Fairytales


    I’d like to believe that even the most hardened cynic took pause at yesterday’s nuptials across the pond. Yes, it might have been unavoidable; the event was EVERYWHERE. But I think also that there was an appealing draw to it all. Perhaps the collective aura that makes us human wants to believe in princesses and fairytales, in true beginnings-in true love.

    
I know I do.

    
I also want to believe in the anything’s-possible premise that is embodied when a girl from simple beginnings turns from commoner to royalty before a wanting world. 

    
Kate was one of us. Or one of our children, at least. Off to college –the first in her family- with the hopes of having an even better life than the one her parents were able to provide for her. That she met and saw William as classmate first, that they became friends, only offers us further foundation to believe. Maybe this is real. And maybe fairytales do come true. Even to common folk.

    
Peppered among the dignitaries and dynasty-born wedding guests were regular people who might well fit with the likes of us anti-aristocracy Americans. Kate invited her friends and family, but also her butcher, her postman. The barkeep at the local pub.

    
That makes sense to me.

    
Not just the invite to the bartender. Although I’ve always been of the mind that you’d never neglect the guy pouring the drinks. But also the notion of extending invitations to people who matter in your life, even if they might not quite fit into your new one. 

    
I don’t think you judge someone by the size of his wallet or his house. Or where he might have gone to school. Or who his parents are. 

    
I may be naïve, here.




    My husband has a bizarre assortment of acquaintances. He counts among his friends men with big names and big degrees. But also men who can’t read or write. One of his friends is into his seventies and still laboring. Another generally lands in the top 20 list of wealthiest Americans. 

    
He considers them all friends and he talks to them with the same level of deference.

    
I get that, too.




    My own net of friendship isn’t as wide, but I follow a similar conversational route.




    In a recent visit with my nephew, we were talking about brushing elbows with famous people. I explained that in the few instances I’ve found myself in the company of some sort of celebrity, I’ve been pretty unfazed. This coming from someone who can’t speak before large groups, no matter how well I know them. But one-on-one, I’m fine. Even if it’s a pretty big ONE.




    It works the other way for me, as well.




    At the college where I work, the president is frequently onsite. When I see him, I say hey, nod. The same way I do to the man from Physical Plant who I now refer to as Mr. President. He’s always tapping furiously into his blackberry as if he’s awaiting a message from the Pentagon –he must be the president-as he walks the halls and empties my trash.




    I know that this egalitarian bent doesn’t always fit to real world politics or life.
 
    
Even though the college touts its diversity, it’s not. The haves outnumber the have-nots. And although I don’t know how the kids treat one another in class, I know it’s pretty hard to hang together when not everyone can afford the same hang-outs.

    
Money is often a separator. To some extent, it always will be. But while it may divide, it need not define.




    One of my students doesn’t like when someone assumes he knows her just because of what she has. The you-shouldn’t-care-what-people-think speech I offered fell hollow. But she shouldn’t. Self-worth is a way better measuring stick than one that considers dollars as destiny.

    
Kate’s measure of monetary worth might not have reached the benchmark of many of her classmates. Reports say that she left one school as a girl because she was bullied. As parent to a daughter who suffered her share of unsisterly salvos, I cringed at that info.




    But then I thought –to the bullies –your once-victim will someday be your queen. How’s that for wanna be?



Unabbreviated Content


    OMG, LMFAO

    
Using the brevity of acronyms within the hyper speed world of text messaging and Facebook posts makes a lot of sense. It’s quick, to the point, and for the generation which is text typing most of the letters and numbers, it turns their otherwise easily observable messages into secret code: PR911, 4Q, 420, GNOC, PAW. 

    
Secret, that is, until the codes become so universally accepted that even parents are privy to the hidden language. A teen’s worst nightmare, I am sure.

    
The thing is, those teens are not nearly as clever as they think they are. First off, I’d posit that we of another generation may have chiseled out the beginnings to the whole acronym anonymity.  At the close of all those notes being tossed on desks, and handed off in hallways and homerooms long ago, was invariably a script of innocuous letters. Seemingly meaningless, except to the author, and hopefully, the recipient.

    
In my own writing, I was always hesitant to join in on the big-message sentiment of those little letters. AFA –really how did I know if I was going to be their friend ALWAYS? For that matter, what exactly did they mean by friend? 

    
It’s the likes of these memories that make me wonder -did I really over think every uttered syllable and written word? 

    
Probably, yes. 

    
A friend –yes, the real kind- told me not long ago that I was disgustingly deep as a kid. Yeech! Who would want that kind of moniker? But then she assured me, that since she considered herself its opposite back-in-the-day, the tag wasn’t meant as insult, just observation.

    
Of course, I know that it wasn’t merely my literal interpretation of life that left my pen reluctant to scribe. The truth lay more in a self-defense hewn from a risk adverse beginning. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t take chances; I did all the time. I played too much, drove too fast, back-packed solo through Europe, took hang gliding lessons. I often took chances on myself. But rarely on others.

    
I’m better now.

    
Not much.

    
That’s probably why I don’t understand how kids can share so much with so many. On some level, I wish I could. But on another, I wonder if they’re not building themselves up for disappointment that may turn them cynical long before they’re meant to be.

    
How many times, after all, can they put themselves out there unsuccessfully before writing off whole swaths of human interaction? Maybe their walls need not be made of brick, but the structures so many of them have built leave them fully open to elements they may not be prepared to handle. And texting in code is unlikely to prevent overexposure. 

    
Problem is -gauging the measure of risk against reward isn’t easy. People don’t often come with guarantees. Those that claim to are often the ones who come up most sorely lacking. And it’s never a good feeling to be on the other end of an unanswered text with a laid bare message, regardless of the effort to conceal it in code.

    
Me, I’ll take actions over words any day. Weird philosophy for a writer.

    
The people in my own life accept the lack of the BFF and HAK at the bottom of my emails –warm and fuzzy, I’m not. And they’ve probably learned to read a bit into what I don’t say. I don’t say a lot. But at this point in my life, I also don’t make a whole lot of apologies.

    
I have a friend who ends most of our conversations now with I love you, to which I reply in turn. Because I get it. And she gets to remind me with the simple, but powerful sentiment, of what I already know. That in an instant the opportunity to say it can be taken away and that reminding someone you love him isn’t a bad way to say goodbye. Just in case, it’s the last time you can.

    

Ring of Truth



    They come in the middle of the night. Or in the middle of dinner. Or the middle of the day. Or really, in the middle of nothing. 

    But they linger long after their arrival, filling throats with acid and stomachs with lead.

    Sometimes, they come buffered by expectation.

    The phone rings –and you know.


 


    It was inevitable; you were practically waiting for it.

    But its inevitability rarely makes it any easier. Or maybe it does.

    I’ve gotten both –the expected phone call, the one which comes with its own knowing sigh. Sometimes accompanied by whispers of its blessing.

    And then I’ve received that other type –out of the blue, horrific both in its message and its delivery.
 
    There is no easy way to give bad news, horrible news. Of illness and accident. Of life-altering events. Of life-endings.

    No way to receive those phone calls, either. Silence, disbelief, anger. Grief.

    And the worst of them return to you, with visceral vividness, at the worst of times. Again and again.

    Their memory can be reignited by a glance to a calendar page, a line from a song, the breath of an otherwise gentle breeze. 

    I hate those phone calls. Not only because of the news they bring. Everyone hates bad news. But also, because they hold such power. A ring, the banal tune of a too-chipper ringtone. And then at the other end of the line, awkward phrasing, or incomprehensible utterings choked through tears, or even well-articulated speeches. They all sound the same, the voices usually muted, but the messages blaring.

    In those few minutes, seconds often, everything changes.

    The world is set suddenly atilt, off its axis. Priorities are cataclysmically shifted –forever. Nothing will ever be the same.

    It’s not right and it’s not fair. 

    My friend who probably believes in more than I do asked today –Why do people die too young and why do kids get sick? 

    And she waited for an answer –as if anyone had one.

    It sucks. Way worse than kids. Way worse than all the day-to-day crap in which we all get mired. 

    And often news of it all comes through today’s hyperlinked technology –with lightening speed. In a text message or a Facebook post or an IM or machine message. 

    Or a phone call.

    I hate those phone calls.

Friend Me


    I think Hallmark may have hyped the notion of friendship a bit too much.

    
Inflated the premise and oversold its availability to the masses.

    
Or maybe it was those afterschool specials and sappy sitcoms.




    Or the mean girl movies in which good prevailed and true friends stood solid.

    
Something has given our kids a misguided view of where they’ll find real friends and just what they’ll look like.

    
Perhaps the culprit is Facebook –so much else is blamed on the social networking site.




    Eight hundred and eighty-three friends -Seriously?

    
I used to cringe when my husband came home from a business meeting referring to his friends in attendance.




    Those aren’t friends- they’re business associates,
I would practically shout every time.

    
And I was often surprised at the reaction of those newly moved to town who were disappointed by the no-entry cliques that were too reminiscent of high school for my liking. I was never really sure why the newbies wanted in to the select town circles. Did they really think those people jockeying to get their own kids on the best soccer teams were going to pull another’s kid along?

    
One of my students was recently disappointed by her so-called friends. After what she saw as a betrayal, she said she was now going to trust no one.

    
Ouch.




    In talking her off the ledge, I assured her that this new philosophy was extreme.




    And then I delved a bit into just what her expectations of her friends were. But before I reached that bar, I had to ask –who she considered to be her friends? How many did she have? And the question which spoke more to my own philosophy than hers –how many exactly did she think she deserved?

    
I brokered my own response before she had a chance to answer. If you can count your close friends on a single hand, consider yourself lucky, I told her.

    
She is lucky. And she knows this. And she also acknowledges that she was perhaps misguided to label every acquaintance on even a small college campus as friend. Because not every project partner or kindred classmate is a friend. Tight living quarters don’t make tight friendships. And slurpy sentiments proffered at local bars are often forgotten before the sticky floors have been mopped dry.  

    
My daughter’s been tricked too many times by the illusion of friendship. At 21, I think she’s finally getting a sense of what she needs from the people in her life. And just how much she’s willing to give in return. Her foundation of friendship rests, in part, on membership in a sorority. When she first considered joining, I have to admit I wasn’t entirely on board. It wasn’t just the what-would-I-do voice in my head; it was that other, much louder voice of parental caution. She’d been hurt before –by girls- and the thought of such a large assemblage of them struck me as that many more chances for pain.




    I was wrong.

    
Theta Phi Alpha has given Alex the friends she missed out on in high school. And I think they may be true friends. But it doesn’t really matter what I think. It’s what she believes that counts here. Time will tell. Alex has always been quick to jump into new friendships, but quick also to abandon them when they didn’t measure up. In Theta Phi, loyalty is a requirement of membership. 

    
My student is under no such contractual obligation to give her own friends a second chance.




    But she will.




    Or at least she will to those who now fit her narrower construction of the word.




    She doesn’t know it yet, but that definition is likely to grow narrower still.




    Because I’m that old, I’ve had friendships as old as my student. And I can vouch for the genuineness of them because they’ve stood the test of time. I could teach her much about what constitutes a true friend.

    
But I won’t.




    She’ll figure it out -she’s smart. Although it isn’t often one’s intellect that speaks most loudly where matters of the heart are concerned. And a true friendship is indeed its own sort of love affair. In fact, most friendships last longer than love affairs; many outlast marriages.  

    
So while I’ll pass on giving advice on the girls in my student’s life, I will tell her that when she’s choosing a boy to try seeing first if he measures up as a friend. Because not only is that a great place to start, it’s also not a bad place to end.

Still Waters Run Rough

 



    My son wants to borrow the canoe.                    


    I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal. Not really.


    He’s almost 17, knows how to swim, would actually don the lifejacket at the first sign of turbulent water in the passive Ipswich River. And, even though he might disagree, he’s not that much of a risk taker.


    All good.


    But.


    A few buts, actually. Big buts.


    First of all, the canoe caretaker is daddy. And it’s pretty unlikely that dad is going to willingly hand over the oars anytime soon.


    See, Michael’s track record with daddy and canoes –Not so good.


    Two episodes stand out, neither of which involved our canoe, but in both cases daddy swears Michael shaved a decade off dad’s life span. 


    In Michael’s first canoe adventure, I was away for a girls’ weekend. Dad was in charge.


    For most of you, this sounds like a benign lead-in. For those of you who know the dad-in-question, there’s likely an “uh-oh,” sputtering through your brain.


    As it turns out, “uh-oh” is the accurate response.


    In my defense, though, my weekend escape was neither. It was less than 48 hours, did not occur over a weekend and I was only 120 miles away from home. This was not me selfishly jetting away from it all. And Michael was supposed to be in school for most of the daylight hours. Dad’s on-call duty should have been minimal.


    But.


    New England’s weather is fickle. Okay, that’s an understatement -particularly with regard to this specific March Monday/Tuesday weather event .


    I really don’t understand why the kids got out early on the Monday, but clearly with the school underwater, classes were canceled on Tuesday.


    Underwater, no school, canoe. You get where this might be going?


    In dad’s defense, I may have made onnnnnne tiny error before I went AWOL.


    I turned off Michael’s phone. Don’t ask why. That’s a whole other story.


    But , and I don’t want to make myself sound ancient with this statement: people actually did manage to communicate with one another before cell phones. Honest. Children would leave their homes, go out for the day, and –believe it or not- return. It happened all the time when I was a kid hanging around with the dinosaurs. And we didn’t use smoke signals or flares. We just went out and came back. Okay, in the case of my brothers and me, we often returned at the piercing call of my father’s whistle echoing through the neighborhood. Or we simply adhered to the streetlight dictate –they came on, we went in. By the time I was 17, though, I was on my own.


    And on this particular day, so was Michael.


    Well, not entirely on his own. It was Michael, Sunshine (a boy, not the star)a canoe and a town flooded with water. Lots of water. 

    They literally did laps around the high school track –in the canoe.


    How cool.   


    And maybe that should have been the parental reaction. One hundred year history was being made and Michael was able to grab himself a front row perch, albeit from the seat of a canoe. He spent the day communing with nature and creating memories that will no doubt last his lifetime and beyond.


    Harmless fun.


    Save for one little issue.


    Dad didn’t know where he was.  


    This is where their version of events differs. Michael swears he informed dad when he was leaving; dad says no such communication occurred.


    And oh yeah, did I mention Michael had no phone?


    Or that his dad invariably jets to worst-case-scenario where his kids are concerned?


    On the ride home from New Hampshire I noticed that my own cell phone was on vibrate. I hadn’t heard it for awhile. And by awhile, I mean to the tune of 26 missed calls. Seriously.


    Dad was freaking out and apparently didn’t appreciate doing it alone. When I got on scene, I was able to talk him out of calling the police and summoning the scuba teams.


    Long story short: Michael survived.


    So did dad -barely.


    In the second episode, I have to admit that even I was edging around the panic position. To the extent that  I said yes when the parents of the other boy asked if it might be time to call the authorities. But by that hour, Michael had been gone for nearly twelve, had been radio silent for six and was almost three hours overdue on his dock time.


    We were burning daylight, as his dad kept reminding me. And we knew Michael was in the water –somewhere. We just didn’t know where. The last news update was that he had successfully canoed to the ocean. Hardly info that would quell rising nerves.


    Again, he survived. In fact, his next morning Facebook post referred to the best day ever, and boasted of his river run to Crane Beach.


    Wonderful.


    And my friends wonder why I often say my son is trying to kill me? Actually, my friends don’t ask any more –most of them have teenagers of their own. They merely agree: they’re all trying to kill us.


    So while I fully support Michael’s notion of a leisurely run on our local river, I can’t really blame dad’s reluctance at bringing the canoe home from the office. With the 20 years Michael’s already trimmed off dad’s life clock, time is ticking pretty furiously. And while Michael may have some motivation to get dad further out of his life, dad has no real desire to hasten his own demise. Because even dad agrees now, Michael is trying to kill us.