I wanted to share it with you, it seemed like a nice thing to do. And those of you with younger but appropriately aged kids could read it out loud and discuss the very realistic way kids treat each other.

But even if you don’t read the book, let’s all pretend that being nice is important to us. Let’s model it for our children and hold it as high as our standards for honor roll and Varsity letters.

After all, the world needs lots of things, but without kindness, nothing would really matter. And what’s even sillier, is that despite our very different talents, the ability to be nice is universal. Ah, now that’s a nice thought.