I'm riding in the passenger seat of my friend's dad's car, looking at a blurry mid-90s version of Chapel Hill as we listen to a cassette of Full Moon Fever that her dad left in the tape deck. She's the first in our group to get her license, and Tom Petty is our ambassador into this new level of freedom. We drive down country roads just to drive, just to listen to Tom Petty run down a dream.
I'm in the passenger seat again, and this whole "driving without an adult" thing is no longer a novelty. It's just a way to get from one place to another. But there is something special about riding down the Pacific Coast Highway in this particular car. It's a black Pontiac being driven by a nice young gentleman who I know I'll be spending the rest of my life with. Not that we've known each other that long. Not that there's a ring on my finger. It's that whole "when you know, you know" thing. California is on the stereo, and I can't help but agree with Tom Petty that California's been good to me. I feel safe in this Pontiac. When you know, you know. "Sometimes you got to trust yourself," sing both Toms—the one who wrote the song and the one who's driving the Pontiac.
It's my first time at the Hollywood Bowl, and I'm here for my first Tom Petty concert. It's one of those perfect California June nights, our friends hooked us up with super special Tom Petty Fan Club seats, and the opening act is this obscure singer/songwriter named STEVE WINWOOD (no joke). I've made a couple of big decisions since that day in the Pontiac. First, I am marrying Tom from said Pontiac, and second, we will be moving back east at the end of the summer. As the night goes on, I realize that singing along with Tom Petty at the Hollywood Bowl is the perfect way to close the California chapter on my life.
News flash: I am not special. Many, many people have a Tom Petty soundtrack to their lives. Each soundtrack is its own singular mix tape with its own codes and meanings. That's why I felt hesitant when I started reading Petty: The Biography, by Warren Zanes.
Running' Down a Dream meant newfound vehicular freedom in mid-90s Chapel Hill. California conjures the feeling of relief and safety you feel when you're cruising down the PCH in a Pontiac with your forever person. Was I prepared to learn what these songs are really about? I was still recovering from learning that Patty Griffin wrote Heavenly Day about her dog. No biggie, it was just OUR WEDDING SONG.
Nevertheless, I persisted. And holy Zombie Zoo, am I glad I read this book. If you are a Tom Petty fan, or a fan of music, or a fan of biographies, or a person who is interested in the music business, read this book.
First, let's talk about the writing. It's good. So good. Zanes has a way of putting Tom Petty's essence into a perfect set of words, when I could only ever come up with a cloud of feelings.
"Petty's romanticism wasn't along the lines of Springsteen or Waits, two songwriters who worked with elaborate panoramas of image, character, and place. His narratives were always more skeletal, perhaps less self-conscious."
"He would never oversell a song, never push its feelings on you, but he learned, somehow, to bring the truth out of a lyric."
(My) Tom and I have had lots of road trip discussions about Tom Petty—how he compares to other artists, how to describe his lyrics and instrumentation, which album is his best (I say Full Moon Fever, Tom says Damn the Torpedoes, and don't @ me because I Won't Back Down). Reading this book was like Zanes parachuting into our car through the window and being like, "lemme break it down for y'all..."
Now let's talk about the main character of Petty: The Biography. I mean, besides the obvious one. The second-most prominent character in this book, the one looming behind all the stories and analysis, is hindsight.
Hindsight can be instructive and heartbreaking at the same time. Especially the kind of hindsight that comes with knowing how this story ends. Petty: The Biography was published in November 2015, in what we now know was the penultimate year of Tom Petty's life. This final, non-negotiable hindsight made a beautiful book painful around the edges.
Hindsight also poses questions, like, What if Tom Petty had ended his marriage when he realized it was making him miserable? What if The Heartbreakers had let Stan Lynch go when they realized he was polluting the dynamics of the group? And, finally, What if Tom Petty had believed the knuckleheads at MCA when they rejected Full Moon Fever?
That last question brings up the bright side of hindsight—the one we can all learn from. Tom Petty ALWAYS believed in his ability to create something worthwhile, even when he was just a kid from a messed up family in Gainesville. When MCA said "no thanks" to Full Moon Fever (ahem, his best album) did he believe their lies? Nope. He believed in himself. In hindsight, that belief is what made his story worth telling.
We will all be forced to deal with knuckleheads who will say "no thanks" to our stuff. If we believe them, rather than believing in ourselves, well, that makes for a pretty short biography, doesn't it?
In honor of the 91st Academy Awards airing yesterday, I was inspired to create my own list of awards. Welcome to the First Annual Ma-scars! (That's Ma as in Ma! The Meatloaf!)
Being a Ma is a whirlwind of tasks, emotions, and experiences that overwhelms me at times. That's why I want to recognize this super-random and oddly specific list of things that have made my momlife better.
Please, please, please share your list with me! find me on Twitter at @friedbumblebeez or talk to me in the comments at the end of this post.
Important note: there are zero affiliate links in this post. I have no financial interest in you buying any of these things. I'm writing this for free, which is probably dumb, but I like sharing things that have helped me, as much as I like hearing about things that have helped other people.
Without further adieu, I present the winner of the First Annual Ma-scars, in random order. (OMG so random.)
Step aside, Ray Donovan. My glue gun is the hottest fixer around. Indisputable fact: Moms need hot glue guns. If I could give a hot glue gun at every baby shower in America, I would. I don't care if that's weird.
Here's the thing about babies, toddlers, kids, basically all humans from zero to four feet tall: they break stuff. All the time. Like it's their job. Rather than deal with tears and having to replace all the broken stuff, just treat yo'self to a glue gun. Get tons of replacement glue sticks on Amazon and you're all set. (Buy through Amazon Smile and support your favorite charity!)
Oscar Tie-In: DIY Oscar statues made from Ken dolls. The instructions don't call for a glue gun, but it would totally work here. And, by the way, I am so not the person who would host an Oscar party or attempt an Oscar-themed craft, but if I were that type of person, I would be bout this in a heartbeat.
The Small But Mighty Award goes to my library card.
From my eight-year-old's first baby story time to this past weekend when we spent a rainy afternoon at our local branch, the library has been a constant source of enjoyment and enrichment for my kids and me.
Aside from the obvious perks of checking out books, audiobooks and movies for free and getting anything you want sent to your local branch, most libraries have a bunch of other cool benefits that fly under the radar.
In New Jersey we got free passes to local museums. Free, as in, save yourself like fifty bucks free. The kids did story time, Spanish class, and a nutrition class where they cooked and sampled healthy recipes. The Livingston NJ library was my office when I was studying for my teacher exams. Quieter and more seating options than Starbucks, and think of all the money I saved by not buying $4 lattes. Plus my clothes didn't smell like the inside of a coffee grinder when I got home.
Here in Charlotte, my son has absolutely torn through the Captain Underpants series (yeah, we like the esoteric stuff in our family). Rather than pay for every single one of those books, I just put in a request online when he's ready for the next one. Having a book with your name on it waiting for you on a special shelf at your library is a special kind of happiness for a kid. Not spending a hundred dollars on the Captain Underpants series is a special kind of happiness for a Ma.
Oscar Tie-In: Here is my favorite movie scene involving the public library, in which Will Hunting says, "You dropped 150 grand on an education you coulda got for a dahla fifty in late chahges at the public library."
The Fake Bake Award
I don't want to brag, but I am a bit of a connoisseur of taking the easy way out of the culinary arts. That's why I would like to share the fact that Trader Joe's baking mixes turn out AMAZING every time.
Take their banana bread mix. It tastes like real banana bread, but you only have to add one or two things, do a couple stirs, and you're done. People will think you did some crazy baking things like "using real banana" or "adding wet ingredients to dry ingredients" or "measuring." Gah! Who has time for that?
Oscar Tie-In: This one-minute video about Trader Joe's Movie Theater Popcorn is surprisingly soothing and calming.
Best Supporting Bake Faker
All this talk of banana bread leads me to my next secret weapon: the mini loaf pan.
I'm not what you'd call a kitchen gadget collector, but I did somehow end up with a mini loaf pan, and I must recognize the essential role it plays in me pretending I spend all this time in the kitchen when I'm really drinking sauvignon blanc and watching that reality show about dummies who work on a yacht.
So here's what you do: You get a Trader Joe's baking mix, and then you use your mini loaf pan, then you put each mini loaf in a cute little bag (hello, Dollar Store) and you have a nice little homemade-ish teacher/coach/bus driver/neighbor gift. The other helpful thing about a mini loaf pan is that it makes four to six loaves at once, in less baking time than a single loaf. YES PLEASE.
Oscar Tie-In: When it comes to bread and movies, it doesn't get any better than this iconic scene from "Moonstruck" (my mom's favorite movie)!
Best Accidentally Educational Purchase
I wasn't trying to be educational when I got the kids these map placemats for Christmas. I just wanted a barrier between their unending syrup seepage and our table.
I had no idea how this Amazon add-on would turn my kids into geography buffs. It makes sense, though, when you think about how much time kids spend eating.
An added bonus is that these maps are an instant distraction from annoying mealtime kid behaviors (off the top of my head: squabbling over the sour cream tub, farting, belching, giving a 25-minute play-by-play of a recess game called Moose Man and the Evil Ducks.) "Quick, what's the capital of Idaho?" works every time.
Oscar Tie-In: The 45 best travel films of all time, according to Conde Nast Traveler. (I've only seen 16 of them!)
Best Beef Nachos, Etc.
I've discovered that keeping myself fed is the fulcrum on which the teeter-totter of motherhood balances. When I mess that up, everything slides downhill into the mud.
That's why I have to tell you about Clean Eatz. It's a franchise that offers meal plans, grab and go meals, and smoothies, all with healthy ingredients and all delicious. (Trust me, I like health but not enough to sacrifice taste.)
I order four Clean Eatz lunches for myself every Thursday and pick them up every Monday. I'm not a neuroscientist (contain your shock) but there must be some kind of dopamine hit associated with choosing my meals and then stocking the fridge with four identical containers full of delicious food that I don't have to cook. I get so much joy out of looking at their meal plan and creating my own li'l menu each week.
I feel the need to remind you here that I have no money to make off of this or any recommendation here. I just really want you to know the joy of having someone else cook you a healthy and delicious lunch so you can focus on crushing it (life, not your lunch) all week.
I am too lazy to figure out the geographic coverage of Clean Eatz stores, but for my LKN readers, Clean Eatz is at Kenton Place near Galway Hooker in Cornelius.
Oscar tie-in: Here is every Leonardo DiCaprio Oscar-Nominated Role Made Into Latte Art.
Thank you for getting to the end of my Ma-scars list! Your reward is that instead of going to an after-party, you get to take a nap.
But before your well-deserved nap, one request: please tell me the award-worthy things in your life. I really want to know! Whether you're a kid-mom, dog-mom, kid-dad, fish-dad, or really just anyone. I want to hear it.
When I was a kid, I loved book reports. Reading a book and getting to tell someone all about it was my jam. So that's why my goal for 2019 is to read one book a month and tell you all about it. I hope my nerdosity helps you find a great book to read, or simply take something useful away from one of my posts.
I knew something had to change when my six-year-old told me she didn't want to be a mommy "because it looks like too much work."
When I heard about How to Be a Happier Parent by KJ Dell'Antonia, the former editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog, I was like, "Yes, please!"
It's not that I'm an unhappy parent. I love being a mom. It's just that there's so much of it all the time. If I don't occasionally take a step back, I find myself doing more nagging than hugging, and I reach the end of the day wondering where the joy went. And according to my daughter's comment, I don't get to have grandchildren unless I can make motherhood look a bit more joyful.
I generally avoid reading parenting books, and when I do read them, I take them with a healthy dose of skepticism. I once read a book that said I should repeat all my toddler's words back to him like a caveman. And then there's the sleep chapter in What to Expect the First Year, which will make you want to set the book on fire and throw it in front of a speeding UPS truck.
How to Be a Happier Parent was the most helpful, empathetic, and accessible parenting book I have ever read.
Why? Two reasons.
First, her content and delivery are phenomenal. This is not a researcher talking about lab rats. This is a real mom in the real world. She comes from a compassionate, nonjudgmental place. And she's one of those skilled writers who makes it look easy.
Her examples are self-deprecating and authentic. Example: "This morning two of my children argued for ten minutes over whether their school was closed for Rosh Hashanah in 2015." My children tend to fight over pieces of garbage they find in the backseat, but I still relate to this example and love her for sharing it.
Second, she gets us. Rather than hitting us over the head with statistics and impossibly complex action items, she gives us the problem and follows it with a handful of solutions. Then we get to pick the solution that works best for us.
KJ starts the book by giving us Ten Mantras for Happier Parents. I LOVE THESE SO MUCH I have to share them with you:
1. What you want now isn't always what you want later
Taking the easy way out now means your kids won't have the stuff they need to be functional or happy adults. (i.e. Make them put their own dishes in the dishwasher.)
2. There is nothing wrong
"Fundamentally, nearly always, things are still okay." Even when you're surrounded by squabbles, unfolded laundry, and that damn norovirus.
3. People, including children - especially children - change
Let your kids change and grow; don't assume they will stay lazy, messy, stubborn, picky, obsessed with hornets (that last one might be particular to my child).
4. You don't have to go in there
This is my favorite. This is life-changing: I don't have to be infected by my family's moods. I can just...not go in there.
5. If you see something, don't always say something
This is another big one for me. I don't have to intervene in every squabble or make a thing out of every single item left on the floor.
6. You do you
I know my limits and I know what will work for my family. Some people are campers. We are not. Some people take pictures of their babies with adorable signs announcing how many months old they are. I was lucky if I even knew how many months old my second baby was. And that's OK. I don't have to be exactly as energetic, productive, and sociable as the most energetic, productive, or sociable mom in my Instagram feed. I gotta be me.
7. You can be happy when your children aren't
"Sympathy and empathy don't have to mean that our worlds come crashing down around us when that's how it feels to our kids." In fact, it's way better for our children when we can stay calm in the midst of their perceived crises.
8. Decide what to do, then do it
As a mom, I don't have to make that many decisions. Just about two million per day. It helps to remember that most of these decisions are not life-altering. Just decide, then stick to it, and move on to the next decision, which will be coming up in one and a half seconds.
9. You don't have to get it right every time
It's the intention and the effort that matter. "You will bring the wrong child to the dentist, you will buy dinner from a vending machine, and you will realize that there isn't always a "right" choice anyway."
10. Soak up the good
Our brains want to remember the negative, in order to protect us in the future. But we don't have mammoths lurking outside our cave doors anymore, so we have to train our brains to soak up the good.
I try to ask myself, "What is good in this situation?" when I need a mental reset. And there's always an answer to this question. Except during homework time. Homework time can suck it.
Speaking of homework, that's one of the issues KJ delves into later in the book. My next post will cover her tips for being a happier parents while dealing with things like homework, sibling squabbles, screen time, discipline, and meal time.
Please share which mantra blew your mind the most!
Unless you've been living under a rock or walking around with a blindfold on, you've probably heard of Bird Box. The movie stars Sandra Bullock, has already spawned its own social media challenge, and, according to Netflix, was viewed by 45 million subscribers in seven days.
If you know me well, you know it takes me about six years to catch on to cultural trends. I watched the final season of The Sopranos on an old DVD that I checked out from the library years after that famous diner scene aired. I made everyone talk about Sons of Anarchy with me well past the point where anyone else was interested (like, two weeks ago).
So I'm kind of surprised that I'm one of the 45 million Netflix subscribers who's seen Bird Box - especially considering my general avoidance of horror movies. (They're like donuts: easy to consume but they haunt me for days.)
I guess I wanted to find out what all the hullabaloo was about. And what, exactly, a bird box is. So please enjoy my almost-spoiler-free and completely unsolicited review of Bird Box. Side note: Why do movie reviews always start with a lengthy synopsis of the plot? I just want to know if the movie's worth my time. If you want a lengthy synopsis of the plot go read The New Yorker's review. (Spoiler alert: they hate everything.)
As for me, I really liked it! Maybe I had low expectations and was kind of doing my "if everyone likes it, I bet it's dumb" snobbery. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and not just because I'm a Sandra Bullock fan from back in the Miss Congeniality days.
It's more thriller than horror, so if you prefer suspense over gore, you'll do well with Bird Box. However, there is plenty of violence, which I dealt with by taking a cue from the movie and covering my eyes.
I found the acting to be A-OK, which Tom disagrees with. So there's your balanced assessment. We had fun playing "WHERE THE HELL IS THAT GUY FROM," with IMBD coming in very handy. (Dr. Henry Wu from Jurassic Park! Zoe from Parenthood! John Malkovich from that movie about being John Malkovich!) And then there's Sandra Bullock, who could make a turd like 28 Days totally watchable. (OK, not totally watchable. Watchable if it's on cable and you're folding laundry.)
Prior to watching Bird Box, I had done some googling and found all these Youtube videos where they explain the ending. So I was paranoid that the ending was going to confound me. I really hate confounding or ambiguous endings. Life is confounding enough - I don't need my entertainment to add to it.
I am happy to report that the ending of Bird Box is completely clear, understandable, and unambiguous. I have no idea why anyone would need the ending explained. So fear not, fellow haters of ambiguity. This Bird Box gets tied up with a nice pretty bow at the end.
However, if you are a person who needs to know the Five W's about the evil forces in this movie, you will be frustrated. If you're OK just sort of generally knowing what happens to each of the characters, you will be satisfied. I'm fascinated by humans and pretty hands-off about spirits and monsters so I was fine with those unanswered questions.
And now for my life lesson takeaway, because everything has to have a life lesson takeaway or else why waste your time? My takeaway comes from this line from Tom (Trevante Rhodes) telling Malorie (Sandra Bullock) how to be a good mom while surviving in a tenuous dystopia: "You need to love them knowing you could lose them at any moment." (I'm paraphrasing, because Google has finally failed me and I can't find the exact quote.)
We may not be living in Bird Box times, but the concept still hits home. I would love to know what you thought of the movie, what your life lesson takeaway was, and whether you think life lesson takeaways are dumb. (My children loooooove it when I make them come up with life lesson takeaways from whatever they're watching, whether it's Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse or Trolls: The Beat Goes On!)
I knew I had a problem when I took my kids to see The Grinch and it was like looking in a mirror. I recognized myself in his anti-Christmas antics. I related to his desire to just be left alone in his (awesome, in my opinion) cave lair. I sunk down in my movie seat when he freaked out about having to go to the grocery store the week before Christmas because it would be too crowded. I've done that. A lot.
I don't tolerate the retail experience well under the best circumstances. I'm such a grumpy bugger that I don't even go to Target or Walmart...like, ever. So when December rolls around, and all the fair-weather Trader Joe's shoppers turn my happy place into amateur hour, and all the parking spots vanish, I get crabby and kind of stay that way for the rest of the year.
Couple this with the other rituals of December, and my patience bucket empties out right quick. The Sign Up Genius emails bombard my inbox with their baked good demands, the germ parade starts marching around the neighborhood school, the days get shorter while my list of obligations gets longer, and I turn from Grinchy to Grinchier.
For me, December represents too much of everything. I long for the clean slate of January, when there's nothing to do except make goals and schedules and all that nerdy stuff that I like. Everyone goes back into their own lane, puts their heads down, and carries on.
So...yeah. I'm super fun to be around in December. Just ask my family.
Which brings up the number one (and only) reason I try, every year, to figure out a way to find the joy in the chaos: my family. Every year, I approach the holiday season determined to mitigate the struggle just a little more than last year. I make an honest effort to find a way to be a smidge more pleasant for the people who have to put up with me.
In 2016 I actually typed up and printed out a list called Things I Learned in December and pinned it to the December page of my 2017 calendar. The first item on that list? Don't be Class Mom. I'm in my kids' classrooms at least once a week. I put my name on every Sign Up Genius that comes my way. I try to help wherever I can. I have been Class Mom at least three times, and my oldest is only in second grade. But I know myself well enough to admit that being Class Mom during the holidays makes me less enjoyable to be around, and that's not fair to my People. So it's a Christmas Don't.
Want to know what else is on my list? I doubt any of you are as Grinchy as me, but I hope some of these things are helpful. I know I'm not the only one who struggles during this time of year.
1. Practice Saying No
This year marked the first time I ever put my name on a Sign Up Genius and then...didn't bring the thing I signed up for. It was a batch of baked goods for the service club my kids belong to. They were singing at the local police department. I love our local police. I love the fact that my kids got to sing Christmas carols for them. And I love all the other moms for bringing their homemade treats, because it made my lack of participation inconspicuous. You have to pick and choose what you bow out of, but I highly recommend you practice bowing out when it's harmless.
Homework: Look at these five research-based ways to say no during the holidays. They're practical and doable, even for all of us people pleasers. Pick one and use it before December 31.
2. Choose a Motto
Did I mention how much I hate winter weather? And I live in North Carolina. I have no right to complain. But here I am complaining. I won't run outside if it's colder than 45 degrees. But I also have to run or else I will get so irritable that my family will make me find a new house to live in. So, I've been using the treadmill, and listening to podcasts to counteract the crushing monotony.
On a recent episode of the Happier podcast, Gretchen Rubin and her co-host (and sister) Elizabeth Craft talked about choosing a holiday motto. The motto serves as a mantra to keep you focused on what you love about the holidays. It's also a way to decide which parts of the holidays matter to you, and which ones you can let go of.
My motto this Christmas is Comfort and Joy. I am such a task-driven person that I have to consciously remind myself that comfort and joy matter. Having the motto helps.
Homework: Choose a motto and use it to stay focused on what matters to you. You can also use your motto as a theme around your holiday activities and gift giving. Here are some examples from the podcast: Let it snow, let your heart be light, 'tis the season to be jolly.
3. Plan and Prevent
Every year we get up early on December 26 and drive ten hours to New Jersey to spend time with our family. It is SO worth making the trip to see with the people we had to say goodbye to when we moved to North Carolina.
We do a post-Christmas get together, catch up with each other, annoy the teenagers by talking about how much they've grown, and reconnect with the place we called home for eight years.
This will be our third year making the trek, and by now I've learned how important it is to plan and prevent, so we can focus on enjoying our visit.
Ain't no packing list as detailed as my December Road Trip packing list. Don't forget the Yankee Swap gifts. Make sure we bring the gift cards for the cousins. Pack some plastic bags for our road trip garbage. Do the final Highway 78 pit stop before we get past Harrisburg unless we want to use public bathrooms that require HAZMAT suits.
One aspect of being a grumpy bugger is not sleeping well when you're away from home. So I prevent sleep deprivation by bringing my "special" pillow (because I'm a five year old), my melatonin, my chamomile tea, and all my other fussy sleeping supplies.
No one wants to be sick on a road trip, so I try to prevent germ infestation by stocking up on Zicam for noses, antibacterial wipes, and my Aunt La's famous Elderberry Elixir.
Homework: This is actually homework for me but you're welcome to join. My goal is to plan for a simplified holiday season next year by getting all my shopping done by December 1, 2019. I hope this will prevent me from going full Grinch by the time Christmas rolls around.
Christmas is four days away, all the shopping is done, everyone has agreed to go with the easy option of Spaghetti Bolognese for Christmas dinner, and I got my annual meltdown out of the way yesterday, so things are looking up for the rest of 2018.
Therefore, I am currently being sincere when I say: Merry Christmas. May your holiday be filled with comfort and joy.
This was written in 2016 and originally posted to my Medium.com page. I am reposting here on the one-year anniversary of the day we lost Tom Petty.
Welcome to the eye doctor! Hard to believe it’s been a whole year. My, how you’ve grown slightly bigger, and aged! I know you enjoy going through life using your corrective lenses and pretending to be just like everyone else, but here at the eye doctor we feel it’s important to remind you at least once a year that you are, as the kids say, “nearsighted af.”
Now that you are staring blankly ahead and awkwardly not seeing anything, I will leave you alone with your thoughts while you wait for the doctor. We have a fantastic selection of magazines for you to not read while you wait!
...was the name of my column in Phillips' Finest, my middle school newspaper. If it was good enough for seventh grade, it's good enough for "adulthood."