Facebook is my media, my medium and my muse

If you peruse Facebook posts, flip open your iPad, or read a news aggregator’s website, you will likely happen upon the observation that the sky is falling and we are no longer able to look each other in the eye because of the great evil of social media.  Ironically, it is often social media that delivers this message to me, because I am an avid and grateful user of Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook. (I have an Instagram account, but I really don’t use it. I prefer that my purposefully unflattering pictures sent to my daughter disappear forever, even though I think the NSA is probably getting a good laugh at them, too. Your welcome, government bureaucrats! And enjoy my DubSmash hits!) I don’t know about the degredation of social skills and the collapse of society due to social media; perhaps we really are heading toward floating around in recliners with screens in our faces as depicted in Wall-E. 

  
(Uh oh. I fear I am growing ever more like these animated folks who are not too animated. Note to self: take a walk.)

But, large societal and evolutionary forces aside, I have to take a stance on social media. I love Facebook. There, I said it. It’s almost like admitting you sneak Nutella out of the jar by the spoonful. We all do it, and we have collectively agreed not to discuss it. But, I’m saying it loud and proud: I LOVE FACEBOOK. But, why? I am sure there is some very scientific and accurate study that discusses the rewards delivered to my brain by engaging in Facebook activity and that this creates a cycle of addiction. Still, I think there are more significant reasons why it has become important to me.

1) Family – Through the magic of Facebook, I am now in touch with family both near and far. The tangled web keeps growing and now includes cousins from a generation once removed, the grown children of scattered and various family members, and a smattering of family folk who have remained in ye olde hometown. Social media has not pushed my family members away (except when I sometimes ignore my kids, but I ignore them with my nose in a book, too, so what’s the difference?). It has brought my family near, right to my eyes and my fingertips. When my father passed away, I posted a photo and message on Facebook. The condolences were a real and actual comfort – they were not virtual. People who may not have known about his passing until weeks later found out that very day and they reached out to us. It was a great solace. And the quick communication allowed several relatives who live in other parts of the country to arrange travel plans and attend services. For this, I am ever grateful to Facebook. On a lighter note, pictures of babies, new puppies, graduations, and risque someecards that reflect the humor of my extended family brighten my every day. One of the most surprising types of connection has been with my mother’s family in Germany and Hungary. These are people that we have had little to no contact with for many years (my mother left Europe in 1959), and now they are part of our daily lives. Amazing. You cannot put a price tag on the connectivity fostered by my real Facebook family and it’s all for free (thanks, Mark Zuckerberg!).

2) Friends – I moved away from my hometown, then we moved away from our adopted home state of NJ, and I have changed jobs many times. But, due to Facebook, I have reconnected with high school friends and acquaintances, former coworkers, old neighbors and friends of various sorts. It has been a wonderful surprise to find out how some of these high school friends of yesteryear have turned out, and though we do not see each other, there is a kinship. I hated high school (feelings that are strong enough for a blog post but far too whiny for anyone to read. Ugh.). But, yowza, I love how some of these people have turned out.  One friend is a writer, one teaches at a university in Singapore, another teaches at Harvard (yes, THAT Harvard), many have gone on to have beautiful and accomplished children and some have great, quirky senses of humor. What a gift they are! My new Charlotte friends have also been a great addition to my Facebook feed. Through their photos, posts, jokes and check-ins, I have learned more about these new friends and their interests, which has enhanced our burgeoning friendships. 

3) Former Students – My favorite category of Facebook friends is my former students. How very proud I am to have played a role in just 5 minutes of their lives. They give me hope. This generation that is decried and derided for being so entitled may have expectations of reaching financial goals years ahead of reality. But, so many of them are active volunteers in their communities and committed to their families (as evidenced by wishing their parents a Happy Anniversary and posting photos of nieces, nephews and their own newborn babes). Some are dedicated to military service or ministry. A few have bravely come out of the closet, and it feels great to let them know that some long ago religion teacher loves them just as they are. There are some doctors in the making. And, last but not least, they still teach me something and make me laugh every day. I know that as the years pass, they will drop off my newsfeed. But, for now, they are still a part of my life and I am so grateful for them. 

4) Politics – Just kidding! No one in the history of the Internet has ever changed someone else’s mind about political and social issues via a Facebook post. I do my best to avoid these squabbles completely because I think it is all too easy to lose our compassion for others when we hide behind a keyboard. When face-to-face with a political or social opponent, you see the eyes of a real human being who lives, breathes, loves and is worthy of respect. We forget about all of that when we angrily type away at a screen. My policy is to keep Facebook light and positive. It may make me kind of a coward, but I rarely get unfriended. 

5) Recipes – Chicken and dumplings inspired by Facebook are simmering away right now. Thanks for dinner, Mark Zuckerberg! 

6) Humans of New York – My favorite Facebook page brings us daily doses of regular lives. HONY proves that every person has a story, many of us secretly carry deep pain, there are moments of pure joy out there,  and what we perceive as a mundane scene might be anything but. HONY makes me laugh and cry and as a middle-aged woman, those are two of my favorite things. 

Facebook is a great time suck, it draws me in, it calls my name like the aforementioned jar of Nutella, and it sometimes makes my thumb hurt because I am scrolling down my phone for too long. It will surely morph into something else and technological innovation will continue to change how we stay connected. But, thanks to Facebook, now we are connected. After all, I know you somehow, from somewhere and you are reading this.  

Mother’s Day Presence

  
Every year for the past 18 years, since becoming a mother, my family wants to know what I want for Mother’s Day. Do I want to go out to dinner? How about a new kitchen gadget? Brunch? Maybe some perfume? I am always hard pressed to come up with an answer because there is nothing that I really need and very little that I want. I try to think of something that will make me happy, but will also make them feel as though they have pleased me. We often go out to eat because that is definitely something that pleases us all!

Last Mother’s Day we went to brunch at “the Club”. We have never belonged to a club before and I certainly didn’t know any “clubby” people growing up. Incidentally, I thought it would be kind of like Caddyshack, but it’s not. Not a Baby Ruth to be found. It’s a pretty casual place and we don’t participate in many of the Club activities other than my husband playing golf and my son cleaning out the pool snack bar during the summer. Brunch seemed like an easy solution for last year’s Mother’s Day present. We all got dressed up, sat at a table with real linens, ate a bit too much, and then came home. The meal was very nice and the kids behaved impeccably. They both looked exceptionally well turned out and my then 11-year old boy kept his napkin in his lap. His sister smiled at him benevolently and helped him navigate the buffet. What more could a mother ask for? It turns out I do want something a little more, something a little less “napkin in the lap”.

My dear family, this year I ask for your presence instead of presents*. With our daughter leaving for college in August, I feel more acutely than ever that our days and dynamics as a foursome are going to change. This year for Mother’s Day, I have very specific instructions. I want: 

  • Coffee brought to me on the patio, and the bringer to sit and have a chat with me.
  • Laughter.
  • Forced Family Fun (more commonly known as a game of Uno, Scrabble or Bananagrams).
  • A bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a piece of Champignon cheese to share with Dad (I told you this was specific).
  • A simple dinner that I don’t have to prepare or clean up (it is Mother’s Day, after all).
  • A hug. In fact, let’s make it three. 
  • A walk after dinner with whomever would like to join me.

I want what every other mother wants. I want to enjoy my children, mark this moment in time before it slips away, admire how beautiful and good you both are, share laughter with the man who helped me make this unique family possible, thank God for each of our many blessings, and not do any laundry. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers out there, and I hope you all receive the presence you want, too. 

*I have a very kind and generous husband who has better taste than I do. Something shiny in a big or little box would be okay, too, I guess. 



 

  

Lenten Ashes

Blogging is often a navel-gazing, narcissistic exercise and this post definitely falls into that trap. My family is facing a difficult road ahead and my emotions have been blocking me from my usual light-hearted words. You’ve been warned, so read on if you choose…

“From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” The priest spoke those profound, intimate, sobering words as he marked me with the unmistakeable sign of being a Catholic – ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday. As an intermittently lapsed, one could even daresay at times “collapsed”, Catholic, I still practice Lenten observances. Ash Wednesday calls me back to the fold. But, why? I think it is because there is something so essentially true about an entire season devoted to preparation, forgiveness of others and self, acknowledgement of our mortality, and the promise of immortality. Of course, theologically speaking from the Christian perspective, I am referring to the death and resurrection of Christ. During the Lenten season, we can see nature play out the same tableau. There are tiny buds under the ice covered branches. In this barren winter time, the promise of new life musters its strength, draws on its reserves deep in the roots of the tree, and stubbornly persists. Lent is all around us. It feels ancient, older than Christianity. These themes of preparation, forgiveness of others and self, acknowledgement of mortality, and the promise of immortality are useful even to flawed, doubting, questioning and intermittent practitioners like myself.

During Lent, we prepare for renewal. Those buds on the tree are gathering strength, they are calling on their reserves, they are waiting to burst open. During Lent, we do the same. We get ourselves ready for the life and vitality of Spring. For me, the preparation takes the form of more prayer than usual. Lately I’ve added some yogic breathing into the regimen as a way to prepare myself (4-7-8 breathing, if you’re interested in googling it). Prayer has its forms and rituals, but I think God is less interested in how you do it as He is in whether you do it. For me, I begin with the words and the forms I was taught as a child and find the rosary especially useful, but what I hope for is to reach that moment of stillness when the words fade, and there is just silence that you are a part of. In that moment, I listen for God and hope for peace and strength. In prayer, I try to prepare for the challenges of life and death.

During Lent, we forgive others and our selves. This year, the priest spoke of reconciliation with family and friends. So many heads in the pews in front of me nodded in acknowledgement when he said that we like to use the excuse, “They never call, so why should I?” Forgiveness and forging reconciliation is so painful, requires humility (ouch, that’s a tough one), and an openness to the possibility of rejection. This Lenten season, I will try to wade back into at least one of those relationships that I have allowed to fall away. Ouch. Now it’s out on the Internet and I have to do it.

During Lent, we acknowledge our mortality. All around us, there are family, friends and acquaintances dealing with life-threatening diseases and loss of loved ones. Especially close to home right now is my father’s battle with a host of health problems, not the least of which is leukemia. We feel so bad for the ones whose lives are in danger, but if we are honest we also feel bad for ourselves. We experience our own feelings of loss and a sense of looming mortality. Christ, the Son of God, felt his anguish and fear in the garden before His arrest. I think there is such a lesson in this. If Jesus (a man of God even if you are not a Christian and God incarnate if you are) felt frightened and torn about the fate in front of him, how could we not feel those same things? We are allowed to feel sad, fearful, angry and confused. We question, we plead, we bargain, we cry. And, in the end, we go forward inexorably to face our mortality and to let go of our loved ones. The story of the Passion of Jesus is a lesson in eventually letting go as lovingly as possible, but it would be impossible not to expect some resistance and anguish along the way. The pain of this is too acute for me to really write about it further now.

During Lent, we hope for immortality. “From dust you came and to dust you shall return” is where we started Lent and it is where we end up. In Christianity, the resurrection of Christ is our promise. For my non-Christian friends, there is the promise of reincarnation, paradise, or some other transmigration of the soul. But what we all have in common is that this body does not matter in the ultimate scheme of things. We will surpass this flesh, so maybe we should stop thinking about how it looks and focus more on whether it feels well enough to help us achieve our goals. We have hope for immortality but we won’t achieve it in this covering. The lesson for me is to stop judging myself and others by appearances and look deeper into the actions, words and love of others. Yesterday, at Starbucks, I saw a man who seems to be dealing with some cognitive and emotional issues. I’ve seen him there before. He always sits in the same spot. He says “hello” to the regulars, like the delivery men and the staff. But, yesterday, a very pretty young woman came into the store and he said “hello” to her. She went over to him and spontaneously hugged him. He seemed surprised, so I don’t think she regularly does this. It was a long, hard, eyes-closed-tight kind of hug. She really meant this hug. And the smiles on both of their faces made me teary-eyed. She went on to order her coffee and leave. But, in that moment, in the meeting of those two souls, I saw a glimpse of love and immortality. Beyond the flesh, beyond the appearances that divide us, there was soul-to-soul connection, love and the promise of immortality. Welcome, Lent.

Eighteen

It was eighteen years ago today that I was rolled into Beth Israel Hospital in New York City to meet our daughter, Anjali, for the very first time. It was an uneventful C-section, an easy infancy, a happy toddlerhood, and a bearable adolescence. (Adolescent daughter and peri-menopausal mother? Great biological timing! One of us was always either crying or eating chocolate.) Along the way, she and I have laughed, cried, fought, danced in the kitchen, and validated how very normal and well-adjusted we are by watching countless hours of Dance Moms and Wife Swap. And, all to soon, she will move on to college and start living her own life, on her own terms.

So, my dear daughter, on your eighteenth birthday, I offer you eighteen bits of life advice that I have gathered along the way. Someday, I hope these all make sense to you. Happy birthday.

1. Your life won’t just be about you, but always make time for yourself. As women, we seem to live several different lives, all in one life. We are career women, many of us are mothers, some are wives, we often have second and third careers, we are caregivers for our children and then find ourselves doing the same thing for our parents, partners and friends. You will play an important role in many lives. In order to care for so many others, you must always carve out a little time that is just for you. Fill it with music, or reading, or enjoying the silence. Do whatever brings joy to you and you alone. Your heart will never run out of love, but your mind and body will run out of steam if you don’t recharge.

2. Tip well. This is a very practical bit of advice that your father lives by. Yes, we usually get very good service because of his generosity. But it’s not really about that. We all depend on the generosity of others, both monetary and generosity of spirit. Tip well, treat with respect those who are helping you in efforts large and small, and remember that we are all here to serve and help each other.

3. Go to class! Oh, the urge to skip class will be great. Resist! Fight the good fight! Do as I say and not as I did! Borrowing notes to catch up on a missed lecture helps, but will not capture the nuances in between the written lines. And it is those nuances that make up the good thoughtful responses to essays. Your college has deliberately hired good teachers, not just dispensers of facts. Go to class, engage, and learn. Please believe me that your instructor does not care if you are a bit bleary-eyed and have your hair in a ponytail, but she does care if you don’t show up.

4. Stay away from the fruity punch. I don’t think I need to say much more than this. No one really knows what is in it, and it always ends badly.

5. Marry your best friend, not your “boyfriend”. This is a big one. There are going to be so many good looking guys. And there will be a lot of funny ones. And there will be some who are great to talk and hang out with. The real challenge here is figuring out which one will be the one you can spend the rest of your life with. I hit the lottery with your father. He was my acquaintance, then my friend, then my boyfriend, and then he simply became my best friend and the most important person to me. Marrying my best friend was the best decision I have ever made because it led to you, your brother and 26 years (so far) of companionship, laughter, and a shoulder to cry on. Marry your best friend who just happens to make you laugh and you will always think he is good looking, because he makes your heart dance in a way that no one else can.

6. Be prepared. Be prepared for class. Be prepared for work. Be prepared for meetings. Be prepared for parties. Always do your homework, and I am not just talking about school. If you are prepared, you will get the most out of every opportunity and you will develop a reputation for being smart and valuable.

7. Work hard. Don’t give things a half-way effort. Working hard is still just as important as working smart, no matter how cool your smart phone may be. Technology is great, but you still have to put in the time and effort to read and understand what is happening around you. Whether you are in school or out in the working world, putting in great effort, double checking your work for mistakes and being willing to stay late and take on responsibilities that are not yours will always set you apart. And, working hard feels good. There is great satisfaction in giving all of your effort and seeing great results. You will have to accept that the results will not always show up in your grades or your paycheck. But, it is still the right choice to work hard and give your best effort. We all know the world is not fair, but that does not give you an excuse to be less than your best self.

8. Be nice. We reap what we sow. Be nice to people and most of the time they will be nice to you. Extend yourself, pay a compliment, reach out to those who may be lonely, smile at people, and be the first to lend a hand at school, work or social events. This will cost you nothing, and will be repaid tenfold. Don’t be a doormat — you should say no when you cannot commit to something. But, do so kindly. It is your kindness that will be remembered long after the rejection is forgotten.

9. Wear lipstick. This advice comes from Aunt Nadine’s grandmother, and has always served me well. Put on some lipstick and your face will brighten, you will be ready to face the challenges of the world, and everyone will think you are well put together. Do not underestimate the power of having three favorite lipsticks in your bag and do not disregard the advice of a Jewish grandmother.

10. Forgive yourself. Too many times I have berated myself for firmly lodging my foot right in my mouth. We all do it — saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. I am cringing right now as some of these incidents run through my mind, some from over 20 years ago. I shudder still. It took me far too long to learn to forgive myself. We are human, we make mistakes and we sometimes unintentionally hurt others. Allow others to forgive you, and even if they don’t, you must eventually forgive yourself. You know what your intentions are. If you hurt someone on purpose, you need to make amends with that person and change your heart. If it was a mistake, you must still make amends and forgive yourself. And then move on.

11. Be reliable. If you commit to something, then you better follow through. Nothing will ruin your reputation as a classmate, team member, colleague or social contact quicker and more thoroughly than saying “yes”, and then flaking out. Say “no” when you must, but if you say “yes”, you must be prepared to follow through.

12. Make your bed. This advice is from your grandmother. Oma was taught by her mother to make the beds, sweep the floors and sidewalk, and clean the counters off every day. Your house will look tidy and you will be ready to receive any guests who may drop by. I think this has a lot of applications beyond housekeeping. Do the same thing to your desk, your workspace, and your mind.

13. Stop worrying about what they think. This is a “do as I say, not as I do” thing. I still fall into this trap. But, time and experience have taught me that most people are so wrapped up in their own lives, troubles and insecurities that they really are not paying attention to you. They are not thinking about what you are wearing/reading/saying/eating/doing any more than you are focusing on them and their actions. So, try to let go of worrying about what they all think. Do what you know is right, makes you comfortable, and what you know your father and I would approve of (see how I slipped that in there?).

14. No one will ever love you like we do. But so many people will love you, and there are many kinds of love. As your parents, we will love you unconditionally and for all time. But, there are great romantic moments out there for you, and you will experience heartbreak, too. You will have deep, long lasting friendships. There will be people who will be with you for the rest of your life, and some that walk with you for a while and fade away. It’s okay to let them go. You will feel the constant bond of family that may pull and stretch but does not break. Each loving relationship, the romantic and the friendly, brings its own moments of joy and comfort. I want you to experience each of these. And, I hope, you will one day have a child put into your arms and you will then know what it is to love unconditionally until the end of time.

15. Always keep a book at hand. There is always time to read. It expands your vocabulary, takes you to places and times you will never experience firsthand, teaches you new skills, gives you appreciation for how others think and approach life, opens your mind and heart, and fills the time when you are waiting for your kids to finish at dance/karate/soccer/basketball/golf. Just read.

16. Learn how to throw a party. You are a particularly social creature – of that there is no doubt. Learn how to throw a good party and you will be assured a good social life. People will want to come to your parties and will usually return the hospitality. Don’t be lazy – make sure your place is inviting and have plenty of good food and drink (except for the aforementioned fruity punch), invite a variety of friends and acquaintances, smile a lot, and talk to every guest. You grew up in a house that has been filled with people and parties. Some parties were crazier than others, but each one was worth the effort.

17. Make lists. This is advice that Auntie Nee would give you. She is the Queen of Listmaking. She is also the most organized person I know. She makes lists of lists. Breaking down overwhelming jobs into small pieces will give you a sense of control. And, it is undeniable that there is something very satisfying about crossing things off your list, and then throwing the darn thing away.

18. Don’t be afraid to say “I love you” when you mean it. This took me a long time to learn. It is still hard for me. I grew up in a different time and those words were not often said because there was a fear of devaluing them by saying them out loud. They are not words to throw around without meaning. They should not be uttered to every boyfriend. But, when you mean them, use them. Tell your spouse and children daily if you can. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose by saying “I love you” to those who matter most to you. I love you.