Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Nanny, Nanny, Boo, Boo aka Words Can Hurt, Too

There are times when friendships struggle. Perhaps you and a friend have hit a bump in the road or you’re simply changing - moving in different directions. Maybe there was a disagreement too big to ignore. It’s possible you guys are too much alike. It could be any of these things – especially when you’re just 7 and still trying to figure out what friendship means.

Mini-me is blessed with some great friends. Her oldest friend Kooky lives far away but is rarely far from her thoughts.  Kindred is local and, though we don’t see her often enough, when they are together  they are truly two peas in a pod.  She’s got friends at school, in the ‘hood and at the barn.  They play in groups and one-on-one. There are organized activities and total chaos.  They sleepover, craft, bike and run in a pack.

Hoping grown-ups can set the example for the kids.
But, let’s face it – some kids are mean and I’m being polite here. Some are just asshats.  Yes, I know some are just insecure and some are the unwitting victims of poor parenting, but seriously, kids are way meaner – and at a younger age - than they used to be. I say this with complete confidence because I was bullied all through elementary and middle school.  I know this makes me more sensitive to watching her go through this but I’ll take my oversensitivity to parental apathy any day.

Watching mini-me struggle with the typical kid fights is usually no big deal. I’m a proponent of dust yourself off, say you’re sorry and move on.  I always assume she is partially – if not more – to blame and try to teach her that saying you’re sorry – and meaning it – is an important part of being a friend.  I know that sometimes, kids have to be kids and learn to stand up for themselves - but sometimes, I see in her what I remember feeling. She’s a little bit outside the group – not quite fitting in. It’s mostly unintentional and sometimes self-induced with little understanding as to why.

Last year, she shared that kids made fun of her hair.  This was her first experience with mean kids.  (I remember being teased about my hair and there is nothing I can say to make her believe that her hair is extraordinary and that she will cherish it as an adult.)  When she told my brother about this he was stunned. While I have never doubted his love for his niece, it filled my heart to see him pull her close and tell her what to say.  You see, he has the hair as does one of his sons. His was the compassionate voice of experience.

This is what I picture - and it breaks my heart.
This year,  a few things  have rattled her. Some involve random kids and other times, her friends. It’s likely all a passing phase.  I know I’m lucky that she opens up to me. That she shares the second-grade drama and I listen, empathize and give hugs. That is usually all that is needed and she moves on to the next topic. But sometimes, she keeps talking. Sometimes, one small incident that seems so innocuous really hits a nerve in her elementary psyche.  Honestly, it hits a nerve in my middle-aged psyche, too.

There is certainly a side of me that would love to tell mini-me exactly what to say to one of these gems.  You know, give her a real zinger to fire back. I know that is wrong – and I would never do it but really, what I wouldn’t give – just once - to see my sweet girl shut down one of these little bitches with a well honed phrase – except those little ninnies would then go crying about hurt feelings. If they only knew……

What I do tell her is that some people are just not nice and we may never know why, but  there is never a reason for bad manners. Don’t bully back and always treat people with respect. I have made sure to tell her that she doesn’t have to take it – that no one should have to take it.  I’ve told her that just sitting by and watching someone else get bullied is not okay. She can say stop, she can go get help, she can be the victim’s friend – but never sit idly by and watch one person hurt another either physically or with words. Both wounds run deep.

Most of the bullies mini-me has encountered these days remain distant classmates. Names on a page that won’t ever sleep over, celebrate her birthday or pass notes. Some of the bullies have moved on. Some are fine tuning their approach and disguising the meanness with a smile.  Mini-me is learning to tell the difference between someone who is just nice, pretending to be nice or someone who is her friend. 

I hope that as mini-me grows, she finds her Big Susans – those friends who are there no matter what. No matter if you’re part of the right crowd, the wrong crowd, rich, or poor.  No matter what neighborhood you live in, what sport or games you play – or don’t play – or where you buy your clothes. She doesn’t have to be the most popular, the prettiest or the smartest. I just want her to be appreciated for herself, to have good friends – to be a good friend. 

My Big Susan M aka the Geek always says that our girls are our square pegs.  I’m good with that.  When I talked to some moms at yet another horse show, they all said that their kids were square pegs, too.  Maybe that explains why a group of girls – ranging in age from 5 to 18 – can work together, be together for hours at a time with rarely a cross word. A barn full of square pegs who totally get what it means to not always fit in.  They readily open their arms and hearts and embrace.  She doesn’t have to always fit in completely, she can march to the beat of her own drummer – hell, I hope she dances to the music of her own band.  And, as long as she has good friends that will dance with her, I know she’ll be okay.

 I want to do a special shout out to fellow square peg and friend, Giddy-up.  She helped me edit this post and talked me off the ledge when I was nervous about posting it.  

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Another F&*$ing Post

I have a confession.  I have a potty mouth.  It may be slightly worse than that - I can have a mouth like a sailor. Big Susan would be horrified, my mother would fake being shocked (that woman could stretch the word “shit” out into three syllables) and my father would be proud. Go figure.

I am very professional at work and do not use profanity. At least not openly.  I will admit to muting the phone to stifle my laughter when a colleague muttered, “This is fucking useless,” during a conference call. I called him afterwards to let him know just how much I appreciated it.

They say profanity is the sign of ignorance and I beg to differ. My damn friends and I are simply brilliant. I don’t drop the curse bombs around all of them but those that know me well, well – this post won’t shock them.  My Big Susan, T aka Neiman, rarely if ever cusses. But when she does, it’s usually the f-bomb and I always applaud and completely lose track of whatever point she was making because she had a potty mouth.  My other Big Susan, the Geek, has been known to cuss – but talks so nicely most of the time you scarcely notice it. Now, the other Big Susan, L aka Brenda Starr doesn’t cuss. She’s so good about it that it’s kinda sickening. I commend her but she had great role models. I can’t imagine her parents, aka the Cleavers, ever uttering any word that the Pope would not approve of.  I think I’ve dropped the f-bomb in front of Mrs. Cleaver but she hasn’t held it against me (or is too polite to say so.)
I’m reasonably cautious about cursing around mini-me.  My word of choice around her is “crap” and she has used it once or twice. At least she uses it correctly.  This past week, mini-me was lucky enough to be part of a television promo featuring area camps – and the barn where she rides was included. She got to participate (as young girl brushing pony). While I was yakking with Legs, mini-me and Pistol (daughter of Legs) were pretending to be interviewee and interviewer. This is when I hear mini-me say, “ucking, pooping,” and get whiplash saying, “What did you say?”  Mini-me repeatedly refuses to tell me (she says she know she will get in trouble) so I can only assume, she has dropped the f-bomb.  Play date cancelled and a tearful mini-me trails behind me when we walk home from the bus stop.  Fast forward 20 minutes and I learn the first letter that I didn’t hear was a “b” – as in bucking.  Bucking and pooping. She thought I would be mad at her for saying “pooping.”  WTF? She rides horses multiple times a week. My car sometimes smells like horseshit.  Pooping is simply part of our lexicon.  Where did this child come from? I take this as a sign that I have properly instilled “do as I say and not as I do.”  Legs found this whole thing hilarious.  She wouldn’t be laughing so fucking hard if it were Pistol dropping the possible f-bomb.

My friend Lips has two boys who could not be more different. You have Jobs, as in Steve Jobs in the body of a 4th grader and Steve-O as in well, jackass.  These are two of the funniest and sweetest boys ever but Steve-O loves the words “nuts.” As in, “Ohhh, he hit my nuts,” or “Careful, don’t hit my nuts” and “Gotta be careful, that could hurt my nuts.”  It’s as if his nuts are so large they can’t be missed or avoided. He’s in third grade.  Often, Lips rolls her eyes (‘cause really, she’s been known to drop an f-bomb or three – especially if we have drinks.) Sometimes I shoot him a look.  But, since Legs and I have little girls (Legs is also mom to sweet Rider, a fourth grade boy who can often be the big brother of the group), this was creating possible lessons in anatomy and slang that we weren’t ready to face. So, we’ve tried to clean up our (fine, my act. And Steve-O’s) act and have language rules. No nuts. No crotch. No body parts or potty talk.  I swear you can see these kids literally biting their tongues.

Now my dear friends Belle and Handy rarely – if ever – cuss. And, if they did – they have such sweet southern accents you’d swear they were complimenting you.  Same with my sister-in-law Beach. Honey drips from her mouth when she says “shit.”  My sister’s don’t really cuss – Dad’s Favorite may not know what all the dirty words mean and Mini-Mom tries to hold back – though trust me, girlfriend has it in her. Thank goodness for my brother – we’ll call him Patron. He knows how to drop the f-bomb.  Trust me…..rewind a few years and we’re at my brother’s house, Beach and I are cleaning up and mini-me has been trying to get the tiny baby into its tiny highchair with her new dollhouse. The room is quiet and I hear my recently turned four-year old say, “I hate this fucking baby.”  Thanks Patron. Job well done.

This paragraph didn't appear in original...but it was supposed to.

You know, I choose my friends carefully. It’s like choosing the right cuss word – choose wisely and choose well and keep it to a select few. Too many and someone gets hurt. Not a good fit and tempers may flare. But just the right one – it works every time.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Lessons Learned aka Boob Sweat

I’ve learned a lot during the last week. They say that adversity can bring out the best and worst in people. I’m happy to say that I, for the most part, have only experienced the best.

I learned that my sister-in-law Beach is a great sport with a big heart. She kept us going on Monday when we got the news....and became travel angel with flight scheduling.  Everyone should have a great Beach in their life.

I learned that time and distances do not have to diminish relationships.  I spent a large part of this week on the opposite side of the country and was able to reconnect with family and friends – some of whom I had not seen in years.  Time and distance did not take away what we had. We fell into familiar roles. The laughter and tears were genuine.  Mini-me was able to spend time with people who are so important to me – and who truly did help make me who I am today (blame them or thank them – it’s up to you.)  Watching Tunes chat with mini-me made me smile on the hardest of days….and when he said, “she needs to know me” I was verklempt.  Then I watched mini-me looking for Bergdorf – and asking for her help with one thing or another. This made me laugh.  You see, years ago I ran around looking for their mom – Big Susan’s daughter – to help me with one thing or another. A cycle worth continuing.

I learned that some friends are family and the lack of blood relation just doesn’t matter. I had that conversation with mini-me about the difference between friends and family – and then we talked about those oh-so-special friends that become family.  She was shocked that we weren’t really related to Big Susan and her family because “it feels like they’re my family.”  I simply responded, “they are your family, sweet girl – they are.”

I learned that some cousins can never be left alone together. Mini-me did insta-bond with her cousins, Mothman and BabyMama.  She and Mothman are close in age while BabyMama is a wee bit younger.  Mothman was the straight man (most of the time) to two girls who were often out of control. It was like watching kids on acid.  All three were involved when the word “butt” was Googled. There was much laughter during the visit and many tears when we left.  I’m hoping we reconnect again sooner rather than later.

I learned that mini-me is a good traveler – even when tired. A constant stream of snacks and music helps. Oh, and she can "hold-it" for a long time.

I learned that boob sweat can short out a phone but luckily, it comes back after a cooling down period.  So, despite being almost shamed into buying a new phone by Tunes, I dodged the iPhone bullet. At least for now.  I suppose I should also say that I learned I shouldn't tuck my phone into my bra...but I doubt I'll heed that lesson.

I learned that I-270 certainly could make a commute easier - if the traffic ever moved.  Seriously, 90-minutes to go 30 miles.  And, that I still have my sense of direction back there.

I learned that hard-shell crabs – even out of season and a wee bit small – are delicious. Especially when watching Mothman master the mallet and dig in.

I was reminded that I have amazing friends.  I got messages, texts, posts and comments from friends near and far. Checking in, check up and making sure. So grateful that though I was far from most of them, it felt like they were with me the whole time.

I learned that we are our mother’s daughters.  My sisters and I cleaned, re-filled, set-up, put-out (much less exciting than it sounds) and condensed.  We helped, we supported, we shared and we remembered.  Big Susan’s daughter’s led this orchestra and we played on.  Despite years of eye-rolling that we were becoming our mothers, I think we were all proud to carry the torch this past week. We can only hope that Francine and Big Susan looked on with pride.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Today my heart is heavy and the world became a little less friendly. Big Susan has passed away.  I cannot adequately describe what Big Susan meant to me. I don’t believe words could do her justice.  She loved me and my siblings like another mother – one that was often more patient than our own and I feel blessed to have such amazing memories.

The beach house with that conference room /dining table that forever needed wiping.  I can see her standing at the counter peeling hard-boiled eggs, opening cans of tuna and laughing with my mother about how all they ever seemed to do is prepare for a meal, eat, clean up after a meal or laundry.  I can hear her telling her Peter or Andy or Jane to look after me when we went far out in the water or out on bike rides up to York Beach Mall for doughnuts.

I remember her laughter and the way her eyes smiled. I remember the small brown spot in the bright blue of her eyes - not so different than the brown spot in my green eyes.  I remember the story of her visiting my mother in the hospital after I was born and the nurses mistaking her for my grandmother because she already had the most extraordinary silver hair.  I still have the small stuffed animal she brought that day. 

I remember spending weekends at her house when my mom went away. She treated me like a young girl despite my childish behavior at being left behind.  She didn’t tell me I would be sorry when I stayed up too late watching “Rosemary’s Baby” with Tommy.  She always listened – I may have been angry with one parent or another and she sometimes gave advice but never had a cross word to say about either of them.

I remember her hosting my mother’s second wedding.  Big Susan stood up for my mother as she and Jack took their vows in front of family, friends and a few kids who may have been less than appreciative on that particular day.

Like all teenage girls – and often many young adult women – I often struggled in my relationship with my mother.  Big Susan showed me a side to my mother that I didn’t know existed – the side of a young girl, a young women, a devoted mother and a good friend.  Just as she had never seen the mother that I knew (the one that yelled and often made me feel bad about myself), I had never seen the open and nonjudgmental woman that Big Susan called friend.  I credit her for helping me, for scolding me when necessary and for encouraging me to work at the relationship with my mother. To talk to her, to listen to her and just appreciate her.  And, I’m not too proud to say she was right every.single.time.

College trips back home were not complete without a visit to Big Susan.  She would have a dinner – whatever kids and grandkids were in town would come.  It would be loud and boisterous.  Everyone would help.  When I moved back after college and my mother lived elsewhere, I knew I had a home with Big Susan.  I was always included in whatever family or holiday function was happening – and that meant more than she will ever know.  When I moved back to California, I spent my last night in Maryland at her house.  She stood back as my big Susan, T, and I did the big ugly cry.  She understood. She had been in T’s shoes years before when my mother moved away.  She held me when everyone left – no false words of comfort but complete understanding.

Susan was a glass-half-full kind of gal.  She found the positive and the light in everyone.  She was a fierce defender of her children and grandchildren – there was no greater ally if Big Susan was on your side.  And, there was no greater friend, if you were blessed to be in that circle. 

So now, as I try and figure travel arrangements – I ache to be close to Big Susan, her children, her grandchildren – I am filled with a loss that is at once overwhelming and familiar. You see, as long as I had Big Susan, I had a little piece of my mother.  I had that person to call when my mini-me did the most extraordinary thing (at least to me.)  I still had someone to call when I bought my first home. Someone to call after a car accident left us bruised, banged up and more than a little scared.  Someone to tell me for the umpteenth time how to make the roast chicken.

I miss my mother every day and now I will miss Big Susan.  I do take comfort in knowing they are together again.  They are sitting together, maybe even wearing those matching blue bathrobes. They are having coffee, sharing the crossword and talking about everyone and everything and what people are wearing.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said:
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

If this is true, Susan was truly one of the most successful people I know.

To Susan’s children and grandchildren, you have my deepest sympathy and love. I hope you know that you are not alone in your grief and that you are each your mother’s – and your grandmother’s greatest success.  Simply saying your names brought her joy.

To Susan, I am a better person because you were my mother’s friend. Because you were mine.

So tonight, when I look up and see the stars sprinkled across the sky and see two very bright stars that seem so close together – I will choose to think they are my mother and the very original Big Susan. Shining bright once again.  I will listen closely – perhaps I’ll hear them laugh.

Susan Shapiro Schlosser

Friday, March 2, 2012

Gratitude Seuss-Style

Today,  I honor my friends – those silly, those serious, those close and those far away.  Be Seussical, be silly, find your smile today.
Thanks for being you.

To my friends old and new, you know who you are
You are in my ‘hood, you are sadly quite far

Some have been in my life for many a year
Some are newer than that but I hold them all dear.

We’ve had some good times, we’ve weathered the bad,
We’ve laughed more than not , we’re cheered up when we’re sad.

We’ve seen each other grow and at our less than the best
But steadfast we remain; we’re different than the rest

We’re friends thick and thin; good, bad and ugly we know
Our friendship is true, through the highs and the low

Drinks have been drunk, raised our glass and cried “Cheers”
Saluting success and drowning the tears.

So in honor of the doc, on his special day
I honor my friends in a Seussical way

You make me laugh, dry my tears; the support never lacks
You do and you give; I don’t think I can ever give back

What you give to me, this thing friendship they say
I’m grateful for that thing, grateful each and every day.