Monday, November 12, 2012


When I think back to Obama's victory in 2008, I remember my wardrobe at the time being a regular rotation of different Obama-emblazoned t-shirts.  I remember working at a phone bank and using my elementary Spanish skills to harass beleaguered Floridians about getting to the polls.  I remember setting up a mock polling place in my second grade classroom for the entire school to visit, class-by-class, filling out their ballots and learning about what was at stake.  I remember the build-up to election night and planting myself in front of the TV with my laptop, hitting "refresh" on multiple news sites in constant succession, and crying tears of joy when the good news came rolling in.  This year, I found myself sitting lazily on my couch in an old sweatshirt, sighing in relief when Obama was named the victor, and being asked "you're not waiting up for the speech?" by Bill as I trudged off to bed.

Some of this could be blamed on my current state of pregnancy (the trudging, certainly, and the fact that my Obama t-shirts no longer fit), but other than that, I'm not sure that my lack of engagement had much else to do with my large belly.  I felt, well, disenchanted with the whole election.  Obama's 2008 message of hope had been so compelling, and I had fallen so much in love with the notion of real change, meaningful change, and even possibly fast change.  And there have certainly been those moments - for me, most notably, Obama's public embrace of gay rights, the Race to the Top education initiative, and the huge strides in providing health care for everyone.  But lately the negativity of the 2012 fight-to-the-death election has worn on me, and seeing Obama's lack of vigor in the first debate wasn't just a disappointing polling incident to me, it was a confirmation of my fears that the grueling day-to-day world of political games had caught up with even the vaunted idealist himself.  I still supported the campaign as much as ever, and sent in regular donations, but with less exuberant optimism.

Most strangely of all, I felt sorry for Romney and his supporters.  I had never hated him on a personal level, as much as I may have disagreed with his stances on some important issues.  I saw him as someone who, like many Republicans, felt that their version of America was slipping away.  Though I love living in the liberal fantasy land that is San Francisco (where one of our top-debated issues is if we should continue to let gay men wander naked through the city), I have true empathy for people who live in communities far from the left-leaning coasts.  In those towns I can only surmise that shared values matter more, that sharing a church and religious values with your neighbors is more pressing than it feels in the distraction of big cities.  When you've done okay for your family despite tough financial times and embraced personal responsibility yourself, the notion of voting your tax dollars towards social programs for the disadvantaged must feel hugely unfair.  And with that you also have to compromise what "family" means to you/your church, or "life" (even if I think it's time for letting go of those "traditional" values, it's still not easy for those who have to do the letting go).  I can't say that I blame Romney or many of his followers for simply feeling afraid.  The world that they've known is changing, and all they want is to preserve the things they know.  Obama's slogan, "FORWARD," could not be more apt - we plow ahead and cannot stop, even if we wanted to.  "Forward" doesn't necessarily mean better, it simply means that things can't stay the same as they've been.  Welcome to the human condition.

Quite a few friends have been mildly horrified by my elation-less reaction to Obama's win.  That's not to say that I don't think it's incredibly important - I know that Obama is someone I can trust to mostly make policy decisions I'll agree with and generally champion issues that matter to me.  But overwhelmingly I felt that the election brought out the worst in Americans.  The fear of change and compromises of values and personal financial responsibility that conservatives confronted was drummed up into a hatred of liberals and a condemnation of "handouts" and "freeloaders."  Liberals assaulted the "ignorance" of religious people and the out-of-touch millionaires of the right, and then, upon Obama's victory, condemned Republicans as losers and irrelevant.  Though each side's critique of the other may bear some truth, the extremes to which they've been stretched results in caricatures of distant, unintelligible enemies.  And now that the election is done, the residue of this mutual hatred hasn't faded.  My liberal friends delight in the genuine pain of the Republicans, and Republicans in turn attribute Democratic gains to a loss of real moral values in our country.  How can we move "forward" like this?

This past week I was frustrated by a facebook acquaintance's public condemnation (via facebook status update!) of facebook itself.  She wrote about how, ultimately, it's bad for us as humans.  I was also annoyed by a comment about the gentrification of the mission neighborhood in SF and how it's "not the same" as it was.  I found myself feeling the same emotions that I did in response to the election - a vague anger about people who fight change and condemn others without any positive proposals.  Facebook is something that has changed our social landscape, it's not inherently good or evil, it's a tool that you can choose to use for good or evil.  If it isn't working for you, quietly leave, without a judgmental epistle.  "Gentrification" is just another type of change - neighborhoods cannot stay the same forever - yes they can change in ways that some people feel are good and others think are bad, but trying to preserve it just because it's been one way for a while seems absurd.  As if there weren't entirely different groups of people (let's take it back to the Native Americans) who were there before the current ones.  

I don't at all blame people for disliking Obama or despising facebook or not wanting more Google shuttle stops in their neighborhood.  In those cases I would recommend, first and foremost, appreciating the fact that we live in a free society where you can make choices for yourself about any of those things (i.e. vote, quit, move).  But if you're driven to launch public tirades about any of the above, be willing to present a solution other than just vilifying it and shutting it out, first because all three are here to stay, and especially because whether you're talking about Obama or facebook or gentrification, what's really upsetting you are forces and issues that are far deeper than the manifestations you're railing against (a changing US demographic? too much technology in our lives? minorities being underserved in education and not getting high-paying jobs to afford local rents?). 

Rather than assail Obama or Romney or their supporters as inherently bad, focus on the specifics of their platforms and write/campaign/preach about that, but in a solution-oriented way.  If you hate facebook, identify how we could be using it better and model that, rather than just quitting and hoping it disappears.  If you hate the techies in your neighborhood, well, there's another reason to quit using facebook, and throw out your latest Apple gadget while you're at it, or move (although really I'd recommend working to improve your local public schools so that all families have the education and earning-power to stay).  But change is inevitable.  We will always be moving "forward."  Rather than clamoring for the good 'ole times of the past, focus on what direction change should be taking, and put in the work to shift things in that direction.  We can mourn the loss of things we love without throwing a fit and accusing others of being evil and ignorant.  

Change is hard, change is emotionally draining, change forces us to confront our fears and challenges us to adapt.  We may not be able to stop it, but we can stop ourselves from wasting the opportunity for positive improvements and progress.  Don't get left behind.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


If you enjoy self-righteous pronouncements and amateur indictments, the comments section is for you.  The San Francisco Chronicle’s online team has clearly focused on maintaining the web traffic of its most vigorous group - the armchair adjudicators who level their verdicts on everything from Norwegian mass murderers to Tom Cruise’s child support payments.  In fact, the comments section on the web site has been revamped in such a way that people can instantaneously comment on articles, rate each other’s comments, and watch as the dynamic list ranks each according to popularity.  It’s addictive.

Reading the latest comments about Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal has been enlightening.  At 367 comments and climbing, commenters alternately laud and malign Armstrong, commending him as a “cancer survivor whose physiology itself explains his success” or assailing him as a “liar and a cheater who no one’s kids should look up to.”  But, friend or foe, everyone has a criticism - either of the anti-doping agencies for witch hunting, the cyclists for looking for ways to gain advantage, and even the other sfgate commenters for caring at all.  Still, no one is calling for blood.  You have to click over to the shooting-related articles for those.

The things wished upon the shooters of the Aurora movie theater, Wisconsin Sikh temple, and Norway summer camp incidents are full of serious rage and bloodthirst.  Not that I can blame much of anyone for feeling overwhelming anger at these gunmen - they committed atrocious crimes and stole many innocent lives.  But though I usually love clicking my thumbs up/thumbs down ratings on sfgate comments, these ones leave me stuck.  I can’t in good conscience wish state executions or prison rape on these guys.  Mostly because I don’t know what good it would do, and honestly don’t believe it would fix anything at all.

I’ve written about rage before - about those moments of encountering a caregiver being mean to a child or a driver racing dangerously past me on the freeway - when for a moment I’m overwhelmed by anger and hatred and a thirst for vengeance.  But those rage-filled moments are just that, moments.  They are not my way of life.  Particularly when I was teaching at an inner-city school and encountering cruel parents or spineless administrators, believe me, I could delight in some revenge fantasies that involved public embarrassment or humiliating newspaper editorials.  But I hated dwelling on those thoughts for too long - they ate away at me and left me feeling empty and depressed.  And now, when I read through comments that wish evil upon these recent murderers in the news, yes, I empathize, but I think that those people also need to take a step back and examine their feelings and their quests for retribution and punishment.  I think we all do.

What does it say about you if you’re angered to distraction about the number of years in a Norwegian murderer’s prison sentence?  Especially if the country as a whole and an overwhelming number of its citizens, including parents of victims, continue to promote a rehabilitation-based system that would give this man a chance at some kind of recovery, whether through therapy in lifelong incarceration or even the chance of release.  What does it say if you need to see the Aurora shooter executed versus imprisoned for life?  What does it mean for us to have laws that require minimum sentences for drug users or the ability to try young teenagers as adults?  I grapple with these questions because while I want to feel protected from dangerous criminals, I don’t feel like our current legal system actually does that very well, and I don’t want that feeling of false safety to the exclusion of giving people chances to change, recover, and rejoin society, especially since so many of the offenders are there because they weren’t given a solid chance at life in the first place.

It’s hard not to look at things through the lens of parenthood when you’re with a toddler full time.  So many of the workings of the adult world seem so beautifully distilled and applicable to how we treat young children.  I see the positive impact of my nurturing and patient approaches to James’ limit-testing, and witness the futility of my misguided attempts to simply “punish” offenses.  A two year old is certainly a different animal than an adult felon, but not entirely.  Why in adulthood do we stop taking this approach with each other - a nurturing, learning-centered one?  Yes, it is extreme to say that we can nurture and help a proudly self-professed mass murderer, but even at this extreme, would it hurt to try?  Sometimes in the heat of the moment it can seem absurd to give James back his food after he’s thrown some on the floor for the hundredth time, yet I do it, because even though it would be entirely “fair” to take it away, I want to give him those hundred chances to succeed and grow.  Not that I think the Norway killer deserves a lot of chances or has demonstrated much room for growth, but I really do like to believe that anything is possible over the span of two decades, however unlikely.

Speaking of unlikely occurrences, I’ve been taking an interest in Jesus lately.  People keep talking to me about him, that is, people I like and respect and who are not randomly accosting me in the street.  I’ve never trusted this Jesus guy because he has inspired a whole lot of fighting and anger and apparently homophobia.  But it turns out that the “actual” Jesus just preached a lot of good stuff, and most of it was based on love.  And I’ve come to imagine and embrace the idea of this person who walks around without rage or self-righteousness, but just deep empathy and understanding and love.  I could say the same things about what I know about MLK Jr. or Gandhi, but I’ve enjoyed dwelling on the notion of an other-worldly being who has no other human flaws to get in the way of this pure kind of love and forgiveness - and I also like the image of his flowy robes and hippie hair and peaceful, embracing demeanor.  

I would imagine Jesus to be the type of guy who would do exactly what the Norwegians have - give their convicted felon a small but humane place where he can live with no risk to others, give him some help and therapy and care, and give him many years to see if there is any hope for him.  And if there isn’t, I know that Jesus wouldn’t give him a hug and let him walk free when his 21 years are up . . . in fact I’m confident that Jesus would be a fan of the let’s-check-in-every-half-decade to see what happens from there.  But I just don’t see Jesus on, writing a let-him-fry comment and thumbs-upping all of the other calls for blood.  Although if Jesus were around I also don’t see that trashy website surviving for so damn long.  

As humans or Americans or who knows what, we seem to be primed for stories and experiences where things work out fairly.  We read about Cinderella and delight when her evil stepmother gets stuck working a miserable job in the palace kitchen (or, in the original version, where the stepsisters get blinded by pigeons).  We like to see justice served, and fairness prevailing.  But fairness is so complicated - as much as we want to keep things simple, there are always background stories and contexts that confound our ability to hold someone 100% responsible for a faulty action.  There are almost always explanations, if not excuses.  I don’t think we need to abandon our quest for fairness, or start forgiving serious criminals and setting them free.  I would never forgive the Norwegian killer for what he’s done, nor will I ever think it’s fair that he gets to live when so many died at his hands.  But neither of those things interfere with my ultimate feelings on justice.  I simply believe that we should value rehabilitation and love over punishment and hatred, even at the cost of what would be “fair.”  

In uncharacteristic fashion, I don’t think that anyone else should necessarily agree.  I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to think that 21 years is too few.  I just like to imagine how this type of justice would impact American culture, and what life here would be like with fewer prisoners and a love-thy-neighbor spirit.  I think Jesus would dig it.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Best Self

Lately I’ve been mulling over the phenomenon of the facebook “best self.”  You know, the one that seems to be depressing everyone, in which they compare their own lives to the smiling beach shots, gourmet food photos, and happy children that are ubiquitous in our friends’ profiles on our social network of choice.  In our own lives we deal with bad hair days, dinner disasters, and traffic jams, but then we check facebook for a moment of escape and discover that everyone else’s life seems pretty perfect.  Except for that nutty relative who has an ongoing stream of complaints about her awful job/awful landlord/awful grocery store parking experience.  But we could have guessed that already.

So what does it mean for our mental health and sense of self to be voyeurs of the carefully-constructed, meticulously edited online snapshots of our friends’ lives?  I’m not quite sure.  I know that many people already struggling with depression or just borderline dissatisfaction feel further isolated and pained when their computer screen tells them that everyone else is ebulliently happy.  I know that when you’re wishing for a perfect job or spouse or baby it can’t help to see the images of others who seem to have exactly that.  But while people continue to critique the phoniness of facebook and its highly edited content, I’m not sure that showing our best selves is such a terrible thing.

I recently had a conversation with LeVar Burton (I really did!) in which he described the way in which humans are “manifesting machines.”  What we see is what we ultimately create for ourselves.  I think that there’s real truth in this - we certainly grow up displaying many of the behaviors and qualities that our parents intentionally or unintentionally model for us.  We grow up likely to emulate our friends and to take on the same values of our social groups.  When I see a friend or acquaintance on facebook grinning at a campaign event, describing chocolate pudding at midnight, or getting a daringly short haircut, I’m inspired to bring those positive things into my own life (well, some I just momentarily consider!).  I know that I wouldn’t have joined an Obama phone bank, or might have felt guilty about some sugary late-night snack, if it hadn’t been for peers on facebook making those things seem fun and inviting.

I have to wonder about the alternative to showing the “best self.”  Do I want to hear old high school friends bemoaning tax bills?  Or the non-humorous details of someone’s morning commute?  Not really.  Most of the moments in our daily lives are relatively uneventful and, in my opinion, not facebook-worthy.  I really want to read about your commute only if the person in the next car was doing something hilarious/disgusting/obscene and you have a witty remark about it.  I’d much rather see a picture of your smiling toddler than a shot of you taking calming breaths in the background while your kid throws a fit.  There are so many places I can go to find depressing news, that I appreciate that facebook shows me a mostly rosy picture of the world and the people I know.  I also appreciate that it’s a place where people can vent when they really need to or cry for help in a difficult moment, but if that were all it was, I’d rather go back to my college residential halls website to read dorm reviews.

I hate to fly and will never master the art of enjoying adventure travel, so I truly enjoy experiencing frequent vicarious vacations.  I hate bars (I’m old - “why is it so loud?!”) so I’d much rather “like” photos of your tequila shot spree than have to be there in person.  I like discovering the things about people that might not come up in a brief meeting . . . I never would have been on the winning team at Top Chef IX if Kenrick hadn’t posted photos of his stellar gourmet cooking and accepted the invite to become team captain.  Sometimes, probably too often, we’re too busy to stop and tell others about our passions or our latest personal achievements or our super special moments with LeVar Burton (ha!), and maybe trying to show our best self to people all day long is asking a lot.  

So my unsolicited advice is . . . brag.  Gloat.  Parade.  I have an endless appetite for anything positive you can pick out about your day.  When I’m calling it a night at 10pm on Saturday, I’m checking to make sure that you’re out having wild fun (and then I’m smug about not having to worry about finding a cab home).  When I’m spending my 10th consecutive vacation in the car to a local, unglamorous destination (state fair in two weeks, anyone?), I’m eagerly verifying that someone is in Bali (fear not, I’ll console myself with a corn dog).  I suppose that my main complaint about facebook is that we voyeurs don’t “like” things more.  If I’m enjoying what you’re sharing I shouldn’t ever hesitate to let you know, if only because I’m so satisfied when I post something that ends up being particularly “like”-worthy.  And if that makes us feel better about our lives, maybe it gets us just a little closer to being the “best selves” we imagine we could be.

I feel like LeVar Burton would agree.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Usually the non-life-threatening events in the lives of acquaintances don’t ruin my day.  I can certainly empathize if my friend’s cousin lost his job, or a high school classmate has her car stolen.  It’s awful stuff, but it doesn’t torment me.  Yet I’ve been losing sleep for a week over what just happened to someone I’ve only met twice. 

This girl got jilted.  Just how you’d expect in the beginning of some kind of romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts . . . left at the altar on her wedding day, or, technically, 4 days before her wedding day, but close enough.  She lived with him for 5 years.  She was beyond devoted and caring, and also very closely tied to him – moving for him and subsequently depending on him for financial support.  And when she told him that she was hoping for a proposal, he proposed, and the wedding planning began.

From what I understand, he felt trapped.  I’ve been told that this is common among men – that they end up with a great girl who they really care about, but they’re just not quite sure if they’re ready for the lifetime commitment of marriage.  [Sidenote: WHY?!]  And rather than have an honest conversation or simply break-up, they accept marriage as the path of least resistance and trudge passively towards the aisle.  Except in this case, with cake baking, guests flying, and wedding gown fitted, the groom-to-be suddenly decided that he needed out.  With all the formality of a single conversation with his now ex-fiancee and a few awkward phone conversations with guests and caterers, he was gone.

I was a genuine wreck over this news.  At moments I was breathless, imagining the magnitudes of despair the jilted bride was experiencing – every level from losing her entire imagined future husband and children, losing the guy himself who she loved, losing her current home, to even losing the chance to wear the lovely dress she had dreamed of dancing in.  And what do you do instead, on the day you were supposed to be a beautiful bride?  These thoughts plagued me, more than anything because I knew how real each one was.  I knew that she would be crying, breathless, alternately shocked, despairing, angry, and entirely hopeless.  The worst break-up of all time.

Still, as I found myself reeling at every new realization (how could she ever look forward with joy to a wedding again, let alone plan one?) I also felt confused about why this was paining me so deeply.  Mostly because people kept asking me why.  So I considered.  For one, I had been that girl – the one who wanted to get married and felt put in the position of pushing for it.  We were happy together, perfect partners and companions, so why did I have to vigorously campaign?  As an ambitious and know-it-all college student (some things never change) I can now understand the apprehension of my far more typical what’s-the-rush boyfriend.  It always bothered me that our wedding was the result of one-sided confidence, but nothing gives me greater satisfaction than Bill now saying “you were right.”  (Actually, I love when Bill says I was right about pretty much anything).  But it could have happened to me – Bill could have panicked at the last moment, and accused me of being pushy.  Which in some way I’m sure this bolting groom did.

Part of my turmoil stems from my belief in not doing evil to others.  I am the Queen of Follow-Through (a former colleague recently dubbed me this), and it’s true, if you ask me to show up and bring that and do this, I’m your gal.  If you need something delivered or built or filmed or baked, you can count on me.  If you invite me to your bachelorette party and I can’t make it, I will call the restaurant and order a nice bottle of wine to your table.  I may not be the relaxed, laid-back friend you love to party with (I will most likely be cleaning something while we chat or give you an unsolicited speech on educational reform), but you can count on me.  It’s everything I stand for – honoring friends, respecting feelings, being true to commitments.  So when I hear about a guy who’s failed massively at respecting his devoted fiancee, and furthermore isn’t completely torn up about it, I want to kill him.  Preferably by precise cuts with the beautiful custom photo wedding card I had designed for him.

We all make choices at times that negatively impact others, sometimes we have to, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be loving and apologetic.  At the very least, sparing someone massive humiliation should be paramount.  Apologies should be profuse, but in this case, I didn’t hear of any sincere ones.  It makes me seethe.  And now that a week has gone by, and multiple people have asked me why I’m still upset, I’ve stopped worrying about why.  I can pick apart the specific reasons, but, really, I just feel for this jilted girl who is going to have many years of challenge ahead – finding a way to support herself, a new place to live, a new person to trust.  So instead of stewing on it or questioning my feelings, I gave in and wrote her the long email that I had worried was presumptuous.  Why would she want to hear from me?    She replied with gratitude, explaining she had read my email a bunch of times and it had given her strength. 

I told my friend Rhea that I regretted questioning whether or not to write.  She told me that she lost friends when her father died, because they didn’t know what to say or didn’t think she’d want to hear from them at that time.  “That’s when people need to hear from you,” she advised wisely, and she’s right.  People have a tendency to back off when someone else experiences tragedy, but that’s absurd.  Everyone needs cheerleaders and supporters, but most of all when they’re down.  You don’t have to say much, you don’t have to address the specifics of something private or painful, but you do need to let someone know that they’re in your heart.

Maybe I should also write an email to the groom saying what’s in my heart . . .

“F%&@ YOU.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

the secret to happiness

It seems impolite to confess that I’m a happy person.  Happiness seems like something we all seek but feel we don’t quite deserve.  Recently someone in the know about my ongoing happiness regimen asked me to distill it into (solicited!) advice.  I didn’t know where to begin: I see happiness as a conscious ongoing effort.  I advertise the fact that I’m content because I believe that happiness is the result of attention and action, and I think that it’s surprisingly easy to forget to exercise your happiness, like a muscle you don’t get around to using enough.

There are more pressing things to attend to than happiness.  And I wasn’t always happy.  I had a horrifically crotchety and mean grandmother who made our whole family miserable.  She threw some kind of unreasonable hissy fit on the day of my bat mitzvah and stopped speaking to everyone.  At some point not long after that, after some tirade of complaints I regularly made during dinner about my day or my life or whatever, my dad commented to me, “wow, you sound just like grandma.”  I was stunned and ashamed.  I often doubt people who say that a single moment of epiphany changed their lives, but I shouldn’t, because that was one for me.  I simply vowed right then to not turn out like that grandmother.

I made lists of positive events, positive experiences, positive qualities in myself and others.  I wrote letters to my future self reminding Future Rebecca that she needed to have a cool job and to always think stickers were amazing.  In fact I became a second grade teacher and then struck up a friendship with someone who works at Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory, so on that front I’m totally set.  I try to appreciate the things that kids love (stickers, bubbles, unrestrained rhyming) because kids really take pleasure in wonderfully everyday, simple, repetitive things.  People at the park think I’m indulging James when I pretend to let him knock me over as I block the path of his swing for the eighty-seventh time.  But I’m not.  I’m not waiting for him to get bored, I’m consciously enjoying how hilarious he thinks I am.

With annoying frequency I quote a study of the satisfaction levels of people who either won the lottery or suffered a debilitating injury, both immediately after and then years later.  Sure enough in the short term these people were either ebullient or dejected, but a few years later it had completely evened out - they ultimately felt the same way about their lives that they always had.  I love this case as a reminder that happiness is simply not external, no matter how convinced people become that just one thing (money, house, hot girlfriend) will seal their contentment for life.  Still, I acknowledge that the path to bliss is easier if you live a comfortable American lifestyle and suffer no extraordinary tragedies.  I don’t blame people living in poverty or cancer-stricken for not waking up delighted every morning, but, then again, how come there are those that do?

I also concede that some people are far more primed for happiness than others.  I think that parents set a strong example - if you grew up in a home where they looked on the bright side of things and exuded safety and optimism, you’ve got it easy, and if every frustration set them off, you have a tougher road.  But ultimately I think it’s no different than learning to read or learning to run fast - some of us have advantages right off but with focus and practice we can all achieve a satisfactory level of competence.

One happiness exercise that I think benefits anyone is to learn to value your own wants and desires by expressing them to others in a positive, productive way.  A few friends and I were recently mulling over why the first year of marriage is the hardest.  I had kept waiting for Bill to do the wrong things, silently daring him to not do a batch of laundry or comment on a new dress.  I had wasted so much time.  This was a common thread - all of us had spent lots of energy thinking about what we “deserved” and why we were right, instead of focusing on what would make us happy.  It’s not as if we required our partners’ words or actions to be happy, but it was sure hard to be content while fuming inwardly about some stupid dish left in the sink.

My marital happiness soared when I simply started telling Bill what I wanted to hear.  If he came home and didn’t notice my excellent house-cleaning work I would dramatically whisper to him that I had scrubbed the entire kitchen and that he should try entering the room again.  He would humor me by stepping back out and walking in again with a huge smile of appreciation and a stream of compliments, and instead of feeling cheapened and annoyed I felt genuinely good, actually, pretty much as good as if he had thought of it himself.  Bill to this day puts on well-practiced expression of interest and pride as I walk him through my minor accomplishments of the day, and then adds something along the lines of “wow, you do so much!  And you look GREAT.”  Often it’s still because I’ve just directly suggested that he say it.  But somehow he means it.  He says that there’s a whole book about how this practice really, scientifically, works for relationships.  I need to read that book.

The same rule applies to ourselves, not just interpersonal relationships.  It’s hard to remember to pay attention to setting yourself up with false expectations (“I’ll finally be happy if I get that raise, I’ll finally be happy if I lose that weight”).  It takes an extra step to frame things in terms of actual happiness, not what you’re used to assuming is going to bring happiness.  Yes, an awful job may contribute to melancholy, but most of the time it’s not the job’s fault - it’s that we haven’t tried to address the things that bug us on a daily basis, like negative coworkers or feeling unrecognized.  We end up putting more energy into imagining or creating a whole new situation than simply fixing the current one.  It’s as if we all decided long ago that a certain thing would make us happy - a better job, relationship, money, power - and ever since then we’ve forgotten to check if we already have it or if it was ever the right goal at all.

We set out on these paths in life - schools, careers, families, and it begins to feel like life actually is a long To Do list or a race to a goal.  But it is so incredibly short - if you even half pay attention to the speed of the days ticking by it’s disturbing - and so what really matters other than happiness?  When I focus moment-to-moment on my own happiness I find myself building pillow forts, hosting impromptu dinners, buying large stuffed animals at Costco, as well as baking massive amounts of cookies and cakes.  The last one (or two) are hazards, but instead of suffering a diabetic coma in the name of happiness I’ve worked on believing that healthy eating can bring happiness too - when sharing a very messy bowl of spinach soup with James or noticing that I feel energetic after a light breakfast.  Mind you, it takes work, and I’m quite sure that enjoying spinach soup will always require some conscious effort.  Happiness often does.  Try it.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The other day a good friend and I mulled over a frustrating exchange she’s been having.  As a favor, she had agreed to work with an organization by lending some expertise on a project, yet the contact person she’s been dealing with has acted as if this is all some kind of huge inconvenience.  My friend has been the recipient of terse emails, misguided accusations, and, worst of all, egregious grammatical and spelling errors.  Completely miffed, she debated putting in a call to this person’s supervisor or just putting up with the annoyance.  In perfectly predictable reactions, she leaned towards a conflict-averse approach and I insisted that something Must Be Done.

Before demanding that she make the phone call right from my kitchen, I did something that is always easier when examining someone else’s problems - step back and examine the bigger picture.  What was the desired outcome of this situation?  Revenge is one, and arguably justifiable in the sense that this person had no right to treat my friend this way, and would probably deserve a conversation with the boss.  Reputation is another, because this organization’s otherwise solid credit is being damaged by a clueless spokesperson.  And then there’s education - what if this person is completely unaware of creating such a negative atmosphere and would be apologetic and amenable if given the chance?  

I used to be a completely pro-revenge person.  As a teacher in San Francisco’s public schools I consider it an occupational hazard to wish ill upon crazy helicopter parents, spineless administrators, and, yes, even small children (mostly just the chair-throwing, defiant ones).  I fantasized about them getting what I thought they deserved (military conscription, fired, no recess EVER).  But I was angry all the time.  I knew that I was right about many of their offenses, but what good did it do me?  On the rare occasion that I confronted someone I always ended up phrasing things in a far kinder way than I imagined, and on those occasions ended up with mostly positive results.  Yet I was annoyed that I couldn’t act as confrontational as I dreamed, except that when I actually did a few times, it felt awful.  I found myself pondering a stupid phrase that I learned from Dr. Phil during my daytime tv-filled afternoons as a second semester college senior: “How’s that working for you?”  I hated that question because I knew it was true . . . no matter how “right” I was, it simply wasn’t doing me any good.

I argued to my friend that the best thing she could do was to call or email this person and frame the conversation as a “check-in,” expressing her feelings about being mistreated and asking if this favor she was doing was somehow unwelcome or inconvenient.  The more I talked the more I realized that this is the right thing to do, the hard thing to do, and what more people should do - give others a chance to know what they’re putting out there.  It’s so easy to go straight to a supervisor and trash someone, but how grateful do we feel when someone forgoes that option and speaks to us directly, usually helping us to realize a completely unknown error and resulting in a positive change.  Condemning and punishing others is so easy, but what does it accomplish?

That same afternoon I found myself in a sudden and unexpected rage-filled haze.  Sitting in an indoor rec center toddler playroom as rain poured outside, happy tiny people crawled and waddled over mats and pillows and plastic slides.  Except for one tornado of a kid who, towering above the rest by staggering magnitude, ran like a hyena throughout the room, throwing toys, yelling, and disrupting the completely relaxed, positive vibe of the space.  Encouraged by the equally concerned faces of other parents and caregivers, I began to approach the young nanny who was feebly attempting to chase him while unpredictably screaming “no!” at him.  Ironically, his name did, in fact, turn out to be Chase.

I’m comfortable sharing Chase’s name because he was clearly a normal, cool kid, who was simply just way too old and big to be hanging out in the tot room.  I told the bedraggled nanny that the room had an age limit and that her charge seemed a little out of place.  She protested that he wasn’t too old, and sat back down, but, chastened, watched me with worry as I warily surveyed the mounting carnage.  To her immense credit, she slowly shifted closer to me and groaned, “I don’t know what to do with him!”  In a flash my rage evaporated and I regretted not having taken my own earlier advice - here was someone who simply needed feedback, moreover wanted it, while I had been dying to ambush her.

I called across the room to Chase, and, employing all of my best teacher skills, reached out a hand to introduce myself.  I explained my concerns to him in a friendly, non-condescending way.  The nanny’s look of desperation and gratitude urged me on as I came up with a quick plan that could work - Chase needed to choose one contained, calm activity like the younger kids were, and pay closer attention to his actions.  His nanny, I told him, was going to help him find something he liked and remind him to chill out if necessary, and if after a few warnings he couldn’t calm down, he’d have to take a time out.  All three of us clearly felt good about the conversation, at least until I became the next focus of parental judgment in the playroom when I realized I had been neglecting my crying toddler, who had just fallen off of the plastic swing.  Classic.

On a side note, I will say that few things induce these moments of fury more than seeing good kids be shut down by adults who just don’t know better.  It is so easy to pace kids (“we’re leaving the park in 5 minutes”), validate them (“wow, it’s really hard to share your favorite toy”) and redirect them (“this isn’t safe, so let’s go play over there”) rather than half-heartedly screaming “no!” at them in unpredictable variations or imposing a sudden, arbitrary punishment.  Regardless, even in those few moments following the conversation with Chase, it was obvious that his nanny felt a little more empowered, Chase felt a little more reassured, and they both found a common ground to start with.  I left shortly after, so I could only hope that things got better from there, but it was pleasant to find myself wishing her luck rather than wishing her the eternal contempt of the caregiving community (a fate worse than death among San Francisco moms).  

For the record, there are websites where people can anonymously report such incidents to scores of moms who are checking nightly to see if their nanny was “the one in the blue shirt who didn’t step in when a child in green threw sand.”  I had to cancel my subscription to a community forum that ended up mostly being a place where people could list their problems with their nannies and wait for others to assure them that firing them without explanation was the best option.  Which others did, constantly.  All I could think about were these disenfranchised women who had never been given the chance to defend themselves or change.  How vehemently I condemned these mean moms was trumped only by my horror at realizing that on a rainy Tuesday in a playroom I could come so close to becoming one.  I felt even better about my earlier advice to my friend, and deeply relieved that, even in a moment of rage, I still knew better than to post her description on some nutty website.

My final crisis of the day was the least expected of all, as it involved myself and an inanimate object.  Though rude email correspondence and poor caregiving enrage me, nothing inspires in me such deep hatred and explosive anger as BART turnstiles.  No one can attest to this further than my sister, who once witnessed the turnstile closing in on my pregnant belly.  She won my eternal gratitude at that moment for holding me tight and telling me “just cry” as I broke down in tears in the middle of a crowded BART station while the rest of my family looked on, befuddled.  Since then I have avoided BART at all costs and, when forced, I approach the fast-moving gates with growing anger and anxiety until I literally propel myself through it, amazed all the while at the weary commuters for whom this daily experience is not an upsetting or momentous event.  

My approach this time was the same, but somehow the hard red plastic gates closed in on me nonetheless, catching my left hip and right thigh in its painful vise grip and causing me to scream out “fuck this!” in highly uncharacteristic loud, public fashion.  Apparently screaming obscenities in a BART station is normal for the daily commuters, who barely glanced over, let alone offered a sympathetic look.  I was infuriated.  My pleasant baby-free evening at a glee club rehearsal (could I have been more happy?) was instantly ruined by this unprovoked attack.  But somehow my how’s-that-working-for-you revenge-or-educate creed applied even to this dirty metallic machine, so, sighing in resignation, I approached the station agent and asked him to tell me what I was doing wrong.  Educate me.  With surprising friendliness and patience, he asked if I was often carrying a shoulder bag.  “Yes, usually,” I replied, and he explained that when I carry it in front of me (as I had been in order to shield myself) the sensor triggers it to close.  My rage gave way to a genuine smile as he watched me pass, unhurt, through the turnstile, waving me off.

It is so easy to blame others (or, apparently, machines) for things that seem so obviously cruel, unfair, or inconsiderate.  It is easy to shed all blame and lump it squarely on the offender.  We don’t see our role in it at all.  The world genuinely does move so much faster now: we’re tripping over each other with our smart phones or swerving wildly on the roads (again, with our smartphones) and we commit offenses and move on before we’ve even noticed them.  And no one takes the time to tell us, even though in all likelihood we’d probably apologize and learn.  We’re quick to rebuke each other online but find it so difficult to say directly, “hey, it upset me when . . ” or “did you notice . . ?”  

There’s that moment before rage builds to a crescendo when we should stop dwelling on how right we are (which we might be) and imagining ways to punish the offender (which they might deserve), and instead remember that this is a teachable moment, a chance to let someone know how their actions affect us.  There simply aren’t enough self-proclaimed assholes in the world to justify all the complaining we do about these supposedly rampant callous jerks.  If we step up and react to each other with good intent, we might be saving countless others from unintentionally rude emails or unruly kids, or even ourselves from embarrassing displays of public transportation-fueled emotional meltdowns.  

Give others a momentary benefit of the doubt, and I’m sure that we can find more compassion for each other, recognize our own shortcomings, and diffuse future problems.  Hey, if the BART turnstile and I can do it, anyone can.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

the carry-out

A few days ago I went to pick James up to carry him up a flight of stairs in our house.  He would have none of this.  He held his arms tightly at his sides and bent at the knees while yelling an emphatic "NO!"  He's perfected a body stance that makes it almost impossible for me to pick him up when he's not in the mood.  In no particular rush, I assured him that a simple "no thank you" would have sufficed and promptly opened the baby gate for him to begin the climb upwards.  With agonizing slowness he took the steps one at a time with all manner of strategies - on hands and knees, sitting backwards, pulling himself by the railing and dragging his feet behind him.  All the while he stopped frequently to glare at me if I was spotting him too closely or obviously.  His stubbornness gave way to giddy pride when he reached the top and gave me a look as close as an 18 month old can get to "I told you so."  I looked down at him and saw . . . me.

Tales of my stubbornness far exceed painstakingly slow stair-climbing.  My husband Bill's favorite story of my inflexible focus is the day he watched me enter second grade vocabulary words one by one into a Word document, numbering them up to 180 or so manually, realizing I had missed a few and watching me go back without hesitation to renumber each one.  "You can do that automatically, you know!" he admonished.  I didn't.  He showed me how, and I remembered, but the fact that I had been doing it this way for so long clearly stupefied him.  I don't mind manually alphabetizing them either.  And I've been known to wash dozens of dishes by hand instead of using a dishwasher.  I will even attempt to carry eight suitcases up the stairs at once to avoid a second trip.  I have no problem doing things the slow way.  My problem is that I do it because I will NOT accept help.

Cue arrival of James.  Watching the world's most stubbornly independent person try to care for a colicky newborn probably would have been hilarious had it not in fact been so depressing.  I insisted on cooking full dinners, hosting brunches, and contracting some time with a nonprofit.  All the while I barely allowed anyone to help, until a few months later I realized that I was sleep-deprived, unpleasant, and unhappy.  During a Trader Joe's grocery run around this time, the cashier asked me if I'd like help out.  Help out?  As if I couldn't handle the baby, 8 bags of groceries, and a cart myself?  Carry-outs were clearly meant for little old ladies.  But wait.  I might as well have been a little old lady . . . I was tired and weak and overwhelmed.  I smiled awkwardly, and with deep resignation, and a crisis of self identity, I accepted.

An eager, tall, curly-haired bagger confirmed "carry-out?" and upon my slight nod followed me out the door.  "I've never done this before," I confessed with the embarrassment of a craigslist personal ad writer.  He laughed, "why not?  We're happy to help . . . it's like a break getting to go out for a few minutes."  "Seriously?!" I asked, shocked that I hadn't just sentenced him to an odious and inane errand.  We chatted about the overcast weather on the way to my car, where he dutifully loaded the groceries into the trunk while I buckled James into his carseat.  I thanked him and drove off, grateful for the help and surprised that after reluctantly accepting help I felt better off than when I started.  Actually, a few moments of chit-chat with someone who doesn't count their age in months was equally as rewarding.

It turns out that accepting help from others is one of the ultimate ways to connect.  It also turns out that a lot of people legitimately do want to help.  I should know - I love giving help (and advice) to others, and delight when I've made something easier on someone else.  I can pinpoint specific times in my memory when I shared a finals study guide with a classmate or picked up strep throat antibiotics for my ever-sick friend.  I've even gone so far as to help myself - prepping chores way earlier than I have to, sometimes so much so that I forget what I've done and arrive upstairs for breakfast with a full place setting and James' bowl of cereal pre-poured and shake my head in gratitude/embarrassment for Past Rebecca who did this for me.  It's actually as if I'm connecting with a past version of myself who was really thoughtful.  It can be amusing.

James is ecstatic when he gets to help me.  He seems to know when he's being genuinely helpful - wiping up water from the floor, throwing trash in the bin, passing utensils to me as I unload the dishwasher - and we share a mutual satisfaction.  Strangers don't squeal with joy the same way James does when they lend a hand, but I know that for a moment we're lifted above the haze of the daily grind when someone less vertically challenged than myself helps hand me the cereal boxes I just couldn't reach.  We smile and joke about James' refusal to assist.  And friends, who we take for granted constantly and feel like we burden with favors already, somehow light up with purpose and affection when we finally accept their repeated offers of dinners or grocery runs or fresh backyard-grown fruit.  Once, stricken with a stomach virus and truly helpless, a facebook post begging for electrolytes netted me offers of 15+ mile delivery drives and, ultimately, the arrival of a Mexican version of pedialyte by a new friend who thereafter became a great friend.  People really do want to help.

I can't believe how hung up I still am on my own sense of self-sufficiency and independence.  I am certainly no better than James, and, in some ways, worse.  I know how good accepting help can be for both parties involved, yet I still feel like I'm winning a competition if I can do absolutely everything myself.  With James older now I need less help than I did before, but then this week after five straight days of rain I found myself feeling much like late-2010 Rebecca, stuck in Trader Joe's with bags of groceries, perilously close to naptime, and feeling overwhelmed.  As the cashier rung me up, I asked, "do you guys still do carry-outs?"  "Oh sure, let me get someone to help you."  Shouts of "carry-out!" rang out across the checkstands and at least three people relayed the message across the store.  In the past I would have been mortified but I was confident - I knew I could do it myself if I had to, but help was available, and I was taking it.

Appropriately, a short, exuberant Hawaiian-shirt-clad man with the nametag "Bobby" bounded over and pretended to start packing up James instead of the groceries.  James giggled.  I admonished Bobby for leading the way outside without a raincoat, and he joked with James about not understanding stickers.  We ran through puddles across the parking lot and I took care to notice how differently I felt without worrying about how to unload groceries and buckle in James simultaneously, or how I was going to get rid of the cart.  Bobby kept saying how glad he was to be able to lend a hand.  I was so grateful for the help.

As errand-burdened adults, we spend most of our time in grocery stores stepping around each other, waiting for others to move out of our way, standing behind them in line or checking our cell phones in silence as we wait.  The random and seemingly inconsequential moments of mutual understanding, helpfulness, and connection, have become more rare.  But I think we miss them and crave them and feel less human with their loss.  So, my unsolicited advice?  Ask someone for help.  Ask them where they found those dark chocolate peanut butter cups or if they want to cut ahead because they're only carrying a basket and are toddler-free.  You can't go wrong.  And with friends or spouses or even (gasp) your mother, let them do something for you every so often, whether you could very well do it yourself or not.  Allow those moments to happen.

Accept the proverbial "carry-out" every so often, and, like me, your Trader Joe's trips may result in more satisfaction than just what's provided by a box of dark chocolate peanut butter cups.  Although the peanut butter cups can't hurt.  Seriously.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I can recall a question a teacher asked once in middle school: what would you think of a survival-oriented species that sought out food and protection constantly, but in regular cycles simply stopped and laid down unconscious, completely vulnerable to attack.  A chorus of eager tweens denounced the absurdity of the notion until the teacher smugly announced that this was a legitimate description of humans and sleep.  We were stunned.  It suddenly did seem odd that for vast periods of each day we were completely defenseless.  Sleep wasn't something that many of us thought about much, let alone discussed, other than with childish exaggeration.  Sleep merely kept us from everything else we wanted to do.

I have spent one year, 6 months, and 18 days preoccupied with sleep.  Longer than that if you count the days I spent big-bellied, awakened frequently throughout the night by the movements of my in-utero son and my own attempts to get comfortable.  But at the time those wakenings weren't a burden; these were brief periods of dazed consciousness in an otherwise peaceful and deep night.  Then James arrived in the earliest moment of Saturday, August 21, 2010, and after 7 or so hours of celebration and settling in, our small family unit collectively passed out in a tiny, warm hospital room.  2 hours later a nurse burst in with a bright "good morning!" and in groggy confusion I had no strength to argue.  12 hours later I made one of my all-time great New Parent Decisions - I rolled James in his little bassinet to the neighboring nursery, and returned to my room for a truly restful night's sleep.

My earliest days with James are a haze of bewilderment.  I slept in odd positions in unusual places and with the constant paranoia that belongs to new mothers everywhere.  I treated the first few weeks like a college final exam study period - a time of late nights and stress and temporary incoherence.  Until I realized that this was only the beginning of something new and lasting.  While my strength had returned rapidly and my days developed a semblance of routine, my body ached to its core for sleep.  Every few hours of the night my sleep-starved mind, close to entering a rejuvenating cycle of REM, was jerked back to a dark room and the wail of a newborn.  Unused to the regular shock of wakefulness, my body was surprisingly adept at returning to sleep instantaneously after attending to the baby.  At first.  As weeks followed it seemed that my acclimation to the new routine made it harder for my body to trust itself to sleep, to sink into the same depth, knowing that it would shortly be forced to reawaken.

My preoccupation with sleep became an obsession.  I counted periods of sleep to the minute, tracking and adding and comparing to nights prior.  Without a thought to examining how I actually felt at a given moment, I based my happiness and mental stability completely on whether or not my first shift of sleep was 3 hours precisely or 15 minutes fewer.  Subsequent 2.5 hour blocks were adequate while 120 minutes alone was a crisis.  I refused to slow down - I cleaned and cooked and hosted social events - but all the while I was tallying minutes of sleep or using elaborate imaginary formulas to predict future ones.  The formerly upbeat rhythm of my steps had been replaced with a slow trudge.  If the Giants hadn't been on a World Series run-up I imagine I may have abandoned my family one sleep-starved night.  Well, technically that did happen, but Great New Parent Decision #2 of throwing the baby into my husband's arms and hailing a cab for my parent's house across town was more a redemption than a crime after 11 hours of peaceful respite.

In the months that followed I marveled at the power of sleep.  I realized that, in fact, sleep deprivation stopped me from few things . . . I remained the do-it-all person I had always been.  But my core enthusiasm, my sense of joy in the world, was somewhat lost.  I resented how I had so taken for granted the restorative powers of sleep.  The way in which you can go about a busy or stressful day and then stretch out across a soft cushion, giving yourself over completely to a period of quiet solitude and deep rejuvenation.  Months later and with great pain I taught James to sleep more restfully during the nights, and saw in him the sudden and drastic changes that turned him from a fragile, high-strung infant into an ebullient and playful one.  I delighted in watching him comfortably embrace sleep and awaken refreshed.  With this my own inner warmth had begun to return as well, but I still clung to sleep in an anxious and greedy way, wisened to its transient nature.

18 months later I awoke one morning to a startling discovery.  I felt deeply rested.  Invigorated.  A new feeling had crept into my life over the course of a week or so, and it was a truly sudden discovery that I had been sleeping, uninterrupted, for many nights.  For many months James had slept admirably, with very brief nighttime wakings every few days, but the complete absence of them had far-reaching effects, my subconscious keen to the notion that sleep each night would be lasting and full.

The volatile sleep of newborns and their families is a common thread of casual jokes, parenting adages,  and the well-intended inquiries of friends.  Some of us never lose, or take for granted, our capacity for easy and restorative sleep.  But I now see this kind of sleep as a treasure, almost a nightly meditation, something to ritually immerse oneself in and cherish with gratitude.  Sleep is something we simply cannot help but do for our bodies.  Its absence cannot be diminished with admonishments that this time will be brief or forgotten or overshadowed by other joys.  For some of us it is an abiding pain and preoccupation, which, unseen by others, suffocates part of who we are.  New parent or not, times in which we are excluded from this strange and precious ritual of daily life are agonizing and even traumatic.  Even for middle schoolers who marvel at its strangeness, these seemingly brief periods of unconsciousness are times to move past the chaos of the day and prepare us for another.  Maybe sleep, like a religious meditation, is something to which we should bring mindfulness and gratitude or, at the very least, awareness.

Sweet dreams.

Monday, March 5, 2012


I can do anything.  If I want to learn to play the guitar, I'll find a great teacher, schlep to practice once a week, and practice diligently at home.  If I want a block party, I'll fill out applications, lobby neighbors, and coordinate the baking of cupcakes and a bean bag toss on what will inevitably be the finest fog-free day in August.  If I want my baby to arrive a few weeks early to accommodate my sister's college schedule I'll make it happen.  True story.

So why can't I install a toilet paper holder?

I pride myself on my competence.  Give me a travel itinerary, crafts, essays on english literature, ten year high school reunions, and everything will come together.  Give me a towel rack, a mailbox, and a large framed poster to hang, and I freeze up.  I do things I almost never do: delay, doubt, hire someone else.  When I suspiciously survey a pile of drill bits and screws, I hear my mother's voice admonish "call someone!"  I anxiously wait for a more qualified family member to show up and take over, stepping cautiously back from whatever crime-scene crisis of self confidence I've piled in the middle of the living room floor.

But that all changed with an IKEA desk.  A slight, curving, elegantly simple black writing desk that I despise because the only things I like in cheap black particleboard have clean straight lines and never an antique-style drawer pull.  But, alas, I found myself awkwardly angled on the rug, balancing one wobbly table leg against a bulky writing surface, or drawer bottom, I wasn't sure which.  When deciding to skip the "hire someone" option, the next option usually involves attempting to barrel through the project, as if failing to thoroughly read the directions and lay out the supplies will relieve me of any expectation to be successful.  If I am rushed and careless, the shabby job will not be the result of earnest effort.  But this damn desk had to be perfect.  It had to look classy and inviting in a home that I was about to leave and it had to sell a new home-seeker on a warm, welcoming image of the flat.  After an hour of occasionally glancing for reference at the wordless cartoon of an IKEA assembly manual, I stopped.  I sighed.  I put everything down.  I laid each screw and tool and nut in neat rows.  And I read through, from start to finish, that stupid manual.  Four times.  Until I knew I could do it.

An hour later I proudly positioned the symmetrical, sturdy desk at the entryway of my home.  No matter that it didn't fit properly and had to be shoved into a corner elsewhere - I had done it.  The wall in my mind of things women seemed good at (teaching, cooking, planning events) had always been a barrier from attempting things that only men seemed suited for (math, cars, tools).  Why had I wasted so much time thinking this narrowly?  I had desperately feared becoming a glaring example of a seemingly competent woman who just couldn't do what most men could do.  Suddenly I realized that what most men can do is easy stuff.  Maybe there's a reason that I can bake a lasagna, bounce a baby, and berate an AT&T wireless employee about a billing error all at the same time.  Maybe "girl things" are the hard stuff.  Hell, I've never seen a man do it.  It's even possible that I can build a shoe cabinet with perfectly aligned hinges while my husband watches TV.  That's what I did the next week.

After that I assembled a 3 foot tall double-decker bunny hutch.  I disassembled a corian kitchen table, moved it down 19 stairs to the basement, and reassembled it.  I put together a two level oval glass coffee table.  I quickly set up four IKEA chairs from about 76 separate pieces.  But still, for that toilet paper holder, I hired someone.  I just knew I couldn't do it myself.  I simply couldn't imagine how it worked, how it seamlessly attached to the wall.  I called a handyman and watched as he moved with the unimaginable and frustratingly slow speed of someone being paid by the hour.  I listened with mounting offense as he carefully explained to me how a drill bit worked and what a level did.  With the motivation that only hurt pride can inspire, I rushed ahead of him to the next project, laid out my now-familiar tool set, sat quietly to read the toilet paper holder manual and with a sigh of instant understanding and regret, realized that I could have done this myself long ago.  Long, long ago.

He never made it to the next project before his interminable, amorphous 'workday' ended.  I spent the rest of that evening fixing the child locks he had improperly installed.  I used my power drill like a pistol, moving from one drawer to the next with precision and focus, all the while replaying the handyman's advice that we would need to "keep a special tool around" to open the drawers he had mis-installed clips on.  Every single time.  As I adjusted his misaligned baby gates, I raged inwardly at his suggestion that I just "keep an eye on my son" rather than bother with all of this childproofing.  From a single guy without kids I probably should have argued my point, but, at the time, he was someone who, we both thought, knew better than me.

A day later, my husband bought me a brand new power drill.  A compact, fiery red (my request for pink was politely denied) Craftsman drill.  That night, I chose the proper bit, marked two spots on the wall, drilled two screws into a simple mounting bracket, and tapped with a rubber mallet until the polished metal toilet paper sat perfectly flush to the wall.

Now, I can do anything.


Name: Rebecca
Hometown: San Francisco
Past town: New York City
Current town: San Francisco
Born: 1982
Husband: Bill, works at Google
Son: James, born 2010
Occupation: Domestic Goddess
Past occupation: inner-city second grade teacher
Favorite music: James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Simon & Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Michael Jackson
Favorite book: The Great Gatsby
Favorite foods: mac n cheese, deep dish pizza, coconut rice, fried zucchini blossoms, south indian dosas
Favorite desserts: anything with chocolate
Hobbies: cleaning, cooking, imovie, staying up late, paper collage, etsy 
Bad habits: talking about myself, giving unsolicited advice
Why I'm blogging: talking about myself, giving unsolicited advice
Really, why I'm blogging: I love to write.  I miss writing.  When I was younger I was an avid journaler, then I switched to all academic writing and I loved that, but now I do neither.  I'm looking for a way to combine it - something in between stream of consciousness and structured essay.  Also, I'm an efficiency fiend . . . as a teacher I was obsessed with streamlining processes, organizing people/things, and helping kids to understand how to succeed at life.  Now I have no one to force my wisdom upon.  So unsolicited advice is born.  It won't always be advice, but with some mix of opinions/thoughts/musings I figure there will be some kind of point in there somewhere.