Monthly Archives

May 2016

For Love of Country

Why it is OK to Say “Happy Memorial Day”

I am the son, grandson and brother of combat veterans. As a former Navy pilot myself, Memorial Day has special significance. But lately it has become difficult to wish others a “Happy Memorial Day” without drawing fire. Last year, PBS incited an online riot when it posted a Happy Memorial Day banner on its Facebook page. Among the litany of criticisms from readers were comments like “HUGE faux pas,” “Delete this stupid image” and “Totally insensitive.” I have experienced this on a personal level. My usual Happy Memorial Day greeting has increasingly been met with disapproving headshakes. Last year, one especially sullen cashier told me to “Get a clue.”

I understand. This is a day set aside to honor those who died serving in uniform. Memorial Day is among our oldest holidays, originally conceived in the aftermath of the Civil War. But for many Americans, it has become little more than a three-day weekend, filled with backyard barbecues and door-buster sales. For those who see this day of remembrance being trivialized, it is easy to take offense at the suggestion that there is anything happy about it.

I do not recall my father or grandfather giving much thought to how they would greet neighbors at our own backyard picnics—it was always “Happy Memorial Day.” Perhaps that is because prior generations needed no reminders about what the holiday signified. My grandfather’s war, WWII, was a national effort, in which everybody sacrificed something. My father’s war, Vietnam, was deeply divisive, but at least everyone knew it was happening. The draft ensured a lot more families had skin in the game.

U.S. Navy F-18's in Missing Man Formation

U.S. Navy F-18’s in Missing Man Formation

Today it is different. Less than 1 percent of Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The vast majority of civilians do not know anyone who died there. The farther into our national memory these wars recede, the more important it is to maintain reminders of the price paid. That, I suspect, is the underlying reason behind excising the “Happy” out of Memorial Day. But however well intentioned, this attitude does nothing to preserve the memory of those who died defending our way of life. In fact, it does the opposite.

I do not know a single veteran who expects the country to mark this holiday with 24 hours of uninterrupted sadness. A few years ago, I spent Memorial Day at a military cemetery visiting my grandfather’s grave. Though I was there to grieve, I could not help but recall stories that made me laugh—like when his plane’s emergency raft deployed in flight, and his machine gunner nearly shot off the tail trying to deflate it. Smiling at that memory, I realized I was not alone. All around me was the sound of quiet laughter, as families gathered before simple white headstones to remember loved ones lost. These days, when I reminisce with my buddies about friends who did not come home from war, the stories we most often tell are ones that bring us joy.

That is how they would want it. When I think about those who have died serving in the military, I remember why they joined in the first place. They did it to defend a way of life, one that includes the pursuit of happiness as a founding ideal.

To be sure, we could use a bit more reverence on this day. A moment of silence before we dig into our brats. Fewer shopping sprees. But unrelenting grief? None of my buddies would want that. Mattress discounts and pie-eating contests and the freedom to be happy are all part of what they fought and died for.

This Memorial Day, I will head to the ocean as the sun is coming up. I will spend some time alone, and think about those who never made it back. Then I will return to my wife and kids and be grateful for my life. I will fire up the grill and invite friends over. And I will wish each of them a Happy Memorial Day, knowing full well that this day and the joy it brings are gifts I can never repay. Except, perhaps, by living a life full of happiness as my fallen friends would have wanted.

This piece originally appeared in the New York Observer.

Goals & Dreams & Sandwiches

Help! My Baby Stole My Novel

A few years ago, a friend sent me a question.  She was a new mom and she was having a tough time.  The days were long, the diapers were many.  She had grown accustomed to life in the parenting trenches.  But she missed literacy.  Sharpness of mind.  And the friendship of a good book.  What she wanted to know was:  would she ever read again?  What follows is the answer I wrote for her.

Will you ever read again?

The short answer is No.

At least that’s what it will feel like. You will examine warning labels on baby Tylenol. You will peruse pediatric websites at 2 am seeking guidance on teething, green poop, or how to get your baby to leave you alone. You will discover notes to yourself that you do not remember writing. You will read the expression on your partner’s face that tells you s/he is in the mood for love.   S/he will read the expression on your face indicating you are in the mood for cereal. But will you read books? No, probably not.

It is normal that a sensitive, educated parent might miss reading. So, what follows is a 5-step program for reclaiming The Book.

Step 1: Chaucer Coasters

Believe it or not, TV and sleep are necessary pursuits if you ever want to read again. As a new parent, I was wonked out. Despite plans to “revisit the classics” during my maternity leave, whenever I touched a book, I promptly fell asleep. Pick up a book if you must, but then set it down and put a cold drink on it. Books make good coasters. Sip your beverage and catch up with Real Housewives. Check in on The Deadliest Catch. Watch a vacuum cleaner infomercial at 3 am, just to say you have. Slum some with basic cable. When I wasn’t napping, Sex in the City reruns and Ice Road Truckers massaged my brain where literary information had previously been stored. Television helped me hit rock bottom. It is said alcoholics bottom out before seeking help. New parents need to do the same. I once watched eleven cooking shows back-to-back, leaving the couch only to change the baby and toast Pop-tarts. TV saturation gave me the drive to read again.

Step 2: Embrace Kid Lit

A runner returning from an injury doesn’t start with a marathon. A model on maternity leave doesn’t come back for a swimsuit shoot. They stretch, ease in. The same is true of readers. Start slow. Reawaken the memory of simply holding a book. After the birth of my daughter, Katie, my first book had a fabric cover and no discernable title, plot, or, in fact, words. It consisted of three pages – one depicting a doggie, another a kitty, and finally (and always surprising to me), a bunny. It wasn’t much, but those were the first pages I successfully comprehended. We “read” this book often. Before long, legitimately lovely children’s books followed: Goodnight Moon; Runaway Bunny; The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I was educating myself with reruns of Gilmore Girls, but at least I read to my kid. It was a start.

Step 3: Forgive Your Brain

After children’s books, I figured grown-up reads were not far behind. However, babies melt brain cells. As a parent, I was dumber. My husband tells me I confuse left and right for about two years after the birth of each child. This makes reading challenging. Whatever you do, DON’T return to something you were reading pre-baby. Unless you start all over, you will not recall even the basics of the plot. Take my experience with what I am told is a gripping tale of historical intrigue, An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears. I began this novel when I was pregnant, and picked it up again when my daughter was six months old. Technically, I did complete the book, in that I turned each of its pages. But at the end, I was left with two important questions:

  1. What was the Instance to which the title refers?
  2. What exactly was a Fingerpost?

I do not fault Mr. Pears. His characters performed surgeries and ate dinners in consummate detail. But my life was upside down and covered in baby vomit. I could not summon enough info from my first reading to inform the second. My eyes read words that my marshmallow brain refused to process.

Step 4: Forage in the Bathroom

So maybe whole books aren’t the best way to start. Graze instead. Nose through a Pottery Barn catalog; chew on Disney fliers that will magically appear in your mailbox as soon as you have children. I read magazines instead of cleaning house. And because I failed to clean, magazines were everywhere—clogging kitchen counters, cluttering coffee tables, and decorating every bathroom. In fact, most of my after-baby reading happened in the loo. I was alone there. So I dallied. I bopped from article to article, inching back towards literacy. I studied recipes I did not cook, and learned exercises I did not do. I read eight-month-old news articles that were still news to me. Whether my source was Oprah or Obama, I savored every stolen bathroom minute.

Step 5: Recovery: Vampires at the Beach

After magazines, books are yours. Drag your bambino to library story time and start browsing. Don’t be surprised if your stamina has altered during the months (or years) away. If you previously fancied Victorian novels or tended towards tomes with Russian heft, now, even in the dead of winter, you may crave a beach read. Unfamiliar with the genre? Just find a cover with a glassy-eyed woman staring into the mist. With a title like Love Promises or anything After the Harvest. But don’t laze in the sand for too long. Cultivate new interests. I discovered young adult novels after the birth of my daughter, Lizzie. Teen books aren’t all wizards and vampires. The Hunger Games rescued my neighbor from the brink. Looking for Alaska, a sweet and wry little adolescent romance, set me on the road to recovery. Nonfiction was also appealing. Essays were easy to pick up and put down. I found E.B. White again. Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions helped me laugh about parenting. To escape parenting, anything written or breathed upon by David Sedaris was always a good bet.

 

Eventually, the reader in you will resuscitate. For me, it happened one fall. Six years after my first maternity leave, I finally returned to the classics. I curled up late one night in my favorite rocking chair, and thumbed through Pride and Prejudice on my iPhone, with my baby daughter drowsing on my lap. Elizabeth and Darcy saw me through those nighttime feedings. Their flirtatiousness, their wit, their passion…it awakened in me a desire I had not felt in years.* I wanted to keep on reading. And, for once, I did.

 

*Of course, it also awakened in me other desires. Not long after, I was pregnant again, and right back at Chaucer Coasters. But, for a little bit there anyway, there was hope. And I know there will be again.

dadvmom.com_helpmybabystolemynovel_booktitles

A version of this piece was originally published on The Huffington Post.

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

Other Mother’s Day

Let me begin by saying I love my mother. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thank you for all these years of unconditional love, laughter, and great cooking. Your guidance and care echo in my heart every day.

Now let me continue for everybody else.

We are all mothers today.

We all mother.

Even if you are a childless man, you mother.

If you are a moody teenager, you mother.

All of us nurse, protect, cherish, and tend to the people we love in this world. At least, we should. And THAT is what this weekend is reminding us. To mother.

Sure, take your mom to brunch if that’s what she really wants. But the day is not about seafood omelets or exclusivity. Mother’s Day is about celebrating mothering. Let’s minister to the sick, defend the weak, nurture the young, the old, the rich, the poor.

In recent years, I have seen women crying on Mother’s Day, weeping openly during the “Ave Maria,” or muffling sobs in contemplative prayer. Last year, a friend told me Mother’s Day was when she missed her mom the most. Of course, it is a day to remember, reflect, and pay homage to the women who birthed us. But we need not leave it there.

Mother’s Day can also be an occasion to check ourselves. Do we mother our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers enough? Do we nourish, tend, and enrich others on this planet the way we should? The way all our mothers taught us to?

That’s right…mothers. Those who birthed us AND all those Other Mothers–the many women and men, both young and old, who held our hands and guided us along the way.

I am blessed to have many Other Mothers. I have auntie-mothers, and boss-mothers, and sister- and brother-mothers. I have a father-mother, and a grandma-mother, and a former-next-door-neighbor-mother. I have had teacher-mothers and student-mothers. I even have a husband-mother. And, of course, a mother-mother.

Let’s all be mothers today. Definitely call your mom. Give her your love. Chances are if you are close, you do this all the time anyway. But call one of your Other Mothers today, too. Don’t weep because you have lost someone. Well, you can do that, but don’t let it be the only thing you do today. Thank an Other Mother. Let that person know he/she loved you, led you, nourished you, and mothered you. And that you are always there to mother right back. Pay it forward and backward today. Let Mother’s Day heal.

Be the mother all your mothers taught you to be.

 

dadvmom_othermothersday_familyinmountains

Originally posted May 9, 2015

Adventure

Adventures Are Worth the Mishaps

After a series of decisions that, in retrospect, may have been unwise, I am driving from Los Angeles to San Antonio and back. Alone.

I will confess: until I looked at a map, I thought the two cities were closer together. But in order to save face, I left my husband with our three kids and embarked on this fool’s errand anyway.

Up until about an hour ago, the trip was going pretty well. The 1987 station wagon that I drove for the first 1400 miles was surprisingly reliable. It only stalled twice, and only once at high speed. When I hopped out the second time to push it through the Starbucks parking lot, passersby were super-chill. As though they saw women pushing cars and carrying cappuccinos all the time. I did not run out of gas this time, even after I forgot to fill up the tank and drove 19 ½ miles past empty. All in all, to quote the policeman who cordially ticketed me in Arizona: “I was surprised by how fast that car could drive.” The lack of air conditioning was a bummer, especially in the desert, but the radio worked, and when I finally figured out the cruise control near El Paso, it was smooth sailing from there.

The problems started when I picked up the other car, or truck rather, from my in-laws’ ranch north of San Antonio. First off, it is a stick-shift vehicle. Which was actually no trouble at all, because, unlike the babe in the movie version of this story, I can totally drive a standard. I’m only including this information because it reminds me what a badass I am. Which is important, given what just happened. I was towing a trailer. Which is also not a big deal, since I hauled a bunch of canoes around for a job after college. But I did misplace my sunglasses earlier today. Which prompted me to stop and buy new ones, along with a cable to plug in my phone, so I could listen to music and podcasts and audiobooks instead of annoying AM talk shows, which seemed to be all I could get on the truck’s radio. I was listening to an episode of WNYC’s Radiolab (don’t worry Jad and Robert, I don’t blame you) when the trailer tire pretty much exploded. I pulled over on a desolate strip of I-10 and thought about what to do next.

This is the point in my story where I feel like readers might be tempted to insert a lesson: You see girls, that is why we don’t drive across the country alone.

Except I went into this trip knowing there might be trouble. In anticipation of 2800 miles of mountains and desert, I took precautions. Both vehicles had tune-ups. New tires, new brakes, topped off fluids—the works. I brought tools and spare parts for fixing the kinds of things that usually go wrong. I had a spare tire for the car, a spare tire for the truck, and a spare rim for the trailer. I had 2 emergency bags with water, flares, and a tire-patch kit.

But none of those safeguards prevented the blowout and ensuing (small) fire after I drove twenty miles to the nearest town on the rim.

So now I am sitting in a Burger King in Fort Stockton, TX (population: friendly), listening to an audiobook, eating the first Whopper, Jr. I have had since college, and waiting for a mechanic that the nice cashier Maribel called to see if we can fix any of this.

Maybe we can. Maybe it will be 20 minutes and some lug nuts. Hopefully, 75 bucks from now, I’ll be on my way.

Maybe it will be trickier. There is a pretty big hole where the fender used to be. The brake rotor looks melted, too. My choice to drive for help might have messed up the axle. It’s possible the trailer will live out its days here in west Texas, while I head out with the pickup truck, my Radiolab podcasts, a little less dignity, and this novel I’m listening to about women of the French Resistance in WWII.

But here’s the thing: I am a grownup girl and perfectly capable of navigating all this. While the breakdown has been inconvenient, it is not a catastrophe. If I am to raise my own daughters to be independent and brave, to demonstrate chutzpah and panache, I need to blaze some trails, even occasionally on one wheel. Adventures are worth the mishaps. I want my kids to live in possibility, not fear, and to know that surmounting an obstacle or eight makes a person stronger, smarter, and more comfortable in her own skin.

In The Nightingale, one woman risks her life to transport Allied soldiers across the border into Spain. Another forges identity papers and hides Jewish children. We all like to believe that—in the face of danger or injustice—we, too, would do the courageous thing. But how will we ever act with valiance in the face of peril if we don’t occasionally practice a little everyday pluck?

I may have sacrificed some time today, some nutrition, and maybe even a whole trailer, but for me, the message is clear: You see girls, this is why we drive across the country alone.

dadvmom.com_drivingmyselfcrazy_sparks

New DadvMom.com on NY Observer today.

dadvmom.com_drivingmyselfcrazy_tire dadvmom.com_drivingmyselfcrazy_rimdadvmom.com_drivingmyselfcrazy_87stationwagon