Thursday, November 29, 2012

Breaking up is hard to do

Look. I don't know how to say this. When I first met you, you intrigued me. I was drawn to you like so many others. You were different - a little faster than anything else I'd ever tried. Everyone I knew swore by you and said you changed their life and made them a better person. I wanted to love you as much as they did - I really did.

You seemed great in the beginning. Oh, you made me work for it and you definitely enjoyed the thrill of the chase. But at times you made me ache, and just plain wore me out. I wouldn't have minded if I could see myself becoming a better person in the process, but I saw no change. I began to be frustrated with our relationship - it seemed like such a one-way street. I started making excuses... avoiding you.  Saying I was too busy or had other plans. It was becoming clear to me that there was only one solution.

Running, I don't think we should see each other anymore.

It's nothing personal. I mean, I obviously had selfish reasons getting into this in the first place. I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to feel accomplished. I wanted to physically become a better person.

Well, I'm definitely out of my comfort zone. And you are indeed a challenge. But it seems that instead of steadily improving, I am caught in this limbo that is somewhere between a 10:30 and 11:30 mile, with the maximum number of miles EVER being 4.2. Really, I should be better than that, at least after nine weeks seeing you at least every other day.

And let's just say you are a little abusive. My knees no longer enjoy walking down the stairs and I can't twist and turn like I used to. This makes me sad. I tried patching myself up with braces and creams and whatnot, but to no avail. You find new ways to hurt me.

And all this talk of becoming a better person? I kept seeing pictures of those you had been with - before and after pictures. They were so big and lumpy when they first met you, and so slim and trim after you worked your magic on them. I wanted to be like them. Unfortunately, I have seen no change in my appearance after nine weeks of loyalty. My ass is not smaller, my legs are not more muscular, and my waist is still nowhere to be found. My app says I'm burning anywhere from 400 to 800 calories per run - and it's not like I'm coming home and stuffing my face. I could never do that to you.

I just don't know what else to say. I thought we had something, running. I really did. But I should have known that I'm not usually drawn to the same things as everyone else, so why should you be any different?

I hate to say we're finished, so maybe we could just say, "see ya around"? Maybe we could still, like, hang out every once in awhile? I think I would like that. I just can't be exclusive with you. It's not fair to all the other activities I'd like to pursue. I guess I'm just not a one-exercise woman.

Thanks for the great times, running, but I think I need to move on. But I will always cherish the memories of you and me, the wind in our hair, the pavement beneath our feet, the sound of our heavy breathing in my ears.

Godspeed, running. I'll never forget you.

Friday, November 23, 2012


I'm officially a prisoner in my own home.

It's Black Friday, and I'd rather stick a fork in my eye than visit any sort of retail store or even attempt to drive around in the vicinity of one. It's cold and windy and it was everything I could do to walk the dog this morning before treating myself to two huge, steaming mugs of coffee with Rum Chata.

There are definite benefits to downsizing to a smaller home. Today I'm not seeing them. I have three kids playing the PS2. Right. Behind. Me. And I can hear another one downstairs on his Bluetooth playing the PS3 with who knows who. The dog, afraid of the two strangers in the house, is hunkered at my feet growling. I'm surrounded by boxes of Christmas decorations that I am half-heartedly unpacking, wondering with each strand of lights if this is enough to placate the kids.

Don't get me wrong. I'm thrilled that my kids are home, in relatively good moods, and not fighting. And I'm thankful to have the day off and to have a roof over my head and clothes on my back and food in my fridge, blah, blah, blah. It just seems that lately I don't know what to DO with myself. I seem so unfocused and scattered and, well, trapped.

I like to plan. However, I'm at this point in my life where the days of planning are kind of thrown under the bus. No longer are my kids asking, "What are we doing today, Mom?" They finally have their own friends and their own activities (again, I'm thankful.) However, I feel as if I still have to kind of "be around" just in case, for instance, the friends show up here, like they have just now. Which is great. I love it. But it's not like I can wake up in the morning and have a plan as to what I'm going to do. I kind of have to roll with it. And I'm not real good at rolling with it.

The holidays don't help much. I feel as if I'm going through  the motions every year, and this year is no exception. Put up the decorations. Make the cookies. Buy the gifts. Make sure everyone has the kind of Christmas they're supposed to have. If it weren't for my kids, I would care less about any of it. It makes me sad; it makes me lonely; it enhances my "grass is greener" mentality to new heights. And I don't know what to do about it.

I ran yesterday - farther than I've run since I began (4.27 miles.) During my run, I passed a family playing flag football at the park. Freakin' Norman Rockwell game of flag football. Whatever. While walking the dog last night, I passed a house and heard laughter. The front door was open and there were a bunch of people inside playing charades or Pictionary or something fun like that. Obviously, I have a sincere problem with assuming that everyone out there is having a better time than I am. I mean, right now that wouldn't be too hard to accomplish, but overall, yes, I have a problem. I think it's just exacerbated by the fact that most of my fun in the past has been coordinated activities with my kids. Now those are few and far between, and I haven't exactly found my sea legs in the waters of pre-empty nestedness.

Sigh. The Christmas decorations aren't going to unpack themselves so I'd better get back to it. How to fix this dilemma I'm not entirely sure. Buck up, quit whining, be thankful for what I have, find a new hobby, join a club... I don't know. Right now I think I'll just wrap up in a blanket and see if there's any Rum Chata left.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Holidays: Putting the woe in my "ho-ho-ho"

It started just after Halloween. You know what I'm talking about. I'm standing there at Kohl's looking for jeans for my string bean of a teen and suddenly the chords of "Jingle Bell Rock" hit my eardrums like an electric shock. Momentarily stunned, I suddenly have the urge to run from the store screaming, "NOOOOOOOO!!!!!"

Let's just define and outline what's going on here. "The Holidays" - and I use that term loosely - is a period of time between mid-October and early January where advertisers, marketers, retail conglomerates, the internet (yes, I'm talking to YOU, Pinterest) and Facebook friends with perfect families turn the positive emotions up a notch that drive the rest of us who are simply trying to muddle our way through to February to the point of insanity and utter despair.

What. Too much?

This is not me.
Come on. You know as well as I do that "every kiss does NOT begin with Kay" unless Kay is some high school slut hell bent on setting a little record of her own. And the fact that "He went to Jared" is a fine marketing technique but NEVER have I had one of those touching moments where I'm lying on a car hood in the snow with my boyfriend and he reaches in his pocket and hands me a box of diamond loveliness. And where do they get those ginormous bows that they put on top of those brand new cars? WHO THE HELL GETS A CAR FOR CHRISTMAS?????

My teenager is not going to bound through the door with his buddies to find me decorating homemade Christmas cookies and wanting to help, nor will we sit around high fiving each other and smiling while enjoying the finished product. You are not going to get four or five kids in headlamps sitting on the couch waiting for Santa without a fight and at least two broken headlamps. I'm lucky my kids agree to sit with me at church on Christmas Eve (one on either side because otherwise they'll poke each other and make me say things that are not so Christian.)

The people who work at the radio stations that play "All Christmas - All the Time" for the 30+ days preceding HAVE to to be highly medicated and/or plugged into Spotify or Pandora. As I would be if I worked in ANY retail store during the holidays, which I would probably do only after repeated failed attempts at slitting my wrists.

I did not take this picture.
And don't get me started on Black Friday, which has now turned into Blacker than Black Thursday. Here's how that sales meeting went. "Look. The families are already together on Thanksgiving, but then they go home, and they might oversleep. So let's get them while they're half-drunk and under the influence of tryptophan and completely sick of each other and open our doors the NIGHT BEFORE so they can stampede each other EVEN EARLIER to spend money they DON'T HAVE on things they DON'T NEED! All in favor?" "Aye."

OK. So I'm a little jaded. And perhaps envious of those who embrace the holidays as a month and a half to be full of good cheer and wonderfulness. But to me, I can do all that without Neil Diamond's Christmas Medley (I love him but the guy is JEWISH, for God's sake!) and not make such a jingly production of it. I can do without the gift-giving expectations or the guilt felt when I don't - or can't - reciprocate what I am given. I can do without the sparkly holiday dress and the endless holiday gluttonies that pack on the pounds right before I settle in for my annual winter slump. And I can certainly do without the commercials and TV shows that remind me that I am so far from a Hallmark moment it's not even funny.

Here's an idea. Let's all go buy a coat for a kid who's REALLY cold. Let's feed someone who's REALLY hungry. Let's spend some extra time with our kids if they'll let us and hug our families even if they may drive us bananas at times. Let's go to church and remember why we're really supposed to celebrate this holiday and know that it has nothing to do with ANY of the crap that we've created today. I can do without the remixed Christmas carols, the Black Friday follies, the sappy commercials that AREN'T REAL and the pressures that I allow myself to be put under to make this "the best Christmas EVAH." I just don't have the money, nor the time, nor the patience or the holly jollies. Just hook me up with some spiked eggnog and let me know when it's over.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

M for "Mature" - or "Malevolent"

For your enjoyment, disconcertment or pure amusement, here is a portion of my 15 year old son's Christmas Wish List:
1. Call of Duty: Black Ops II
2. Grand Theft Auto V
3. Call of Duty: Black Ops
4. Borderlands 2
5. Call of Duty: MW3
6. Battlefield 3
7. Farcry 3

To all of you "gamers" out there, let me apologize in advance. I do not get your world. I see some of you as normal, functioning people who can discern between these cyberworlds and the rest of reality. I wonder if you spent hours and hours of your childhood staring dazedly into a small screen while your thumbs moved with seizure-like motions over a variety of buttons and knobs and you lost all track of time, space and the normal physical world. You seem fine - you really do - but I also wonder what you would be like today if you had spent those hours - say - outside? Or doing something else with this life that God gave you rather than partaking in an animated, role-playing shooter loot fest (that term is taken directly from a game description, by the way).

So you - whom I described above - are going to think I'm a raving lunatic - an old-fashioned, technologically-disadvantaged, middle-aged mom who doesn't "get" the cache of violent video games. So if I were you, I'd stop reading now, or start preparing your rebuttal, much like I received in my critically-acclaimed (*sarcasm*) blog: Shock Rock - What a Crock.

That out of the way, let's just get down to it. I EFFING HATE VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES. And I do NOT allow my children to play Rated M games in my house. Do they play them? Hells yes. Every chance they get. I've made them taboo, so they want them even more. I know that. So they don't hang out at home - they go to their friends' house, whose parents allow such games, and they play them there.

I once thought, when my kids were young, that I would try to have the "cool" house, where their friends would want to come and hang out. I'd have the best snacks, the best TV, the best games, the best environment. It'd be great. That way, I'd know where my kids were, I'd know their friends, and I, of course, would be cool.

That pipe dream has done burst. When I realized what it takes for a parent nowadays to be cool, I folded. I'm out. No thanks. I've compromised enough (of course my kids don't think so). We have a PS2 and a PS3 (they traded in the Wii for the PS3). They have handheld gaming systems. My oldest has a phone and a Droid from his father for music. They both have iPods. I'd say that's enough.

Nope. They want Rated M games. Halo. Call of Duty. Borderlands. Medal of Honor. Kill Zone. Resident Evil. Soldier of Fortune.

I thought I was compromising by letting (some) Teen-rated games in the house. Uncharted came with the PS3, and it looked OK. Now, after hearing endless afternoons of shooting, blasting and screaming, coupled with my kids yelling, "Shoot him in the HEAD, you IDIOT!" I'm about done.

Here's the thing about video games and MY kids. I can't speak for ALL kids. But MY kids don't know when to say when. They become consumed with these stupid, life-obliterating blood and guts scenarios to the point where they become physically agitated during and for a good portion of time after they play them. It bothers me. A lot. And no, we're not even going to do the "one hour a day of violent video games" rule or "only violent video games on the weekend." DO YOU SEE HOW STUPID THAT SOUND?

I know there have been studies done on the effects of video games on children, both pro and con. The pros say it actually helps dexterity, attention span, reaction time, etc. Whatever. So does a game of Scrabble. The cons say it propagates violent behaviors, aggressive thoughts and an overall escapism mentality in our youth. Guess which one I agree with?

Here's my conundrum. It's the "all the other kids have these games, Mom." It's the "all the other parents let their kids play Rated M games, Mom." What's up, parents? Am I sitting here on Planet Amy (which apparently is right next to the hillside where Little House on the Prairie was filmed) all by myself? Am I really wrong here? Because I think I've caved in on a lot of parenting stuff that I don't necessarily believe in.

Such as:
1. I think my kids should go to church every Sunday. They don't. I could make them, but I don't.
2. I think my kids eat too much junk food. But if I don't buy it, the will eat NOTHING. So I buy it, with the stipulation that they eat a piece of fruit before they have the junk. This hardly ever happens.
3. My son has long hair. I do not make him cut it.
4. My son wears his pants low. I don't make a big deal out of it. 
5. I'm not wild about sleepovers. Especially now that they are older. It's cute when they're 7 or 8. When they're 15, I tend to think it's less about a sleepover and more about an excuse to do something they shouldn't be doing. But on occasion, I still allow them.

But there are at least two things to which I will not bend. The first one is guns. I hate them. I really do. They make me sick. I don't care if you're hunting or target shooting or paintballing or air-softing or whatever. I hate 'em. We didn't grow up with guns and for those who did, it may be a different story. Mostly I hate them because of the accidents that can happen when kids who don't know any better get their hands on them. That would be my kids. And no, I'm not going to get them guns so they can learn to be safe with them. Sorry. Can't do it; don't want them in my house. And before you judge, you don't know my kids. I do. 

OK, back to this Mature-rated crap that is infiltrating my Immature kids. It is causing intense amounts of discord beteween my 15 year old and myself because his opinion is far different than mine (go figure). In fact, he says (in an email), and  I quote, "I can't tell you of one kid my age who can't play M games, and I see no reason why I shouldn't be allowed to play them. Because of the increase in violent games, the percent of M games is a majority, thus limiting my game selection. Therefore, I urge you to let me play them. I know 5th through 9th graders that have them, so better late then never."

To which I reiterated my reasons for not allowing such games in my home, one being his younger brother. But in conclusion, I had to default to the "I'm the parent" speech that 15 year olds seem to forget time and time again:  "I know you don't understand this but it is something you will just have to accept as a minor. I am your parent and I still make the bulk of the decisions." Just so you don't think that I run my family as a dictatorship, I reminded him that as he gets older I am giving him more freedoms based on the amount of trust he has earned, and he should be happy for that and not be so concerned with these epic-wastes-of-time-on-a-disc.

So that's where I stand. And I'm ready to hear from ALL the parents who allow their kids to have M-rated games. TELL me how they're "not that bad". TELL me that it's just how it is nowadays and I'll just have to change my curmudgedy ways or I will drive my son to buy violent video games on the black market and play them out on the streets. TELL me it's the only way I'll have a decent relationship with my teen. C'mon. Bring it on. Let's hear it.

Better yet, for those parents who don't have a clue but still might give a shit, why don't you check and see what games your kids are playing for hours on end in the basement. Sit down and blow some guys away for a few hours. Watch your kid's face. You might be surprised that you feel the urge to throw the whole thing out the window, grab a football, and tell your kid to come outside and play some catch.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A slice of humble pie (I'll take two)

I finally figured out what this election lacked. OK, it lacked a lot of things, but something kept bugging me since the debate debacle and on into the days preceding the frenzied voting. Not just the presidential race - but ALL races. What was lacking was a quality that I find incredibly important, especially with regards to the amount of respect and admiration and faith I have in a person.

It's humility.

Now, humility is defined as "being modest and respectful", to which some might interpret as "unsure and a pushover". But in even the smallest of doses, humility can be quite effective.

To me, humility doesn't mean you have an absence of self-confidence. It's knowing your weaknesses as well as your strengths, and owning up to them. It's knowing that you can't possibly be right all the time and deferring to the opposition every once in awhile. It's admitting what you don't know in addition to professing what you do. For instance, he governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, showed humility (in my opinion) when he, as a Republican close to an election, praised President Obama for his immediate assistance after Hurricane Sandy. Some might say he was a traitor, or that he shot himself and his party in the foot. But it took balls, and was a humble representation that the "other guys" - the ones his party doesn't really get along with - stepped up to the plate when his state needed them most.

I guess I understand where humility might not have a big place in the political arena. Progress in politics is probably not gained by mentioning in a speech that you don't have all the answers, nor do you expect to be right 100% of the time. But it would be nice if the candidates were required to show, say, 10% humility over the course of the campaign just so we'd all see that they're not all totally full of shit.

But aside from politics, humility can go a long way in life - in careers, in relationships, even in passing as you go about your day. Again, humility is not on the same plane as a lack of confidence. If anything, admitting and acknowledging that you're not God can go a long way to gaining respect and a certain camaraderie with the rest of the world.

For instance (disclaimer: these are fictional characters. I'd love to say they are real, but I know better than to even elude to people I know in blogs without despairing repercussions):

The guy in the  meeting who is always right and has nothing but criticism for everyone else's idea? Yeah. We don't like you and we talk about you behind your back. We think you're full of crap because you can't possibly be right 100% of the time. And even if you are, we think you're wrong because you're a tool.

Dude on the blind date? OK, maybe you were trying to impress me with how awesome you were but truth be told, you came off like kind of a prick. I could have lived the rest of my life without hearing how you "earned" that big bonus AGAIN this year because all your clients think you're the best thing since sliced bread and how you can do the most chin-ups of any other hardass at your local gym. 

New friend? Yes, your kids are smarter, better-disciplined and more ambitions than mine. And yes, your new boob job looks great (no, I don't want to feel them.) And absolutely, I totally did think that guy was checking you out. Why would he not? You haven't opened your mouth yet.

I probably go to the other extreme. Though I try to appear confident, I usually end up apologizing for something or prefacing it with, "I may be full of shit, but..." I will  express my opinion, God knows, but I don't think I get all puffed up about the things I do know. If I'm wrong about this, someone please let me know. And I apologize in advance for my stupidity.

Confidence coupled with humility is impressive. It can be as simple as my boss saying, "That's a good idea. I hadn't thought of that," or an endearing, "I went for a 10 mile run today but pooped out after five." Humility makes me like people more. If you're trying to impress me, tell me a story about how you tried to make this fancy dinner for your kids and spent hours gathering the ingredients, chopping vegetables and cooking it up only to burn the final product. You'll get an "A" for effort, as opposed to the "C" you'd have gotten if you would have told me that you're sure you could win Top Chef.

But don't confuse humility with wishy-washiness or weakness. In large doses, humility can come off as timidity, or a lack of self-confidence. That's technically not humility. That's low self-esteem. The person who can be humble is the person who is confident enough in their strengths to publicly admit their faults - and be OK with that.