Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dream Home v. Real Estate

Jack's dream house complete with basketball goal.
I had a dream the other night. "Big deal," you say. "I dream every night." Yes, but I haven't been able to recall anything I've dreamed for the past eight months, so you see, knowing that I had a dream was a very big deal. What does it mean? I have no idea. But it was a pleasant dream. In it, I was with a friend/colleague and we were hanging out in his very cool loft apartment in Chelsea or Tribecca. It was an old factory building that had been converted into a living space with impossibly high ceilings and exposed ductwork and such. We talked for a long time in the dream, though I don't recall the conversation. When I woke, I felt happy, and that's when I realized that I had dreamed a dream I could finally remember.
   Perhaps I dreamed about my friend's groovy loft because I'm giving a lot of thought right now to buying a home of my own. I can't live in this little one-bedroom apartment forever, and it's a great time to buy a house with so much inventory on the market, and mortgage rates low. Having a home of my own is one of my oldest more enduring dreams. As a girl I daydreamed of owning the house with the white picket fence. I did! I really did. I even drew pictures of it just as Jack draws pictures of houses now. Recently, one of these drawings came home with his school work. I asked him if it was a friend's house or the house he hoped I would buy and he shrugged and said, "No, it's just a house." Jack wants to become an architect—and the next star quarterback for the Auburn Tigers—so maybe he's just practicing his drafting skills.
   More likely, Jack has houses on the brain because I've taken him with me to look at homes for sale in our neighborhood. Depending upon how much I can put down, I could end up with a very tiny mortgage—and that's my new dream: Having as little debt as possible. Dreams change it seems. I used to want a big two-story house with a big yard. Now I realize how much hassle it is to upkeep all that square footage, not to mention the lawn maintenance. Reality tempers dreams in that way. Which is not to say that one can't still imagine great achievements in life, it's just that sometimes the reality makes the dream not so dreamy.
  So now I'm teaching Jack the art of house hunting. He's the classic "property virgin" who falls in love immediately with every house he sees despite the obvious flaws. He's ready to make an offer before  crawling around the basement or peeking into the attic. Well, he's only nine, so I cut him some slack, but it's not lost on me (and thank you Jon for pointing this out recently) that being in the market for real estate is much like dating. I see a house listed online that seems has all the right stuff—in my price range, 2-3 bedrooms, updated bath, decent-sized kitchen, a yard for Jack and close to his school—and I look at the photos and make a superficial assessment before I call the realtor to set up a date to see the place. There was a time in my life when I would house-hop and just go to Open Houses for fun, even if I knew the house was not my style, out of my price range or in the wrong neighborhood. If it was cute, I'd flirt with it and see if it flirted back. But today, I'm a bit more conservative about "the hunt." I don't have time or the inclination to flirt with houses (or men) who I know will not work out. If a house doesn't have real potential, just like a potential date, then why bother? Yes, it might be a great house if it had a new roof, new systems and was moved three miles south...Yes, he might be a wonderful boyfriend if he was more self-aware, worked out a few times a week and if he didn't live in China...The analogy goes on and on.
  Right now, I'm in the just-starting-to-look mode and am in no big hurry to find a house or a man. Before I buy a house I have to get all my ducks in a row—loan pre-approval, downpayment, someone to sublet my apartment. Before I get involved with another guy I have to get my ducks in a row too—career solidly on track, Jack stable and well-adjusted, my bruised ego mended. No sense getting carried away too soon and making a commitment I'll come to regret. Besides, it is fun to just look.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Have Glass Slipper...Will Travel

While visiting Disney World's Magic Kingdom, I resisted the urge to meet Prince Charming. Rumor had it, he could be found working in Cinderella's Castle Gift Shop hawking costume jewelry, but I knew my son would never let me live it down if I did happen to have a close encounter of the Prince-Charming kind. Besides, Jack would not be caught dead in Cinderella's Castle. "That's girls' stuff," he complained when we strolled past on our way from Splash Mountain to Space Mountain. Okay, fine. So I didn't meet the man who has taunted me most of my life as the epitome of manhood against which all other men would pale. 
  Actually, my Prince Charming criteria has changed of late. Living happily-ever-after with a man who is sponging off a royal trust fund, breaking spells by means of a kiss and slaying the occasional dragon is not my ideal anymore. In my Do-Over Life, I'm establishing new criteria. 
   Not too long ago, my friend George gave me a list of attributes that I should stick to when considering my next beau: "Concentrate only strong, well educated, rich, and—most important—kind and caring men." George is one of the happiliest married men I know, so I value his opinion on relationships. And his list seems fairly basic. (I like the "rich" part, but of course that's relative. I mean, are we talkin' Warren Buffet rich, or just normal I've-been-funding-my-401K-since-age-twenty-five kinda wealthy? I'll settle for "has a job and is financially responsible.") 
  My P-C list has certainly shifted since I was last single. In my thirties, I was interested in being with a guy who was fun, liberal, creative and smart. I suppose I considered the fact that I might have children with this man, but honestly, that wasn't top of mind while I was dating back then. As it happened, I did marry a man who was/is a good father, and who has contributed in many ways to creating a beautiful, intelligent, healthy child. And in my thirties, I thought if there were attributes in a man that didn't quite align with my ideals, they could be amended over time. People change and mature. In the best of relationships, couples grow together, even if their interests diverge from time to time. But when it came down to it, the most important aspect I was seeking in a relationship was security. That was my folly.
   Unlike Cinderella (or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty), the assurance of happily ever after is not so simple as being whisked off to the castle. Sure, the castle provides stability, but even with servants to wait on you hand and glass-slippered foot, "home" doesn't insure that you will never feel alone again. And that is what often happens in relationships, even though we are physically present with our spouses, we may still feel alone. That feeling is of our own making. 
   Jack, however, at age nine, already has this aspect of relationships figured out. While at dinner last week with my friend, Tom, Jack brought up the fact that his Dad and I are divorcing. "How do you feel about that?" asked Tom. "It's okay," Jack said. "They are happier now and they don't fight anymore." He paused before adding, "You know, being married doesn't make you happy."*
   So taking a cue from my wise-beyond-his-years son, I am doing the good practice (Buddhist or otherwise) to become a happy person on my own. In Do-Over mode, I'm still in flux. I believe one must be solid in her convictions, view of the world and purpose before entering into a relationship that's based on more than make believe. In other words, until I define who I am at this point in my life, there's no way I can determine who my next Prince Charming could be. So better to wait for a while—not slumber, mind you—but tidy the garret and hone my talents talking to woodland creatures and such, because, right now, even if the most charming of men stood before me with my shoe in his hand, I probably wouldn't recognize him. 

* Hand to God, Jack said this. You can ask Tom Wages if you don't believe me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Hardest Part

Jack, who typically asks"are we there yet?" every
five minutes, fell in line at the Magic Kingdom.
I hate to rip-off Tom Petty, but when you go to a theme park—especially Disney—the waiting is a big part of the experiences, and it can be, yes, very difficult. "Get ready to stand in line to empty your bank account," warned friends and family. So I ventured into the vortex of Orlando family fun with my iPhone and Jack's Nintendo DSi fully charged, prepared for the long, interminable lines queued for the trademark rides. But I could not fully appreciate the mega-big-box-super-happy-fun-see-how-many-people-you-can-possibly-jam-into-one-finite-space-without-inciting-a-riot experience that is Disney's Magic Kingdom—until I entered the park.
   Lest you think I'm a complete cynic, let me say this: The magic of Disney is real. Where else in the world can you convince thousands of people to shell out $80+ per person per day in the middle of a recession? That's some major spell, but I resisted the urge to take Jack for a good many years before handing myself over to this powerful elixir, which some believe to be nothing less than the draught from the Fountain of Youth. With my tax refund in hand, I took a deep breath and plunged in, determined not to flinch even once as I handed over fist-fulls of my hard-earned cash. And yes, it was worth it to have this adventure with Jack at a time in his life when his belief in magic is still alive and well and living in his heart.
  So we went forth, as so many moms and sons have done before us, to discover the wonders of the Magic Kingdom. What I found was something quite extraordinary, if not quite magical. Here in this world of make-believe, where one can wish upon a star to make dreams come true, where Prince Charmings are in abundance and where good always, always undoes evil, people—even Americans—wait patiently for the longed-for prize. If not magic, it was nothing short of amazing. Thousands stood on line, trudging slowly ever-forward, without a whimper—much less a grumble or curse—to edge up to the gondola, or car, or boat, or space shuttle that would ferry them into approximately five minutes of fantasy and/or thrills. We were there for almost 12 hours with thousands of people, waiting in line as they talked to their families and friends, and only once did I experience a nasty person who begrudged my spot in line for the new-and-improved, now with life-like Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean excursion. (She must have been having a really bad day.) Honestly, I've seen people get more upset waiting five minutes in the Walmart check-out lane than they did waiting 60-minutes to climb aboard Space Mountain.
   Of course we are all accustomed to waiting. It's what we do for a great part of our lives. We wait for the phone to ring with good news or bad, for graduation from high school, and then from college. We wait anxiously to get married, and then, for our children to be born. We count down the days until our vacations, Christmases, birthdays, edging closer to each milestone with heightened anticipation, but rarely using that time in limbo to its fullest. And after you get to that longed-for spot and climb into the gondola, or car, or boat or space shuttle, the ride itself only lasts a few moments. It's amazing and thrilling and awe-inspiring...until it's over. And then, you're on to the Next Big Thing. Exit in an orderly fashion, please. Then you queue up to...wait, again. It seems Disney, Universal and every other successful theme park have just taken a cue from real-life and replicated our favorite pass-time: waiting aimlessly.
   Yet, even now, just a few days after leaving the Magic Kingdom, it's not the lines I remember (though I won't soon forget that one hateful woman), or even the thrill of plummeting through the dark, screaming my lungs out, but the conversations I had with Jack as we waited. For example, while winding through the maze of tunnels en route to Splash Mountain, Jack's initial bravado about plunging 40-feet head-long into the waters surrounding Brer Rabbit's briar patch gave way to sweaty-palm fear. In truth, having never before been on so much as tiny fair roller coaster at the State fair, I was a little nervous, too, but I screwed up my best Mom says everything will be okay voice. "You know, Jack, this ride is perfectly safe or I wouldn't let you ride it. Splash Mountain's been here a long time, and lots of kids ride it everyday. I assure you, the scariest part is right now. The scariest part is just thinking about what's going to happen. Once you're on the ride, you're just gonna have fun." I realized as I said it, that this could be a good lesson (and good Buddhist practice) for Jack about overcoming his anxieties since so much of what we fear in life is trumped up in our heads.
   Jack considered my advice as we plodded along closer to the front of the line. Every now and then he asked if there was an exit nearby in case he changed his mind, and I reassured him that the ride would be fun and the fear was just the anticipation building up in his head. Of course, in the end, Jack did go on Splash Mountain and after we survived the 40-foot drop, he turned to me and said, "That was SO awesome!" And he wanted to get back in line and go again.
  The Wait, it seems, is the hardest part in theme parks, just as it is in life, with long seeming-endless stretches of languishing until the five-minute payoff. But do the folks at Disney and Universal know what important life lessons are imparted while visitors stand in line? Probably not, or the price of admission would go up substantially. Shhh! Don't tell them!

Monday, March 14, 2011

But seriously, folks

Pure nine-year-old altruism is
powerful stuff.
It's hard to fathom why bad things happen to good people. We grapple with this in Buddhist study, just as Christians wrestle with this inequity. The difference in Buddhism is that there is no God, no ultimate deity, to look to for answers. Buddha is not omnipotent, but he did strive to end suffering in the world through his enlightenment and teachings. Now the question comes down to us all—Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew, etc.—what can we do to help alleviate the suffering in the world?

Today many are faced with incredible hardships, and none more difficult than the circumstances right now in Japan. We've all seen the images from the devastation in the aftermath of the tsunami. The death count at present is upwards of 10,000. Thousands are homeless and millions without water, power, heat or transportation, according to this morning's New York Times. These people certainly didn't deserve this horror anymore than the people of Haiti deserved the sorrows they faced after last year's earthquake; or the residents of New Orleans deserved the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Buddhist principle points to karma, but who's karma delivers such sorrow upon the world?

Yesterday at the Losel Maitri Buddhist Center, we prayed, just as Christians and Jews and Muslims and all people of faith prayed yesterday for the living and the dead in Japan. And those of us who can, will send money via Red Cross or other charitable organizations, which aid in disasters. But will that end the suffering? No. Not at once, at least. When we pray or when we open our wallets, are we trying to alleviate the suffering of others, or, are we trying to make ourselves feel better for not suffering? Surely a bit of both is in play. Even the most altruistic among us must feel a sense of there but by the grace of God go I. Natural disaster is random and nonjudgemental, but helping those in need should be universal and constant. Perhaps, just maybe, it is through these devastations that we learn about our true nature. If not me, then who? If not now, when? Everyday is opportunity to reach out and help our neighbors, our friends, our family, our colleagues, but how often do we step up and come across?

Today I took a break from work and I stopped by the house to see what Jack was doing. It was a fine spring day, the first day of his Spring Break. As I drove up our street, I saw him conversing with a neighbor. I thought he was playing with the children there, but then he rushed off to another house. "Jack," I called, "What are you doing?"  "I'm raising money for Japan!"he shouted.

Jack created cards, providing our neighbors information on where they could send donations to help the people in Japan. We had talked about the tsunami yesterday and I explained to him how important it was that we all do whatever we could to help the people there. I wasn't sure he was really paying attention, or understood the gravity of the matter. I didn't preach to him, just laid out the plainest of circumstances. Apparently, that was enough. Maybe there is hope in this world.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Darlin' You Put the D in Friend

Damn! I just realized I missed out on National FaceBook DeFriend Day. Apparently, it was March 4, and I only know this because I decided to DeFriend someone on Facebook and wondered what the etiquette might be for going about this delicate process of detachment. Of course, there was a story on the Huffington Post about the very thing! It's zeitgeist I tell you.
Ah, for the good-old-days
when a Friend was a friend...

   DeFriend Day Founder Mark Dice wrote a treatise on the matter (click his name to read and see his video online) and speaks specifically about how a lot of people end up sending Friend requests for nefarious purposes—virtual stalking, if you will. Why you might accept the Friend request of someone you don't know is beyond me, but I'm old fashioned and apparently, this happens a lot.
   I'm more concerned about DeFriending someone I do know, or did know, whom I no longer care to share details of my life. After a break-up or the loss of a job, I think it's healthy to DeFriend those who you no longer associate with if he/she a source of anxiety for you—or if you just want to move on without being reminded of the person's penchant for posting old Ziggy cartoons, or what not. And you may be doing a kindness to the DeFriended Friend as well—an act of Facebook Friend Compassion as it were. After a break-up, for example, the breakee may not want to receive constant reminders that the life he  previously had with you still exists without him.
   I was never one to Friend others willy nilly. In fact, I was rather a reluctant FaceBook conformist, a late-adaptor. In the fall of 2009, after my sisters (older sisters, no less) coerced me into signing up so I could see their photos and share mine, did I finally take the plunge. For a long time, I had about 25 friends and I'm sure I appeared to be an enormous loser. Maybe I was/still am. Now, of course, I'm on Facebook with regularity, posting my blogs and photos of Jack and checking in with friends and family. And now that I'm (almost) single, Facebook has taken on a new role in my life, too. Let's face it, a lot of people meet or re-meet on Facebook. Facebook itself sites a "limited study" in which 20% of divorces sited Facebook as one of the causes. And let me be clear, Facebook DID NOT cause my divorce! I did DeFriended my ex for a while when things were a bit contentious between us. (I've since ReFriended him, though.) But when a recent "person of interest"  became a person no longer interested, I thought it in our mutual interest to DeFriend, go our separate cyber ways, move on. I think I'm justified in severing this tie.
   For better and for worse, Facebook allows access to people who you might never be able to access otherwise, and I'm still getting used to that idea after my 15-year hiatus from the dating scene. Perhaps we extend our Friendship too blithely these days. I will certainly give more thought to Friending henceforth, and I reserve the right to DeFriend without feeling guilty for severing the virtual friendship after the real friendship is gone. Today the final blow may be waking up one morning to find you've been DeFriended, but in our world—where a relationship can be sustained virtually via jpeg, email and ichat—DeFriending, or being DeFriended, may be the ultimate act of kindness, or at least, of letting go.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Missive to My GameStop Romeo

Dearest GameStop Guy:

I don't know your name, but I want to thank you for making my night last night. Your boldness and chivalry truly moved me. I felt you were interested in more than the Afterglow AW.2 Nunchuk I was eyeing in the novelty section when I looked up and arrested your gaze. But please, please know that when you asked me, "Are you single?" I was completely caught off guard. I hope you didn't take personal offense at my hesitance. You could not have possibly known how complicated the answer.

You see, I haven't been asked that question in a very long time, being not-single for the last last fifteen years. And, legally, I'm not single yet, but technically, I am. Regardless, GameStop is hardly the place to go into the nuances surrounding the delicacies of divorce. So when I answered, "Yes...I mean no..." that was the God's honest truth. My ambiguity had nothing to do with you, or the fact that I wasn't remotely attracted to you. Nothing personal, really. I'm sure you're a very kind, compassionate man, and I probably made a mistake I'll long regret by passing up a lifetime of playing Dungeons & Dragons until we turn old and gray and can no longer gracefully wield a nunchuk to defend the fifteen level of Hades, or whatever...But truly, thank you for making my night, because it was so very flattering to have a man show interest in me when I looked like death warmed over. And it was especially reaffirming to know you were inspired to such gallantry after overhearing my conversation with Jack—discussing the merits of saving one's money to buy Madden 11 for Wii, rather than splurging on a cheap, used $4 GameBoy game. If that turned you on, well, buddy, maybe I am the girl for you.

And many thanks, too, for the conversation-starter you provided Jack and me after we drove away. Because of you, I was able to broach a very sensitive topic that I didn't think I'd have to discuss with my nine-year-old son for a quite a while. He thought it ever-so amusing that Mommy was hit on at GameStop and made obnoxious smoochy noises all the way home. But your boldness prompted a serious talk about how "Mommy could date now." When asked how he would feel if I had a boyfriend, Jack responded "It'd be cool!" so promptly and enthusiastically it made me wonder if was just telling me what he thought I wanted to hear.
"So, really, Jack," I said, digging deep. "It wouldn't bother you if I went out on a date? It's okay, you know. I don't have to go on dates."
"Mom," he said, earnestly. "It's okay. Really. I mean, you haven't been on a date in, like, fifty years! C'mon, it's about time!"

So although I shall probably never see you again, I wanted you to know that I will never forget you, my GameStop Romeo.  And I wish you well, really I do. I hope someday you meet your match in that very GameStop and live happily ever after, playing D & D together for the rest of your days.