Thursday, July 31, 2008


You know how mom likes to have the same conversations over and over? Usually, when I point out to her that we have already discussed something (such as the fact that I don't like coffee; whether I have AC or ceiling fans; whether I've applied to Google, etc.), mom pleads forgetfulness. Recently, however, when she asked me for the gazillionth time about lakes in the DC area and I called her on it, she admitted that she was deliberately rehashing the lakes conversation to "remind" me that there was nowhere nice to go swimming in DC, or, rather, to rub it in.

This behavior, i.e. expressing her displeasure about an aspect of my life by bringing it up in conversation multiple times, but, mind you, not directly stating her displeasure (unless called on it, in the case of the lakes), whether or not you'd call it passive-aggressive, is expanding beyond the lakes in DC issue. As you may have noticed, Mom doesn't approve of my bedtime. I believe it is an extension of mom's disapproval of any unavailability on my part.

When I'm at my parents' house (and she did this when we were in China, too), mom regularly reacts with shock when I say I'm going to bed (and I go to bed much later when I'm not going to work the next day). There was one time in particular, when I had a miserable cold and at about 10pm said that I was going to bed. Mom replied in an incredulous tone, "you're going to bed?? now??"

I've come to understand that what I see as taking care of myself mom sees as pampering. It's a fine line, I know. Who do I think I am, trying to get enough sleep? The value of trying to get to bed by 10ish because I wake up at 5am is a matter of perspective: I see it as smart and responsible. Mom sees it as lazy.

So, whenever I for any reason don't answer the phone after, say, 7pm, mom leaves a message saying I must have gone to sleep (or asking if I have), although this is rare because she likes to call just around 10pm. This has backfired, as I've taken to turning my phone off around 9:30pm so that she can't wind me up when I should be winding down. The other day, after I turned my phone off earlyish, she left me a message that, if I didn't know better, would have led me to believe that she had drunk dialed: she yelled her phone number in an especially jubilant voice. Yes, my outgoing message does request the user to leave a name and number. No, this is not meant to be taken literally by people whose numbers are programmed into my phone. Still, I'm not complaining; I'm hoping that jubilant mom is here to stay and mean mom remains in hiding for a while.

See Jon Stewart discuss what is and is not passive aggressive:

Sunday, July 27, 2008


A judge in New Zealand sets a welcome precedent.

In "The Eureka Hunt: Where in our brains do insights come from?" in the New Yorker, which is sadly not online, Jonah Lehrer vindicates ADD (well, my kind, not the clinical kind).

This is brilliant. The concept, I mean; I haven't tried the recipes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Who's on first?

Mom called me at work (well, she called me on my cell, and I heard it ring and picked up; she doesn't actually have my work number).

Mom: How about Rome in November? There are packages for $999.
A.: I don't think I can do it, mom...
Mom: Rome is beautiful...
A.: I understand. Work-wise, I don't think I can swing it.

To her credit, mom recognized that I sounded busy, and said we'd talk that evening. By the time I called that evening, I didn't even remember what I was calling about.

A.: What did you ask me this morning?
Mom: What?
A.: Oh, yeah, Rome. I just can't do it.
Mom: Rome is beautiful.
A.: I believe it.
Mom: I joined a gym.

Mom discusses the gym for a while. The location, the classes, the price. After all that, she adds, "your father's not interested. Right, V.?"

Dad: I'm not really up for a trip to Italy.
Mom: Who's talking about Italy? I'm talking about the gym.

A while ago, we had a pretty painful conversation about photo sharing. I opted not to blog about it because it bordered on making fun of computer skills, which I won't do. I thought against blogging it to make fun of logic. Now I've changed my mind.

Several weeks ago:
Mom: How do you use Picasa? Are your photos online or on your computer?
A.: Both.
Mom: So they're public albums?
A.: I have some of both.
Mom: Why are public albums better?
A.: Huh?
Mom: Nina told Misha [her father] to make his albums public.
A.: She probably couldn't access them. You can only see private albums by invitation.
Mom: So why are public albums better?
A.: It depends on what you're trying to do with them.
Mom: Why did Nina tell Misha to change his albums?
A.: I don't know. You'll have to ask her.

Several iterations of this. I don't recall the exact back-and-forth.

Earlier this evening:
Mom: How did you share your China photos?
A.: Through Picassa.
Mom: Are they private or public?
A.: Public.
Mom: Why are they public.
A.: So I can share them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Now that's service

I always cringe when I hear celebrities-- or anyone, really-- tell people to give to the Red Cross. They're not a well-managed organization, even post the controversial Elizabeth Dole reforms. There are plenty of agencies that do the same work better.

Nor is their blood donation work beyond reproach. I've known that for a while, but I got very nervous when the Times came out with this article to remind me a couple of days before I was to give blood.

I'd given several times many years ago but stopped, largely because I'd felt lightheaded afterward and also because the FDA kept changing the travel restrictions. However, I figured I'd give it another try, since I'm now significantly heavier than the minimum weight, whereas the previous times I hovered around it.

I was relieved when the blood donation (which came to the office) was not run by the Red Cross. It was done entirely by medical professionals rather than volunteers, which was reassuring.

I got light-headed and nearly passed out, and did throw up. Hopefully that's a result of not having given in a while-- I'll try again in a couple of months. They handled it well, took good care of me.

Today, they called to check up on me. How nice is that? How professional is that? I'm impressed.


It's always bugged me when someone sitting on an inside seat on the metro says, "this is me" when they'd like you to move so they can get out. I believe the phrase they're looking for is, "excuse me."

"This is me" is a statement. If you would like me to do something, it would behoove you to make (or imply) a request.

This morning, the woman sitting next to me said, "this is my stop." I almost said, 'and?'

I bet your mom never asked you this

A.: Hello?
Mom: A., what's a "boner"?
A.: Huh??
Mom: What's a "boner"?
A.: You're watching the Daily Show?
Mom: Yes.
A.: It's...[pause] it's an erection.
Mom, laughing: Oh! [Aside] V., it's an erection. [To phone] That segment was well done.
A.: Yes, it was.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday morning roundup

Some people actually think this went well?? File under 'if you're not enraged, you're not paying attention.' Why not skip a step, maybe take a page from WWII Poland?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Day at the lake does mom good

A.: Hello?
Mom: We wanted to let you know that the photos arrived today.
A.: Oh, good! What did you think?
Dad: Eighty, ninety percent aren't bad.
A.: Well... that's good.
Mom: We haven't really gotten a chance to look at them-- we just looked through quickly. We just got back. I just wanted to say thank you.
A.: You're welcome.
Mom: You know, we keep seeing your Office in the news... finding one thing or another. I never saw it before but now I always notice it, almost every day. We just saw it again tonight.
A.: Really? What were we doing?
Mom: This one was about education.
A.: I haven't seen it, I'll check it out.

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It was a change I could believe in.


My phone rings; the caller ID shows mom's cell phone.

A.: Hello?
Mom: You know, I think about you every time I use this hammock. [I gave it to her]. Today, it's just perfect. I'm right over the lake, and the water is crystal-clear and clean. It's a perfect day to be over the lake.

[Mom waxes poetic about how perfect the lake is for a few more minutes, all under the premise of thanking me for the hammock].

Mom: What about you? Where are you?
A.: Home...
Mom: Is it at least cool in your house?
A.: It's not bad...
Mom: Do you have AC or fans.
A.: Fans.
Mom: Oh, okay. It's so perfect here by the lake.

It's not a cliche

Don't waste food.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ooh, can I try?

This is one bandwagon I don't want to miss. I'll start with...

Stuff Mom likes
Google (the idea of my working there, not its search capabilities)
Intelligent Design
Bill O'Reilly
Spam (as in e-mail; of the cheesy list, not the enlarge-your-penis, variety)
Lakes you can swim in
Picking mushrooms
Complaint letters (that other people have to write)
Asking questions
Tiger preserves
The mango passionfruit frozen dessert at Trader Joe's
Jim Cramer
Thinking out loud
Her camcorder
Yelling at people
A.J. Wright, other discount stores with mounds of stuff she never knew she needed
Vitamin supplements
New age books

Stuff I like
Google (the search engine, etc.)
The Daily Show
The Colbert Report
Project Runway
Killing mosquitoes
Robin Givhan's column
Garlic presses; kitchen gadgets as a whole
Lakes you can swim in
Picking mushrooms
The sea
Screened-in porches
The Zoolander soundtrack
Board games
Not driving to work
Grape Leaves

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

(Please don't) behold the evidence

You may be thinking-- I mean that as a rhetorical device; I don't actually presume that you're thinking about this-- that with all this blogging, I have plenty of time to call my parents.

Speaking of calling one's Jewish mother, do check out this Daily Show clip if you missed it the first time around:

If you have a slow internet connection, about two minutes in, Jon Stewart says:
Among the other couples were these two women, married by a rabbi, who celebrated with the traditional breaking of a glass. Now, I’m going to say something here: I don’t have a problem with them having children because they are gay, but I am concerned for the welfare of any child with two Jewish mothers.

This is followed by, in an impression, 'Your mother's right, call your mother'.

I think what I failed to convey yesterday, to her and to you, is that I don't find calling mom to be a chore. I don't want it to be a chore. But when she starts going on about how I need to do it every day, even if I don't have anything to say-- in which case, reporting a bunny sighting in the yard will do-- it becomes a chore. How about I just call when I want to talk? Which I usually do once or twice a week. And if I don't have to roll my eyes as I reply to the same questions, call after call, the conversation won't seem "formal."

There are a couple of other things going on here:

-I am an only child. I learned to be happy without the company of others 90% of the time (as Jay says, 'it's the other 10% that's a bitch'). That translated into a preference for alone time, much of the time. Especially when I'm tired-- which I am every weeknight-- I like to be alone. I like to not talk to people. Yes, I technically have time to call my mother. But I don't want to. And as I've said above, I don't want calling my mother to turn into a chore (even though she apparently does).

-My mother contributed to this. I don't begrudge my mother for having other things to do when I was a child, but there were a lot of times when she would promise to spend time with me and then when the time came, go on about how much stuff she had to do around the house. Which is why I learned to be satisfied with my own company. I can genuinely say that I hold no resentments against her. What has stayed with me from those days, though, is a dread of Home Depot or whatever the local equivalent was in those days-- Grossman's, I believe. I was dragged there all the time and I HATED it. The aversion to DIY persists to this day.

-Mom is not helping her cause by a) regularly insulting me and displaying an almost knee-jerk derision of any decisions I make or events in my life, or b) demonstrating a proclivity for soundbite-level discussion at the expense of interactive discourse.

Does it ever occur to her that one reason I'm not more forthcoming about details of my life is because of that derision? Recall that conversation on the way to China:

A.: I may be eligible for student loan repayment through my job.
Mom: Oh-- I had to explain to the MA attorney general's office again about the Verizon issue. It just shows that the government is full of idiots.

Also recall this episode from the holidays (abridged):

A.: I've been offered a job that I've wanted for ages. I'm very excited.
Mom: What's wrong with the job you have now? Have you alienated everyone there with your abrasive personality?


A.: I adopted a cat.
Mom: Oh, no. What were you thinking?

As you may figure, I could go on.

As for the discourse issue, I talked a little about that yesterday. Mom is easily threatened and falls back on ad hominem arguments; gets angry; interrupts; and doesn't listen. This does not make for interesting discussions. You may recall the time she got so worked up over a conversation about the teaching of evolution in public schools that she turned red, looked frantically around for something, found some crumbs of feta cheese on her plate, and hurled them at my father.

I hope I have addressed any mystery as to why I don't really feel like calling my mother.

There are many ironic aspects to my mother's concern that I don't have friends, the sharpest, perhaps, being that I have a blog, which my friends read (at least some of the time).

Here's another thing: If I didn't have friends-- all other things held constant-- I'd have a much easier time losing weight. If people didn't invite me to barbecues, brunches, happy hours, dinners, nights out, or parties-- especially chocolate-tasting parties and apple pie making parties--it would be so much easier to eat healthily all the time. If my company were truly insufferable, surely people wouldn't invite me to partake in drinks and fries in honor of their birthdays, or offer me their perfectly baked cookies or fruit-accompanied ice cream? 'They're just being polite,' she would say-- but that doesn't hold up to logic, since I'd never know if I were excluded.

Don't misunderstand-- I'm not saying there aren't those that would find me (or anyone else) tiresome, overbearing, or just boring. I'm not saying I'm the most popular person in the world and that everyone wants me at their party.

I'm saying I have friends. Who do want me at their party. And don't find me tiresome, or overbearing, or boring. The evidence is right around my hips.

the burden of proof

Parents that go around like they're God's gift to the world, because they are parents, are missing a key point: they are guilty until proven innocent.

No, you cannot take up the entire street or aisle with your stroller because you have a child. Until your child shows signs of contributing to society, it is just an enormous element of your carbon footprint.

Go ahead and have eleven kids, if the eleventh grows up to bring us the Colbert Report. Hell, if he or she turns out to be a fantastic social worker, that's great, too. But until then, get over yourself and stop blocking passageways. Oh, and another thing: unless you live in a country that quashes your reproductive rights (which we will not let happen here, because we will all vote in November), or you belong to a sect, etc., please don't bitch about having to support that kind of brood.

On that topic, I have a few things to say to those of you who have enormous cars. It's about time your wallets felt the real cost of your decision.

I'm not going to get self-righteous on you. I'm not one of those clever cyclists who puts a $00.00 gas sign sticker on her bike. I know that many people don't have a =choice in how much they drive. I know that some vulnerable people are hurting.. As for the rest of you, however, who do have a choice in where to live and what kind of car to buy, I don't want to hear it.

The same goes for food prices. I am not happy about rising food prices, and I know that many people are profoundly affected. However, there are also people who just need to STFU. You're not entitled to steak, for which you have not been bearing the real cost and still don't. Get yourself some canned, or even dry beans and some whole grains, and move on with your life.

Another anecdote from Martha:

Sometimes I go to the Fresh Pond Starbucks to grade papers during the school day, to avoid distractions from the younger population. I was there in June, sitting at a table, my papers stacked on the table. A father (presumably) came in with two kids, probably around four (girl) and six (boy). While he stood in line, the kids sat on the floor at opposite ends of the store and proceeded to roll a ball back and forth. Several people gave the father glances, but he didn't do anything. When he'd gotten the food (and a newspaper!), he sat down to read and ignored his kids. The boy kept going to fetch straws (to construct something out of them) and kept walking up against my table to do so. A couple of times he hit some papers, and I'd have to pick things up. Then the kids proceeded to climb from chair to chair, table to table, now with their shoes off, playing some sort of "don't touch the floor" game. When the boy tried to climb onto my table, I spoke to him. The father ignored me. I finally was fed up and spoke to the father, trying to be friendly enough, but it got nastier. This is what I remember:

me: You could take them to a park. There are some close by.
him: They're fine here.
me: They're bored. You could play with them or talk to them.
him: Don't tell me how to parent.
me: But they're disruptive to other customers, and you're ignoring them.
him: That's my choice. Don't tell me what to do.
me: I wish you luck when they're teenagers. I can only imagine.

He was pissed at me. The other customers nodded approvingly, and the kids quieted down and "read" a book together, which proved my point that kids appreciate some guidance. Like, Liam today on the train tried to sit between two adults (both reading) when there were plenty of other open seats available. I moved him. He initially protested but got it when I explained that he might "bump" one of the passengers, given how squirmy he is, and that's it's polite to leave space between people on the train whenever possible.

Check out more coffeeshop drama here.


1. Check out the new Jibjab
Send a JibJab Sendables® eCard Today!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

prototypical phone call turns serious

This phone conversation started out with lots of the typical stuff (no lakes in DC, huh?) and quickly evolved into mom's saying that we're drifting apart because I don't call enough.

It's Tuesday night; we talked Sunday night, as you may recall.

A.: Hi.
Mom: V.!!!! V.!!!!
A.: Could you not scream into the phone, please?
Mom: Well, then I would have to get up to call your father. Fine.
[Slightly less thunderously] V.! V.!
Dad: Hi.
A.: Hi.
A.: Did the photos arrive?
Mom: What photos? The pictures of the cat? What's her name again? I haven't had time to look at those. Is this why you've finally called, after all this time?
A.: The print photos?
Mom: What print photos?
A.: Photos from China.
Mom: You sent photos?
Dad: Who will they be coming from?
A.: Shutterfly.
Mom: What?
A.: Shutterly
Mom: What company?
A.: Shutter. Fly.
Mom: What does this company do?
A.: It develops photos.
Mom: You actually had photos developed?
A.: Yes. Well, technically, I had some printed.
Mom: Why?
A.: Sigh.

Mom: Have you gone swimming?
A.: Do we need to go over this every time?
Mom: Yes. I'm reminding you.
A.: Thank you.

Dad: What are you reading?
A.: A book called "Nudge." It's about the psychology of choice architecture and decision making-- for example, the way people are much less likely to opt out of something, like a 401k plan, than opt into it, holding the substance of the choice constant. Wendy gave it to me.
Mom: I've read some of that stuff, it's pretty shallow.
A.: It's based on solid research, I assure you. Especially that example.
Mom: I don't know about that.
Dad: What's Wendy up to these days?
A.: Right now she's driving across the country. She and her husband are moving to Pennsylvania.
Mom: Where?
A.: Central Pennsylvania.

Mom talks about the Poconos; dad points out to her that the Poconos are nowhere near central Pennsylvania. They somehow get into a "so what?"/"I'm just saying" argument.

Mom: So, you're not going anywhere for work?
A.: I will tell you when I know where I'm going for work.
Mom: Who are you friends with these days? Have you forged close, deep friendships at work?
A.: I don't know about 'deep'. I mean, I've been there not quite six months and I spend the vast majority of my time there working. I do have friends at work... I'm also friends with the same people I've been friends with for years.

This is not the first time that my mother has auditioned the concern that I don't have any friends. I think she is genuinely convinced that I don't have friends (after all, I have that overbearing personality) and that I ran away from my former job because I didn't get along with people there, because of my abrasive personality. I'm not sure how to best reassure her that I do, indeed, have friends.

I do feel increasingly good about work. I feel like I'm settling in and finding my way around. I think I've said as much in past conversations but she's not terribly interested.

Anyway, then things got weird.

Mom: I feel that our conversations have gotten formal. It's because we don't talk often enough. I think you should call more.
A.: Or, you could call me when you want to talk. Really, most of the time during the week, making a phone call is the last thing on my mind. I'm mostly focused on getting ready for the next day.
Mom: Me, too.

Yes, I suppose I could sacrifice the forty minutes I spend watching the Daily Show and Colbert Report, but then I would go crazy.

Mom: If you don't have time, what difference does it make who calls?
A.: What difference does it make who calls, anyway? If you want to talk, call me. I don't call, because I usually don't have much to say.
Mom: Even if you just share the little stuff, the mundane stuff. Like, when you see a bunny in the yard.
A.: I told you the other day that I saw a bunny in the yard. Honestly, mom, I'm just in my own world on weeknights. Cycling takes more time. I'm exhausted and famished. I clean up, eat, get my stuff together for the next day, watch some tv, read a bit if I have any brainpower left-- which I usually do not-- and go to bed, later than I should given what time I get up.

All that is true. One or two nights I week, I do go out and spend time with friends, but this is about as much as I can take, and it's worth it but it wears me out. Am I allowed to spend time with the friends my mother doesn't think I have?

There is also what is true but is not said, like I don't want to share the mundane stuff because who the f* cares. It's one thing to say "there's a bunny in the yard" when we're already on the phone; it's another to call to report a bunny sighting, when the bunny is there every day.

I didn't say, 'Why do you find our conversations "formal"? Maybe because you don't listen so you can ask me the same questions on every phone call-- have I been swimming? Am I traveling for work? Do I have AC or ceiling fans? Because you cut off any chance of a substantive conversation? When we were talking about "Nudge," could you have maybe said anything other than, "nope, that's all BS"? Or even supported "that's all BS" with some interesting data?'

I really, really care about my parents and enjoy talking to them, but I don't have enough to say for daily conversation; I couldn't HANDLE daily conversation with mom; and I really am busy and tired. Yes, I blog, and yes I read a lot of news--staying informed to me is as important as exercise. I can't just make stuff up.

I know that the demands on me are different than those of, say, a single mother, or most mothers, or people working multiple jobs (and perhaps also parenting at the same time). There are many people in this world busier and more tired than I am. Nonetheless, I am busy, and usually exhausted. Mom just doesn't appreciate that. She won't admit to herself or anyone else that, being retired, she has free time and a bit more leeway in terms of how she spends her weeknights.

But I didn't say any of this.

Mom: So, do you still go to the gym?
A.: Less so. I go to the one at work now, but usually not on days that I bike.
Mom: Why the one at work?
A.: Because it's there...
Mom: What does biking have to do with not going to the gym?
A.: I don't usually feel the need to go to the gym on days that I cycle twenty miles.
Mom: I just feel that our conversations are increasingly formal.
A.: I don't know what to tell you. I don't feel that are conversations are formal. We can work on that. But I'm not going to call you every day.

We sort of left it there. I also realized later that, naturally, once a weeknight conversation is approaching or has gone past the time I should start getting ready for bed, I'm not exactly going into great detail about my activities or asking my parents about theirs. I can see how at that point the conversation would get "formal."

I'm wondering whether to point out to mom that it's a power thing. Why else would she need me to call her every day, rather than, say, calling me if she wants to talk? There are other things I can point out to my mother, in the vein of 'what's the point of telling you things when you don't listen' and 'I don't go out of my way to tell you about how work is going because you're just going to disparage it.' Maybe it's time to have those conversations.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Blair Witch jogging suit

Mom called me at 9:20pm.

Mom: You're not asleep yet?

One of these days, it will occur to me to ask why she calls when she thinks I may be asleep.

A.: No.
Mom: Could you call me on Skype?
A.: Why?
Mom: I want to show you this jogging suit I bought you.
A.: Could we do this later?
Mom: Well, I'd like to know whether I should return it.
A.: Sure.


Mom takes a few minutes to figure out how to make the camera work. It takes Dad several iterations to understand that they are not able to see me because I don't have a camera. I can't really see the jogging suit; the resolution isn't great, especially because their handling of the camera is Blair-witch like. I don't bother saying that I don't need a jogging suit-- we all know how those conversations go. I ask them to stop moving it because it's giving me a headache. It's nice to see them on camera, once the camera stopped moving.

We're lucky the guy didn't end up in Gitmo

Kristoff on Three cups of tea.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I'm not talking about the Museum of Fine Arts

Speaking of ROFLMFAO, I'm going to enlist your support with the MFA part.

You see, Wendy gave me for my birthday "Nudge," by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. It's fascinating and practical. In fact, it's where I first learned about the uncoolest t-shirt study.

I also learned that you are more likely to stick to your plans if you share them with other people. Keeping a food diary hasn't helped me much, so I'm going to bring my food diary online, Bridget Jones' style. Except that I don't smoke. Or drink that much. Or consume Cadbury dairy milks. And I probably won't bore you with the details. But I will bore you with the transgressions.

It's hard for me to pinpoint the moment that things got out of control, because I did not used to weigh myself a lot. I know that when I went to the doctor just before I went to Portugal, i.e., September 2005, I weighed 110; around anti-Valentine's day 2006, I remember weighing 107; and a year later, I remember weighing Gracie by weighing us both together and subtracting my weight, which was then 112. Whenever I did weigh myself in those days, the number on the scale was always between 107 and 112. Then came Australia, New Zealand and my birthday, and the jump to 118. I started to worry, and I started to weigh myself. That summer (last summer) I got down to 114, and stayed around there through Fall. Then, somehow, I got up to 121, which, according to the CDC, is three pounds from overweight. And I can't get back down. Nor can I get many of my clothes onto MFA.

So I've decided to take this three pounds at a time, from simply unacceptable (the current state of affairs, 121) to less embarrassing (118); not great but it'll do for now (115); and then to 112 (welcome back, my favorite jeans). I am not going to go for 107-- that much I will accept as "I am no longer in my twenties."

This is going to take peer pressure, because I hardly have the restraint on my own.
Here are my rules:

On bike-to-work days: 1,500 calories, 80g of protein, more liberal with the carbs
No-bike or other intense activity days: 1,200 calories, 50 g of protein, fewer carbs
No added sugar 5 days/week

If this fails, it's on to South Beach, which I really don't want to do because I'd like to keep cycling. So help me out. Leave me disparaging comments when I break my own rules. Do whatever you need to do.


telephone conversation

Mom: How have you been?
A.: Pretty good. What about you?
Mom: Overall, good, but I've recently been finding it painful to walk. Everything else is great-- I bought a new tv...
A.: Have you seen a doctor about finding it painful to walk?
Mom: No, I'm going to deal with it myself first. See, the small tv in the kitchen broke...
A.: How long has this been going on?
Dad: I agree that she should see a doctor.
Mom: A doctor would just tell me to wear orthopedic shoes, and orthopedic shoes are so ugly.

I did not make any comments about mom's existing comfortable shoes, nor did I point out that Crocs, for which she has shopped, are the definition of hideous (given the choice between wearing Crocs on my feet and carrying a He-Man thermos, I'd opt for the latter).

Mom: Anyway, I suppose I could have tried to fix it, but I just couldn't figure it out, so I just decided to get a new one. I need a tv in the kitchen.

Mom proceeds to talk about the tv for a few minutes.

Mom: Are you still riding to work?
A.: I haven't over the last couple of days, because I've had a cold.
Mom: A cold? How did you get that?
A.: I'm not sure. It's pretty mild, though.

Has mom always been bewildered by easily explained things, like seasonal colds and 4th of July parties that start a few hours before the fireworks? (See last week's blog.)

Mom: Are you going to Oklahoma?
A.: I don't know, it's still up in the air. I'll let you know when I have more details.

This, too, has been going on for years. Mom asks me about upcoming business travel; I tell her it's likely but I don't have details. I'm no happier than she is about not really being able to plan ahead, but that's just the way it is. My supervisor opted out of a trip to the west coast with her family because she, too, is unsure of when we'll be traveling for work (and, I suppose, what in general will be going on with work). The where/when exchanges with mom got old a while ago; I don't understand how they haven't gotten old for her. If I give her any details, she acts upset that I haven't told her before and presses for more details (when, a few weeks ago, I said we might be going to Oklahoma, she asked why I hadn't told her before). Of course, my not having information has never been a reason for mom to stop asking more questions, to which I couldn't possibly know the answers.

Mom: When would you go?
A.: I don't know. I will tell you when I have more details.
Mom: It's probably hot there.
A.: It's hot here, too.

A.: Oh, I sent you all some China pictures...
Dad: When? We haven't gotten anything...
A.: I sent actual photos, by snail mail.
Mom: I don't understand... are they on a CD, or DVD, or...
A.: They are printed photos. On paper.
Mom: Why?
A.: Because I'd ordered some for myself and have found them nice to have, and thought you might like some.

It takes a little bit more explaining before the confusion subsides.

The pictures I sent are mostly family photos. I don't think we're all three together in any of them, but there are quite a few of my parents,
and some of me with one of my parents. There is also that one of me with the hippopotamus, which I think is hilarious. He/she was so friendly, just swam up and wanted to play.

The pictures bring back a lot of great memories from the trip, even though it was full of drama and some stress. It's good to remember the fun stuff, so I just thought I'd share.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Masters of the Universe

I don't usually laugh at my own mom stories, largely because they're not very funny to me, even when they don't involve verbal abuse or insult. If they're funny, they're funny in a dry, ironic way, not in the way denoted by that chat term all you cool kids use. ROFLMFAO. There, I found it. I'm not that uncool.

Speaking of uncool, did you know that there was an experiment on the spotlight effect, i.e. one's perception that other people pay much more attention to you than they actually do. Prior to conducting the experiment, they ran some focus groups to determine which personality people would feel most embarrassed to display on one's t-shirt. Who turned out the be the anti-Che? None other than Barry Manilow.

You think I digress, but uncoolness and embarrassment, and perhaps spotlight effect, are quite on topic. I'm getting there.

Anyway, as I was saying, I rarely ROFLMFAO at my mom stories. Even when she complained to me that my high-tech body wash dispenser was inefficient, because too much of the product ended up on the shower walls-- the product being shower cleaner rather than body wash-- my reaction was one of concern and then incredulity rather than hysterical laughter. What was funnier to me than the fact that she actually pushed the button (and expected body wash to come out) was that she a) did not then realize that it was shower cleaner and proceeded to tell me that my body wash dispenser was inefficient and then b) upon my telling her that it was a shower cleaner, proceeded to lecture me on how it was a waste of money.

Then again, sometimes I laugh even when she is insulting me. Remember when I told her that I was going to see "Taming of the Shrew," and she matter-of-factly pointed out that I was a shrew?

Anyway, today I found myself in tears of laughter as I recounted a mom story at work. In a meeting. We were talking about pharmaceutical companies, and the discussion went something like this:

Colleague 1: They're cutting down on their freebies.

Colleague 2: It's just as well, because who wants to carry around a Viagra pen or incorporate into their decor a Cyalis clock.

Colleague 1: My son complained because I tried to send him to school with a Celebrex bag.

A.: My mother once made me... [wiping tears] go to work... [choking on laughter] with a He-Man thermos [wiping tears]. I was living with my parents while I was looking for an apartment in Boston, and every morning it was something else as I tried to get out of the house so I could catch the commuter rail so I could make the boat. It was usually, 'you don't need that sweater, it's hot out' or something. One morning, I was running late and didn't have time to finish my tea, so mom... [laughter, tears] went down to the basement and retrieved... [laughter, tears] a He-Man thermos. It was... [laughter, tears] hideous. It was so embarrassing. I balked, and she accused me of being overly concerned with what people thought. She said... [laughter, tears] the thermos was just fine, she saw nothing wrong with it. I didn't have time to argue with her so I took it. That afternoon I showed it to my friend Heather-- she started braying and then screeching with laughter.

Were I given the choice, I'd rather carry the thermos than wear a Barry Manilow t-shirt.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Revisiting a classic

I hope this is not the first time I direct your attention to Amy Sutherland's piece on reacting to people, with the purpose of changing their behavior, as you would to exotic animals.

I should point out, before I go into how I should apply this approach to dealing with my mother, that I have a terrible time training my cat. She absorbed some lessons quickly, i.e. waking mommy up means getting sprayed. She's had a harder time accepting that pooping outside the litter box means getting waterboarded*. I've tried Sutherland's approach, i.e. ignore bad behavior, reward good behavior; it's only led to more poop.

*Do not take this too literally. Gracie's so fat that I doubt she has strong lungs, and I have no intention of actually harming her. She does get water poured on her head, though. I doubt it's less pleasant for her than cleaning up her poop is for me.

Anyway, enough about Gracie. This is, after all, a mom blog.

In theory, ignoring mom should work well; I've learned that she's very much after a response, and getting one, in her mind, is a victory. Since much of the time she's out to pick a fight, responding would be giving her what she wants, i.e. reinforcing the behavior. To think that I used to approach her fight-picking from an angle of rationality-- if I could just reason with her, we could come to an agreement, no fighting necessary. This doesn't work because my mother thrives on fighting; starting an argument, to her, is winning, no matter how in the wrong she is. Conversely, she stands to lose from listening to reason, and escalating the volume and acrimony at the expense of dialog is a shrewd, if perhaps subconscious, way to avoid reason. It should follow, then, that ignoring her deprives her of a reaction which she could then escalate into a fight.

But you underestimate my mother.

When ignored, she persists. Recall two episodes from China in which I tried to ignore her. The first was on the way over, when I was watching a movie, headphones on, when she decided to launch into one of her favorite topics: how I've never really been good at anything. It went something like this:

Mom: We took you to the museum for art classes. There were dance classes... HEY! Are you listening to me?? I'm talking to you.
A.: No. I'm watching a movie.
Mom: It's the credits.
A.: I'm listening to the music.

I put my headphones back on.

Mom poked me.

A.: What??
Mom: I'm talking to you! We tried tennis...

The second time, I didn't have the benefit of headphones, nor of an already less-than-idyllic environment that I didn't mind spoiled by mom's ranting. We had just disembarked from a ferry on the Shennong Stream and gotten on a rowboat. All around, everything was beautiful.

Mom: That woman's head is huge! How am I supposed to see anything?

I didn't say, um, look to the sides. We're not in a theatre; the landscape is everywhere.

Mom: I can't believe this! She's ruining this whole experience!

Mom: How can she have such a big head!

Mom: It's just not right. Her head is huge.

This went on for a whole minute or more before I said anything.

A.: Could you please stop?
Mom: Her head is huge!
A.: So what? Look around.
Mom: How dare you tell me how to behave?
A.: You're very close to ruining this.
Dad: She has a point.
Mom: Of course you come to her defense!

And so on.

Paying attention to mom reinforces whatever she's doing. I can hardly positively reinforce more agreeable behavior:

"Thank you for going a whole month without reminding me what a failure I am."

"Thank you for not finding something to complain about in every situation. Have some herring."

"Thank you for not sending me any inflammatory, ignorant forwarded e-mails today, just like I've asked numerous times. Would you like some lox?"

Seriously, though... what am I supposed to do? Almost a year ago I took an excellent conflict resolution course that inspired me to be smarter and more strategic in my interactions with my mother. I planned to practice my newly-acquired skills when I visited after the trip to the Canadian Rockies. I don't recall having gotten very far.

Too good to be true?

My sentiments exactly.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Ah, the emotions elicited by the idea of kids on planes. I can't believe this family has the audacity to complain or to take money from police officers.

On to other things that at least should be hard to believe, check out the first installment in a New York Times series. This is awesome:
“One of the things that drew a very wealthy woman to see me was that she was an inadequate tennis player,” Dr. Wolfe recalled. “She was very serious about this. She felt that the other wealthy women she played with would think she was an inadequate person. It’s easier for rich patients to take problems like this seriously.”

I mean, I may fret about a bunch of BS, but I am well aware that it's a bunch of BS. Let me tell you about Monday:
7:00am-- a bug flies into my eye on the way to work and stings me. It hurts.
12:45pm-- I am hightailing it back to the office from the Library of Congress when I maneuver around some slow-walking tourists. I wipe out, ripping a gash in my relatively new wool trousers.
3:00pm-- My dentist's receptionist informs me that she misunderstood my insurance and that I'll have to pay an additional $125 for the crown. And oh, by the way, there will be another $200+ for the buildup procedure. This will bring my dental total to just about $3,000.
3:30pm-- My dentist, having removed the temporary filling over the root canal, discovers that she is missing the screws needed to perform the procedure (this, apparently, is the responsibility of the receptionist). Yes, I really like this dentist.
7:00pm-- I come home after all this and the first thing I have to do is clean up a steaming pile of cat poop off the porch.

In addition to all this, I don't play tennis. It's one of those things that my mom tried to have me learn, but I never took to it (or anything else, as she likes to remind me).

Anyway, my point is, I'd had better days, but even in the midst of it, I knew it was all BS, because none of that really matters.

Which makes me wonder-- do people need something to worry about? Do they not know what to do with themselves if they don't have a focus for their angst?


In other news, I'm once again part of an official category.

Also: I've always thought these people needed a reality check, but especially in light of the conservation fervency gripping the country, you'd think they could get a grip.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Friday, July 4, 2008

Someone needs a drink. I think it's me.

Mom: How was the party?
A.: What party?
Mom: You had a party.
A.: I did?
Mom: A party, at work. It's why you didn't come up.
A.: It wasn't a party. It was a meeting.

I never said "party." And I didn't really say that it was why I didn't come up... I just said that there was a meeting (perhaps I said event, something like that) I had to be at. I didn't come up because I spent three weeks with my parents a few months ago and still need a bit more time before I'm willing to immerse myself in dysfunction. I did have a meeting at work, which ended up being canceled-- but I didn't tell her that.

Side note: I ordered some prints from the China trip, particularly family pictures. It was a good trip, I enjoyed spending time with my parents. It was also stressful and I need some time to myself.

Dad: Do they do fireworks at Lincoln Center?
A.: Lincoln Center is in NYC... Washington has a Kennedy Center. The fireworks are on the Mall...
Dad: Huh?
A.: That big stretch of green, where the museums are...
Dad: Wait a minute-- what about that memorial we went to?
A.: There are lots of memorials in DC...
Mom: No, with the fallen soldiers and where we ran into your friend...
A.: The Lincoln Memorial. Yeah, that was the Lincoln Memorial [the Vietnam veterans' memorial leads up to the Lincoln Memorial].
Mom: You're going there?
A.: No, I'm going to a friend's apartment. There's a great view of the fireworks from the building's roof deck.
Mom: When are you going?
A.: I'll probably head over pretty soon... he's expecting people around 6:30.
Mom: So early! It won't be dark yet.

This is true. However, it's not entirely pointless to sit around and talk to interesting people, even while waiting fireworks.

Mom: There's a reception, or something? What is there going to be?
A., getting a little irritated at mom's need to micromanage a social event that I'll be attending: There's going to be people, and food. What else might there be?
Mom: Don't get snippy! I asked you a question! Answer it in a normal tone of voice.
A.: Okay, sorry.

She has a point. If she could hear herself, though! How does she expect me to answer that question? Perhaps I should have said, "there will be a concert pianist and tables set up for highbrow card games to keep us entertained as we guard our roof deck real estate while we await the fireworks."

If you think my annoyance is unjustified, it is because you don't know my mother. She has a habit of asking very detailed questions, sometimes to which I couldn't possibly know the answers, and sometimes to which the answers would mean nothing to her. This habit comes through when she's listening to a joke:

Fictional joke teller: A man walked into a bar...
Mom: What man?
FJT: Just a man.
Mom: What bar?
FJT: It doesn't matter. A bar.
Mom: Why is he going there?

FJT gives up.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd better go get ready to stake out my roof deck spot.

You have to laugh

The Economist appreciates the value of political humor.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

phone call

Voice message from Mom: A., just calling to say hello. It's about 9pm. Are you already asleep? Give us a call when you get a chance.

One hour later

A.: Hello.
Mom: Hello. Where are you?
A.: Home.
Mom: Where were you? Were you asleep?
A.: I've been home. My phone was silenced-- I had a meeting in the morning and forgot to turn the sound back on afterward.
Mom: How is everything.
A.: Fine...
Mom: What, specifically, is fine? How's the weather? Is it very hot?
A.: Not particularly, it's actually quite pleasant. How are you?
Mom: Fine.

Two minutes later

Mom: How's the weather where you are?
A.: You asked me that two minutes ago.
Mom: I did? What did you say?
A.: Dad, do you remember what I said?
Dad: That it was pleasant.
Mom: Are you going on any business trips?
A.: Very likely, yes.
Mom: Why didn't you tell me!
A.: The details aren't worked out yet.
Mom: Do you know where you'd be going?
A.: Yes [citing three very unexotic locations]
Mom: Oh! Is there flooding there?
A.: No.
Mom: But it's probably very hot.
A.: [Shrug]
Mom: Okay, well, goodnight.
A.: Goodnight.

Not that I'm surprised

An interrogation class at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was based on a 1957 study of Chinese Communist techniques used to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American

pseudo-intellectual drivel

Don't actually read this. It's about as absurd as some of the crap my mom sends me, except from the opposite end of the political spectrum. It came to my inbox through the Smith young alums listserv, which is not supposed to be used for sharing articles, with a note: "this was really powerful for me."

I think it's silly. I'm sorry that this guy doesn't know how to talk to his plumber, but I'm not sure why he needs to blame that on Yale. I'd hate to be one of his students.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hearing voices

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, I recognized my mother's voice in my head. No, I wasn't hallucinating; I was channeling, in a way, and probably not for the first time. I've probably done it my whole life, but I've only recently started to recognize it.

Mom-channeling voice: Hurry up! Why are you taking so long? Why on earth are you making a salad-- how did you get this idea?

A., to self: That sounds like mom talking-- has she infiltrated my mind? I'm not in a hurry. In fact, I think I'll unload the dishwasher.

Different voice: You might want to see someone about the OCD.

Mom-channeling voice: Idiocy! Idiocy!

A., to self: Ignore them. There is no problem? I am not late. I refuse to be in a hurry all the time.

Mom-channeling voice: How does it take you two hours to get ready for work? How? Normal people can be ready in half-an-hour.

A.: I don't have to justify my time management to you. Besides, it's not yet 7am.


I could go on, but I don't think you want me to. The point is, I'm continuing to learn to recognize mom's voice in aspects of my life where it's not constructive. A friend of mine went through this, and recognizing it for what it was helped her turn it down. Sometimes mom is right and/or helpful and the things she taught me are valuable. Other times, it's best to tune out the voice.

Freedom's just another word for...

What's cooler to quote in a judicial ruling, quoting Dylan, Springfield and Simon and Garfunkel or Lewis Carroll?

Also, on standards in education.. I know people who have been promoted for less.