Saturday, October 17, 2015

The introvert's dictionary. It's not alphabetical because it's my dictionary and I didn't do it that way.

I took my boys to the Tennessee Aquarium and the Chattanooga Zoo on Friday. It was Ben's idea. "Animal Day," he said, when I asked him what he'd like to do on this rare day off for all of us.

Ben did not enjoy the saltwater part of the Aquarium. There were a lot of people there. A. Lot. Crowds. Hordes. Mobs. He didn't complain, but he cringed a lot.

When we got to the freshwater part, he seemed far happier. "It's better here," he said. "I think more people go to the saltwater one so they can see sharks. I like the sharks, but I don't like all the people."

Oh, I feel you, honey. I really do. 

I took a long, solitary trail run on Thursday morning and, during that run, I thought about the specific reality of the introvert. Well, I primarily thought about how goddamn amazing it felt to be alone in the woods and pushing my body to the point of endorphin intoxication, but I also thought about how amazing it felt to just be alone. And while I did that, I also wrote this dictionary/glossary/guide to introverts thing. 

Mephoria: The intense rush introverts experience when they are all alone and can do whatever they want. And no one is looking for you or calling you and no one expects you to be anywhere and no one is even texting you because maybe the battery in your cell phone is even dead. Gah. Yesh.

Youphoria: The particular joy that accompanies abundant, unstructured time doing fun things with one specific someone who totally gets you on a mind-meld level. I am ridiculously lucky, so I have a few of these people. You know who you are. I miss you.

Regretrovert: What an introvert becomes when everyone leaves you alone because you told them to, but then you miss them. Dammit.

Ohdeerface: That thing where the people who know you best see that you are DONE, just can't. any. more. And their heads kind of swivel up, like a deer who detects a threat, and they come over to you and put a hand on your shoulder and excuse you from whatever agonizing conversation you have been forced to endure, and then they take you home and hand you a book and don't even bitch about what a pain in the ass you are. (Thanks, Jim.)

Charging station: The place introverts go to briefly isolate themselves in a social situation, whether we are temporarily hiding in a bathroom at a party or maybe curled up in the corner reading for a few minutes at a reunion or even taking a surreptitious little walk around the block during a conference when we pretended we were just going to the bathroom. It's OK. We'll be back. Probably.

The ghost: What happens when an introvert leaves for a charging station and decides not to come back. Introverts don't leave, exactly. They just ghost.

Defcon 5: That thing where you're in your charging station and someone busts in and says in that infuriating, unintentionally accusatory way, "What's wrong?" or "Why are you so quiet?" or "Where were you?" Well, hey, Bargey McRuderson, here's a question for you: Why don't you just mind your own dumbface business?

Untroversion: What introverts practice when they have to interact with so many people so much and so often, and have gotten so adept at it, that when they end up disclosing during a conversation that they are introverts, the person they're talking to say, "No way! I would never, ever guess that." Winning. Also, suffering.

NOTTHESAMETHING: That thing introverts have to clarify when people express surprise that they are introverts, and they say, "You don't seem shy at all." Right. Because I'm not shy at all. 'Shy' implies fearful. You don't scare me even a little. But in order to function optimally, I need you and everyone else to just go away sometimes. NOTTHESAMETHING.

Occupational therapist: Most dogs are extroverts. Not all of them, I know. But most dogs. And if you are an introvert with a dog, you probably take your dog to the dog park and out for walks and stuff, and that thing where you interact with other people with dogs is your introvert occupational therapy. No copay, lots of unconditional love. Good therapist. Stay.

Introcceptance: The state introverts achieve after they spend decades trying to figure out why everyone else seems to want to hang out in big groups and you hate it more than anything, it is hell, and whywhywhy? And then you realize that yeah, that's just life for the introvert, and you figure out how to happily introvert your way through life and it is amazing. 

Funtrovert: What the introvert becomes when you host a party, and the people you love best are at your house, and you're simultaneously with your best people on your home turf, and also having a high degree of social interaction, and it is bliss because everyone there knows. They KNOW. And they will never, at any point, wonder where you went if you walk around the block, and they will never go Defcon 5 on you.

Waterboarding: Small talk, elevator talk, cocktail party talk, people on planes who are apparently looking for new friends, people who want to know what you're reading, those dead minutes at the beginning of a meeting when people talk about weather/sports/the day of the week/payday. Also, meetings. Also, elevators.

Shocktrovert: That jolt of recognition the introvert experiences when you're being waterboarded, and you suddenly realize the person you're talking to is ALSO being waterboarded, and you mutually confess your misery, drop all pretense, talk about real shit that is worth actually talking about and maybe even make a new friend.

Ironictrovert: That thing where you know you will have to interact with groups of people in a surface, social way that makes you want to die, so you read books and articles about how to do that effectively. Alone. All by yourself. You read. About how to talk to people.

Saints, martyrs, gods among men: The people who know, love, understand and protect introverts. You guys are so awesome. I love you so much. Now please go away.

Ben and I engaged in a lively exchange of ideas.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Meet my drunk teenager

Because I am the world's best mother, I gave my cell phone to my 15-year-old son. I carried that phone for 5 years. He had it for 3 months and then jumped right into the neighborhood pool with it in his pocket.

Look, I wasn't mad (see world's best mother reference above). I know it's not technically his fault. The rolling wave of testosterone that's unfurling in his blood blocks oxygen to the brain. It forms an actual barrier somewhere just south of his neck. This is science, people. You can't fight it.

My boy is walking around in a paralyzing fog of hormones that makes him, for all practical purposes, drunk. He's exactly like me after five beers. Laughing too loud, interrupting everyone, walking into stuff, falling off of stuff, convinced everything he says is hilarious, jumping into the pool with his iPhone in his pocket.

But now that he's just like me after five beers, he can legally learn to drive a car? OK, people who make the rules. That makes total sense.

He used to smell of warm dinner rolls, fresh cut grass, clean laundry. Now he's shrouded in musky fumes whose origins I prefer not to contemplate. He used to hold up his tiny, dimpled hands to let me know he was ready to be carried. Now he's a head taller than I am and speaks mostly in grunts.

Well, except that time he jumped into the pool with his cell phone in his pocket. That event traumatized him into temporary talkativeness. 

"I'm so sorry! I'm SO SORRY!" he moaned. Pause for two beats. "So, can I please get another phone?"

The flip side of my drunk teenager is that he's super useful. He can mow the grass and spread the mulch and drag the garbage out to the curb and make lunch for himself and his little brother and carry ALL the heavy stuff. 

For years, I felt like a baby/toddler/little boy sherpa, forever schlepping their little bodies and all their gear everydamnwhere everydamnday. These days, when I pull into the driveway with a carload of anything, I just hop out and saunter into the house, leaving the cargo for the teenager to unload. 

Most of the time, he even greets me in the driveway. He knows the drill. He knows who buys the cell phones around here.

Well, unless there's something fragile in the car. I still carry that stuff. You really don't want a drunk teenager hauling your breakables.

Just leave that in the car. I'll carry it in. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

In defense of those assholes who tell you to "enjoy every moment"

OK, I would never say that to the parents of young children. That's a dick move. I remember how exhausting it was, how unrelentingly needy they were, how scared I was that I was doing it all wrong, how sure I was I would never again sleep through the night/go to the bathroom by myself/finish the day without food in my hair/get to shave both legs on the same day. In fact, I'm pretty sure I have mild PTSD from those years. It. Was. Hard.

So no, I would never say that to the parents of young children. But here is a thing I would say: Have you ever had your heart utterly, completely broken by someone you missed long after you should have been over it? A romance that marked you, changed you, made some song or some movie or some season or some stupid little joke forever painfully poignant and fraught with loss? Have you just gotten crushed and had to eat ice cream straight out of the carton, seasoned with tears?

Well, those unhinged assholes telling you to enjoy every moment with your little, screaming, sticky children are caught in the throes of precisely that kind of heartbreak. They are looking at you and that soft, dimpled creature and they are remembering only the soft-focused best of that long-gone romance that will never, ever be back. They can't even Facebook stalk this ex because he/she is gone forever, transformed (and, yes, I'm sorry, but it DOES happen so quickly) into an utterly different creature.

Those clouds of soft, wild hair have turned into teen-age dreadlocks or that douchey boy-band hairdo they slick up in the front with gel. Those tiny, dimpled hands reaching for you -- and you, only you, no, not that one, YOU -- are waving 'bye over a broad shoulder as he grabs your car keys and the last $20 from your wallet. That back-of-the-neck baby smell that releases all those happiness chemicals in your brain will be replaced by a teen-age funk that, if weaponized, could bring entire empires to their knees.

Looking at old pictures doesn't really help. In fact, it's sometimes physically painful to haul out the images of those long-gone babies, to see in those round, guileless faces and gummy grins the faint outlines of the adolescent somewhere up ahead. Was he ever that small? (Yes, he was, and I was so, so tired…)

My 15-year-old son recently asked me if I wished he were little again.

"Not really," I said truthfully. "My life is easier now that you're so big and smart and strong, and you can help me with stuff and teach me things. It's a lot of fun to have big kids. But I would love a visit."

"A what?"

"I would love it if I could have 2-year-old you back for about 3 hours," I explained. "I would like to feel the weight of your warm little body in my lap again, and hear that funny immigrant English you spoke in that little helium voice….Just for a little while."


Yeah," I sighed. "It's weird."

But time doesn't work that way. And no, I would never tell the parents of young children to enjoy every moment, because wow, it's a tough time and that's a dick move. But I might say, hey, it's a lot more temporary than it feels right now. The good, the bad, the days that take months to drag by, the months that disappear in a flash. It's all so temporary.

They'll be gone soon. You won't enjoy every moment. But maybe try to consider these incredibly demanding years with the tenderness you would reserve for an intensely felt and ultimately doomed romance.

Because there just isn't enough ice cream in the world for this particular heartbreak.

Gone, baby, gone.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

My big-sister self is back, and she is mighty aggravated

There’s this desk in my room where I sit to write and work and pay bills and generally keep the wheels of our lives turning. I recently walked to that desk and found there was no chair.

“BOYS!” I screamed reflexively. “WHERE IS MY CHAIR?”

My younger son, who’s 10, hollered back, “IT’S IN MY BLANKET FORT. I NEEEEED IT FOR MY BLANKET FORT!”

OK, a couple of things to point out here. When I walk to my desk, I am mentally zeroed in. I am ready to pay the bills or do the work or write the thing, and I have dragged myself away from whatever diverting alternate activity I’d rather be doing (do you guys know about ThredUP? Seriously.), and I am ready. I mean business as I saunter up to that desk, y’all.

Also, I am the big sister. Granted, I am also a 43-year-old mother of two large boy-type children, but some part of me has apparently never gotten past those big-sister years when all I wanted in the world was to be left alone to read in peace and to find my things where I left them and to not have gross little boys always touching my things and moving my stuff and WHY ARE YOU EVEN IN MY ROOM? GAH.

When my kids were small, my big-sister origins were not a problem. I mean, they were little children and mostly helpless and pretty much always in either my lap or my line of sight. They did annoying shit, sure, but it did not generally involve moving furniture or surreptitiously taking my stuff to undisclosed locations, so I kind of forgot about the big-sister years. But as my boys have gotten big and strong and grabby enough to disrupt my environment in truly significant and bewildering ways, that 14-year-old version of myself is suddenly back. And wow, she is super bitchy.

“Son, I know you think you NEED that chair for your blanket fort, but you do not. I need that chair for my butt, so I can sit in it and pay our bills and finish my work. So please go get that chair and bring it to me. And do not take furniture out of my room. That is not OK.”

All of the other chairs in the house were also in this fort, by the way, so you would not think my little office chair would be critical to its infrastructure, but you would be wrong. In making him move that chair, I destroyed his life and proved myself the worst mother on the planet.

Which, to tell you the truth, is OK with me. Someone has to be the worst at this stuff. It can be me. That way it isn’t you! You’re welcome.

I also found that my free weights were a critical part of the infrastructure of this elaborate fort. I found that when, you guessed it, I went to lift my free weights. (That sounds so badass but, you guys, these weights top out at 8 pounds and they are coated in colorful plastic. They’re perfect blanket-fort ballast.)

And forget about being able to use my most favorite giant towel at the pool. That is not my towel anymore, and the way I can tell that is not my towel is that some wet child is constantly wrapped in it. I even bought a new version of it covered in giant pink flowers because I figured none of the boys I live with would want it. And now my reward for teaching them about feminism and gender equality is that they could give a shit if they have a pink floweredy towel. It’s cool, bro. Now we have TWO giant towels – perfect!

I recently took a business trip and, while I was gone, my husband took our older son to get his learner’s permit. Then he posted a picture to Facebook of our baby boy driving my car.

MY CAR. Driving. My. Car.

“Good job, buddy. I’m really proud of you!” I texted to my son that night.

“Thanks for taking him. So why the hell can’t he drive YOUR car?” I texted to my husband.

They didn’t respond. I’m pretty sure they were all in the blanket fort. Or out driving my car.

No, really, this is fine. Just let me know when you're done with it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

That one time I quit writing my newspaper column

I published my last TFP column yesterday. Thirteen years is long enough, you guys. I'm starting to bore myself a little, which suggests to me that I've been boring other people a lot for quite some time now. Enough already.

But hey, I'm kind of fake quitting because I will still blog. Writers gotta write, yo.

So I will blog when I feel like it, and I will say what I want (profanity goes here!). I may blog twice a week or maybe I'll blog twice a year. Hell, I don't know. But last month, when I decided to just blog what was in my head, it got picked up by Scary Mommy and that was pretty thrilling. So just blogging. Let's do this.

Meanwhile, if you want to read my final TFP column, I am pasting it below. I am not linking to it as a petty act of defiance because the newspaper keeps running this horrendous 10-year-old picture of me on their website. I am like 5 minutes postpartum and I am growing out a bad haircut and I have this sleep-deprived, thousand-yard stare. I look like the walking momdead. Why did I let anyone take a picture of me at that point in my life? Oh right. I was insane from giving birth, which has that effect on me. I'm really glad I stopped doing it.

Anyway, I keep saying, Hey you TFP guys. Run another picture. You've got several. Some of them are better than that. And they keep running that horrible, horrible picture.

So anyway, here's my last TFP column. Something sentimental goes here about the end of an important chapter in my life. I'll see you on the blog.

The art of knowing when to say when
I really thought I was going to make it, but the afternoon sun through the clouded glass finally did me in.
"I'm going to have to pull over and wash this windshield," I told my mother. "I hate to stop when we're so close to home, but I'm driving blind."
The windshield of my mother's 19-year-old car was caked with sand from Florida and road grime from nearly 10 hours of interstate driving. We rolled into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Ringgold and I popped the trunk. Mom rooted around in there until she came up with the giant jug of washer fluid she carries around, toted it to the front of the car and threw a few splashes of it on the glass while I ran the wipers.
"That's got it," I said. "Let's go."
My mother doesn't find this at all ridiculous, and I learned a long time ago to keep my mouth shut on the topic of her old-car fetish. She can't keep washer fluid in the reservoir of her car because no plastic reservoir is built to last through 19 years and 275,000 miles. They crack. If you try to repair them (and she has), they crack again. And, if you're my mom, you just shrug and start carrying around a jug of washer fluid in the trunk.
She's only driving this 1996 Camry because I bullied her into giving up her 1989 Subaru. It was around 2005, and I had a 5-year-old son and a newborn baby. My mom loved that tuna can of a Subaru, and she loved toting her grandsons around, but I wasn't happy with the idea of my little boy and my little baby in the backseat of that flimsy thing. So she caved and bought a 9-year-old Camry, which she still says is too big and heavy for her comfort.
Ten years later, I have a 15-year-old son, a 10-year-old son and a mother who will not give up her 19-year-old car. Every year, I drive her home from our annual trip to Florida, and every year there's a new quirk to accommodate.
"It's a good car," she says any time we talk about the possibility that a 19-year-old car is due to be replaced. "It has never once failed to proceed."
That's really how she talks. It's pretty cute. But still. Nineteen years, Mom?
As it happens, I think a lot these days about letting go. My sons are suddenly so grown up and independent. The first time my husband and I went out and left them at home, I felt disoriented and anxious. Now I don't think twice.
This year I've had to stop teaching the university media writing course I loved so much to accommodate a terrific career that requires more of me than I ever predicted. Maybe one day I'll have time for teaching again, but now is not that time.
This column is next. I've been writing it for 13 years — from the time I was barely 30, my older son was a toddler and my younger son was just an idea. I've written through the many joys of watching my boys grow up, through the challenges of illness, job loss, new careers and multiple moves.
I've loved writing this column, but I think it's time for something new. Thank you for reading what I wrote, and for all the times you wrote back to let me know how much it meant to you. Y'all have got to be the nicest readers anywhere, and it's been a privilege to share my stories with you.
Also, if you have any ideas for repairing the washer fluid reservoir in a 19-year-old Camry, I'll still be around and entertaining ideas.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I can't wait for our beach vacation! Is the biggest freaking lie I tell myself every summer.

Every June, my husband, my mother, my sons and I spend a week at the beach, and let me just start by saying that only a hideous, ungrateful shrew would complain about this. So now that we've been properly introduced, let me tell you about the difference between Beach Vacation in My Head and Beach Vacation in For-Real Land.

Every winter, I spend the gray, post-holiday months building up the fantasy of Beach Vacation in My Head. During Beach Vacation in My Head, I do hours of reading in a horizontal state while my skin turns a creamy shade of caramel. I take long, solitary runs along the sand. I dine in sweet little restaurants with my husband; we linger over tropical drinks. My hair looks fucking amazing. It never rains.

My children are somewhere around here, I suppose, but they are occupied studying sea life and journaling about the habits of ocean birds. Or flying kites or whatever. They're definitely wearing linen, wherever they are.

Beach Vacation in For-Real Land goes like this: NO, throwing sand at your brother is not a game you just invented! DID YOU JUST SPRAY HIM IN THE FACE WITH SUNSCREEN? WHAT THE HELL?

During Beach Vacation in For-Real Land, my hours of reading work this way: My younger son, who's 10, sidles up to my chair as I recline and open my book. "Mom, are you almost done reading? When will you be done reading? Are you done now? What about now? How long is that book, Mom? It looks pretty long. Like, 300 pages? It doesn't really look like you're reading. It looks like you're done. What do you want to do now?"

Every single day, everyone needs to eat three damn meals -- a soul-crushing fact I avoid much of the year by being at work for many of them. I do more grocery shopping the week of Beach Vacation in For-Real Land than I do the entire rest of the year. Grocery shopping does not feel like a vacation, no matter where you do it. And it's weird, but I NEVER remember the grocery shopping part during Beach Vacation in My Head.

Every afternoon, the summer thunderstorms chase us inside, where my sons apply sand and water to every surface where one might reasonably expect to sit or lie. My hair grows into an immense, frizzy cloud of snarls. Five days in, my skin is covered in red bumps from sand, salt, sunscreen, razor burn and mosquitoes. The condo is decorated entirely in wet towels and mateless flip-flops. (Seriously, why are there six left shoes in here??)

By Thursday, I'm always contemplating an early exit. I could just rent a car, you know? I could just go home and spend a few days by myself. No big deal. That's normal, right?

"It's Thursday of beach week," my friend texts me every year. "Are you ready to come home?"

And let's talk about the packing, shall we? In Beach Vacation in My Head, I toss everything I need into a grocery bag. A small one. Bikini, flip-flops, running shoes, shorts, T-shirts, toothbrush, and let's go, bitches.

Actually that's what I do for Beach Vacation in For-Real Land, too. But at the part where I open my mouth to say, 'Let's go, bitches,' I remember that we have to go install the giant box on the roof of the car to hold all the golf clubs and sand toys. And put five coolers in the back and load up all the electronics. Yes, we are those people.

Then there's the unpacking upon arrival. Then the repacking upon departure. Then the unpacking upon arrival. We finish Beach Vacation in For-Real Land more exhausted than when we left, it will take two gallons of aloe to get my skin settled down and my keratin treatment is totally wrecked.

My mother says I'll miss all this chaos one day, but I'm certain that's just one of the 10 million lies she's told me in her merciless quest for grandchildren. I'm on to you, lady. You hear me? I'M ON TO YOU.

"Man, I can't wait for our week at the beach!" my older son recently crowed. He's 15 now, and we are heading back for our 11th consecutive year at the very same place. "It's always the best week of the year," he said. "I love it."

"I know," I said, wrapping an arm around his skinny man/boy shoulder. "It's the best, isn't it?"

Shit yeah, it is. Because it's still Beach Vacation in My Head, and there's really no reason to start Beach Vacation in For-Real Land until it's absolutely necessary.

I'm standing like that because my legs are covered in bug bites and sun-allergy bumps and it kind of hurts if they touch, but look how much fun we are having, you guys!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jack's got my number, so text with care

Switching cell phones is always kind of a pain in the ass, but it gets even more interesting when you hand your phone off to your teenager. When I gave Jack my phone, I warned the folks I correspond with regularly that my number would change over to my work phone, and that went off without a hitch -- mostly.

I was especially aggressive about warning the folks with whom I regularly swap secrets and juicy personal stories. "Text me back and confirm that you got this," I demanded of them. "I do not want you sending my son into therapy. That's my job."

"So don't text him this?" responded my friskiest friend, shooting me an elegantly framed still life of her unclothed bottom.

"No, don't text him that," I responded. "It's very pretty, though. I'm keeping that picture forever."

There have been a few minor, harmless text mix-ups, but they're quickly sorted out when Jack responds and pastes in the boilerplate I wrote for him instructing people that this is his number now and directing them to my new phone.

The best mix-up, though, came when a student I hadn't heard from in many months wrote me a long text to tell me what a great job I did teaching my media writing class, and what a big difference I had made for that crop of young 'uns.

Jack read me the text that afternoon when I picked him up from school.

"Mrs. Fortune, I just want you to know how much we all appreciate what you did for us," he read to me.

"Wow," I said. "That's just awesome to hear. Your mom is a media-writing-teaching badass, young man."

"Uh-huh," he grunted. "So can I delete this now?"

Anyway, today's TFP column is about adventures in cell phone swapping and the eternal nature of the cell phone number. I hope you like it.

And please don't text me any pictures of your butt without confirming the number first. Thanks.

Waiting on some misdirected texts from middle-aged women.