Goodbye, Junk. Hello, Mental Clarity.

Ok that gives me a headache just looking at it.

Okay,  that gives me a headache just looking at it.

My husband started it.  He started clearing out drawers and cabinets.  Sorting, organizing, purging.  At first I just rolled my eyes.  Then I kinda got into it.  The pile in the photo above was taken when he was emptying a room in our house that had started to fill up with clutter.  His way is to empty the space first and clean then deal with the pile later.  Not my method, makes me crazy, but the results are good.  I cleaned out kitchen drawers, cabinets and the pantry.  Then I got to thinking, why does taking a carload to the Goodwill feel so fucking good?  And why does that pile make me want to scream and run into the street like a crazy person?  And another thing, how are those people who work at Goodwill so absolutely nice and polite?  They are going through other people’s crap all day long and they still have time for a wink and a smile and a have a nice day.  These people are the true heroes.  You need to go there and hug them.

Here’s what we do when we notice that things are starting to get cluttered.  First, we ignore it.  We close the door.  We tell ourselves that we might eventually find that other earring or wear that ugly dress.  We couldn’t possibly discard a ticket to Italy that we might someday use in a scrapbook.  This line of thinking, it seems to me,  is a trap.  It keeps us stuck and unable to move on.  Letting go of something is liberating.  All that stuff is heavy, literally and emotionally.  It weighs us down.

But here’s the bugaboo.  What we keep says something about us.  About who we are, where we’ve been and what we believe to be special and important.  Getting rid of those things is hard.  It’s emotionally taxing.  So here’s what I have found to work:  First, do not have too much coffee.  It makes you jittery and edgy and likely to throw a fit that everyone is trying to make your life miserable and disorderly.  Or maybe that’s just me.  (Coffee, I’m sorry.  See you in the morning?).  Second, start a de-clutter project when you have a buffer day before you have to go back to work.  Or you will never get that shit done and the PILE will stare at you every day that you can’t do a damn thing about it.  Third, get yourself some inspirational jams or podcasts.  I like to go back and forth between the two.  And last, stay in your pajamas if humanly possible.  As soon as you get dressed, it’s like putting on reality and who needs that shit.  Get lost in it.

Also, if just the sheer joy of spreading sunshine at Goodwill wasn’t enough, your brain does not like clutter.  Physical clutter in your environment has been shown to not only negatively affect your ability to process information, it also affects your ability to focus.  You know how your daughter is talking to you and all you can see are those wet dirty soccer socks on the floor and it’s all blah blah blah until you go and pick them up?  Your brain’s visual cortex sees the clutter, wants to do something about it because it’s so damn distracting and then can’t process any outside information.  The longer the clutter hangs around, the more taxed your brain becomes and the more likely you are to express your resentment in not-so appropriate ways.  According to the study in the Journal of Neuroscience, when there is clutter present, you will be more irritable, less productive, more distracted and significantly less able to mulit-task.  In other words, to be the best “you” you can be, get rid of it.  No therapist required.

Want even more good reasons to say goodbye to your 80’s cassette tape collection?  When you clear a space, even if it’s just your counter or your desk, it frees space in your brain for creativity and problem solving.  In my family, they know that if the counter is not cleaned off, mom is not happy.  Just that simple act of cleaning off the counter can take me from Def Con 5 to Def Con 1 (watch WarGames if you don’t get the reference).  Plus, when you do get to clean out a drawer (or cabinet or closet or room-you overachiever) you then have the beautiful task of wiping with freshly scented cleaner and reliving the good feeling for days afterward by just opening the drawer (or cabinet or door) and gazing upon your goddamn glorious hard work.

Then there’s the magic.  Magic, you ask?  In cleaning?  Yes.  The magic in the finding of the long lost or long forgotten object.  For me, I had asked my kids to remove photos from about a 100 frames that we were donating.  It was fun to reminisce about all the photos.  But I came across something that I had framed that was not a photo.  I cut it out from a card that a friend sent me when my husband and I had moved here more than 10 years ago.  It said:  Favorite things:  Mountains.  Sea.  Wildlife.  Peace and quiet.  Good people.  Living somewhere that is close to your own soul.  A connection to your community.   

Wow.  What a great reminder of who I am, why I am here and why we all matter.

Enough said.

Enough said.

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Pretty Cool

I'm thinking about being pretty and feeling pretty.

I’m thinking about being pretty, and if that matters.

Next week, I am going on a girl’s trip to a sunny location with some great friends.  Stop drooling.  Before you get too green with envy, consider that instead of occupying myself with which books I’ll bring or which sundresses I’ll wear, I am instead thinking about how gorgeous my friends are compared to me.  I am thinking I am no longer pretty in that singularly youthful way.  What does it mean to be pretty?  And does it really matter?  And does anyone besides me really give a shit whether I am pretty?

Circulating on Facebook recently is a video by Dove.  Yes, the beauty bar (apparently NOT soap).  In it, female subjects (around my age) are drawn by a forensic artist first as described by themselves and second by someone else who had recently met them.  The drawings are of their faces.  Without exception, the subjects recounted their own perceived faults and inadequacies.  Chubby cheeks.  Mousy hair.  The other person who was asked to detail the subject’s features was decidedly more focused on the positive aspects of their appearance.  Lovely eyes.  Shapely cheekbones.  In fact, the describers were far more accurate when the artist completed his renderings.  (The subject’s faces were occluded from the artist’s view). When the female subjects finally saw the finished product, you could see the heartbreak on their faces.  The images were dramatically different.  The describers got it right.  The subjects got it wrong.  Just plain wrong.  And then I wondered, am I getting it wrong, too?

Earlier this month, President Obama was praising California attorney general Kamala Harris for being brilliant but in the next sentence, he called her the best looking attorney general in the nation.  Whaaa?  After an apology brought on rightly by protests, it’s still sobering to consider that women are still being given credit for their good looks on the same level as their accomplishments.  It’s bullshit for sure, but it happens all the time.  Gordon Patzer PhD, a professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago, runs an institute on physical attractiveness.   His website is called Looks Rule.  Seriously, it is.  He has spent the last 30 years researching why it does matter.  Basically, his findings are that attractive people are valued more highly than others.  That’s it.  On a whole, they’re not happier, more organized, more interesting or smarter.  Just more valued.  Maybe that’s the reason that all these beautiful people are idolized who really haven’t done anything.  Paris Hilton.  Kim Kardashian.

They are more likely to have attention lavished on them, such as having others pick up their dropped papers while those less radiant are left to fend for themselves.  More attractive candidates get elected.  Less attractive students get less attention from professors.  It’s no wonder we want to be pretty and attractive.  You get to be liked and sought after!  You get promotions!  You get attention!  But then…  It’s must be hard to keep up that level of interest after your looks get you in the door.  After all, you don’t morph into a different beautiful person every day.  You are you.  And don’t we all use what we have?  Not everyone has supportive parents.  Or lots of money.  Not everyone is athletically gifted. Or endowed with a high IQ.  And you can bet that those things are highly valued too.  And also, what happens when your looks fade?

The reward circuits in your brain fire when you gaze upon a person, male or female, with physically attractive features.  The subcortical and paralimbic parts of your brain are activated, meaning that this happens without you being aware of it and also that it effects you emotionally.  So, as part of human evolution, we are programmed to be drawn to the prettiest of the species.  On the whole, men are more influenced by pretty women than the other way around.  And women are much more interested in being perceived as attractive.  Hmm… So, here in suburbia, do pretty women have more friends?  Not that I have seen.  Do they have better jobs, better husbands?  Sometimes, but not anywhere near statistically significant.  Do they seem happier?  Maybe.  Do they have less worries?  Definitely not.

One of my daughter’s friends asked me recently, would you rather be pretty or cool?  I told her I’d like to be pretty cool.  She seemed to like that answer.  Women rail against the status quo, me too, but we are fighting a biological instinct.  Attractiveness is a favorable attribute no matter how you slice it.

But here’s the thing.

I am pretty sometimes.  When I go out, when I wear mascara, when I watch my children play, when I go on a hike with my husband.  But I am loved all the time.

Have you ever known someone and at first you don’t see them as all that attractive, but as time passes, you find them more and more appealing?  As you discover their absolutely infectious laugh, their eyes gleam even more.  As you find out you both love Rob Lowe movies, you notice a glow about them.  As you are hugged by them in your saddest times, you close your eyes and allow yourself to be surrounded by their beauty.  That’s the rub.  You can change your biology.  You can create a pretty face when initially you didn’t see it.  You can even do this for yourself.  I just did.

Pretty cool.

I feel pretty, oh so pretty!

I feel pretty, oh so pretty!

Thanks to Barbara Paulsen at Mt. Hood Mama Photos for the pretty photos.  She is really pretty, too, by the way.

I confess. I didn’t work out today.

I'm thinking about exercise, guilt and time.

I’m thinking about exercise, guilt and time.

I didn’t go to the gym today.  My gym shoes lie dormant in the shoe closet, festering in dark silence.  My yoga mat sits neatly rolled up in the corner.  The pad of my index finger did not sit on a screen to check me into the gym.  My dog did not pant gratefully, then flop onto the cool tile after a run.  My speedy green road bike hangs on it’s hook, its odometer stuck on the same number from my last ride a few days ago.  Still and peaceful in my drawer, my heart rate monitor awaits it’s next challenge.  But my brain?  Ah, my brain.  That’s been going a thousand miles an hour.

The clock now reads 7:47 pm, and I am still thinking about where I could have squeezed in a workout.  (Okay, dammit!  Not “thinking.”  Obsessing.)  In the 45 minutes I had before I picked up the kids?  Could I have gotten up early?  I should have gotten up early.  The mental space taken up negotiating, fact checking, brow beating and ass kicking has been a workout in and of itself.  I mean, seriously.  What a waste of time.

Now, I grew up Catholic and my husband is Jewish so we are no strangers to guilt around here.  But my fellow suburbanites also carry around a fair bit of guilt themselves.  They work too much.  They don’t exercise enough.  They don’t make enough money.  They should be more crafty, more creative.  More interesting.  Less critical.  More kind.  More productive.   They should take more classes, go back to work.  (I swear to you all overheard in one happy hour).  There are multiple structures in your brain which are responsible for how you perceive and process guilt.  What motivates one person is different than what motivates another, but we are all profoundly and universally influenced by community.  This means that if your friends and community didn’t exercise, it would be a hell of a lot easier to hit the snooze button rather than get up and go to the gym.  Conversely, this is often why groups like Crossfit and for me, my yoga community, are intrinsic motivators.  You think about who you will see and who will miss you if you don’t show up.

In suburbia, if you see other people making good money, working out/looking fit, having good marriages and managing their time wisely, you want to do it too.  It’s a testament to my social network and neighborhood that there are some pretty hot 40 somethings (with great lives to boot).  So that’s probably why I feel bad when I miss a workout.

Personal blame, like when you are a lazy ass and don’t work out and beat yourself up for it, is mitigated in the subgenual cingulate cortex by the limbic (primitive and emotional) region of the brain.  These layers of emotion, blame and guilt make for some very busy collaborations.  It also makes sense to me, given all the stuff your cranium is processing, that you would be exhausted.  At this point, you should do yourself a favor.  You should, as my grandma used to say, shit or get off the pot.  For me, I should either not work out and chalk it up as a rest day or I should just go work out and be done with it.  Today, I am choosing to call it a night.   And I’ll tell you why.

First of all, it was a great day.  Beginning with a fun field trip with my 8 year old daughter, followed by getting some errands done, doing some writing, talking with a friend and ending with some real magic, it’s okay that my day didn’t include breaking a sweat.  Also, rest days help the following day to be stronger and better.  Maybe it will help that nagging knee pain I’ve been experiencing.  Maybe I’ll tackle an 8 or 10 miler tomorrow with my pup.  And you know what else?  There is SO MUCH more time in the day when you don’t work out!   I got my paperwork organized for work tomorrow, got my daughter to swim lessons on time, grudgingly mailed the taxes my hubby thoughtfully prepared, wrote a note to my sister-in-law and did some yard work.

As for the magic, the picture below was a rainbow we saw right out my front window tonight.  We would never have even known it was there if my neighbor hadn’t called to tell us to look out our window.  Thank you, neighbor.

Thank you, community.

No more guilt for me.

Now that's a little suburban magic right there.

Now that’s a little suburban magic right there.

Thanks again to Barbara Paulsen for the image at the top of this post.   She continues to inspire me with her creativity.

Keeping up with the Joneses in Suburbia

Hell, yes, we are still trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Hell, yes, we are still trying to keep up with the Joneses.

That damn Jones family!  Why do they have to have everything?  Be so rich and desirable?  Why is their prosperity simultaneously my misery?  Here in suburbia, the Joneses remain the ever elusive ideal and we continue to chase them.  Their beautiful new car, their well manicured lawn, their Harvard-bound children and their fabulous dinner parties.  And you know what?  You will never ever be the Joneses.  It’s time to get off that bus.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” was in fact a comic strip created by “Pop” Momand circa 1920’s America.  It was a parody of American life which depicted the petty jealousies of neighbors to the Jones family, who are mentioned but never actually seen in the strip.  This is fascinating because the idea of the Joneses really is an illusion to all of us.  This was made clear over the past couple months in which a number of our friends picked up and moved, mostly to bigger and better places.  Isn’t that how it always happens, after all?  My husband and I, after viewing these spectacular new houses, sat down in our kitchen and thought, hmm…  Maybe we should move.

Right there.  That’s where it starts.  They have a hot tub.  Don’t we need a hot tub?  They have a gazillion square feet.  Don’t we need a gazillion square feet?  Never mind that we are completely fine in our 1950’s fixer upper and that before this we hadn’t had a moment of dissatisfaction (well maybe a couple but nothing move-worthy).  Plus, our house is paid off, why would we do that?  One simple reason.  Those fucking Joneses.

Dave Goetz’s noteworthy book “Death by Suburb” addresses this topic in a novel way.  He calls various ideals of suburban culture “toxins” and offers “practices” to guide sane living in the ‘burbs.   Goetz talks about leading a “thicker” life, letting go of expectations and relying on faith.  While I did not read the book for it’s faith and church principles, it does have meaning for suburbanites in and out of faith communities.  In Brene Brown’s amazing book “Daring Greatly,” she also talks about how there is a culture of what she calls scarcity, meaning we feel like we can never have enough.  We always want more, and are left feeling culturally and personally inadequate if we don’t.

Now, not everyone feels this way. There are folks like my friend Barbara who don’t seem ride the Jones bus.  But most of us do. In any event, Goetz gives us some suggestions for relief from the rat race.  Instead of seeing yourself as your job or even your stereotype, try to see goodness in the world.  Instead of wanting your neighbor’s life,  he suggests budgeting time to “hang with the poor and broken.”  Instead of thinking that life should be as easy as it is for the Joneses, he suggests we just quit fighting a war that is not winnable.  Both Brown and Goetz suggest silence and gratitude as daily practices to stop “jonesing” for the next purchase. The next high.

When you do begin accumulating all this stuff, what are you supposed to do with it all, anyway?  I recently have been going on a donation blitz, collecting stuff in large bags and toting it to the appropriate drop off site.  This feels good.  And moving, after all, is one giant purge.  There is also something so attractive about the simple life, the pared down existence.  Getting rid of excess.  Being free of material goods.  Letting go of consumerism.  But then, living the thicker life also means not feeling green with envy when that Jones kid gets the lead part in the school play.  And when Mrs. Jones always seems calm and together.  And how they always seem to make time to have a beautiful yard and a devoted relationship.

Oh, and there we go again.  Your brain just went to that place.  Actually, there really is a place in your brain that processes jealousy, and it’s the same place ironically that processes pain.  This may explain why it felt like a dagger when your high school boyfriend cheated on you.  It’s called the ventral striatum and it sits in your prefrontal lobe.  So, as many discoveries in behavioral neuroscience, you can take comfort that it’s your brain causing you to behave this way.  Because the Joneses aren’t going anywhere.  Even if you move.

An so ultimately,  we decided not to move.  We are happy where we are.  No, it’s not the biggest or newest house on the block.  The floors creak and it’s on a steep hill.  At the risk of following the above advice, we are lucky to have this old house, even with it’s quirks and it’s imperfections.  It has been here to come home to through the births of two children, through new jobs and new pets.  Through acquisitions and donations alike.  And plus, moving is a lot of work.

What about you?

So there.

So there.

Keeping up with the Joneses strip from Pop Momand, 1921.

Above image from findingthevoicewithin.blogspot.com.

High School. Enough Said.

High school:  Does it ever just go away?

High school: Does it ever go away?

Everyone remembers the pain, the glory, the sheer intensity of their high school years.  But does it ever recede into memory, or are it’s effects more permanent?  In her spellbinding recent article in New York magazine called “Why You Never Truly Leave High School,”  Jennifer Senior makes the case that, despite your longing to forget those angst-filled years, high school really does last forever.  Ah, shit.

Last night, while hanging out with friends in the ‘burbs, more than one of us commented on the other-worldliness of our current life situations.  Those mortgage payments are ours?  Those cars?  Those husbands?  Even though some of us have burgeoning middle schoolers, the thought that we are actually responsible for other humans occasionally comes as a shock.  It’s like that Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime“:  And you may ask yourself…  Well, how did I get here?  You didn’t form these ideas, of who you would be in the world, in childhood.  You formed them in adolescence.  Mostly during high school.  Right or wrong, it’s the barometer of your sense of self.

Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist at Temple University, tells us that there is a maelstrom that occurs during our teenage years.  As it strikes, we form our identity and conceptualize who we are.  This is when you start trying to figure things out on your own instead of relying on your parents.  It’s when you begin to think abstractly and form your own opinions.  It’s when you begin to learn how to control your impulses (spending, sex, staying up all night).  It’s when you are developing an internal mirror:  being able to reflect on your behavior.  However, note the words “begin, start and develop.”  The pre-frontal cortex is not fully formed until your early twenties.  Which is why you, me and everyone else in high school, were complete idiots.   Probably not the best time to figure out who you are.

We are also told by Dr. Steinberg and Brene Brown PhD, that a complex cocktail of dopamine (swirling around in large amounts to make feel things more intensely), sex hormones and shame combine to add further injury to an already perilous time.  Vision, hearing and the other senses?  Fully onboard in adolescence.  Executive function and emotional regulation?  Not so much.  As a result, lots of us develop coping mechanisms to get us through the flurry of emotion surrounding us.  These strategies often stay with us on into adulthood:  gossiping, keeping secrets, people pleasing and becoming the class clown.  Sound familiar?

A recent Pew Research study found that 22% of Facebook friends are from high school.  Kinda makes you not want to go to your high school reunion.  After all, you already know the football team’s star quarterback is bald, the prom queen’s been divorced five times and your “best friend” posts photos smoking pot with her 14 year old daughter.  Why pay for a dress and bore your husband with an evening among people who are barely “friend”-worthy on Facebook?  Meanwhile, the kid who got his face pushed into the locker on a daily basis made a billion with an internet start-up.  Clearly, your assumptions in high school were at best inaccurate and at worst, embarrassingly wrong.

And now that you drive a car that doesn’t break down every other day, go home to a house of kids (and not a too small apartment with too many roommates) and have a significant other that doesn’t resemble a pile of neediness, now, yes now, is when your child enters high school.  And that is precisely when it starts all over again.  In Senior’s article, she advises that as parents, we “re-experience” the horrors, and perhaps joys, of high school all over again.  When our kids go through what we went through, it’s as though it’s happening to us.  Again.  Shit.

So, suburbanites, let’s make a plan, okay?  When those painful moments come up, the breakups, the frenemies, the turf wars, the stereotypes; let’s remind them and ourselves that their bodies are still growing and changing.  Their brains have yet to form the last wrinkles and creases of a fully formed cortex.  Things right now feel really bad for a reason, there is in fact a neurochemical basis for their powerful feelings.  Let’s tell them we don’t expect them to make decisions like an adult yet, and that we are here to help.  We will tell them stories of what we went through, but not too many, to their cringing faces but still open minds.  We won’t label them at a time in their lives when they are most susceptible to becoming what they hear.  When needed, we will call them out.  By letting them know that being vulnerable is a universal human emotion, maybe they will feel community even as they hurt.  As we tell their rolling eyes that they are worthy and lovable, we have to believe that we are getting in somehow.  We have science that tells us definitively that teenagers have a highly distorted view of their social world, and we should tell them that.  Carefully.

They will tell us we are full of shit, but we will do it anyway.  Because we know better.  We are the grown-ups.

In the meantime, I will be celebrating my friend Sharron’s 40th birthday.  The theme?  “Prom of Your Life.”  This time, there will be no weeks of starving before putting on the dress.  No crying on the tile floor of the high school bathroom.  No drinking California Coolers til your vomit turns raspberry red.  No waiting to be asked.  This time, it’s going to be fun.

I know, HOT.

I know, HOT.

Cute photo on top courtesy of Barbara Paulsen, Mt. Hood Mama photos.  Not so cute photo, yours truly.

There are MILF’s among us…

A suburban MILF

A suburban MILF

As a word of caution, this post will inevitably contain the f-bomb.  Prepare accordingly.

Both in the blogosphere and in my suburban neighborhood, I have been hearing this word (if you want to call it that) fairly often.  For the uninitiated, MILF is an acronym created by a young man in the movie American Pie to delineate “moms I’d like to fuck.”  Crude, yes, but we are talking about teenage boys.  MILF seems to me to be a term used primarily in relation to 40’s-ish moms who are deemed attractive to young men.  It’s one of those words (I will use the term “word” from now on, knowing that it is in fact an acronym) that seems to pervade the culture in a slow and steady way, until it becomes a moniker that we can all understand.  Even though my friend Barbara had to look it up.  Which made me like her even more.

In the blogosphere, there has been a huge debate going on mostly led by Danielle Smith of extraordinarymommy.com.  She finds the term offensive, believing that it is demeaning to women in that we may feel the need to make ourselves look hot for the opposite sex.  She goes on to say that being called a MILF is not a compliment and never was, however, goes to great pains in her radio interview on “Q” to say that when she goes out with friends, young men hit on her and the silly little fools don’t realize that she is older than she appears.  She also says the term feeds into a misogynistic society’s desire to pigeon-hole women into an ideal of pornographic object.  Her last point is that the word itself is shocking, so as to align with our current culture of “reality” programming: fast, loose and sell-worthy.  While I agree with her assertion here, let’s not kid ourselves.  Ms. Smith on her site is selling her book and her brand, and she righteously says she is not going to use profanity.  She does say, “oh my heavens” though.

All this debate about MILF’s started when Ms. Smith received a press release about a book called “The MILF Diet:  Let the Power of Whole Foods Transform your Body, Mind and Spirit,” by Jessica Porter.  I know, at first read this title seems at cross purposes:  How does eating in a clean way make you a dirty and naughtly girl?  But apparently, Ms. Porter has some very clear ideas on MILFdom.  A true MILF is confident, sexy and radiates natural feminity, she says.  Really?  Go back to the American Pie clip and you will see the original MILF in a self -aggrandizing photo looking anything but natural.  Clearly, it’s a ploy to sell a book.  Both of these women have persuasive bones of contention, but both have a financial interest in their defending their side of the argument.  I, however, do not.

My friend Taryn has, in her authentic and exuberant way, put together a running team for an upcoming event.  The name of the group?  “The Vantucky MILF’s.”  Obviously not landing on Ms. Smith’s side of the argument, she sees the term as empowering and a great way to rally the troops.  Having not officially signed up for the team yet, I can say that I think that this type of mommy-promotion is great.  When in years past, can you remember a mom being called outwardly sexy?  There was a latent Carol Brady sexuality some might say, but it has truly come to fruition in the term MILF.  This generation is not content to sit on the sidelines while younger women pass them by.  So what?  I am of the camp that if it makes you feel good and it’s not hurting anyone, then go ahead and own it.  If feeling attractive to the opposite sex is not something you are interested in, then let it go.  Most women I have unscientifically polled would take it as a compliment, but not all.  So if you don’t, fine.  But really, can’t it just be a little bit fun?

But here’s the neuroscience facts, ladies.  We are complex sexual beings.  In Louann Brizendine M.D.’s compelling book, “The Female Brain,” she states that basically, we need to relax.  Unlike men, it takes a lot of “neurochemical stars to align” to feel comfortable in the bodies we inhabit. A certain amount of letting go, thanks to that lovely little structure called the amygdala, is required to get there.  So, if seeing yourself as a MILF and proclaiming it helps you along, what’s the harm?  You may be more inclined to eat whole foods, go for a run, bake a pie or even start a business to feel desirable and alluring.   Whatever works.  Of course, like many of you, I do not look forward to the day when, perhaps my daughter might ask me what a MILF is.  (She recently asked me what a prostitute was.  Eesh.)  But I am sure on my feet and in my words, so I know the answer will come.  Popular culture dictates that all things provocative and in-your-face are of the moment.    However, I am also confident that, with our help, the generation we are raising knows the difference between “reality-tv” and well,  reality.  We have to keep making that distinction for them.  It’s a new and challenging aspect of being a parent in our time.

In the meantime, I enjoy seeing how the word makes it’s way through our culture.  I am not in control of it, and am powerless to rail against it even if I was so inclined.

What about you?

Photo courtesy of Mt. Hood Mama Iphoneography

Happy Birthday to Suburbo-types! And me!

We’re all in this together.

Okay it’s not my birthday until mid-November, but this week marks a year since suburbo-types was up and running.   (Suburbo-types is only 1, but as my daughter pointed out, I am going to be 44, not 43 as my brain had originally thought.  Nice.)  It’s a natural time to think about this project, what I’ve learned and where it’s heading.  Originally, suburbo-types was meant as a platform for my understanding of the truth of our relationships in suburbia, how and why we stereotype each other and to gain a fuller understanding of my fellow suburbanites.  Alas, a year later, I have no solid answers, but the questions are evolving.  And the truth as to why I began is starting to make more sense to my often hard-headed skull.

It’s a biologically human and rational inclination to desire contact and connection with others.  In the months before I began the blog, my best friend Tracy moved away and I found myself wanting to get to know people more.  Tracy was my lifeline as we raised our babies together (our kids are the same ages). We talked on the phone sometimes 3 times a day.  My baby projectile barfed! Her baby sprout a tooth!  I’m worried, I’m scared, I feel incompetent, I’m lonely!  I was able to say whatever I wanted and I knew she understood.   It is an intense time for all new moms, but it was made easier by Tracy who juggled making me laugh, listening to my incessant chatter and hearing every word I uttered without judgment.   She is still there for me, but she lives 2 hours away, works and has a life of her own.  So do I.  But when she left, I wondered how I would ever feel as connected again.  Not to mention the pain of living so far away from my family, especially my new niece.

Shameless promotion of adorable new niece.

In the wake of going back to work part-time, raising young children and navigating the suburban landscape, I found myself being incredibly judgmental and critical of my suburb-dwelling peers.  I was constantly sizing people up, and in the end, I was really only judging myself.  I realize I was making other people seem scarier than they were to protect myself from, what, getting attached and having THEM move away too?  Maybe it was easier to keep everyone at arm’s distance.  But as I came out of my shell,  and as I met new friends and let myself (and them) off the hook a little more,  I came to see that all of us hide a little and we certainly protect ourselves.  Maybe we criticize others for how they parent, how they dress or what they say.  I am guilty of doing these things too, but I am willing to let go of it bit by bit to make the suburbs feel less strip-mall and more Main street.  In Dave Goetz’s book Death by Suburb:Keeping the Suburbs from Killing your Soul, he states that cultivating deep friendships (note: not the get your mail for you, wave from your car-kind), those that bring deep joy and satisfaction, is the antidote for social climbing,  people pleasing, ass-kissing and perpetuating your mask.  I know, deep, right?!

In the compelling book Incognito by neuroscientist David Engleman,  he lays out a complex interplay between two parts of your brain.  The first, the prefrontal cortex,  does it’s best work by stretegizing and analyzing.  It plans and thinks.  It tells you that you have exactly 24 waking hours on the weekend in which to do laundry, finish that report by Monday, help with homework, make meals, prepare for the coming week etc.  Then, the more primitive limbic system, or emotional control center, begins to feel the freak coming on at about 4 o’clock on Sunday when all that shit has no chance of getting done.  It works the same way when you are building relationships .  The prefrontal cortex examines what you will say or wear, then the limbic system causes you to worry about that joke you told or the red shirt that you wore that may have been just a little too low-cut.  All of us have these two characters battling it out in our heads.  For me,  genuinely connecting to others and putting myself out there makes my inner soldiers a little less likely to get into full-blown war.

The suburbs have always felt a little lonely to me.  They with their picket fences and closed doors.  Unknown neighbors.  Long driveways.  Pruned bushes.  What’s really going on in there?  (okay, not everything: private is private) This writing, although making me incredibly vulnerable and fearful at times, has freed me to explore uncharted waters.  Who is beneath the facade.  Where the truth lies.  All the topics for suburbo-types come from conversations I have had or overhead somehere in the ‘burbs.   And the interviews are attempts to understand there is a lot to know about each of us.  Really, it’s just so we all know that those we surround ourselves with are more than who we see.  Of course, you don’t want to be too vulnerable.  You don’t want to tell someone that you are living a shame-based existence the first time you meet them.  The fact that you slept with the entire football team your sophomore year of high school?  Probably TMI.  You have to have a strong base to hold up the weight of the relationship.  Thanks to you,  I hope is what the community of suburbo-types is starting to do.

So, for the coming year, the blog will be focusing on more interviews, more subjects that maybe we all think about a little bit but don’t talk about very much and just being here for a safe 5 minute read during your busy lives.  Please let me know what you’d like to see, any polite criticism (I am human, after all) and insights into your suburban life.  I value your feedback and don’t publish it if requested.

Mt. Hood Mama Photos is responsible for the lovely image at the top of this post.  My sister is responsible for the cute baby photo.  And the cute baby.