Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Frenemies or Enemends (ugh, the latter sounds like a candy version of an enema – same thing really, a total pain in the ass.)

We all have those frenemies – folks that aren’t really friends but we must maintain a friendly fa├žade for any one of a million reasons. You may work together, be neighbors or God forbid, be related.  Regardless, you must at the very least be civil when what you really want to do is trip them when they walk by or cough “dumb ass” when in conversation.

There is that old saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  I’ve heard it. I’ve said it. Hard time putting it into practice.  For me, the few frenemies that I have (or at least know about) started as friends. At least I thought they were but I suppose there is a real possibility that I was completely oblivious to their true evil nature.  For a long time, I gave them the benefit of the doubt – that something was accidental or perhaps I misunderstood.  Now I know I was just being kind.  A tiger doesn’t change it stripes – it just learns a new way to hunt.

As I’ve said before, I’m a tell-it-like-it-is kind of gal.  I certainly know how to play the game but would really prefer to not pretend and waste energy on something like that.  With social frenemies, it’s a wee bit easier.  Drinks are often involved and I can pretend to like just about anything if I have some wine. I can be even friendlier towards my worse enemy if tequila is being poured.  You still have to be careful with social frenemies – you move in the same circles and the risk of putting your foot in your mouth is high. Trust me on this.

Work frenemies are a completely different breed. I try to be nice to everyone at work. , except really dumb people. That said, this is the toughest place to have frenemies. You can’t always have those candid conversations you want to have to get a thorough understanding of the situation or the latest updates.  Generally speaking, there is no wine (much less tequila) to make things easier.  You are not only playing workplace politics but frenemy bingo – it’s anyone’s game and the players may change daily. For me, I smile and play nice in the sandbox that pays me.

Family frenemies are an odd mix. Some may have always been that way and some may change with the seasons (or someone’s mood.)  I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way with this group.  And, for the most part – I either care about this person or someone in their immediately family.  Their frenemy status may be short-term or situational. If long-term, it’s likely mutual and you simply keep your snarkery to a select few (you have to let it out or you will explode.)  This group is really the most tenuous, it’s like a bomb waiting to blow and you must proceed with caution. You simply do not know what will trigger the explosion and it will likely have nothing to do with you (uh, unless you pre-maturely release your snarkery.) Smile, play nice and minimize exposure. Back away slowly. This one can leave debris in its wake and the damage can last a long time.

Keeping my mouth shut is often a challenge for me – I mean, really, if given the chance to lob a snarky comment or three, I will generally take that shot. But, at this point in my life, I’ve learned a lesson or two and in the words of my Big Susan, T – take the high road. It may not be as fun at the moment – but the view is a whole lot better. I hate it when she’s right.

Note that removing a frenemy from your life should not be confused with a frenectomy, which is a real surgical procedure to remove that thingy that connects your lip to the inside of your gum.  Really. Look it up here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's way more fun to be stupid with friends

Sometimes a funny friend memory or two crosses my mind - my friends and I have laughed long and loud over the years.  At our own expense and at the expense of others.  There have been some fine examples of jackassery – the sort you don’t put on your resume but giggle about over and over again.  Welcome to Jackassery with Friends – Vol. 1.

A friend is someone who will bail you out of jail. A best friend is the one sitting next to you saying “boy was that fun.”

My late friend, Rona and I, had no problem finding stupid things to do.  Remember the floating steering wheel?  Well, that was discovered when we – uh, were not in class and doing things we shouldn’t.  Driving back to school, she noticed the steering wheel – rising and falling as if by magic. We were mesmerized, which is not a good thing when you’re doing 45 down Randolph Road during the school day. Thank goodness for a laid back teacher who told us that the little lever/lock thingy (reasonably sure those were not his words) was broken.  He shook his head and laughed at us. He never told on us. We laughed about this for years. Often while doing other stupid things. We were slow learners.

Another time, I TP’d a teacher’s house after seeing my first – and only - slasher movie (the original Friday the 13th).  I was with a group of “friends” who were pretty new to me – and much cooler. Note: I hate slasher movies – but went because I was hoping to be part of the crowd.  While throwing a roll, I stepped on something, looked down and saw an axe. I screamed like a 9-year old and may have wet my pants. Cover was totally blown and I never became real friends with any of those people. I was so not cool. Still not cool.

My first car was a ’69 Plymouth Valiant. I drove across the street to L’s driveway and honked and waited. She was always running late. We then drove the ½ mile to school.  I don’t know what makes me a bigger jackass – driving the 20’ into her driveway and honking for her or the fact that I insisted I had to drive to school.  That car could drive itself to both Georgetown and the beach. Many a Saturday night found L and I in Georgetown – probably at Winston’s on M Street. That car was like a mobile apartment and we were outstanding hostesses. Drives to the beach were an adventure – flirted with a truck driver who signaled for us to pull over and gave us a 6-pack.  Drove to Ocean City after graduation with the windows covered with super elastic bubble plastic bubbles (c’mon you remember that stuff.)  A small square was left clear in my front window for me to see.  My memory is a wee bit hazy from that drive and I’m not entirely sure who was in the car with me – but it was packed.  The nice police officer was not amused and warned us to follow the rules for the rest of the drive. Phew! Would have had a hard time explaining that to my dad. 

Yes, my friends and I grew up and recognized that teenage jackassery is incredibly stupid and we were incredibly lucky.  It was still pretty fucking funny though.  Still makes me laugh.  Good friends, good times.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

And today....I am six

I now really truly dislike one of my daughter’s snot-nosed little friends. We actually went on a play date today. I was hesitant but the little girl’s grandma said her precious little gem was really begging.  I've talked about this little  princess here

This 6-1/2 year old used a snarky tone of voice that should be reserved only for well, someone like me talking to another grown up.  Repeatedly.  Then, as we’re leaving and her grandmother is out of earshot, I ask, “Are you excited about school starting?”  OMG…big f-ing mistake.

This kid unloads that she hates school, it’s boring and everyone is mean to her.  Yep, I went there. I asked, “Who is mean to you?”  She says, “Well, insert my daughter’s name is mean and I don’t really like her.”  My daughter tears up and says, “We don’t always agree and sometimes we fight but we always make up.”

I instantly became another 6-1/2 year old and asked, “Then why did you want a play date?”

The ride home was extra delightful with these two in the backseat.  I hear them disagreeing about something typical…and this kid says, “It’s not the words you use but the tone, it’s all about the tone.” I swear, it sounded like a 40-year old in the back seat.  She then reaches over, knocks a CD case out of my daughter’s hand and smiles sweetly at me in the rear view mirror. My daughter bursts into tears and tries to turn away in her booster seat.

Pretty damn sure I’m no longer playing nice in that sandbox.

Disclaimer:  I do not think my kid is an angel. In fact, I usually blame her first and always make her apologize. In fact, the wrong "tone" gets her a lick of a nice wet bar of soap.  In this instance, she did nothing wrong as I heard the whole exchange. It was totally the other demon child.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Monsters in Law & Evil Step-Siblings aka Keeping the "fun" in dysfunctional family

The words “in-law” or “step-insert family relation” generally conjures up a snarky joke, story or comment.  My family is no exception.  Those that know me well know the good, bad and ugly about my siblings-in-law and steps.  And, though the bad and ugly would be colorful and let’s face it, some of it is downright hilarious, it wouldn’t be right. These folks are family regardless of how wrong they are and how much crazy juice they drink.

S is my stepbrother though I’ve rarely used the word “step’ when describing him. We are one year and one day apart.  We me when my late father and his mother (please note the omission of any descriptive adjective) dated and later married.  We connected immediately and our sibling-like relationship began. He was dispatched to drive me across country from LA back to WDC in the late 80’s. We drove my very tiny Toyota and both chain-smoked. We had no radio stations.  Our first fight was outside Kingman, AZ. I wanted to stay where the choice of motels was many – he wanted to forge ahead. I can assure you that there is not a lot of choice in food and lodging in Ash Fork, AZ.  We laughed at a Denny’s in OK where we stood out among the senior square dancers dressed in full regalia. We got carded at a motel in TN. And, if memory serves, his girlfriend at the time was mildly annoyed we were sharing a hotel room. Seriously? Ewwww……

We’ve seen each other through a lot – in many ways growing up together. We had children around the same time.  He mourned the loss of my father – his stepfather – so deeply that there was little difference between his grief and my own.  He took over my father’s insurance business and to this day, I still review all my health insurance benefits with him.  He’s an all-around fix-it man (much like my dad) and I’ve made more than one panicky call to him about some type of home repair that I’ve fucked up. 

S is my sister-in-law – she’s married to S mentioned above. For almost 5 years, she and I spoke daily – comparing babies, baby poop, baby food, baby clothes and our new cocktail of choice.   We have laughed, cried, whined and bitched about everything.  A former preschool teacher, S kept me sane during the childcare/preschool years.  I miss our daily talks – life has simply become too busy and my daily commute too short for us to have our morning chats.  We make due with quick calls of “Hey, it’s me”  and never have to apologize when either one of us says, “Shit, gotta go…..”

And then there is V, married to my brother R.  A calm in the storm of family craziness, V is often the voice of reason.  She helped me move when I was hugely pregnant.  By help, I mean that she moved and unpacked me (yelling at the movers to find me a chair) and I was still calling her 6 months later to find out where she put crap in my kitchen.  She was the first person who babysat my daughter overnight when I had to go on a business trip.  We’ve had more than one NYC weekend that included many, many drinks and no other family members.  I believe my brother’s only comment was, “I don’t want to know.” We’ve shopped, dined and wined (and whined) often. She and my brother’s home is my refuge – part vacation spot, part home-away-from home.  Most importantly, V has taught me the importance of wearing underpants when shopping – or at least being sure you’re zipped up before – uh, modeling.

Some in-laws and steps remain that. Cordial (well, sometimes) and civil (eye-rolling). There are laughs, forced time together and efforts to have conversation (or avoid conversation, whichever works best.)  Even the most strained relationships have some level of connection – some type of familial bond (as dysfunctional as it may be) reinforced through years of holiday dinners, rites of passage, grief and maybe even some mutual disgust. 

Every fairy tale ever written prefaces “step” with evil, ugly, selfish, boorish….well, you get the point.  Just as all sitcoms consider in-laws to be stupid, annoying, bossy, interfering, judgmental and so on.  To be honest, we’ve used more colorful words in my family.

But sometimes – just sometimes – the preface is great, wonderful and amazing…and followed by friend.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A member of the herd or NOT making friends at the barn

I’ve talked before about making friends. It’s hard work. Sometimes it’s not successful.  And boy, nothing makes you feel like a bigger loser than not making friends.

It’s been about a month since my daughter started formal horseback riding lessons. By this I mean that it’s more than a pony ride and I’ve had to fork out significant money for the right boots, pants and helmet in addition to my left lung, which was payment for the first batch of instruction.

Each Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, we head to the barn. My daughter goes skipping down to where the horse she rides stands waiting. The horse whinnies in happiness – probably not as thrilled to see us as the knowledge he gets peppermints after class. I head into the “club house” to try and make friends with other parents who have horse happy kids.  Note: by club house I mean an air-conditioned room in the barn that has a kitchen, sofa, drinks, snacks, the competition "yearbook", TV, and wireless because, well, this is Snotsdale, Scottsdale.

I’ve tried. I’ve tried hard. But wow, these are like pageant moms in sneakers and with hay in their hair.  Several moms have already made it clear they own their horses. One has three girls, all of whom are riding competitively. Another tells me her daughter has been doing this since she was four.  (Really? Am I starting this late? At four, I was just hoping my daughter made it through the whole day without peeing in her pants.)  She also has made it clear that I should be flexible on our lesson time as the kids in competition will train during the coolest part of the day. Note that we live in AZ, it's the f-ing surface of the sun in the summer. Naturally, her precious offspring is one of the said competitors.  Another mom drives more than hour to get to the barn and then sits in this small little room all day long so her daughter can ride. (Reasonably sure I will win bad mom award for never considering that.)

Many of these moms have been reasonably nice though mostly indifferent towards me. They either ignore me or talk to me like I’m a total dumb-ass. Now, I many not know horse-speak. I may not know a halter from a bridle. But, at least I admit this. I don’t pretend to know all this crap. So I guess I’m at least an honest dumb-ass.

I’ve actually tried to be an eager beaver and volunteered to help.  There is a youth group at this barn and my daughter was thrilled at the idea of a “club.” Cha-ching – was the sound of those dues being sucked from my wallet.  I’ve made sure my daughter had the shirts and was at the meeting. The mother’s stood in the back, I tried to join. I was completely ignored as they all whispered about upcoming plans, custom riding pants (at $100 per pair, I assure you that won’t be happening) and yes, competitions.

Some of these moms are very helpful – one-on-one. But in a group? It’s herd mentality. Clearly, they are all thoroughbreds and I’m just a cross. And, for all you fellow dumb-asses, a cross is a mixed breed horse with no particular lineage. I’m the mutt of the horse world.

The little fillies (see, I’m learning my lingo) are following in their mother’s footsteps. They are a a bit snooty and indifferent. It is so hard to watch my very earnest little girl ask questions and want to help (the kid is willing to muck a stall – I can barely get her to clean her room) and get rebuffed.

Now, I can get a bit bull-doggish about things like this and will keep putting on my happy face, encouraging my daughter and playing nice in this sandbox. At least for a little while longer. Summer is hard and lots of folks take off so maybe we’re really just dealing with the die-hards. But, if we aren’t more fully accepted into this herd, we’ll mosey on over to another barn.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A friend of a friend of a friend and so on.....

Seems like every urban legend begins with “A friend of a friend of a friend….(insert some distant relative)…but truth be told, I’ve met some great friends because of another friend.

I met D, perpetrator of the walk of shame previously mentioned, through my Big Susan, T. D moved to town from T’s home state and the party began.  Over the years, we’ve tossed back a few drinks, mocked people, shared the excitement of our first new cars, new babies and new homes.  We have little in common – she’s a crazy ass sports fanatic and well, I don’t really give a shit about most sports.  Despite this, we are never at a loss for words with one another and always welcome a good visit. 

And then there is L, a different one than previously mentioned but no less important.  Another connection through T, L is a fabulous burst of energy, humor and resources. A modern day Nancy Drew with a potty mouth.  L tells it like it is or how it should be.

Some friends became family by connecting with one sibling but touching us all. The family D came into our world when one member was a roommate with my sister. A lifetime later, this family seems like an extension of my brother’s family and family gatherings aren’t the same without them.  There are close friends of my siblings that have been around for so long that a visit to my sisters or brother doesn’t seem complete without catching up with them, too.

P is the sibling of a friend.  I’ve long since lost contact with the friend but P and I have stayed in touch.  We bonded when pregnant at the same time and continue to share parenting angst and recipes. She can squeeze a nickel so hard it turns into a dime. I love her for that.

I’ve become friendly with the siblings of another dear friend, one of whom I remember walking to gymnastics class way back in the day. She had the biggest hair I’ve ever seen and her underpants were always hanging out of her light blue leotard.  The sister of my Big Susan L has become another good friend – better now that she is no longer neither a pest nor “young, supple and 21” as she so kindly reminded us in a card.  Geography prevents face to face chats but I do know that on my next trip back home, I will make a point of visiting with both of them.

There are lots of friends of friends that I see at regular gatherings. We never connect on our own but our mutual friends pull us together again and again.  I’m always glad to see them – well, most of them.  Sometimes, this odd group of friends and friends of friends gets together. There are usually lots of laughs but you can easily see the mini-cliques group together and remain in their comfort zone. It is highly likely we they are mocking others at the table or will on the shared ride home.

Sometimes, the original friend falls by the wayside for any number of reasons but what is left behind is the makings of a friendship. Some of those develop into strong and resilient friendships that stand on their own. Some will forever remain connected to the one who introduced us. And still others stay on the periphery – circling my social group, coming in and out based on the occasion.

Friends have passed along a lot of things – some, like kids clothes, recipes and a juicy bit of gossip are way more welcome than the odd cold or crazy ass chain letter.  But the best thing I’ve ever caught along the way is a new friendship – lasts longer and doesn’t leave me with a chapped nose.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Virtually Friends

It took me a while to catch on to this whole Facebook thing. I wasn’t really looking to be surprised by old acquaintances that really just wanted to practice a wee bit of voyeurism but not really interested in re-connecting.  But I realized that I had those voyeuristic tendencies, too.  I logged on.

My local and see-all-the-time friends were easy adds. We use it to post pictures of our kids together and schedule stuff. My friends flung far and wide were another easy addition – so simple to share the latest news and pics and feel closer than geography allows.  But it was adding the old high school – and older – friends that felt a bit odd.

Here I was, inviting and being invited into someone’s life. Many of whom I had not seen or talked to in more than two decades (okay, way more if you must know.)  Some were no-brainers – those I was relatively close to back in the day and had some level of contact with since graduation.  Some surfaced as familiar names but not necessarily good friends from that time.  I clicked accept anyway.  I've avoided friending anyone who bullied me or intimidated me back in the day. Immature? Probably.  But I can live with that.  Some names weren’t even familiar and I had to reach out to a mutual friend to reassure me that I was simply having a brain fart and did, indeed, know that person. Bless the patience of those friends who emailed me with what was surely a sigh and said, “Yes, you know that person. It’s fine.”

I’ve reconnected with a college friend who I had looked for over the years. We met freshman year and clicked.  Though we stayed in touch for quite a while, we had lost touch and it was wonderful to find him again.  Even more wonderful to see how happy he is and the amazing family that has turned him into one of the very people he would mock so many years ago.  Thank goodness his self-deprecating sense of humor has remained intact – thus letting me point this out openly.  So, to “Biff”– damn glad to see you. It had been too long.

To the girls on my street – some of you are not on Facebook often enough so I actually have to dial the phone and see how you’re doing but it’s so great to see you on here.  Virtual beep on the hill and splat candles to you. I love seeing your kids and hearing about your lives. You remind me how old I really am. But, in a good way. TSH, you inspire me in ways I can’t explain and wished we lived closer so we could meet for coffee. Or wine. Perhaps a lot of wine. 

It’s been amazing to see how some folks who I once knew so well – and swore I’d be friends with forever – have grown up. They look the same to me and when I read their words, I can hear their voices as if we’re still in the hall, at a football game or a keg party.  I’ve been touched by their kind words and heartfelt posts.  I’ve seen the joy on their faces when they post pictures of graduations and grandchildren (yep, and you know who you are.) To hear folks voice their passion, share their worries or celebrate a success – it’s really a gift to be a part of that. Regardless of how far or how long it’s been.

Sadly, I’ve had to say goodbye to some folks via Facebook.  In my short time on there, we lost three classmates and reading the posts and messages was a virtual memorial that brought us together.

I'd rather chew my arm off than be in junior high again.

I’m not being Pollyanna-ish about this. I know Facebook can be a vehicle for a whole new level of cruelty. I’ve been defriended and seen folks post hurtful things with the finesse of a 7th grader.  For me, living across the country from where I grew up, in a different state from my siblings and far away from many friends – it’s made my world a wee bit smaller. 

I may not play games, accept or give “pokes”, or “re-post this status.” I may not have the most Facebook friends, reply to every single post or even post daily. But, a friend is a friend. Even just on Facebook. Share that.