Saturday, December 31, 2016

tops of 2016

I just started reading Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon, a collection of essays about parents and children trying to love each other across different “horizontal identities,” i.e. non-inherited identities. (Being gay or, in most cases, disabled is a horizontal identity. Whereas being, say, Japanese or male or female would be a vertical identity.) Already this book is making my brain explode in the best ways, and I suspect it’s going to be on my Best Of list for 2017.

That is, if I finish it by 2017—it’s 700 pages long not counting the 200 pages of end notes. I’m still working on two other books that I hoped I could count toward my 2016 tally, but I’m writing this on December 30 and that doesn’t look likely.

Seven hundred pages of ways you can fail as a parent. Yet surprisingly enjoyable.
Every year I nerd out compiling my best-of list, because didn’t you know this was a culture blog? (I bet you thought it was a Cheryl’s-life blog. I can’t imagine where you got that idea.) Right now I’m really feeling how little I read, saw and wrote in 2016. But if I have a resolution for 2017, it’s to take a StrengthsFinder approach to life.

I didn’t read StrengthsFinder either.

I jumped straight to the quiz at the back to find out my strengths. Patience wasn’t one of them, haha.

Anyway, the thesis of the whole process is that you should work with others and yourself based on what your respective strengths are, not your deficits.

For example, don’t think “Cheryl is really whiny in the morning.” Think “Cheryl really kicks into gear around 10 am. Let’s schedule a meeting with her at that time.”

(On a related note, my dad and AK conspired to get me a latte maker for Christmas, which I think is going to change my life at least as much as any positive attitude. I mean, coffee is my positive attitude. Someone put that on a T-shirt, please.)

Thanks a latte.
Don’t think “You mentally ill hog, why do you keep eating every carbohydrate in sight?” Think “Now that you’re sort of getting a hang of this parenting thing, your food fails are fewer and farther between.”

As I told my therapist, I think I grew up with the popular narrative of hitting bottom, then making a change. So I’m always trying to shame myself into doing various things better. Eating better. Exercising more. Working harder at work. Writing more. Sending my work out more.

But shame isn’t very motivating, although it is somewhat motivating. A coworker once asked my former boss what her fundraising goal should be. My boss said “How about you-avoid-getting-fired dollars?” Not very motivating. If people knew how (sincere) compliments make me bloom like a happy little toadstool, they’d give me so many!

Is that too much to ask?
So I’ll say it to myself: Cheryl, you’re doing alright! You just had seven days of back-to-back socializing and travel—of course you’re tired and grouchy. That doesn’t make you ungrateful for your family and friends and travel opportunities. It makes you human, and a person who needs solo time with a laptop to refuel. Take this day, rest up, and worry about cleaning the house tomorrow. That is not a fail.

Okay, thanks for bearing with me through that bit of self-talk. Now onto my short list of favorites for 2016, chosen as always not because they are necessarily “the best,” but because they moved me.

Top three books I read in 2016:
I've had a small Colson Whitehead crush since 2003.
Top seven things I watched on screens in 2016:
  • Search Party, Season 1 (TBS): Starts out as a send-up of self-obsessed Millennials, but the characters’ self-centered behavior makes more and more sense as the plot thickens. No spoilers here, but thematically the ending reminds me of The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead.
  • Nocturnal Animals: Queer Eye for the Toxically Masculine Straight Guy.
Tom Ford shows how trying to be a cowboy destroys everyone.
  • Zootopia: Takes full advantage of the animated form to show animals in their natural and not-so-natural habitats as bunny-cop Judy hops through giant rhino worlds and tiny hamster worlds. Also kind of an allegory about the CIA starting the crack epidemic. Quietly radical, lots of fun.
  • Orange is the New Black, Season 4 (Netflix): All the amazing character development of the previous seasons with less of Piper’s panty-ring nonsense. As with real life tragedies, the people caught in this season’s controversy are hapless, well-meaning and flawed. The institutions and those at the top are the guiltiest, and they get away with everything.
  • High Maintenance, Season 1 (HBO): Short stories whose only connection is a weed dealer making his rounds. This is the kind of show I’d normally like in theory and then lose interest in, but it was actually really, ahem, addictive. Funny and human and expertly executed. 
Maintenance men.
  • Arrival: I was one of about three people who liked Interstellar, but I liked Arrival more—it has similar afterlife-as-fourth-dimension themes and a lot less self-indulgent excess. Sci fi doesn’t have to be all danger, warfare and “science-lite” exposition. It can be about connection, love and language.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

to dashaboo, before your second christmas

This is one of my occasional letters to Dash. This time I used the #MomLists feature in Mutha Magazine as my prompt.

1. Every time you see a wreath, you shout “Nana!” She made the one with gingerbread men and red ribbons that hangs between our living and dining rooms. Nana is the Queen of Comedy in your book. Last time she babysat you, you stayed up till nine. She told Mama “He wasn’t interested in going to bed.” As if bedtime were a hobby you’d considered and abandoned, like golf.

2. When you see worms in books, you say “Mommy!” For a minute, I was scared you’d had some premonition about me getting cancer and becoming skinny and bald again. Then I remembered I have a tattoo of a snake on my back. You must watch me as I walk away.


3. We still don’t know why you say “Mama!” when you see one particular Andy Warhol drawing of a panda, or Eric Carle’s Red Bird Red Bird.

4. You say “Santa!” though you prefer the ones in books and store windows to actual men in red suits. Mechanical Santas are the worst. You don’t quite trust things that move by themselves. The other day our electric toothbrush, which you love, got away from you and rattled about on the wood floor. You backed away like it was a snake.

5. You have not said “Gramps,” “Granny” or “Grandpa,” although you can point them out in pictures. These are not easy words to wrap your mouth around. Your pronunciation is meh, your vocabulary is good, your curiosity is boundless. I want you to delight in your other grandparents the way you do in Nana, but I don’t know how to manage your feelings and theirs at the same time, or if I should. I probably shouldn’t. All in good time. Is there time?

6. Last weekend we visited Candy Cane Lane in El Segundo, one of those blocks where everyone agrees to go full National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with lights and decorations. I remember being cold and usually a little bored there as a kid. You were the right age for it, but overwhelmed by the crowds (which have grown). You wouldn’t let Gramps or Granny carry you, but you walked and held their hands with one of yours. First mine plus Gramps’, then mine plus Granny’s. Separately, they reported this holding of hands to your Aunt Cathy.


7. We’ve agreed not to tell you that Santa is real. At one point in my life this would have been a great moral quandary. Now I think that fictional characters are plenty magical on their own. Maybe more so.

8. We sent your birthmother an email and photos last month and for the second time she didn’t respond. When I think about her taking a break and getting her life together, I feel okay. When I think about the possibility of you growing up not knowing her, I don’t feel okay. But however things turn out, I know that she loves you and thinks of you every single day. I know that her distance is born of those facts.

9. You have her square teeth. Her bedroom eyes. Her happy disposition. Which is not to say that you or she will always be happy.

10. When she saw you at ten months old, she ran her hand through your wisps of hair and said “I think it will be straight, but full.” That is panning out. Your bangs have finally reached your eyebrows, and you’re due for a second haircut.

11. You have: a slightly funky bite (because of your paci habit, probably), long eyelashes, a mischievous glint in your dark brown eyes, long legs, skin that is not yet tan but promises to be.


12. You like: Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, trains, Masha and the Bear (which you call “ammul!”) and Chuggington (“’ain!”), vans, trash cans, Trader Joe’s Citrus Chicken Salad, “owl” (your word for the penguin-shaped pouches I pour smoothies into), eggs, laundry, sweeping, frozen bee teethers, baths, saying “Nigh-nigh baby” as you comfort a stuffed cat or monkey, jumping on the bed, petting cats and then tormenting them, and all the agua. Still and always agua.

13. You dislike: when one of us leaves, toys that move by themselves, quesadillas, plain avocados, swinging (ever since you fell off a tire swing and did a face-plant in the sand), sitting still in restaurants while grownups talk.


14. You know what letters are and say “Ay-bee” for ABC’s and point to the O on the Cheerios box and say “Oh.” When I wear a shirt with a word on it you point to my chest and start singing the alphabet song.

15. It’s fun to teach you things. Or rather, it’s fun to watch you learn—to watch the human brain as it clicks and whirs and unfurls, becoming a particular you.

16. Since I started writing this post two days ago, you’ve started saying “Papa” for “Grandpa” (Mama’s dad). It is a much more beautiful sound than Santa.

17. Tonight I took you to McDonald’s for dinner because it was my last day of work and I was feeling lazy and junk-foodie. I tried to make you eat apple slices while I drank a chocolate milkshake, and you were having none of it. You didn’t catch onto the milkshake, but you liked the muffin part of the Egg McMuffin we shared way more than the apple slices, and you liked the hash browns too. They’re so greasy and crunchy. How could you not? I felt like a fraud. Like I was lighting up a crack pipe in front of you and telling you not to do drugs. I have food issues. You have a genetic predisposition for heart disease. I’m not sure whether I’m being too hard on myself for taking you to McDonald’s now and then, or too easy.


18. The main draw of McDonald’s is, of course, the Play Place. But it was deserted, and unlike me, you don’t like empty playgrounds all that much. The plastic tunnels were dark. Why is the Play Place comprised entirely of tunnels? I tried to get you to go in one with me, but you fussed. I went further in, with the thought that I’d get to the open area at the other end, and urge you to follow me. But then I had this vision of me behind a Play Place net watching helplessly as some stranger snatched you on the other side. I said “Want to go home?” You said “’Ome.”

19. You call all your teachers “Debbie.” I think the word “Debbie” equals “teacher” to you. One of your teachers is named Debbie. The others are Kelly, Yesenia, Nyeli and Aracely. Kelly and Yesenia are my favorites. I’ve learned so much from them; they’re like a parenting pit crew. I’m going to miss them all when you move up to the toddler room in January.

20. Tonight we took home a package, wrapped in red tissue paper, containing all your holiday art from daycare. A tree painted greenish-blackish-blue and stuck with stickers. A snowman on black paper. A paper ornament with your picture. You look like a little boy in it, not a baby at all.