Gen X parents Rejoice! Stranger Things is the Gift We’ve Been Waiting For

If you’re a Gen X parent of pre-teenish/teenish kids, perhaps you also are experiencing lightning in a bottle this summer.

A new parenting level unlocked.

The impossible made possible.

That’s right, a portal has opened and our 1980’s childhoods have crossed with those of our thoroughly modern and exhausted children and…our life experiences have suddenly become interesting to our kids!

I love you, Stranger Things.

IMG_2428Season 3 of the Netflix show,  released and immediately consumed by viewers way back on July 4, has delivered to our adolescents a story about kids THEIR age back in the 80’s which, blowing young minds everywhere, makes the show’s beloved characters OUR exact age. Flash forward to the show’s bad ass girls Eleven, Max, Nancy, Robin and pint-sized Erica in 2019 and you would find them in my book club, or in your swim practice carpool.

Yes, the Stranger Things kids regularly battle alien hellbeasts, but mostly, they are at the mall wearing OUR clothes (I’m looking at you high top Reeboks, Swatches, and the ugliest shorts ever), listening to OUR music, and watching OUR movies. (Bonus points to all of you who immediately recognized “Neverending Story,” right in front of your awestruck kids. Dusty and Suzie’s rendition is the REAL song of summer.) Thanks to Patrick Swayze and Red Dawn, we really did think the Russians were going to come marching through our small unassuming towns. We rode our bikes places and enjoyed free reign in 1980’s malls. (My Starcourt Mall was Sunrise Mall. What was yours?)

The meticulously detailed world of this season captured the imagination of our kids, successfully romanticizing our collective childhoods that in reality were fueled by sugar, hairspray and occasional parental supervision. For wistful Gen Xers, the season re-created an environment otherwise lost to us forever because unlike our future children, we walked through our adolescent days documenting very little with our rarely used LeClics.  Buying and developing film was expensive and annoying, you guys!

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This week, I’ve been low-key answering questions about what it was like in the olden days; explaining Orange Julius, Chess King, Waldenbooks, Wicks ‘N Sticks and Neverending Story, while trying not to be noticeably excited about my newfound valuable subject matter expertise. The other day I heard something along the lines of “So cool. I wish I was around for that.”

To make this crossover of time and space even more magical, the show stars a member of Gen X royalty, Queen Winona Ryder along with Maya Hawke as this season’s new fan favorite character, Robin. Princess Maya is of course the offspring of Lady Uma Thurman and Sir Ethan Hawke, Winona’s costar in Gen X manifesto movie Reality Bites. “It’s all happening,” I’ve said to myself over and over.

So, this summer, I am thankful for this little gift of a loud, exciting, heart warming, scary, kinda gross but delightful gift to Gen X parents. Any opportunity to connect is a good one, right? Because by the time school rolls around again, our kids will have forgotten that their parents were once hellbeast battling, feathered-hair-having, bike riding heroes.

 

*Above you will find my better half John whose look, car and pose obviously served as the inspiration for Billy. My buddy and Laurel and I go shopping…Esprit…everything Esprit.

Sorry, America, I’m not sure I can make it to your birthday party.

IMG_2348I like to check in with America every year on her birthday. It started for me years ago as a Facebook goof… “Happy Birthday, USA, you look great for your age,” etc., just to give myself a giggle. But in regularly talking to my own country so casually, I began to see her as an old friend in my same stage of life. This year, she’s turning 243 a few days before I turn 45 – so we’re both just a couple of ladies in our forties.

But honestly, she’s kind of a lot right now. She is being really difficult, and I don’t want to go to her birthday party.

My feelings around her are complicated. I’m sad for her, mad at her, hopeful that she’ll see the error of her ways, and get back on track.  She asks for advice, then doesn’t take it. She’s invited the wrong people through her door, and they’re making a big mess of everything, so I’m like, “fine, but don’t call me at 3 a.m. when these hooligans have robbed your house, alienated you from your friends, vandalized your neighbors’ homes and locked their children in your basement. OK, yes, in that case, please call everyone.” Her place needs a good sage cleansing.

I want to hand her off to someone else to deal with for a while. But I keep coming back to the stark reality that she is my responsibility. Oh yeah, sorry to break it to you, but she’s yours too.

We conveniently forget about her checkered past – one filled with a string of bad decisions and countless hurtful actions. But it always felt like maybe she was making progress. It was our fault I guess, for taking all those little improvements for granted, but who could possibly have imagined we would stop going forward and go backwards again after all this time?

So I don’t really feel like celebrating her birthday, because she is being such a b-…I mean, she’s being so rude right now.

Complicating my already complicated feelings, I finally saw “Hamilton”this year which made me a different kind of sad and mad and hopeful about our country. I watched the RBG movies (again…sad, mad, hopeful), and met American and Civil Rights hero, US Rep. John Lewis, totally by accident on a quiet street in Atlanta, an encounter from which I walked away grateful, humbled, hopeful, and energized. All of these were in-my-face reminders that nothing has been straightforward for America; not her birth, her adolescence, young adulthood nor her currently rocky bout with middle age. NOTHING AT ALL has been easy, and as her friends, we know that on a cellular level, but…

Damn it, I expect more from you, America. You are old enough to know better.

I want to leave you on your own to learn your lesson. But if your friends leave you alone, things will just get worse. So we’ll mow your lawn, and take out your recycling and trash, we’ll sage the place ourselves because finding a shaman on short notice is hard, and we’ll do our best to help you be better. Ladies in their forties need to stick together.

We’ll vote and protest and fight for you, but we will also invite you to yoga, and a meditation retreat, and buy you thirty-five billion books because YOU NEED TO READ MORE.

Fine. I will celebrate you this year, but I am NOT dressing up, I am not buying you a gift, and I refuse to bring an appetizer to the party. I will stay for five minutes, and then I will go home and change into pajamas.

For the love of God, get it together, people

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Jesus must be so annoyed, y’all

Collectively, as of late, we Christians have sat silently, not wanting to offend or get too political. And here we are. We are beyond political. We are making moral kingdom decisions every moment we are not helping our neighbor. And who is your neighbor, you ask? If you spent five minutes looking at the gospel, you’d know. And once you know, you can’t un-know.

Jesus the Christ flouted the rules and the expectations of the most pious. He didn’t care about offending anyone. He spent time with the poorest of the poor. He fed the hungry. He provided free healthcare, he invited the little children to come to him. He took a nap on a rock…all while being a brown immigrant. He did not care about man-made borders, or whether or not you are comfortable in your complacency. He calls us away from that. We need to love radically and without regard to which side of an imaginary border you were born on, what color your skin is, who you love, or even what you believe.

Christians are not a law & order people. We never have been. Early Christians were ILLEGAL. They risked life and limb going against the state to follow Jesus the Christ – that’s where the fish symbol came from, a secret message scrawled in the dirt to identify each other. Jesus was in trouble for not washing his hands according to the law, and for working on the Sabbath…also against the law.

This is part of our story – and I for one am proud of it: Love has always trumped the law of the land. How have we forgotten this??

For too long, we happy-go-lucky church folk have allowed our beloved scriptures to be co-opted, hijacked and perverted by selfish leaders, false prophets, and crooked statesmen to further their own repugnant agendas. How do we know they are wrong? Because someone is always hurt by their policies. Period.

And here we sit, not wanting to offend or get political.

Our silence is deafening. If we don’t rise up and do something now, then we shouldn’t step back in the doors of a church, because we are there for the wrong reasons. Jesus called us to be in community – to care for one another and to care for the world.

A church is a body of people not a building. And these bodies were built for action, NOT complacency.

This is the time. We are being tested. What do you believe really, about the Jesus you proclaim?

When you think back to the scene at Calvary….what would you have done When Jesus was carrying his own timber cross? Would you be casting lots to take his possessions? Would you have been yelling “Crucify him!”?

Your actions today, tell you exactly where you would have been that day.

Our Apologies to the Y2K Babies

IMG_1429Do you remember the Y2K babies…the four million+ little ones born into the tail end of the first internet boom?

Like the mysterious cicadas, these equally mysterious young people have emerged from their not-always-comfortable kid cocoons and have started graduating from high school and pouring into the world. They overran the college application process. They’ve taken all the men’s medium t-shirts and women’s size 7 shoes. They have used ALL THE DATA. They’re eating all the frozen yogurt and have taken up every seat on flights to Europe. Dear God, I hope they are finding their way to their polling places.

These kids were just little chubby babies on September 11, 2001, and our perspective and hopes for them changed in an instant, and continued to change again and again with the awful and exciting things that tend to happen through a person’s lifetime. Inventions. Wars. Societal and political shifts. Natural disasters. Personal heartbreak and triumph. Epic movie franchises and broken sports curses.

Our oldest son is one of these former babies/current graduates. He and his cohorts have put up with years of our inspirational chats, and the retelling of cautionary tales – urban legends about kids who didn’t study hard enough for the SAT or only took three years of a foreign language instead of four. They were constantly reminded that every move they made would affect the rest of their lives.  Now that they’re done, and exhausted by all of our help, we’re like, “Oh don’t worry, you’re going to be fine. We just want you to be happy.”

It’s time for them to figure out their way. Our way depends on it.

The options for Y2K babies are different than those of every generation before them. We’re sending them into a weird world – where the possibilities feel infinite and finite, depending on the day. We (I) can’t unload our (my) panic about the mysterious state of the world onto them (him).

These new adults are Post Millennials. And it seems, while we were trying to make things so great, we’ve done everything in our power to make things as difficult as possible for them. As a proud Gen X parent, I feel like we’ve quietly put up with a lot, but we didn’t use any of that experience to help these kids. And so to you adorable group of Y2K baby graduates, I say…sorry, guys!

College admission is insanely competitive, and infinitely more expensive than what we had to deal with…tuition has gone up 260% since 1980, while other consumer goods have only gone up 120%. We’ve made it prohibitive in every way. You’re welcome!

We’ve re-wired your brains with our own lack of self control with technology – forcing our own addiction on you, then we get frustrated with how much you look at your little screen.

We shrug and turn to you – firmly resting our collective future onto your young shoulders. You’ll need to fix the environment and health care and race relations because it’s too hard and we can’t do it.

You’ll have to fix education – good luck since we messed that up pretty good (see above re: prohibitive)! We’ve known for a long time what keeps you healthy, but sorry – we’ve put sugar and garbage in everything you consume.

We haven’t fixed equity or equality of any kind. Sorry! We have only anecdotally modeled volunteerism, civic engagement, patience, kindness, generosity, and creative freedom. We haven’t let you explore your neighborhood, goofy hobbies, free time, play time or diversity.

You need to overcome a lot – us – to get to where you need to go….and not just where you need to go, but where you want to go. Because, let’s face it, we don’t know what you need.  If we did, you sure wouldn’t be in this pickle! However, I do know that WE NEED YOU!

You’ve gone from being the children entrusted to us, to being our new co-workers, team members, fellow citizens and allies.

When you moved your tassel to the other side of your fancy flat hat, that’s what you got…a graduation party, and a seat at the table that should have been occupied by you all along.

Thank God for us, it looks like you nerds know what you are doing.

You’re smart, in spite of us, kind in spite of us, connected in spite of us. And yes, though you may not want our help anymore, we are in it together. We obviously can’t do it for you, but maybe if we work together, we can move the needle.

Hope you enjoyed your two days of sleeping in, you’re needed on the floor.

 

 

 

 

Imagine This

 

 

I KNOW IT’S BEEN A VERY LONG TIME since I’ve written anything here. My return has the potential to be like walking into the gym after a year’s absence, arms raised in triumph, proclaiming “I’m back! Sorry to keep you guys hanging!” But the people at the front desk are new, and your favorite gym characters like the grunting guy in the shorty shorts or the lady who lounges on whatever machine you need while checking her email, have been replaced by new characters in unfamiliar shorty shorts. Nobody knows who you are or how long you have been gone, and they really truly do not care that you are back.

However, in case you are curious and have a couple of minutes, there have been some interesting developments over the past year. Our family added a second dog, Minnie, to our menagerie. I posted here long ago about how I did not want a dog, but as my oldest son prepares for high school graduation, and the youngest is entrenched in middle school, I see why people in our particular stage of life get dogs. Dogs – unlike your children and the people at the gym – are excited to see you, and you realize you’ve forgotten what that feels like.

I’ve toned down the highlights and my hair is a little browner.

I’ve found I don’t like sushi as much as I used to and I’ve miraculously fulfilled my goal of regularly making pasta from scratch.

I’ve become more serious about my skincare routine and I’ve started listening to news radio and podcasts…all natural outcomes of turning 43.

Oh, and hot darn, I wrote a book.

Released in September, “The IFs” is my first novel, and the entire experience has freaked me out in very good and very scary ways. But mostly it’s been great…fun, exciting… a dream come true, that has allowed me the coolest opportunities to talk with people about not just the process, but the story itself.

If this is the first you’re hearing about it, “The IFs” is about otherwise fully functioning adults forced by the demise of social media to create imaginary friends in order to battle their loneliness and survive a foreign social landscape. It just so happens, in real life, I’m the mom of a Y2K baby and the book takes a speculative peek into the future, when the Y2K babies are venturing out into the world as new adults. I regularly categorize “The IFs” as a quirky beach read, but at its core, the book is about friendship and human connection and what might happen if we’re suddenly deprived of both.

So through a three-plus-year process with the book, I thought a lot about loneliness, isolation, friendship and our reliance on staying electronically tethered to each other. I often stared at my phone and wondered if the thing was making me happy or miserable. I stared at my children and their friends, and wondered if they were happy or miserable as they sat silently together staring into their phones. I sat on our local commuter train staring at people as they stared into their phones, startling them when they looked up to find me, a strange psycho offering uninterrupted eye contact from afar.

A few days ago, as I was parking my car, news radio cranked and thumping from my speakers, I sat just a little longer because one non-traffic story caught my attention. The UK has just introduced the Minister of Loneliness. Named for Jo Cox, the late, dynamic British politician who established the UK’s Commission on Loneliness, the position is designed to address the issues caused by social isolation. Loneliness is a recognized epidemic in the UK, and here in the US even though we don’t yet have a minister for it. (Find out more about it here and here)

This is what I thought about and wrote about and dreamt about for years. Not the minister part, and spoiler alert, I didn’t come up with a widespread solution for how the world should deal with our connection problem. But seriously, WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?  WHAT WOULD HAPPEN if we experienced a radical shift in our surroundings that once again changed how we formed our relationships? Would our collectively deteriorating social acumen be enough to help us find our way?

We don’t know how the world will change next, or what we humans will have to do to adapt. But we’ve all had, at our luckiest, glimpses of loneliness and isolation. For those surrounded by people most of the time, an evening of solitude sounds ok, because you can eat a baguette for dinner and binge watch true crime shows. Soon enough though, you feel gross about the baguette and paranoid from the true crime shows and solitude loses whatever weird appeal it may have momentarily held.

Writing is the perfect way to repeatedly plunge into a messed up kind of solitude. You have to take yourself out of social media or you won’t write a word. You stare into space. You think about what snack you will have next and why your thumbs bend the way that they do. You look at your cat as nothing less than co-author of your work. One day, you think what you’ve written doesn’t completely suck, the next day, you’re ready to throw in the towel and never write again, not even your name. You’re operating in a vacuum. Giddy, depressed, numb, repeat.

And then, when the dang thing finally goes out into the world, you physically can’t sit there wondering if people are reading and liking it or maybe hating it so you occupy your brain and hands by reorganizing every nook and cranny of your house, trying on every piece of clothing you own to see if it brings you joy. Oh, and people…you find where the people are, and you go there.

Have you noticed a change in the nature of your relationships? What you seek in a friendship? These aren’t hypotheticals – I’m truly asking you, yeah YOU.

We need to ignore each others’ ill-fitting shorty shorts and connect. The future of the planet depends on it.

If you’re interested in the book – you can find it here or here. If you’ve read it, thank you! And if you liked it, could you like mention it to a friend who’s looking for a quirky beach read? 

That photo up there on the left is me and my book club. I was terrified for them to read it, because they are all so smart and well-read and discerning. But they were incredibly gracious and supportive and amazing.

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And allow me to introduce you to Moe and Minnie

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Since October 4, 2016, I’ve written the occasional Facebook update, Instagram caption, email, tweet, journal entry, and Christmas card. However, I have been unable to write write. Well, more accurately, I have chosen not to write write. But with 2016 mercifully making way for 2017, I feel like it’s time to stop avoiding the unavoidable. I simply can’t write about anything, until I write about this.

My mom died on October 4; the very same mom I was able to write about here in present tense, just this spring. Back then, ten lifetimes ago, she was still working and laughing and sassy and loving and generous and wise and wonderful. As I wrote about her, I was acutely aware of just how present tense she was. I cried the first time I read the essay out loud, fully aware that the things I had written were usually saved for eulogies. The essay was better than a eulogy, I reasoned, because she was able to read it and see how much I admired her. And she did read it, and she loved it, and she printed it out and showed her friends.

Then without warning, I was including parts of that essay in her actual eulogy, reading it with my brother at my side, next to her casket, in front of my dad, family, friends, and strangers in a church that was built on the site of the school where my mother served as the last school secretary, and where my husband the preacher was orchestrating a tender, beautiful, perfect-for-Mom service.

Mom’s passing was sudden and wildly unexpected, which of course made for a total nightmare.

(I’m not using “you” to creep you out, but because “I” sounds as if I think I’m the only person this has ever happened to. I’m using the big common “you,” that selfishly provides some comfort from having shared in the universal human experience of life and death, but, really, don’t worry, the “you” here is really me.)

You immediately lament the goodbyes you never had. So many other people get goodbyes, why didn’t you? Then you realize that in order to get the goodbye, your loved one needs to be dying, and that is the last thing in the world you would want. So instead, your jealousy turned to gratitude, and then immediately to disbelief tinged with a teensy bit of resentment that you are in the position of having to be grateful for such a terrible thing. But you are…you are so thankful this woman you loved was fully in the present tense to the very end. And she would have hated being sick; she was good at a lot of things, but being sick was not one of them.

The first hours after the unimaginable becomes real, are fuzzy and clear all at the same time. You’re numb, but you notice every single thing. The days run together, and you are unsure of what to do about anything, or how to manage your horrible thoughts, or your unwieldy emotions or the weirdness of your surroundings. You notice the tears come at strange intervals, which makes you self-conscious about how you are grieving. You understand you are still in shock, and that the worst part is still to come and you sporadically entertain the thought that this was all just a terrible mix-up, and your mother is perfectly fine somewhere, and just wants to come home. You feel sorry for yourself and think about how life will never be the same, and you’ll never be the same, and why are we even born if we’re just going to die? You and your family swap memories, and you cling to each other because you have to, and because you can, and you haven’t been together in this intense of a way, well, ever.

At the very same time you’re wallowing in the muck, you somehow find yourself on the receiving end of the best things humanity has to offer. The purest love and kindness pour over you from your friends and family, and you muster the strength to pour it right back without obligation. But also somehow, some of your greatest comfort and practical help comes from the strangest places…From the man who keeps his shop open late so he can fit your dad for a suit then offers to press his shirt for free before the memorial. From the neighbors who bring wine and the other neighbors who bring breakfast and the other neighbors who haul out the garbage for you. From the cousin you don’t really remember having who finds you a church to use for the memorial since Mom and Dad’s church is getting renovated. From the endless string of people responsible for coffee cakes and hams and pizzas and flowers and the tiny little lady you’ve never seen before who delivers a pot of chili that’s nearly as big as her. From the diner waitress who saw the obituary and came to the service because your parents were her customers and always so nice to her. From the bank teller and the pharmacist who were crushed to hear about Mom, because she was always so nice to them. From Mom’s teenage co-workers who showed up– one even riding his bicycle all over town to get there– because, guess what, Mom was so nice to them.

When you’re perfectly entitled to disappear into grief, you can’t.  It’s still not about you. You are suddenly connected to the world in a new way through the absence of someone you loved.

You’re thankful against your will again, because you are overwhelmed with evidence that you were justified in loving and admiring this person, because she impacted people throughout her whole life in ways she never even knew. And you got to be her daughter. And you still get to be her daughter. Present tense.

Hey humans, we’re overdue for a remodel. I’ll go first.

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I’ve been blathering on for months, complaining about people who hate. I love love, but I hate hate, and I hate haters, a category I have recently lumped a large number of people into, taking it upon myself to determine they are terrible for hating. When I realized just how much I hated all of these haters, I knew I had a problem. And I knew I wasn’t alone.

I’m not supposed to hate, right? I’m a Christian and a pastor’s wife, but alas, I’ve fallen down on the job.

I feel it both when the police kill innocent people and when people kill the police who put their lives on the line to protect us. I find myself hating action and inaction. I hate what we’ve become, but also what we used to be. Power and the absence of power. Obsessiveness, and ignorance. Braggadocio and spinelessness. I hate racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia and fear-mongering and then I find myself hating the people I have determined haven’t hated that same stuff enough. I hate reading the news, but also not reading the news. Don’t even get me started on the comments section of any article about anything – whether it’s politics or the Golden State Warriors. The comments section is where my fury gets a real workout. I hate inequality and injustice which I think we’re supposed to, but I can feel almost the same level of anger towards everyone from Cleveland Cavaliers’ fans to total strangers who disagree with me on anything, which means, I’ve covered every single one of you. Family, friends, everybody.

And that’s just the darkness contained in my heart…the heart of just one white, (almost?) middle-aged, middle-class, usually chipper Christian mom who wants peace and love and unity, and for everybody to be nice to each other. I want equality and justice, and a better world for my children and your children. But, how can a desire for all that good, thrive and produce in a heart that is taken up with so much darkness?

Which makes me the problem.

I can’t see your heart. I don’t know what’s going on in there, or what’s going on in the heart of GoneFishinPhil63 whose comments on news articles have made me think he’s the devil incarnate. Knowing is not my job and it’s not my business. All I can know is what’s happening in my own heart, and it’s not pretty, and it’s not getting me anywhere, and it sure as heck isn’t helping anybody else, so I’m going to start there. Because what I’ve been doing lately, IS NOT WORKING.

Last night, to add insult to injury, I realized I’ve been reading Martin Luther King, Jr. all wrong, all this time.

My husband, who cares deeply about social justice, and works tirelessly for it as a pastor in San Francisco, posted an MLK, Jr. quote he’s had to go back to again and again, when societal tensions seem to be rising. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Beautiful, right? I love it. But I’ve been doing it wrong. I’ve been reading it allllllll this time, and thinking, “Yeah, take that, idiots on the other side. I love love and you morons are screwing it up and securing your place on the wrong side of history. Me and Martin Luther King, Jr. are right again!” Nope, the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seems to have been talking to me.

I’m not going to stop hating, by hating some more. The darkness I feel inside isn’t going to leave so I can make room for more darkness. Nothing will change with the set-up I have right now.

So after taking a good long look at my own heart, I’ve decided to remodel. I can’t do ANYTHING, until I’ve done that. It’s not going to be easy; it’s close to a total tear-down job, and I know I’ll need the Man Upstairs who’s a specialist in this kind of work. There will be dust and noise and I won’t know where anything is for a while. However, the new place will be light and airy, and there will be tons of space for accepting and entertaining friends and strangers, but by design, no spot to sit and read the comments section.