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Entries in love (3)


Suburban Mommy Monsters

My daughter showing off her backyard snowman, c. 1991If I am being honest, I am glad to have an adult child at this point in my life and to be freed from the day-to-day travails of child rearing. Reflections on my young mommy years have drawn me into silent mommy watching all around me--on the train, in restaurants, and at the grocery store. 

Sometimes it is refreshing to see young mothers enjoying the journey. One young mom on my commuter train chats with her baby son during the entire half hour ride, asking gentle questions like, "Can you hear the wind?" and "What do you see outside the window?" My now-grown daughter who taught preschool for years told me that talking with your child at an early age is critical to their intellectual and language development.

Sadly, I encounter more bad mothering episodes than good. Case in point, the Suburban Mommy Monster I observed at Lancaster's premier grocery store Stauffers of Kissel Hill. Stauffers is a family-run store that has for decades committed themselves to creating a shopping experience. They offer lots of samples year round, especially in the produce department. I'll stop at Stauffers after a long day to pick up something for dinner and be revived by a juicy little morsel of cantaloupe or a ruby red grapefruit slice. It's a tiny reprieve from the noisy, gritty, lumbering commute I face daily.

On one such stop-by after work, I pulled into the parking lot, and climbed out of my car, expectantly, anxious for my tiny shopping experience (as opposed to trip) to lift my spirits.

I heard Suburban Mommy Monster before I saw her. Doors slamming. They are no sooner out of the car then she's scolding her three little charges, clad exceedingly well to brave the chilly wind-whipped day in adorable puffy pink coats and fleece-lined pink boots. I can't tell what she is saying to them on the way into the store--only the tone. Sharp, mean, hateful. Lots of "no's" and "I said no."

She herself is a typical Suburban Lancaster Mommy--trim, well-dressed, attractive. The minions trudge behind her, except the littlest one whose tiny mittened hand she clutches in hers like this poor child (three at most) is the most loathesome creature on earth.

The produce section is right up front. I enter the store. Jackpot! Fresh navel orange slices, grapefruit sections, pineapple chunks, honeydew and cantaloupe pieces set out for sampling. A tropical haven for weary travelers.

"Don't anyone touch those samples! No samples, I said," Suburban Mommy Monster snarls as I myself savor an orange slice. The flesh is sweet and full of juice. A perfect piece of fruit for which shoppers pay a perfect price.

The little girls and their tiny tummies muster no challenge against the Suburban Mommy Monster. Not even the tiniest whine of protest. They scuffle behind her to the canned goods aisle.

This particular Stauffers is the smallest of their stores in the area. It's perfect for doing catch-up shopping more so than a week's worth of groceries. It is like a little dalliance rather than a full on shopping tour of duty. If one is dallying, why wouldn't you want growing little girls to enjoy a little piece of fruit? Something healthful to tickle their palates and stave off hunger until dinnertime?

I grab the few items I need for dinner plus some I don't--a half a pound of peel and eat shrimp, fresh mushrooms, Gouda cheese.

Only one cashier is open so I steer my cart towards the checkout. Whose purchases are being rung up ahead of me? Why, Suburban Mommy Monster's, of course.

"Would you like a rewards card?" the cashier kindly asks. All the cashiers are always kind at Stauffers. Great customer service is their hallmark.

In the nicest, most mellifluous voice I believe I have ever heard in my five decades on Planet Earth, Suburban Mommy Monster purrs, "Not this time. But perhaps the next time we stop in. Thanks so much for the offer. I appreciate it."

My mouth dropped open. Suburban Mommy Monster can be lovely and charming with strangers. But can't be warm and kind to her own children? Let me tell you something, Suburban Mommy Monster. There will be plenty of people in your seemingly adorable children's lives who will have no kind word for them. They will be teased, bullied, picked on, and passed over as they grow by plenty of others. If you can't show your children love, if your home is no safe haven, then you have just sealed the deal to deliver three more Suburban Mommy Monsters into the world in due time.

Why did this incident rankle me? I think it's because I have trotted out the phony baloney tone of voice in a similar situation. It is patently clear the harm this woman is doing her own children. Even at 3, 4, and 5, their little psyches can feel the sting. Big people who don't even know Mommy are more important than we are. We are nobodies. Worse than nobodies. We are burdensome. Well-dressed little splinters who deserve our Mommy's scorn.

Looking back, my daughter's childhood years passed far too quickly. I know I didn't always appreciate those young mother years for the treasure they were. Perhaps that's why seeing Suburban Mommy Monsters stings so much now.

I'd much rather have a do-over than be tormented by Suburban Mommy Monsters for the rest of my life. My only hope for redemption is grandchildren. Someday, perhaps. But not soon enough.


Celebrate the little things

Bluebirds and thank you's mean more than you think.

It is a gray, chilly morning in Southcentral Pennsylvania. Colder and damper than anyone expects for the second week of spring, with April just around the bend.

But none of that really matters today.

You see, I saw a pair of bluebirds in the planter on the back deck. A flash of cerulean blue caught my eye, a shade rarely seen in my backyard. And there they were, nestled by the coco-shred liner of a hanging basket, pecking at seeds that the wind carried there from a nearby feeder. After they flew away, I jumped up and scattered more seed, hoping to lure them back.

I recently learned that bluebirds pair off during mating season and remain monogamous while their mate is living. Every time I see a pair of bluebirds, I think of them as a happily married couple, with 2.4 children (and a minivan).

Another lovely little joy that occurred this week is that a Philadelphia arts company thanked me for the four-star review I'd given them on

Oh, and one reviewer of WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'?, someone I've never met, wrote that one of my scenes made her heart "skip a beat."

(Truth be told, it made my own heart skip a beat while I wrote and edited it. I still shudder, even after mulling it over for probably the thousandth time. You embody each character as you write scenes and deeply experience everything they feel, or at least I do.)

The scene that made one reader's heart skip a beat featured Marc Levy, a local police detective with an old-fashioned sensibility.For most of us, life doesn't dole out huge joys and accolades to savor day to day. Or a potential cause for celebration pops up, something you may have anticipated for decades, and you find yourself off the guest list for reasons that you can't fathom.

That's why it is important to celebrate little things.

I kicked up my heels last evening when I found a website listing the best movies currently streaming on Netflix. If like my husband Bill and I, you have already binge-watched the second season of House of Cards, finding this site is like finding a mother lode of Saturday night entertainment.  

Now that I have logged more years on the planet than I have ahead of me, I try to take stock in the simple thank you, the thoughtful book review, or the kind email from a friend who says he just had to buy a copy of your latest book. (Thanks, Jim!)

Or an early morning visit from a little pair of bluebirds.

If the big things in life tend to disappoint you, why not turn to all the less consequential goings-on instead? 

Take the measure of the small stuff, and string all those little joys together to create your own little corner of contentment.


Don Juan's love languages

Did you ever notice people *subconsciously* give things they themselves like to receive? For instance, I like buying soft things--comfy sweaters, throw blankets, scarves. Now, everyone knows what to get me for Christmas.

This notion can apply to Valentine's Day giving, too. I rarely purchase candy for someone unless (like my daughter) she is an avowed chocolate lover. I'm not really hoping to get a box of chocolate truffles or chocolate turtles. Gummi bears, maybe.

Flowers are another matter entirely. (Bring on the roses!)

This idea of preferring to give and receive certain kinds of gifts ties into the notion that human beings possess a love language or languages, which the inventor of the concept Dr. Gary Chapman calls the primary way of expressing and interpreting love.

In case you aren't familiar with the concept, the love languages are:

  • Words of affirmation - "I love ya, honey. I love ya."
  • Quality time - "Sit right beside me, honey, while I watch the Super Bowl."
  • Acts of service _ "You washed and waxed my car?" Oh, you shouldn't have, honey."
  • Receiving gifts - "You got me a necklace from Jane Seymour's Open Heart Collection? Honey, you shouldn't have. You really shouldn't have."
  • Physical touch - "You don't mind if I rest my hand on your thigh while you're driving, do ya, honey?"

Most people have a predominant way(s) of expressing love. The trick, then, to pleasing someone is to discover and speak their love language, even if you don't speak their native tongue.

Don Giovanni is wooing Zerlina, a soon-to-be bride, but not his soon-to-be bride.I've been keeping company with history's most legendary lover, Don Juan, one casualty of writing a modern retelling of the legend. As characterized in the libretto of the Mozart opera Don Giovanni (Italian for Don Juan), Don Giovanni speaks two love languages--words of affirmation and physical touch.

In Act I, when he sees a damsel in distress that he doesn't yet recognize as the woman he'd thrown over in another town, Don Giovanni says, "I think I'll go and try just to console her." Notice he doesn't say, "I think I'll hand her this daisy I just picked." Don Giovanni uses words to  impress and later seduce.

Similarly, he's more afflicted by name-calling than having sticks and stones tossed his way, a sure sign that words are his love language. A little later in Act 1, he tells the same trying woman, "Hush, be still. Thy silly raving will a rabble gather round us."

So, ladies if you want to catch the eye of Don Juan-type, don't skimp on the affirming words. Similarly, if you want to wound a Don Juan, wound with words.

In my book, the Don Juan character takes great umbrage when another character says he has a big head.

"What you mean, big head?" he says, highly insulted.

As you might have guessed, Don Giovanni also speaks the language of physical touch.  In the aria " ci darem la mano," Giovanni sings, "Give me thy hand, oh fairest. Whisper a gentle 'Yes.'"

In another passage in Act II, he mentions both of his love languages in one passage sung to a maidservant on a balcony he's admiring from the street below: "Than roses art thou fairer, than honey sweeter, Balmier 'tis when thou sighest than western breezes. Oh, come, my fair, descend, I entreat thee!" He combines his love languages frequently, so it's difficult to tell which one is dominant, but I'll go out on a limb and say words.

If you are writing a character in a relationship, you might want to consider what love languages he or she responds to. Give different characters different languages for more diversity and to create other sources of conflict between them.

Because he's been so successful with the ladies, Don Juan hasn't given much thought as to the languages of the women he's chasing. Maybe Zerlina likes to have things done for her. Maybe if he had said, "Come my love, and let me do your laundry, he'd have had a better result."

If you want to be a Don Juan this Valentine's Day, pay more attention to the language that your love responds to (rather than the one you respond to).

And act accordingly.