Saturday, December 1, 2018

These are days....You'll Remember

"These are days you'll remember
Never before and never since
I promise
Will the whole world be warm as this
And as you feel it
You'll know it's true
That you are blessed and lucky."
---Natalie Merchant

What is it about the "good old days" that makes us long for them? I'm not a time lord, so no phone box will allow me to pop off to another era that some say was so much better. Recently, a discussion among some friends (OK, it was Facebook, but all those who commented were real-life people, most from here in town) awoke a bit of a controversy over the good old days, how it was, what is different now, and who's to blame for it all. Sometimes I use a social media post as a kind of journal entry. Then I can go back in a year or so and see what was happening at a particular time. This post wasn't meant to be one of those; it was intended to be funny. 

I had taken the very unusual step of pulling my couch out from the wall and cleaning under it. The exact details of everything that was under there should remain unexplained, but it was a treasure trove of spare change, Legos, hair ties and silverware. It was like the mythical graveyard of cutlery. There may have been some bowls too. That is when the wheels came off the Electrolux, and the debate began.

While a few of my friends could relate, in just a few comments it became clear that my habits as a housekeeper and a mother were the cause of all the evils of our modern society. My children and their milk-slopping, Cheerio-chomping, snack-snogging little faces were devoid of manners, and I had let it happen, right under my nose. Sad! Apparently, some of my friends have traveled further along the road of life than I have, and they remembered when mothers stayed at home, served the family meals around a table, and nary a speck of food had ever been near their couches. Well, I remember those days too. I was a little kid in the late 60s, the Mad Men era of little boxes, on the hillside. It wasn't all Dick Van Dyke, tripping over the ottoman while Laura made a roast and Richie was conveniently in his room. There were workaholic fathers who drank too much, and mothers who often smoked like chimneys or nipped at the cooking sherry in the pantry. There was a war on, and it played on the television every night. Citizens were sprayed with fire hoses or pelted with rocks for the vicious crime of trying to vote or go to school. Good times, right?

Maybe it's just a Kelley thing, and I come by lackadaisical food rules the same way I got my red hair and my attitude? Our house did not look like a Ladies' Home Journal spread. My mother was much more Peg Bundy than Laura Petrie, which was probably difficult for her at the time, but she was always a rebel; it was likely deliberate on her part. The one fact most of my friends agreed on though, was that the family has changed. That's because time has marched on and change is necessary. There are blended families, single-parent families, families with two moms, or two dads. Parents work more; social research has shown that. Children are busier, not playing kick the can or tag, but club soccer and lacrosse. There is, sadly, still a war on, and there isn't a day that goes by that the news doesn't show a bombing, a shooting or a violent protest. We all know there are still parents who drink too much or suffer in silence but put on a good face.

What does any of that have to do with my nonexistent vacuuming skills? Nothing. That's the point. While some contended that the previous generation of stay at home mommies and societal expectations was the better way to live, I'm not buying that, not entirely. Rather than looking at a specific decade, we should turn our attention instead to who we are now, rather than who someone else was back in the day. The truth is, our recollections of the past are not always infallible. The brain processes memories every day. There are thousands of minutes and hours of experience, and not everything is retained. We forget because the mind needs to do that to make room for new minutes and hours of what is to come. We can't be fully present in our lives today if we are still looking back at what used to be.

I read somewhere that there is a reason the windshield of a car is usually larger than the rear window. And my father, a member of "The Greatest Generation," always told me "Don't look backward, you're not going that way. Also, you'll fall on your arse." Was this discussion a come to Jesus moment? Am I going to suddenly turn into a hybrid of Martha Stewart and June Cleaver and keep a home worthy of a magazine layout after witnessing my living room landfill? No. Not even close. Are the kids banned from morning cereal on the couch and late-night snacks in the recliner? No. The days gone by hold a lot of sweet memories for me, but they are over. These are the days, and despite it all, we are blessed and lucky.


Friday, November 16, 2018


"It's only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.''
----Steve Jobs

Just say no. Wasn't that a campaign to keep kids off drugs, back in the 1980s? Given the opioid epidemic, it doesn't seem to have worked, because, well, drug use is complicated and if just saying no was the way to fix it, we wouldn't have the overdose and addiction issues we see every day in the paper, would we?
Saying no is powerful, however. A colleague reminded me of this recently and suggested I write about it, and until he mentioned it, it had never occurred to me. So, I asked around, and a lot of my friends have a hard time saying no. When it comes to my friends and family, my rule is that if someone asks me to do something, my default answer is always, "Sure, if I can, no problem." I don't need a reason to say yes; if you are part of my family or a close friend, and you need something, I am there. A ride to the airport, a school pick up, a notary stamp, I am your girl. Because helping people I care about is easy.

Naturally, there are times when the answer has to be no, but again, I need a reason to refuse. Obviously, if someone asks me to do something and there is no way I can, then I have to say no, but then the Irish guilt kicks in. I start thinking about rearranging my schedule, shifting appointments and making time to do whatever has been asked of me. There are, however, some occasions when "No" is the right answer, I simply hate having to be the one to give it. I worry that I'm not a good friend or a good employee if I don't accommodate every request.

Still, there have to be some boundaries, right? We can't do everything we'd like, we can't be everywhere we want to be, and sometimes, no is the correct answer. My mother had a great way to get around this debacle. If someone asked her to do something and she didn't want to, or couldn't, she would say "Oh, I can't help you, I have plans." I heard her say this to a friend once and I knew she didn't have anything planned. I screeched, "MA! Jeez, that's a lie, you don't have any plans!" Her reply? "I most certainly do. I have plans not to drive her arse around. I did not lie. My plans are sitting home and not listening to her tell me to slow down when I'm only going 25 MPH." There was more, it was a whole rant, but basically, my mother felt that it was OK to say no. Sometimes the reason was, "I don't want to do that" but she would soften the blow by saying she had "plans." It was almost always followed by her saying, sotto voce, "Plans not to do that." She was never one to lie.

There is a career/business related book that's called "Getting to Yes" about negotiating what you want. I think there should be a similar book about getting to "No." It's hard to turn someone down; I believe we all want to help out when we can. It's the guilt though; it gets in the way. I think it starts when you become a parent. All of a sudden there is a tiny baby that needs everything, and it's your job to provide it. No is something children have to learn though, and it can be a battle. Some parents are explainers, and they give long diatribes about why their kids can't have or do something. Not me. "Because I said so" is a perfectly appropriate response in my world and I've said it more than a few times. At one point, I stole the alphabet blocks that had the "N" and the "O" on them out of the toy bin and would hold them up as soon as I heard the whining begin.

A very wise friend said to me "No doesn't need a reason. You can just say the word." This is true, but then another friend said, "There is a movement out there called ‘refusing the no,' and it involves saying yes to everything." Honestly, my head would explode. We are all busy, and there's no question that if someone I care about really needed me, I would be there, no matter what. No isn't something I say very often, but it's good to be able to. We just cannot do everything that is asked of us. Nor should we.

Monday, November 12, 2018

On Your Best Behavior

"1st: Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present."
---George Washington--Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation

Full disclosure, I'm cranky. A friend of mine, who has a wonderful way with words, would say I have a "goat in my garden" which means my panties are in a wad. She's from the South though and expresses herself in a much more polite and civilized way than I usually can. It's true though, I'm pretty bent about some public behavior I have witnessed lately, locally and nationally, and while George Washington lived in an entirely different time than we are all living in now, he had a pretty good point about respect. There are just some actions that should not be accepted in polite society. This was true in the 1700s, and it's true now. Here are a few examples, and, for the record, they all happened. It would be nice if they were made up, but no, these moments are, more often than not, the reality of daily life.

Cell Phone Use: Sure, George Washington could not have imagined cell phones. But it doesn't take a clairvoyant colonial politician to know that a space like a doctor's waiting room, a coffee shop or even the grocery store is not where a loud, and intensely personal conversation, should take place. No one wants to hear someone shouting into their iPhone about their mortgage, their latest lab results or anything else. I was recently browsing in Marshall's where a woman was wandering around the housewares department talking about her history of UTIs and her doctor's opinion on her dog sleeping in the bed with her being a possible cause. No. Sweet Mother of Abraham, no. This is not information anyone not intimately involved with this loud mouth needs to know. Just stop. Holy privacy, Batman. We all need to make a call now and then, but this is why they have hallways and cars. No more speakerphone calls in public spaces. No one wants to know that much about your life.

Personal hygiene: Another area of concern. Flossing is essential for healthy gums. Keeping your nails free of dirt is a good idea. Everyone enjoys an unstuffed nose. There are, however, many ways to accomplish these goals, but whipping out a roll of waxed thread and going all dental diva in the Starbucks line is just gross. Don't put any of your fingers in any of your airways unless you are entirely alone. Clipping your nails, with cuticles flying, is something best accomplished at home, and not at the RMV. I know it's a long wait, but bring a book for cripes sake.

Use your indoor voice: Most people are not hard of hearing, thankfully. So there is no reason to shout. This is one I struggle with because I'm Irish and I was raised around people who didn't fully understand how to be quiet. My daughter tells me all the time, "Hush! OMG, stop yelling." She has a point. Google "The Irish Whisper" it's a thing. If someone is standing within arm's length, you don't have to raise your voice, they can hear you.

These might seem like petty complaints, given the events of late. People were gunned down recently, in a house of G-d. A local teenager passed away after a brave battle with cancer. Who cares what George Washington thought about etiquette, right? Well, sure. Then again, when there is heartache all around us, when the evening news is all death and destruction, isn't taking a moment to consider how our actions might impact others a good idea? It's unlikely that refraining from picking your nose or flossing in public will do much good, politically or otherwise, but try anyway. For the comfort level of those around you, put down the Kleenex, the nail clippers and the cell phone. Maybe strike up a conversation with those around you, who knows, you might make a friend and friendship is something everyone needs these days.