Thursday, July 28, 2011

Noodle Salad

Every family has a narrative. To paraphrase Tolstoy, the happy ones are really pretty boring.  Although I am skeptical they really exist, I have to remember Jack Nicholson's line in As Good as it Gets, in response to Greg Kinnear's comment that nobody really has a good family story.  Nicholson's character, Melvin, has obsessive-compulsive disorder, but he's insightful nonetheless. There are some nice stories, he responds: "stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad...Good times, noodle salad.  What makes it so hard is not that you had it bad, but that you're pissed that so many people had it good."

The noodle salad people, to my mind, just do a better job of throwing up a layer of spackle over the dirt that is family life.  There is blog I read sometimes, written by a young woman who seems like a very nice person.  I don't know her personally but do know some things about her family that perhaps I ought not.  Granted, everyone in a family has a different perspective. She writes a food blog that with each post includes happy memories associated with a particular dish, all metaphorical noodle salad.  Frequently I cringe at her characterization of her family. I'm not sure I do so because I believe it to be spackle or because I am deeply jealous.

A good friend of mine discovered, when she was around forty, an additional sibling, what the tabloids refer to as a love child.  The parents, biological, adoptive and innocent bystander, had passed away.  So all that was left were the six siblings, my friend being the youngest, to deal with the situation.  When she walked in and saw who she refers to as her "erstwhile sister", her reaction was immediate and visceral: "There was Daddy's face."  The family divided pretty much evenly, save for her, along the lines of  how they defined the family story.  Half of them, she said, thought Daddy was a saint for putting up with Mother's often irrational behavior.  The other half thought Mother had been devoted and did her best, that Daddy did what he wished, the rest of the world be damned.

I spent last week with my own nuclear family, a trio of three with our own special and refined dance, despite a one-time spouse and two offspring of my own. Years ago, a dear friend, also the youngest of many, told me she thought my own children could eventually serve as surrogate siblings: "They will see what happens in your family and tell you what they see," she said.  "This will give you an objective view of how the dynamic works." 

I hadn't been on the home turf for several years.  I'd forgotten.  It was much the same, yet taken up several notches. As when The Unit is here, there are at least two hours in a morning designated to reading the paper with little or no intellectual context but a lot of tsking about the state of the world.  Discussions about who eats what when and more than a little pressure on those who'd rather eat when hungry rather than on a schedule took up substantial parts of the day, as did unloading and reloading the dishwasher because interlopers (the kids) had done it wrong.  This particular issue actually occupied a good hour one evening after dinner, accompanied by a vigorous debate, fueled almost entirely by me. Then there were the post-dinner drinks talks, which generally involved a dissection of the mistakes all the neighbors and friends are making currently, followed by an inventory of my own transgressions against The Unit over the past decade and a half.  I could have traveled six blocks to my ex-husband's house to hear a list of my many faults, yet I'd gone 1,100 miles and filled out a Customs form.   Every night, the kids and I talked into the late hours about what had transpired.  This illuminated the circumstances of my own childhood in ways I'll be sorting out for a long time.

So for me, though noodle salad was served, there are no noodle salad days to document recently or otherwise. In the end I am jealous of the young woman I don't know but do, not for her reality but for her view of it.  My own father has his own static view of reality, one that is met with derision and bluster when challenged.  I'm envious of the certainty of both.  My own view is in line with my friend, she with the erstwhile sibling.  After her momentous family meeting, her last word was this: the truth, she said, lies somewhere in the middle.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New Tricks

My only real teaching stint was back in high school when I worked as a lifeguard and taught lessons at the public, unheated pool in my two-stoplight hometown in the hinterland. Most of it involved convincing little kids to stay in the 65-degree water long enough to learn to stay afloat.  When their lips turned blue we got out and discussed safety rules, me in a sweatshirt talking over the chattering of little teeth. 

Four or five evenings a summer (to be generous, this season lasts about twelve weeks in the Ottawa Valley) we had adult classes.  Although I'd had my share of preschoolers clinging to me like scared monkeys during lessons, nothing in my life experience, save for my own mother's fear of the water, prepared me for this entirely different job. 

I remember encouraging and talking about getting comfortable in the water, and if I was completely out of my depth, my students were determined enough to let it pass. What I principally recall is my own admiration of middle-aged women who were brave enough not only to put on bathing suits for what might have been the first time but who were also prepared to acknowledge and overcome their fears.  No dudes in these classes: this was 1984 in rural Ontario, where men did not admit to fearing anything other than the Junior B hockey team missing the playoffs.  But these women wanted to do this thing so they didn't have to be afraid any more. Farmer's wives, they were practical and suffered no silliness, least of all from themselves.  Still, there was gratitude in their eyes when I explained that my own mother had grown up on a farm and didn't have the chance to learn to swim, that she'd been adamant and generous in ensuring I'd gained this skill. 

Last night I took The Boy to our second yoga class together, the Raw Beginner session. The Boy is a runner who has heard that he can train harder without injury through the wonder of vinyasa, and he loves any physical challenge.  Plus this particular studio is full of attractive women. He's down with that.  

Then there is the teacher, a woman I estimate to be in her mid-twenties. She has all the gifts I lacked when teaching grown ups new tricks, the rare sort who is well-accomplished in her craft but still remembers how it feels to start something new and scary.  I am, as I told her a couple of weeks ago, worse than a raw beginner: I've practiced on and off for five years or so, but have developed some bad habits.  She is great at breaking down poses and really giving a good foundation.  She is funny and incredibly positive without being saccharine and has the ability to push people past their comfort zone while never being patronizing.  An old soul to be sure, I am certain she also has a good story, which I hope I might learn someday.

There were people (dudes, I am happy to report, are no longer afraid to reveal that they don't know how to do something) ranging in age from middle school to retired in this class.  Our teacher gave us all a fine lesson and an exercise in learning what is easy and what is hard for each of us.  It was a class that helped me identify where my own resistance lies and the reasons behind my sore spots. Her gift is priceless.  Namaste, indeed.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Case Against Neutral Hose

I've been watching the Canadian tour of the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge with great interest, much more than I should, given the other events of the world.  In the spirit of frivolity, I shall thus in this post not tackle the issue of the U.S. debt ceiling (for which I am to say the least not qualified to comment upon) but rather the state of Catherine's legs. 

Those pins are extremely enviable, of course, a debt to her mother Carole's genes as well as endless hours in the gym.  So why in God's name cover them up with what my friend Karen referred to twenty years ago as "The Dreaded Neutral Hose"?  We were living in Toronto at the time (where she still resides) so the cold was no defence.  Black opaque hose were the rule, until proper spring came.  No pretending it was otherwise.  This was in the day before self-tanners, which would have mitigated the situation for those sufficiently intrepid to brave the wind.  But those awful beige things were what our grandmothers wore to church.  And now not only Kate--bound, I am aware, by Royal protocol--wears them, but also her hottie sister, Pippa. 

A further argument in opposition arrived when I was shackled to pantyhose during my early years in the workplace.  A man whom I admired and at one point adored told me that they were "the most sexless item ever invented."  At some point Pippa will momentarily take leave of the titled sort and go on a last hurrah in the States.  Some guy in LA will have a look at her control-tops (not that men differentiate between those and the sheer to the waist things) and say, I'm going to see what Liz Hurley's got going on tonight.  She might have a couple of decades on you, but she remembers how badly people dressed in 1987 and keeps upping her game. As Pippa is known for attributes other than her legs, perhaps she'll get a pass on this one.  But one day she'll be forty, and she won't want to wear things that make her look like Camilla.

Later in life I got my first law firm gig, in Texas.  There was a rule about hose in the office.  This was strictly enforced for staff but flouted by female lawyers.  I was not a secretary, but management-level staff.  And yet the day I tried to cheat and wore a long black skirt with no hose (and brown ankles) I was busted by the HR director.  She thought I might go home and change.  I stared her down and said I'd try to remember the(stupid) rule in the future.  This admonition came from a woman who was a poster child for What Not to Wear. 

In earlier weeks my then 7 year-old daughter watched me struggle into a pair of pantyhose and pronounced them "terrible." And she was right.  It was a hundred bloody degrees outside and my behind was sweating as though I'd chosen leather trousers for the office. When next taken to task by the HR director, I told her to discuss it with the managing partner if she had a problem with me. Never did hear back about that.

So Catherine, you are clearly on good terms with HRH Elizabeth. After you've provided a male heir, you can tackle this. Surely the fate of the Commonwealth does not hinge upon the matter, and you can be trusted to do everything sartorial with good taste.  As for Pippa, she should know that other brave women have gone before her in this fight. She has a choice, and no need for the control top.