The Blog

Bridge of the GodsI’m a good audience.

That’s what makes me a good mom!

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

Tell me what you want. What you really, really want. If you make me guess, you aren’t helping me help you. You’re turning meal prep, for example, into a puzzle. I hate puzzles. I like challenges, but not that kind.

Do you need help finding a job? Maybe I can help. I’ll start by asking what kind of job you want. Please don’t answer that with, “Oh, anything is fine.” McDonald’s is hiring, the waste removal company is always running ads, and a farmer in the next county needs someone to pick rocks.

Is “anything” still fine?

What if you said this instead? “My dream job would be making charts and graphs that are whimsical, that would make people actually want to read a company’s annual report. I love finance, so ideally the position would be at a big bank in New York.”

Now we’re talking. Because maybe I know someone who knows someone who’s in public relations at a big nonprofit in Manhattan and has lots of contacts in the banking industry.

May I put you in touch with her?

Let’s say I’m on my way to the mailbox when you stroll by and ask for directions to a restaurant. “Which one?” I might ask. Please don’t say, “I’m not fussy. What would you recommend?”

I’ll recommend you get dinner recommendations from someone who knows you. I have a hungry family inside my own house and better things to do than guess what strangers like to eat.

Sure, I’m exaggerating. But not by much! Think about it. Who’s more appealing, the person who knows where she’s going and has a quick -- and very specific -- question about the route? Or the drifter -- who asks you for ideas and proceeds to tell you why they won’t work?

I could never be a counselor. I don’t have the patience!

It’s easy for new parents to wonder if they’ll ever have another moment to themselves. If they’ll ever have, for example, the luxury of spending an afternoon doing what they’d like.

I have no regrets about Katie’s childhood, but I admit to feeling out of breath at times -- trying to be the mom and wife and writer and whatever else I aspired to be.

Here’s what helped. I remembered to have the occasional conversation with the older version of myself. I asked her what would sound fun on any random afternoon.

You can guess where this is going. I knew without a doubt I’d choose to spend it with Kate. It wouldn’t matter what we did. What mattered was that we did it.

And guess what? There she was! Right in front of me. “Wanna play with me, Mom?” she’d ask. “Of course!” I’d say, scooping her up and away. To the beach, to the playground, or to the couch -- where I’d smother her with “mommy kisses,” eyelashes brushing her little-kid cheeks.

You can have it all, but probably not all at once. Sequentially? Oh, yes. What gets squeezed to the margins during one phase of life -- uninterrupted time for a shower, for crying out loud -- makes way for something even better, the privilege of watching someone grow up.

One secret to life? Enjoying what you have when you have it.

Are you playing house? Or doing housework?

It depends on how you look at it.

Many years ago I was in a department store -- Sears, I think -- testing a vacuum cleaner. Someone asked me how it was going. “I don’t really like to vacuum,” I said to much laughter across the showroom. It was just a few cookie crumbs on a square of carpet. But it was housework, and I hated it.

Then I set up house with Darrell -- and while I still don’t love to vacuum, I often examine and admire kid-sized vacuum cleaners when we’re shopping. They make me wish for pretend crumbs on a toy carpet, and I’m not kidding.

Call it work, as the saying goes, and you’ll angle to do less. But art? Whoever made it a project to build fewer sandcastles?

Darrell doesn’t get upset when things break. To the contrary. Other husbands bristle at the suggestion to work through the “what needs doing around the house” list. I’ve rarely had to jot down a single item. Darrell’s identified the problem and is already whistling while he works on it. You should’ve seen him with the newfangled correction tape dispenser I borrowed at the radio studio and promptly rendered useless. It wasn’t useless for long! Darrell spent a very happy twenty minutes repairing it. He didn’t look at it as a chore. He dove into it with glee, the way a kid tackles a puzzle.

We tell our kids their job is to play, and I think grownups could take a lesson. Erika Christakis, author of The Importance of Being Little, told me what someone once told her: “The purpose of being four is to enjoy being four.” Of secondary importance: “To prepare for being five.”

Treat each life stage as an end in itself. You might find it a more satisfying way to live. It’s better than racing to some other time -- supposedly sweeter, always just out of reach.

new microphone shotSo you want to be my guest on the radio talk show. I’m flattered! Thanks.

I have a few questions before we proceed.

Who are you? I don’t need much. Maybe a sentence or two.

What do you want to talk about? I’m temporarily burned out on career advice -- one reason The Career Clinic became Doing What Works -- but otherwise, if you have a way to help people I’d love to hear it.

And finally, will you send me a short sample of what you sound like being interviewed? I want reassurance you have lots of energy. That’s what I value most in a guest. Energy.

We’ll talk soon, I hope!

I have no evidence to back this up, but I bet right this very minute there’s a little kid being teased for something that isn’t his fault. He’s being teased until he cries, and then he’s being shamed for crying.

Even sadder? He might not be suffering at the hands of a playground bully. The bully might be a parent. You’ve heard stories, or seen those parents in action. Haven’t you? I once interviewed someone with a doctorate in psychology from Stanford who said it’s a mistake to think parents are -- in general -- rooting for their children. He said you wouldn’t believe how many parents pull against their kids. Parents don’t always want their kids to be happy, he added. Why? It varies. One reason? They’re jealous.

I no longer wonder why there’s so much violence in the world.

Here’s what I’d like from people who complain about someone’s proposal to solve problems like terrorism. A better proposal! If you’re so sure the other guy’s full of it, let’s hear your plan.

It isn’t any more helpful to complain about complainers than to be one yourself, I realize. But it’s okay to notice how other people live, so you can pick and choose what you do -- and do not -- want to emulate.

Then it’s back to the business of making life easier for people. That’s what you’re up to with work, right? You fix their plumbing so they can go back to their jobs as counselors to help high school kids make sense of their lives in time to not screw up the next generation!

Defending Your LifeA friend of mine once met John Denver. She was at a party, if memory serves, and there he was. She composed herself, walked up to him, and told him how much his music meant to her. He looked her in the eyes and told her how glad he was to hear it. “As if,” she reported, “he was almost surprised. As if he couldn’t quite believe it.”

Can you imagine?

That’s what I think of when I wonder whether to tell someone how much I appreciate him. Like Albert Brooks, for Defending Your Life. Did he really need more admiration for that movie?

Doesn’t matter. “Withholding praise borders on immoral,” according to another famous person, Scott Adams, who didn’t mind hearing how much I loved his work.

So I added to the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration on Twitter -- during the same week, as it turns out, Twitter turned ten -- which was a nice way to applaud the work of Albert Brooks without bugging him. Which is something I appreciate about Twitter!

Once upon a time a friend offered to help me “get in good” with someone who was best pals with a guy I was dating. I looked at her. I smiled. I thanked her profusely. And then I said, “I don’t want to get in good with him.”

It was straight out of Pretty Woman. Vivian asks Edward if “these people” are his friends, he says he spends time with them, and she says it’s no wonder he came looking for her.

A few years after this exchange a manager warned me I was going to be on another manager’s list if I didn’t follow one of his orders -- which would’ve been unethical. And I thought, “No, he’s going to be on my list.”

There’s nothing wrong with running for mayor if being mayor is your thing. But if you’re trying to please everybody I hope you’ll include yourself. Know the difference between right and wrong. Even better, act on it.

I’ll vote for you!