Friday, March 14, 2014

All Kinds of Bags

Someone posted on Facebook a challenge, 40 Bags in 40 Days.  (Here's the original Blog  The idea is that you declutter one closet, one drawer, one shelf every day for 40 days (actually you get one day a week off, but I got so far ahead on the first couple days, I definitely will meet the quota even taking off a day a week).  While there is a picture of a giant black garbage bag on the post, she goes on to say, don't let that overwhelm you.  Somedays it might be a shopping bag and somedays a sandwich bag.  It's about decluttering a spot a day.

I went at this with great gusto!   Finally a Lenten discipline I can relate to.  Plus decluttering to me feels like losing weight.

Well I realized--there are all kinds of bags and all kinds of weight--besides giant black bags, shopping bags and sandwich bags.  There are emotional bags too.  I think that is one of the reasons I started writing again (plus the ever wonderful Bruce Abel asked me too as did another friend who may or may not want to be called out here).  There are lots of things that weigh on our soul or psyche.  Sometimes it's as easy as rearranging the desktop on your computer.  Sometimes it's a lost item you haven't taken time to look for.  Sometimes you don't even know what it is until you've uncovered it and you go "wow, I feel so much better!"

People talk a lot about "living in the moment."  Which as a general concept is a great one.  I get it don't  obsess about the past, don't worry about the future, live in the now.  And based on this advice, I do try to stop and take a moment to smell the roses, as it were.  To take a snapshot of a moment, because I truly believe we don't remember days, we remember moments.  That's why someone will say, "remember when we did such and such?"  And you have no clue what they are talking about.  It's because you snapshotted a different moment.

It kind of makes me sad that I didn't journal more (at all) when the kids were little.  I definitely recall saying "I want to remember this moment forever" but often that's it.  What was the feeling of that moment?  Oh but I digress.

So after three momentous days of decluttering, I got sick.  It's hard enough to motivate when you are well, forget when you have a cold.  Well any excuse will do.  However, those three days did help.  Now when I see a "hot spot" I just stop and organize it.  There are some burning, on fire, places in my house that will require the giant black garbage bag and a few hours.  I will get to those.  But it's good to know that the weight can be lifted by rearranging my shirt drawer or tidying up the house or by going to the laundromat.

There is a fine balance here between cleaning ADD and living in the moment getting things done.  I have learned a very excellent trick (I must credit the Fly Lady-whom I go back and forth between thinking she's brilliant and wanting to stuff one of her purple cloths down her throat) -- it's the "put away" bag.  You know how you get cleaning ADD?  You are cleaning a child's room and then you find dishes, so you take them downstairs, realize that the dishwasher needs unloading.  You start unloading and then hear the dryer go off so you go out and change the laundry, meanwhile you know you need to get back to the kid's room but you've got laundry to fold, the dishwasher to empty and now the dog is barking to come inside and you notice that there are dishes on the porch and it really needs sweeping.  (Well now I know how Give a Mouse a Cookie was written!) Oh wait, so my very excellent trick--the put away bag.  When you are cleaning your chosen spot of the day, you do not leave that spot until you are finished.  Got something that belongs somewhere else--put it in the "put away" bag.  Dryer goes off -- oh wait, I haven't had this problem in two weeks because I've had no washer to wash stuff.  It is rather freeing, but anyway, whether you go change the laundry is up to you. But I will tell you this, do not stop to check email, do not stop to check Facebook and most of all do not stop to write a blog entry!

So back to the emotional baggage.  I think letting go of some things is just as important as decluttering the dining room closet.  Of course the stuff I'm finding comes with it's own emotional baggage.  I once read something about decluttering and they said that if something doesn't make you happy you should get rid of it.  Hanging onto something for sentimental reasons?  Does it make you happy?  Does it feel like an anchor in your living room (the bad heavy kind not the good kind you plan the room off of)?  If it doesn't make you happy or weighs you down every time you look at it, get rid of it.  Being somewhat of a pack rat, this has helped me immensely!  Getting rid of some of the stuff is getting rid of some emotional baggage--because that thing, that chair, that lamp, that vase, that bookcase full of books you read but don't remember what they were about, is weighing down your psyche. And when you take it to Good Will or the library or the garbage can, you feel a little lighter.  The pan you hung onto but never used but you got if for your wedding and it's sat in various closets for 21 years and has fallen on your foot (thankfully not your head) more than once. So you get rid of the pan. And when you hand that giant black bag over to the Good Will man, you feel lighter.  You have your husband, you have other pans, you have dishes -- all that you got from your wedding, all that make you feel happy.  So why were you hanging on to that pan?  When the answer is I don't know, try letting it go.  You'll find you feel a little lighter because in the end, it's just a pan--the emotional baggage that made me keep it is what I really want to get rid of.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Who do you call when the washing machine is broken?

I was thinking a lot about friendship this morning.  I should be thinking about how many "heavy duty hoodies" I need to place on my spirit order, but instead I'm thinking about friendship.  

Friendship is a very complex thing.  I also think that understanding that comes with maturity.  My daughter struggles weekly (if not daily) with friendship.  She's still at the age when the "popular group" matters.  I have tried to talk to her about the popular group and why you don't need to be in it.  I was never in the popular group (or I was the popular group and didn't know it).  I was kind of rebellious of the norm.  I spent plenty of time wearing the exact same sweater and the exact same shoes (we had uniforms so this was our opportunity to be unique) in 7th grade for sure.  In 8th grade I had my first boyfriend and having the same shoes as everyone else became a little less important.  By the time I was in high school everyone called my shoes "HO shoes" and I don't think that was necessarily because those were my initials.  For a variety of reasons I realized that I was never going to fit into the norm (or conform) and if that was what it took to be in the popular group then that wasn't for me.  Actually I don't really think there was the popular group, I mean in 5th grade there was, but then there were always these fights.  I did not understand why you would fight with a friend.  I mean you might disagree with someone but why would you fight and why would you then start trying to turn everyone against that person.  I never really had to worry about that because I was the fat country girl and didn't really fit in (initially).  So I became the mediator between the groups and I made friends with the boys.  I figured it out.  Anyway, I have watched both the popular group and Mollie's understanding of this begin to evolve.  I told her if you limit yourself to just one group (or spend all your time obsessing about being in that group) then you will miss out.  She tried for a while being a part of several different groups but then one group would have inside jokes she missed out on while with the other group and they wouldn't explain them.  She has come to understand that each girl at an individual level can be nice and be her friend.  That doesn't help though when she knows they are all together and not texting her back to tell her where they are.  I know from experience once she gets there she will be fine, but still she has to be invited and can't just show up (we have yet to prove or disprove this theory).  Fortunately for me I lived "out of town" in the country and didn't have social media or a group walking by my house that she has.  It wasn't in my face as much.  It's one thing to know something is happening without you, it's another to watch it.  

When we moved to Terrace Park it seemed we were surrounded by groups.  We would go to the pool and there would be groups gathered around tables with picnics and coolers.  I longed to be a part of one of them.  I have come to the conclusion that you can wait to be invited to be a part of a group, invite yourself to be a part of a group or just make the damn group yourself.  Making the damn group yourself is what I studied in grad school, though we called it "Community Organizing."  So when we were not magically absorbed into one of the pool groups, I made my own damn group.  I invited all the moms on our block for coffee.  Then I invited all the families on the block for a happy hour.  Then we rotated houses--putting a giant beer bottle out in whoever's front yard who was hosting the happy hour. As everyone took turns hosting, they would invite friends from off the block and so it grew and grew to the point where people would come up to me randomly and say "I saw the big bottle out, can I come to the happy hour?"  And there we had it, our own damn group.

Of course the group changes with the seasons.  Some people go away for the summer, some people move away (to the other side of the park ;), some people play a different sport.  We came to embrace the TP culture of casual gatherings planned usually on that day--got no plans?  Let's barbecue at your house after the baseball game! (if it ever freaking ends!)  In many ways this is how our children's friendships were initiated.  We were friends with people who had kids our two kids' age (one or both).  Our kids' friendships have grown and evolved and so have ours.  There was definitely a rough patch when so and so were no longer joined at the hip, but forced to have dinner together because we parents were having dinner together.  But on the other hand, when we all went out to dinner after the interminable baseball game--everyone was happy to be together.  I hope that it showed our kids you can enjoy someone's company and not have to be their "best friend" or "in their group."  Also I should stop making fun of those baseball games for without those lengthy, painful games we might not have forged such strong bonds.

Friendship is a fluid thing.  And just because I don't spend every Friday night with you and you don't invite me to every dinner (or any dinner) at your house and I don't invite you to all of mine, doesn't mean we aren't friends.  Friends fit a variety of emotional needs and even practical needs.  I know a lot of people who play tennis.  They have tennis friends.  People who go to school outside of Mariemont/TP have school friends.  Some of these situational friends are people you might never be friends with (or bonded with) outside of being in the same place at the same time doing the same thing. In New York I had my "dog" friends, we knew each other quite well from the time standing around watching our dogs run around.  Some of them I knew for years before I learned their name, some I never knew their name.  Some I keep in touch with because we were meant to become friends beyond the dogs.  Same thing happened in the playground.  Though the playground definitely divided people by parenting styles.  That's probably a whole other blog post though. 

There are friends that you can see after 30 years and it's like not a day has gone by and they become once again an important part of your life.  I have many friends like that--especially now in the time of Facebook.  I feel like I am a part of their real life, even though I'm getting cyber updates (or texts or emails).  There are many friends I get a Christmas card from once a year, but the bond of college or the early New York years keeps us in touch.  I know I could go pick up a conversation with them right where we left off.  There are friends you think maybe you aren't close with anymore, but in the blink of an eye are there for you in tragedy or sadness.  (That's why you always go to the funeral -- yet another blog post to be written -- or maybe I already have.)

I also have a very special and important group of friends whom I've never met in real life.  We all met 14+ years ago when we were pregnant with our July babies.  This group of women bonded over the fact that we have babies who were born in July.  We live all over, have families of 1 - 6 kids and do a million different things.  We have provided each other with a safe space to discuss a variety of topics we might not with other people.  It is a weird, wonderful, unique group of women (no one is weird it's just a little weird how close you can feel to someone you've never seen in the flesh) whom I've grown to count on in ways I wouldn't have imagined-- starting 15 years ago when I sat in my office typing away over a dial up connection to women half way across the country worried that I could never love another baby as much as I did my first.

Friends meet a variety of needs, that's why I scoff at the notion that there is one best friend.  Well scoff probably isn't the right word because who am I to judge others' friendships.  I think to call someone friend you need to understand their limitations, their quirks and that special thing that puts them in the category of friend.  Having unreasonable expectations of a person, limits their ability to fit in the friend category.  If you are constantly disappointed by someone because you expect them to act in a certain way, you will never grow in your friendship.  I always say "to know them is to love them."  Some friends are always late, some friends show up all the time, some friends are 50/50, some friends remember your birthday, some friends remember to ask about things, some friends are just there to listen, and some friends are there for you to listen to (hey it's good to know other people have issues too!).  I know pretty much who is going to fall into each category and because they are my friends (and I want them to be my friends) I understand and go with it.  If I let it annoy me then I'm not really their friend and they probably won't be mine for long.

It's ok to have differences.  I know that my politics are quite different from several of my closest friends, so we don't talk about politics.  Simple as that.  If I spent all our time together trying to convince them to change their ingrained political belief, I wouldn't be much fun to be around.  I learned very quickly when we were applying to nursery school in NYC whom I could talk to about it and who I couldn't.  I'm pretty quickly getting that about college too. 

Sometimes I still go back to that junior high mind set and over think the group thing.  Well sometimes I wonder if it's my fault that Mollie isn't in the popular group because I don't try harder to be friends with the moms in the popular group.  It's not that we aren't friends or friendly.  It's just that we have our own inner circles and without doubling the group we can't really expand. Maybe that makes sense, maybe it doesn't.  I mean I always have room for new people in my life.  I remember reading somewhere that people in their thirties raising young children don't have time to make friends.  They have their friends and they aren't really looking to add more.  It's just too much trouble.  Well I wonder if that was a New York thing?  I moved here when I was 40 and whether or not I wanted new friends, I needed them and thankfully people here made room for me in their inner circles.  Actually we call that group "the usual suspects."  I believe that term was coined by the person who taught me the importance of having people you call "girlfriends."

I had a number of friends in high school whom I was close with at different times.  In the years that have passed they sort of all meld together.  I'm fortunate enough to get to spend time with some of them and their families (both their parents who were an important part of my formation and their kids who I'm happy to say my kids call friend).  So I'm going back to high school.  Back to the time when a song meant everything.  Kenny Loggins' "Whenever I call You Friend" was one of our theme songs.  I'm pretty sure we even had a dance we did to it.  It's funny just now looking at the words I realize that he and Stevie Knicks were talking about "doin' it" and we were talking about what ever we were doin' that weekend. 

Whenever I call you "Friend"
I begin to think I understand
Anywhere we are
You and I have always been
Forever and ever
I see myself within your eyes
And that's all I need to show me why
Everything I do
Always takes me home to you
Forever and ever
Now I know my life has given me more than memories
Day by day, we can see
In every moment there's a reason to carry on

And so this brings me back to the original question--who do you call when the washing machine is broken?  You know that anyone you ask will say "no problem," but the real understanding of a friend is knowing who really means it, who doesn't and still loving them all any way.  (Also for anyone reading this that I didn't ask, it's more likely that you live more than 100 feet away, I was not going to be at your house anyway or I've just decided to screw it and buy new underwear and socks.)