The Blog

I can still hear us whispering next to the orange juice in the grocery store. Me and another mother of an only, admitting in ever-so-tentative tones, our kids weren’t (gasp) working that summer. It was the summer between Katie’s junior and senior years of high school, and she’d worked so hard during school it still exhausts me to call up those memories. She wasn’t goofing off. She was recovering.

Katie took more time off this last summer -- which is to say, all of it -- and Darrell and I were all for it. She’d torn into life at NYU with so much abandon it was all I could do to brace myself for the latest update. To live it? I couldn’t imagine the pace, or the pressure.

She’ll be in the rat race for good soon enough. All indications are it’ll keep.

When my life imploded a few years before Katie came along, I did almost nothing for seven months besides sit on the couch and cry. I took some grief from a girlfriend, who thought I should get a job in retail to take my mind off myself. “No way,” I decided. I knew what was best for myself at one level -- but I wasn’t so sure of myself on another I could resist asking another friend what he thought. “It takes as long as it takes,” he offered. From then on when I started feeling bad I wasn’t feeling better, I stopped.

Is the time required for healing proportional to the guilt you feel for taking it?

If someone would’ve told me I’d one day live and work from a house in a small town and eat mostly the same things every day -- as I plowed through mostly the same routine of housework and work and working out -- I wouldn’t have looked forward to growing up. Take Katie out of the previous equation and life can get, shall we say, boring as hell.

One day recently I realized I’d been wishing for time to catch up between career chapters. I have one to replace “mom” but there’s some ramping up involved, and little to distract me from the void. Except! Some projects. I have time for them now. They only add to the boring, granted -- but they’re a great test of focus.

Like all of life, eh?

Are your secrets safe?
November 24, 2014

It used to be you told a stranger a little something about yourself, waited for that person to do the same, and shared confidences until your friendship deepened -- or not. It was a dance. You unwrapped each other slowly.

Facebook changed that, one reason it never called to me. Thanks to Facebook and its ilk you can go online, learn more than you wanted to know about almost anyone -- and avoid the messiness of dealing with a real person right in front of you.

You won’t find the most interesting things about me here, just as the most interesting part of the conversations with my talk show guests happens after we stop recording. That’s when we swap secrets.

If I think there’s a possibility I’m going to be good friends with someone I’m not stingy with my secrets. I’d known Darrell for about three hours when I told him the most humiliating thing that had ever happened to me. I’d done that before, and while the consequence -- while not disastrous -- would’ve kept a normal person from doing it again.

I’m not normal, though -- that much is probably obvious, here -- and it paid off. That I felt safe enough with Darrell to tell him the worst about me immediately told me (1) I was willing to get hurt again, which is great and (2) there were still guys in the world worth risking humiliation for.

Little kids aren’t conflicted about what they want, judging from how many meltdowns you see in the checkout line. Grownups, I think, would get more out of life if they gave themselves permission to want what they want -- even though they’ve had many more years of not always getting it.

Some dreams don’t come true, granted. But some do. Your dreams are safe with me.

The question is whether they’re safe with you.

The other night at dinner with a friend I admitted to him in front of Darrell I didn’t know if I was up to the challenge of a new job. “I know what to do,” I offered. “I just don’t know if I believe I can do it.” Pause. “I’m not sure I consider myself a winner where this is concerned.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Just keep doing what you’re doing.”

I don’t know what to say now, the same way I didn’t know what to say then. Everything I thought I knew about positive thinking had just evaporated.

It didn’t occur to me it didn’t matter if I believed I was a winner.

But what a lift. It turns out what they say is true. Doesn’t matter what you say. It matters what you do.

Back to work!

Darrell and I had dinner with a friend the other night. He’s in his early sixties, and he’s scaling back on some of his work.

He said it as if, you know, it’s time.

Of anyone we don’t know very well, this gentleman has the world by the tail. Work he loves, a wife he’s still crazy about, that sort of thing. I don’t think he’ll do retirement any less creatively than he’s sailed through other passages, and it will be fun to see where that takes him.

It also made me realize the older I get the younger I feel. Part of it's the diet, part of it’s the exercise, and part of it’s my vision for the future. When I’m in my early sixties I doubt I’ll be scaling back. More likely? I’ll just be ramping up.

If you love what you do, why would you want to stop?

Overworked and Overwhelmed author Scott Eblin graced the show recently and one story he told was worth the whole hour, I think.

A woman had to pass through the laundry room on her way from the garage to the kitchen when she got home from work. One day she decided to keep the charger for her phone in the laundry room. Now when she gets home she plugs the phone into the charger. Then she closes the door to the laundry room and doesn’t retrieve her phone until the kids are in bed.

The first couple of weeks were difficult, so difficult she says it was as if she was missing an arm.

But now? She’s closer to her kids because instead of checking her phone she’s paying attention to them. She’s closer to her husband for the same reason.

She attributes her happy family to a phone that’s out of sight for those few hours in the evening.

Genius.

Berkeley squirrelMy favorite sweatshirt is from the University of California, Berkeley, and it’s on loan from Katie. I love it for a lot of reasons. It reminds me of Tour Guide Stephanie, for one thing, and the delightful few hours we spent on that campus a couple of years ago. The photo you see here is of a Berkeley squirrel -- and we keep a copy of it handy to remind us of one of the dreamiest days we’ve ever spent as a family.

The Berkeley sweatshirt reminds me how important it is to have something to look forward to.

It starts early, doesn’t it? “Where are you going to go to college? What are you going to major in? What do you want to do for a living?” Not having an answer to those questions is unnerving, if only because people don’t let up.

I’ll never forget talking with Kate about that after she’d set her sights on Berkeley. It was such a relief, she admitted, to start her senior year of high school with a target. Not just to get people off her back -- though that was indeed wonderful -- but to imagine the future. An abyss, by definition, is difficult to focus on.

Katie sailed through her last year of high school dreaming of California. Well, until she decided to go to NYU.

But that’s another story!

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

I’ll never forget it. My little sister playing the piano in a recital, whipping through a song so quickly I didn’t think it was possible for her to nail it -- but she did.

I was in awe.

I still am. It was good practice, so to speak, for the life she’d one day have as the mother of five children and all that comes with them -- a husband and a house and a few full-time jobs and, well, you can just imagine.

Actually I can’t. I can’t imagine pulling off what she or another sister -- the mother of seven children -- does. They do it so beautifully and with so much grace I feel like a little bit of a sloth by comparison.

Except it isn’t a contest, is it? Even if it was, I took myself out of the running a long time ago. I was only a ninth grader when I realized, “I am really tired.” I was forever staying up late doing extra credit homework or whatever it was -- and by the time I graduated from high school and wrapped up an assortment of after-school jobs I was exhausted.

I skated through my first year of college on what I’d learned in grade school and high school. It didn’t prepare me for the core engineering classes in my sophomore year, but I got some much-needed rest.

Somewhere along the way I heard what I think is great advice: “There’s more to life than speeding it up.” I decided immediately I was going to live, as the saying goes, deep -- not wide. I’d rather do a few things -- or one thing -- really well than just be okay at many more things. I don’t aspire to the most possessions or the most friends or the busiest schedule. To the contrary. I’m always looking for space.

Was it Barbara Walters who said she doesn’t remember the thrill of many of her interviews, that’s how focused she was on the next one? Whoever it was gave me the impression her career, amazing as it’s been, has also been a blur.

“Get a life in which you pay attention,” the writer Anna Quindlen suggests, “to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.” I love that sentiment!

Life is whooshing by.

I don’t want to miss it.