Monday, May 31, 2010

Just who do I think I am?

My husband is an artist and a very good one at that. He was fortunate enough to be born that way. He spent five and a half years in college honing his God-given talent. (Okay, so maybe some of that time was spent doing things on his parents’ dime that are better left unsaid.) His gift has put food on our table for the last twenty years, and Elmo faces in chalk on the driveway for the last ten or so.

He is very protective of his art, his passion, but something he said to me a few years back has been stuck in my head lately. He was lamenting over how the invention of PowerPoint and Photoshop makes everyone think they are the next Picasso. He was preaching from his soapbox over folks who think that all they have to do is choose a cutesy font from the drop-down box, import a picture from clipart, and “Voila!” It is art! It makes someone with his level of talent seem cheapened, less relevant. Now, I find that I am in the same situation, only I am not the artist. I am the imposter.

I have been feeling a strong, somewhat urgent need to call myself on the carpet lately. My gut is telling me to apologize to everyone out there who dreamed as a child to be a writer, and gave up their blood, sweat and tears to make the dream happen. For every creative writing student who spent years crafting stories, churning out inventive ideas, and suffering through painful critiques for the privilege of walking across the stage and accepting that long-awaited diploma, cementing what they knew in their heart to be true – that they are writers – I can only say that I am sorry for pretending to be one of you. Please understand that I know deep down how I am simply a wannabe, a hobby-less wannabe with an insatiable need to share my every waking thought with the universe.

The internet has created a new lackluster genre of writing: bloggers. Every other person you see at Target considers themselves to be a talented author because they have their own page on Anyone with a Google account is suddenly Ernest Hemingway. Every middle-aged mom who fires off a witty one-liner from time to time is now Erma Bombeck. Every slightly unstable comic book fanatic who lives in his mom’s basement now honestly believes that the world will cease turning without his expert commentary on the latest Iron Man installment. And I am but a foot soldier in this Army of Mediocrity.

I know there are some very entertaining bloggers out there who deserve praise. Many award-winning writers have even taken to blogging themselves. This is a boon for those of us whose favorite authors bless us weekly with their work. No more waiting for the next novel to be released, just a few clicks and our literary monkey on the back is satisfied. There are even bloggers out there who have found fame and fortune through their daily musings. One of my favorite chick lit writers, Jen Lancaster, ended up on the New York Times best seller list after she took to blogging over her current state of unemployment from the corporate world and then turned it into a series of hilarious memoirs of her seemingly regular life. However, I am no Jen Lancaster. Heck, I am fairly certain that I wouldn’t even qualify to pen the obituaries for the local newspaper if you really want to be honest about it.

Lately, I have been asking myself why on Earth I think other people want to know about my high school prom escapades or my dollar store expeditions. I haven’t come up with a good answer yet. Maybe my goal here is just to make folks realize that they aren’t nearly as goofy as I am, and somehow make them feel better about their own shortcomings. Maybe, the four or five people who read my blog will be grateful that their mom is still around and that they don’t have three disrespectful dogs under foot who bark at the wind.

I feel such a rush of relief now that my intentions are clear. I am not operating under the delusion that I am the next Jane Austen or even J.K. Rowling for that matter. I have a blog like a gazillion other people, and, like a gazillion other people, I should probably just step away from the internet and go read a real book or clean the toilet. Furthermore, any and every person out there can reconstruct a memory or whine over a mountain of laundry just as well or better than I can – probably better. All you have to do is one thing: Start typing.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Our Modern Day Confessional

I have publicly admitted in the past to being a shameless Facebook junkie. Although the shiny-ness has worn off a bit for me, I still rest easier at night knowing that your laundry is finally finished (“Whew!”) and that your harvest in Farmville was a rousing success. Many nights I find that stalking your photo albums and friend lists is far more entertaining than anything I might find on television. (Note: If you are over thirty and still posting drunken, bleary-eyed party pictures, you may want to re-think the path you’ve chosen…but please know from the bottom of my heart that I thoroughly enjoy every beer bottle-filled photo that you vaguely remember uploading from your cell phone before you dropped it in the toilet.)

It is also no secret that I have a robust (umm…unhealthy?) fear of Other People In General, so it should come as no surprise that I have taken a keen interest in the new privacy guidelines that Facebook has announced, but not for the reasons you might think. What has me so riveted in this whole “how-dare-you-share-my-personal-info” debate is that many of the users who are up in arms over what other people can glean from their Facebook profiles are some of the very same people who are sharing way, way (and I do mean WAY) too much personal information on purpose.

I know the argument is that these Facebookers (Facebook-ees?) are at ease with sharing these deeply private woes and triumphs because only their “friends” can see their profile. Apparently, Facebook has redefined what it means to be a “friend”. I’m guessing that my definition is a little different, a little more restrictive in nature. Maybe the wall around my personal life is a little higher than average, but I do not now and will not ever believe that anyone has a close, intimate relationship with seven hundred people. Don’t even try to convince me.

When it comes to sharing life experiences on Facebook, I look at it this way: If you were friends with someone twenty-five years ago in high school and had not seen their face or heard their voice since the day you walked off the stage with your diploma, would you feel comfortable bumping in to them at Wal-Mart and announcing that you are recovering from a three day bout with diarrhea? If you happen to see your child’s teacher at a PTO meeting, would you, without hesitation, scream (you know, in all caps) that your ex-husband is an ass who isn’t paying child support and is sleeping with some skank who works at Food Lion? If you would never declare - face to face - to a long lost acquaintance that you are crabby because you are deep in the throes of a visit from Aunt Flow, then why would you think it’s just fine to post it in cyberspace?

Even though I am “friends” with folks I literally haven’t had contact with since junior high, that doesn’t mean I trust them with my personal information. I’m convinced there is probably an ax murderer in the crowd. (Again, unhealthy, I know.) When you announce that you’re “On the way to the beach!” everyone now knows the one place you aren’t – at home. You may leave your lights on a timer to fool the crooks, but you just issued a personal invitation via the internet to come right in and help yourself to the electronics and good silver. There is even a website dedicated to monitoring Twitter accounts and other social networks that encourage you to give your current location to the universe – – and yet folks can’t help but declare, “I’m in Italy for ten days!”

I am frequently amazed, appalled and absolutely delighted (in a guilty way, of course) by some of the nuggets that are shared daily on Facebook. I have one “friend” who felt compelled to let us all know that she was “heading off to the Ob/Gyn for a pelvic exam and mammogram”. (It took a good week after reading that one before the compulsion to jam a fork in my eye faded.) I have another middle-aged “friend” who changes her relationship status as often as most people change their underwear, which, of course, solicits a long thread of comments like, “Hang in there”, “Be strong! Call me!”, and “You are too good for him!” Personally, now that I’m in my forties, I wouldn’t want my wanton fickleness to be broadcast on what is essentially an internet neon sign. And, seriously? I just don’t want to know that Mexican food gives you cramps and makes you bloated.

I’m guilty as charged when it comes to reveling in the juicy and sometimes sticky status updates on my news feed every day. Compared to the life events of my “friends”, the life I’m leading is down right boring. I guess it just comes down to this: I hope that I shall never again see the status update on a cervix dilated to the size of a tree.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Nothin' could be finer...

I had a moment of clarity over a Moon Pie the other day.

Last weekend, I drove past three grocery stores just to shop at the only Harris Teeter in town. I was feeling all superior to the Super Wal-Mart, and I wanted some “good stuff”, higher-end “good stuff” that you can’t find at the discount grocers. As I was perusing the bakery hoping to find some fancy artisan bread or a delicate pastry to add to my cart, I came upon a Moon Pie display. Honestly, it seemed out of place, like a redneck showing up for High Tea at a Garden Club soiree. How did these marshmallow fluff-stuffed graham crackers find themselves stationed next to fresh baguettes and pesto spread? Excuse me, but didn’t I just pass by a Japanese chef preparing fresh sushi?

I stood there staring at those simple blue and white boxes. Out of nowhere, I felt like I was being swept back in time to a hot, sweaty station wagon in any random June of my childhood, and we were on our way to Garden City for the annual family vacation. I remember so clearly how we would always make a pit stop at a gas station in McBee, South Carolina to break up the trip and grab a snack to tide us over. (Yes, it was an actual gas station!) What a treat it was for me to be allowed to have a tall, cold bottle of RC cola or Mountain Dew paired with a Moon Pie or a pack of Nabs. I would climb into the back of the wagon and press the glass bottle against my cheek, letting the condensation leave its wet mark on the stray hairs that had fallen out of my pony tail. And in the grips of that memory, right there in the grocery store, I came to a realization about myself: Why have I always fought so hard to deny that I’m a Southern Girl, born and raised in the land of Duke’s mayonnaise and liver pudding? I should be proud!

I love the South. I love Spanish moss and kudzu. I love that our state dance is the shag and how no covered dish supper would be complete without deviled eggs and fried chicken. I love that we never stop calling our parents “Mama” and “Daddy”. I love digging my toes into the sandy beach while being serenaded by The Embers, and then, in the span of a couple of hours, I can look out over the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. You know, if it wasn’t for a misguided, love-struck governor and a school system that’s soundly in the toilet, this just might be paradise.

I had an English teacher in high school who told us to lose the southern accents. She told us that if anyone outside of our Podunk town ever heard us speak, we would immediately be thought of as countrified, hillbilly morons. And I believed her. I spent the next twenty plus years of my life trying to shake my accent along with any remnants of my lower middle class, blue collar upbringing. It’s funny how a Moon Pie changed all that.

It’s time for me to embrace my heritage. It’s time to quit hiding behind a two and a half car garage and a pool membership. It’s time to acknowledge that all the trendy clothes I sported as a youth were either knock-offs or were from the outlet store because my parents couldn’t afford the department store versions. Now that I have the means to dress how I wish, it’s painfully clear that you can cover me in Donna Karan, and I’m still just a small town girl from a working class family at heart.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still going to use proper grammar, stay away from Cooter Stew, and I flatly refuse to say, “ain’t”, but I won’t fault you if you let it slip now and then. Like all good Southern girls, I’ll just flash you a big smile and whisper under my breath, “Bless your heart!”

Friday, May 14, 2010

That's "Yes, Ma'am" to you, cadet!

Last night, my Number One Son informed me that I am meaner than the mom on “Malcolm in the Middle”. I didn’t argue the point. He’s right. If you have ever seen the show, you know she’s a hard-assed, take-no-crap control freak who may or may not have been modeled after me, and frankly, I was almost flattered. In case you’re wondering, no, it doesn’t hurt my feelings that my son thinks I’m mean. I love him, protect him, encourage him, brag about him, and he wants for nothing. (Well, he does want a lava lamp that I vetoed because I think it’s a fire hazard...) I try to be the best mother I can be for him, but that’s just it: I’m his mother, not his buddy. There seems to have been a shift in parental roles from that of an authority figure and leader to that of playmate and best pal, and I’m having none of it.

I was recently reading an article written by a child psychologist who speculated that a dad who high fives his kids or plays with them every day diminishes his role as an authority figure by putting himself on the same level as the children. He said that kids don’t need a thirty or forty year old buddy. They need a leader, and I have to agree. When I was young, there were never any parents in the back yard playing games with the kids. My parents certainly never played with me. They were always inside engaging in those mysterious adult activities such as balancing the checkbook, cooking dinner, or watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom”. Honestly, we didn’t want our parents out there with us. How would we have executed our clandestine trips to the Seven Eleven for Pop Rocks and Hubba Bubba if we were under the watchful eyes of our mommies?

I think my generation bought a one way ticket for a guilt trip to Spoiled Rotten Kidville. Is it because so many households these days have both parents working, and the kids are in someone else’s care all day? Is it the pressure to make sure little Dakota never gets his feelings hurt or that Katelyn never spends one moment feeling bored? I look at it this way: if my kids never think I’m mean, then I must be doing something wrong. I expect them to get mad when I make them go to bed early. I expect them to balk when I instruct them to clean their rooms before playing. If my kids didn’t complain when I told them to empty the dishwasher, I’d be suspicious. It’s in their nature to test you, but it's in your best interest to avoid becoming a doormat. I have a friend whose children are banned from ever entering the parents’ bed room. It’s called boundaries, a nearly extinct idea.

I know it’s disappointing to my children when they want me to play badminton, and I tell them “no” because I have to go inside to send the mortgage and utility payments. They are too young to understand that they aren’t even going to have a backyard to play in if I don’t successfully manage my adult responsibilities. But, guess what? I don’t owe them an explanation anyway. I don’t have to negotiate with them or explain myself like I see so many parents doing these days. Until they are able to pay their own way, I’m the boss. Period. If I spend every afternoon playing with Barbies, the dogs are going to get hungry and the laundry will most certainly become an unruly mountain of ripe underwear and socks. Plus, I want my kids to develop healthy relationships with kids their age, use their imaginations and not look to me for entertainment.

I’m all for loving, hugging and giving pats on the back (and even a high five now and then.). I’m all for a family game of Monopoly or I Spy. What I’m not all for is my kids believing that they are welcome to disregard my authority because they don’t see me as anything more than a taller, somewhat wrinkly playmate. I’m truly afraid that my generation, Generation X, will turn out a society of whiny, disrespectful, ill-behaved slackers. And if the cast of “Jersey Shore” is any indication, then we can just jump into the hand basket now because I think we all know where we’re heading…

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Real Moms think I suck.

My children deserve better than me. What can I say? They drew the short stick in the great genetic lottery. The celebration of Me on Mother’s Day is a little ironic, and only serves to underscore my lackluster parenting skills. Now that my own mother is gone, I’m perfectly fine with skipping the festivities and moving on to Memorial Day and fun things like grilling burgers and shooting off fireworks. I don’t do well with these undeserved accolades.

I never really questioned my mothering abilities before my children started school. I had nothing to compare myself to other than the moms I saw at Wal-Mart who were filling their babies’ bottles with Pepsi and cleaning dropped pacifiers by sticking them in their own mouth and giving them a lick or two. Heck, I thought I was Mother of the Year. All of that changed once I was thrown into the world of PTO meetings, birthday parties, and school field trips. I became the Redneck Baby Mama. I became the mom on the receiving end of disparaging sideways glances from the Real Moms who deftly prepare chocolate-covered strawberries for their daughter’s tea party while organizing the committee for the school’s annual fall festival. Real Moms think I’m Peg Bundy and Roseanne all rolled up into one. They know a faker when they see one.

Real Moms cook from scratch using fresh ingredients, and do not lean on Betty Crocker and Chef Boyardee for inspiration at meal time. Real Moms can train for a marathon, prepare three dozen cookies for the church bake sale, and finish up the last minute details of the family vacation to Disney World, all while battling a killer migraine and a nasty case of bronchitis. Me? I burn toast and complain a lot. Real Moms manage to taxi their children to soccer games, piano lessons, and dance class, and still find time to have a clean house and attend the Junior Welfare League’s charity event to help feed the children of Haiti. Me? I see a mountain of laundry, shrug my shoulders, call for my husband to take it downstairs, and then look for a comfortable chair.

My already shaky fa├žade of good mothering was unceremoniously demolished once I was allowed to rub shoulders with the Real Moms. They know my cupcakes for the class party came from Harris Teeter. They know we eat some kind of pasta with some kind of red sauce every week because it’s easy. They know I could never survive as the mom of a child on a traveling sports team because it requires personal sacrifice and talking to other human beings. (I’d like to stop right here and thank my wonderful son for preferring to write stories, draw pictures and engage in make-believe play in the backyard over kicking a soccer ball. Big Hug, Sweetie!) Real Moms might speak politely to me, but they will never let me in the loop. Never. Fakers like me are not allowed.

So, here’s to all the Real Moms out there who are making the world an easier place for total slackers like me. Happy Mother’s Day, and don’t worry. This Not-So-Super-Mom will always be in the background making you look good.