A Jerk, Unaware… by Steve Safran

I was rude to someone, and I didn’t know it. Unwittingly impolite. Accidentally brusque. A jerk, unaware.

I won’t bother you with the circumstances. It was a work thing. The gist is this: after a business dealing, it was reported to my partner that I was rude to a client.

Here’s the thing: I have absolutely no idea how that impression was made. I’m not saying I don’t know how I could be rude to someone. I’m not saying it’s not possible for me to be rude, that I’m a saint who is never rude or that I’m above rudeness. What I’m saying is that I don’t recall even so much as two or three interactions with this client during the event, all which hardly strayed from “How’s your day been?” in quality. I will also say in my defense that I try to be super nice to clients. They’re the ones with the money.

But I was rude. That was her perception, and a person’s perception is everything. She will always think of me as That Rude Guy. She didn’t say how I was rude, so I’ll never know exactly what happened. But really, it doesn’t matter. I was. She felt it. Now I’m That Rude Guy.

Now, I never would have known this if she hadn’t told my business partner. I could have gone on merrily through life thinking my interactions with her were just fine, if I reflected on them at all. Instead, it got me to thinking about how often people must make up their minds about us and we don’t realize it’s happening.

Right now, someone thinks you’re an asshole. I guarantee it. You cut him off in traffic, or wrote something online or even, as I did in a previous column, responded in a way someone took to be aggressive even though it wasn’t.  I once signaled, waited my turn and moved into the left lane and a guy still yelled “Asshole!” at me. I yelled back “You barely know me!” I don’t think he heard me.

The flipside is you have a lot of unearned praise, too. Right now, you’re the funniest person in the world because you told a stolen joke. You’re an awesome guy, just because you held the door, corralled the grocery cart, or made the “most liked” comment.

Our friend Jason is putting together a play called “Talking to Strangers,” and is soliciting interactions. I noted that I’m wary of these people and that the reason is right there in the word; they’re not just strange, they’re stranger.

How strangely unfortunate it is that we are, in an instant, labeled for life based upon one interaction. How difficult it is to change that perception? I may perform ten good deeds in the presence of my client, but how many will it take to dispel That Rude Guy impression? I may even lose her business if I cannot. And I wouldn’t have ever known why.

Strange.

TONE

Strangers

Jason writes and directs musicals and plays. Can you imagine having the imagination to write and direct musicals and plays? I cannot. But Jason does. For this venue. And he has a really really really long list of accolades and awards and stuff theater people earn for being wackadoodles with talent. Being a scientific sort of the mommy variety, sidling up to Jason’s world is a messy, titillating, uncomfortable, and unusual experience. In the other words: it’s awesome. It’s also no surprise that his latest obsession is with Strangers. I think we’ve all become strangers out in public– tethered to our devices, pre-occupied with emails and texts and the urgent and never-ending comments and requests from people who aren’t physically near us. Meanwhile, we ignore—nay, avoid?—the people in our very path.

But I am John Stockton’s daughter, and I adopted his Rules of Dad as the code of conduct for all adults. Growing up, I had no idea my father was unusually friendly, chatty, inquisitive, interested, and irreverent. I just thought that’s what social confidence looked like. Boring, repressed, stern, and otherwise joyless adults were never in Dad’s sphere. And the gravitational pull of a personality like Dad’s is probably selective to similarly tuned people. Blessed with a father with a frequency for fun, the influential adults of my formative years were hilarious, successful, and brilliant.

Side bar: we can discuss for days how to parent properly, but exposing your kiddos to kind, wonderful people that you admire– that impression lasts forever.

I’ve never had a restaurant meal with Dad after which we did not know the name, station, and career aspirations of our assigned wait staff. Unsuspecting line-waiters are subject to his kind, jokey gibber gabber. Dad is a man who believes everyone is interesting, and is open to learning the stories of strangers. The result is that Dad knows no strangers. And in this world of ear-budded introverts, I think this is a great, great thing.

Jason is collecting stories about strangers over here. The result will be an original piece of theater exploring how we avoid each other, but will probably include the dynamic human moments that happen when we cannot. Do you have a story about A Stranger?

Here’s mine.

It was freezing. One of those ridiculous wind chill days where opening the front door makes you gasp and want to cancel everything. But I was never going to study successfully at home with the temptation of nachos, or naps, or absolutely anything else. The microbiology test was tomorrow: I had exactly 12 hours to cram all knowledge of plasmids into my blonde head. Surely none of the gunner medical students would brave the sub-zero weather to study at Widener… so I hopped the red line into Cambridge.

Studying at the undergraduate Harvard campus is… quiet. That’s the lure. Plus, I always imagined the ghosts of benevolent geniuses to be ethereally cheering me onward. (This is the risk of studying in Boston: delusions of connection to a grander past.)

He was adorable. Moppy, two semesters-overdue-for-haircut adorable. Two tables away, we shared a few sighs and shot hairy eyeballs at the gossipy girls in the carrels. After an hour of distracted studying, he invited me to join him for a study break.

We walked farther than I would have ever agreed, had he not been adorable. It was so so so so cold, but he insisted that the caffeine and treats at this place were the finest. Chat chat chat, I’m cramming for this, you’re studying for that. Oh, aren’t you smart? Oh, aren’t you? Thank fucking God we’re here and tea is ordered.

The thawing begins. I can’t stop listening to Chet Baker. That’s his favorite. I love coconut and twilight and tea. Yup, totally. Long stares. Shared movie titles, favorite books, more tea. But then… plasmids. There will be a test on plasmids. I return to reality and less flirty conversation.

“You are adorable. But time’s up. I need to cram.”

“No, it’s early. Really. It’s very early.”

Repeat times twenty. Then oh, my mom and dad met exactly here 25 years ago and I always knew I’d meet my wife at Widener, and then bring her exactly here, and you look like my mom, and this is meant to be and kismet and fate and and and…

Oh my God, you’re crazy. Or an adorable romantic. Either way, I have to figure out how to cut and paste plasmids and I’m not ready to get married and this is flattering but Jesus, don’t follow me, and yikes. I threw dollars on the table, raced to the Red Line and never saw cute moppy-haired boy again.

No doubt he married some other blonde studying in Widener. I’ll never know. But the fast-tracked romance stayed with me: stranger turned suitor, turned nuisance, turned stranger. And the whole exchange was likely initiated by my receptiveness, my inborn enthusiasm for strangers and their stories… something Dad taught me. When it comes to people, I’m in.

And I hope you are, too. Because that’s where all of the good stories start.

This is the only sort of place medical student stories begin...

This is the only sort of place medical student stories begin…

 

 

Backlash: musings on Pink and high society and not being a jerkface

Recently I got all blog-huffy about Pinktober. All of us are a bit tired of the Awareness, and it’s only October 4th. And I’ll admit to a recent gag reflex seeing a gigantic, fluffy pink mustache adorning the grill of a Range Rover. What the fuck is that? Seriously. What the fuck.

But after I wrote that essay, the one about horrible campaigns to raise money for dubious causes (e.g., anything that doesn’t support research for metastatic disease), Bernie cautioned me that I might be an asshole. “People don’t want to get flack for donating money. They’re donating money.” And because I really do love people and think most of us are do-gooders deep down, I haven’t stopped thinking about this since. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the bald caps and think they’re an ugly, ugly vehicle for support and wretched awareness… but if the people donning them really believe they’re curing cancer and supporting their friends to boot, well… maybe there’s a way to voice that without being such a jerk about it.

From the perspective of a breast cancer veteran, I can tell you that the people who get this—those who are mindfully considering the pink-washing of cancer—are the ones I feel supported by the most. They are the same people who remind me that I am well now, that they love me, and that they’re sorry this shitty thing happened to me, to anyone. That’s the best sort of awareness.

Unfortunately, when a giant pink bra is erected on the Miracle Mile, and those of us who cannot tune out the echoes of cancer for the other 11 months spew vitriol all over our social media outlets, we might sound a bit churlish, irritable, and ungrateful… no matter how inane a giant pink bra might be. And this essay is about Not Being An Asshole. But instead of perseverating about how I frequently slip under this rubric, let’s put the spotlight on someone else who might need a tutorial.

Recently, Megan Johnson mounted her high steed of indignation and threw rotten tomatoes at Boston’s society ladies. In her inflammatory, name-dropping article, Ms. Johnson stitched together snippets of gossip from a collection of anonymous Storybook Ball “attendees” and fashioned the image of a New Money Social Climbing Shrew. She kindly repeats that these gorgeous Ball events do, in fact, raise millions of dollars donated to a hospital for children. Millions. Yes, fucking millions. For children. But, whatever. Let’s kvetch about how rich and awful these women really are.

Ms. Johnson crafts a divinely delicious dish of insider dirt. And who doesn’t love to hear that the fantastically wealthy might fall prey to vanity or insecurity or ambition or tipsiness? But although Ms. Johnson is keenly interested in how these social mavens land their coveted spots on the Storybook Ball Committee, she has no idea what this entails for the women who donate their time and energy and bank accounts to the “honor” of it all. Nor does she ask any of them. Because that’s boring. And whatever, dude, these rich fuckers only care about their expertly attached eyelashes and one-of-a-kind dresses. And though it’s more fun to think of these ladies cat fighting and back stabbing in couture, the reality is that for many, many months, they’re in boring meetings wearing yoga pants, asking their friends to donate thousands of dollars over and over and over again, and writing rather large checks, themselves. They land on this committee because they have the financial means to support it, and also carry within them the servant souls of people who enjoy giving their money away to good causes. Should we repay them for their generosity with mean-spirited, envy-fueled, I-heard-it-from-the-wait-staff blather?

Apparently so.

I’d love to know how Ms. Johnson would prefer these ladies convince our benevolent, wealthy townsfolk to part with their cash. Are Balls inherently bad? Is it terribly wrong to want to be a part of something glittery and exciting and fun?

Are there “wrong” ways to donate money?

I hope other readers have a similarly difficult time finding a crucial fault with volunteering women who raise millions of dollars to promote the health of children. The biggest sin here is name-calling ladies who might, just possibly, be organizing and planning and, goddamn it, having a bit of fun while doing something others cannot: raise millions of dollars. Instead of criticizing them, we should be hiring them as consultants for our scout cookie sales or Church Stewardship initiatives. Thank you, wealthy women of the world. I think you’re dreamy.

At the school my boys attend, the varsity soccer team will be wearing pink jerseys and socks this month. No matter where you stand on Pink issues, wouldn’t you be a bit of nitpicky jerkface to criticize them for this bit of awareness? It would be remarkably unkind to sideline their willingness to be a part of a National Kindness… which is the intent most people bring to the promotion of Pink. Though I am conflicted about some of these bubble gum gimmicks, regarding Kindness I am keenly attuned. Also, I cannot know the effect on my two small boys seeing their cooler, older classmates swathed in the color associated with mom being bald and tired. In some small way, maybe it seems like these older, cooler boys care about their Mom, and think Cancer sucks, too.

So as the calendar pages turn during this month of Pepto-hued awareness and a local buzz begins about The Storybook Ball, I’m focusing on the impetus sending good citizens diving into handbags for checkbooks. Whether that bag is Chanel or some pink abomination hardly matters… but intent makes all of the difference. And if I fail to thank people for their generosity and support because it arrives in a Too Fancy or Too Pink a package… well then, maybe I need a refresher course in Kindness.

And those pink mustaches? Those are just identifying cars of good citizens providing cheap rides for their neighbors.

Not giving a poo about breast cancer at all... yay!

Not giving a poo about breast cancer at all… yay!

The Death of the High School Reunion

Some of my favorite hours are spent watching really, really awful television. When the always something of parenting finally closes shop, but Bernie is still stuck wrist deep in other women, it’s time for a bit of guilty pleasure viewing. And when my husband isn’t planted on the opposite couch to groan when the remote pauses on something my 9 year old would describe as, “mmmm… smootchy, smootchy,” then I’m watching Peggy Sue Got Married. For, like, the 17th time.

I just love teenagers… even when they’re portrayed by 30 year olds. It’s a confusing time: electric and fleeting and wonderful and awful and the perfect stuff to fold into a potpie of sentimentality. And Peggy Sue opens with her 25th high school reunion. The dork millionaire, the paunchy footballers, the receding hairlines, and the provocatively dressed divorcées contribute to an atmosphere that supports the awkward and silly conversations between people who knew each other way back when. The Death of the High School Reunion has been chronicled by better writers many times, but this year is my 25th reunion, and no more than a dozen graduates of the Class of ’89 will commit to a few hours of cash bar and greasy apps in the name of nostalgia.

From the thread of RSVPs there are many “we don’t come ‘home’ for the holidays anymore” sentiments, maybe one “yay, reunion!” affirmation (mine), and a smattering of lackluster “maybe I’ll stop by” messages from people transparently choosing any other activity over seeing the Class of ’89 in three dimensions. Certainly, the very idea of Reunion holds its own mixed bag of cheery anticipation coupled to the dread of forgotten names, forced merriment, and the eleventh hour desire to drop 20lbs. I could list 194 reasons to blow off the reunion. But not too long ago, the 25th would be momentous enough to form a committee, launch a save-the-date, order some balloons, and hire a DJ to spin the music that accompanied our lost virginities. In response, alumni would half-heartedly complain, but still plan to go, switch shifts, get a babysitter, and maybe even alter the family holiday plans for it. I mean, it’s the goddamn 25th reunion. This is the one you go to, right?

Nope. Turns out we’re “caught up” since our social media sites have already chronicled our births and deaths and accomplishments, new cars, cancer battles, wisdom tooth extractions, and kitchen remodels. Or maybe we’re worried our Facebook selves won’t quite live up to the brand we’ve created? Who knows? But no one is coming.

Possibly because social media did not yet exist, we had a fantastic turnout at the 10th. “Ahh… the 10th,” said my wise brother-in-law, Bob, “Everyone is still lying.” I loved that. We filed into the decorated ballroom intent to prove we were becoming Important in the World, while shamelessly dancing to Debby Gibson, and kissing the boys we wished we had kissed way back when. Or maybe that was just me. It was a fuzzy night. At our 10th very few had any real responsibilities and we were all too happy to escape a night on the air mattress at mom’s in order to spend a few cash bar hours together. But 15 years later… hmmm, maybe I’ll stop by.

Because no one really wants one, it looks like the Class of ’89 will have no formal venue to reunite: no balloons, no blown up yearbook photos, no Debby Gibson. Is this a huge tragedy? Not really. But I think we’re missing something when we forgo traditions like these. There’s a reason why it’s so much fun to squeeze and giggle and laugh and wiggle with the people who knew 16 year old you. It’s because they still see 16 year old you. And for the briefest of moments, you are still 16 year old you. That’s the fun of it, and the actual real-time, 3D catch up is just icing on the nostalgia cake.

Prom 1989... me and Lisa, my BFF (split heart necklace and everything)

Prom 1989… me and Lisa, my BFF (split heart necklace and everything) and someone I’d LOVE to see in 3D.

Saints, Ghosts, and Scooby Doo, by Steve Safran

Britt’s sister (known around these parts as “Zealot Sister”) and I recently made it official– we are Facebook friends. Along with her brother, Patrick, we now form a powerful triumvirate– ready to resurrect Britt’s Middle Child Syndrome at a moment’s notice*. It is an honor to be part of the Stockton coterie. Paige and I have often traded respectful debate on matters religious. She is a faithful Catholic. I am a Jewish something or other. But, true to one of the basic tenets of this blog, we are respectful of each other’s beliefs.

A recent exchange:

PAIGE: What is the debatable topic of the day, Mr. Safran?

(I was out for dinner, but replied with the following:)

STEVE: I’d love to know why people believe in ghosts.

PAIGE: Enjoy your evening. Next time— ghosts versus saints. Are they the same?

Oooh. Love that. She turned it into a question, and Jews love questioning and debating questions rather than insisting upon answers. So let me try:

And let me begin by stipulating something I do not believe: There are saints. I will stipulate there are saints, and they are watching us, listening to our prayers and sometimes answering them in the affirmative. Again, I absolutely do not believe this, and yet, out of respect for Paige’s beliefs– so stipulated.

Ghosts, I believe, fall into a different category. Actually, four categories:

  1. A famous person, haunting a famous place (i.e., Abe Lincoln in the White House).
  1. A dead relative, sticking around to guide you from the beyond. (Booooo! Don’t marry Kevinnnnn!  He’s a jerrrrrrrrk!”)
  1. The run of the mill, sheet-covered ghost, whose only goal in the afterlife is to scare you. You know, a jerk.
  1. The ghost trying to scare people out of the old amusement park so a corrupt realtor can buy the land cheap, only to be unmasked by a group of meddling teens and their anthropomorphic dog.

Of these four, I only buy the last. At least it’s a plausible scenario. People do stupid things for greed. Faking a “haunting” is conceivable and, in fact, the basis for reality TV shows.

I am in the majority– but not by much. A HuffPost/YouGov poll  from 2013 shows that 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts or that the spirits of dead people can come back in some places and situations (Think: Seances, Ouija boards, to get back at you when you lied upon their souls to get to second base with a girl, etc.).

Further, Pew Research found that 18 percent of Americans assert they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost.

Based upon that data, my reaction was: “Sure, the highly religious people are the ones who must be most likely to believe in ghosts. Ghosts are, after all, the embodiment (as it were) of life after death.”

Not so.

The Pew study says people who go to worship services weekly are less than half as likely (11%) to see ghosts as those who attend services less frequently (23%).

So what’s the big deal? People can believe in ghosts or not, right? Well, let’s look at other things people believe, keeping in mind that 47% believe in ghosts:

A Gallup question in 2009 asked “Do you think racism against blacks is or isn’t widespread?” 49% of whites said it was not widespread.

61% of Americans still believe others beside Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.

38% of Americans do not believe Barack Obama was born in the United States.

These are our phantoms. Racism is demonstrably widespread. There is absolutely no credible evidence that anyone other than Oswald was involved in the Kennedy assassination. (If there were, imagine what the people who knew about it would have earned in book rights, knowing about the first American coup.) And Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Therein lies the danger of believing in ghosts. The ghosts of conspiracy, the phantom lies, and the ghouls in Aunt Mable’s closet are all the same thing: desires to authenticate unreal things. They are the desires to make us think we know something other people do not. They are the desires to make us think there is a power keeping information from us. They become our folk stories and they endure, as superstitions do, no matter the evidence.

So while saints, we have stipulated, are real… ghosts are not. And yet these ghosts are dangerous and damaging and downright scary. And like all un-real things, these ghosts materialize in the darkness when we isolate ourselves from opinions that do not conform to our own. Or even when we fail to stipulate, for the sake of respect and argument and the search for truth, that saints are real.

But Scooby? That dude’s legit. Like me, he’s scared of the havoc the boogie man in the rubber mask can wreak. And he’s palpably relieved when the light of day reveals the charlatan and his fear-mongering ways. And man, can he eat.

Zoinks!

Boooo….BOOOO! Booo, Obama! No…nooooo… there is noooo global warming…

 

*Editors note: No, I’m really happy you guys are all friends now. I’ll just be over here in my little corner… not listening to you craft blonde jokes or anything. Whatever.

Already Aware

Is there some box we can check when filing our taxes or punching our ballots or mailing in the census? Could we somehow alert the Universe that WE ARE ALREADY AWARE? I dare you to find a single (lucky) person remaining on the planet whose life has been entirely untouched by breast cancer. But apparently there are thousands of people who think something this wretched needs to exist for our benefit.

Look at me! I'm like, sorta bald, you know, just for today. AWARENESS!

Look at me! I’m like, sorta bald, you know, just for today. AWARENESS!

I cannot tell you how badly I want to rip this off of her head. What’s next? Faux colostomy bags for Anal Cancer?

Your fundraising starter pack includes t-shirt with a detachable Velcro “bag” with realistic, watery poo! Customize your stoma to honor a loved one: “I’m diverting my colon today for Uncle Harry!”

I hope everyone would agree this would be in poor, poor taste by diminishing a very real, and extremely sensitive, upsetting, and necessary aspect of treating a deadly disease. But we’re badgered daily to be “bold” or “brave” enough to show solidarity with the battle-weary cancer-ed by buying crap one might find at Spencer’s. I cannot express strongly enough how un-helpful fake bald head gear is to the people who have neither the luxury of hair, nor the patience for the actually very kind people who think this sort of awareness-raising is helping.

A recent backlash from some of my favorite cancer bloggy ladies shut down an entire marketing scheme and hashtag campaign by AirXpanders after this peddler of pseudo-breasts encouraged us to tweet to #whatsunderhere and wear horrifying slogans like “Looks Great Naked” because,

Boobs are so much more than just “the girls” or “melons.” They’re fabulous.

They sent this message in an email blast to breast cancer survivors. Funny fun fun! I mean, with our reconstructed “melons” we’re totally empowered and “sexy” enough to don a slogan to encourage strangers to ask us about our fake boobs. And then tweet about how amazing and wonderful and desirable and badass we feel flaunting our reorganized parts. Funny fun fun! I’m sure they didn’t mean to be, you know, insensitive or anything to the women who are not candidates for reconstruction, or (gasp!) feel healthy and whole and beautiful without replacements.

The brilliant, kind, and wise Hester Hill Schnipper (whose After Breast Cancer should be a gift to anyone finishing chemotherapy) emailed Bernie and me about these new, horrifying campaigns that seem to begin earlier and earlier each year. She was also concerned about the AirXpanders exploitation of the American Association of Plastic Surgery (ASPS)-sponsored Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. The unfortunately named BRA day (insert all sorts of puns on “support” for the very gals who—literally– don’t need it) is October 15th this year. The goal of BRA Day is to ensure all women are informed about their breast reconstruction options, and their aim to “close the loop” on breast cancer treatment is to make certain access and education around post-mastectomy breast reconstruction is available to every women who wishes to pursue it. Sadly, companies like AirXpanders want to piggyback onto the day to peddle their products.

Ultimately, the #whatsunderhere and the deplorable Save the Ta Tas, and even the National BRA Day swag begs the question,

Does anyone ever consult an actual breast cancer patient?

Giggle. A pink bra "over" my shirt. Guffaw, a guy wearing a bra! Hey, let's get some of these for the DOGS! Hilarious!

Giggle. A pink bra “over” my shirt. Guffaw, a guy wearing a bra! Hey, let’s get some of these for the DOGS! Hilarious!

No one I know who unwillingly lost her hair wants to see someone else faking it. I could write another set of paragraphs urging you not to shave your head, either. But for now… just… don’t. Anyone who has been necessarily bald would never, ever begrudge you your hair. Let me be clear, it’s the NICEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD TO SHAVE YOUR HEAD FOR SOMEONE. But, nope… buy your cancer-ed love one a cashmere blanket, instead.

Similarly, the pink bra silhouette only calls attention to the very parts I’m trying to forget. Certainly we have more talented graphic designers to fashion a tasteful slogan for Breast Reconstruction Awareness? (I’m looking at you, Nail.) Or we could just wear Angelina Jolie flair. She has quietly, elegantly done more to further this cause than anyone.

To close, here’s my favorite tweet of all time, posted by some hilarious, awesome stranger last year on November 1st. I think all of us are looking forward to it.

Couldn't love this more.

Couldn’t love this more.

Waiting for someone to design me an Already Aware t-shirt. No pink.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why My Boys Don’t Need to See Me Naked

Did you see this floating around the interspaces?

Rita Templeton and her adorable brood.

Rita Templeton and her adorable brood.

Did you marvel at the loveliness of this honest, conscientious, nice lady who wants her four little boys to be accustomed to a “real” body before they are inundated with perky cantaloupe boobs and thigh gaps? Did you applaud her and share her article and feel a tinge of guilt that you aren’t quite broadminded enough to use your own baby-ravaged body as an edifying tool?

Not me. I recoiled faster than my deflating pocket hose.

The message to her bathroom-barging boys is a good one, but the language saddened me. Look at her in the photo, surrounded by adorably healthy children she clearly adores and enjoys. This woman–this goddess who birthed four times and still has the energy to pen ten paragraphs about raising them to appreciate women kindly–she can only describe her own body with a jumble of smushes and jiggles and marks and sags and flab. By her own admission, she is lying through her teeth to fake a positive body image. And then, even though she is “dismayed” by her post-baby body, she’s putting it on display for some sort of greater good? Blech. I couldn’t read this without fantasizing about a warm, thick terry robe and doors that lock.

Me, I don’t give a shit about ensuring her boys will become sensitive men who shun silicone or tolerate ass dimples. Whatever, little dudes, you’re going to see movies and find dad’s Playboys and meet TriDelts and develop your own ideas of Beauty no matter how many times you’ve seen mommy poo or reposition a leaky breast. What I want is for your mom to know she’s stunning, to feel it in her bones, to own it in her sometimes-too-squeezy jeans. And I want her to know it NOW. No more stretch mark explanations and false bravado. Kids smell phoniness more keenly than sharks in chummy water. A far more challenging task than feigning pride in our muffin tops is to assert an honest confidence… which, for me, would be impossible to attain while allowing an incessant, pinching reminder of my jiggly bits by chubby little fingers.

Gorgeous Mommy has earned her privacy. Beautiful, lively, full-of-love and giver-of-life Mommy also deserves her right to modesty. If that is what she chooses, of course. I marvel at any number of Naked Families who don’t mind open doors and full frontal-ness. But these homey nudists seem comfier than Rita, who eschews personal boundaries to personally champion the ptotic breast and poochy belly so that her sons won’t be duped by Photoshop someday.

My dear friend Nicole has four children, too. They’re girls. When they tumble out of her minivan and skip into my house, they transform it into a bouncier place peppered with songs and stories and hair and accessories and tears and cheers and dancing. All of them are psychically–and often physically– tethered to their goddess mommy whose actual body is still their safe place, their re-charging station, their home. I hope her girls overheard her when she dropped this gem:

“Ugh. Aren’t we just too old to not know we’re awesome?”

At the time she was probably exasperated with the petty grumblings of a perfectly perfect mom who wasn’t feeling up to snuff. Nicole’s children (and her lucky, lucky friends) are privy to this sort of confidence that hails from deeper places and has a much stronger effect than an exposed belly roll flapping over a c-section scar.

For me, there was something sort of demeaning–something that made The Goddess Mommy somehow lesser—in her exposure. Certainly, Rita handles it well, and it’s easy for the reader to imagine the cacophony of cuteness that surrounds her every day. I already like her so much, I want to peel the small boys off of her, send them outside, pour this gal a Prosecco, and remind her she’s awesome. And because she’s awesome, her boys will be, too. And they’ll turn out that way without seeing all of her bits and pieces.

My boys know I’m off limits behind a closed door… and I protected my privacy long before my body was transformed into a different shape plumped with silicone and marred with scars. I still look great naked, and the only one who is granted the privilege of audience is Bernie. The kind of beauty I want my little boys to appreciate right now is that of a girl with great posture in a pretty dress, a young woman who would rather swim than maintain her perfect ponytail, a mom who respects her body enough to protect its exposure (if that is what she honestly would prefer), a lady who knows she’s awesome.

Me and my little guys (photo cred: http://drewkids.com)

Me and my little guys (photo cred: http://drewkids.com)

 

 

 

 

 

Prom Dress Luncheon

I haven’t made many devastating sartorial missteps, if you overlook my prom dress and, well… the ‘80s. But when April invited me to a fundraiser luncheon yesterday, I chose a summery garden ensemble only to find myself at a couture-and-stiletto event. So while all of the other lunch-y ladies were perfectly molded into their au courant fashions, I was wearing a tablecloth. It was a pretty tablecloth… maybe even a sort of adorably blue doily of a dress. But in a room dotted with Chanel bags and pointy, pointy pumps, my outfit called for a picnic basket and hair daisy accessories.

Certainly I’ve misjudged an outfit choice or two in my time. But aside from wearing jeans to the fancy school Book Fair (everyone else in fabulous skinny leather things or wretched-but-appropriate pantsuits), I’m usually the over-dressed gal. Pearls in Gross Anatomy lab. Lily Pulitzer at the soccer field. Jimmy Choos at Church. Fur at the Star Market. I have a deeply ingrained twirly girly sensibility. But when I found myself surrounded by sleek Robert Plant ladies baring yoga toned abs under crop tops, suddenly a dress with a crinoline (just like my prom dress!) seemed more ridiculous than whimsical.

Damn you, Anthropologie, with your moody photos depicting ambiguously French stunners wearing un-place-able period costumes as formalwear! I will not be duped again!

To be honest, I didn’t really dwell on my window-treatments-as-outfit gaffe. I had a delicious cold salmon lunch with lovely people who appear to make gobs of money for the obvious joy of giving much of it away. I’m drawn to do-gooders as much as I am to gorgeous clothing, and this event had both in spades (cards, not Kate… this was couture, friends). And when I got home, it was time to meet my true and trusted fashion critics at the curb. There was no time to change, so I was still wearing the ersatz prom dress when my little boys dismounted the big yellow bus.

“Where were you? You look like Cinderella!”

I can’t wait to wear that dress again.

I'm the one in the doily.

I’m the one in the doily.

 DP Challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bullshit Requirement, by Steve Safran

Personally, I love Stevie when he’s in a mood. And maybe we should all take a beat before we get all huffy or encourage our friends to re-post dreck on the Internet.

Hi. We need to chat for a moment, because we have a problem you and I. We need to believe in a lot of stuff that isn’t real. We are being asked to pay attention to and prioritize stuff that we don’t actually have to worry about. We are required, and possibly really need, to believe in bullshit.

And what a season of bullshit it has been! Just look at what we’ve had to pretend is important lately. We’ve weighed in on our right to recline our airplane seats. We have to express an opinion on whether a gay football player will bring down sports altogether. We have to opine on how you give to charity: ice bucket drenching may earn you accolades or derision depending on your audience. The fact that you actually are donating isn’t really our focus any more.

Me, I’m a bit exhausted from all of the pretending to care.

These days, we’re asked to show our support or share our outrage about something every goddamn minute. I’m not being hyperbolic, either. Thanks to Upworthy, Buzzfeed and other clickbait sites, we need to repost or “like” cloying, misleading stories on Facebook, lest our friends think we’re total jerks. Remember the boy who cried wolf? Even the wolf is calling bullshit:

“What did I ever do to you? So, I ate a boy. At least I’m not re-posting a long status in an ugly font because ‘…I know 99% of you won’t.’ I may be a wolf, but I’m not a dick about it.”

When I was 22 and not four weeks out of college, I landed a job at Disney Home Video Public Relations. In June of 1990, there was a serious plague of bullshit among Serious Parents. It was as follows: on the cover of the video for “The Little Mermaid” there appeared to be a castle spire that was a little more phallic than the rest.

Yup. Freud would have seen it, too.

Yep. Freud would have seen it, too.

But where you and I would have chuckled and made some immature joke about tower envy, The Serious People wrote to Disney. Because… well… penises. And outrage. And whatever.

The people at Disney took the matter seriously. They decided immediately to do two things: 1. Change the artwork and 2. Give all the complaints to me. So it was, in the summer of 1990 that I found myself receiving all of the mail addressed to the heads of Disney. They were forwarded to my new desk so I could answer each one personally. I still have the interoffice envelopes (yes, kids… interoffice envelopes, we’ll wait while you google it) that read as follows: MICHAEL EISNER / JEFFREY KATZENBERG / STEVE SAFRAN.

As a new college graduate, my delight was immeasurable. Or so I thought. Because as funny as all of this was, my next task answering the mail of the higher ups reached paranormal levels of absurd.

People, it seemed, thought they were seeing a ghost. That is, they thought they saw a ghost in a scene in “Three Men and a Baby.” An urban myth quickly materialized about the ghost of a boy who died in the apartment where the scene was shot and WHO GIVES A SHIT I CAN’T EVEN FINISH THIS SENTENCE…

A G-G-G-Guy!

A G-G-G-Guy!

The “ghost” was actually a cardboard cutout standee for Ted Danson’s character. It was positioned low in the frame and the scene goes by faster than you could yell, “Norm!” So yes, if you blink, and you’re a gullible idiot, then you might be persuaded you saw… Hell, anything, I suppose.

Do most of us believe in ghosts? I don’t. But I think we can all agree that they are unlikely to reveal their otherworldly presence briefly through a Steve Gutenberg vehicle.

Outrageously, my job was to write back to the ghost believers. They replied to me, in turn, accusing me of a sordid Disney cover-up. And their belief in this bullshit sent them to their desks to craft paragraphs and find stamps—a whole process that took much, much longer than a re-blog or share. In 1990, you had to commit.

I never thought that, in retrospect, I’d respect those people for their commitment to the complaint, or for their pen-and-ink belief in anything. But outrage is so easy now. We can submit our bullshit from our phones. We can apply some sort of app to float our complaints and harrumphs. Of course, there are apps to answer those, too. So, really, we can be indignant with each other now and never have to exchange an un-virtual word. Convenient.

I realize I can’t stop this problem we have. I love gossip and I’m not above it. On the contrary– I was on the morning news for seven years, reporting it gleefully with my usual tagline: “Don’t pretend you don’t care.” But I never believed it was all A Big Deal. Today, I worry that all of our pretend caring and overblown outrage has made the line between opinion and journalism blurry. The news shouldn’t be about bullshit.

And with all that’s going on in the world… it should make you bullshit instead.

 

 

Fire and Ice

My first wish was that the kids would forget all about the sky lantern. But my sweet, sweet niece was too, too excited for me to make a wish on her magical fire hazard birthday gift. After putting off the conspiring cousins for a few days with vague excuses, the last evening of their visit had arrived. “Let’s go light the lantern! It’s time to light the lantern!” and what kind of bitchy aunt shuns the thoughtful, wish-making gift of a 13-year-old girl? Not this one.

Sensing my reluctance, my brother-in-law accompanied us to a clearing and helped me prevent the fire-filled globe from getting caught in overhead branches and setting our own yard ablaze. Standing on dry grass, in the dark, lighting matches… I waited for Smokey the Bear to lope out of the woods and maul us for our stupidity. But finally, the paper thingy caught fire, the lantern transformed into a bluish floating orb of loveliness, and we let the thing go. Up and up and up until finally there was nothing left at all. Nothing… except, you know, the belly-churning worry over errant embers falling to earth to torch the golf course and murder my neighbors.

“Did you make a wish, Aunt Britt?”

“You betcha.”

No one die no one die no one die no one die.

I didn’t sleep that night. I spent hours googling the shit out of fire lantern safety and errant ember property damage probabilities. I offered up dozens of bargaining prayers to the Big Guy that I would make it to first light without hearing sirens. I was angry with myself for agreeing to anything involving a release of uncontained, floating flames into a residential area, I cursed the pyromaniac bozo who invented these things, and I felt guilty that my sweet, sweet niece probably sensed that her lovely gift had turned me into a googling, insomniac weirdo. My Cool Aunt cred plummeted as I proved myself to be just like all other worrywart grownups.

In the morning, a quick scan of the local news assured me that no lives or properties were lost. Only then, I was finally able to make fun of myself for getting all panty bunched over a completely legal toy when I spent hours of my own youth launching lawn darts, riding helmetless, and eating batter. And like everything, daylight bleaches the scary out.

Last night, I lost another few hours of sleep over the Ice Bucket Challenge. You’d think someone who is absurdly afraid of fire lanterns would be grateful to douse a potentially flammable yard. You might also think someone whose life has been touched with disease would be a cheerleader for this kind of awareness-raising. But for me, and possibly for my sisters in the Shitty Sorority, this echoes the Pinking of October wherein a crap disease gets tarted up for Fun. I’m actually thrilled that everyone is accepting the Challenge and raising MILLIONS of dollars for a horrifying, incurable disease. I love watching the videos of you gorgeous people being silly for good causes. It’s heartwarming to see social media being used to make us One Community during a time when the world seems like a terrifying shitstorm. I’m a sucker for Community. But here at the Lee’s, I don’t want to invite awareness for yet another illness that my boys might only process as one that has the ability to kill parents. (My quota for answering heartbreaking questions was filled after the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy… my boys have had enough “awareness” reminders for one summer.)

Also, selfishly and smugly and shamefully, I have strong, I-gave-at-the-office feelings about Raising Money for Diseases. I mean, aren’t beloved body parts and a head of hair quite sufficient to exempt me from more giving? Of course, Murphy’s Law will dictate that when you try to explain your personal aversion to this viral, feel-good phenomenon, you will not only sound like an asshole, but you’ll–of course– be unwittingly lecturing someone who lost a loved one to this extremely rare disease and just finished filming an ice bucket challenge with her kids and, you know, thinks it’s sorta great and all that. So you not only sound like an asshole, you sorta are one. And God giggles having set up this little scenario to prevent Haughty Blog Girl from composing five, navel-gazing paragraphs about why the Ice Bucket Challenge is complicated for the cancered… forcing the admission of a likelier truth:

I’m vain and un-pretty wet and probably an awful person and would rather mail checks than create and clean up an ice watery mess.

In the meantime, my sky lantern wish is that the money we are raising funds scientific breakthroughs to extend the life and increase the comfort of those with ALS. I hope that backlash against the Ice Bucket Challenge doesn’t erode the sense of Community we need right now. And I want you all to promise you won’t light and release a single fucking sky lantern. Like, ever.

Gorgeous, glowing wish ceremony will always look like the release of terrifying fireballs to insane Aunt Britt.

Gorgeous, glowing wish ceremony will always look like the release of terrifying fireballs to insane Aunt Britt.