Oh Competition. How I Loathe Thee.

I abhor competition. I am afraid of competition. I avoid competition at all costs. So, how am I supposed to raise my children in a highly competitive world?

I should pause for a moment and explain. I am not talking about
obvious competition, as in competitive sports. I’m talking about the other kind. The kind that drives people to behave in unflattering ways. The kind that stems from envy and insecurity and leads to nothing good. I’m talking about the kind of competition that pits not rivals but colleagues, friends, parents, family members, and those other groups who in theory should dwell harmoniously on this earth against each other and drives them to engage in silent battles with those they should support.

I guess I have somewhat designed my life so I can avoid competition whenever possible, and this has worked in my favor. During meetings and other engagements with colleagues I always look to hang with the older part-timers, those folks who have retired from previous careers and now work for the sheer pleasure of it. These are some low-key cats with nothing to prove. We can chat about work, or not. One thing is for sure–we will not be nervously talking over one another, trying to prove who is more talented, better read, intellectually superior. No. In fact, retirees just don’t give a shit and really, neither do I. I mean, like myself,they care about the quality of their work and are passionate about what they do, but they are not competing for anything. If the older set isn’t present at a work function, I know I’m going to leave with a headache and an impending panic attack.

Speaking of work, just the other day a colleague approached me in the hallway. She wanted to know if I would be applying for the full-time position that will be opening within the next few months. I assured her that I would not, that, at present time, I simply could not, but I wished her luck (it would be completely superfluous to inquire whether she was planning on applying). I thought the issue was settled, so I was surprised when, upon our next meeting, she needed to know the details of my resume. When forced to share, I let her in on what I perceived was unsettling news. My resume is pretty good, if I do say so myself; although, I think my penchant for platform stilettos and sparkle eye shadow leads some of my academic friends to underestimate my credentials. Anyway, the topic has not been broached again. Thank God. You guys enjoy yourselves. Thankfully, I am not in the race.

If competition in the workplace freaks me the hell out, you can only imagine how I feel about hanging with parent competitors, far more formidable foes than you will ever find on a football field or in a lion’s den for that matter. My first experience with Mommy competition was in the physical therapist’s office. Jack was about nine months old and diagnosed with mild torticollis. He and I were in the waiting room when I recognized a woman with a daughter about my son’s age who I had met at childbirth class. Well we got to talking about the kids, how they had the same condition and their initial evaluation by the therapist. Apparently, according to this mother, her daughter scored “off the charts” on one of the therapist’s evaluations. Huh? It’s not like the therapist administered the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Babies and the little baby genius earned a score of infinity. Wow!!! As far as I could recall, the test took ten minutes and involved a Fischer Price toy piano and a ball, and my son’s score was in fact “on the charts.”

And so it has gone. Surreal encounters with lunatic parents desperate to prove their children superior in one way or another. Unfortunately, as my kids get older, I am now witnessing their weird encounters with what must be the offspring of these competitive parents. At the beach this summer, a little boy about Jack’s just wouldn’t relent with the “I’m better” comments. “I can hold my breath longer.” “I can race faster.” “I can do the butterfly and you can’t.” Blah, blah, blah. It went on and on. Thankfully Jack just doesn’t give a damn. At some point my guy just swam away. Right on little man. Doing it mommy style.

This brings us to the park encounter which inspired this post. Allegra found a new friend. The two girls played quite nicely until they discovered that both take ballet classes. Suddenly, play stopped and competition began with new little friend asking to see Allegra’s first position, pirouettes and leaps and then correcting her, showing her the “right” way and informing my daughter that her dancing was not very good. Allegra looked at me, hurt and confused. At that point I broke it up and whisked my little sprite away. A line had been crossed. As a former dancer myself, I have a deep love of ballet. Although I haven’t danced professionally in years, dance is a part of life in the Nanni house. We always dance. Practically every theme song to every children’s show has a special dance choreographed by the kids and I. We dance to be silly and cool and happy. We dance to rock and pop and electronica and classical music. Dance for us is primal and joyful. To see my four-year daughter told that her dancing wasn’t good enough; to see the look of hurt in her eyes disturbed me.

I hate silly, unnecessary competition. I hate dance competitions. I hate when dance is reduced to a sport and robbed of its beauty and artistry. And so too with life. Life is not a sport; it is art, sometimes beautiful, sometimes joyful, sometimes tragic, but art none the less. There is no place for diminishing anyone to advance oneself. That is ugliness, not artistry.

And so, what do I teach my children? How are they to survive in a competitive world? I guess they just need to learn how to dance on through. They need to learn how to be the kindest and the best they can possibly be. They must learn to maximize their God-given talents…and not give a shit about what everyone else is doing. Carry on little ones. You are great and fabulous and perfectly imperfect. Be good; do your best. My love for you is constant. You will be okay. You are wonderous. You are art.

Wait a Minute. Did I Just Babysit Your Kid???

Just the other day I brought the kids to the library. For the first fifteen minutes we had a great time. Jack busied himself in the nonfiction section, pouring over stacks of books about Vikings and Roman soldiers, Navy Seals and the Vietnam war which makes complete sense because, hey, when you’re not battling your arch-nemesis and baby sister Allegra, you may as well research strategy. Meanwhile, Allegra and I played with the puzzles; you know, the library puzzles touched by a million other germy little hands. Funny thing, for a self diagnosed germaphobe such as myself, I didn’t mind. We were just having a nice, low-key time.

Despite our brief period of peace and relaxation, I knew we were in trouble when an adorable, gravely voiced little moppet came bounding over to us declaring that her “hair was a mess!!!!” She proceeded to plop herself down on the floor in between Allegra and I, retell the saga of her hair and ask if she could play with us. Of course, Allegra was impervious to this little one’s charm. You see, now that Allegra is in preschool three days a week and I am teaching a bit, we do not have quite as much time to spend together as we did during the summer. Consequently, Allegra is rather possessive of her time with Mommy. One can imagine that my child was none too happy with the introduction of a new little friend to our quint scenario.

I have learned that Allegra is painfully shy and none too comfortable when strangers get all up in her business. She needs time. I have observed her ritual when I drop her off at preschool. She enters the building, stands in the middle of the classroom, folds her hands in front of her body, rocks from left leg to right and observes. Eventually she joins the group, I depart and three hours later pick up a happy child. A former introvert myself, I respect my daughter’s process. This doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t cringe when a newcomer comes storming into her comfortable world.

So, how do you think my child responded when this cute, sweet little girl asked if she could join us? Well she growled…of course. Mortified, I apologized profusely to moppet’s mother, who joined our little group at some point during this encounter. Mother gave me a very patient smile, not the longed for “Oh don’t worry about it sister. Been there. Let me tell you what my daughter did when….” Just a patronizing, patient, placid smile. She sat down, joined us girls in our awkward little circle on the floor and played with her daughter for all of three seconds. Then she got up and left, leaving me with her daughter and my unhappy child.

Needless to say, as moppet’s mother serenely browsed the book isles making her selection to bring home, I entertained her daughter, who, unbeknownst to our new little friend, chased my own little girl away. You may ask why didn’t I just walk away. Well that was an impossibility given that my little friend decided to follow me wherever I went. After about thirty minutes, placid mom collected her child and departed. In that moment I was struck; “Wait a minute. Did I just babysit your kid? I mean, I still have not yet been able to choose my books, and I don’t think you, relaxed mother, would have been able to either if your daughter was with you. You, relaxed mother, pulled the very sneaky dump and run, a maneuver that some parents have mastered.” You know, it’s when a parent silently tip toes away to do whatever is on their agenda and leaves their child with you. I have to say, I was pretty ticked. I mean I reprimanded my child when her behavior was inappropriate, but she’s four and just learning how to make her way in this world. What, relaxed mother, is your excuse? Clearly my child was uncomfortable; clearly we were having a mother-daughter moment. What is your excuse for your lack of concern for my daughter’s feelings and also my situation-trying to attend to two little children, one mine and one yours, both demanding undivided attention. I have to call you out other mother. You are guilty of the dump and run, and it’s selfish.

Upon further reflection, I realize that this was not the first time my family has been the victim of the dump and run. Recently, on a rare afternoon that my husband wasn’t working, we took the kids to the park. Giorgio and Jack were throwing the football around, an activity which thrilled both Giorgio and myself because Jack usually prefers more sedentary activities, when two little boys, brothers in fact, joined in on the fun. At first this was fine, but then the brothers began to demand more and more attention of Giorgio, and Jack began to withdraw. As I watched this play out, I observed that the boys’ mother was sitting on a bench, drinking her Starbucks, chatting away with a mommy friend seemingly oblivious to her boys’ intrusion upon Jack and Giorgio’s game. Finally, my husband, frustrated with the situation, decided that it was time to leave. As we passed by the “oblivious” mother, she looked up at us, smiled and thanked my husband for playing with her boys. She then matter-of-factly noted that she and her husband recently spit up so her boys liked to “latch onto” father figures. What??? So you did know see what was happening? And you approved?? And you chose to use it as some downtime for yourself??? Come on parents!!!

Let me say, I in no way fault the children in these situations. They are doing what children are supposed to do, seeking out fun and happiness and a good time. This is what makes children so wonderful. They are innocent and unaware of social nuances. It is our job as parents to teach them. Of course, I love when children ask my kids to play. Nothing makes me happier than to see Jack and Allegra having fun with their peers. BUT, there is a difference between playing with other children and inserting yourself into a family’s special time together. Again, kids do this. Mine try to do it. As a matter of fact, just this summer we ran into Tom, a family friend, at the beach. He was playing with his children in the water and having a grand time. Of course, Jack wanted to join in but we explained that they were having family time. Jack understood, played with us and then, once Tom got out of the water, we told Jack that it was okay to ask Tom’s kids if they wanted to play.

So,here we are. I will take the kids to the park this afternoon and hope they play with other children. But as much as I may want and feel that I deserve to sit on a bench, sip an iced coffee and play with my ipone while my kids play with someone else’s parents, don’t worry; I won’t. I’ll watch mine and hope that everyone else does the same.

Hold Up. Did I Just Call the Dog My Daughter’s Name???

Yes Heather. Yes you did. And lately, you have been calling the dog Allegra way too often. You have also been forgetting what you’re saying midsentence, walking upstairs to do things and then forgetting what those things are and calling Allegra, Ginger and Ginger, Allegra and Jack, Giorgio and Giorgio, Jack. You, my friend, have been doing all of that…a lot. You, Heather Nanni, are overwhelmed and need to do something about it.

Okay, I never claimed that this was a self-help blog. There are times, many, many, many times, that I am an absolute mess. I like to share these as a way of connecting with those of you out there who more often than not feel the same way I do. And I hope it’s helpful because I myself read blogs for either inspiration or company. I like to hear the ideas of those who have once upon a time felt like myself and have some insight or from those who are currently feeling the way I do now. This blogging thing becomes a way of commiserating.

So, back to the wacky Heather behavior. You may ask, what is it that has you feeling so overwhelmed? What is it that has you forgetting what you’re doing and saying and where you’re going and why you’re going there? The answer–nothing much, life. This past week I felt like life knocked me on my ass. As I have mentioned on one of my pages, I have a child with some special needs, and while these needs are nothing dramatic, they do make parenting a bit of a crapshoot. There are times, this week being the perfect example, when I am plagued by indecision, self-doubt and anxiety over whether or not I have made or am about to make a poor decision regarding my child. Also, after taking last year off, I have returned to teaching two college courses this semester. Last count I have approximately fifty papers and fifty quizzes to grade before my next class. While I truly love what I do, I don’t know how I will manage to do it at this point in my life. Also, my parents are not well, my husband has his own separate cache of worries which he shares with me and then of course, the universal worry–finances. Basically, life. Oh yeah, did I mention that I am disorganized? Nothing can tie my stomach in a knot like a couple of piles of papers on my kitchen counter. Whereas some people see a pile of stuff and know exactly what to do with it, I do not. Now to add to the usual clutter of junk mail and crap, I have a couple of new piles of student papers. I sense impending disaster, like my dog before a storm hits.

Here’s the irony. Last night I lectured my students on the ways to avoid becoming overwhelmed by college life and coursework, and (ready for this?) how to deal with the stress of life in general. I called upon all of my students to address something in their lives that they have been avoiding or something that causes them angst and to take a small step to improve their situation.

Acknowledging the absurdity of previous night’s lecture given my present state of mind, this evening I called upon myself to take a small step to improve my situation. As old Prufrock waxes, there will be, “…time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions.”* There will be, in fact there is, a lifetime for hundreds, upon hundreds of decisions and indecisions and revisions, so tonight I chose to have candlelight dinner with my kids. I lit the tapers, turned down the lights, turned on Miles and had dinner….in our messy kitchen, just the kids, Ginger and I. I didn’t think about problems or bad decisions or anything other than us, in that moment, and I, we, felt much better. * Eliot, T.S. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. 1920

Just to Clarify, Are We “Real” Friends, “Mommy” Friends or Facebook Friends?

I was a Facebook holdout, a lone wolf. I refused to sign on to something I simply didn’t support, something I found silly, useless, juvenile. I fought my feelings of alienation when, during playdates with our children at the park, my actual friends would meet their Facebook friends in the flesh and laugh and talk about all the great stuff they learned about their mutual Facebook friends on Facebook…huh? I was in complete denial that I felt like I was missing out, like I was the kid in high school who didn’t get invited to the party. I held on strong to my convictions and didn’t join Facebook for years. Then this past March I gave it up, signed on and became addicted. Addicted to the constant stream of virtual human contact, to the anticipation of being friended, to the excitement of “connecting” with people from my past, but mostly to the 24/7 “contact” with the world of the living because, as a stay-at-home mother of highly spirited children and the wife of a man who works long and late hours, sometimes I need a little distraction and contact with the world outside of my home.

Once I joined Facebook, I became a part of an alternate reality where some people have 500 plus friends. 500 plus friends!!! I can’t even wrap my head around that! I mean tops I’ve got three good, solid, true blue friends. I also don’t really have many acquaintances because I don’t particularly see the point. It’s not that I’m anti-social; it’s just, why would I be in a relationship that isn’t going to move forward? It’s like remaining with a boyfriend for fifteen years but never getting any real commitment on his part. I want my acquaintanceships to move forward and develop into true friendships, but, as I have come to realize, some people just aren’t interested in everything that real friendship entails. Perhaps many of my acquaintances choose not to become friends with me because of the fact that I am a weird chic and not for everyone, but I think the bigger issue is our reluctance as a people and society to foster meaningful relationships. This reluctance seems to illustrate some deeper sociological issues and gives us insight into how, why and what friendship has become. Why are we so willing and needy to accumulate “friends” on Facebook but not friends in the flesh? What does this say about us as adults and how are we to teach our children the value of true, genuine friendship?

Yet, when I think about the “friends” I have made since I became a mother, I understand how we devolved from classifying friends into best friends, friends and acquaintance categories to making the distinction between real friends and mommy friends to having real friends and Facebook friends without really making or perhaps even knowing or caring about the distinction. As a stay-at-home mom I have to say that I was SCHOOLED in what friendship has become. When my Jack was a baby, I met a group of women at the library’s Mother Goose Time and we started a playgroup. All of our children were very close in age and we began meeting regularly and friendships were quickly formed. For me, the birth of my first-born was so profoundly life altering and special that anyone I spent time with became very significant. I naively thought that the bonds I formed with other mothers during that time were quite possibly forever. Then I learned that I was a “mommy’ friend, as opposed to a real friend. References in emails and conversations made it very clear that, with the exception of myself and a few other mothers, members of our group had compartmentalized the other women in the group into a separate and distinct category. This unique “mommy” friend category made us the recipients of late night panicked calls about sick children and invitations to child friendly Halloween parties, but our part in each others’ lives ended there. Real friends were included in the rest.

So if we put up with “mommy” friendships, it makes sense that we would accept Facebook friendships–cold, impersonal relations where we bitch and talk at and inform each other about ourselves without the space nor the expectation of the reader that we will explain ourselves, explore topics or discuss anything in-depth. So why do we do it, and how is it possible that we would ever become addicted to it??? Are we so very disconnected, so very lonely? Are our expectations so very low that we will put up with and crave Facebook friendships and connections and updates? I guess the answer is yes. Yes, we want to connect with the outside world. We want to feel popular and liked. We want the “company” of others no matter how it comes to us.

Using Facebook for companionship reminds me of when I was a child and my mother would bring my brother and I to visit my great-grandmother and my great-uncle at their studio apartments in the elderly housing complex. Inevitably, regardless of the time of day, the television would be on. As children, my brother and I spent our afternoons in the sunshine playing outside. It just seemed so incredibly wrong and unnatural to us that, on afternoons where the sun shined so brightly you could see the dust of seemingly clean apartments dance in the light of sunbeams, a person would remain inside with the television playing watching As the World Turns or syndicated episodes of God knows what awful cop-buddy series was popular ten years earlier. I remember one day asking my mother why old people watched television in the afternoon and her answer was, “because they are lonely.”

Maybe that’s it. Maybe we are all lonely and needy and in want of connections to others and our past and life. So, we Facebook. Let’s just hope that when we are ninety and our great-grandchildren visit us in assisted living that they don’t find us, rather than watching syndicated episodes of whatever is popular on television today, Facebooking virtual friends; friends who never really cared much about us to have a real friendships; friends who seldom if ever visited us in person or sacrificed or shared or compromised like real friends do. Let’s hope that in addition to our great-grandchildren, we have real friends who visit us. And, above all else, let’s hope that our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have real friends who love them with a true, real, actual love that transcends the virtual world.