Hand Wringing In The Dark: What Grammy Taught Me

Most folks that I know share wonderful memories of time with their grandparents. I've got a few of them myself. No, I'm not going on a diatribe of what occurred from ages 3 to 19, but I figured it would be a great 'self reminder' to write out what Grammy taught me to hold as important.

There are often times as a parent when I question how I've handled my children and issues that crop up on a daily basis. The situations at work that might frustrate some, I try to take a step back and decide the best course of action. When thinking of how my actions and reactions appear to acquaintances, friends, or random strangers, I try to be mindful. Grammy taught me that my actions can and do effect all parties involved, however small it may seem.

My favorite memories of Grammy and her wisdom are those that I will always cherish. The visits to her home while I was in my first years of college were amazing. One of thirty two (yes 32) grandchildren, you tend to feel as though you're 'lost in the crowd'. My visits to her after classes provided me the opportunity to get to know my grandmother as a person, not just the lady that could out-cook, out-bake, and out-clean my own mother.

One visit brought me to her home after a harrowing teenage day. I just wanted warm cookies, milk, and someone to tell me how much they loved me. We sat in the kitchen for a short time, overlooking the arbors of grapevines and the many rows of pine trees that stood in her back yard. After the comfort food, we moved to her immense living room. Sitting on the ottoman of the chair Grammy reclined in, she began to ask me how things were with my friends and classmates. I began to recount to her, a tale fitting of a typical teen. I relayed to her how one of my closest friends had used a secret I told her against me. Blackmail for the most part, of the emotional type. As I opened up about the sordid (or so I thought at that time) details, Grammy sat, nodding her head, then tilting it to one side. She was thinking about how she was going to respond.

Waiting on her pearls of wisdom, expecting her to give me advice about the exact issue at hand, Grammy asked me a question instead. "Why are you doing that with your hands Suzy?"

Hadn't she heard a thing I just told her? I bled my heart out, told her stuff I wouldn't tell my mom, and all she's interested in are my hands?

Grammy had watched every bit of my movements, my breath, and specifically, how I was wringing my hands, all while listening to what I was SAYING.

"Suzy, you tell me that this young lady is your friend. Would a true friend have you wringing your hands about your relationship with them?" The bomb had been deployed by this petite woman, whose soft voice could pierce even the thickest armor.

To this day, I consider my relationships by the hand-wringing that does or does not happen.

A year or so later, and many more visits, I was driving by Grammy's home. I had planned on stopping in to see if she needed anything, or if she was up for some company. It was getting dark. There were no lights on in the house that I could discern. A few times, I had pulled in after dark, and not seeing lights on in the house, left. She was older, and most likely in bed early, so this wasn't much of a concern.

I don't know what it was, there were no 'issues' or problems to solve this time. I just merely wanted to see her. My mind raced to thoughts of her being ill, or worse yet.... Hopping out of my little red Mustang, I made my way to the back porch and rapped on the door. A moment later, the light ticked on, and there she was. She invited me in directly to the living room. It was too late to be eating, and the kitchen had been cleaned for the night.

When we arrived in the living room, there was one small light. It was a battery powered lantern. Perched perfectly next to her reading chair, it gave off just enough light to illuminate a few feet away. She had been reading by this light just a few minutes before my arrival.

When I asked why she used this, Grammy explained that because it was just her, there was no need to have 'a bunch of lamps blazing through the night'. I then imparted to her the number of times I had passed by or pulled in the driveway and left, because I didn't see any lights on in the house. She giggled, patting her small, work-worn hand on my knee.

"What is it that I would need to see? If I truly need to see something, I will shed light on it, or just simply put the thought aside until morning. There is nothing that I need, nor want to see in the dark that wouldn't look immensely better in the light of day." What an illuminating thought!

Grammy relayed to me that if there was something to be done, it should be done during the daylight hours. If it was still pressing on my heart, set it aside, it would be there, waiting for me to deal with it in the morning. We began chatting about the deeper meanings of how a life could be run in a more efficient manner. She shared about her latest read All Creatures Great and Small, telling me how much she enjoyed the characters.

As our visit ended, Grammy walked me back to the kitchen, turning on a few lights for me along the way. She gave me a hug and kiss, and as I walked down the slate stairs and walkway out the back door, she gave me her parting comment: "Sometimes, it is better to be in the dark. Certain things aren't always pleasant to view, no matter the type of light."

Knowing the deeper meaning of Grammy's words, it was not just about cheating the power company. It was not having to know what every other person is doing, thinking, or saying. It comes down to too much noise in the head that is unnecessary.

I like sitting in the dark, it frees my spirit.

Can You Believe What I Think They Said?!

Loving social media isn't always easy. Certain protocols, mostly 'learned' along the way, definite 'dos and do NOT's' that online society deems appropriate. You inevitably learn not to post something in all caps, or create too many posts in a given amount of time on Facebook.

When e-mail was introduced, there was a wide berth, but there also wasn't a lot of folks using it. If you are old enough to remember, the 'normal' office in the late 80's had a couple of computers. One, in particular, was the word processor's computer. The 'word processor' was a person who usually had a year or two of computer science education, and knew their way around a QWERTY. The novelty of sending a message from desk to desk was considered lazy and efficient.

Flash forward to MultiMate letters. Now, THERE was a word processing system. AOL was all the rage, and everyone wanted to hear 'You've got mail!' Let's not get into the awkward 'fashionable attire' of the time. Over time, 'others' were given the opportunity to 'dial up' to the world wide web.

We've come a long way baby. Tonight, after an evening with friends, I retired to my corner of the couch, pulled out the netbook, and started checking my e-mails (mostly junk mail). Went to my Facebook site, scrolled quickly through my feed, then answered a few notes that were direct messaged to me. I guess that my evening's conversations were not enough, as two of them appeared to be from the same people that I had just spent three hours with at the coffee shop. One was a reminder that I needed to show up for a 'girl's afternoon'. The other was a plea for a smart phone inadvertently left in the back seat of my vehicle. Simple comments, regards sent, smart phone delivered back at 1:30 AM to it's rightful owner.

Much of our conversations tend to be just that, simplistic conversations, interspersed with shared pictures of our weekend, generalized observations of life and the issues that we face. On occasion however, we are all 'guilty' of either venting our latest pet peeve or airing our grievances, politics, (fill in your favorite 'things you should not talk about at the bar') out on social sites. The magic of social media, coupled with our innate sense of our First Amendment rights, and the idea that others will rally behind our just causes. Sometimes, just once in a while, those messages are covert comments to a particular few. Undercutting, back-biting, nasty bits of ourselves that are dressed up as something less than.

It is just such a situation that has played out, more than just once, and not just my own experience. I have seen how adults play the role of insecure 13 year olds, taunting others, and ridiculing those they do not like or agree with. These venomous comments are interspersed between the family pictures, the 'friends night out' photo, and the ever popular memes of the day. I am not standing on a bully pulpit, claiming to have never taken part in the jousts and jabs. I have, over the years, become a much more savvy and sophisticated user of social media.

About a month or so ago, I posted a comment about how some adults act like children, and I'd rather deal with 9 and 10 year olds, they're more honest and upfront. I was making a commentary about a case that I was watching on television. Because EVERYONE knows what I am doing and thinking about when the post was made, the assumption was carried. Within a period of 2 hours, I received a number of direct messages. Guess I had ruffled a few feathers. More accurately, my message worried a lot of folks. They were trying to decipher exactly what THEY had done or said that would make me post something about THEM! Apparently, a few folks had not been on best behavior, nor had they lived up to the hype that they had posted on their site.

Thinking that things were taken care of and cleared up, I went to work the next day. After enough 'glares and stares', a few co-workers stopped me to ask how things were going. After dancing about the subject for a short time, one of them questioned the basis for my commentary online from the previous night, wanting to know who at work were the guilty party/parties. They seemed disappointed that there was no bits of juicy gossip to partake in. Even further yet, there was a bit of disbelief that I would be posting about something that didn't have anything to do with them or someone that they were aware of. It was a wake-up call. People were reading my posts and discerning what they wanted to read into it. Even when it had nothing to do with them, there was an example that came to their mind, something or someone that triggered a correlation.

Think about it, how amazing is that? You can post anything that you want on your blog, Twitter account, or Facebook page, and immediately, there is a line drawn between you and some other issue or person at hand. So many experts on social media have warned us about this. They've discussed how to 'clean up' your site, what you might want to avoid posting if you are on the job hunt, or further yet, what you should NEVER post if you work in any particular profession. There are social media specialists that are taking a handsome sum away from companies to tidy up loose ends. There are life coaches, marketing professionals, and public relations personnel working overtime to make certain that there is nothing out there that would be a detriment to the company employing them. Even the federal government monitors social media to make certain our greater good and security are not jeopardized.

So, what does this mean for all of the 'free spirits' who want to voice their ideas? Have you thought about what you're posting? Did you consider the comments that are made about your comment? Were you focused on those people that you weren't focusing on, making certain they caught your subtle sarcasm that wasn't even directed at them?

Enough questioning for now. Post at will.

What My Teenager Taught Me About Social Media, Acceptance, and other Stupid Stuff

My daughter is a co-conspirator. She has become my raison d'être in writing out what I need to write, addressing what I've had rattling in my grey matter for some time. It is due in no small part to a mother's love and want for understanding what she's 'going through'.

Social media was around before she could make her way around a keyboard, click a mouse, and post innocuous comments. I introduced her to my world of social media when I went back to college. Showed her a site that some kid created to link up other college students. I was using it to keep in contact with all my younger, hipper counterparts. When she was old enough to begin socializing on the net, I assisted her with an account. Now, the tables have not completely turned, but we are linked, site by site, arm in arm with each other as we navigate what is out there in the Brave-Not-So-New www. 

A car ride to the store just the other night is what reminded me that although I may have endured some of the growing pains that my girl has/will face, I have certainly never had to confront some of these 'rites of passage' in such a public way as most of our kids do now. Oh, for those parents that say 'my kid doesn't engage in social media'... that's great.  THEY might not, however their reputation, comments, and likeness do, no matter what, thanks to the 'classmates' and 'friends'.

I have not felt the slings and arrows of being un-friended at 15 by my 'bff' who just posted that deep, dark secret she swore to NEVER tell. Telling of tales, of those horrors we want to keep buried (exept to our buddies). Those things 20 or 30 years ago would take a whole school year to make it to 50 people, now only take a nano-second to get to 1,000.

The InstaGrammed weekend 'doings' of those friends, while sitting home waiting for them to call and get an invite, didn't happen to me.  I didn't know, nor did I care, as it was after the fact.

Flaming was something that happened when you walked too close to the bonfire set up at the keg party in the woods.

My girl and I talk, alot. She and I agreed that I am not the uber 'sheltering' type of parent, out there fighting teachers for the A+, calling other parents and asking them 'Do you know what your child said to mine?', or telling her she can't watch an R rated show because it contains the same profanity that she hears already on the bus or in school. I'm a rebel like that. When those 'sticky issues' rear their ugly head (because they will), we talk about it. Discuss the context of everything said and done, review what we think about it, how it makes us both feel. Earnest discussion, deep moments.

On that ride, she imparted to me that most of her friends consider her the 'go to' when there are daunting 14/15 year old issues at hand. They turn to her to vent, ask for guidance. My girl's inevitable young wisdom is imparted, and, like most parents or trusted adults, goes unheeded many times. She tells me that a vast majority of her friends 'have no clue'. Wise beyond her years, she has had the opportunity to bounce off ideas, thoughts, and feelings. She's gotten her share of 'real life' from her folks. She's debating on whether or not she'd want to be a psychologist, weighing out the fact that listening to other's troubles on a daily basis might be a drain to her aura of self.

I have to acknowledge that as often as we talk, as much time as we do spend with each other, there are things that my girl will face that I will never be able to completely understand or feel. She is sailing on her own, with me as the 'radio', into unchartered territory.

As I turned our car into our neighborhood, I realized something ~ Pierce the Veil tickets were still on sale ~ my girl had hmu on fb about it.


True story….

My husband Bill and I were invited to a ‘couples only’ New Year’s Eve party; friends of his from high school (that’s ANOTHER story all together, but not mine to tell).  This couple had five (5) children of their own, each about 2 years apart. They are wonderful people, let me get that out of the way… ok… continue: Their children were staying over at Grammy’s house for the night so that Mom and Dad could do this whole ‘no children allowed’ thing. It was a Friday evening, and we all worked.
Translation: Ladies, hope your 3 hour preparations can be sped up, as you’ll only have 2 to complete all of your little odd ‘going out’ rituals, get the kids fed and ready for the babysitter, and make certain you are available to answer the inevitable question “Where are my good dress socks?” and be able to follow up with a course of action.

We had two children, ages 4 and 6 at the time, and I was wondering how our friends, let’s call them Bob and Jen, could possibly go through a whole week of working 40 plus hours, laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming, etc… (all the things you do real quick when you find your in-laws will be arriving sooner than later). 
We arrived on time (this, as well, ANOTHER story all together!) and were greeted cheerfully by Bob.  I guess if I were Bob, knew that my kids were at my mom’s, and was guaranteed a night of freedom and, well, no ‘interruptions’ from children for 14-18 hours, I’d be that cheerful too. He swung open the door wide, grinning and inviting us in. 
The home’s hardwood floors and polished wood staircase SPARKLED. I expected to see a tidy, yet thrown together mess of toys in the corner of the living room, there were none to be found (not even under the couch). There were fresh cut flowers in an intricately etched crystal vase (the kind you don’t bring out where the kids can get at it) sitting on the coffee table. Music was playing quietly, and as I peered further into their home, I could see that the fondue was set, and the promised chocolate fountain bubbled away without any small beings hovering about it. Jen’s home was immaculate! Did I tell you that the floors SPARKLED?

We enjoyed the first few hours of chat, catching up on the details of what we were doing, and where we were going. There was a silent code of ‘no child talk’ that we danced around and stumbled around rather awkwardly. The three couples there had experienced a life that was engulfed with nothing more than issues with pediatritians, school woes, and the next best deal on clothes and shoes for the kids. Aside from the occasional debate about new vaccinations, or illnesses that our children had recently contracted, it was mostly a ‘child talk-less’ night.

I couldn’t help but admire how the sink was dry and shiny (if there’s a drop of water, it usually means they’ve just finished the dishes). The counters were free of clutter, and there was no sign that children lived in the home, other than the random pictures that dotted the downstairs rooms. I asked Jen how she could manage working and raising 5 wonderful children (the youngest at the time was 4 years old, and yes, they truly were/are ‘wonderful children’) and pull off entertaining us with such wonderful fare and a perfect house.  She pulled me aside, in a shocked sense, and asked me “Hasn’t your sister-in-law taught you how to do this yet?!”

“Damned in-laws”, I thought. For someone that imagined a good relationship with her sister in-laws, they were still holding out secrets from me. I guess I hadn’t reached ‘that’ point, where you share the deep, dark family secrets with the newest member of the family.

“What are you talking about Jen?” “The kitchen cabinet trick!” she replied.  Rather proud of herself that SHE would be the sensai to guide me in the art of cleaning a home for guests, she took my hand and led me back into her kitchen.

Opening her oven door, she produced what appeared to be half of the pots and pans that she owned, stuffed into her broiler and oven. I had been known to store pots and pans in my broiler, as New England homes are notorious for never having enough cabinet space. These, however, upon further inspection, were absolutely dirty! Grinning at me, but not saying a word, she brought me to the corner of the kitchen, reached up and opened two cabinet doors. Not knowing what to expect (other than dishes) I peered in.  There they were. The past day and a half’s worth of dirty dishes. Piled in, stacked up, and definitely in need of a wash.

“These are the spots you should make for yourself. You never cook when the guests arrive, as the dinner or hors devours should be ready and presented. So, that leaves you your broiler and oven for any of the really big stuff that you can’t put into the cabinets.” Giving me the tutorial of ‘how to entertain’, Jen was on a roll, and I let her roll….

“Then, you know, when you have that all filled up, you can use cups or mugs to hold all of your dirty silverware. Pick a set of cabinets, like these, that are furthest away from the clean dishware, and just start packing in the rest of your dirty dishes!” Simple as that.

My mind was reeling. This person is not the one that I know. The woman who’s children are always clean, shirts and dresses pressed, showing up like a Rockwell picture every Sunday morning for service, EARLY and smiling. This was the same woman who donated hours of her time to great causes, who ran the ‘mom taxi’ for her older ones and their friends, who would help run VBS for our church every year.

I took a deep breath, and a step back. “Why don’t you just put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher?”

Jen walked over to the washer, opened it and showed another full set of dishes that needed to be cleaned. “Already jam packed! I’ll just wait to run the water later. With all of us needing showers, we’d run out of hot water if I did laundry or dishes before guests arrived!” Well, at least that made sense.

The rest of the evening was fun, but I believe to this date, that I was in a state of shock, disbelief, and maybe even had an out-of-body experience. We left around 12:30, all of us taking advantage of a rare evening without children. On the ride home across town, I turned to my husband and began to spew out all of Jen’s ‘secrets’ of a clean home and entertaining strategies. My husband chuckled, then he realized what I was driving at.  It was the picture of the perfect family, living in a perfectly clean home, with perfect appetizers, and a perfect marriage. Maybe they weren’t so ‘perfect’ as we thought.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Flash forward five years later. Billy and I have two more children in tow, and I am selling real estate. Open houses every weekend, and excusing myself from Sunday services to set up for the weekly ‘featured home’ open house. On one particular Sunday, I was asked by a fellow realtor if I would take their open house in return of a favor. I accepted. It was a basement condo on a little side street in town. I no sooner set up the Open House sign outside, tying balloons to the banister leading down the outside stair well, when a familiar voice came from behind.
“Hey! You wanna sell me a place?” I turned to face our friend Bob.
The first thing that went through my mind was ‘Bob’s not in church’, followed quickly by ‘He must be checking up on me for Billy.’ (He’s a really nice guy, like I said, and he wouldn’t think twice to help out a friend in that regard.)

I invited him in, grateful for the company that he offered. Open houses can be very, er, boring. No one to talk to, you don’t want to be watching TV and appear to be ‘slacking on the job’. Truth be told, there’s only so much walking around the property that you can do, without a nosey neighbor asking you what you’re doing, how much they’re selling the home for, and asking if they can snoop around while their neighbor’s out to see how they decorate, as they’re not normally invited in.

Bob began to cry, and when I say cry, I mean, grown man, sobbing. I felt so helpless. He began to tell me that his marriage appeared to be over. He asked me if I saw it coming, because he certainly didn’t. He worked crazy hours to make certain that they had everything they needed or wanted. He had even taken work out of state for weeks at a time, just to make certain that the big checks kept coming in. I suggested that maybe the big paycheck wasn’t worth the loss of their relationship. Our conversation went from what was going on immediately with him and Jen, to how they would deal with housing, the kids, and what the future might look like for all of them.

Bob left that afternoon, after being there with me through the three hours of the open house. He kept telling me how lucky Billy and I were, and what a great relationship we had, and that he wanted that. Pulling up the yard sign and taking down the balloons, Bob said goodbye. We gave each other a hug. I told him to come on over to our home anytime he needed to talk to Billy. He agreed, and went on his way, head down, his little red compact car trudging out onto the street.

As his car moved further down the road, I thought back to the New Year’s party that they had hosted. It was perfect, so was the house. Everything seemed good. Now, all of those dishes jammed into the cupboard and oven came to mind. It just appeared that all was right. There were things undone, chores that were not completed. You wouldn’t know it by looking around at their home, it was perfect; until you opened the cabinet doors.

I’ve thought about that, over and over throughout so many days and years. How perfect others seem to be. How their life looks amazing. Their kids go to the ‘right school’, they’ve got great titles in the amazing companies that they work for. Their home is not only in a good neighborhood, but it’s in a great town. Weekends are filled with events and places, and then relayed on Monday morning at the coffee pot or water cooler as a badge of accomplishment. They go to the really nice restaurants, vacation in wonderful geographic locations, and have deeply held social or spiritual beliefs that they act on.

That’s how Bob and Jen’s life were. That’s how most every other person I’ve known is (or was). But, just like Bob and Jen, so many have a proverbial cabinet full of dirty dishes. I began to realize that the perfection that we all strive for, the façade that we manufacture for the rest of the world to perceive, isn’t always as glamorous as we really are living.
There’s a stat about Facebook users that had come out. Those that spend time on the social web site begin feeling depressed. The more time they utilize these type of sites, the more they feel less than. They look at the pictures of friends and family’s vacations, events, and other snapshots. You know, the one’s you take three times to make certain you’ll look good and the extra ten pounds doesn’t show as much. Yeah, you know what I mean.  Smiling faces (Have I got a family portrait photo story to tell you!) and everything’s perfect with you, your family and the world. Then, we wonder why those TRULY special moments that are captured by a whim, a freak chance, don’t seem to be garnished with the same 'so amazing' comments.

Just like Bob and Jen, we have our own set of ‘Dirty Dishes in the Cabinet’.  Not just a few, all of us. At one time or another does the mantra 'fake it til you make it' come into play. Alas, for most of us, we don't make it ~ not in the way we originally intended, and the dishes, well, they're  waiting there for us to clean them up.