Family, School

happy first day

I looked around the office with a twinge of sadness.  The three bodies who have occupied our business space with us are no longer on the premises; the official beginning of their school year today.  I see the notifications on Facebook as friends post pictures of their kids, grinning with backpacks and the comments from others sending best wishes for the school year.  I watched kids stand quietly beside parents chattering with the affected joy and excitement of the first day.  My snap-happy self took these same pictures.  I cherish this time knowing it is short.

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Driving into work I pondered why this first day was different from years past.  As a young girl I looked forward to the school year with trepidation; hoping my grades would make muster; that my friends would still sit by me at lunchtime.  I felt the anxiety as I sat in my classes listening to teachers’ expectations.  Would I be able to do it?  Would I let them down?  Most years, as a parent,  I began the school year with a pep talk to my sons about having a great year, getting good grades and working on behavioral habits.  Knowing the assessments started the first week, I reminded my boys of the things we did over the summer for the writing prompt, recounting math facts or grammatical rules.

I did none of these things last evening; nor today.

I grapple with letting my sons go; to allow them the ability to figure out things without my prompting.  To truly discover who they are and to not constantly coach/preach what it is that I expect them to be.  To let them navigate social land mines and find their way.  This is a tough lesson for me.

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On our last day of summer we had been busy with household chores, birthday parties and grocery shopping.  I braced myself for the yelling of commands to get things done to prepare for the first day.  When the eldest’s schedule conflicted with ours; he handled it with the volunteer coordinator.  The middle son prepared the clothes he would wear to school on Sunday afternoon without being asked.  The youngest hummed to himself as he opened school supplies and organized his binder and backpack.  The yelling mom never materialized.

And so, this morning, I expected to rouse grumpy children to awaken for school.  And though I did have to wake them, they quickly rose and prepared for the day.  I made the effort not to lament the end of summer; nor did I use my falsetto, happy voice to expound the joys of the first day of school.  Instead we prepared for the day in relative peace and quiet which followed me into the confines of my car on my commute into work.  It had been effortless; even amongst the busy throngs of parents, the traffic and congestion and general chaos of the first day.  When the fifth grader happily waved from his line as they left for their classroom, I smiled.  This year is going to be a great one.  They were ready.

It is I who is never ready.  I read self-help parenting books hoping to glean knowledge on how to be a better parent.  But with the years I’ve come to realize that I will never be ready and that, being armed with knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into acting upon it.  I must immerse myself into life, the experiences allowing me to learn what works and what does not.  Upon walking into my youngest’s elementary school office, I genuinely was happy to be there after a year of discontent and disillusion.  Time heals.  As an only child I am comfortable; left to my own devices in solitary confinement.  But, like my father before me, I am always called to serve.  The year off gave me the gift of discernment; to discover what was important and why.  In order to be a good parent to my children I did not need a lengthy list of titles or accomplishments.  To be a good parent to my children I needed to be happy with myself.

Sounds too easy?  Too cliche-ish and cheesy?  Probably.  But muddling through my issues it rings true.

To be a good parent/wife/friend/person, you need to be happy with yourself.

Parenting is many things.  You are responsible for those under your tutelage; whether you like it or not.  You learn to love unconditionally and selflessly.  You live through your children’s accomplishments and acutely feel their disappointments and failures.  In my years as a gerontologist, discussing end-of-life issues, the number one thing elderly people wished to leave their children was not money.  It was legacy.  We all want to leave our mark; our contribution within our family and in our society to feel like our existence made a difference in someone’s life.  As a child of two deceased parents, my lasting memories of them are a mixed bag.  I had been eighteen when my father passed, thirty-two at my mother’s untimely death.   My memories of my father are child-like and naive, the ones of my mother are from adulthood with the perspective of newly minted motherhood.   Over the years I questioned what legacy they left with me; the conversation of what they expected that I would become never broached.  They had pushed grades and titles and accomplishments; things I used to push,  first and foremost, for my own children.

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I asked the hubby what legacy he wished for our kids to remember him by and he hopes that they learn improvisation.  To know that the answers they seek to their questions are never going to be perfect and that they will persevere; to make things work with what they have and do these things independently.  Over the past year I’ve also searched within; seeking what it is that I want for myself and for my children.  I have fought the answer that is obvious to anyone who knows me well.  I want my children to serve in society for the greater good; in the beliefs that are important to them.  I don’t expect them to become doctors or lawyers with large homes and many things.  If they ultimately choose these professions I hope it is because they want to serve others; in the belief of the Hippocratic oath to preserve lives with quality, or to uphold the cannon laws for the safety and well-being of our society.  I hope they continually find love in the arts and to share them with others.  To be hospitable, gracious and humble.  But most importantly, to do things because THEY WANT TO.

Why do I think of these things on the first day of school?

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As a parent learning to let go, I had to understand where I fit in my children’s current stages.  When I used to see the word mother I imagined cuddles, hand-holding, homemade art projects and park playgrounds.   For the past few years I saw competitive group sports, tiger mother after-school tutoring and Facebook/Instagram posts of perfect parenthood; excessive parent involvement and comparisons.  I was a good parent because I knew all thirty-one names in my son’s class, stayed actively involved in PTA and knew the ins and out of the teachers, coaches, and instructors who would make my children scholarship ready and great.  But the more involved I became, the more I realized the artifice in these things; the selfish ideas of being involved so my child would get recognition and preferred treatment.  I served others to the detriment of my own sons.  As I volunteered for large organized events, my sons would sit alone on the sidelines hungry and tired.  Is this what good parenting entailed?  Was this the sacrifice needed to be a good mother?

The last school year I took a much needed break.  This school year I have renewed purpose and will practice discernment in the things I choose to do in service.  If my legacy to my sons is to become involved in their communities, as adults, I don’t want them to remember the stressed-out parent who poured out hospitality and returned with an empty cup.  True service and hospitality is in joyfully giving and expecting nothing in return.  I inherited the social aptitude of my father, the hospitable over-the-top entertaining, from my mother.  If they still were both alive I hope they’d see these traits in their only daughter.

The fall schedule is full and I welcome it.  I do not grumble.  Because the things I choose to do are things that I love; things that my children love, as well.  It has been a long, painful and circuitous route to return to this conclusion; as I continue to navigate the obstacles that will get in the way.  I now know my purpose, my own reason for being here in this stage of life.  I want to do what I love and love what I do.  Why?  First, because it makes ME happy.

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Family, Work

lunar craziness

131016 moon

The full moon rises…

And I rage.  I yelled at our employee across the shop’s expanse as he stared at me.  One of my glaring faults is in watching my tongue.  I do not tolerate people who disrespect my kin; including my f@#%ing dog.  The employee made the above statement to the hubs; his employer.  Our canine has come to work with the hubs for as long as we’ve had him; approximately four years.   My succinct words that we, “left our dog home so his bark wouldn’t annoy you”  angrily percolated out; continuing to stir the pot.  Our furry canine will now spend work hours patrolling our backyard.   I was proud of the hubs when he calmly stated, “Please do not kick the dog; it’s like you are kicking me.  The day you choose to do it will be your last day here.”  This employee has been with us for ten years.

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It is only mid-week and I rubbed my temples together amidst the mess.  We have conferred with the almanac and the full snow moon arrives with cupid’s arrow; February 14th at 6:54 PM.  My sons have been forewarned.  They know what that means.

Our conference room was also full, mid-afternoon, with various family, vendors and old friends passing through.  Amidst the craziness I tried to remain hospitable and, eventually, did make peace with the above employee; with hugs at the end.  But I explained that I needed to vent my anger, to be transparent, to be able to forgive his outburst.   If I did not my resentment would continue to build and boil over.   He apologized profusely for his rude behavior towards the hubs.     He still dislikes our dog.   Though my outburst wasn’t ideal we all finally are communicating.  It is never pretty; nor easy.  But it clears the path for change and reconciliation.   Or termination.

Sing it loud & clear.  Transparency.

I take deep breaths.  I think of the phone call with a dear friend as she struggles with physical issues; my heart wrenching in two.  Life is not fair!  After the call I headed, early, to the church to pick up children from catechism (Catholic religious education) in hopes to sit in the silence of the pews to catch my breath and mouth a prayer.  Instead I arrived to a traffic jam, at the sole entrance, into the parking lot.  The church was full of high schoolers and the quiet moment of solitude was not to be.  Instead  I stood in line with parents.

Drama unfolds within family as a niece struggles with her pregnancy.  I find myself in the role of counselor as I listen to her hopes and fears.   I think of the tough road that lies ahead and hope that she can find it in her heart to forgive those who have hurt her.  I thought of my own pregnancies; the joys, the fears.  Again my heart saddens.  Life is not fair!

I stared at the dishes on the table; crumbs and remnants of our dinner. I was too tired to pick it all up.  The butternut squash soup was not a hit.  After a long day at work, the hubs and I cooked.  But there is no satisfaction in cooking when it is left, uneaten.  Not one son liked the soup.  At.  All.

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Life.  It is messy.

The gravitational pull of the lunar cycle is taking its toll.  Craziness is everywhere.  And it all leads up to Valentine’s Day.

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For years I’d sweep up the crumbs; cleaning up.  I get agitated when I see a mess and clutter; my mind not able to focus until everything is put in place.  But with kids and schedules I have had to learn to let things go.  Sometimes seeing the crumbs reminds me of what I have.  My girlfriend’s quote comes to mind…

Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.

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The crumbs of my life have been swept up in a tidy bin; stored and forgotten.  I wanted to forget the tragedies, the inequities and messy things in my life that have happened to me.  But these broken, jagged and messy remnants have made me the person I am.  They define me.   And so I recall them, piece by broken piece.  And I am empowered.  I have survived.  I know how this life ends.  It is between these two points that I have to make my choices and pathways; amongst the lunar craziness.  I need to let things go.  To go with life’s messy flow.

Like water off a duck’s back.

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I cannot control the craziness that happens around me; the things that make life unfair.  I always want to; my willful personality overriding my rational mind.  I need to master mental discipline and  cope with the mess that is always present.  Each weekend when I clean my home I think of how happy it makes me to see clean, simple lines without clutter.  But it is how we cope with the messy that makes us better and stronger.  If I can do this with grace and panache; it would make my life Simple.  Enjoyable.  Grateful.

But for now I stare at my colorful and full calendar; crossing out dates and adding new ones.  My heart palpitates as I think of the end-of-the-school year and the craziness that marks my life as a working mother of three.  Within a two week period I have: concerts, spring programs, First Holy Communion celebrations, a 3-day camping weekend, theme parks, picnics, promotions and graduations.  Deadlines now change as I think of the piles of paperwork upon my desk at home.  And so I organize and plan.  Maybe if I am mentally ready the stressful little details will not derail me when this time comes.  Mental discipline.  Go with the flow.

Then I look at my schedule for today.  Yee gads!  I have empty Valentines day cards, kids’ golf and running schedules and a booster club meeting; all within a five hour period.   When the 13 y/o stated he needed 9 X 12″ poster board, yesterday afternoon during our crazy work day, I told him to walk to the grocery store and purchase one.  He had only known about this assignment for two weeks and, of course, it’s due today!  I came home to a mess as this son scoured all of our closets and organized craft areas to search for paper.  Popcorn kernels lie beneath my kitchen table and I had attempted to pick them up last eve.  This same cycle will most likely be repeated this evening.  And the next day…and the next.

And then one day my house will be sterile and quiet.  My sons will have grown and the hubs and I will stare across at each other and wonder how time flew by so fast.  I share this thought with him across the office as he quotes customers on his computer.  It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow I say.  The bff’s text reminded me; her husband wishing her this sentiment today.  We both text “LOL” simultaneously.    We have no plans.  Normally we make a fancy dinner with our family of five.  The boys like the fanfare with our fine china.  Currently we have no food in our fridge. (sigh)

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Yep.  Going with the flow in my crazy life.  And the moon continues to grow full. Happy Valentine’s Day (tomorrow).  LOL.

friendships

porch-to-porch. from my house to yours,

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I forwarded this link to a few of my girlfriends, curious to hear their thoughts. http://www.katrinakenison.com/2014/01/18/dear-older-love-old/

I read the post from the author above in a letter series she is writing to her older friend and mentor.  She notes all the “good things” she keeps for special occasions as she ponders why not use them every day?   We never know what tomorrow brings.  In my work in gerontology, clients longed to save items to pass down an inheritance; never really enjoying these things for themselves.  The  reason they became our clients was because fiduciary or physical abuse was involved.  The family or children that were beneficiaries of the inheritance valued these items more than the relationships; therefore abusing them.  To this day these cases have stayed with me and have made me cynical.  I began to believe this was the norm; the greedy desire to inherit the saved heirlooms, trusts and material possessions.  I sadly learned the perpetrators of elder abuse, in most cases, were family.

Amongst my girlfriends one wants to reclaim her hutch that holds her fine china into a bookcase; the other keeps three pairs of UGG boots in her closet.  The bff has her items in the basement; still in boxes.  All claim they have “good stuff” saved for a special day.  But as we approach mid-life (or already occupy it) the underlying theme is this.  We are not worthy to use or wear the good things every day because what we do, each day, has no inherent value.  It is only during the special times when we want to impress, look our best or feel what we are doing has worth that we don these layers.  I think of my  silver given as a wedding present.  I have used it only once.

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I shared this with my mother-in-law who has a closet full of new clothes, never worn, that she saves.  For what? I ask her.  Now that my in-laws are retired they think of the inheritance they want to pass to their daughter and son; both protesting that they want their parents to spend it  It is they who have spent the years working and toiling away but it is important for them to pass down things for their kids and grandkids; things not given to them.  And though we appreciate their generosity and years of frugally saving; it is something we want them to appreciate and utilize.  You only get one life.  There is no sense hoarding a wardrobe if nobody sees it.  And much as some like to see a large sums in the bank account there is no joy in it; unless you spend it.

So why can’t we do this everyday?  I realize that my girlfriend can’t wear her UGG boots to work on a rainy day; nor can we use fine china to heat a meal on the microwave.  But we can certainly use and  wear our good stuff, just because.  It seems silly and impractical but why not?  If not everyday, at least once a month or more than on those special rare occasions.  We are worth it.  Our days have value.  We have to believe it.

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Amidst the bustle of grinding, pressing and rolling I do a happy dance.  Our goal to provide quality customer service; to differentiate from our faceless competitors in China, has paid off.  It is the little things we change in our lives that can bring positive change.  Building relationships with our vendors makes all the difference.

Without human relationships; all other things in our lives do not  matter.

The culmination of these parallel thoughts came together yesterday as, once again, I found myself standing in our elementary school front office.   In the course of twenty minutes I had recounted various past lives.  Most people know me as a parent first; so I had been caught off guard when the administrator shared my former career and accomplishments to the staff present.  I quickly discredit that person from a decade or so ago; the one who measured life by titles, certificates and accomplishments.   They expressed their shock and surprise as I answered their queries.  I used to be that person.  It feels like a lifetime ago.

But I no longer value those things.

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At the junior high, the same day, my son’s English teacher expressed her surprise that I am his mother.  He is an introvert; I, the extrovert.  But I wasn’t always this way.  At his age I had been painfully shy; my girlfriends always speaking for me.  My social behavior is learned.  My immigrant parents were unsure how to guide me and so I navigated through adolescence on my own.  It was an important reminder.  We morph through various personas before we arrive at the one we eventually become as an adult.  And who I am continues to change as I recalled the conversation at the elementary school. Growing, as a human being; cultivating  moral character, never ends.  We always are evolving.

It is the people who remain in my life; through all my transformations, that I value the most.

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This is what I want my children to inherit.  The ability to self-improve, believe and hope.  To not rely on titles, looks or wealth.  Quantity does not make a person valuable.  A true relationship is not high maintenance;  nor measured by the things you give or do.  It is unconditional.

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Tonight I sat amongst parents attending a First Communion meeting.  The director shared her Friday night routine and how she fed her young kids pizza on her grandmother’s fine china.  Our children mirror our codes and behavior.  If we can’t share the things of value that we have, why have them?

From a distance of 2,000 miles I texted the bff from my home; inspired.  I grinned wide as I imagined her grumbling; as she stepped past her snowy lawn to take a picture of the front of her house.  Her temperature high was 36 degrees and low of 21.  What goes on within these four walls are the most important titles we will ever hold.  I blog it while my flock still lives within it.  It is my responsibility to build character in my little “bubs;” for them to step forth from these walls to contribute to society.    The palm sways in the slight breeze at 75 degrees and a low of 47 as I stand in the street; grinning like a fool.

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Porch-to-porch, from my house to hers.  I will use the good stuff and open my doors.

Family, friendships

Going against the grain

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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  It has taken me this long to realize that outlook is EVERYTHING.  This trail that I tread looks drastically different based on the time of day I walk it.  But it’s the same incline.  In the pre-dawn hours it is dark;  I can barely see the path and can only feel the steepness as I climb.  In the early evening it looks long and looming as I gaze at the concrete before me.  It is all in how my eyes perceive the trail.  I find that not knowing; not seeing makes it more manageable.

Like FAITH.

It has only been in recent years that I could look beyond my own four walls to see what goes on outside of them.  I always assumed the grass is greener on the other side.  Similar to the idea of seeing a glass half empty versus half full it is all mental work. The ability to communicate in relationships is what constitutes my life.

Because a lot of days life just sucks.

I text this to my girlfriend who has been hospital-bound for over a week.  Bad things happen to good people every day and it just doesn’t seem fair.  But she says she has been inspired and, surprised, I replied, DO TELL.   Yesterday I was reminded of how life can turn.  Those who appear to have everything really have nothing; a foreclosed house and a broken marriage.  Poor health.  Family crisis.  Those who have have much to lose.  It is those who appreciate the little details of the every day who gain joy in simple things.  A fiery red sunset.  The seventy degree temps.  The ability to walk freely on a trail at 5:40 AM in the brisk morning chill.  Outdoor strides.

But each morning I consciously have to make the choice to wake up.  It is a mental fight as my fuzzy brain registers the early time.  It is the simple choices we choose to make, each day, which can affect a larger outcome.   And so I stumble out, splash the cold water upon my face.  I am practicing mental discipline; going against the grain.  My natural tendency to gorge brings me pause.  When confronted with cookies-a-plenty I became overwhelmed.  I ate them to get rid of them; to not throw anything away.  I did not enjoy the abundance.  It was only when I decided to separate them into smaller containers, stored them or gave them away; that I enjoyed each bite; savoring the flavors.  And I only allowed myself a small portion.

That made all the difference.

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Confronted with abundance, once again, at bookclub  I had to partake.  I now know I physically need to move away from the food to avoid eating excessively.  I weigh my options.  Do I choose the pretzel/Rolo/pecan dessert bite or the pomegranate/Prosecco cocktail?  In the whole scheme of life, these choices seem insignificant.  There are people who don’t have these choices and just want food on the table.  There are those who sit alone wondering their value and contemplating ways to escape their life via drugs, alcohol, abusive relationships.  Others don’t have the choice due to health issues.  They have no other way to escape; to change their flight behavior.

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My gaze landed on the folder paper origami butterflies that swept along the wall.  There are days when I wish, I too, could take flight majestically like the Monarch.  I was surprised to realize, when reading an interview by the author, that the book was about motherhood.

Really?  I thought of the environmental effects of global warming; the religion versus science debates.  But motherhood?

The book’s theme was based on relationships; the multi-faceted layers, the lack of communication that happens.  Our culture reveres mothers; and those women who choose not to become one feel the weight of judgment from other adults as to why they choose not to procreate.  And sure, there are gazillion blogs about parenting, and motherhood.  We constantly try to remind ourselves of the joys but we also understand as a community the isolation, the need for escape.  Isn’t that what we nine women were doing, escaping our normal roles of life for one eve in the month?

I have watched friends’ erratic flight behaviors.  Infidelity.  Substance abuse.  Anorexia.  I observe those who put on airs and walls pretending everything is okay; feelings locked inside Fort Knox.  I stood alongside friends battling illness, particularly the Emperor of All Maladies.  I, too, have caught myself tracing the timeline back; comparing and contrasting.  Last evening we laughed about the long Christmas letters of those who parade all of their accomplishments and travels, the daily posts on Facebook and Twitter and the bloggers (a-hem).   I go against the grain; trying to be transparent.  Everything is not always coming up roses. 

That is exactly where my mindset needs to change.  I can plant seeds.  They may not always grow.  I can fling my arms wide and open doors in hospitality but relationships go both ways.  If the person does not wish to enter there is nothing you can do to change that.  Only in the mental discipline can you push past this, to go against the immediate response of wanting to close doors and build walls.  This goes against my grain; my modus operandi.

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I continue to plant seeds as I practice idioms with my eldest son.  I am learning new ones.  I have the capacity to change my path.  Maybe some roses will grow.  The grass is greenest where you water it.  Time to grab my garden hose.

I’ll drink to that.

friendships

bookclub hospitality

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The frenetic twelve days before Christmas are now a thing of the past.  The gift?  Recuperation.  Four days of doing nothing but the things that I love:  reading & desktop publishing.  But blasted!  I inadvertently find myself circling my table laden with cookies and sweets; nibbling upon the hyperglycemic mother lode.  Most days I limit these items for my sons but currently I am encouraging them to partake.  The faster these items disappear; the faster my normal eating habits return.

I have found a new muse in Malcolm Gladwell; the author of the books: The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw & his recent release, David & Goliath.  Just as Michael Pollan is to food; Malcolm Gladwell is to cultural epidemics & sociology.  I love when books inspire and make me re-think the status quo and both of these authors deliver.  I have recently discovered that I am a fan of non-fiction and memoirs.  I used to consider the romance genre as my true love; no pun intended.  This is the joy of reading.  A good writer draws you into topics I would never have explored before.

As I considered what my book choice would be for bookclub in February; much to my surprise, Gladwell discussed bookclubs in The Tipping Point.   I’ve often wondered how they have originated and what purposes they serve.

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Years ago when approached to join a newly formed group; I was a mother with three young sons and a deployed husband.  I had no time to read books; my days filled with the details of entertaining and feeding mouths of rambunctious children.  It was rare that I had a moment to myself and I laughed outright, one day, when I clocked my shower time at less than five minutes; worrying that my youngest son would get into something.  The only books I read were parenting ones to glean information, normally passed down from mother-to-daughter.

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My mother, at the time, lived in a locked assisted living facility and pondered how it was that I was her daughter.  I was her long lost sister and she was stuck at age 16.  Who are these kids?  she’d ask as she gazed at my middle son.  She died a month after his first birthday believing he was her youngest brother; angry at her mother for having her tenth child.

But at the insistence of my neighbor I was given the number to a babysitter; something I rarely used.  I fretted.  I couldn’t leave my three sons for two hours!  This neighbor lived directly behind me; the other around the corner.  The first book I read was not inspiring.  Though most people enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love I gritted my teeth.  I gave up time and two hours to read this?   And here I am seven years later….

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Bookclubs were the example Gladwell used of the role they can play in social epidemics; the power of context.  When an idea, in this case, a book, resonates and “sticks;” the group has the power to increase its audience by word-of-mouth or sheer numbers.  As obvious as this seems; what really drives trends or bestsellers isn’t about the numbers.  A book or idea generates buzz because of the dynamics of the group; of human interaction.   Great ideas and books exist in the every day; but it is in the propogation of discussion in social groups, like book clubs or individuals like connectors, mavens and salesmen, which spark personal experiences and generate conversations.  Voila!  A trend is born.  Who knew vampires and werewolves would spark Twilight hysteria or that Fifty Shades of Grey would engage the parent demographic; dubbed Mommy Porn?  

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I have never, truly, appreciated the power of a social group until reading this short chapter.  I was baffled, years ago, when other moms snidely commented on our bookclub as a social clique.  It was then that I questioned the purpose of these groups.  Exclusivity?  Social clique?  Wasn’t the purpose of a bookclub to discuss books and have academic discussion?  I have since realized that social groups form for a variety of reasons.  I have been involved in two book clubs; both similar and different.   A simple definition, surely, could not define the bookclub dynamic.

Some groups are academic; focused on the text at hand.  Bookclubs originated hundreds of years before; by scholarly men to propagate reading and discussion about government and politics.  Women began to create reading groups to learn at a time when females did not have access to formal education.  Many religious groups form studies; whether it is on the Koran, the Torah or Bible, to propagate ideas and conversation.  It paved the way for social progress and higher learning; cultivating good taste.

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Yet other bookclubs are primarily social; a way to get out of the normal circumstances (work, school, parenting) for leisure and escapism.  Wines and desserts line countertops; hors d’oeuvres showcased from Pinterest.  Books sit idly while bookclubbers chat about their lives; loosely connecting it with the chosen book.    This opens the doors for varied discussions, behind closed doors, with the complicit agreement that all things remain confidential.  What goes on in bookclub, stays in bookclub.  

How to blend the two?  The Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken” comes to mind.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

Being involved in a defined group made me discover the complexities of a social dynamic; outside of the nuclear family and a few, choice friends.   Usually the members draw from the same demographic: fellow co-workers, classmates, friends.  The synapses of my neocortex are starting to fire; the part of our brains that make humans unique.  The size of the neocortex is not due to intelligence.  It is based on the capacity of networking in groups.

Currently I am working on my skills of hospitality; which include socializing.  It is a learned skill and to some it comes naturally; to others, it is a chore.  To be a good social host one needs to understand the group dynamic; to juggle diverse personalities and cultures.   This involves interaction and observation; which involves a lot of time and attention.

Most people do not cultivate this due to time constraints.  I, myself, am guilty.  In a group of ten women I must understand my relationship to the the other nine.  Then, I must keep track of each of the nine women’s relationships with one another.  And so, involving myself in a book club of ten women has me keeping tabs on a total of 90 two-way relationships; 81 from the nine others and nine of my own.  Did you get all that?

HLM 2013 fabfun

The power of the group increases when the group knows each other well.  This creates an implicit joint memory which psychologist Daniel Wegner calls transactive memory.  This implies that the relationships are intimate; just as in a marriage or family.  In a marriage or family it is realized that certain people are more suited to remember facts than others.  In my household I rely on my teenager to remember the WEP code for our wi-fi; my husband to remember details of house & car maintenance, my middle-son for all social details on our calendar and the youngest for obvious facts that I tend to overlook (like feeding the fish, dog, cat or the family LOL). There is only so much mental energy I can expend and so I remember those I need for necessity with a few extraneous details.  I, then, rely on the memory of my family (or camera) to compensate.

A tipping point is a term used often in immunology, where an infectious event (the flu, AIDS) goes viral; spiraling out-of-control and becoming an epidemic.  I embark on my own self-study with family as my control group and book club, my experimental.  As a group we, too, can affect our environment; a sort of Utopia.  In marriage or family there is no easy out.  The contractual bonds of these institutions demand that we get along.  But in something as simple as a bookclub we have the option to come and go.  For do we not read books for pleasure?  Why create rules and make things formal?

It is hospitality that I have vowed to work on in the new year.  This skill is something I hope to someday master; for it is this ability that will allow me to reach my tipping point.  Changing the littlest of things that can make the biggest of differences. When I die it is not the material things amassed that will matter; only the quality, depth and care of the people surrounding me.   I am learning to invest my time, efficiently and attentively, in human relationships. 

What defines a bookclub?  It is not the books we read, the food we prepare and share.  It is collective memories; the conversations and shared experiences, that define our purpose; our context.    It is the aspirations to share and learn things, about other people, who normally would not have come together.  Reading is the gateway to venture into territory we would never explore before.

Time to start reading.

flight behavior