Words fail me. If you followed Larry Nassar’s sentencing hearing, I bet you’re right here with me.
I know how I feel about aspects of the hearing, but there is no word for the overall feeling this situation elicits. I feel awe for the unimaginable strength of the 156 women who read Victim Impact Statements just feet away from the man who tried to ruin their lives. Disgust for the monster in the prison uniform. Disbelief that he was able to get away with so much for so long. Grief as I watch a rage-filled father lunge at Nassar. Hope that this hideous situation will serve as a moment of reckoning for all of us.
So here’s what I’m reckoning with at the moment: Niceness.
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
“Is that a nice thing to say?”
As a lifelong people pleaser, I’ve said all of these things to my children, many times. Being nice is important to me. I can’t stand it when people are mean or dismissive for no reason. I love those adorable shirts that little girls wear, decorated with messages like “Choose Kindness” in shimmery, curlicue script. I’ll be damned if my own children are going to act like entitled jerkwads who treat waitresses and customer service people like disposable doormats.
What do we do with niceness in a world where a human garbage bag like Larry Nassar gets to prey on girls who were taught to be nice to adults? What do we do with manners in a world where a whole assortment of coaches, friends, and colleagues turned a blind eye to Nassar’s crimes because they were taught to never rock the boat, never be the squeaky wheel, never burn bridges?
As a mother, how do I balance #choosekindness with #reality?
It’s important for my son and daughter to know that they are no more special than anyone else. It’s important for their actions to reflect this belief. Before they step on anyone to get ahead, they had better reach down and help their teammates stand beside them.
It’s equally important for them to know that they deserve as much love, respect, safety, and kindness as everyone else. It’s just as important for them to ask for what they need and feel confident that they deserve it when they get it.
It’s my job to teach them how to speak up when someone crosses a line. It’s crucial that they know these lines exist, that they keep these lines strong and clear.
How do we raise children with suits of armor and open hearts? What kind of life do you end up with if you surround yourself with impenetrable walls? But what do you invite into your life if you have no walls at all?
How do I raise my children to be respectful, but also to know that respect goes out the window as soon as their gut says something is off?
I don’t have answers for any of these questions. Just like I don’t have a word for how I feel as I follow the Nassar situation.
I will probably never find the balance between nice and fierce, but I will never stop looking for it, either.
Maybe we can start small. Maybe, on the back of those adorable “Choose Kindness” shirts our daughters wear, we can add a message to balance it out: “Don’t EVER mistake my kindness for weakness.”
Shazam is an app that identifies the title and artist of any song it hears. While apps like “Selfie Editor” and “Order Unlimited Quantities of Chipotle Without Feeling Like You’re Spending Real Money” have not added to my life in a positive way, I can say that Shazam has legitimately made my life better.
It’s helped me discover new artists I love, and it’s brought me back from the brink of a nervous breakdown when I couldn’t remember who sings this damn song. Shazam always gets the last word in marital disagreements about classic rock songs, before said disagreements escalate into yelling matches (YES IT SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE JOE COCKER BUT IT’S GREGG ALLMAN WHO’S NO ANGEL!!! WHY DON'T YOU BELIEVE ME???)
For all these reasons, Shazam is one of my favorite apps. Apple’s recent purchase of Shazam is the perfect opportunity to increase its reach and help it solve even more of our first-world problems.
Apple Bigwigs, I humbly submit my list of Shazam Spinoff Ideas:
Treezam: I’ve always wanted to be the smart person who could identify trees during nature walks. The problem is, you could tell me the name of the tree and it would go in one ear and out the other. I think it’s brain damage from being a mother of two children who never stop asking questions. I have no current capacity for retaining things like tree names. With Treezam, you can point your phone at any tree and it will tell you not only the regular name, but the Latin name as well. You know, so you can feel smart and stuff.
Let’s say you’re at a party and you have to introduce Bob to Betty. Problem is, you can’t remember Bob’s flippin’ name. (Refer to brain damage mentioned above.) Just discreetly point your phone at Bob (pretend you’re checking the weather) and it will display his name, along with any information you may want to tell Betty (Bob just got a new job) along with any information you may want to withhold from Betty (Bob gets butt hurt when you talk smack about his hockey team).
I love me some Dateline, but I’ve noticed it’s about 75% longer than it needs to be. Ain’t nobody got time for the umpteenth photo montage of the same dead lady with her shady-looking husband who may or may not have dunnit. Just give us the good stuff so we can go put the laundry away! Shazdunnit allows you to point your phone at Lester Holt’s face and get an immediate run down of whodunnit, why they dunnit, and the length of their prison sentence.
On Monday I am Miss Meal Prep Pinterest Lady 2017. By Thursday I am melting Cheez Whiz on leftover Chick-fil-a waffle fries and calling it poutine. With Shaznomnom, all you have to do is point your device at your open fridge, and it will give you a list of recipe options based on what you have. If your fridge fails the dinner test, it will give you the phone numbers of five local restaurants that deliver.
Have you ever wanted to get to the bottom of your Forever Roommate’s current ‘tude without having to actually talk about it? With Shaz-amor, just point your phone at the resentful/irritated/concerned look on his or her face and you will get a rundown of what you did, why you are a bonehead, and what you can do to make it better. No more guessing! Just unpack the GD suitcase from that trip you took two months ago, for the love of Samsonite, and peace will be restored to your household.
It happens to the best of us: you walk into the room and completely forget why you’re there. Instead of feeling like you’re one step away from needing full-time Adult Day Care, just point your phone at your own confused face, and Shazroom will tell you that you came into the kitchen for the labelmaker. Now if you could just remember which cabinet you put the DANG LABELMAKER in. Do any of you know a good Adult Day Care center? Asking for a friend…
Two weeks ago I called a carpet cleaning company to deal with some rooms that needed professional help. The owner of the company launched into a list of things I would have to do to get the carpets ready to for the cleaning.
“Make sure there’s no little toys or things on the carpets, move smaller pieces of furniture out of the way, and vacuum the entire room. Vacuum those carpets like you mean it,” he said.
“Most people vacuum like their house is on fire,” he explained. “I don’t know why they’re in such a hurry. You want to vacuum like you mean it. Start with an empty vacuum canister and vacuum nice and slow. Slower than you’ve ever vacuumed before.”
Being a rule follower, I obediently did everything the carpet man asked me to do, while my spouse wondered out loud why I was working so hard when they were the ones getting paid. I picked up all the diabolical toys that hide under the couch: the Shopkins, K’nex, and other tiny plastic shapes in primary colors with jacked-up names that have no meaning in the English language.
Then I vacuumed like I frigging meant it. It took forever. My brain and body were itching to vacuum like I’m used to doing it, like the house is on fire. About halfway through the living room, something unexpected happened. The white noise of the vacuum engine, combined with the repetitive back and forth movement, started to feel soothing. The monkey in my mind stopped clanging her giant cymbals. I was spending so long vacuuming that I was actually running out of stuff to ruminate on. My river of thoughts slowed from whitewater rapids to babbling brook.
In this mentally and physically relaxed state I realized that this was the first time I had vacuumed while I was vacuuming. As opposed to ordering my kids around, or writing a strongly worded letter in my head to the neighborhood HOA about people driving too fast, or berating myself for not writing my son’s preschool teacher a thank you note three years ago…all while vacuuming.
Then I began to wonder when I last did anything like I meant it, which is to say: am I ever simply doing the thing I am doing while I am doing it? The answer is, not really. And that’s a disservice to myself, my loved ones, and the world. How am I honoring the unimaginably improbable privilege of being alive today if I am wandering through my life blinded by distraction?
So then I decided to do all my mundane tasks that day like I meant it. I heard the sound of the water while I did the dishes. I noticed how the dish soap smelled like a fruit that hasn’t been invented yet. I looked at the trees arching over the road while I drove to CVS. I heard my children playing I Spy in the backseat. I stopped in the middle of an afternoon dog walk to watch a mother and father cardinal teach their baby to fly.
All of these things gave me joy. They were simple everyday things, and they made me happy. And all it took was some concentration and intention courtesy of the carpet cleaner man.
Of course the best intentions tend to get waylaid by life. I continue to live in my head most of the time, taking myself on silent journeys of distraction through old wounds, resentments, struggles, and questions I will never find the answers to.
Sometimes I remember the carpet cleaning guy telling me to vacuum like I mean it. Sometimes I try to do that. Sometimes I am able to let my mind rest for twenty minutes while I fold the clothes like I mean it. To let my children see that I am eating dinner with them like I mean it. To talk to my husband about his day at work like I mean it.
Learning how to live life like I mean it? It’s a work in progress. But it helps to know that if I ever feel like I’ve gone too far into the maze of my own endless stream of thoughts, all I have to do is vacuum the living room.
Last night my husband was trying to watch some television, and all hell nearly broke loose.
He had just gotten home from a long day back to work after traveling for the holidays. All he wanted was a little brain vacation, but what he got instead was a blank, ominously brackish television screen that was unresponsive to all four of our remote controls. (Um, yeah. we haven’t joined the world of the universal remote yet.)
So my loving husband did what anyone would do in his situation. He called his wife over for help.
I am the official IT person in my household, which is, honestly, pretty sad. But I have this one trick that works about 95% of the time. I learned it from the person who answers the phone at the cable company. I just turn off whatever is malfunctioning, and turn it back on. It works on Kindles, iPhones, Rokus, and many other devices with names that were invented by kindergarteners.
We all held our breath as I attempted my magic trick by unplugging and replugging the television, and…it worked! Crisis averted, my husband got to watch ESPN and my family continues to worship me for the technological genius that I am.
Which got me thinking…could my magic trick work on a human? What if I just CTRL+ALT+DELETE myself when I’m so stuck on something that I can’t move forward? What would a restart look like on a day that gets so sideways, I don’t know which way is up?
For example, yesterday was our first full day back from our holiday travels. I mostly wandered around the house, overwhelmed by the magnitude of tasks before me and therefore unable to focus on finishing anything. I got three loads of laundry done and not much else. (And when I say “done” I mean “clean.” I certainly do not mean “folded and put away.” I’m not a laundry-based cyborg, jeez.)
About 756 things got started yesterday, but nothing really got done.
I should have used my magic trick on myself. I should have stopped everything, taken a power nap, and tried again. Someone once said when their days go haywire, or they have completely had it with their kids, they stop everything, make a batch of cookies, and try again. (If you are this person, please identify yourself in the comments, and also, you are brilliant.)
What would be your version of a restart button? Taking a walk? Meditating? Playing guitar? Watching Mexico: One Plate at a Time on PBS and then making the featured meal in your kitchen? (This one is very specific but I can think of at least one person in my life who would do this.)
In 2018 I resolve to try the restart trick whenever my day starts getting all janky. I think this is a friendly, doable resolution. Much more doable than, say, getting a universal remote. I mean, I may be a technological genius but I’m not Steve Jobs.
My friends are absolutely killing it with this Elf on the Shelf thing.
My social media feeds are full of elves doing creatively mischievous elf things. The Elf is riding in a Fisher-Price school bus with a Barbie on each arm. The Elf is pooping chocolate chips into a wine glass and reading a tiny newspaper. Elves are swinging from chandeliers, hiding in fridge drawers, wearing a Trump wig made out of yellow yarn and standing in front of a podium with a handmade "Make Christmas Great Again" sign. Next-level stuff.
Meanwhile, our elf spent the first half of Advent in a beat-up cardboard box in my son’s closet. When I finally remembered to get the elf out, I immediately delegated the nightly moving of the elf to my husband.
Our elf situation got pretty sad while my husband was out of town for work. My kids began to wonder if our elf (whose name I forgot two years ago) had gotten fired by Santa and was now just loafing around our house in the same spot all day and night.
The truth is, my kids have a mom who goes into survival mode on December 1st and stays there until January. Doing creative things with the Elf on the Shelf is not part of survival mode. End of elf story.
It’s taken me seven years of motherhood to accept my limitations when it comes to the holidays. When my son was a toddler I bedecked our mantle with a sparkly, homemade Advent calendar with a different holiday activity for each day. We made cookies, visited Santa, did Christmas crafts…basically turned into Pinterest People for the month of December.
I know it sounds lovely, but that everloving Advent calendar almost took me over the edge that year. I turned into an overwhelmed, cranky woman who was one Advent activity away from becoming Mrs. Scrooge.
Part of being an authentic person is giving yourself the grace of acceptance. That is never harder than during the holidays, when expectations take steroids and descend upon us in a hailstorm of Sign Up Geniuses, cookie exchanges, and Secret Santa gifts.
When I scroll through Facebook and that elf starts to push my guilt buttons, I consciously remind myself that I have limitations, and that’s okay. For me, the grace of acceptance means being okay with the fact that I suck at Elf on the Shelf, I totally forgot to buy my kids an Advent calendar this year, and my cookie exchange contributions were no-bake and no-frills.
As long as I have some realm of motherhood that I feel pretty good about, I’m okay with phoning in my holiday obligations. For me, that realm is going to the library, reading to my kids as much as possible, and having lots of books all over our house. Someone else's realm of confidence might be cooking wholesome organic meals for their families (this is not my realm, btw).
And I am so sincerely glad that some of my friends are rock stars when it comes to putting smiles on their kids' faces every morning through elvish creativity. They are all amazing moms who still find the energy at the end of the day to pose the elf in a Barbie bathtub full of cotton balls.
We each have our thing that we rock at. I think it's our job to stay in our lane, keep rocking, and appreciate the many ways other people rock. Especially during the holidays.
Elf Moms of the world, I tip my Santa hat to you...from over here on my Survival Mode couch, with my sauvignon blanc and my Netflix.
...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."