November 20, 2015

The Not Quite Empty Nest

October 28, 2015

Not a Thing!

We often host friends for dinner, and have learned that not everyone shares our bathroom habits. What is a polite and kind way to ask guests to close the toilet lid before they flush?

Speaking of insecurity and fury born of ignorance, I had no idea that closing the lid before flushing was a thing. But a quick Internet search showed me for the barbarian I am. Many sources confirm that lid-up flushing disperses “polluted water vapor” all over the place in a bacterial free-for-all. So, thanks for the edification, Sarah. As for your concern, try a little sign: “Lid down before flushing, please.” You don’t want to talk about this at the table. And unless my parents skipped a seminal lesson in not being gross, I don’t believe this practice is widely observed, though it should be.

I eagerly read this question in the New York Times, not so much for the interesting and disgusting issue of lowering the toilet lid before flushing, but because it raises another current issue that has been on my mind. That is, the proliferation of friends and acquaintances who take offense due to transgressions of etiquette known only to themselves.

Was this always a problem? My understanding is that all rules of behavior fall under the rubric of the "golden rule" and specific minutia of etiquette simply codify that. The minutia may very from culture to culture but the intent is the same. (My beloved boss used to say that etiquette is the lubricant of social intercourse. That is about as good a description as any.) Now friends and acquaintances seem to be making up their own rules, then griping about transgressions.

I have a friend who posts her upcoming schedule, then complains that people don't respond to say that they are coming or not to events she has announced. "Huh?" I replied, when chastised. I thought it was a social media blast; I had no idea these updates were meant as invitations. 

Another friend, and I hope this is an anomaly, prefers being told that you would rather stick sharp objects in your eyes that accompany him. Frankly, I thought saying, "No thank you" or "I am sorry but I am busy" was polite and sufficient, but it begs the follow-up question, "Why can't you go?" Then I am forced to say that I would rather stick sharp objects in my eyes. That feels a bit rude. We had a bit of a go-round on this issue, but I stand by my original answer. A rule that says one must provide a satisfactory excuse to the person who makes the invitation: not a thing!

A former friend made a habit of this type of thing. He would silently seethe over perceived rudeness, then cut the perpetrator off without a word. Before I was cut off, I ventured that it was unlikely that the former friends had any idea why they had been ex-communicated. If there is a lesson in this, it has been many years since I was ousted and I still don't know why.

But I have a guess that it is NOT A THING!

September 27, 2015

5776 L'vad

Full disclosure: I am not a believer, nor am I particularly religious. However, I maintain a synagogue membership. I joke that I attend for the food, which is partially true. I participate during high holidays and fun holidays, Sukkot, Simchat Torah and Purim. 

This year, during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur 5776, I had a slowly dawning realization. Synagogue-going depresses me. Let me explain: I have been a member for over a decade and year after year, I attend alone or with one of the boys in tow. It is really sad. Synagogues, churches, spiritual communities are by their very nature, family-oriented and family-friendly. Maybe when the boys were small and we attended Tot Shabbat and the annual family retreat, I felt more part of this family community. For the past few years, I have greeted the people I know, then sat . . . alone.

The dinners and events used to be a treat, but recently I have begun to feel like it is the first day of high school and I have to scan the cafeteria for a face I know. "Hi, I am Lydia. May I join you?" It is getting old.

Everyone is friendly enough, of course. People make life-long friendships through their children's cohort. The parents whose kids were in the preschool program together are still close. Hart's and Jeff's peers would now be finished with college, had I met those parents through Hebrew School, which I did not, as my kids had to be tutored privately.

I love our synagogue, primarily for its inclusive and progressive nature, the camaraderie, the social justice activities. Until recently, we had a popular and charismatic rabbi. Maybe this year's rent-a-rabbi was a disappointment by comparison.

The take-away? Holiday blues are not just for those who celebrate Christmas.

May 13, 2015

Parenting children, parenting parent

I don't think this crazy, right wing-nut
throwing money around is actually our mother . . . anymore.

______________________________ email to my brother

Chicago 1998

I talk, text, email my brother almost every day, and always about the same topic...our mom. Our mother has always been argumentative and combative. She answers innocuous questions evasively. She has always preferred the most complicated, convoluted plans involving the most people, preferably with extensive letter-writing and emailing, when a single phone call will do. She was always like that, so it is hard to see the decline in the past few years. Somehow the ante has been upped.

We used to bicker about the ease of ATM or self-check out at the grocery store, now I am demanding to know why she is sending checks accompanied by letters via US Post to her property management company, when we set up an automatic debit for that. "I don't trust the people at the bank to send it on time," she told me. "There is an accurate computer to do the transaction," I sighed. "There isn't actually a person in the back with a quill and an eye shade, touching your money."

My friend Darren, who knows Mom from the old Ohio days, describes my feelings as "sangry." Yes, I am sad to see her acting foolishly, but I am angry that she won't listen to reason. I keep questioning myself as to whether this is really a change. It has been such a gradual decline, and a decline in someone who has always been eccentric, so it is really hard to tell.

However, the crazy right-wing rhetoric has convinced me that our mom is really gone, and the person I am talking to is some strange through-the-looking-glass avatar of her. I write so that I remember her, the founder of a program for impoverished urban kids to spend a vacation with another family. (OK, it WAS the 60s.) She hosted a number of exchange students; she led Girl Scout troops. She owned properties once, and when someone asked her why she rented to family with children, she replied indignantly that poor families had a right to live somewhere, too.

Mom has always been a person without any vanity or snobbery or prejudice, so it is unnerving to hear her spout stuff that would make Fox News look centrist.

It is tragic to lose a parent, of course. But that is the human condition, people have children and usually children outlive them. But Mom has outlived herself. We know someone who looks like her, and has her clothes, but isn't really her. Once in a while though, she is so lucid and cogent and in-the-moment, I have this pang that I have misjudged her condition. I suspect these moments will become rarer and rarer.

April 15, 2015

Hart training as a dog groomer

Hart loves his training course at Love Fur Dogs in Glencoe.

March 19, 2015

Smile! No, please don't!

Most people who have any experience with online dating can probably write volumes, and since I don't seem to be very good at it, (assuming the best scenario in online dating is to do it for the shortest time possible, meet someone, disable your account, and never return) I am still online. I feel encouraged, nay, compelled to add to the growing corpus of related literature.

This, straight, middle-aged men of the Midwest, is my gift to you. I won't add my voice to the scads of words regarding horrible profile pictures. The selfie ("I have no friends.") The shirtless bathroom selfie ("I have no friends, because I never leave my house.") The bar photo where you wear a  sports jersey and hold a beer ("I do leave my house, but women are an utter mystery to me.") Why bother? Those photo cliches are so imbedded in the online dating culture that no one is going to stop, any more than women my age stopped wearing baby blue eye shadow between 1975 and 1985, just because there were books and articles telling us not to wear it. Eye shadow was, by definition, blue, so no amount of press was going to convince us to stop.

I digress. Middle-aged men, I am open-minded. Other than evolution-deniers, and gun nuts, I don't have any firm deal breakers. Until now . . . .  because I did not realize this phenomenon even existed. Bad teeth. Yep, bad teeth, and by that I don't mean my-parents-could-not-afford-orthodontia. I have been out with men my age where bad teeth is clearly their signal feature: missing, broken, dead teeth, gaps where teeth should be, congenitally deformed tiny baby teeth! A set of choppers that hasn't had professional attention in years, maybe decades. In front! Always a surprise! I go back and look at the photos and sure enough, the guy is never pictured with his mouth open. I feel sort of tricked and betrayed.

Lest anyone think I am shallow, I will protest that I have never left a date saying, "this has been fun but your teeth creep me out." But neither have I met anyone so charming, sexy, amusing and kind that I have been able to overlook their horrible teeth.

I have to say that I find the situation alarming. The only constant parade of shockingly horrible teeth are the litigants on Judge Judy, who are mostly poor, uneducated and often rural. But that is not the case with my dates.

Since I have commented on this to a few friends, and that was three or four snaggle-toothed dates ago, I have been thinking about it constantly. My quandry is this: what explanation could someone have for their neglecting their teeth that would be acceptable in the context of dating? 
"I didn't go to a dentist regularly as a kid and I just don't pay much attention to it." 
Then smile in your profile pictures, and spare me the jolt of horror when I realize I can see your tonsils through the gap in your front teeth.
"I can't afford it." 
That's even worse.
"I am afraid of going to the dentist." 
Also completely unacceptable. No one relishes a dental appointment, a funeral, visiting a sickbed. We are adults. We do those things. 

When asked about going out again by any of the 6-10 men whose teeth have repulsed me, I have demurred. For some of you nice guys standing shirtless in your bathroom taking a new set of selfies for your OKCupid or Tinder profile, I can assure that women are not inscrutable or mysterious or capricious because they don't want to date you.
Psst. It is your teeth. They are hideous.

March 1, 2015


Jeff: Why didn't we go out yesterday like we planned?

Lydia: You were in such a big snit when you got home, I thought we would go another time.

J: I was NOT in a snit.

L: Really? You seemed so grouchy.

J: Well, maybe a little snit.

February 26, 2015

Opting Out . . . .

My mother is the de facto godmother to a young woman, the daughter of a good friend. By chance, Rachel is the same age as my boys, so I heard the travails of kindergarten etc, at exactly the same time I was navigating the same waters with Hart and Jeff.

Mom did not often agree with her friend's child-rearing choices. I got an earful about Rachel's eating habits, school work, discipline (lack, thereof) on a regular basis. I listened patiently for many years, My only response was that I didn't care for what has been now termed "helicopter-parenting" and I didn't know either Rachel or her mother, so the whole saga seemed rather abstract.

Then suddenly, I had enough. During the three kids' Bar/Bat Mitvah year, Mom happened to mention that she would be attending Rachel's Bat Mitzvah on a coming Wednesday. Wednesday? Wednesday, whoever heard of that?

Well, Mom explained, her friend didn't want to incur the cost of feeding the whole congregation on a Saturday morning, so the Bat Mitzvah was scheduled for a Wednesday.

I was inexplicably angry about this news. I couldn't explain why, only to tell my mother that I had had enough Rachel updates, and that I wished to hear no more.

When I thought about it, I realized why I was offended. To be a member of any community, a church, a synagogue, a book club, a soccer team, is a social contract. It is a quid pro quo understanding. You attend any fellow member's Bar Mitzvah celebration, enjoy, eat as much as you like, then when it is your kid's turn . . . .  

This is kind of opting out seems to me to be tantamount to social anarchy. We humans are social animals. We developed  rituals, etiquette and mores in order to live peaceably together. When someone opts out, it feels like a personal affront.

Wealthy, educated people who decline to vaccinate their children incur the same wrath from me, and for exactly the same reason. It is unhealthy, unsafe and subversive!

If stopping at red lights is a convention we all observe for safety, why isn't vaccination? It is inconceivable that anyone would say "since everyone else stops, it is safe for me to drive through the light" (assuming no one is coming the other way).

The unspoken social contract, the "herd immunity," for near-universal vaccination has been just enough to accommodate a tiny number medically-fragile children and Christian Scientists who are not vaccinated. 

Maybe this vaccination issue is just a momentary blip and abstaining from vaccinating children a momentary fad. I hope so. 


  • Rachel turned out fine, despite her mother's choices.
  • My children were vaccinated in Russia and are current on all vaccinations.
  • I had measles at age six, before the MMR vaccine. I would not wish it on anyone at any age.