Birthdays, Love Them or Hate Them?

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...

Candles spell out the traditional English birthday greeting (Photo credit: Wikipedia) If my cake isn’t vanilla, don’t be surprised by my bitter disappointment.

I think my birthday is pretty special.  So special, in fact, that during my working career there has only been one year that I worked on the day of my birth. Every other year I have indulged in a minimum of my birthday off, though most of the time I extend it into a long weekend. (How, you ask.  A Monday birthday requires the previous Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off as well as the subsequent Tuesday. A Tuesday birthday requires the weekend, Monday and Tuesday off. A Wednesday birthday rolls into a premature weekend starting on that day. Get it? Good.)

On particularly significant years I like to spend my birthday on vacation. One milestone birthday was spent in Key West, last year’s festivities included a trip to Ireland. My birthday is probably the one time of year I indulge myself without guilt. It’s like I’m two years old again and the world revolves around me.  Makes me think of my nephew, Jack, who, on being told he was loved one day, said “Everyone loves Jack,” as if I was stupid for not knowing that fact. That’s how my birthdays feel. Everyone loves me and I can do whatever I want.

But, much as I love to pamper myself, I hate any sort of celebration initiated by others. I’ll tolerate a small family birthday party with a cake (but please make it vanilla) and a few presents (but, trust me, I have myself covered birthday-wise, there’s no need for anyone else to even try). I’ll smile and make nice if someone slips and tells the waiter or waitress it’s a birthday celebration, but don’t expect a tip if I get the birthday song or a lone candle on my desert and the attention of other diners.  It makes me uncomfortable.

If you check my Facebook page,you won’t find my birthday listed. I love the option of wishing my friends a happy day, but not so sure how to respond when I’m the one getting well wishes. Do I thank everyone individually? Post a group thank you to my timeline? Graciously accept like the Queen, but make no mention of the fuss? With so many questions tormenting me, it’s easier to let it slip by unnoticed.  Those of you who know when it is, your use of private messages rather than wall will prevent me from having to decide any of the above questions. Thank you.

I  make no judgement on those of you who like a big fuss on your birthday. I know people who do the slightly embarrassed, yet grateful “you shouldn’t have” when entering a surprise party. I’ve worked with those who are genuinely surprised and pleased when a birthday cake appears at the monthly staff meeting. I’ve watched fellow diners react with delight when the entire restaurant staff appears table-side to sing birthday greetings. None of those people are me.

I think of birthdays the same way I think of births. I prefer a quiet, private affair with attendance limited to those few who are directly affected. Though I admire those people who love the public hoopla of birthdays, I’m not one of them, and at this stage of the game, that isn’t going to change.

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Was Lost, but Now I’m Found

The joke in my family is that if I say take a right, the correct action is go left. Most trips that end in being lost start with my directions. It has always been that way.

traffic-signs-06

My lack of directional skills combined with planning a solo vacation driving to unfamiliar places has been a recent cause of angst. Yes, I could get a GPS. Yes, I could use Mapquest. Deep down I knew no matter what I used, my driving would end with me pulling over to the side of the highway, curling into a fetal position and crying until the Highway Patrol rescued me. Call it fate.

Too ashamed to ask my daughter to call in sick for a week and act as my chauffeur, I downloaded Verizon navigator to my phone, printed out my maps and highlighted them, and headed out, determined to break the curse and not get lost. But, before I even pulled out of the hotel parking lot, I realized my problem. I had too much information and trusted none of it. It was time for a change. I threw my maps in the backseat and put my faith in GPS.

At first, listening to the Verizon navigator confused me. Directions like “turn right in 3.4 miles” and “go straight on highway 123” resulted in me second guessing the voice, turning too early or straining to see road signs. But then, after two very small mistakes trying to out think the system, I decided to listen to the voice and follow its commands.

Amazingly, I made it to all my destinations without getting lost. Once I gave myself over to it, driving became enjoyable. No edge of my seat second guessing. No worry that I’d end up the wrong way on a one way street. As long as I had an address, I could get there.

As I cruised along, content in the knowledge I’d reach my destination, I thought about how many times I’ve overloaded my personal GPS with facts and figures rather than listening to the inner voice trying to guide me on the right path. It’s easy to extinguish our faith in ourselves. It’s easy to second guess.

It’s hard to trust.

But I trusted a satellite navigation system that I couldn’t see, touch, or feel and ended up where I needed to go. Maybe it’s time to trust my personal navigation system to do the same.

Toilet Paper and the Not Quite Empty Nest

English: Toilet paper, orientation "over&...

English: Toilet paper, orientation “over” (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Correct placement of roll.

The Christmas holiday has bestowed the gift of my adult children at home for a week as well as two additional dogs and a cat. Yes, it’s a little chaotic and crazy here.

My mother always says that fish and house guests stink after three days. I’m unsure if it is a cautionary tale meant to keep your house cold or to ensure there’s adequate Febreeze, but so far the stench has been minimal. Other than discovering one of my dogs is allergic to one of my daughter’s dogs and that when everyone in my family is in front of the wood stove for a picture, the wood stove pipe will spontaneously disconnect from the chimney, things have been surprisingly pleasant.

Except for the toilet paper.

English: Toilet paper, orientation "under...

English: Toilet paper, orientation “under” (Photo credit: Wikipedia). So incorrect it hurts me to look at it.

There is a right way to put on the toilet paper roll and a wrong way. You would think these two children that I raised would know this. In our house, the toilet paper roll has always unfurled on the front. Always. Trust me, anytime a visitor or passing toilet user has made the mistake of loading it backwards, I’ve promptly remedied the mistake. My lifelong dedication to this principle is unwavering.

Why then, does my youngest daughter replace the toilet paper backwards? Why would she think that dangling the end of the roll down the back of the holder is acceptable? Has she learned nothing from me all these years?

Of course my mother always told me to never go outside with wet hair or I’d catch a cold, and I do that all the time.  She also cautioned me against putting ice in red wine, but damn it, I like my red wine chilled.  My grandmother told me never to put hot meat on a cold plate or it would be shocked into toughness. I ignore that on a regular basis, too. But all of their recommendations were based on superstition, and the correct way to hang toilet paper is based on common sense and science.

Isn’t it?

And, not only that, but I forgive my children for so many other things. I don’t mind when they don’t squeegee the shower walls after bathing. I clean the hairbrushes without complaint (though wonder which one of them left gray hairs in there). I cringe inside, but shut my mouth, about the half filled beverage glasses left on side tables and the carelessly kicked-off shoes that create a mine field near the front door. I forgive so much, but, toilet paper? I suspect even Jesus would have a problem with that.

In case you’re curious, let me assure you, as a hostess, I am top notch. Their favorite meals (three bean chili, my special turkey stuffing, bread bowls) are consumed with satisfaction. The house is kept tidy and clean, in spite of four dogs and a cat. My television remains tuned to shows I would never watch (Jersey Shore, My Big Fat Gypsy American Wedding, and Catfish to name a few). I provide adequate outlets for their myriad electronic appliances. My car? Please, take it. It’s clean, maintained, and full of gas. All that I provide seems sufficient to ensure a guest would have no problem complying with my one, small request to put the damn toilet paper in the holder correctly!

Let me take one deep breath to center myself.

Okay. In their defense, they have shoveled snow, washed clothes, rinsed dishes, and even fed my allergic dog the 18 pills he must now take daily. The fact that one daughter, in an attempt to entice my dog to chew his fish oil gel cap, bit into the capsule herself and ended up with a face full of fish oil is a Christmas memory I’ll savor. Their thoughtful Christmas gifts (including an Ipod adapter for my car and a hot spot for the houseboat) illustrated how well they know me and my needs. Waking up to them shuffling around the house like zombies as they prepare their morning cups of coffee brings back memories of college breaks and the remembered happiness of having them here, tempered with the relief of knowing they would leave.

And, even though fish and house guests may stink after three days, the emptiness of my children’s leaving will last for many more. For a week, we dance around trying to get this new relationship right. We bicker, and pick at each other, and roll our eyes. We form and reform alliances over movies and music. We hide our resentment and disappointment. Then we hug it out and whisper i love you’s and i miss you’s and i wish you didn’t have to leave so soon. But, that’s what happens when children grow up.

Someday they’ll have families of their own. They’ll create their own holiday traditions and, I hope, I’ll have a place in them. Each holiday reminds me that this will always be their childhood home, but it isn’t the place they call home.  It reminds me that my time for making their rules has ended and now they make their own, and if that includes putting the toilet paper in backwards, there’s nothing I can do about it because I can’t turn back time. I can only turn around the toilet paper.

Empty Nests

Empty Nests (Photo credit: Sterlic)

Mother Knows Best

Scratching

Scratching (Photo credit: ☺ Lee J Haywood)

 

My mother has always been a blunt, no-holds-barred giver of advice.  Her circle of friends is small, her capacity to remember slights limitless. To say she’s a little on the suspicious side is an understatement. She believes there’s two kinds of friends, friendship and friendshit. Her favorite saying concerning friendshit is,  “If you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.”

 

When you grow up with a cop for a mother, there’s not a lot of sympathy for stupidity.

Since I’m not psychic, I can’t tell at the start of a relationship where it will end up. Like courtship,  the beginning phase of a friendship is all about showing off our good sides and covering up our imperfections.  There’s that unquenchable hope that this time someone finally gets me.  The passage of time, though, can wear down the patina of initial niceness.  A cheap person can only buy a round of drinks so many times before they stop offering. A dishonest person can only fulfill their obligations as long as they can stave off their basic impulse to lie. A self-centered person will try to act like it’s not all about them, but in the end, they’ll insist it is.  That’s the point when you realize you’ve been lying with a dog and the itching you feel isn’t your new hand soap or poison ivy, it’s fleas.

 

Most of my life, I’ve followed my mother’s advice and steered clear of unsavory or people liable to get me arrested. Unfortunately those around me have not. One contractor friend of my husband’s has proven to be a persistent little puppy. During the initial phase of the friendship, he installed outside stairs, remodeled our bathroom, roofed our house, and installed replacement windows.  His rates were reasonable. We knew him. My husband counted him a friend. You’d think that would guarantee a job well done. Wrong.

 

Yes, we knew the contractor’s past jobs included  a string of small claims cases and customer complaints.  Yes, I balked at how he always wanted half down to start the job (which basically consisted of his taking the money and parking some equipment at our house) and seemed to be running a Ponzi scheme to pay for supplies and help. Yes, his initial job (a stairway) didn’t meet code and his second job (replacing a roof) started a year-long saga to find the leak we didn’t have until the new roof was in place. And even though he didn’t have a clue as to how to install a corner shower, it didn’t stop him from doing it. No amount of caulk has stopped the leaking in the subsequent two years.

 

Did I mention it takes superhuman strength to close and lock the replacement windows because they don’t quite line up? It doesn’t take skill to do a shoddy job, but it takes a special kind of incompetence to create new problems. Small wonder that when I finally took charge of hiring contractors, his name didn’t make the list.

 

Bad Carpentry!

Bad Carpentry! (Photo credit: Yuba College Public Space)

I still do a slow burn every time I enter the bathroom and realize I’ll eventually need to hire someone to pull out the shower and start again. I get a little hot under the collar when I watch part of the roof lift up and vibrate during windstorms. I curse loudly every time I have to hang on the lower window while pushing the upper window up to try to latch them for the winter. Giving him multiple opportunities to do something right became the punishment that keeps on delivering. If I’d heeded my mother’s warnings, after the first job I would have moved away from him as far and as fast as humanly possible.

Instead, I let myself become lulled by excuses and didn’t take appropriate action when I identified him as friendshit. If I had washed my hands of him early on, I wouldn’t have to walk around my house now and see the equivalent of toilet paper on my shoe everywhere.

But, just like you can’t blame fleas for biting you, you can’t blame shady people for taking advantage. Even if you think they’re friends. Which leads me to another lesson from my mother: Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice, shame on me.

Ignore my mother’s advice at your peril.

 

A Little Criticism

Taking criticism is hard. Most of us want to hear that we’re special, have great taste, and rock in everything we do. Sort of like Toddlers and Tiaras without the temper tantrums. Unfortunately, life seldom gives us blanket approval for all of our actions.

We misunderstand, we misinterpret, we think we get it, but we don’t.  The person that points out these truths  doesn’t earn our respect and thanks (not even if our underwear is tucked into our skirt or a big piece of spinach is blighting our smile). Instead, our first response is to turn on them.

Disagree with me and you’re wrong, you’re stupid, and/or you don’t understand.

How do we learn, though, if not by criticism? In education, there’s a saying that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  We’re all blind to our faults and our weaknesses. When someone points them out to us, of course our first reaction is a big HELL NO as we put up our guard to defend ourselves and our self image from our attacker.

But, how can we get better if we don’t take advice from others?

When I went to nursing school, I knew right from the beginning that I knew nothing. It took me ten minutes to reconstitute medications. Twenty minutes to set up an I.V. Putting in a female catheter? Forever. I accepted criticism because I accepted my ignorance. I listened a lot, I read a lot, I took my lumps, and eventually I became good at my trade. But, if I had been defensive, argumentative, and convinced of my own rightness, I would have ended up a hack. I got good because of criticism.

I maintain the most dangerous people in healthcare, and the world, are those that don’t understand their limitations. They will fight to the end of time to defend their rightness. And they are wrong.

I might not always agree when people tell me I’m wrong, but I’ll listen, I’ll think, and I’ll research. Because in this big world full of information, I must accept there are people that know more than me. If I’m not willing to at least hear them out, who’s the idiot?