Monday, January 30, 2006

Betty's Annual Pre-Valentine's Day Time Travel

It was this date on a Saturday the year I was 11. It was pre-Valentine's Day, a time of great hope. I had always liked boys; I had been engaged to be married at age 5. But this was the year I began to REALLY like boys.

This was a huge secret, of course. It would be many years before I could summon the courage to admit to having any interest in boys. Is this common? Or is it related to being brought up by repressed Irish Catholic women who furtively whispered dire warnings in my ear?

Winters were harsh in the state of New York. The early February thaw that year was highly unusual. My pre-adolescent imagination told me that the break in the weather was a sign: Valentine's Day would be perfect. This is what would surely happen: Pat Lane, the love of my life, would profess his undying love for me. Then we'd have to quit school and get married.

My best friend Barbara and I shuffled through the slush- it looked a lot more cool than tiptoeing about, searching for dry spots. I can still see the melting snow, complete with its dirty black spots from having been around so long. Spring was in the air, undeniably. The sun broke through the clouds, signaling the end of a lengthy all-winter cloud cover. We unbuttoned our ever-so-hip jackets purchased last fall from the Army and Navy store.

Barbara had recently informed me that in bed, boys stick their you-know-what into the girl. I didn't believe it, not for one minute. Kissing, though, was plenty appealing, and holding hands, and hugging....

Our eyes squinted, unaccustomed to sunshine. Our ears perked to the birds' mating calls. We were eating heart-shaped Sweet Tarts candy, just purchased downtown. Then, in the distance, I heard a sound that stopped my heart. Could it be.....?

Gasp....... It was Pat Lane, playing a game of football with a group of boys in a parking lot up the street! Pat Lane had no idea that I lived for him. Barbara was equally clueless. This budding sexuality taking over my life was known only to myself.

I turned into a bundle of nerves. I wanted him to see us, but I was scared beyond reason. Was my hair a mess? Did I look OK? Did I look cool? Were my lips totally concealing the braces on my teeth? I didn't want anything to interfere with what was going to happen on Valentine's Day.....

Trembling, I forged onward with Barbara. We boldly marched, feigning disinterest, right past the boys, who, of course, totally ignored us. At age 11, back in the days when parents did not overschedule their kids, there was nothing more important than this. So we did it again, slowly making our way around the block and past the football game again, afraid to arouse their suspicion yet unwilling to pass up the opportunity to be near them. I suspected that she liked one of the boys in that group, but she, too, knew the rules. You don't actually ADMIT to liking a boy. Not at age 11, with spring in the air and Valentine's Day around the corner, when the sky's the limit.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

life lesson

As I jogged up the driveway I was greeted by his eager, expectant face in the window. He had been concerned as to my well being, and his eyes showed visible relief at the sight of me. His ears flattened as our eyes locked. Eight months old, he has just developed the ability to catapult himself off the floor onto the table so that he can view the outdoors. This requires Herculean effort and is reserved for critical situations like my absence.

Flattered by his worry, I decided reward him. I opened the front door and allowed him to bolt. Not bothering with the stairs, he launched himself off the top step and sailed to the ground, spreading legs as wings, landing with the grace of a four-legged gymnast. Without skipping a beat he raced into the park and initiated a full-fledged investigation of the grounds.

Joyous and free, ecstacy in motion, he pranced and danced among the rose bushes and trees, stopping to sniff at whatever he fancied. Then he'd take off, full speed ahead, basking in the power of his perfectly functioning skeletal-muscular system, running like blazes because he could. He was proud to be himself; in fact, he was elated to be alive, clearly thrilled by the wondrous world in which he romped. The squirrels escaped into their trees just in time, but it was all about the chase after all.

Marvelling at this virtuosic display of joie de vivre, I thanked my teacher with a hunk of Braunschweiger.

Monday, January 16, 2006

shopping with betty

Shopping has never been my forte. Online shopping, my usual method, is repugnant enough, but the brick and mortar variety actually nauseates me after the first 15-20 minutes. Yet somehow I managed to give birth to a male shopper.

Every time I hear him croon, in his best sing-song," Oh, mama, I feel like doing something special with you today..." I know I'm in trouble. Big trouble. "Something special", to this alien of mine, means shopping.

He did inherit the stubbornness gene from me. We lock horns for a while, he pouts, he wins, we shop.

If you want to be a shopper, you pretty much have to follow the herd. We followed the herd to shoppers' paradise. We walked. He drooled at iPods and asked for Cinabonns. We walked. I watched.

The place was bustling with apparently happy, moneyed people who were out to improve their lives, or at least their possession tally, on this day. I was impressed that the traffic actually STOPPED at intersections to allow the many pedestrians to cross leisurely. It was highly unusual to see so many people out walking. So that's what sidewalks are for.....interesting.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, all of those PEDESTRIANS had driven vehicles, some of monstrous SUV proportions, to this shopping mecca. This thriving pedestrian "neighborhood" is devoid of housing. Not one living soul is able to walk to this desination. It exists in a suburb, far from downtown. This shopping center and one in another suburb have seemingly conspired to ruin this city's downtown, which until recently was itself a shopping destination.

I must have been a city planner in a past life. I am inordinately troubled by this phenomenon. I know there's a better way. My Serbian friend tells me his family led a very happy, car-free life. Carefree and car-free. Vehicles pollute, vehicles kill, vehicles maim, vehicles reduce our level of fitness, and vehicles have caused the elimination of those glorious streetcar systems which graced our cities many years ago.

We drove away from today's shopping experience along with hundreds of other vehicles. Why did we all seem to be leaving at the same time? The number of cars was staggering. I shuddered as I realized the odds of at least one of these many drivers making a mistake, especially as our world goes more and more high tech. The driver next to me could have been watching one of those video iPods my child had been drooling over. My tiny subcompact didn't stand a chance against one of those looming, imposing behemouths.

I panicked, gripped the steering wheel for dear life, and pressed the gas pedal, dispersing my exhaust into our precious air. It just seems so wrong.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

a whirling question

It has been brought to my attention that I don't know a thing about time management, also known as "setting priorities". One quick glance around my house is all you'd need to become convinced.

It's been said that nobody ever laid on his/her deathbed and bemoaned the fact that he/she hadn't spent more time at the office. But here's what I need to know: did anyone, just before meeting one's Maker, ever regret poor housekeeping?

This is a true concern of mine. I don't know how important housekeeping is, if at all. I have heard convincing arguments both ways.

More than one upstanding citizen has assured me that "the housekeeping can wait. It'll still be there when your child grows up, and you can take care of it then."

Is it true that I'm allowed to let it go for eleven more years? Can these people be serious? Should I not fear condemnation by the Board of Health, or arrest for child endangerment? (My child, incidentally, has become highy adept at leaping from one clearing of floor space to another, skillfully avoiding toppling my stacks of papers, books, magazines and dirtying my piles of laundry. I should think that this unusual ability could serve him well. At the very least, he has attained a lean, muscular appearance unlike that of many of his classmates.)

Then there are those who express horror at my housekeeping. One ex-boyfriend on a recent visit from Montana suggested that I drop everything else, take a leave of absence (unpaid of course) from work, and get my everloving shit together.

What's a woman to do? If I did take a leave of absence, I can see it now: I'd be sitting around surfing,reading and thinking, sipping Starbucks, having a great old time. As my dear friend TA puts it, I'm somebody who "needs a lot of down time". Even given all the time in the world, I'd still be far behind in my housekeeping, because it just is not a high priority in my life.

Today, for example, I could conceivably have cleaned all day. But this morning, while the child was occupied, I tried to catch up on reading my favorite blogs, including The Daily Blog with Kelly Bell. Kelley described, in one of her recent posts, an incredible childhood experience in the woods in which she saved an owl from a group of attacking birds, and the owl found a way to very clearly thank her. Inspired, I decided I had to take my child for a hike in the woods. The frigid, blustery air just added to the adventure. We didn't save any owls, but I bet my child is going to remember today's invigorating hike for years. It was time well-spent, in betty's book.

Many spiritual masters espouse cleaning house, in both the literal and figurative sense. I'm better at the figurative. Yes, I'd love to have an immaculate, uncluttered house, but I seem to lack the wherewithal to bring it about. I lack the necessary motivation to prioritize it and the skills required to pull it off in a timely fashion.

If physical housekeeping is deserving of a higher priority than I am currently assigning it, I truly want to know.

Monday, January 09, 2006

cooking with betty

Yes, we're nine days into the new year, but I'm just getting started on my annual attempt to get my act together. I usually start some sort of dramatic new regimen each January 1. Last year it was a raw food diet (very time intensive, especially considering you don't actually cook) coupled with synchronized aerobic kung fu, chanting group meditation and parent/child hatha yoga classes, and I was supposed to speed clean my house during any remaining time each day. Somehow I forgot to schedule in time to go to work, and the resulting chaos put the kibosh on last year's perfect lifestyle plan.

That particular regimen lasted a total of 15 hours, and the rest of 2005 was basically a free-for-all during which I simply attempted to feed, clothe and school the (resistant) child while keeping myself (barely) functional and employable.

This year I'll be REASONABLE, a non-specialty of whirlingbetty. I got off to a good start at that by basically ignoring January 1st altogether. I treated it just like any other day. I didn't empty my refrigerator or cupboards, I didn't call 1-800-GOTJUNK, I didn't turn myself over to any TV evangelists, I didn't join any new athletic facilities, I didn't sign myself up for the Peace Corps or any extreme makeovers, I didn't enroll in any training program for a new career. I just sort of hung out, ignoring the oh-so-significant date.

I felt guilty. Finally, by yesterday, January 8, I couldn't stand it any longer. I HAD to at least appear to attempt to overhaul my situation. The year is already one week gone, so obviously any diet or exercise resolution is out of the question. (It wouldn't be fair for the rest of you to have an entire week's head start!)

So I hauled out my spiritual books. I own an impressive library of them because, by golly, if I can't have my act together, then at least I want you all to know that I've tried. I stayed up most of the night skimming through several different paths to enlightenment.

One concept caught my eye. As whirlingbetty, I often feel bombarded by too much information, too much technology, too many options, too many possibilities. I am immobilized by the whirlwind of choices, baffled by decisions.

Authors Esther and Jerry Hicks in Ask and it is Given address the issue of overwhelment. They suggest that the reader imagine being a chef in a well-stocked kitchen. You have a recipe, you know what ingredients you need, and you put ONLY THOSE into your pie. The other ingredients stocking your shelves need neither be banished from your kitchen nor thrown into your pie. It is not necessary to be overwhelmed by the number of ingredients present in the kitchen. Use what you need and leave the rest.

To me, this was earth-shattering. I laughed, of course, while admitting to myself that it really is this simple. This morning I decided what I wanted to cook today, and selected my ingredients: jogging, blogging, reading, working, eating amaranth and veggies. I encountered a couple of unplanned ingredients: an elderly neighbor called for help (I said yes- it enhanced my pie)) and a very negative friend called and wanted to scheme (I said no- it would wreck my pie).

Maybe I'm on to something, eh? The whirlingbetty pie is still in the oven, but the aroma is mighty convincing.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Oh, we've all experienced it, usually from a lover, potential or actual, and sometimes from a desired employer. But since I have become a mother, I have experienced a whole new type of REJECTION.

Is it about the single parent stigma? Or am I simply a lousy mother who deserves to be shunned lest I adversely influence other people's children?

This issue has come to the forefront as I now attempt to plan my child's birthday party, scheduled for Sunday. Why do people blatantly refuse to RSVP? This is the type of party which requires a precise head count. It's at the hockey arena where the local hockey team holds games. I have to pay a set amount for each party-goer, and the number of party-goers (10 in my case) had to be determined in advance. So, in theory, if someone can't come, I could/should find a replacement.

What's really bothering me?, you might ask. Well, it's one particular mother who has been blowing me/us off bigtime. Her son, H, and mine became BEST friends in preschool. The two are a lot alike, and their friendship was enviable.

After preschool I did everything I could to maintain the friendship. I paid H's family top dollar to babysit during some of my work hours. H had younger brothers, and my kid isn't used to siblings. I tried to explain to H's mother that I had no way of teaching my kid to get along with little siblings because we don't have any. I politely gave her permission to do/say whatever she had to. Instead, she showed us the gate.

She's a stay-at-home mother who is homeschooling her kids. After she told us no more babysitting, I still drove to their house whenever I had time to pick up H for playdates.

Before long she put the kibosh on that. She kept putting us off, until finally on the date she had said H could come over, she emailed me saying her homeschooling schedule was just too filled- H couldn't come over to our house after all. That was last summer. I left her alone after that.

But my child doesn't know about all this. He only knows that H is a dear friend whom he hasn't seen in a long time. He wants H invited to his party.

I email H's mother, sheepishly, because i have been banished from their Family. i ask for permission to mail her Son an invitation, saying i will respectfully follow Her wishes if She wants to sever ties.

That was a week ago. She never responded, a dramatic passive-aggressive stab to the jugular.

Yes, i am making the mistake of giving Her power. Part of my problem is that in the past, when i thought She was my friend, i confided in her how hurt i was when other Families had rejected us. (Yes, it's happened before. It's a pattern.)

Why do People do this? What is it about me and my son which They deem inferior, unworthy? Is it the lack of a Man?

It's easy to say that the solution is for me to develop thicker skin and healthy self-esteem which prevails even during adversity. But that doesn't address the problem of a tragically lost friendship. Again. The rejection is not simply of the whirlingbetty and son diad- it is of beautiful, innocent childhood alliances.