After crying uncontrollably for an unspecified amount of time, sit down and talk with your kids about why we have three branches of government.
Pick something small that is annoying—like mismatched Tupperware, or a lost retainer–and throw all of your ire and frustration and hopelessness and devastation in that direction for a while, so you don’t have to think about the greater tragedy at hand.
Hug everyone you can find.
Have a glass of water and a sedative.
Contemplate the stars. Think of things that are true and good and will outlast this calamity.
Be ready for anything. Best case scenario: you are well-rested and patient, have a sense of humor and a full tank of gas, plenty of cash and Kleenex on hand, complete flexibility with your time, musical preferences, and volume tolerance, endless appetite for YouTube videos and Instagram feeds, a copy of Twilight, a portable charger, tasty, plentiful snacks, a working knowledge of 8th grade common core math concepts, endless sympathy and advice for tricky social and academic situations, and you don’t mind being completely ignored if none of the above is needed. Worst case scenario: you have a flask.
My friend Tony—né René–watched Scarface the night before his citizenship test. When asked, “What is your name?” he answered, “To-ny. Tony Montana,” spoken like Al Pacino. “She didn’t laugh,” he told me. “She wrote it down.”
Tony was famous for swabbing the Principal’s weepy back sores in a bathroom stall–just so he could recount the story later; for weaseling a trip to Disneyland from the school district; and for rehearsing his photo face in the closet at work.
“It’s hard to get the smile right,” he explained. “You have to practice or your school portraits look stupid.”
Keep a journal, but tear out the pages and discard. Burn them, if necessary.
Read something provocative.
Sing in the shower.
Make something cool.
Make a sound track for the following situations: heartbreak, euphoria, failure, disillusionment, creative foundering, despondency, envy, stupid people, kicking ass, revenge, and staring at the ceiling.
Be a good friend to your good friends–including you.
Avoid all long-term consequences: pregnancy, herpes, jail, death, and dismemberment.
Whoever you are, be more so.
A shout out to Mr. Maher and his high school class in San Diego. Every November, he challenges his students to write a 100-word story every day for 30 days. He lets them brainstorm suggested topics, and then writes accordingly throughout the entire month. No exceptions–because he is awesome. I can’t help but be inspired to write a few 100-word stories myself. Surviving high school was yesterday’s topic. Feel free to chime in with your own advice in the comments.
Once upon a time, we had a lovely dining room table.
Then, we had a couple of kids.
They stuck their gooey hands all over it. They spilled Campbell’s chicken soup and milk and Elmer’s glue. They pressed into its shiny top with crayons and their fat pencils, carving lurching letters and smiley faces and names and dates and numbers. Granted, there was a piece of paper between the lead point and the table below, but still.
The finish wore off here and there in large, sticky, unappetizing patches. These I pretended not to notice for as long as humanly possible.
Eventually, the kids grew older–old enough to dream of our table from days of yore. For your edification, I here include a glimpse into our household refinishing process.
How to Refinish a Table in 43 Easy Steps:
Think about doing this project for a couple of years.
Realize that the table project would be preferable to fixing a leaky basement or cleaning out the garage.
Drag the gigantic table outside and sand it down to the bare wood.
Drag it back inside.
Think about finding some stain.
Eat sitting on the floor at the coffee table for several weeks.
Apply water-based stain.
Gasp at its hideous appearance.
Drag it outside to sand down again.
Do some research.
Buy a lovely espresso-colored oil-based stain.
Be disappointed in its overall rough and uneven appearance.
Sand it down.
Do more research.
Use mineral spirits in an attempt to remove the former wax finish, which has apparently sequestered deep into the grain.
Decide you can live with the mottled appearance. Decide to call this “character” or “visual interest” rather than “egregious error.”
Apply a high-end polyurethane and cross fingers.
Watch it bubble up like a fourth grade science project.
Sand the crap out of it.
Add a little stain to hide the worst of the bare patches.
Watch it bubble.
Pick out hairs and try not to weep.
Pick out hairs.
Lower expectations further.
Apply fourth and final coat of poly and pray.
Be pleasantly surprised.
Go out for a celebratory glass of wine.
Receive phone call from spouse: fat, hairy, horrible cat has been meandering around on the final, tacky coat of poly.
Consider “doctoring” kitty’s food.
Order another glass of wine instead. And cheese.
Arrive home and view carnage. Worse than imagined.
Realize it’s time to repeat the whole fun-filled cycle.
My mother arrives in a couple of days. I wonder if she will prefer eating on the floor or standing over the kitchen counter?
This obstacle/leak/parenting gig/bad hair day is only temporary.
As soon as I…
finish my degree
get a job
have a kid
turn 30 (or more)
…my path in life will be apparent.
NEW, EXCITING PLAN: EMBRACE THE WHOLE HALF-EMPTY GLASS! I am going to jump right into the deep end with my eyes wide open this year.
Guess what? Things are not settling down now that the holidays are over, but that’s OK. I survived the holidays, so I’ll survive this crazy patch as well. Unless I don’t, in which case, I won’t care.
There’s always more that needs doing, even after finishing every item on the To Do list. The point is to relax now and then along the way, or I never will. Even ten deep breaths between meeting a deadline and driving the carpool can make a difference. A yoga teacher explained to me the importance of corpse pose at the end of a practice. One of her students consistently left class early and neglected the last five minutes of rest and relaxation because he was in such a hurry to get to his next commitment. He went straight from vigorous exercise to the next stressful challenge. One day, he raced to his car, buckled his seatbelt, had a heart attack, and died.
Apologies. That was an extreme example. Maybe we should talk about bread instead of a dead guy. How after you pound and knead the bejesus out of it, you have to let it rest so it can rise and do it’s bread thing. You don’t wait until the bread is finished to let it rest. That’s too late.
Newsflash: there’s never more time tomorrow than there was today. In fact, unless you’re on some transatlantic flight, every day consists of 24 hours. If you’ve got to do something, just do it. Or rest. Do the task or rest. I’ve wasted so much time and energy on the in between stuff–mainly worrying. What a waste.
If I’m thinking, “someone else will do that,” that is a clear indication to me that I need to do it myself or choose not to care if it gets done. Anything else is a recipe for frustration and resentment. Unlessmykids should be doing said task. Then I should probably nag them so they don’t grow up to be insufferable bums.
Speaking of which, parenting IS forever, but not every second of forever. I can’t tell you how many people have told me to savor this time–even the annoying parts–because soon the kid will move out and forget to call home, just like I did. That may well be the case, but as a mere mortal, I can’t possibly savor every moment. My kids are old enough to avoid sticking a fork in the socket when I’m not watching, so I should probably try to have a life now and then. At least, this is what I’m trying to tell myself. We’ll see how it goes.
This isn’t a phase. This is life. The journey doesn’t start after the degree/milestone/enlightenment. This IS the journey. I don’t need to worry about finding the path because I’m on it. As for the obstacles, they’re always there. It’s time for me to put on my hiking boots and tackle a few. And it wouldn’t hurt to enjoy the view while I’m climbing over.
My brother-in-law is a very ambitious and successful guy. I asked him once, “how do you juggle everything?” And he told me, “Sometimes, when I’m hurrying from one thing to another, I pull over, turn off the car engine for two minutes, and breathe.”
His comment didn’t make much of an impression on me at the time. It wasn’t delivered in a “here’s what you must do to be amazing like me” manner. It was just honest and straightforward. And effective. Dubious? Try it yourself.
Today I would like to take a moment to mull over a few other comments that seemed very small at the time, and grew to be important tenets along the way.
“Don’t discount this young man just because he’s nice to you.” I was indeed surprised to hear a comment like that from my mother. Smart lady, though. I married the guy.
“Be more Beret.” This sounds like a no-brainer. People say things like “be yourself” and “be true to yourself” all the time. But somehow, throwing my name in there made all the difference to me. I thought, “I am Beret, how can I be more Beret?” I started small, of course. I started reading books that I like, instead of the ones I should read. I started saying no to things. I started saying yes to things. I started making time for things that make me happy. I started singing along with catchy songs even though they might be insipid. Who cares?
“You don’t have to love being a mother, you just have to love your children.” This was news to me. If I ever write a book about parenting, this is the quote I will use on the dedications page.
Lastly, when I started teaching, I didn’t go through the traditional credentialing route. I hadn’t taken any education courses in college, so I had a boatload of theory crammed into six or eight weeks one summer, and then I was thrown to the wolves. Terrified nearly to paralysis, I asked a seasoned teacher for a few wise words before my first day. “Always have an extra piece of chalk in your pocket,” he said.
When I tell that story to people they roll their eyes. “Nobody has chalkboards anymore,” they say. But while I am grateful for discussions of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Krashen’s Input Hypothesis,that teacher’s advice still rings in my ears. For me, it meant that no matter how great a challenge I was facing, how insurmountable and overwhelming it might seem, I could break it down into tiny, doable tasks. Likewise, despite the fact that the knowledge and skills we need as teachers/parents/humans are hopelessly infinite, we can start by learning one thing and building upon it.
I may be the world’s worst interviewee. This is not false modesty. I have always gotten good grades, good evaluations, and organized an attractive little resume. On paper I look pretty decent.
I manage to shower and dress professionally, too, but the moment I open my mouth, one would indeed be lucky to discover a point buried beneath my anxious blathering.
The single most detrimental piece of interviewing advice I ever received–unfortunately delivered on the eve of an interview for a ridiculously prestigious scholarship–was “just be yourself.”
Little did they know who I might be in the hot seat. Characteristics that might be beneficial or noteworthy in other circumstances–honesty, for example–are definitely a detriment for people like me during interviews.
The next day I heard myself confessing all kinds of unnecessary information, such as “I know I mentioned Pierre Bourdieu’s work in my essays, but I won’t pretend that I understood it–or even finished the book.” And, “I have no idea what I would do in your hypothetical scenario; I’ll just hope that situation never arises.” When I returned home from that train wreck, I must have cried on and off for a couple of weeks.
Despite the time that has elapsed since, other interview bombs continue to haunt, as well. “If your name were in the dictionary, what would the definition be?” I was asked once. I repressed most of what followed, but I’m pretty sure I kicked off my five minute answer with “occasionally loses things.” Honest people should never, ever answer a question like that. Take note, I now believe that interviewers should never, ever ask stupid questions like that, either.
Today, for the very first time, the tables were turned. I was so excited! There I was, asking the questions and evaluating the responses. I thought it would feel so empowering.
Nope. The woman was so eloquent and self-assured, so on-point and clear-headed, I found myself wondering how in the world I ever landed a job.