Friday, May 25, 2012

The Real Housewives of East Oreland

Real Housewives of East Oreland at my Book Signing
“The neighbors gossip about me at the bus stop, I’m sure. They say my yard is full of dandelions. I say they’re jealous. The weeds clearly mean I am MUCH TOO BUSY DOING IMPORTANT THINGS to tend to them. The world is my oyster, and I close my eyes and pinch my nose and slurp it down!”

(cue cheesy music)

I am, I confess, a reality TV show buff. Not just any shows, though. I favor those that veer off the path of all common sense into the never-never land of the very rich and dramatic.  The “housewives” of Orange County, California; DC; New York City—these pampered and ridiculous dames are endlessly entertaining to me. I escape into an alternate universe of weekly mani-pedis and British nannies and charity balls.

But I wonder. Would my neighborhood yield at least as much interest and excitement, if looked at the right way? If we were all dolled up and filmed with only the most flattering camera angles, would we be every bit as telegenic and compelling as Bethenny and Jill?

Speaking for myself, I can’t remember my last catfight, or my last gala wearing a sequined minidress. But there may be others out there? Or maybe not.

OK then, how about good old East Oreland—a hotbed of intrigue? Let’s see.

We have a neighborhood association, EONA, with monthly meetings and occasional parties. My first few years in East Oreland, when folks talked about “EONA,” I thought Eona was the name of a beloved older lady in the area. Now I am “in the know.” Fascinating secret society—check!!

We have a community center and playground, now facing the bulldozer. The E.P.I. center, where seniors long gathered for fun and games, our local polling place on Election Day, was once an elementary school. Now the center is falling apart (last year, a family of raccoons took up residence and we had to go vote elsewhere).  Debate over the future of this building and parcel of land has been lively. Contentious meetings with colorful township characters—check!!

When I was a young mom, we had a babysitting co-op. Members watched one another’s children for points, which could be redeemed for valuable cash prizes. Just kidding. The points accrued in anticipation of the member’s future babysitting needs, that’s all. The co-op was a prime place for us to rate our parenting skills against our neighbors’.  Did Mom “A” really let her toddler eat fruit rollups for lunch? Should I be worried that Mom “B”’s baby was toilet trained at 8 months? Mrs. East Oreland competition—check!!

Darn. Not quite exciting enough.

I am sure there must be SOME sensational stories located in the area of Belmont Ave. and Mill Rd; I just haven’t encountered them yet.  Meanwhile, I stroll through my neighborhood and envision a top-rated new reality show lurking behind closed doors. It’s kinda fun.

                    We are the Real Housewives of East Oreland. Mr. De Mille, we’re ready for our closeup!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

No More Tears

I’d love to see a grown woman cry. If that woman was me.

In my office at church, I have a box of tissues that I have never touched. Oh, there have been times when an upset parishioner has grabbed a Kleenex or two for mopping up the tears. Never me. I don’t cry anymore. Not a drop. Go ahead, make me watch The Notebook! I promise you, there won’t be so much as a sniffle. My eyes are dry as the Sahara, and I don’t see things changing anytime soon. 

What has happened to me? Me, who as a little girl was such a drama queen that I was dubbed “Sarah Heartburn”? Me, who wept buckets over corny TV commercials (remember the Budweiser ad with the Clydesdales pulling a sleigh through the snow to the tune of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”? Killer!) and sad novels and the most minor disappointments of life? And happiness! I cried for joy as well, at every reunion of family or friends, at childbirth (after the baby was born—before that it was all blood-curdling shrieks), on giving or receiving gifts of any kind:“Oh, (sob) You shouldn’t have!” My face was in a state of permanent blotch from all the waterworks. Before my diagnosis of manic depression, I could literally cry from morning till night. One memorable New Year’s Day I was such a misery that I couldn’t stop wailing long enough to join the family for our traditional bowling outing (what’s so tragic about bowling?)

So who turned off the faucet? The answer, as far as I can figure, is pharmaceutical. After many frustrating months of trial and error, my doctor and I found the combination of medications that keep the bipolar disorder under control. Side effects are minimal—no seizures, no weight gain. But I’ve come to realize that, since the day I began this regimen of drugs five years ago, I haven’t shed a tear. Even at funerals. I may be “better,” but I’ve lost something I valued greatly…the ability to feel things as deeply as I once did. I mentally skate on the surface of my existence. I am, a lot of the time, pretty numb. As if I’m viewing a not-terribly-engrossing movie about my life, and am tempted to leave the room. 

I hate to admit it, but I really miss my lows—and my highs as well. Miss the roller coaster of feelings, good and bad. I’m never seriously tempted to go off my meds; that would be suicide I know. But I wish, with all my heart, that I hadn’t regained my sanity at the expense of my emotions. I wish there was a way to recapture the Elise whose eyes filled at the drop of a hat. I’d love to be, for just one more day, the blubbering lady listening to a melancholy Billie Holiday song, the mad weeper watching YouTube videos of cute babies. 

I want to cry again, dammit. And I just can’t. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

M is for...

Mother's Day 1988--with 2 1/2 Seyfried kids
M is for Music recitals. It wasn't enduring my own personal children sawing away at "Long Long Ago" that rankled. It was the company of the video moms and dads, planted right in front of me as they recorded the ENTIRE concert for who knows what audience of the future. Break out the popcorn! We're gathering around the old TV to watch little Jason massacre "Ragtime Fiddles"!

O is for Operations. Hernias, ear tubes, eye surgeries...I hated to surrender my little pajama-clad patient to the surgeon and wait, reading the same article in Parents' Magazine over and over until he/she was in recovery. I remember small Rosie, pre-op, under the influence of anaesthesia, slurring her words as she announced, "I don' feel any different! I don' know WHEN thish gonna work!"

T is for Tag-a-longs. Girl Scout cookie drives, wrapping paper sales for school, hawking hoagies and candy for mission trips: I was always my kids' best customer, as I vastly preferred opening my wallet to asking others to open theirs. How disheartening to realize you've depleted your meager college savings to purchase items that a) pile on the pounds or b) you'd never in a million years buy on your own. Ah, the hidden costs of motherhood!

H is for Helicopter parents. These are the folks who dial their darlings hourly, demanding detailed accounts of every date and exam. I call them, but irregularly, preferring that my adult children live their lives and share what they want, when they want. The helicopter parents know chapter and verse. I can't keep significant others straight ("How's Brian? Mom, I don't even remember who Brian IS!") and am pleasantly surprised when the kids arrive home ("Junior year is over, Mom.") I may be clueless at times, but at least I don't hover.

E is for Eggo (waffles, that is, with Aunt Jemima pseudo-syrup). My pasta machine and bread dough hook gathered dust for eons while I was in the Mom trenches (five children under age ten). At the end of a marathon day of child chasing, I often did what I swore I'd never do: feed my family processed food. My friend Nancy taught me to market "Pick Your Own Cereal Night" as a treat. They have all grown up just fine, the older ones only slightly resentful that Julie, the last at home, gets the homemade fettuccine and baguettes. Sorry, guys. I was tired.

R is for Running. Now, I run for exercise. Then, I ran to rescue Evan from being flattened by passing vehicles (he was a darter), to scoop spiderweb out of PJ's mouth (don't ask), to make it on time to Sheridan's back-to-school night. Now, I actually have workout clothes. Then, every minute was a workout, so I didn't notice or care what I wore, provided it was relatively spitup-free. Then, some hours (2 AM feedings, 4 AM screamfests) were truly endless. Now, I wonder: how did the years race by so fast?

Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

You Always Hurt the One You Love

 That's a Joanie number from the 1940's. In my mind's ear she is singing as she putters around, rearranging the clutter, slipping the dinner entree (boil-in-bag) into boiling water. You never gained weight in my house, but you gained knowledge--of mid-century pop culture, from Glenn Miller to Larry Hart. Whenever I miss my mom (which is often), I scroll back through the tunes she instilled in our subconscious--"Summertime," "I Can't Get Started," "Younger than Springtime," "My Funny Valentine." And this one: "You Always Hurt the One You Love," for the truth contained in the lyrics. How we tippy-toe around strangers, make nice with friends, and savage lovers! If I still went to confession, the kneeler would be worn out from my frequent visits to tell all to Father What's-His-Name: I hurt my husband. I hurt my children. I hurt my flowers.

OK, the latter is not technically a sin. But it is a shame. I do adore flowers. Nothing pleases me more than a bouquet of roses, or daffodils, or iris. I revel in the smell and sight of things in beautiful bloom. I look upon every blossom tenderly, reaching out to touch each petal with awe. The colors! The fragrance! God has outdone Himself!

 I enjoy my floral bounty as long as it lasts. Sad to say, it lasts about a nanosecond. I apparently zap every lilac and lily in my path with the Death Ray, because upon contact with me the hardiest of them shrivel and expire. I should get in the habit of snapping a pic of every bunch of carnations or mums that crosses our threshold, because by morning all is routinely reduced to brownish refuse. Alas! My curse is contagious, too. Ya-Jhu brought home a trio of Birds of Paradise from the Reading Terminal Market, and waited with bated breath for them to open up and reveal their glory. I could have told her: the poor plants would, in short order, succumb to the Elise Whammy! (And they did).

Last week I celebrated 10 years in my job at church. I was gifted with a dozen white roses, some red gerbera daisies, and a huge arrangement of blooms featuring alstromeria and tulips. Well, I hope their current condition is not a harbinger of my future at Christ's Oreland, because if so I am sunk. And I am no luckier outdoors than in: a dear friend recently gifted me with a hydrangea plant to be settled in the back yard. As I, no joke, merely crossed my threshold with this beauty, it shed its blossoms like an accomplished stripper. I am now the proud owner of several denuded hydrangea stalks, which I will plant in the ground in vain hopes of reviving next year.

It seems I always hurt the ones I love, flowers included. But I can learn! I can snip the stems and change the water!  And then I can back off, so my dear ones can thrive. Please God, let them.