Switching from Verizon to Sprint

It took three days hours to switch our phone service at our nearby Radio Shack.

The reason it took so long was that I could not authenticate myself. See, I gave them my license and credit card and passed the credit approval, but then Johary, the clerk at the store, handed me a phone and the operator asked me a series of questions, which seemed easy enough, like, “From which state did you receive your Social Security number?”

Maybe I was too breezy with my answers. The kids were tugging at my sleeve and the store was noisy. We had to get to the airport. And one of the the first of the three multiple choice questions I didn’t really hear.

In one question, the operator asked, “Where have you lived?” And rattled off some cities, to which I replied, “None of the above,” although one of the choices was my sister’s city.

Finally, the verdict. I was not authentic. I asked to speak to the supervisor on the Sprint authentication line. This is when my son began shushing me. Apparently I was becoming ticked off a little loudly. Janet #2233 in Colorao, the supervisor, apologized, but said, “You did not pass the test. You got two out of three questions wrong. Try again in 60 days.”

Janet was kind enough to suggest that before my next attempt, I should get a copy of my public record from my local county court. Presumably, I could bone up on myself.

Really? Really?

Me? I am the one who seeks authenticity in everything. But apparently I do not know myself well enough to get a new fricken’ phone.

The matter of the new phones finally got resolved when I called my husband who, apparently, was able to authenticate himself. (I had to head out of the store for the last couple of hours to get to my creative writing class.)

We did get new phones, but were not able to switch all the phone numbers and the data. The sales guy who was helping us, his daughter was in the hospital, which made us all feel bad for taking so much time.

our new phones

And any way, we did have a plane to catch. And as you can see, it was fun to play with the new phones as we waited in the airport lounge.

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Married but Living Single

Christmas lights at Columbus Circle

There is a buoyancy when I have the kids to myself. I know I am not the only married person to feel this way. Lots of married friends tell me they love when their spouse travels for work. They can parent their own way — lay down the law or lighten the load.

But there’s even more relief when the chronically ill spouse is away for a few days. Around 11 pm, when I was unplugging our Christmas tree, my son asked, “Where’s Dad?” (He’d been gone since 7:30 in the morning.) “He’s playing Scrooge at a reading in a theater upstate. Will be back Monday.”

I felt guilty for feeling so happy to have my kids to myself. Mea culpa for not sugarcoating my situation and telling you that I love helping my husband pull on his shirt or tie his shoelaces.

Surely I could be more loving and patient. I am often in a rush, especially in the morning. Being married to someone with Parkinson’s Disease slows the caregiver down too. I need to shower. I need to launch myself and the kids into our day. I need to get to my desk at work with a focused mind. I would rather not remind someone to take their pills.

Last night the kids joined me at a Christmas party where we sang carols. We ate lasagna; they drank hot cider and I drank mulled wine. My burden was lightened — we were singing and sipping and chatting. And I chatted about deep things. My kids got bored. (I love when they get bored! I love giving them memories of hanging out at an adult’s party, eavesdropping and playing board games.)

My December goal — to throw and go to beaucoup des holiday parties is working out well.

To My 16-Year-Old Self

Dear Mary Beth,

I wish I could tell you to hang in there. I see you throw your body on the bed and weep into your pillow. Your boyfriend’s kind of a jerk. I know. He won’t be the last.

Stella Adler Drama School, photo by Lou Stellato

Have faith. There are rescue boats on the way. Do not live in despair. Some life preservers will be — affection for children, intelligence, desire (and ability) to lead, wanderlust, art, honesty, a 12-step program, and education — These are not dilly dallies or detours.

You are not a dilettante. You are a lover of the arts and a lover of creativity! Now get up.

I know people say this ALL the time, my dear younger self, but the journey really is the destination. There are going to be some tough times ahead, with family members confused, hurt, struggling and ultimately there will be grace and recovery. There are also going to be very tough times in your 40s with your second husband’s Parkinson’s Disease. There will be boats to help you stay afloat just when you think you are sinking. So hang in there and do not give up.

You have to guard against your penchant for falling in love with unavailable guys. You probably should ditch B.S. You will fail in relationships (like your first marriage). Okay, so you are not too lucky in love. Though eventually you will discover the sexiness of nice guys. With the not-so-nice guys, you will need too much or your needs will be ignored and this will be repeated. Find strength from friends, family, especially your sister, 12-step meetings, and oddly enough, the whole movement that came out of a book, Women Who Love Too Much. Do not be ashamed that you love too much. It is a good thing. You have passion and enthusiasm. You work hard.

Among the things that will save you, one of them is New York City with all its vibrancy, beauty and diversity. You will feel at home on a bustling sidewalk. Enjoy those Oak and Elm suburban trees for now (although they are prompting many allergies), because you will never live in suburbia again.

You will travel the world — China, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Ireland. You will go many places and learn to smile in many languages. Your love of learning will be one of those boats that take you to a different shore. When you return home, you will ask big questions and find new ways.

You will do good work. And that will be a source of pride and income for you.

Sadly, you will not make it as an actress, but you will have medium-sized success in comedy, local television and writing. And you will enjoy it. Though you likely will never land a part in a major motion picture, you will have a joyful life in and around the theater.

You will teach drama and creative writing. When you teach, you will learn how much you know and know how much you still have to learn.

But best of all, there will be an amazing gift when you hit your mid-30s — I don’t want to give away the surprise. Okay, here it is. (As you know, I’ve never been good at surprises.)

You will have three children. Unbelievable, right? They will root you to life in a way that you never felt rooted to life before. They will make you pause and yell and hug and cry and laugh, almost every single day. So that will be good and meaningful, although not easy.

To my self, I want to write more, but two of those three children are needing attention right now. And because you become a really good parent, you are going to be there for them. So, get out of bed and be there for yourself. Learn to be a friend to yourself. Adventures await.

This post was inspired by the blog of Adam Bird. We are part of a Facebook community, Post A Day (Week) Challenge, an open group of people who encourage one another to post in their blogs  daily (or weekly).

Angels on the Tree

the tree in our lobby

When my twin girls were in the nursery school at the YMCA, we received a small scholarship for having two enrolled at the same time —  it was something like $11,000 per child instead of $12,000.

We loved the Y. The girls had a great time going to school and learning to play. And we remain great friends with families from that class.

Around this time of year, the preschool staff put up a Christmas tree where you could pluck a paper angel off the tree and buy a present for a needy family. Feeling quite charitable, I went to pick an angel. And there hanging on a paper angel was my family’s name and the ages of my kids — for everyone to see. I grabbed the angel. I waltzed into the office.

“I don’t want anyone to think of us as needy,” I told S., the school director. I felt so ashamed. Seeing our name on the tree made me rethink my attitude towards my family and myself.

Me? I am the giver and the do-gooder, not the recipient of charity and generic toys. S. apologized. She said that all families that received scholarships were on the tree, but they would take those angels off.

So I remember this experience every year around this time. I felt shame when I was perceived as needy. And I don’t think most families are thrilled to be hanging on a Christmas tree. Sure, I would’ve gotten some free presents, and being cheap, that’s sort of appealing. But I would’ve had to pay with my pride. That’s expensive.

It was made worse because people knew us. I worried that if my angel stayed on the tree, we would become social pariahs. We would not be considered equal to other families. We would be helped, but we would be looked down upon.

One deadly sin in this society is to be a charity case. Families like ours have plenty of needs, but please don’t cross the line and consider us needy.

Mother Daughter Book Club

The House on Mango Street

This month we met at our house and we discussed the House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. We were five moms and six daughters, in 6th and 7th grades. We had these comments:

  • the language is poetic
  • the daughter feels ashamed of her home
  • all women and girls feel that they are different
  • the women keep the families going
  • every man is suspicious
  • it’s not so great to be pretty
  • names and naming are important

The next book we read is Home for the Holidays: Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick.

I have signed myself and the girls up for Girls Leadership Institute in March. It’s expensive and I have to save some money in the coming months from my writing and teaching to pay for it.

As I was sitting in the circle last night, talking about this book with my book-loving friends, old and young, I felt we are already in a leadership group. Sharing the truths found in books is a way to talk about yourself, your values and girls’ leadership.

Get Outside

My mother raised me following Dr. Spock’s advice that every child must spend at least two hours outdoors, no matter the weather. When my kids were babies, I tried to do this. I tried to “air them out,” as Mom would say, for at least one hour a day. Now that they’re preteens, it’s hard to pull them away from their computers and push them out the door.

“Direct sunshine contains ultraviolet rays, which create vitamin D right in the skin… Changes of air temperature are beneficial in toning up the body’s system for adapting to cold or heat. A bank clerk is much more likely to become chilled staying outdoors in winter than a lumberjack, who is used to such weather. Cool or cold air improves appetite, puts color in the cheeks, and gives more pep to humans of all ages. It’s good for a baby (like anyone else) to get outdoors for 2 to 3 hours a day (!), particularly during the season when the house is heated. … in the northeastern part of the United States, most conscientious parents take it for granted that babies and children should be outdoors 2 or 3 hours a day when it isn’t raining and the temperature isn’t far below freezing.” – Dr.  Spock.

A few months ago at the top of an Adirondack mountain.

I like that the outdoors “gives more pep.” Who doesn’t want more pep?

I must remember Dr. Spock’s admonishment on the occasional Saturday or Sunday when one of my darlings hangs out at home in front of the TV all fricken day.

I will ask her, “Have you gotten outside at all today?”

“No.” I will remind her of the scientific truth, Newton’s Law, that says a body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

The National Wildlife Federation is bolstering my argument with their new campaign Be Out There. And there’s a ton of research that shows that a child who is connected to the wild is a healthier and happier child.

Hiking, family time, living an active life? This is What We Value. I would like to write more about this, but I have to wake the girls. It’s time for their basketball league, which interferes with church, but that’s a different story! Just for today in the battle between caring for the body and caring for the spirit, the body wins! (We may still get to church, but late!)

Christmas Carol

Last night, I went to the opening night of A Christmas Carol, sitting beside my husband who had played Scrooge for at least four years about ten years ago in this production at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey.

It is unlikely, due to Chris’s Parkinson’s Disease, that he could still act a huge theater role like Ebenezer Scrooge. We reminisced in the car about how he was making the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village at the same time he was in Princeton performing as Scrooge.

Chris as Scrooge, watching himself as a boy.

Acting is an art, like painting or playing the cello. But in the US, unlike maybe Russia, the performing arts get short shrift in a culture that worships celebrities (and then delights in their demise).

Acting is hard work. It is physical labor. It is not putting on make up and posturing. It requires depth of emotion and focus and athleticism.

In this production, Chris as Scrooge flew down from the rafters and flew back up again. He foisted Tiny Tim on his shoulder and jumped on the bed. (He particularly disliked having to do those last two things.)

So watching the show last night, I think Chris felt pride in his past work, but also sadness, and a sense of letting go, a resignation to having physical limitations.

I have seen this production at the McCarter a billion times. Still, it makes me cry. Why? Because, like Scrooge, I discover again the reality that we are made to love another, not to dismiss our loving tendencies by criticizing Christmas or other people. I remember that I am mortal and my time is limited. I must seize this day. There is so much joy in the scene when Scrooge realizes it is not too late to live — never too late to love.

The play is so good. This adaptation by Tommy Thompson is beautiful and simple and elegant, as is the direction by Michael Unger.

Chris has recently had a lovely success with a play he translated, Cherry Orchard by Checkhov at the Classic Stage Company, so I don’t think he was not sitting in the audience wondering, Why aren’t I up there, playing Scrooge?

I drove back and forth from the city. Chris fell asleep, off and on in the passenger seat beside me. When we talked, I told him, “You have had a great life in the theater and I’m so glad I got to see so much of it.” And yes, his theater life continues in a different direction.

My take-away from last night? Be like Scrooge, seize the day, buy the biggest turkey, jump on the bed. Or be like us, see a play, reminisce, have a life in the theater, have dinner with friends, (thanks KP and Wayne!).