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Posts Tagged ‘we live in a society’

I don’t know how to categorize the subject of this post. Maybe it is Things People Say Without Thinking? Or Things You Should and Shouldn’t Say? We Live in a Society? Interactions with People You Know But Not Well Enough to Know the Right Thing to Say?

Also, keep in mind that it’s possible the two halves of this topic are not as connected in real life as they are in my brain. 

Recently, I’ve been communicating with a couple of women about a volunteer project. Up until yesterday, we’d only spoken via email or phone or text, never in person. But we got together for coffee to hammer out the details of something that was cumbersome over the phone. 

One of the women arrived a little bit late, and when she came in, the other woman and I introduced ourselves. The late woman said, cheerily, and with no rancor, “Oh! It’s so funny! I thought YOU would be taller [this to our companion] and YOU would be shorter [this to me]!”

It was an innocuous enough comment, although it struck me as relatable (I tend to think everyone is my age/height until I meet them in person – seriously, everyone reading this right now is 41 and 5’6” unless you have expressly stated otherwise) but also a slightly odd thing to say out loud. 

(It also made me wonder, in what way am I giving off a short vibe, and what would a “short vibe” consist of, anyway?)

It reminded me of a very similar experience I had nearly twenty years ago. I was working remotely and had never met any of the people I interacted with daily. And there was no Zoom back then, and I don’t even know if iPhones had been invented (I am ancient), so I had no idea what anyone looked like and they had no idea what I looked like either. 

When I flew out to the home office, I got to meet everyone in person. And one of the women I worked with said to me, “Wow, you look so different from how I pictured you. I thought you would be fat and ugly.”

I mean. WHAT. Who says that, a), and secondforth why, WHY would you say that to anyone? 

Fat, fine – maybe I talked a lot about food (unsurprising) or maybe I had a jolly persona, I don’t know, whatever. People come in all different sizes, and I know fat people and skinny people and medium people and their sizes don’t have any particular value for me. But juxtaposing it with “ugly” makes it clear that, to this person, “fat” was a negative rather than a neutral attribute. 

And, okay, giving off a “short vibe” or a “blond vibe” or a “nerdy vibe” or a “freckly vibe” is puzzling… but giving off a “fat, ugly” vibe just seems clearly negative, right? What the hell does that MEAN, and why do I need to KNOW THAT?

Anyway, I was 25 or whatever and I laughed about it and moved on – the colleague was someone with whom I worked very well for many years, and she either didn’t know how rude her comment was or meant it to cause pain but didn’t get any reaction. But I have remembered it, and puzzled over it once in awhile. 

I think, a lot of times, we feel like we SHOULD say something, but aren’t quite sure WHAT to say, and so we end up putting our foot in it. 

Personally, I think the old tried and true, “It’s so nice to finally meet you!” is plenty, but I can fully understand how someone might want to be more specific/original. Plus, if I met you in person and you were 21 and 6’3”, I just might be surprised enough that I would blurt out something bizarre. 

This brings me to the topic that * I * feel is related, but may not actually be related. Maybe third cousins twice removed.

It is also about Things You Should Say When Saying Something Is Required. More specifically, what do you say to someone when societal rules require you to comment on a situation but don’t know how the recipient feels about the situation?

Here are some examples: 

Example 1: A coworker’s parent has died, and you know about the death, and know the coworker well enough that it would be rude/noticeable NOT to say something, but you don’t know the coworker well enough to know what their relationship was like with the parent. So many people have such fraught relationships with their parents, and death can bring up complicated feelings already, whether the relationship was happy or strained.

“I’m so sorry for your loss” is the standard statement when someone has died, and maybe it’s fine in this instance, even if this particular parent’s death may not feel like a loss to this particular child. “May your parent’s memory be a blessing” is more geared toward the mourner, and therefore might not be appropriate if the relationship between child and parent wasn’t a happy one. “May your parent rest in peace” might be a good neutral statement that doesn’t convey the expectation that all parent/child relationships are full of love and respect. Maybe “I’m so sorry.” is all you need in this instance. It’s short, it’s simple. It covers a wide range of possibilities. 

Example 2: A parent you see regularly but aren’t close to is pregnant. You happen to know this parent is pregnant. You also happen to know, from a mutual acquaintance, that the pregnancy was unplanned and that there are issues in the marriage (infidelity, serious illness, abuse) or in the pregnant person’s life (job insecurity, desire to be done having children, illness) or with the pregnancy itself (known complication or disease) that mean the pregnancy might not be happy or desirable. But if you don’t know the parent well enough to KNOW these things yourself, how do you acknowledge the news?

“Congratulations!” is simple, but implies happiness. “You look wonderful” might be okay. I… can’t think of any neutral statements about pregnancy that don’t imply either “babies are wonderful and you should be happy about this one!” or “OMG I heard that you don’t want this kid, what a crap situation.” 

Example 3: Someone you know, but not well, is getting a divorce. You have no idea if this is a happy relief for the couple or a devastating sadness. 

If this was truly someone I didn’t know, I might just not say anything at all. And yet… it’s a major life change, and it might feel weird to say nothing. But I would want to say the right thing! 

I’m guessing that people in ALL of these situations and more get ALL SORTS of comments, and that they just learn to grit their teeth and get through the ones that are totally off base. But I can imagine that each new comment could cause additional pain for a person going through an already painful experience. It would be nice to be able to just be neutral, at least at first. And then, once the person says, “Oh! I’m actually quite glad my stepmother died – she was locking me in the attic every day and making me scrub the castle floor and refused to pay for an exterminator!” you can say, “Well, good riddance!” or “May she meet the appropriate judgment in the hereafter” or whatever. 

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I am sitting in a dark house, staring out at a brooding sky and wind-tossed trees. It is deliciously quiet right now. Thanks to your powerful not-Covid thoughts, Carla is Covid negative and back at school. Hooray!

We were very productive yesterday: in addition to going to the doctor, I did four loads of laundry – INCLUDING folding – and have a last load waiting for me to put it in the washer (I have been trying to see a load through from hamper to folding before I start a new load; reduces the pile up). We also cleaned out Carla’s desk, which had an entire trash bag’s worth of junk in it, and we listened to Project Hail Mary (which I listened to based on Jaida’s excellent recommendation and loved so much that I explained it to Carla, and my enthusiasm made her want to listen to it also), and we watched a very long video of someone who gives makeovers to OMG dolls. Carla subsequently added “liquid latex” and “heat gun” to her list of must-have crafting items. It was nice to have a little extra time with my kid, but she has another day off coming up and I am very glad she is back at school.

After I dropped Carla off, I went to the grocery store and spent all our savings on food. I have not been noticing a huge number of shortages… things seem to have leveled off, a bit. (Although at Costco this weekend, there was no Kirkland-brand toilet paper, and both toilet paper and paper towels were one-per-customer.) Plenty of staples – beans, pasta, flour, sugar, pepperoni. Even Lunchables are available again. A thing that I do find concerning is that Target now has “only X left” on pretty much anything I try to order online. This is true whether I choose “pick-up” or “shipping” as my delivery option. It could simply be marketers playing to the scarcity strategy, but whatever it is, it definitely cues my panic response.

You know a thing that I find unnecessarily anxiety-provoking? When someone can’t hear what you’re saying. The checker at the grocery store had a hard time hearing me, and was really frustrated-acting about it. Which I get! It must be frustrating, to not hear someone! And I am sure that she has to deal with this same situation multiple times per day, what with people wearing masks, and her being stuck behind a plexiglass shield and all. But she did that thing where she shook her head and closed her eyes in an “I am counting to ten” kind of way, and, her tone said “this is entirely YOUR fault” and I felt helpless and defensive and equally frustrated that I couldn’t make myself heard and ugh. I just hate that. Makes me feel shaky and tearful when it should be a simple exchange of, “Oh, sorry! I will speak up!” and “Thank you! That’s better!” instead of disgusted dismissive shrugging like I am purposefully being a jerk.

She also seemed mad at me that I asked her to re-scan my apples. I bought Jonagold apples because a) I can’t remember the last time I ate a Jonagold apple, and cannot remember how they taste and b) because they looked so beautiful and shiny and red. I purposely avoided the Honeycrisp apples because a) they were $0.50 per pound more expensive and b) also looked pale and bloated. So I pointed out that they had rung up as the wrong apple – which she had me repeat twice – and then she said in an angry way, “Well, they come up as Honeycrisp when I type in the number on the tag.” Which. Okay. Either some Honeycrisp apples migrated into the Jonagold section or the tag was incorrect or the computer was reading them incorrectly or she typed the number into the computer incorrectly or I blacked out in the apple section and got Honeycrisp instead of Jonagold… I don’t know, but it didn’t seem to me that I had been BLAMING her for doing something WRONG when that is clearly how it came across. She is never as friendly as some of the checkers, but she sure drank some curdled milk this morning or something.

A package of M&Ms classic mix (M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, and peanut butter M&Ms all in a single bag) caught my eye at the checkout, but I neglected to act on my impulse and buy it. I wavered because I don’t really like plain M&Ms. But I am regretting my inaction now.

We got the bill for the exterminator, and it was MUCH higher than indicated in our previous infuriating and elliptical conversation. And I can’t decide whether I need to simply pay it and find a new exterminator service or if I should email him back and request an explanation. And I KNOW that prices are rising and costs are increasing, so there could be a reasonable explanation for the discrepancy. But I want to KNOW. I don’t want to just pay whatever he says the price is, willy nilly. We got a nice letter from our snowplow service saying – in advance – that they had a lot of increased costs and so our bill would go up, and I really appreciate that kind of up-front transparency. We will gladly pay the increase. Part of me wants to email the exterminator, just to see what he says. Although I am afraid he will then call me.

My root canal takes place next week. My husband took the day off from work and will drive me to and from the appointment and presumably ensure I don’t die afterward. I am not looking forward to it. But it will be nice to no longer have severe pain in my jaw. (Although I have heard plenty of stories about root canals not “taking” and needing to be repeated. Arrrrggghhhhh.)

This past Sunday, because Carla wasn’t going to school the following day, the three of us watched Cruella, with Emmas Stone and Thompson. There were some men in it, too, but the Emmas were the real stars. It was a decent movie, although it made Cruella a little too sympathetic, and I still am not quite sure I can make the narrative jump to her wanting to skin and wear a bunch of a Dalmatians as a coat. Also, the whole nature-vs-nurture theme of the movie could have done with a little more thinking through, but I suppose what do you want from a children’s storybook villain origin story. Carla was quite taken with her and has resumed speaking with a semi-British accent.

This is a bit of a delicate topic, maybe. But… do you shave your face? I had not done any sort of facial hair removal until a couple of months ago, aside from an occasional plucking of a stray eyebrow hair, or pulling out the hair that insists on sprouting witchily from the mole on my chin. But now I am completely obsessed with these Tinkle razors. I think I have used these enough times now to be able to recommend them with confidence. A little back story: an acquaintance mentioned these to me over the summer, and said she’d gotten a couple extra and she would give them to me. Note that she did not ask if I wanted them. Then the next couple of times we ran into each other, she’d slap her thigh and say, “Oh darn, I forgot to bring them for you!” As you might imagine, after each of these exchanges, I would spend long minutes with my face pressed up against the mirror, trying to determine whether my peach fuzz had graduated into full on facial shrubbery. Surely, my furry outer layer was so evident that this person felt COMPELLED to get me to take action. So when she finally pressed a couple into my hands, I was ready to give them a try. I had never tried any sort of facial hair removal options before because my mother had always given me stern and strenuous warnings about how the hair would grow back thicker and darker than before. A mother’s admonitions are a hard thing to get past, even when one is in her fifth decade of life. So far, I have not noticed this to be the case with the Tinkle razors. There is a period during which the face feels a teeny bit rougher than normal, but then the hair goes back to its normal downy state, and I haven’t noticed any change in color whatsoever. Anyway, these are very easy to use and I LOVE THEM and I am not going back and if you are looking for a facial hair solution I recommend you give these a go.

What are we supposed to be watching on TV these days? My husband and I watched Midnight Mass (interesting and thoughtful concept; Hamish Linklater; too many long-winded monologues) and Squid Game (VERY stressful but impossible to stop once we started) and are of course watching the latest season of Great British Baking Show. But we need something new. I want to watch that murder comedy with Selena Gomez (Only Murders in the Building) and my husband wants to watch Succession and neither of us is particularly excited about the other’s choice. What have you watched recently and loved?

I looked up the person who does the OMG doll makeovers and she apparently makes somewhere around $14,000 a month.

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Thank you, first of all, for your kind words; my mother-in-law made it through surgery with flying colors and we will know more about next steps soon. 

Are you up for talking about the pandemic a bit? Cases are rising and school is back in session and, while it never went away, not by a long shot, the topic of COVID is much more front-and-center in my brain space lately.

The other day, when I was posting about our weekend activities, I had a moment of panic: we are doing TOO MUCH. We are still in a pandemic, and we are acting as though we are not!

I talked it through with my husband and we both looked at each other with fearful eyes, but ultimately agreed that this is where we are. We are still wearing masks in public spaces. We are still limiting our interactions with other people – outdoors, mainly people we know and believe to be handling COVID the way we are. We are still saying no to things that seem “unsafe.”

And yet. We are doing SO MUCH.

Our lives are nowhere near the same as they once were. But we are doing so much more than last year. I don’t know if this is the right way to do things. I don’t think we are being completely devil-may-care about the whole thing, but I do recognize that we are expanding our bubble. No – we no longer have “a bubble.” And that’s a little unsteadying. Part of me thinks we should keep as tight a lid on things as we ever did, considering Carla is still unvaccinated. But the other part of me believes that COVID is now a part of our lives, going forward, forevermore. And while I feel like we are still being prudent, I also feel like we are trying to find a way to live our lives in this new way. 

Ugh. I hate it when people say “we’re just trying to live our lives” or “we’re just learning how to live with COVID.” Because that so often is accompanied by behaviors that I find appalling. And maybe you find my increased activities appalling! And maybe they are! Heavy, bewildered sigh.

And UGH. It is so hard. Because there is no One Right Way, and I know that I am being less stringent than some (who have good, valid reasons to be stringent!) and more stringent than others (who are probably feeling some less-restrictive version of my own “we are trying to find a way to live our lives”!). So if you read my posts with distaste, please know that I hear you, and I’m sorry if I am disappointing you, and I have felt that way in the past and in the current time and I really have no idea what the “right” thing is. 

Not exposing other people, of course, is at the top of the list. And Carla goes to school, so I feel anxious right there about the potential of infecting others. But also… when we hang out with other kids, they already go to her school. And I know that many of her classmates (not to mention many, many of the students who are in her grade, or other grades at the same school) are nowhere near as careful as we are. But that doesn’t mean we should be incautious! Argggggghhhh! Circles of pandemic worrying! 

Anyway, I thought I would post about Where We Are in the Pandemic Currently, considering I used to post pandemic-related things more frequently, and it’s been awhile. Here’s what I’ve got for you. 

My Target is looking very bare these days. An acquaintance mentioned that toilet paper is going to be in short supply again, and I haven’t bought any toilet paper for myself (mainly because I have a Costco toilet paper in the guest room closet, purchased last fall when toilet paper seemed more abundant but I was less confident about the duration of said abundance). But I have noticed occasional rolling shortages. The big one, for me, was when my grocery store was out of my preferred brand of sriracha  for three weeks in a row… and then my target was also out of it… and then when I mentioned it casually to a stocker at my grocery store, he shrugged and said, “Yeah, we keep ordering it and it keeps not coming.” So I did order a BUNCH of sriracha and now I am well-stocked and of course my grocery store now has plenty of sriracha on the shelves. That is a desert island food for me; I use sriracha the way most people use salt; I could certainly live without it if I HAD TO, but I prefer not to thankyouverymuch.

Speaking of shortages: my grocery store was COMPLETELY OUT of boneless skinless chicken breast. Boneless skinless chicken anything, in fact. As BSCB is a staple of my family’s diet, I was quite miffed by this turn of events. 

* * *

This past July, Carla and I flew on an airplane (four airplanes, to be technical) to visit my parents. As I am sure you understand, my husband and I made the decision to risk putting our unvaccinated child on an airplane after much discussion and weighing of various risks. My husband did not join us; one reason was work and another reason was that HE is not ready to get on an airplane yet, so I think you will understand also that I was Very Jumpy about traveling. 

Our plan for the air travel was this: Double mask on the plane and in the airport. Stay away from crowds if at all possible in the airport. Eat and drink only FAR away from other people. Eat and drink as little as possible on the plane. 

(Our plan for being with my parents: No eating in restaurants, no crowds. Very simple to stick with because they live in the literal middle of nowhere.)

We did okay, I think. We didn’t really eat anything on the way THERE; the flight times worked out that we ate breakfast before we left, and then ate a very early dinner when we arrived. Carla is a champion traveler and a champion masker. And the airport in which we had a layover had an outdoor space! So we spent our time between flights outside. Still masked, because there were a decent number of people out there, but we technically could have removed our masks and been okay, which made it feel better.

On the way HOME, our departure airport also had an outdoor space. We had arrived two hours early, as recommended, but it is a small airport and we have TSA pre-check, so we got through security in about five minutes. So we sat outside for ninety minutes, enjoying a mostly-empty space (it was raining lightly, which kept other people indoors), and eating some snacks. 

But once it got close to time to board, we went inside. And. Sigh. Even though masks are REQUIRED, so many people were either wearing them below their chins or just not wearing them at all. 

There was a college football team on our flight. And SO MANY OF THEM just didn’t wear a mask. 

When you are flying, the flight attendants have added a little “Masks are required by the FAA” spiel to their pre-flight commentary. On the flight with the college football team, the flight attendant looked especially stern as she recited the rules – “you must wear a mask over your nose and mouth” – but STILL I could see at least one footballer sitting there mask free. And OF COURSE I don’t know his life; maybe he has a legit reason to be going without a mask. But I meanly wondered whether he is just aware that he is an enormous, intimidating football beast of a man and is pretty sure no one is going to press him to do anything he doesn’t want to. Harrumph. 

(My coping thought was that, of ALL people, a college football team must SURELY be vaccinated.) 

We did not pay for first class seats, so I sat in the middle seat on all flights while Carla got the window. I felt this gave her at least a LITTLE separation from all the germy strangers. On our very last (three-hour) flight, the woman next to me was… not exactly mask-averse, but certainly mask-relaxed. She knew the person in the middle seat in the row in front of us, and would occasionally chat at him, pulling her mask down to do so. She ordered a drink and snacks when the flight attendants came around and did not pull her mask up in between bites/sips (which is what I did, and instructed Carla to do – although she ate a few Hi-Chew and that was it). And then she pulled out a snack pack she’d brought. And then just didn’t put her mask on at all. 

I fretted and fretted and wrote and revised a million little scripts in my head, trying to come up with the perfect, friendly, non-judgmental way to ask her to put her mask back on AS REQUIRED BY LAW. Before I could say anything, she asked me if I could turn on her overhead light for her and that was my chance! So I said, trying to smile brightly behind my masks, “Would you mind putting your mask back on? My daughter isn’t vaccinated.” It was not the perfectly scripted and breezily-stated request I wanted to make, but we do what we can with the tools we have, and my tools are anxiety and blurting. Thankfully, she did so without comment and I turned on her light and she kept her mask on for the rest of the flight. 

* * *

A good friend and his spouse got COVID, even though they are both vaccinated. Fortunately, they recovered quickly and fully. We know that the vaccine is not 100% effective; what we are aiming for is to keep people out of the hospital/alive, not to eradicate COVID completely. And yet it is still scary. 

* * *

Some friends recently invited us for dinner. The parents are fully vaccinated, but the kids are not (they are Carla’s age). Before visiting, my husband and I fretted over how to address mask-wearing. We finally settled on saying something like, “We have been having all the kids wear masks when Carla has playdates, but the grownups have been going mask free” when we  responded with our delighted, “yes, we’d love to see you.” But then they replied, “Oh, our kids are terrible at wearing masks… we can try to force them to keep one on while you’re here if you prefer…” My husband wanted me to respond that yes, we DO prefer. But ugh. I felt really squicky about that because 1) they had invited us to THEIR house, and it feels really weird to demand that people do something new/different in their own house and 2) if their kids aren’t used to wearing masks, would they even be able to do so effectively? and 3) UGGGGHHHHHHH. The whole thing is SO AWKWARD. 

We ended up making Carla wear a mask in their house, and then encouraging all of the kids to play outdoors. Everything worked out okay. But it all felt So Fraught. 

* * *

Carla and I had doctor’s and dentist’s appointments a few weeks ago. One doctor’s office has, in big letters on the door, a sign saying, “MASKS REQUIRED” and then below that in medium letters, “Because we are a healthcare facility, the CDC guidance says everyone should wear a mask regardless of vaccination status.” 

Carla and I opened that door, went into the waiting room, and stopped… because two patients were sitting there without masks on at all. Both facing the door into the exam rooms which also featured the same sign.

We waited in the hall. And then when the doctor asked if Carla wanted to wait for me in the waiting room, I said, “My daughter is unvaccinated. Is there someplace she can sit where she doesn’t have to be around other people?” and the doctor said of course and let Carla sit inside the exam suite. She cringed when I asked and said, “We have all these signs!” But of course if you don’t enforce the rules, the people who don’t want to follow them AREN’T GOING TO, see above Re: college football player.

When I had to return to this same doctor’s office last week, another person was maskless in the waiting room. This time, I said something passive aggressive – like, “Oh, I’ll just wait outside while people aren’t wearing masks” – and when I was called back for my appointment, the unmasked person had put a mask on.

* * *

Carla’s school is requiring masks of ALL people in her school this coming year. I am so relieved. Even though most (though, as we discovered during the same announcement, not all) of the teachers and staff are vaccinated, I just feel better knowing that everyone is wearing masks. (Some parents complained that vaccinated teachers/staff have to wear masks around our unvaccinated children. To which I give a long, weary sigh.)

The class sizes are larger than they were last year (Carla’s grade had a maximum of ten kids in each classroom last year, for instance, and two of those kids were remote), but they are as large as they were originally. They are enforcing three-foot distancing. Kids eat in classrooms as they did last year, behind three-sided shields. There are cohorts, and the scheduling of non-core classes (language, PE, music, art) has been rearranged to limit “mixing” of those cohorts. We know from last year that if we need to go remote (please please please no), we can do so fairly easily. And everyone is wearing masks.

I am very, very, very grateful that we chose to send Carla to this particular school and that we have the ability to continue to send her there, and I am very, very, very aware of what a privilege it is to do so.

* * *

A dear friend – one who was one of the two families we got together with regularly last year – has invited us to a special birthday event… and my husband and I want to decline, because it is so far removed from our particular comfort zone. (Which, as I have said, is much expanded from last year!) But this event involves multiple people together in a vehicle, and multiple people together inside a restaurant, and we are just not comfortable. It is especially hard/weird because our families were so aligned last year on COVID protocols… and now somehow we are not. It is so hard to say no in this instance and blame it on COVID! I think they will understand, because they are wonderful people, but I also think their feelings will be hurt. ARRRGGGGHHHH.

* * *

think I am seeing an uptick in mask-wearing in public spaces. When the mask mandate in my state expired earlier this year, I was often the only person wearing a mask at the grocery store. (I went mask-free for about three stores, and then immediately went back to wearing a mask in public spaces.) Now, the number of masked customers is MUCH higher. Which is a relief. 

* * *

A person who lives in a very COVID-relaxed state invited us to visit. When we declined, this person reacted in a way that made me think they were very put out by our response. 

In almost the same breath, this person – not a medical expert in any way – advised that we not vaccinate Carla. Sigh of exhaustion. 

* * *

As you are, I’m sure, I am so very tired of dealing with all this. 

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Well, right on cue: despite my meticulous catalog of gift options and all my big plans of thwarting the inevitable onset of Stocking Stuffer Syndrome, now that we’re just under a week out from Christmas I am experiencing severe Pre-Christmas Panic that I haven’t purchased enough/the right gifts. What IS this and WHY does it happen? Especially THIS year when a) I have planned so well and so far in advance and b) I cannot do anything about it, aside from braving Target or Costco or the like during a pandemic which is a no from me dawg. Maybe focusing my anxiety energy on gift-related targets is more bearable than worrying aimlessly about Everything Else? The fact is, panic or no, IT’S TOO LATE NOW. 

Oh crumbs! I just realized I never ordered Carla a Rubik’s Cube to replace the one I broke. And glee of glees! It looks like Amazon is still confident it can ship one to me in a day (“a day”), unlike the Elsa styling head I keep fretting about, because I know she would like it, but it is TOO LATE – pretty much every version of the thing is unavailable to ship until January. INTO THE CART, RUBIK’S CUBE. There. Okay I also just bought my husband a pair of work slacks (do people say slacks anymore?) that I can pick up curbside. They were on sale. They are also very boring. Maybe too boring? Nope, TOO LATE, they are purchased. And I am hoping that the act of buying something, anything, even boring work slacks, will help allay the panic.

Let’s have some randomosity, shall we?

  • You know what it’s NOT too late for? Medicinal holiday baking. I have finally decided which holiday cookies to make! My husband found a copycat recipe for Levain Bakery’s chocolate chocolate chip cookies that we are going to bake. I think I will also make the zimtsterne, just because they are so pretty and festive. I have vague semi-plans to package some of the zimtsterne in the boxes I normally use for holiday chocolates and give them to our neighbors. Sharing the sufganiyot with our neighbor went so well, I kind of want to recapture that feeling. Unfortunately, all I’ve recaptured is the anxiety of even CONSIDERING interacting with our neighbors.
  • I haven’t tested the copycat recipe yet, but I CAN recommend the real thingLevain Bakery ships their cookies and I have been the recipient of said cookies in the past and it was delightful. Looks like it is too late to order them for Christmas, but if you ever need to send something delicious to someone in your life (that includes yourself), these are AH-MAY-ZING. They are huge and they freeze really well. 
  • In other baking news, I finally made the cranberry crumble bars I have been planning to make for over a week now. They were SO GOOD – the perfect combination of tart, gooey cranberries and lightly sweet crunchy shortbread crust with a teensy bit of very sweet lemony glaze on top. You use the same crust for the crumble on top, which sounds a little weird (to me) but is quite delicious. I sent a big plate full with my husband on Friday so he could share them with the surgical team, and he said everyone enjoyed them. Somehow I need to remember to make them next Thanksgiving because I like them better than our traditional pumpkin bars. 
  • My holiday card wall is looking a little sad, still. The cards are arriving in little drips, although one day we got a big surge of five. I hope it picks up before Christmas. I know the postal service is doing absolutely everything it can to move everyone else’s pandemic-related-panic-buying from one place to another, so I’m assuming more cards will arrive when they can. Of course it’s also possible that most people decided against cards this year – although most everyone I’ve spoken to seems to be of the “but now cards are more important than ever!!!!” perspective, so who really knows?
  • Speaking of the postal service, I finally stopped dithering and purchased gifts for the kind people who are delivering packages to our house ON THE DAILY. I saw an article about how postal workers aren’t allowed to accept cash or cash equivalents, which threw me for a loop. I have given Target and Starbucks gift cards with wild abandon in the past, so I kind of think maybe it would be okay to keep giving gift cards? Then again, KNOWING that it isn’t allowed is a different thing from blithely giving whatever I want out of innocence, so I dithered myself into complete paralysis. Until this week, when I finally decided that I could not give a gift card now that I KNEW it was prohibited. So I bought some of these little pandemic kits (which I could pick up curbside) and some fancy chocolates from a local small business and that was THAT. Practical plus yummy/treaty. Of course I am second guessing my choices now, but IT’S TOO LATE NOW. What’s done is packaged and waiting in our hall, except for the one gift we were already able to hand directly to the postal worker. Now all that’s left is to intercept the delivery people when they arrive; typically they don’t announce their presence in any way, and even if I know to listen for them they are often already back in their trucks by the time I fling open the door. What says “merry Christmas” better than a wild-eyed middle-aged woman running shrieking after your truck in her bare feet?
  • The pandemic kits I bought include one of those little no-touch door opener tool things. Do you have one of those? My husband got one from his hospital early on in the pandemic and he gave it to me. It is more useful than I anticipated, and I keep it in my purse and use it all the time. Hmmm. Maybe this would make a good stocking stuffer… This one at Amazon supposedly arrives before Christmas AND it has a little smart-screen tip you can use for credit card machines at the grocery store! 
  • This is totally not Christmas related AT ALL, but I cleaned my menorah and put that away, which is a nice if very small preview of the wonderful catharsis of putting away all the Christmas décor. We also have a menorah candle situation that annoys me. We ran out of candles on the seventh night (some people in our family can be a little too, um, enthusiastic about shoving the candles into the menorah), and I had to curbside pickup another pack of candles from Target. And now we will run out early NEXT year, too. I only hope I remember to buy extras before Hanukkah begins.
  • Also not a Christmas topic, and potentially alarming: the last two times I’ve been to the grocery store, there have been big bare spots on the taco shells shelf. And absolutely NONE of the Old El Paso regular-size taco shells. It’s all Stand and Stuff or Super Stuffer. It is perplexing. I haven’t been grabbing up big armsful of taco shells – yet – but I do grab a package every time, even if I’m not planning on tacos that week. (Although a week without tacos around here is, to be fair, rare.) I feel like I was just joking with someone about a hypothetical taco shell shortage, so perhaps I am to blame???? NEVER JOKE ABOUT TACO SHELLS, that’s the lesson here, folks. Well. Too late now.
  • This week’s haul from the grocery store included eggnog – which I like as long as it’s mixed with an equal amount of milk, otherwise it’s much too viscous – and Christmas beer, both of which are fun once-a-year things. I considered and rejected many other Christmas-specific items, including mulling spices, a stollen, and an enticing array of chocolate in Christmas shapes/colors. It is all so very tempting, though!
  • I am very tired of people in the grocery store not understanding the six-feet rule. It has been NINE MONTHS, people. There are signs everywhere, reminding us to give people plenty of space. There are regular announcements on the overhead speaker, reminding us to put six feet between ourselves and the people around us. We are all wearing masks as a big, blaring signal that THINGS ARE DIFFERENT NOW, YO. And yet, inevitably, I will be waiting patiently six feet away from a woman who is carefully evaluating every single onion in the bin so that I can grab some onions and be on my way, and some oblivious jerkface (I am assuming both the obliviousness and the jerkfacity) will squeeze in right next to her and start fondling the potatoes. In the immortal words of George Constanza, WE’RE LIVING IN A SOCIETY, and said society demands six feet between its members! 
  • As long as we are discussing things that I find pandemically perplexing: I have now gotten several emails about summer camp registration. First of all, it is December. Okay, so summer camp planning typically starts in January and I guess it’s not far enough from January for it to be an unconscionably early. But. BUT, and secondly, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. It seems kind of brazen to suggest that we start registering our kids for camps that are still many months away when we have NO IDEA what the status of the pandemic will be. Will everyone have gotten vaccines? Will the pandemic be under control? Will there be some new murder-hornet/zombie-mink-style horror to contend with? WHO KNOWS? The fact is, I am not ready to sign up for summer camp. Of course, the very fact that the camps are sending out the emails makes me a little edgy. I definitely don’t want to sign up today and send in a depost when anything could happen between now and next summer. But I also don’t want to wait until we KNOW what’s going to happen and find out IT’S TOO LATE to sign up. I can only hope that most other parents are giving these emails the ol’ squint eye and postponing thinking about it until at least March. 
  • Here is a Very Nice Thing: Carla’s last day before winter break was Friday, and the only assignment they had was to get together on Zoom and make a holiday present for their parents. I suppose that’s normal thing that teachers do with their kids before winter break, but it makes me feel especially weepy with gratitude this year because of all the extra forethought and planning it required, on top of all of the immense challenges of switching, mid-year, to an entirely new method of teaching. We owe these teachers so much. So. Much.
  • I painted my nails the other day for the first time in months. The polish is a sparkly turquoise-navy and I’m digging it. I wonder how long it will last, considering I wash my hands eight billion times a day.
  • Speaking of which, my hands are in rough shape. Unless I am super vigilant about applying hand lotion immediately after I wash my hands, they shrivel up and crack and my cuticles start peeling and there’s bleeding involved and it’s awful. I have hand lotion in the junk drawer in the kitchen, in my bathroom, and right next to my bed. I’ve had a rotation of hand creams, based on whatever is available to pick up at Target. Aveeno was my go-to lotion for most of the pandemic, but now that it’s winter, I don’t think it’s cutting it. I have Soap & Glory Hand Food by my bed, which is nice to use right before I go to sleep. But I’ve switched to O’Keefe’s Working Hands Hand Cream (this link goes to the 7 oz tube; it looks like Target only has the 3 oz size, and that is not enough hand cream) in the kitchen and in my bathroom and I think my diligence is starting to pay off.
  • My lips are a whole other situation though. It is the time of year where my normal multiple-times-daily application of Burt’s Bees lip balm is not enough to keep them smooth. I get this dry patch that I then pick at, which makes my lip bleed, and then my lips rush to repair the wound, which produces a thicker patch, which I then pick at, etc. etc. etc. until everyone is very glad indeed that I need to wear a face covering in public. What should I be putting on my lips instead? Vaseline? I see that O’Keefe’s makes a lip balm – maybe I should try that? Or this Aquaphor ointment gets good reviews. Oh! There is also a highly-rated Aquaphor balm (though it is PRICEY). What is the One True Lip Balm that will make my lips heal?
  • If you have a spouse/significant other, or if you are willing to pretend you do for this bullet point, would you find it odd if you received a gift card that was intended for both of you? Say your Aunt Sylvie sent you a Target gift card for $100 but it was made out to President and Vice President Yourname. (You are the President in this scenario.) You open it and you feel: _____ How? My husband and I have opposing views on this subject and I’m genuinely curious about others’ thoughts. 
  • My best friend from back home sent me a Friends couch ornament for Christmas. It is adorable AND it plays a quote from each character. I’m not crazy about the one for Phoebe – I’d rather hear her singing “Smelly Cat” – but it has Ross shouting “Pivot!” and Joey talking about a moo point, so overall I am very pleased with the choices. Carla loves to press the button and hear the quotes. She asked me what “pivot” means, which led to a definition plus an explanation of why Ross is yelling “pivot!” which led to watching the relevant clip on YouTube. And then I had to show her a few of my other favorite scenes, including my all-time favorite episode, which is the one where Rachel screws up the trifle. (The episode title is actually “The One Where Ross Got High.”) SO MANY great quotable moments in that episode. My favorite is when Ross and Monica’s mom says, “Rachel, no, you weren’t supposed to put beef in the trifle. It did NOT taste good.” 
  • Last-second addition to this post: I was going to schedule the post for Sunday morning and discovered that WordPress lists Sunday as the LAST DAY of the week on the calendar? What is THAT? Sunday comes FIRST! Every calendar I have ever seen orders the days from Sunday to Saturday. Yes, Monday is the first day of the work week, so it is kind of ridiculous, but this is The Way It Is Done. Even the song (to the tune of “My Darlin’ Clementine,” in case your toddler song repertoire is a little rusty) has the days in that order! Why, WordPress? What is the DEAL?

All right. That’s all I’ve got. How are you doing on this, the last Sunday before Christmas?

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Look what we found in our yard yesterday!

Three deer

Don’t water them; they proliferate.

We have an over-abundance of suburban deer in our neighborhood. They roam the yards, eating trees and plants. Yes, they are very picturesque. And I know and understand that we humans are trespassing on THEIR land, and not the other way around. But even knowing this, and even feeling guilty/sad for the deer and their lack of forest/meadow land, I find them irritating. They eat our trees down to the bark. They eat any vegetables I dare to plant. They poop all over our yard.

My husband has taken it upon himself to chase them away whenever they take up residence in our yard. He went out to this trio last night, waving his arms, and they COMPLETELY ignored him. He must have gotten within five feet of them and they didn’t care. So he turned the hose on them. They all stood up, but that was the extent of their botherment. And rather than shooing them away, he sort of ended up watering them instead.

***

We recently spent a few days at the house of some friends. We had a wonderful time. The kids all played splendidly together, with maybe one or two small sharing issues and nothing at all beyond that. The grown ups had a delightful time, chatting and catching up and generally ignoring the kids, who were completely occupied by each other.

Our friends cooked several meals for us, which was so lovely. They are excellent cooks and they put in the kind of attention to detail that makes you (me) kind of well up with love and appreciation. For instance, they made this delicious baked brie with a completely decadent topping of honey and nuts and raisins and sultanas. And my friend made these little heart cutouts in pastry dough and put them on top of the baked brie before she baked it. It was so sweet and so lovely. I wish we lived nearer to them.

Spending time with another family in their house, you get a good sense of how differently families can run. First of all, I love that little glimpse at other people’s lives, just on a voyeuristic level. I am fascinated by how Other People Do Things. Secondly, you can get some good ideas for how you can do things better/differently. For instance, they spend almost the entire weekend outside. Instead of using that time to run errands and loaf around the house doing laundry, they go to the petting zoo and then they go hiking and then they go to the beach and then they find a parade to watch and then they go to the farmer’s market. While that is, to me, Super Expert Level Activity, I really like the idea of doing it on maybe a Beginner’s Level. I can do errands during the week and then we can all go out and have fun over the weekend. (My husband and I were better about doing that when Carla was younger, because she needed physical activity or she was bouncing off the walls. She’s more mellow these days.)

But the other thing that’s interesting is seeing what kind of household rules another family has. And, while interesting, there’s also some potential for conflict, when you are trying to reinforce family rules that might be different from your friends’.

Can we stipulate that there are all sort of things that a particular family might find important or not important? And that every family is different, and values different things? And that just because I value one thing doesn’t mean that I am secretly judging you for not prioritizing that same thing?

In general, I feel that if you are a guest at someone’s house, you follow their rules. Like… if there’s a house rule that you take your shoes off at the door, you do that, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If there’s no eating food in the living room, you don’t eat food in the living room. Right?

And that’s all well and good… but what if the other family has a VOID where your own rules are?

Here’s an example. At our house, one of the family rules is that you stay at the table until everyone is finished. But when we were at our friends’ house this weekend, they let their kids sort of wander off whenever they felt like it. So… what am I, as a parent, supposed to do? Because we’re at someone else’s house, we operate under their family rules… even if the rules go directly against what we do in our own family?

We also have a rule that you don’t start eating until the whole family is sitting at the table. So when Carla grabbed a piece of bacon off the tray and started eating it while my friends were still cooking breakfast and while my husband and I were still setting the table, I scolded her. And she was outraged, because, she pointed out, my friends’ daughter had ALSO taken a piece of bacon from the tray! She was just following her friend’s lead! And my friends (the parents) just shrugged. Oh well, they said. They’re kids. They’re hungry. We shouldn’t have put a tempting tray of bacon on the table like that. (At that point, I felt like an asshole. Like I was one-step-removed chastising their kid, and also them, for not having the same rule.)

There was a LOT of this kind of thing, over the weekend. Where Carla would do a thing that I would normally not let her get away with. Climbing on the furniture, for instance. Or eating candy at breakfast time. Or not holding a grown up’s hand in the parking lot. But when I pointed out to her that she was breaking a rule, she would get all incredulous, because she was just doing what our friends’ kids were doing!

I don’t know what to DO in that kind of situation. Part of me wants to shrug and say something like, “When in Rome.” Or, “We are on vacation, so we can relax the rules a little.” But another part of me shrieks, “Consistency!” and then I get probably a little bit self-righteous, alongside my confusion. I’m not teaching Carla anything earth-shattering.  But these are things I want Carla to learn, and want her to do even when she’s at another family’s house. Even when other kids are doing the opposite. (Right? That’s why we teach our kids things! So that when they grow up or are away from us, they still behave in the way we deem best.) And I also want her to understand that she needs to be responsible for her own behavior, even if other kids are behaving differently. At some point, it starts feeling Big and Important and Critical. Like, if I don’t crack down now on her saying “Well, I’m going to eat candy because Pearl is eating candy!” that in ten years she’ll be saying, “Well, I’m going to try cocaine because Pearl is trying cocaine!” and “Well, Isla thinks it’s okay to send nude photos to her boyfriend, so I’m doing it too!” and “You weren’t there to tell me not to rob this bank, but Emmett was robbing it, so I did it too!” and then her life is ruined.

Maybe what needs to happen is a Pre-Visit Conversation, where I anticipate this kind of thing. And I sit Carla down and remind her that families are different, and have different rules and values, and that we mustn’t forget to abide by the rules that are important to our own family.

But even that feels… sticky. Because some rules are just naturally not as important as others. For instance, if the other family DOES wear shoes in the house, I am fine with Carla wearing shoes in their house. Even though we have a “no shoes in the house” policy. In that case, I’m fine with going with the other family’s way of doing things. Same with… watching TV at meal times. Or eating in the living room. Or whatever.

Why do those feel different to me than the “sitting at the table until everyone is done” policy? Hmm. I suppose there are many categories of rules, and some are important and immoveable while others are more flexible.

Let’s see. The “holding hands in the parking lot” thing is a safety issue, so that’s easy enough to categorize: Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Well, it’s easy for me to categorize, although it may be much more confusing to a five-year-old.

The “don’t eat until everyone is at the table” thing seems to me a matter of manners. So maybe that’s another category: make sure you still maintain your manners at someone else’s house. Say please and thank you, even if the other kids don’t. Pick up after yourself, even if the other kids don’t. Stay at the table until everyone is done, even if the other kids don’t (well, unless the parent says specifically that you can be dismissed). And it goes the other way, too — if the other family has manners-specific rules that you don’t have, you should adhere to them too. I had an elementary school friend whose family rule was that you eat every thing on your plate at meal times, which seems like a manners issue to me. And so in cases where “manners” are involved, you defer to the “good manners” option. I’m describing this in such a clunky way. I think what I mean is, it would be considered impolite to the other family, if you didn’t clear your plate. So in that case, you do the polite thing and clear your plate, even though there’s no “clear your plate” rule in your own family. (Man, that was the WORST rule for me. You may recall that I am super picky eater. It made me never want to eat at my friend’s house.) This is probably an Intermediate Level type of rule following, because it requires the ability to infer the other family’s reaction to following or not following the rules. I mean, if you go to someone’s house and they all say grace before dinner, but that’s not part of your own belief system… I don’t think you should have to say grace out of fear that the other family will find you rude. (You do have to be still and quiet and respectful during grace, like, not grabbing a handful of bacon while grace is being said.) But that’s something that you might not know/think about when you’re ONLY FIVE. I know, I am getting way ahead of myself on some of these things. And also this whole paragraph is confusing me even though it came from MY brain and I’M writing it so I’m going to move on.

Can I say how HARD it is to talk about this, without sounding/feeling judgmental? I know we made all sorts of stipulations at the beginning of this post, but maybe you, like I, have forgotten that. Or maybe you are, like I am, feeling a little uncomfortable about spelling out all these things that other people may or may not do. I am feeling a little panicky that you might be thinking, “Oh no! I never make my kids wait until everyone is done eating before they leave the table!” and worrying that that disqualifies you from Friend Consideration. No! No no no! I cannot express how much I DO NOT CARE if your children are required to stay at the table until the meal is over. They are kids. Let them go play while the grown ups linger over wine and second helpings of zucchini. It’s not a big deal. You would think that, because it is a rule in my own home, I would have strong feelings about it. But I do not. I think we made it a rule to help encourage Carla to develop the skill of sitting and doing something she finds boring. It’s a skill that will help her in many situations, from the classroom to the line at the bank, and I think her pediatrician or a teacher recommended it some years ago, and so it has become part of the family custom.

Similarly, we have the “no shoes in the house” rule, but that’s almost purely because I do not like to wear shoes or socks and I hate the feeling of grit on my feet that comes from people wearing their shoes in the house. If you like wearing shoes in YOUR house, great! My parents wear shoes in their house, and it works for them, and I wear shoes when I visit them and all is well.

And I know I made a big deal, earlier, that “holding hands in the parking lot” is a rule that falls into the “Things That Are Dangerous” category. And so I must be thinking that you care nothing of your child’s safety if you don’t hold her hands. No! Of course not! Some of my friends have children who walk calmly and slowly next to them at all times. Some of my friends have children who are extremely cautious and point out a car coming several blocks away. My particular brand of child is able to spot a roly-poly on a leaf fifty yards away but will not see a car barreling toward her down an otherwise empty street. I also have the brand of child who is prone to dashing and leaping and twirling, with no consideration for her surroundings or the presence of motor vehicles. So for HER, the holding hands thing is really important.

On the other side of the fence, I do NOT have a rule that you have to try every food that the host provides. Or even that you have to try every food on your plate. But if YOU have those rules, I get it! Those are GOOD rules! I see their value! If I could persuade Carla to try a single bite of every food without a Drawn-Out Epic Battle of Wills, I totally would institute that rule at our house. Or maybe I wouldn’t, because I am super picky and I would never want to have to try something like a stewed tomato, so I wouldn’t want to have a rule that I would be in danger of breaking.

I do not think anyone is inferior OR superior for having different rules than I do, is what I’m saying. They’re just different.

Sometimes, I worry that I have too many rules. It’s possible, I acknowledge that. But I had a lot of rules, growing up. And I turned out to be very good at following rules, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. (And I still maintain a level of independence and creativity and ability-to-question-rules, I hasten to add!)

My parents had a Good Living Room and a Good Dining Room that we weren’t allowed in, except for special occasions. And I wasn’t allowed to have my door shut if there was a boy in my room. And I couldn’t leave anything on the stairs. And I couldn’t leave the doors open (unless there was a screen door in its place). And I had to turn the lights off any and every time I left a room. And many others. It’s kind of funny to think back, to all those rules, and think about which ones stuck and which ones I threw immediately to the wind once I moved out of my parents’ house.

These days, I shut the door to my bedroom ALL the time, even though there’s almost always a boy in here! I am so getting away with things!!!

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