I had to take a new co-worker out to lunch today. She had just started a few weeks ago. It’s the polite thing to do. A “get to know you” lunch is really co-worker dating. You are trying to get a sense of the other person, their sense of humor and take on the world. Their political knowledge and leanings are useful to know, so certain topics can be skipped, skirted or ignored.

I didn’t have high hopes for this particular co-worker as she had dropped a few nuggets of information already that caused me to start attaching Keywords to her: Catholic; Good Housekeeping;  “Mom”. Not to mention Enabler and Judgmental.

The chatty, girlfriend lunch was remarkable only in that it proved our utter lack of connection. And lack of curiosity. It’s not often that I have a chance to lunch with someone who never bothers to ask me any questions. Even the most self absorbed usually come up with “How long have you done this kind of work?”, “What did you get your degree in?” or “Where did you grow up?”. You have to be interested to be interesting!

And so the lunch became an anthropological observation. A cataloging of the ways that I am dissimilar from my co-worker.

  • I don’t refer to myself or other grown women as “girls”.
  • I don’t need an organized religion to provide my moral system.
  • I don’t live with a man who believes women get unfair advantages and take jobs away from more deserving men.
  • I have yet to utter the words “I’m just a Mom, I can’t help it”.
  • I don’t live in the middle of nowhere for the “schools”.
  • I don’t have adult children living in my basement…

I could go on. It was a fascinating lunch, made all the more weird because this she just gave her two weeks notice. So the “get to know you” lunch doubled as the “best of luck” lunch. Which is not a bad thing as far as co-worker dating goes. While our differences are not irreconcilable, I doubt I would have felt compelled to have a second date. ‘It’s not you it’s me! I’m just a crabby, feminist, atheist living among black people in the inner ring suburbs’.

It’s hard to make new friends and it’s especially hard to make new friends at work. Colleagues and co-workers should remain at the friendly, but not friends level until enough time has passed to be sure they are not crazy or unstable in some profoundly needy way.

This one will be just a memory in seven days. Then it’s just me and Pandora again.

I realized today that I have been writing this blog for one year now. Thirty posts in 365 days. When I started it I thought I would post a daily rant (goal setting again), but it rarely ended up that way. Too much happens in day-to-day life that stirs the soup of memory.

My own personal Terrance Malik movie without the lovely visuals.

Atherapist (and others) have urged me to use “journaling” to process “personal growth”.

Can’t. Hate it.

I have tried to journal and felt like everything I was writing was false, whiny, clumsy and embarrassing. And I couldn’t bear to re-read it. The method – “set aside 20 minutes a day where you will be uninterrupted” – made me too self-conscious. Like I should wear a hippie skirt and light incense to get in the mood. It reminded me of going to confession as a kid. I would wait on line trying to think up sufficient “sins” that would not result in too many Hail Mary’s.

Writing a blog, however, for strangers (and friends who stumble on it), is easy and fun. I write when a thought strikes me. I am still writing about “the personal” and (hopefully) gaining insight, but it’s a different activity. Public v. private. Maybe I need an audience – even one I can’t see. Maybe being my own audience is too awful. Who knows. Its clear my target audience is not a priest.

The past may not be past, but I know I can choose what I do with it. My conclusion, after a year of blogging, is that most anything can be turned into a funny story.

My daughter is 11 and 1/2 (the half is important while you are under 18), has started middle school, and is now subject to hormonal mood swings. I, on the other hand, am 45 (and 1/4) and am now subject to peri-menopausal mood swings. This must make life interesting for my husband.

I don’t think I ever fully appreciated what a mood swing looks like from the outside before. Watching my daughter go from being her usual cheerful, sunny self to a weeping, shrieking stranger, I am often torn between being irritated, amused and completely flabbergasted. The Buddha-calm and hyper-rationality I have been cultivating escapes me occasionally, but I am trying.

A big problem with surfing her changes is that I have absolutely no memory of this from my childhood. I am sure I experienced puberty for lo, here I am a mother, but I can’t dreg up a single memory. Not when I got my first period, when I first dated, wore makeup, kissed a boy – nada. Either it was a completely insignificant or horrific to the point that it is in the sealed Jumanji box in my mind. I’m going with insignificant. I have a swiss cheese memory. So my daughter asks me questions and I have to say “I can’t remember honey” which is totally plausible to her because I forget things like my wedding anniversary and my age on a regular basis.

So I do what I always do. Got a problem? Throw a book at it!

I’m bad with religion and spirituality, nothing resonates as true or useful to me, and honestly it may be that Catholic indoctrination worked like a vaccine on me, but I can always get behind good, solid research. And people publish research every day. There is always a new possibility for understanding self and others a mere 400 pages away. Defensive reading. Never saw that on a library poster in a school hallway.

The real joy (and sadness) of raising children is that you relive those sections of your life right along with them. And hopefully you see that you survived, thrived and came out the other side a (somewhat) functioning adult. I don’t know if I am willing to open the Jumanji box “ages 11 – 14”. Would it benefit her or me? Maybe I don’t have a choice. Maybe menopause starts those drums that draw you inexorably to open all the boxes and see what happens. Half a life, half a life, half a life onward, – with apologies to Lord Tennyson. Did anyone else have to memorize that in English class?

Yesterday my daughter starts complaining that her stomach aches and she doesn’t feel well. No other symptoms, no nausea, no gastric distress, no tender places, no fever, nothing. So I give her some honey chamomile tea and then we lay on my bed with a heating pad on her stomach watching Mary Poppins. Miraculously this cure worked, the stomach ache disappeared and she was back outside playing with her friends. Tea and sympathy – I should send it to Dr. Roizen for his wellness institute.

I have to admit my husbands influence in the adoption of the sympathy cure. He comes from people who know from heating pads. His response to illness is to stay home, get in bed within reach of tissues, thermometer, books and lozenges and watch TV. Its sensible. Its rational. Its what you are supposed to do in order to recover. This was all news to me.

Illness was another form of weakness to my parents, especially my father who never took a sick day in his life until he was dying of cancer. A combination of depression-era frugality and superstitious fear (“people go to hospitals to die”) meant that you had to prove you were sick. Being unconscious or having bone break the skin were legitimate, as was bleeding that my father could not stop with a butterfly bandage. (He fancied himself Baden-Powell and would have secretly loved an invasion of some kind so he could use all his deep woods, survivalist skills.) Flu didn’t get sympathy unless the fever was over 101, and any cold without fever was whining. A physical complaint registered, that did not meet the above criteria, was invariably met with “Qwitcher fakin”.

Hard to argue with that. My mother had a secondary approach when she thought you might actually be ill or in pain, and that was “offer it up to Jesus.” You sometimes hear people say things like this in movies, but trust me they really do say it in real life. “Jesus suffered on the cross for you, you can put up with a little headache.”

I wish I were making it up. My mother continued to “offer it up” even after her mastectomy. She came home from her surgery with no pain killers because she didn’t want to get addicted (or give her sons the opportunity to lift them.) She spent several dreadful hours at home, praying in her bed before she allowed my sister to run to the drug store and fill her prescription. I hope at least several unbaptized babies made it out of limbo on that bit of suffering.

My husband cannot believe some of the stories I tell because they are so radically different than his experience. And they will never be a part of my tender-hearted daughter’s reality. She will continue to have attention paid and sympathy provided and visit doctors regularly whether she is bleeding or not.