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  1. Hiding from the Beast

    September 24, 2014 by JennySokol

    Something is ALIVE in my bathroom. Two nights ago, I woke up and rested on my elbows, listening in the dark. The logic side of my brain reassured the creative side that porcelain clown dolls were NOT forming up in my tub, preparing to attack. I needed a Marine, pronto.

    “Probably the trashcans outside,” Hubby mumbled. “Raccoons.” I chose to grasp onto the image of a family of cartoon raccoons, giddily tying napkins around their necks and digging into a Costco rotisserie chicken carcass below the window. I drifted back to sleep, happy for those little guys.

    The next morning, the trashcans were upright, lids securely closed. “Probably squirrels on the roof,” said the Marine who was quickly losing credibility. “Or bats.”

    Last night I woke Hubby again. He agreed that, yes, this sound seemed to be coming from inside the house. “We’ll set some mouse traps,” he sighed. “Just a little field mouse trying to come in now that the weather is cool.”

    As he slumbered, I stared into the darkness, my eyes the size of dinner plates. I scrolled through the possibilities. What if a homeless person had taken up nighttime residence in my bathroom? (Didn’t that happen on an episode of 90210 and then the kids invited him to Thanksgiving dinner? Would I have to be that cordial?) What if someone in the neighborhood flushed a baby alligator that now lived in my hamper and skinny dipped in my toilet?

    At the crack of dawn, my Marine trudged off to the Pentagon to fight America’s wars with PowerPoint slides and heavily edited words. Seconds after the garage door closed behind him, the rabid squirrel/possessed demon recommenced construction, this time almost certainly inside the tiny bathroom closet. I imagined it in there, draping itself with my Costco toilet paper.

    My thoughts drifted to the previous morning when a friend and I walked on a wooded path and a dead bat fell right at my feet. Laura screamed and bolted but I screamed and stood still, stunned. Later, I googled, “Is a dead bat a bad omen?” I discovered that I’m not the first person to ask the question, and also, yes. I found comfort that at least the dead bat encounter hadn’t happened on my wedding day.

    With deceased bat on the brain, I grabbed my pink mace canister and backed out of the room, noiselessly closing the door.

    At breakfast, I told my teen that we might have a mouse in our bathroom closet.

    “Yeah, right,” she laughed over a mouthful of bagel. “One mouse.”

    It is possible for a mouse to live alone, I told her. An introverted mouse.

    “Well, I hope you find her before she has a bunch of babies in your closet,” she said. That realist and her brother went off to school, and now it’s just me, my unbrushed teeth, my mace, and the creature in my bathroom.

    *Note* I’ve been absent from this blog for too long. I took the summer “off” - somewhat unintentionally, due to the lure of kids, popsicles, movie marathons, and outdoor adventures. I missed it and I missed you – thanks for sticking around!

     


  2. Parenting is not for the Birds

    July 11, 2014 by JennySokol

    When a robin built a nest in a small tree next to our front porch, I felt honored. When she laid four bright blue eggs, I felt a kinship with my bird sister. I set up a stool inside so I could watch her through the window panel in our front door.

    Lady Bird and her mate tended to the eggs with steadfast devotion. How endearing that they built the nest at a tenuous angle – probably first time home builders! We sighed when they swapped egg-sitting duties. How adorbs!

    Then we noticed one egg was moved to a branch outside of the nest. “Maybe she knew she couldn’t handle four,” Hubby said. I sat on my stool, contemplating Lady Bird’s choices, to include abortion, adoption, feminism, patriarchy, financial stability, and home ownership.

    The three remaining eggs hatched into horrific, pink-skinned, fragile-boned monsters. Oh, how I loved them.

    The next day, two birds remained in what was quickly becoming Lady Bird’s Nest of Doom. We watched as Bird Hubby (aka Darth Vader) fed the remaining two. By the following evening, we noticed that one nestling was suddenly much bigger than his brother. I suspected a favorite had been chosen.

    My son was the first to discover that Runt was missing. Our eyes followed the fluff stuck in branches all the way to the ground. Though helpless, Runt didn’t appear to be injured. The trusty Internet informed me that robins do not typically eject nestlings. Furthermore, without a sense of smell, they will not abandon an egg or nest that has been tampered with by humans.

    So we chalked the fall up to a dreadful accident, though big brother Cain seemed to be taking up more than his fair share of the nest. I scooped Runt up and slid him in beside Cain, returning to my stool to contemplate favoritism, bullies, infanticide, survival of the fittest, extinction, and the ethics of interfering with nature. Also the idea that I need to pursue more writing assignments.

    I like to think Lady Bird felt a chill down her feathers when she saw Runt back in the nest, something similar to the scene in “Fatal Attraction” when cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater Michael Douglas thinks that Glenn Close is dead in the bathtub. Surprise! She is so not dead- just like your son Runt!

    When Runt found himself at the bottom of the tree for the second time, I called a wildlife rehabilitation hotline – which is an actual thing – and spoke about options with an animal-lover named Jane.

    I returned the bird to the nest again and called my mom. She cared, but not nearly as much as Jane.

    “What’s the lesson here, Mom?” I asked.

    “Hmm. Let me get your father,” said the woman with an answer for everything.

    “I’m here to solve problems,” Dad said.

    “But this is an emotional problem, Brian,” Mom clarified.

    I shared Runt’s story and asked if the message I should glean is that you never know when your parents might try to off you. Or could it be simply that life’s a bitch and then you die?

    No, he told me. The lesson is not to let robins nest on your front porch.

    The next morning, we awoke to find that Runt had taken his final “fall” from the nest.

    Now it’s just the smug three of them: Lady, Darth, and Cain, doing what they do – Lady barfing into Cain’s beak, Darth pecking in our grass, and Lady settling her feather’s over Cain’s body. I’ve returned the stool to the breakfast bar; the magic is gone for me.

    My son, a Disney consumer who is comfortable with both murderous/absent family members and “The Lion King”, says we shouldn’t feel sad. It’s just the circle of life.

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  3. Treading (More) Carefully

    June 26, 2014 by JennySokol

    The moment I became pregnant, I started reading about my daughter. I followed her growth in size from walnut to orange. With books, I stayed one step ahead of her development. When she turned two, temper tantrums came as no surprise. At three, I felt prepared for the Reign of the Angry Pink Princess stage.

    Eventually, my daughter seemed less of a mystery. We existed happily on autopilot. She recently turned 13; I returned to the library.

    I’ve learned that I’m in deep doo-doo. I’ve been DO-ing lots of DON’TS. If my understanding is correct, she is developmentally appropriate and I am a moron.

    Here are some rules for speaking with a teen:

    • Don’t look too interested
    • Do keep an interested yet relaxed facial expression (without looking too interested)
    • Do tread carefully
    • Watch your daughter for signals (without looking too interested)
    • Don’t show more emotion about what she’s sharing than she does
    • Choose your words carefully (see tread carefully)
    • Keep it brief
    • Don’t interrupt

    What is a gregarious, judgmental over-sharer with a wildly expressive face to do? Seriously, I’ve been listening to my daughter, biting my lip, faking a Botox forehead and thinking, “I’m supposed to keep this up for five years?” Besides, isn’t this the same advice for a bear encounter?

    Unfortunately, I might have a bigger problem. I bombed the “Are you too Controlling?” quiz in the book, and announced the shocking news to my husband (breaking rules like: not choosing my words carefully, showing too much emotion, not treading carefully). Hubby felt the test results seemed accurate. Please, let’s not be silly, I told him. It’s just that my ideas and opinions happen to be the best ones.

    One book and one issue at a time.


  4. Misogyny Much?

    June 6, 2014 by JennySokol

    Misogyny is the new buzzword, the trendy way to describe the ancient practice of hating and mistreating women.

    A world without misogyny would be a world without child brides, genital mutilation, sex slavery, acid attacks, rape, and a whole host of other horrific crimes. It’s a world I sure would like to live in.

    Misogyny combined with mental illness, entitlement, and emasculation seems to have led to the recent shooting rampage in Isla Vista. The UC Santa Barbara killer taped a message justifying the mass shooting he would soon undertake: “I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it….all those girls that I’ve desired so much, you will finally see that, in truth, I am the superior one, the true alpha male.”

    I won’t attempt to make any sense of such a message, one that inspired the Twitter hashtag “yesallwomen” (a million tweets and counting) and the resultant “notallmen.”

    We’ve certainly come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go. After all, a woman in America is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Every nine seconds one is beaten. In terms of representation, women make up 51% of the population but only 17% of Congress. Let’s not even get into the wage gap, the glass ceiling, or the current gender gap in STEM fields.

    While the statistics are disturbing, they pale in comparison to the plight of women worldwide. Every six hours, a woman in South Africa is killed by her husband or boyfriend. Women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia, or leave their homes without permission in Yemen. Heck, they can’t even vote in Vatican City.

    Male violence and aggression towards men and women is nothing new (read the Old Testament), but isn’t it time we evolved? Here in America, isn’t it time we unite and raise awareness of the misogynistic messages in our movies, our laws and our culture? Isn’t it time we rebuff misogynistic attitudes when they rear their heads in boardrooms, locker rooms and classrooms?

    Before I began writing this post, I went for a run to think about it. As I plodded along in my dowdy sweatpants, I wondered how a person might come to believe it’s acceptable to exert power over a woman, intimidate her, hurt her, or even just say whatever he feels like to her. I heard the catcall before I even saw the man, eating his lunch in his truck, window rolled down, watching me. When I spotted him, he held my gaze (as these men always do), unashamed and hoping for a reaction.

    He wasn’t worth one. The fight is too vast and this man was too small, in so many ways. Though perhaps not as satisfying, this blog will have to serve as verbal pepper spray.


  5. No Excuses

    May 28, 2014 by JennySokol

    I’ve been away too long. No excuse, Sir/Ma’am!

    On the first day at the Naval Academy, plebes learn five basic responses:

    *No, Sir/Ma’am

    *Yes, Sir

    *Aye, Aye, Sir

    *I’ll find out, Sir

    *No excuse, Sir

    Inventing a sixth response leads to all sorts of complications, including regret, remorse, and push-ups.

    Once, my squad leader ordered me to run down four flights of stairs, go outside, pick a blade of grass, run up the stairs, and hand present it to him. All of my classmates waited for me in “front leaning rest,” aka the push-up position. I returned in near cardiac arrest to find my classmates moaning, their hands slipping in pools of sweat. My squad leader looked at my blade of grass and shook his head in feigned sorrow.

    “Wrong blade. Why did you bring the wrong one?”

    Sufficiently brainwashed, I was able to summon the correct response. “No excuse, Sir!” Then I ran downstairs in pursuit of the correct blade.

    With no excuses, I return to regular blogging.  I DO have much to discuss in the coming weeks, but first want to thank you for leaving such lovely comments. They’re so much fun to read.

    Second, I trust you marked Memorial Day in your own memorable way. I hope it wasn’t too painful (Gold Star families, we remember you).

    My daughter scrolled through her Instagram account to show me all the people wishing others a  “HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!!! :)” These were just preteens and I understand, but a part of me wishes their parents (heck, everyone’s parents) would drive them ten minutes down the road to Arlington National Cemetery, or at least explain the difference between Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and BBQ Day.  This op-ed in the Washington Post captures my sentiments much more eloquently:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charlie-mike-on-memorial-day/2014/05/23/19bc0f96-e1e5-11e3-810f-764fe508b82d_story.html

    Lastly, I’m torn over Obama’s announcement that troops are coming home from Afghanistan. As a military spouse, I don’t want my husband to redeploy for selfish reasons. Nor do I want to lose one more uniformed service person. Yet the state of Iraq is troubling and I can’t follow the logic behind announcing a pullout date two years in advance. Hopefully a 2016 date doesn’t have anything to do with Obama simply fulfilling his promise to end the wars before leaving office.

    I lived on a base in Okinawa because, essentially, Americans never left. We are still in Germany and in Korea. Our militaries train together. We maintain working relationships, we build friendships, and we also keep a watchful eye.

    That method works. I wonder: Could packing up and heading home possibly be as effective?


  6. Lookin’ Good, Feelin’ Great

    April 30, 2014 by JennySokol

    Self-acceptance must be easier for men than women.

    Have you ever heard a man say he was having a bad hair day or complain about harsh dressing room lighting? Ever heard a man ask if his butt looked too big? I believe most men look in the mirror and think, “Lookin’ good today, Champ!”

    I’ve seen a woman’s day ruined by frizzy hair or a bloated stomach pooch. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, a woman notes flaws and accepts blame. She should have skipped the brownie for dessert. She should have remembered to slather on wrinkle cream before bed.

    It’s stupid and exhausting and pointless. I’ve chosen to just embrace those last ten pounds I’ve fought for decades. I accept my cheetah-skin, spotted as it is with freckles and moles and pigmentations that confound dermatologists. I don’t look for new wrinkles. I look in the mirror and say, “You look beautiful,” not “You would look beautiful if only…”

    Self-acceptance mellowed me. I stopped timing my runs. I stopped saying yes to things I don’t want to do and perfected the art of saying no, but thanks for asking. I stopped asking for other people’s opinions.

    Those in the beauty industry must fear such self-acceptance. They rely on women to be unhappy with the way they look. The message of most ads? “You don’t look like her. You could if only…

    Even in my semi-enlightened state, I’m not impervious to such marketing. This may explain how I recently found myself in a Macy’s dressing room with hope in my heart and a handful of hangers in my hand.

    The Miraclesuit ad promised to make me look ten pounds lighter. Ten whole pounds, just like that! I believed in the miracle. I drove to Macy’s, convinced that I would pull on the suit and look quite similar to the way I did when I was twenty. How enlightened I am, indeed.

    The suit offered a bit of, shall we say, resistance, even as I pulled it on. The suit’s job is evidently to squeeze, and it wanted to clock-in and get to work immediately. My organs retreated into my body. My stomach disappeared, probably because I could no longer physically slouch.

    From the front – behold! A miracle. From the back…whoa, Nelly! I’d found the extra stuff that belonged in the front. I removed the suit as if it were on fire, blaming the horizontally cut legs, the misleading ads, the size 2 model posing on the tag.

    I fled Macy’s and high-tailed it through the mall, all the way to the parking garage. By the time I got behind the wheel, I’d remembered the truth. My body is healthy and capable – that is miracle enough for me.


  7. Choosing Right

    April 24, 2014 by JennySokol

    After years of fantasizing about a sailing vacation in the Caribbean, my family rented a 37 ft. sailboat in the British Virgin Islands. For one delicious spring break week, we planned to sail, snorkel, swim, and bond through adventure. It seemed April would never come.

    When it did, we boarded a plane with only one carry-on bag per person, committed to wearing only swimsuits, cover-ups, and shorts. (This plan proved genius only until we missed a connection on the return trip and landed in Boston.)

    On our first night at a mooring off the coast of Tortola, the endorphins kicked in. I felt as if I’d walked into one of the Moorings catalog I’d flipped through over the years.

    The hot dogs I grilled tasted like filet minion. The moon rose full over the water. I began to examine just why a person would live anywhere else. As the week progressed, I plotted a permanent escape from DC, military life, and land in general. I imagined a mega yard sale and a retirement that would please Jimmy Buffet.

    Sustaining such an emotional high is difficult, but the millionaire’s arrival certainly didn’t help.

    He entered the same bay we’d chosen one night at sunset. Two sleek security boats flanked the monstrosity. As I flipped grilled cheese sandwiches on our mini-stovetop, I watched it through a small porthole. The yacht stopped abruptly and dropped anchor, our neighbors for the night.

    Through powerful binoculars, I watched as uniformed crew served dinner to the guests – roughly five at an outside table on the fourth deck. (We later learned that the 275 ft. yacht belongs to Ron Perelman, one of the richest men in the world.)

    I arranged our sandwiches and melon slices on paper plates, and set out the Snickers bar we planned to split four ways for dessert. While we ate in the cockpit, I noticed that if I looked to the right, I saw swaying palm trees and the bluest water imaginable lapping the sand. Between my family, the melted cheese, the promise of chocolate, and the view, I had it all. But if I looked to the left, I only saw what I didn’t have: air conditioning, servants, a mattress with lumbar support, and toilet that could tolerate actual toilet paper.

    We’d saved so much money for a week on that 37 ft. boat in paradise. We were at the top of our game. We felt joyful and blessed and rich. I took a bite of buttery grilled cheese and chose to look to the right.


  8. The Reunion Rules

    April 8, 2014 by JennySokol

    Separations are tough on marriages, and military life is full of them. Separations are supposed to be tough, though; it’s expected. What’s less expected is when reunions are tough.

    I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a completely smooth reunion, especially one that follows a combat deployment. (If I did, I didn’t believe it.)

    Reunion training ensued when the military community collectively realized that the wars weren’t going to end in 2004, and that homecomings were becoming increasing complicated. I’ve read the handouts. I’ve attended the counseling. I’ve learned from experience.

    At first, I learned the basics. Don’t drop the babies in Hubby’s lap and tell him you’re exhausted  (at least not immediately). Then I graduated to the more advanced lessons, including don’t insist he watch the firework show at DisneyLand (explosives, crowds, and an unnerving, giant mouse).

    Eventually, it dawned on me that the “reunion rules” shouldn’t only apply to reunions. If I could just follow the “reunion rules” consistently, my marriage would thrive. Everyone’s would. I haven’t mastered them yet, but I’m working on them.

    I’ve learned that pain lurks in unexpected places. There are unseen wounds that even time can’t heal. All you can do is listen.

    I’ve learned that now is not the time to overindulge. Do not spend tons of money celebrating. Don’t drink too much. Go to sleep, for heaven’s sake. Stop eating cake and go for a walk.

    I’ve learned to schedule a date without the kids. Do this even if you’re convinced that the kids need you every waking second and especially if they look at their Grammie and scream as if she’s a wicked witch. Also, if anyone asks if you want to sign up for a couple’s retreat, say yes. You probably look like you need one.

    I’ve learned that no one wants to communicate with someone who is overly critical. When emotions are high, be gentle and respect one another. In other words, geez Jenny, shut your pie-hole and listen already.

    Lastly, laugh, play, and be patient. A happy marriage is a marathon, not sprint.

    To all you who have more years of experience than I do, what have I missed?


  9. Conscious Uncoupling

    March 28, 2014 by JennySokol

    Gwyneth Paltrow is a polarizing figure, meaning she’s more annoying than a telemarketer at dinnertime. Yes, this post is shaping up to be awfully judgmental. I’m moody and Lent stinks and winter in Virginia apparently does not end in the spring.

    Back to Gwyneth. Once, I watched a TV segment in which Gwyneth and her trainer (who likely had her hip bones surgically removed) talked about the unattractiveness of muscles. So bulky and unfeminine. From Gwyneth’s website GOOP, I learned that most of what I eat is toxic. Also I’m comparatively pudgy, lazy, and poor. So no Gwyneth for me, thank you.

    I didn’t cackle wickedly when I read that Gwyneth and her rock star husband separated (because I’m a decent human being, even when moody). I did, however, cackle wickedly when she called her impending divorce “conscious uncoupling.”

    “We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and coparent, we will be able to continue in the same manner.”

    Surprisingly, “conscious uncoupling” is a real thing, and not invented by Gwyneth herself.  Like all bizarre new age trends (think cupping, oil pulling, leech therapy), conscious uncoupling sounds ridiculous.

    During the five-week, multi-step program, a devotee undergoes  intense self-examination. Blame and finger-pointing is a big no-no. The authors of the book “Conscious Uncoupling”  explain on GOOP that people in 1900 rarely lived fifty years. People nowadays live too long to be in one monogamous marriage. Essentially, blame evolution, not your exoskeleton of anger and resentment. The words endoskeleton and exoskeleton appear frequently, as well as self-love, consciousness, and psychic infrastructure.

    “When our masculine and feminine energies reach equilibrium once more, we can emerge from our old relationship and consciously call in someone who reflects our new  world, not the old one.”

    For the evolved, conscious uncoupling is actually about coming together, not apart. What this means is that Gwyneth is even better at divorce than regular folk.

    Or is she? What about all that stuff she’s going to miss out on, like a divorce party with Pin the Tail on the Ex and a cake shaped like male genitalia? And she’ll miss out on scratching up his car and ruining his life while she’s focusing on her endoskeleton. What a shame. What’s so wrong with good old fashioned rage?

    During all that self-examination, maybe finger-pointing should occur. Maybe you’ve been a condescending jerk or a cheater-cheater-pumpkin eater. Now would be a perfect time to examine those tendencies to avoid future conscious uncoupling.

    Ah, I feel better. Honesty, judgement, and a spoonful (or three) of vanilla frosting does wonders for the soul. Gwyneth could learn a thing or two from me.


  10. Now Accepting Compliments

    March 20, 2014 by JennySokol

    When I receive a compliment, I try my darnedest to simply smile and say “thank you.”  This doesn’t come naturally.

    I used to accept a compliment like this:

    “I like your shirt!”

    “What, this old thing? I got it at Goodwill, in the bargain bin. I had to wash it in Borax because of the smell and the underarms stains. It makes me look fat, so I wear it on days when I’m already feeling bloated.”

    Once I realized the pathetic error of my ways, I slapped myself upside the head. I began to notice when others deflected or dismissed compliments, and it started to bug me. If I say I love your hairstyle, I mean I love your hairstyle. I don’t want to hear about how your hair is secretly frizzy and unmanageable and thinning. 

    The other day, I remembered that I needed to pass this nugget of wisdom along to my daughter. She was watching TV, smashing popcorn into her pie-hole in a way that is endearing only if you are young and attractive. I told her I needed to teach her the proper way to accept a compliment. She paused the remote and said, “Oh, I know how to do that already.”

    Skeptical, I tested her. “I love that barrette.”

    “Thanks.”

    I pushed further. “Nice earrings. My grandma has those, too.”

    “Thanks.”

    Awestruck, I was. Evidently her classmates take it one step further. My daughter dished that girls these days don’t just accept compliments, they agree them them, as in:

    “I love your scarf!”

    “I know, me too. Thanks!”

    or

    “Your hair looks so cute in that braid!”

    “I know, my sister is the best at braiding! Thanks!”

    I find this possible trend both refreshing and disturbing. Like all generations, the selfie generation will face unique challenges. It seems as if confidence and the ability to receive compliments will not be among them.