Monday, November 30, 2009

The wisdom of Antonio Banderas

I never, ever talk to people on planes. I’m the one who pretends to read or sleep - anything to avoid becoming someone’s captive audience.

I’m sitting on my seat and looking out the window and thinking, “we’ll never take off, because it’s snowing too much.” And I turn and see this guy. I feel like I already know him and that’s what I’m thinking when I realize he’s talking to me and I’m not listening.

“You’re sitting in my place” he says, possibly for the third time.

“Impossible” I think. “He doesn’t know I wouldn’t do that”.

I pull out my boarding pass and realize that when I sat down, I looked at the row (13) and completely disregarded the letter (F). My actual seat is clear on the opposite side, my suitcase is snug in the overhead bin and because of a full flight there is no remaining space. If I move, I’ll have to check my bag or leave it where it is and wait for everyone to disembark to retrieve it.

So J and I become allies in my predicament. He looks down the aisle, keeping an eye out for people getting too close to where we are sitting and when someone finally, inevitably comes to claim the place I’m in I say “I’m travelling with my friend and we wonder if you mind sitting in my assigned seat”. (He half-heartedly, yet graciously nods and saunters off. Phew.)

I end up being right about the snow. We stay on the runway for almost two hours while the (old) plane is de-iced and checked. I barely register the delay, because J and I are talking. About notebooks and what we write in them (he likes them blank, I prefer them lined.) The lists we make. What we consider noteworthy, and how we take notes. We offer one another quick glances at the secrets that we scribble, not to read but rather to appreciate the esthetics of the annotated page. We talk about books in general, then specific titles we recommend (we both write it all down, naturally.)

We talk about movies. Art and some of the artists we like. Languages. Words. We talk about love, and our demands on it. About the importance of having clear priorities. About being alone. We talk about silence. About god. We talk about politics. We talk about our parents, and our upbringing. Most of all, we talk about food.

A two and a half hour flight ends up taking more than four hours, and when we land, I’m kind of bummed. J walks around the airport with me helping me find Luca, and we wave goodbye.

I never thought I’d quote Antonio Banderas, but he makes a good point. If you never talk to strangers, you’ll never make any friends.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Be careful who you love

Last year, as we watched American Idol, I told my husband that I loved him with nearly all my heart.

“Nearly?” he asked, barely ruffled.

“Well, a little piece of it belongs to David Cook. Did you not just hear his rendition of Billie Jean?”

Flash forward to a bit over a year later. I'm standing in line to board a flight to Denver. I turn to my left and see a familiar face. He's talking to what I'm going to assume is his band, and...I can't for the life of me remember his name.

I call Luca. “Hon” I say “Quick. What’s the name of that guy who won American Idol – or maybe came in second – that I used to love? You know, when I told you a piece of my heart belonged to him?”

Luca replies immediately. “Oh, yes. Adam Lambert.”

“No, no” I say. “That was this year. And yes, I did say that my heart belonged to – anyhow, last year. The guy last year.”

“Ummm. I don’t know. Where are you? Have you boarded?”

“Luca, please! I need to know! Help me!”

“Ok. I’m looking it up. Ah! David Cook?”

“Yes!” I say “David Cook! He’s standing right next to me! I gotta to go.”

I hang up the phone and turn to look at David Cook. He looks at me. Our eyes lock (really). I mouth the (profound) words “David. Cook.” He nods. I say “You rock.” “He bows and graciously says “thank you”. He walks away.

That’s when I realize that there is a little piece of my heart that is quite fickle. As I turn to board the plane I call my husband back. “I am going to miss you” I say. “And I love you so much”.

“Yes” he says, with what I’m sure is a little smile. “I know.”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Tips on being a parent (from someone who isn't)

The toughest job in the world has got to be being a parent.

The first time this became clear to me I was around fourteen. A friend and I were talking about the completely dysfunctional, often clueless, downright weird things mothers and fathers do. In monotone and with her gaze fixed on the horizon, she confided what hers had inflicted upon her. “My parents love each other so much that I always come in second”.

That’s when it hit me – no matter what you do, you’re going to screw up your kids. (My hope is that you find this oddly liberating.)

In the past few weeks, for a variety of reasons related more to their circumstances than to my experience, friends have asked my opinion in matters of parenting, specifically as it relates to divorce. I thought I’d put together my list of top four amateur recommendations (I repeat, “amateur”. To be perfectly clear I’m not only not a professional; I’m not even a parent.)

1. Don’t make decisions based on what is good for your children. Make decisions based on what is good for you. (This doesn’t mean “completely disregard what is important to them". It means “put yourself first, them immediately second.”) I know this sounds unforgivably selfish. But kids learn by example. Teach them to be happy by being happy rather than exposing them to parents who are always torn, confused, angry or resentful. (Don’t know if you should be a stay at home mom or go back to work? Should you stay in your marriage for your kids? See above.)

2. Examine what is driving the choices you are making. Is it love or is it guilt? If the force is guilt, don’t do it. Guilt is corrosive and nothing good ever comes of it.

3. Change is good. It feels terrible and scary and confusing and nobody really likes it, but it’s quite possibly the only thing in life that you can be certain you’ll get a lot of. So many (wonderful, loving) parents strive to raise their children in a Stable Environment. I ask you – how can a kid become a person resilient to change is all they have ever known is stability? I’m not saying, “please mess up their lives”. I’m saying that if you mess up yours and feel you’re dragging them along for the ride, they will be OK.

4. Be honest. Maybe don’t be explicit, but do tell the truth. If your 8 year old walks in on the immediate aftermath of a screaming, raging fight and asks wide-eyed “what’s going on?” and your reply is “oh, absolutely nothing, honey, everything is peachy! ” you’re not protecting her. You’re teaching her that she can’t trust the most basic, most fundamental of all navigation tools: her own intuition.

Besides, kids know everything. Every. Thing. They might not fully understand it, or be able to articulate it, but they know. They know you have secrets, that you hide things from them, even that sometimes you’d love to get away from them. They don’t tell you that they know because they are trying to protect you too.


Monday, November 2, 2009

November 2 (day of the dead)

I imagine Luca’s grandfather, Carlo, in front of the television set, engrossed in a soccer game. From the sofa, his leg kicks an imaginary ball, like a reflex. He yells instructions at the players. I picture other bits of his life: he goes to work in a gray suit and black briefcase, comes home every night for dinner, sits at the table and slices a piece of cheese for his grandson. With a wink (he was a man of few words) they agree not to tell his parents that he’s snacking before a meal.

Carlo’s wife loved him. He died 15 years ago, leaving her to survive in a world without him. (She turns 100 next year. The last time I saw her, she was furious at him. “What did he leave me here to do?”)

His grandson loved him too. Carlo left an indelible mark on Luca, who today sits in front of the television set, engrossed in a soccer game. He yells instructions at the players. I often believe Carlo is sitting beside him, wholeheartedly agreeing that, yes; Balotelli is indeed behaving like an ass.