Staycation, All I Ever Wanted…

View from the staycationer's couch

View from the staycationer’s couch

You know how when a song gets stuck in your head, and you realize it’s there because it’s somehow expressing some deep, hidden emotions?

What about when every time you turn on the radio, the same tune is magically, and perhaps a bit ominously, playing?

In the past two days, I’ve heard “Vacation,” by the Go-Gos no less than 10 times. By the time it came blaring over the system in my dermatologist’s office, I was ready to fall on the ground and scream, “FINE! You’ve got the damn beat, now leave me alone!”

Summertime is clearly all about vacation time. Our internal clock is set to “School’s Out for Summer,” and doesn’t recalibrate until, “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” or maybe even, “Another Brick in the Wall.”

But it’s a cruel, cruel summer… now that youth is gone. (That’s the lyric, right?) The gerbil wheel of duty, obligation, and responsibility never stops spinning, and little things like doing laundry, cooking meals, getting dressed for work, and even waking up (before you go-go — sorry, couldn’t resist!) is hard as hell.

And you can fetishize vacation all you want, but now that I’m 15 years into this parenting gig, I’m way more real about what vacations are all about. I mean, did we learn nothing about the predictable stress and angst involved with family road trips from movies like Vacation and European Vacation, and TV shows like The Brady Bunch’s Season Four two-part classic, “Hawaii-bound”/”Pass the Tabu”? From Wally World to tarantula bites and Tiki curses, to the reality that vacation is kinda like being at home, except that it’s even more infuriating and complicated as you have to get used to someone else’s kitchen/bedroom/laundry room, vacation isn’t always all that.

And then there’s this: everyone always needs a vacation from the family vacation.

Lucky for all of us, since 2009, even Merriam-Webster recognizes that there is a better word and way: staycation. The key thing for your to know is that you can have your staycation moment wherever you want, whenever you want, for how ever long you can muster taking a break from the grind.

Here are a few ways to take a break and go to Carolina in your mind:

1) Want to be waited on, hand and foot? There’s an app for that: If you are jonesin’ for room service, keep in mind that Grubhub delivers, if not on a tray, and the damn Amazon Fresh trucks are ubiquitous on my street corner. Sick and tired of doing laundry? Download Washio. Wanna go out for a leisurely night of dinner and drinks, but don’t want to wrassle with driving home? Grab an Uber. And just when you thought housekeeping was only just a dream, download the Merry Maids app and stick a “Maid, Clean my Room(s)” tag on your virtual door.

2) Light a candle: My summer obsession is Jonathan Adler’s “Jet Set” Collection. From New Havana (“tobacco, smoke, leather, oak wood, amber, and hints of patchouli and moss”) to Big Sur (“crisp bergamot, rich vetiver, warm cedar wood, and nutmeg”) and Capri (“crisp citrus, herbs, notes of woods, moss, and musk”), you can sit on your ass and enjoy the gorgeous scents of summertime travel.

3) Take in the sights: For weeks now, my Facebook feed has been full of friends enjoying glorious sunsets, ocean breezes, street food in far flung places, cool dips in the pool, historic sightseeing, and sumptuous seafood meals — all a sensual assault that could make lesser staycationers jealous. Me, I look at the pics, close my eyes, and transport myself into those worlds through the Zen of it all. And my credit card bill is no less worse for the wear — take that, vacationers!

4) When in doubt, rub it out: I don’t know about you, but in my town there are cheap-o “foot” massages on every corner, excellent mani/pedi peeps with exceptionally magic hands, and gift cards to spas given to me for birthdays or other what do I get mom days that just tend to gather dust because who has time for a day devoted to being massaged like veal? The answer is, my staycationing friend, YOU DO. Go, get rubbed, and if anyone offers you a happy ending… take it.

5) Do Not Disturb: Tell the kids, draw the blackout curtains, lock your bitch (or cat or partner) out and sleep in with abandon. All it takes is giving yourself permission, and forcing everyone else to comply.

6) Have a piña colada for breakfast. And if anyone asks what’s in your travel mug, you can legitimately say, “iced coconut water”… and maybe even start a new health-nut trend. (On a side note, I so don’t get coconut water. To me, it tastes like watered down suntan oil. So if you want the taste of vacation without all the calories, I suppose that will do the trick, too.)

7) Dine (or drink) out: Is there a Mexican joint you’ve been meaning to try? A new sushi place on the corner? Where’s the nearest bar with a pretty outdoor patio strung with little lights and fragrant with summer flowering plants? Stop postponing joy and pony up for a nice dinner. And make it on a Tuesday so it feels really decadent.

8) Escape from it all in movies and books: From Summer Lovin’ (Grease) to Dirty Dancing and Meatballs there’s a place where you can have the (summer)time of your life without leaving your couch. And if reading’s more your bailiwick, search on GoodReads or do a Google scan for the best books of summer. Some of my faves this year (not only from my summer reading) include Where’d You Go Bernadette (Maria Semple), The Interestings (Meg Wolitzer), The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt), Love Life (Rob Lowe, my ex-boyfriend from 1982, where he was featured prominently in my high school locker — turns out he’s a talented raconteur!) and The Husband’s Secret (Liane Moriarty).

9) Take a class: Speaking of Dirty Dancing, isn’t it time you learned how to mambo? Took that Spanish Cooking class over at the Mall in your favorite kitchenware store (i.e., Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table)?

10) Go Outside: I know it sounds basic, but sometimes we forget. This was a REAL exchange I had with my husband the other day when we took a walk together and the thick, warm air smelled like jasmine, a faint ocean breeze, and hamburgers on the barbecue:

ME: WOW. It smells like summer.

HUSBAND: That’s because it IS summer.

So if you’re pulling out of town for your summer vacation and catch a glimpse of me stopping to smell the roses with a coconut-scented travel mug in hand, don’t feel bad. Because now that you’re away, I honestly don’t wish you’d stayed.. in my book, staycations are meant to be spent alone. 

Safe travels (even if it’s to your own couch!)

A Yelling Mom’s Guide to Keeping Your Cool

Temperature's rising on the ther-mom-eter

Temperature’s rising on the ther-mom-eter

Temperature’s rising, and I don’t just mean outside.

Summer is around its halfway mark, and that means we’re all knee-deep in “vacation.” This is actually a misnomer; while kids dove into a cool, deep ocean of free time weeks ago, grown-ups struggle to keep up with their plans AND our heads above the normal tidal waves of home, work, and other responsibilities. (That is unless you send your kid to two months of sleep away camp. If so, you are exempt from the rest of us water-treaders… at least for now.)

As the mom of a pair o’ teens who don’t drive and are too young to work, but are also too old to be fully worn out after day camp (if you can even find a day camp for kids over 12), a trip to the beach, or other summer activities, I am currently in full-on frantic dog-paddling mode. (Don’t tell my bitch; she might run if she hears that, and huddling together in our nighttime pack is the last bastion of sweet relief I have each day.)

The red in the emotional ther-mom-eter’s been rising, and I’m a little afraid to tell you the truth about how badly it blew last week.

Let’s just say my screaming, along with the high-pitched wails of the children, shattered the glass bulb and broke a few records.

I am not necessarily a big yeller; this kind of crazy is reserved for times when gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, and plain old weeping aren’t cutting it.

But then again, I don’t drink the “parenting, a verb” brand of Kool-Aid that says using the dulcet tones of your “inside voice” and patiently explaining the problem… 457 times over and over again… teaches children anything, except perhaps the “Marge Simpson Philosophy of Parenting”:

Lisa Simpson: But I’m so angry.

Marge Simpson: You’re a woman. You can hold on to it forever.

OK, fine, so I flew in the face of Marge Simpson (now there’s a visual, eh?), and totally lost my shit.

Loud. Hard. Mean.

Oh man, it felt good.

And then, it felt really, really horrible.

Just to reinforce my guilty feelings, I did a quick Google search, “yell at my children.”

Sure enough, I found a landslide of strident, research-backed articles about how bad it is to yell at kids. The most recent of which hearken back to an article published last fall in the Journal of Child Psychology that revealed that “harsh verbal discipline” (swearing, insulting, screaming) is as bad as hitting or spanking. It’s also not particularly effective — unless your goal is to make your child depressed, angry, aggressive, and generally anti-social. This conclusion came from a two-year study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh that surveyed nearly 1,000 middle school students and their families.

“This may explain why so many parents say that no matter how loud they shout, their teenagers don’t listen,” said the study’s author Ming-Te Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh.

The study also went on to say that even kids in homes that were otherwise “warm and loving” weren’t insulated from the harmful effects of yelling. Further, angry outbursts directed at children don’t have to be regular occurrences; even the occasional scream-fest can inflict lasting psychological damage.

As I searched for answers in what’s been written and studied to my burning question of what then, realistically, is a parent is to do in the face of extreme frustration, I only got more and more… frustrated.

We can, of course, focus on doling out “constructive consequences,” which entails making the punishment fit the crime. The key there is being consistent, which, when your kids are a bit more independent, isn’t always that simple. For example, I can take away video games, but then again, they’re so ubiquitous — on phones, on computers, at the neighbor’s house — the being a full-time gamer cop is nearly impossible.

Then there’s the idea that the more respectful you are of your child (i.e., praising them when they do something right), then the more likely it is they will be respectful to you. This is good in theory and something I try to do, but then again in practice, it doesn’t exactly fuel the fire necessary to pick up dirty socks strewn around the living room or make a bed or remember to walk the dog… and the list goes on.

Eventually all this reading and studying and trying not to yell, and then yelling again, took its toll. By the end of the week, I was exhausted and ready for a break. I had a nagging suspicion that maybe the answer to feeling closer as a family and cool down my roiling daily anger was to spend some quality time with the kids, out of the house and away from the things that set off the bad cycle (READ: dirty socks strewn around the living room. I know it’s a little thing but grrrrr.)

Watching baseball is something my peeps all love, and I figured a dip in the well of Dodger blue might just be the cool down we all could use.

Little did I know that a split second in the field was EXACTLY what the doctor ordered and the answer to how quell the yell.

About halfway through the game, a fly ball was hit to right field. All heads turned to Dodger fave, Yasiel Puig.

Puig just stood there, fully non-plussed, until at the very last second, he suddenly stuck up his glove. The ball flew easily and gracefully right into his glove.

It was poetic. And suddenly it dawned on me: why make a fuss when you know what the game is all about?

So much of resorting to screaming at your kids about trying to fight things you already know. Just like in baseball, balls are constantly being lobbed a parent’s way. Sometimes you can clearly see them coming; other times, like on an extra sunny day at the field, it’s hard to see clearly what’s en route… but still, it’s no reason to freak out. 

Summer vacation is like playing an away game for a spell. It’s not your home turf — the one with predictable schedules and external consequences inflicted by others (teachers, coaches) — but the rules are all the same.

And I got this, is the mantra. No need to flail about, and definitely no need to scream. Gracias, Puig, for that winning reminder.

So if you see me picking up a baseball bat, don’t worry about my kids’ safety. I might just be heading out the batting cages for a little anger management. Taking it out outside, especially in the heat of summer, is sometimes the best way to cool it all down.

How to Write Your Own Obituary

!!!! -- Photo by Barbara Green (http://barbaragreenphotography.com)

!!!! — Photo by Barbara Green (http://barbaragreenphotography.com)

Last week I was with my BBFs as they celebrated and honored the life of their father.

The night before I left, my BBF’s mom announced, very nonchalantly, that her husband had written his own obituary. Oh, and he’d already penned hers as well.

When I asked why he did that, she replied with a matter of a fact smile, “Nobody wrote better than him.” To prove her point, she pulled out legal pad pages carefully written out in elegant longhand.

While this was a very literal take on what she was saying, I understood what she meant figuratively. After all, the man headed the department of communication at Rider University; putting things in his own voice through to the lasting summarizing statement made a lot of sense.

But beside all of that, what I found absolutely fascinating — and inspirational — was idea of legacy. The concept of figuring out what can be said about you once all is finally done. While you are still living.

This got me thinking, because my BBF’s family had a motto: just do it. (Sorry Nike, you weren’t the first!)

Or maybe, more accurately, don’t postpone joy. (This is one of my favorite expressions, a legacy of another BBF who knew about all about YOLO.)

The act of writing an obituary when it’s your own involves reflecting on every significant aspect of your life. Not to go all Oprah on your ass, but I don’t think that this is an exercise reserved for when you take your last breath. 

I believe this makes a whole lot of sense to do all along the way.  So here are a few guidelines for how to live your life as if you were writing your own obituary:

1) Always celebrate your accomplishments… even ones from long ago: This is directly tied into self-esteem. An obit includes information about the educational degrees you’ve earned, awards you’ve won, and acknowledgements you’ve received. Sometimes when I’m feeling extreme mommy-brain and get down on myself for not being the sharpest tool in the shed, I remind myself that I have a couple of advanced degrees and I got this. Whatever this might be.

2) Be present with everyone, and especially those worth mentioning by name: Every obituary lists family and close friends who are left behind. This is one that I am currently focusing on, as my work has gotten exceptionally busy, my husband’s job is all-engrossing, my kids are constantly on the go, my parents have an active social life, my brother and his family live far away — ditto on the in-laws — and my friends are in the thick of it all, too. I’m just saying that time is precious, and we have to make the space to be present and connect with the ones we love.

3) Unpack your adjectives: If you describe your life in dynamic, kind, lovely words, then guess what? It will feel all that much more dynamic, kind, and lovely. Case in point: my BBF’s dad’s obit described his death as “peaceful,” his battle with cancer as “courageous,” his daughters as “loving,” his wife as “beloved,” his son-in-law as “wonderful,” his granddaughters as “beautiful” (and also loving). Those words allowed him to proceed as ifas if he knew he would feel peaceful in the end, as if he would certainly face the darkest day with great courage. And most importantly as if he was well loved by gracious people…. which of course, all the way through to the end and beyond, he was.

4) Be charitable, now: It’s traditional for people to want to honor you after you go with donations to a philanthropy that speaks to you — and how much more meaningful it is to have a charity of your choice now, that you are involved with today, so that your support can live on?

5) Make time for doing what you love: In my BBF’s dad’s obituary, it mentioned his passion for opera, how he and his wife were “inveterate travelers, fortunate enough to see the world together,” and also that he was an ardent, life-long New York Yankees fan. Does everyone know what you’re passionate about? Do you put off doing the things you enjoy most because there’s “not enough time?” Do you think you can’t afford to do what you love? I’d argue that you can’t afford not to do what you love.

6) Think about how you live your “dash”: At my BBF’s dad’s funeral, a poem called, “The Dash” was read, and it was all about not the numbers “born,” and “died,” but about what the dash in between the years truly means:

… So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?

And so, if you see me dashing off to do the things and be the person that will be worth mentioning in the end, just know that while I might not currently be writing my own obituary, I am conscious that leading a life I love today is the legacy I truly want to leave behind.

Now, enjoy the full poem,”The Dash,” read by its author, Linda Ellis:

Death, and a Salesman

 

In memorium

In memorium

“Are you a model?” the man on the FlyAway bus asks me.

It’s 5:32 a.m., and I’ve just put a quick dab of Burt’s Bee’s cocoa lip tint on, partially to moisturize my tired, chapped lips, and partially because I realize that I forgot to brush my teeth, and the vague mint scent might help mask my morning breath.

I glance at the beefy, 60-something-year-old man sitting next to me. The heat being thrown from his off-season tweed blazer already bothers me.

Later he’ll tell me that he’s from Minnesota, which excuses him from any further interrogation by the fashion police.

But right now I can’t believe my horrible misfortune to start my day of travels with a chatty seatmate. When he hands me his business card with his name and “SALESMAN” proudly proclaimed on it, I know I’m doomed.

I am in no mood to speak. Not because it’s so early, although the hour is definitely an impediment. But because the journey I’m on is one I’ve planned for, yet am not truly ready for.

The father of my college BBFs – twin sisters, actually – has passed away. It’s been a long time coming; his cancer battle went on for a decade, and rumors of his imminent demise have been intensifying in recent years.

So his death was not shocking, and yet, it still feels unbelievable.

I am going, as I told my kids, not just to honor the man, but also to be there for my friends.

Those who are left behind.

That’s who funerals really are for, after all.

And so, I am going back East to stand with my girls. In a twisted way, I know it will be a good time. It always is when we’re together. A lot of laughs.

No doubt I’ll tell the story for the 1,587,062nd time about when I first met my BBFs’ dad. It was spring break freshman year, and we were headed to NYC for a long weekend.

As we left, my BBFs’ dad pulled me aside and said, “Now, dear, please make sure that my daughter doesn’t leave her purse in a cab. Also, when you get to Penn Station, there will be men that will grab your suitcases. Don’t let them do it; they’re not real porters and they won’t give your bag back unless you give them a big tip. Now go, and have a good time.”

I’d never been given such specific instructions by anyone’s dad other than my own, and my BBF and I laughed about it all the way into the City.

That is until she left her purse on the train, and a faux porter made off with both of our suitcases and I was stuck handing $20 to a random dude (a lot of cash in those days!) just to get our stuff back. And we still had to schlep our bags up the gigantic escalators ourselves.

This is just one of the times when father knew best. He weathered a ton of nonsense from all of us girls with humor and patience. And thanks to him, I always keep a hold of my suitcase and an eye on my purse.

I shift in my seat and realize that my gabby seatmate has moved on to talk to the guy sitting across the aisle. They are chatting about their kids, and I hear unmistakable pride in the man’s voice as he talks about his sons, both of whom are now retired from the military.

Now I’m thinking about how he must’ve held his breath, praying that his sons were surrounded by comrades in arms that would do anything to protect his babies.

We may be grown-ups — retired even — but we are still our parents’ children.

I ache for my friends, their loss, and for my own, too.

And then I say a quick prayer of gratitude that my parents are alive, well, and safeguarding not just me, but also my children, so that I can get away to hold my BBFs’ hands and encircle them with love and support.

My seatmate taps me on the shoulder, bumping me out of my reverie, and says, “Hey, kid, do you wanna hear a joke?”

I realize I could use a laugh, and perhaps a couple of one-liners to share wouldn’t be such a bad thing to bring with me to the funeral.

I give him a model-caliber smile, and say, “Absolutely. But first, tell me, how was your visit with your sons?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” he says, leaning back in his seat.

I’m still not ready for this ride, but I realize I’m glad for the company. And maybe, after all, that’s what life’s really all about.

FlyHC

Copyright © 2012 - Trudi Roth. All Rights Reserved.