Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day from Wisconsin (and, the long haul) (MB)

Aw baby! Why did I abandon this blog for over two (2) months? You just made my adrenaline level go up a little higher than it's been for probably the whole time since I last checked in, Ab. You're a hell of a writer, and I realize why life has been just a bit drabber since you left for the Coast. You are a mirror under florescent lights at 1 a.m. for me -- and I mean that in the best possible way. You always provide a solid challenge to my comfortable assumptions, and that's why I love you. Due to the sheer delay on my part in getting back to you, this post is going to have a little bit of housekeeping before I get at the very important themes of your last post.

 First, obviously no April Spring Break trip to see you ever did happen. We took a more standard route to visit friends and family on the east coast. You might say it was a safe choice, and pleasant. Would have been great to get there with y'all but thing is, your kids and my kids were not off school same time, so it seemed like it might not work, and the logistics and money were making me a bit trigger-shy. We got a great option to go east and it was easy to take. It was a good get-away. Maybe that's another post.

Second, our birthdays are coming. And, through the minimal email that has occurred between us I have surmised that you guys may be back in Sconnie for it. (Dear readers, if you are out there, Abigale and I do in fact commit to focus our communication solely on this blog, thus keeping its true lady-friend letter-writing tradition-based authenticity in tact, but occasionally a simple blast from Ab to Henry's fan club back home or a quick exchange regarding potential travel plans does happen via email). Regarding our upcoming birth date, potentially in Wisconsin, do I feel another DJ Frank dance party coming on? I will never forget the one a few years ago when many of my relatives, including my parents, and many of our East Side friends came on down to the Mercury for a true throw-down including full blown chanting in unison to "Don't You Want Me Baby" that old call-and-response 80s tune (classic).

 Third, you have had quite the whirlwind of call-backs and potentially life-changing developments in Henry's young acting career since you last wrote. I am not actually sure if good "luck", as you would term it, has won the day. You'll have to fill me in.

Fourth, it's Mother's Day, and that should not go un-acknowledged. How was yours? You certainly deserve to be showered with love and affection today. As your last post most eloquently details, you have put your boys' education (I think I mean that in the Spanish sense, educacion, "raising") first and in fact made it your passionate life pursuit. As for my Mother's Day, it's been good and it seems like everyone else's has too. When I say everyone, I mean the ladies I most wish a happy Mother's Day for -- my mom, grandma, sisters, and friends. But, I also mean "everyone". I have recently made the mistake of starting to read Facebook on my phone (I previously set up an account in the early days, accepted several hundred friend requests, then promptly abandoned the email linked to it and ignored it for six-month intervals; now, I can read the news feed at any damn time of the day). According to Facebook, it seems just about everyone is having an amazing Mother's Day, complete with documentation of every breakfast in bed and gift given and many overtures about the greatness of individual and all moms ever to live. Mine, as I mentioned, was quite pleasant, especially when considered historically. I could tell you some stories about the trials and tribulations of Mother's Day as a single mom. There have been some pretty solid ones (for example, when I had law firm tickets to the luxury box at Miller Park) and some pretty shaky ones, of which an entire memoir could be written, that could basically represent the dysfunction of a tight-knit single parent family. These shaky Mother's Days generally include me planning something that I want to do with the kids, and then spending the whole day fighting with them about how they should be trying to be nice and enjoy it and do what I want to do because it's Mother's Day. This has included brunches in cute Mother's Day spots, day-trips for a hike, and even a ferry ride to Uruguay from Buenos Aires when we were living in Argentina. In all of these "shaky" cases the worst part is that inevitably there are families nearby who are going through the motions of a pretty pleasant Mother's Day experience, and whose presence reminds me how pathetic our Bridget Jones version of the holiday is. Now that Facebook exists on my phone, that contrast was slightly present today despite the fact that we -- purposely -- spent most of today around the house ("my hubby surprised me with. . . /I am chillin by the pool in a tropical destination on Mother's Day!/my cutest ever kids are cuddled up in my king-sized bed with me with a well-planned gift"). All in all this one was right in the middle, and I feel pretty pleased about it. Started the day with nine 12-year-old girls in the house for Madeline's birthday sleepover, and by 11 a.m. we were mostly cleared out, no worse for the wear, house NOT trashed (!). Managed to get both kids involved in mowing and yard stuff and getting the garden ready on a most beautiful May day. I had a few moments of listening to my own music and also reading the hilarious book I am on right now, The Dud Avocado (have you read it?). I did have some Bridget Jones moments including several outbursts by me similar to the most recent one "I am going to sing Aretha Franklin if I want to today because it's Mother's Day and I don't CARE if you think I am annoying!" You get the point. Pretty solid. I hope you got to do something fun or for yourself.

Okay, now on to the real post -- the response to yours, that is. I get what you mean about the long-con, and all the opportunity that you have in your California existence to educate your boys on the glimmery, shimmery, luck-drives it, path-less-traveled, risk-taking, charm-your-way-through side of life. And I support you using California time for that. For sure. You ask if any of your comments about it resonate with me. In short, absolutely. Maybe too much. I was raised by a dad who frequently captured his philosophy on life with one phrase: "I'd rather be lucky than good." (The context usually gave the comment the additional meaning of "and I am -- lucky.")

And, as you know, I trust (or I think we would not still be friends after all these years) I have a pretty insatiable appetite for all that the world has to offer. And we all know that the interesting stories from life, and life's biggest stars, seem to play by a different set of rules than what the conventional wisdom would tell us is safe and right. And I've definitely rolled the dice on taking the riskier path. I did it when I was 18 and ran off to California for my first year of college, I did it when I went hitchhiking across the country with my first post-high school boyfriend, and I did it when I followed through with starting a family with that boyfriend at an age when most of my contemporaries were simply moving in their first college apartment. Then, I did it again after getting divorced when I went to law school and started taking my kids on international adventures while working on research projects. I think a certain sense of trying to defy the odds (what the hell?) drove that.

But, I must say, the last six or seven years have been a true lesson in the other side of life. I've been here, in Wisconsin, and I've been somewhat run out of special tricks like the ones I was able to come up with as a younger person and as a student. I've got to pay the bills and raise the kids. I haven't found a way to ease up on those responsibilities or the work required to get it done. I still dream that a break will come, but truth is once you get busy with the work and family schedule it's hard to find time or energy for the dreamier things that might bring something my way. So, with full knowledge that it may be a phase and it may be an overly hardened perspective and I may even be in denial about how I could really be living better, but -- I would say my orientation these days is a bit more toward the hard work and gaining some basic skills that people are willing to pay you for, no matter if you can charm your way through or not. I have found that being able and willing to work hard and having some marketable skill is what will save you from utter failure when the tricks up your sleeve run out or are on "pause".

What's more, I do think the working Wisconsin values have set in -- gracefully, not harshly -- in my world view since I have settled into just being a Wisconsin mom here. I look around and truly admire the hell out of the people who I observe that have done their honest day's work and paid their dues, so to speak. And I see a lot of beauty and satisfaction in that, not just fulfillment of a cultural obligation.

Now as for Peter and Madeline, first -- they are great. And as you know, Peter could charm a damn snake out of a tree and still has his gorgeous face but now on a 6-foot-tall lean tall frame. Madeline is so exceedingly competent and on top of everything and now sassy-cute and stylish in her tween-ness that I think people just sort of get out of her way and accept her. So yeah, they've got some things working in their favor to follow in a certain family tradition of pushing the limits and taking some risks that could pay off. But I find myself emphasizing the work and sensibility, while emphasizing that of course they can do whatever they want to in life, and anything is possible! 

I guess it's that persistence thing you're talking about. I also translate that principle to willingness-to-do-what-it-takes. My thing is if you've got something that's your con-job, the thing that makes you most glowingly happy and is your dream to shoot for -- then yeah, let's go. But, you've got to be willing to take the steps it takes to get there, and you can't abandon the basic underlying facts (hard ground) that lie beneath every such shot at a dream (tight rope walk). Better have some humble skills and the ability to do the grind if and when the time comes.

My current example is Peter. He's golfing, and golfing pretty well, and as you know, the kid was always going to play a sport and this is the one that he's narrowed down to and is probably going to excel in the most. So, this pro in town tells him he may have what it takes to play in college, etc, but he actually has to get the grades and have good character and not make any boneheaded mistakes in high school, or he'll significantly sabotage his chances of getting a scholarship or playing in college. This is an "aha" moment for me because it perfectly captures (coincidentally) the thought process I have about it. Will I support the dream, and just today, did Peter and I watch a tall lanky guy built much like himself win the Players Tournament, and did I see the guy high-fiving his mom after he won and feel a few happy tears running down my face? Hell yeah. And when this golf pro tells me we need to get Peter new clubs that I can't afford do I do it anyway? Yes. But when Peter plays the "Mom, won't you support my dream?" card when he's lobbying for a membership to a course or some such access to MORE golf that I am supposed to pay for, I'm like: 1. Do your part dude, and show me the grades; and 2. You're still gonna need to get a job and pitch in because I'll be damned if you're not gonna know how to scrape a grill or carry some elder golfer's clubs around because in that great pursuit of a dream you gotta know how to work FOR it, and you gotta know how to work well in CASE you need back up.

And unfortunately with that little snake-charmer Peter with those big brown eyes and savvy smile and good humor I have to hit these points over and over again because he will con me, and he will con the world -- to a point. He takes after his mom, and I seem to have run my con for the short term (carried myself from age 18 to age about 28 on the whimsy), but then the pause button hit and ever since, I have really needed those skills and work and to be honest I kind of had to learn it all over again, you know? But I am better for it. 

And there is for sure some hard work and hard face lines and grubby hands running through our Wisconsin tradition here. But there's a lot of love and pleasure, and of course, in the midst of all that tradition, there's certainly the shot at a dream. Always. I just think my view, and the Wisconsin view, may be that it's a pretty long haul, and there's definitely some hard work in there somewhere. Hardly anybody gets around it if they are to really live well. I think the fact that your boys had once lived here makes it easier for "LA Education" to be a thing, and not a life front-to-back, and that's all the more reason to go after it while you can. Not that you're coming back, but you can always send them back to me for a summer if we need to straighten one of them out.

Other cool thing about Wisconsin -- that hard work, basic skill thing? It's become stylish, you know? All the local food and cheese and beer and artisanship and all the handcrafted everything. So en vogue, and so HERE (holy Farmer's market and local organic regional cuisine restaurants -- we are saturated!) -- and so NOT possible through a con. There is something so damn admirable and virtuous about that.

I may have been raised in Wisconsin, and one would think I would have started out with those persistent, skilled, hard-working values, but I think I came of age in a somewhat quirky family and knowing I could work a good con, and so avidly seeking that kind of spice in my life. At the moment, though, I am thinking a lot about good honest work and warning my kids a whole lot about the need to be thorough, work well, do their best, and play the main game well. But you have astutely reminded me that I should be telling them that while they should master that main game well (chess), they should do because it might well serve their dream (poker, L.A.-style, the long-con).  And, it can offer a solid life true to the virtue of their Wisconsin tradition, in the event they are not a poker player, or in the event they ever need to recover from a bad hand.

Remind me to dream again, and encourage my kids to do so, just in case this grind has me a little bogged down. I'll make sure if you go too far with the long-con we pull you back here for some meat, cheese, beer, and diggin in the garden.

Should I be worried that Charlie has already quit a hippie preschool? Did he flip off the macrobiotic lunch lady? xooxoxoxoxoxo

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