Happiness: My Gift to Myself for My Fortieth Birthday

40th Bday Blog

This past Saturday I turned forty.  I woke up in the morning and asked myself, “How the hell did this happen?” I have always had a Peter Pan complex. As a child, when other little girls my age said they wanted to be mothers or brides or teachers, I thought they were insane. Why in God’s name would anyone actually want to do any of that?  Being an adult didn’t look like any fun.  I just wanted to remain a kid..forever. For years, I wished that I would remain young. Of course that was one wish that would never be fulfilled unless I was going to sell my soul to the devil in return for semi-eternal youth. I had to remove that option from the table, however, because someday that  pointy tailed, pitchfork carrying psychopath would come to collect my soul as payment for all the wrinkle free years I was granted, and, frankly, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am really, really, really afraid of the devil. I also considered, but later determined that it was also highly improbable, that I would find an artist to paint a portrait of myself as a youth which would age for me.  Of course, I would hide it in my attic so no one would discover my secret, but, as we know, the whole aging portrait in an attic thing didn’t work out very well for poor debauched Dorian Gray.  Occam’s razor my friends, Occam’s razor.  The simplest choice is usually the right choice.  Portraits and artists and deals with the devil are just too complicated. 

So I grew up and aged. I don’t look as grizzled as I expected to when I turned forty, but age I did.  And this brings us to the day of my fortieth birthday.   Giorgio had to work all day and it snowed..a lot.  The kids, Ginger and I were snowed in on my birthday, with no hope of going anywhere or doing anything special. Despite the fact that we weren’t going anywhere, I put on my new faux leather leggings (they just make me feel good) and the kids and I made gingerbread houses. And at some point during the day I had a startling revelation…I was happy!  Not just happy in the moment (being with my kids has always filled me with joy; I just adore them) but happy in life, happy with myself, just plain old happy. 

The funny thing is that I haven’t really been happy since I was ten years old.  Over the past thirty years I  experienced supremely joyful moments, the greatest moments in my life in fact, as in the birth of my children, but pure complete happiness had eluded me. Over the years I, along with stress, neurosis, perfectionism, insecurity, anxiety, and fear, sucked the joy out of my own life.  My children and my husband became my happiness, but if I was alone, with just myself and my thoughts, I was a fearful, anxious wreck of a woman.

So how did I recover my happiness? Here it is. But first, let me assure you that there is no need to worry. I am not going to parlay this blog into a tool to kickstart my new career as a self-help guru. I still have a lot of work to do. Also, I am a late bloomer. Most forty year old adults figured this stuff out long ago. So, please, take it for what it’s worth. Now, back to how I became happy.

I discovered that most people are inherently good.  No.  I am not naive.  Of course there are wicked people who do evil things, who choose to do evil things, but, the vast majority of people in this world are good, or try to be good, or, at the very least, fancy themselves to be good. I deeply believe that insecurity is the primary reason why people act like assholes.  Insecurity, not pure wickedness, explains why people are jealous, why people malign others, why people hurt others at school and in the workplace.  And it is so much easier to forgive or at least understand someone whose actions are driven by insecurity rather than by nefarious intent.  Once I decided that people are good, despite the fact that they act badly, the world became a happier place.

To the best of my ability, I try to live each day so that I would be proud of it if it were my last.  This is not the same as living each day as if I knew it was going to be my last.  That’s ridiculous.  In that scenario, I’d likely attempt to numb my pain and quell my fear with martinis and denial. When I reflect upon my day, I want to feel proud that I tried to do the best for my children and family.  I want to feel proud that I tried my best to be kind and patient and unselfish.  I want to feel proud that I worked to my fullest potential.  I don’t need perfection.  Perfection is a myth. Striving for it will destroy you.

I went to a shrink. That’s right, I went to a shrink, and it was the best thing I could have done for myself and my family.  Just a few years back, I became crippled by fear, anxiety and OCD (something I did not realize I had as a youth, but, in retrospect, of course I did).  While I don’t want to get into the gory details at the moment, I will say that when mommy is unhappy, when mommy spends much too much time crying and worrying, the family becomes unhappy.  When you have everything, and by everything I mean healthy children, a loving spouse and enough money to pay the bills and your still not happy, for Christ’s sake, it’s time for mommy to take care of her shit.  So I did. As a parent, it’s our duty to take care of ourselves, to take care of both our physical and mental health. 

I discovered who I am and I actually like myself.  I just took some time to figure out what I really like, who I really like to be with, and what ideas and opinions are authentically mine.

There it is…how I became happy.  Oh, in case you’re interested, what did I learn about myself?   In a nutshell, I’m a faux leather, sparkle eye shadow, stiletto wearing, zany chic who unapologetically admits to  living  for her kids and loves her husband.  I like quirky people with wild stories, dancing, club music, old episodes of Columbo, Cheetos and martinis. I love ballet…and B movies. I like earnestness and absurdity. I like to laugh. Mostly, I love to be with my children.  I still dream.  I still choreograph dances in my head when I hear great music.  I am happy. Finally, at forty years old, I am happy.

Mrs. Nanni Makes a Home…With the Help of Her Blog

How about a picture? Curtains? Color?Anything?!!!

How about curtains? Color?Anything?!!!

I have read a few articles by writers who state that blogging has made them better people, and I get it. It really makes complete sense. At the end of the day I don’t want to read my blog and realize that I am nothing more than the member of the chorus in a Greek tragedy, recounting sad tales of my days and providing myself with the insights I could have used in real time rather than in hindsight. Worse yet, I don’t want to read my blog and realize I have been the protagonist in my own life, jacking things up for myself and everyone around me. While it’s one thing to employ self-effacement for humor and levity, it’s another thing to just be an ass. Soooo…what’s my point?

I think I should begin with this. It is a fact that I am domestically challenged. In my adult life, I have yet to make a house a home in the physical sense. For me, experience transcends the material. Following this logic, as long as there is deep love and joy and excitement, some sense of joie de vivre, then the actual setting where life takes place has been relatively unimportant. My thought has been if you take away the happiness of experience then you hold to the setting, the material, for some sort satisfaction. My reasoning, however is deeply flawed.

While I keep a clean home, it is stark. I have simply been too busy living life with my family to give it much attention. When we first moved into our house I had grand decorating plans. I had the children’s rooms freshly painted. I bought beautiful comfortors with matching curtains. I even hung the curtains, until I took them down to have our windows replaced. Now they sit in a closet, almost forgotten because I have been too busy living life.

The question is, have I been living my life or have I been consumed by my life? It’s not as though I’m always happy. I worry…A LOT. I am stressed…A LOT. I work all the time. I am tired. It really would be so nice to have a warm and inviting place to rest at the end of the day. But I didn’t give this much thought until last week.

Giorgio and I were sitting in the kitchen when our Jack came in with a catalog from some home furnishing company. It was their winter issue and in it were pictures of homes beautifully decorated for Christmas. Jack loves Christmas and winter and snow. He loves to look at Norman Rockwell’s painting of main street Stockbridge at Christmastime. He loves images of Sundblom’s Santa sitting by a roaring fire and paintings of villages during winter with their white steepled churches and homes with illuminated windows that leave the viewer to imagine the cheer and warmth and fragrance that is within. While Jack was sitting in the kitchen showing us his catalog, his eyes filled up. When asked “why” he responded, “It’s just so beautiful.” This is the moment that I realized that setting really does matter.

Of course setting matters. Yes you can perform a play in a black box theater, but the brilliance of that is that each audience member gets to set it as they like, as his imagination deem best. I feel that my Jack and Allegra lack for nothing other than a setting. Jack craves warmth and coziness, and I am sure Allegra does as well. Yes, they have all they could possibly need and more, toys and books and clothes and joyful experiences and the great love of parents who have placed them at the center of their universe. But they don’t have a beautiful setting for which to settle their memories. As time marches forward and memories become more and more distant from the actual experiences those feelings they had as children will need to be paired with images just as powerful in order to survive their battle against time and old age. More importantly, they need the experience of a warm and inviting home now because they deserve it. We all do. Home is not just an abstraction. It is physical; it is material, and as such, it should be beautiful. I know. I know. Most everyone else figured this our ages ago.

So this brings me back to my initial point. How will I use this blog to make me a better person? Each month I will post pictures of the progress I make as I attempt to transform the Nanni house into a home…in the physical sense. I don’ want to just make a joke out of my lack of domestic prowess; although, it does provide some pretty decent comedic material. I don’t want to look back and regret that I never paid attention to the setting of our life together as a family. Here goes. Wish me luck.

Hey Kids, Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner. The Easter Bunny! Rabbit Anyone?

In many ways my husband and I are polar opposites. He is organized. I am not. I am terrified to fly. He loves it. I am not a foodie. He is a chef. However, in addition to the great love we share for our children, there is another thing we have in common–our love of the absurd and the irreverent. Thankfully. Giorgio’s job provides us with a significant amount of material to keep us laughing and scratching our heads. So rather than blathering on about the usual stuff I blather on about, I thought it would be cool to do something different this week-interview my husband Piergiorgio Nanni, companion, father and chef. Here goes:

Me: So Giorg, errr Chef, would it be inappropriate if I began this interview by stating that you are a remarkably handsome man?

Chef: No, but this will be the only lie of this interview.

Me: Fair enough.

Me: Chef, tell the readers why in God’s name you would marry a woman who had no idea how to cook?  Go ahead feel free to share the vomit chicken story. 

Chef: Besides being very charming, lovely and beautiful.

Me: Go On

Chef: I was actually really impressed by your vomitacious chicken dish, a dish that consists of chicken breast, broccoli, angel hair and a packet of dehydrated Lipton chicken soup overcooked until it looks like vomit.  You mixed it all up, cooked it for what I’m assuming hours and voila!  And the funny thing is that it was not that bad.  The lesson to learn is: don’t judge a dish by its color. 

Me: Now you must admit that, despite her lack of prowess in the kitchen, your wife did invent some pretty amazing dishes.  Dont you remember…American cheese carpaccio (pronounced car pay see oh not that “fancy and proper” way) and Fudgsicles in Pepsi dip?

Chef: How is it that this interview is all about you?

Me: Please Chef.  Let me ask the questions.

Chef: I think the Fudgsicle in Pepsi dip is pretty self-explanatory.  Just dip a Fudgsicle in Pepsi and eat it.  As for the American Cheese Carpaccio, purposely mispronounced…that’s another gem.  A slice of processed American cheese spread with Gulden’s mustard.  The secret is in the ingredients. 

Me: Do you know how I came up with that one?

Chef: No, but please don’t let me keep you from sharing.

Me: Okay then.  It was 6th grade. I was in the cafeteria.  My friend had a bologna and cheese sandwich with mustard.  She didn’t want the cheese.  So I ate it…with the mustard.  And there you have it. If I may say, genius in its simplicity.

Chef: Genius.  Thank you for sharing

Me: My pleasure.

Me: I’m sure the readers are curious about the title of this blog.  Please explain what it’s all about.

Chef: It was Easter week and a chef colleague informed me that he was going to serve a rabbit special.  Seriously.  He wasn’t kidding.  And, at first I thought it was a nice idea.  Not because of the Easter Bunny/Rabbit connection.  I don’t think either of us even thought of Easter.  It wasn’t until I told my wife and she called us both “sick degenerates” that the lightbulb went off.  I think subconsciously he had rabbit on the brain because of the pictures of the Easter Bunny everywhere. Needless to say, my chef friend didn’t sell a single rabbit special, perhaps made with the same little rabbits used in some of the portrait studios at Easter time. 

Me: Sick

Me: Well we might as well run with the gross theme.  Baring anything that includes any part of the human body as an ingredient (obviously, duh), is the brain of live monkey still the only dish in the entire world that you will not eat?

Chef:  I also won’t eat frog.  I find the idea disgusting.

Me: So, dogs and cats.  They’re free game?

Chef: Well, as you know, they actually are free game in a few countries.  My worry, however, is that I may have eaten cats and dogs before.  I just thought it was rabbit in the stew,

Me: Uggggghhhhh

Me: Switching gears now.  Does it ever offend you that your dog, Ginger Josie Nanni, thumbs her nose at your risotto but eats cat shit with gusto?

Chef: What bothers me is that she kisses me right after.

Me: On the lips?

Chef: Yes

Me: Sick. Again

Me: How does a man who was born and raised in Rome, classically trained in Paris, worked throughout Europe before landing in NYC win a chili competition?

Chef: I had a secret ingredient.

Me: Come on now.  Tell us.  Was your secret ingredient Rabbit?

Chef: That’s what the butcher said.

Me: Finally.  With whom would you say you have more in common, Chef Pisghetti from Curious George or the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show? 

Chef: I am Chef Pisghetti.  A loud, not very bright caricature of every Italian chef in the world.

Me: In a half ass effort to  make this worthwhile for our readers, give them a recipe would you.  But remember, give something for parents like myself.  You know, people with dated 1950’s kitchens and no fancy accoutrements who don’t like to cook.

Chef: Here goes.Roasted Salmon. Sprinkle salmon with salt, pepper and some Old Bay seasoning.  Drizzle with butter and pop in a 350 oven for 20 minutes.  While the salmon is cooking, cut some fresh tomatoes and red onion and toss in a bowl with plenty of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.  You can add fresh basil if you like.  When salmon is done, top with salad and serve. 

Me:  Delicious

Chef: Thanks

Me: Well thank you Chef.  This was fun.  Want to do it again?

Chef: Yes.  Now, would you like me to make you dinner?

Me: No need. I’ve got a bowl of Cheetos and a Martini waiting for me.

Chef: Great

Me: Love you

Chef: Love you too

Oh. You Are Also a Specialist? Of What, If You Don’t Mind My Asking?

    A few years back, we were invited to vacation at my husband’s boss’s beach house. One evening we were dining out on the patio, which happened to abutt the path down to the shore, when two ladies from the neighborhood attempted to pass us while taking their nightly stroll to the beach. As the ladies passed, and before Giorgio and I knew what was happening, our then four year old son hopped up and said, “Ladies, would you like to join us for a bottle of wine?” Being the persistent little fellow he is, when the ladies giggled and declined, my dear Jack then continued, “Well then, how about a brandy?” This is the same little boy, who very recently at the age of seven, alarmed us by asking, “What if we don’t really exist? What if this is all a dream?” He has been described as an old soul and free spirit, and, yes, he is in fact both. He is charming and precocious and very intelligent, and he HATES school. He has learning differences and sensory issues which have made his experiences with school quite unpleasant and continue to make finding an appropriate educational setting a challenge. As an educator, it drives me mad to think that learning has become such an unpleasant, onerous task for my bright and curious little boy, and I have made it my mission to find a way to make learning and life, as joyful and wonderous as is realistically possible.

    In fulfilling this mission, Giorgio and I have learned is that there are an awful lot of experts and specialists out there. I mean there are specialists that super specialize in the specialists’ specialities. There are soooo many people who want to help out there. What I also figured out is that “helping” our children has become and industry and a lucrative one at that. I mean one family with one child with learning differences can spend thousands, upon thousands of dollars. We pay the college tuitions of our specialist’s children while we ourselves become increasingly stressed because after we dole out all our money to special schools and experts and specialists, we can’t even afford to register our kids for dance class much less pay for their education, which was our main concern to begin.

    I don’t mean to sound cynical, and I certainly don’t want anyone to think that I believe there is no place for specialists and experts. When our children are struggling it is our obligation as parents to seek help. It’s just that we need to be cautious. We need to be savvy consumers. WE need to determine when our work with a specialist has run its course. We also need to discern when we really need the services of another party and when we as parents can, with time and research, provide appropriate services ourselves.

    When we began our quest to help our son, we dove in a rabbit hole and into a surreal world where everyone is an “expert” and where the only thing “experts” can do for you is refer you to other “experts” (with whom they share an office) whereupon they hand you a bill and where only one thing is certain…all experts charge fees that are staggering.

    Just this past week, Giorgio and I had an appointment with one of the many specialists we have consulted over the past few years. Prior to our appointment, I spent two hours filling out a twelve page questionnaire, which was to be reviewed by said specialist prior to our meeting. Two hours! Twelve Pages! Prior to meeting! Giorgio was immediately suspicious and repeatedly asked me why we were writing answers to questions about topics we should be discussing in person. I reassured him, certain that this was just preliminary “stuff” and that we would elaborate on our answers during our $300 per one hour not covered by insurance appointment, an appointment which required Giorgio to rearrange his work schedule and me to make childcare arrangements.

    Well, Mr. Specialist’s office is an hour plus away from our home, so we frantically raced out of our house, dropped the kids with my parents and arrived ten minutes early. So you can imagine my disappointment when ten minutes after appointment time, our specialist hadn’t come into the waiting room to greet us. I have to say, I’ve got a real “thing” about waiting…it pisses me off. I just believe that we are called upon to wait much too often. For the majority of us, if we are late for an appointment, we are deeply disturbed and apologetic towards whoever we have kept waiting. Yet, doctors, specialists and so many others seem to feel as if our time is less valuable than their time. Anyway, the receptionist must have heard me bitching to Giorgio because she quickly disappeared and promptly returned to tell us that Mr. Specialist was in a meeting and would be with us soon. Five minutes later, he emerged, alone, so I wonder who the hell he was meeting. One thing was for sure, I was going to make damned sure he gave us the full hour, the $300 hour, the hour of gold.

    Since I now have a significant amount of experience, I have changed my approach. While I am always nice and respectful, it is no longer important that the specialist likes me. I make my needs clear up front. This time I informed him that we are not wealthy people and that we are frustrated because everyone we consult refers us to someone else. Well do you know how the meeting turned out? At some point during our visit it became painfully clear that Mr. Specialist never read our two hours worth of paperwork. He perseverated on one topic, of only minor interest to my husband and I, and, in the end, he referred us to an educational consultant who works in his office. With a bit of research we learned that this consultant would charge us a minimum of $750 for her services. Oh yeah, after only forty minutes he started to look at his watch. When he attempted to end the appointment at the scheduled time, despite the fact that he was fifteen minutes late,I kept him talking until the full hour was up. Go girl.

    After our appointment, Giorgio headed off to work, and I returned home, frazzled and anxious. And I got to thinking. All that time lost. I could and should have been home with my kids, teaching, playing, mothering! Instead, I wasted time. And I have wasted soooo much time visiting specialists and special schools.

    I once visited a school, a thirty thousand plus a year school, which is located in a very affluent community in Connecticut. It seemed great. Prior to my visit, I read their website which explained that they incorporate original play into their curriculum. Play! Great! We love to play (I either didn’t notice or completely ignored the word original)! Jack will love a school that allows a little bit of fun! During my visit everything looked great:students appeared happy, teachers seemed nice. There was nothing strange about the place at all…until the discussion turned to original play. Never heard of it? Neither had I. Silly me for thinking it was normal human play because, as it was explained to me, it actually mirrors animal play. The kids roll around on a mat; a teacher facilitates. And guess what? In eighth grade, if they’re really good at this original play thing, the kids get to travel to Florida to swim with the manatees. Are you kidding, you ask? No, sadly I am not. Strange right? Of course when I got home I researched original play and let me tell you, it is very hard to find out anything other than a clip on YouTube where a big bearded burly man demonstrates how it’s done. Perhaps I am a sceptic, but I prefer to think of myself as reasonably intelligent and educated. Evaluating research was a big part of my graduate studies. You know; instruction should be researched based and good research studies require thousands of subjects and a control group and blah, blah, blah. Why is it then that educators are engaging in practices when there clearly is not enough research to support those practices.

    A larger question is how do specialists and educators get parents to subscribe to their practices? The answer, I believe, is that desperate parents are easy to exploit. I don’t mean to suggest that these professionals are intentionally exploiting parents; most are well meaning. Regardless, parents are being exploited. When we as parents see that our children are struggling and are told that we need to do something about it, we desperately seek out those who can help. I am beginning to realize, however, that there may be something fundamentally wrong with our process. Sometimes because our children are different we are made to feel that they are broken and that they need to be fixed and changed and altered by experts and specialists. What would have happened if teams of professionals “fixed” the young Albert Einstein or Winston Churchill, both of whom were quirky kids and bad students?

    Professional educators, therapists and specialists do have an important role to play. They can help. They have helped me. I have met some great specialists. We shouldn’t feel that in order to be good parents or viewed as good parents we need to constantly seek the help of “experts.” We as parents are the only TRUE experts of our children. Sometimes, rather than shuttling our kids from one appointment to another to be evaluated, analyzed and over analyzed and spending hours on the computer and telephone searching for professional help, our children would be better served if we just spent those extra hours with them , learning their patterns, understanding what works for them and what doesn’t. In a world full of experts, we have lost our confidence as parents, and we need to reclaim that. No one will ever know or love our children as we do. Our instincts and opinions count. We know when our children are just different, when they just need another approach or another way to learn and when we need the help of knowledgable professionals. We know. We know when it’s a matter of doing something different or better as parents and when we need to seek outside help because we just don’t know what to do. We know when to say “help” and we know when to say “enough!” We must trust ourselves and know.

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.