The Neighborhood 

It’s 5:30 Friday evening. I got home a little early, changed clothes, and poured myself a glass of wine. The temperature outside has been in the 60s the past couple of days, so I turned off the air-conditioner and opened some windows.

I live in the top two floors of a row of two-over-two townhomes. All the units have garages which back to central parking, around a treed, grassy island.

From my open dining room window, I hear little kids ramming around with what sound like plastic wheeled toys. (Parents, you know that sound!) I hear a mom. From this distance, she sounds like the muffled mumbles of any adult in the classic Charlie brown cartoons. The children are shrieking with glee, yelling rules at each other for whatever game they are making up in the moment. As all good suburban cul-de-sac kids do, they occasionally bellow the warning, CAAAAARRRRRR!

These sounds transport me back almost 20 years, when I had two small kids. When the boys were very little, we lived in a townhouse community, smaller, but not unlike the one I’m living in now. Instead of out back, the parking and island were in the center, viewable from the fronts of the houses. If enough adults stood guard, the kids could ride their large plastic wheeled vehicles around the island.

It was in this way that we met most of our neighbors in the community where we first lived, and again when we moved to a more expansive suburb. Now, some evenings when I drive my car into the parking area, I see orange cones set up, and those signs that say “children at play”, and adults standing around, sharing a beverage, while they keep one eye on the posse of children. I remember the drill: one parent would take a turn, giving the other one a spell, and promise to run the children, hard, until they were tired. This was in an effort to ensure an early (or at least timely), drama-free bedtime. Our measure of success was the low bar of “safe and happy” on those nights and anything beyond that, with regard to the kids, was gravy.

I mostly feel happy that the days of large plastic wheel toys and shrieking children are behind me, but I would be lying if I didn’t add that the sounds I’m hearing now make me the tiniest bit wistful. My little boys were just so cute. And fun! Exhausting too. But remarkable. They were (and are still) a source of pride and joy.

There is a sense of community that parents of similarly aged children develop. I don’t have that connection with any of my current neighbors. Now, I am (probably?) that scary old lady who smiles a little too broadly, and is a little too forthcoming with the unsolicited advice.

When we were in the thick of it, I could barely imagine a day when I wouldn’t find Hot Wheels cars and LEGO blocks and empty chip bags and Capri Sun pouches all over my house. But now here I am, with a 7th grader who needs no toys, rides a “big boy” bike to school, and even puts most of his trash into the garbage cans in the house. His older brothers spend more time now at their dad’s house than at mine, but I see them regularly, and we have completely adult conversations. And occasionally drink a beer together! (What?!)

I remember as my kids were growing up, thinking how each stage is the best, as you get to it. All the stages are special for unique reasons, but the one I was in at the moment always seemed the best to me. Little kids, like the ones I hear shrieking right now, can be exhausting, but their smiles and joy are completely genuine. My favorite age range is still from 7 to 11, but I’m still really enjoying Eli even as an adolescent in middle school. (But I will readily accept your prayers for us both.)

Yes, my life has changed significantly over the past two decades, and I’ve been through many stages. But in this moment, I can say with certainty, as I look ahead to all that awaits, that this is, without a doubt, the best stage yet.

Why I Love Social Media

WHEN I STARTED BLOGGING IN the prehistoric era 2008, I posted almost daily. I had so much I wanted to say, and to preserve. Initially, I wrote because I wanted to capture some of my favorite anecdotes for my kids to read someday. But as I wrote, a small and mildly disturbed following built up, and people started commenting. The feedback was exciting! It led me to comment on my commenters' blogs, and thus I connected with people, virtually at first, then I met some of them "IRL" (in real life, as we say). In fact, today I count some of them among my best pals.

Years passed. Life happened. I blogged less. (So did lots of people.) During this time, Facebook surged in popularity. My online connecting gradually migrated from the blogosphere to Facebook, almost exclusively. I have a love-hate thing with Twitter, I have a Tumblr but I don't think I'm doing it right… I post the occasional photo on Instagram, but I'm on Facebook a lot.  I admit, I like the instant gratification the comments provide. It's more immediate than what I experienced when I was a frequent blogger, and I connect with far more people through Facebook than I ever did through this blog.

Lately, I'm reading lots of things about how social media in general is ruining society. It's making us rude. It's inhibiting our ability to really connect, on a human level, with other humans. It turns us into cyber-road-ragers, bullies from behind our tiny screens. And I do believe grains of truth exist here.

BUT: I also think there is much good to be harnessed in social media. Several recent events come to mind.

First, my 25th (!) college reunion. (I still can't believe it's been that many years.) I have maintained contact with a handful of classmates from Dickinson College's esteemed class of '89, and because of our Facebook connections, when we reunited in June, it was as if we picked up without missing a beat. We already knew what each other looked like. We didn't have to go through the tedious exchange of minutiae (where do you live, are you married, how many kids, what do you do, are your parents still alive…). We already had things to talk about. I had the good fortune become reacquainted with several classmates. We've continued our conversations via Facebook, and while we might not see each other again until 2019 (gulp!), we'll be up to speed when we meet next.

Second, there was the informal high school gathering in July. Some of us who graduated in the 1980s met up for a mini-reunion. It was hosted by a classmate I have not seen since I left town in 1985, but with whom I've resumed contact and have had regular exchanges through Facebook. It didin't feel like we hadn't seen each other for 29 years! It was as if we'd seen each other just last week. And again, I came away with a few new connections with whom I look forward to connecting, even if it's only virtual for the next few years.

Third, The sad news of a former boss's untimely death came my way last week via Facebook, and I used Facebook to spread the news. While you wouldn't want to find out about the death of a close relative through social media, I was able to efficiently reach a number of former coworkers from the 1990s through Facebook. And when we met up at the viewing, it was nice to see them all, despite the sad circumstances of our coming together.

Fourth, we are currently trying to harness the power of social media to help locate our neighbor, John Rogers, who has been missing since August 21. There's no better, more efficient way to reach lots of people. It's one of many tactics being employed by Team Rogers, of course. Please, spread the word! There's a Facebook Group now – look for "Find John Rogers." And you can follow @FindJohnRogers on Twitter, too. I believe we need to get this in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

Facebook is like a mini reunion. You celebrate milestones. You commiserate. Sympathize. Giggle. You share information. You crowdsource. Share recipes. You maintain connections. I just have to believe those connections MATTER. 

Of course, things can get complicated when exes / coworkers / your own kids are your Facebook connections. And, there are users who are abusers. They tear down; they cyber-bully; they brag; they one-up. So block them, or unfriend them. Be selective with your sharing. You wouldn't allow that in real life, would you? And yes, the potential exists to stick your virtual foot in your virtual mouth if you become careless with your privacy settings. But that can happen in real life, too.

I am in awe of the ability to harness social media for the greater good. There are so many wonderful examples, but Momastery comes immediately to mind. Here's a blogger turned philanthropist – her Monkee See, Monkee Do foundation that has sponsored Love Flash Mobs to show people that They Matter, Love Wins, We Care. And the recent craze over the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is another amazing example, raising over $100 Million for ALS research!

Despite my tendency towards healthy skepticism, I'm basically an optimist. I almost always want to give folks the benefit of the doubt, to believe they intend to do good. I believe we can use social media for so much good. Let's not let the abusers ruin it for the rest of us.


Day 365 of my 46th year

I MET LAURIE before the turn of the decade in the comment section of Janice's blog. The banter there spawned a crazy idea: Several of us wanted to see and experience this place of which Janice painted a compellng verbal portrait, so why didn't we all just COME? And she responded by taking leave of her senses extending an invitation for us to do just that for a long weekend in July.

Imagine my family and friends' reaction when I told them, "I'm picking up someone at the airport. Never met her in person, only online. She's from California. We both have blogs. She's going to sleep overnight at my house, then tomorrow, we're driving 3.5 hours down to Virginia, where we're going to meet up with a bunch of other bloggers, most of whom have never met each other in person."

"So you're going to host a complete stranger overnight in your home, then get into a car with her and drive to Viginia? To meet with other complete strangers? How do you know they're not serial stalkers or have strange compulsions or just plain smell bad?"

Fair point, I suppose, but we bloggers knew we had stumbled upon a like-minded group of people with whom we'd be instantly compatible in real ife. And we were. Laurie and I immediately hit it off, joking that we were separated at birth (and not just because we share an odd but amusing talent for rewriting cheeky lyrics to popular tunes). We became friends, and I wish there weren't 3,000 miles between our homes.

Laurie's writing has always spoken to me, but no more so than in her recent post, where she put into words something I've been feeling but have been unable to articulate. She wrote it after her 48th birthday, and pondered this thing we call Midlife and how for some it can be a time of existential crisis.

In particular, this part resonated loudly:

RIGHT?? Brilliant. You start thinking, so this is my life. Here it is. Okay. And while you may not feel that it's too late to change it, you probably realize that the stakes are way too high, the risks far too profound, to shake it all up. It reminds me of those sand-art-in-a-bottle things the kids make at festivals: It starts in nice distinct layers,each easily identifiable, but if you shake the bottle, all the separate get all jumbled up, blurring the edges. It's all still there, it's just… messy.

Oh yeah life goes on
And so, on the eve of my 46th birthday, I woke up with Laurie's sentiments still ringing in my ears. My babies have become little men, two of whom are in high school (one a senior!) and the "baby" a third grader. All the big plastic toys and baby paraphernalia are gone, long since replaced by iPhones and xBoxes and driver's licenses(!). Two of the boys are on the verge of college, and we've barely saved anything. The weekly warnings from the high school counselor's office to START PLANNING NOW make my blood pressure spike. I want to stick my fingers in my ears and go LALALALA ICANTHEARYOU! Same with retirement. Will we even be able to stop working at some point?? I always thought we'd have time, but that time is nigh upon us.

The Rest of My Life is hiding around the corner, and one day soon it's going to pop out and go BOO! in my face and I keep wondering how it can possibly be so.

It would be easy to dwell on the trials, and there have been some in this 46th year of mine. This year started with the puchase of a brand new roof, thanks to a rare storm and a weak tree. Shortly after my oldest became licensed to drive, he ran the Suburban up onto an embankment, resulting in no injuries, but the purchase of a new transmission. Sandy Hook happened that same weekend, and that rocked everyone's world. My husband has had job challenges galore. His dad got sick and died in June, all within the span of two weeks. We're both still pretty raw from that. And our youngest STILL would rather hold his poop inside for days on end.

I could go on. I know what it's like to "feel the panic rise", as Laurie wrote. And how.

BUT: I know that in so many more ways, I am blessed. And it's always better to count your blessings than to dwell on life's challenges. And as my mom always says, having another birthday sure beats the alternative.

I don't know what my 47th year will bring, but it starts tomorrow.

Meg 7-24-13

Photo is taken in the style of Laurie's own self portrait from the 7or 8 blog post