Coffee Shops and Gigs

I’ve decamped from my house to get some writing down in one of the six local coffee shops. Coffee shops do well in this town, because there are a lot of freelancers, like myself in town, and moms who are hustling side gigs, which is like me, too.

I have cleared out of the house, because I need some space from my college kid who has a three-page paper on Russian intelligence from last semester that he has to finish off. He’s writing it, while sitting on the sofa and watching sports. He’s getting it done and has been getting good grades, so I don’t want to meddle too much. On the hand, I just can’t watch him working like that anymore. The crumpled up wrapper from Popeyes is seriously making me itch.

Also, we embarked on some ill advised home improvement efforts last weekend, so there are scraps of wall paper everywhere. My desk is under a tarp and will probably be out of commission for the rest of the week. I can work in the chaos of a coffee shop, but at home, everything has to be OCD-perfect.

My current writing project was put on hold until a report is released, so I decided to spend the week reexamining various book proposals that I’ve assembled over the years and never really shopped around. I think I have one book in me, and this might be right time to extract it. Like an impacted wisdom tooth.

Having It All, Means Having No Sleep

Helaine Olen writes a great column about Ada Calhoun’s new book, Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis.

…Calhoun’s subject is exhaustion and anxiety, experienced by all too many women who were brought up in the 1970s and 1980s to believe we could somehow “have it all” — domestic harmony and perfection, children and fulfilling, lucrative work that mattered.

It turns out that promise was a fairy tale for the early years of feminism’s second wave. But, as Calhoun recounts, the myth was accompanied by a simultaneous ratcheting up of expectations placed on women, even as government and societal support crumbled. Parenting turned into a vocation, with the result that, even as the number of mothers with jobs has swelled over the decades, mothers of today spend more time with their children than the mothers of 50 years ago. The millions of Gen X women who have given birth in their 30s and 40s have found themselves confronted by the double whammy of needing to care for those children — as the cost of child care has surged — while also caring for older parents. (Let me note here that men, on the other hand, rarely fall for the tripe that they can do it all. Gen Xer Beto O’Rourke claimed his wife, Amy, raised their children “sometimes with my help,” while Andrew Yang, of the same generation, routinely references his wife, Evelyn, “who’s at home with our two boys.”)

My Fitbit measures my sleep. I have never scored higher than a “fair.” Usually, I get a poor. Partially, it’s due to hormones. But when I’m wake up at 2:00am, I find that I’m thinking about the chore list. I’m making lists in my sleep.

I do a lot. I’ve got a various writing projects — some for fun, some for money, some for promotion. I’m managing kids’ issues. Even the college kid still comes with responsibilities, because college has way fewer supports than in the past. It’s terrible to think of our loved ones as ticking time bombs, but our parents will need more help soon.

As Helaine’s article sort of points out, some of this is our fault. Do we really need to putting so much time into parenting? Do we really need cool, but poorly compensated jobs? Why can’t we just admit that we can’t “have it all” and make some compromises?

I still do “want it all” though. I’m not ready to give up yet. So, after an hour of sponging off wallpaper glue off the office walls, mapping out the weekend schedule, and signing up the younger kid for a sports program, I’m heading to the coffee shop to work for a while. All with about five hours of sleep.

Lucky: Excerpt From January 7, 2020 Newsletter

Here’s an excerpt from the last newsletter. (Subscribe, folks!)

January 7, 2020

The new decade has started with a bang here at Apt. 11D. Of course, we don’t actually live in Apt. 11D anymore. We live in an undisclosed location now after learning a while back that one shouldn’t actually name one’s blog after a real life address. Apt. 11D is more of a metaphorical home. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s just say that things are pretty crazy at home. 

My younger son was diagnosed with epilepsy yesterday after suffering a mild seizure last November. I wrote about the details about the first incident and how we found out the news on the blog. You can read it about it there, if you like. 

Today, I just want to say how fortunate we are. That sounds crazy, right? My poor kid is saddled with autism and epilepsy. He’ll have to take medication for the rest of his life. We’ll be going to more doctor’s appointments and managing medication. Bad news for all, right? 

Well, yes, of course that is true. Ian has handled this news with grace and dignity, and we love him hugely. There’s no doubt that this diagnosis is an added burden on his already complicated life.

At the same time, we know that we’re lucky, because Steve and I can handle our end of the burden without losing our heads. I have a flexible job and work from home. We’re not dependent on my salary to pay the mortgage, so I could stop work entirely for a year to concentrate on Ian’s troubles, if necessary.

Fifteen years ago, when Ian missed the “speaking in full sentences” milestone at age 2, we entered into the world of parenting “kids who don’t fit into neat boxes.” In a yahoo chat group, I asked other parents like me, “how does anybody without an education and time deal with all this stuff?!” It was so overwhelming at that time. Another mom responded, “yes, it’s horrible, but you can’t think about others right now. You have too much on your plate. Just deal with your own problems.” 

So, I can deal with this hurdle. I can give myself the time to process this information and keep myself mentally healthy. I can read up on the latest treatments for epilepsy. I can schedule doctor’s appointments without losing a job. I can manage my other responsibility at home — making sure my college kid has his head on straight, keeping everyone dressed and fed, making sure that the house is repaired and sturdy. I can even maintain my writing job by taking on projects with longer deadlines. 

I am lucky.

Yet, it is still possible to think about the bigger picture. While taking care of our own situation, I can also manage to advocate for those who are struggling to educate and care for family members with disabilities. Those parents, my counterparts in the Bronx and Newark, are always my people. My votes, my political commentary, any power that I have as a writer on the national stage, is always with them in mind. 

2020! Bang!

Well, the new year is opening up to a continent up in flames, a potential world war with an unstable country, and personal chaos here at Apt. 11D.

In late November, Ian had a little seizure. He drooped out of a chair right in front of me. It lasted only a couple of seconds, but it was alarming. I called doctors, and the tests started.

The weekend, he had a 48-hour EEG test. I picked him up from school on Friday afternoon and took him to the neurologist’s office. The technician wired his head up with about two dozen electrodes that were glued to his head. Then she covered it up with gauze. He said he looked like a nun. The wired snaked down his back and connected with an satchel that recorded his brain waves.

We also got a camera with a small tripod that recorded him all day. He carried the camera from room to room setting it up on nearby desks and tables. At night, he switched that camera to infrared mode, so even his sleep was recorded.

Because we were grounded for the weekend, I decided to tackle some big chores. We rented a steamer from Home Depot, and Steve, Jonah, and I stripped wallpaper from the office and our bedroom. It’s going to take another couple weekends to finish stripping, spackling, and painting, so I’m living in a construction zone right now. My office has been temporarily moved to a family room. I hope I can concentrate in a new space.

Yesterday, I dropped off the equipment at the office. I didn’t expect to hear from the doctor to the end of the week. Because he hasn’t had any other incidents, I believed that we were going to get a shrug from the doctor. I really thought that she was going to tell us that that this was a one-time thing and not to worry.

But then the office called me at 4:00 and asked if we could get there at 5:15. I did 10,000 steps just pacing around my living room.

Short story. He has epilepsy. And we have to do an MRI in a couple of weeks to rule out a tumor.

I just took on a quickie writing project to distract me for the next week. I’ll be back here, but blogging will have to take a backseat to home and work priorities until we sort things out. My life is a construction zone right now.

The Slacker Boys of Generation Z

The 20-something writers who cover education on the national stage might have more time and energy than this old girl, but I have a few tools in my arsenal as well. My greatest advantage is that I don’t see the school beat as a stepping stone onto other topics. I like schools and have studied them for years, so I’m not putting tons of energy into learning about health care or the military. Schools get all my brain power.

Another advantage that I have is that I’m a parent. There’s nothing like experiencing a situation first hand to give one a good spidey sense about whether a topic is going to be hot or whether a new report is totally off base.

I’m not just a parent. I’m an active parent, who participates in school functions and parent organizations, and regular attends school board meetings. I’m also hopelessly social, so I regularly talk to other parents about their kids. All these experience provide article and blog fodder.

Over the past holidays, I bounced around various cocktail parties and learned some good stuff. One parent of a college-aged boy told me that she was disappointed with her son’s efforts in school. She said that he has been talking more and more about looking at alternatives to college. He and his friends have discussed the fact that they aren’t interested in following in their parents’ footsteps of BAs from prestigious colleges and good paying jobs that put them into suburbs like this one. They want a more laid-back life style.

She mentioned a kid — a son of a friend of a friend type of thing — who was a surfer in California living out of his car. His parents would have paid the rent for an apartment, but the kid (anybody under 25 is still a kid to me) preferred to live a simple life out of his car. He didn’t see the point in paying someone rent for a place that he didn’t need.

She wondered if kids today were rejecting our modern suburban lifestyles. Was this a return to the Gen X slacker days? Was it happening because there’s just so much stress and anxiety in their culture today? Were they going to move to more laid-back areas of the country, because the cost of living is so high around here.

Her question didn’t seem way off, since lots of other people are clearly avoiding are area. New York State is losing population is such numbers, that they might lose Congressional house seats.

Or maybe it’s a boy thing. I was chatting with people on Twitter this morning about an article that said that boys are alienated from schools today. Now that I finished my marching band article (coming soon), I’m going to do a series of article about the college dropout problem. One facet of that discussion is that boys are dropping out at greater rates than girls.

There’s been some small buzz about Gen Z and college, but I think we’re going to start seeing more stats on this soon. I talked to a girl last year, who told me how annoyed she was by her college education, so maybe it’s not just a girl thing. I’m going to ask more questions about all this soon.

If all this is true, I’m not upset. A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing. If the status quo sucks, then I hope that young people say “fuck it” and cause disruption.

Internet Slow Down

Over the past 16 years that I’ve monitored traffic statistics on this blog, I’ve learned several things: 1. People have a hard time getting their brains back to work on Mondays, so they use the Internet to procrastinate for a while. 2. People use their summers for good stuff, like vacations, and unplug. 3. People are too busy to look at the Internet between mid-December and January 2nd. 4. But after January 2, they’re back looking at their screens.

Online writers, like myself, and editors are probably the ones that look at unplugged time as bad things. We demand your eyeballs! I had an article accepted in late December, but everyone decided to hold it until January 2. I have to do some serious cuts on it before then, so I should get in a couple of hours this morning.

Then I have to prep the kitchen for more cooking, because friends are stopping by. We’re doing a super casual dinner with Steve, my mom, and I all making something different at the same time. Short ribs and polenta are on the menu, along with lots of other little stuff. I can’t get too loaded, because I’m running a 5K tomorrow morning at 11am.

Here are some things that we’ve been talking about IRL:

Obama’s best of books, movies and TV shows of 2019. While I was watching Fleabag, I kept thinking, “I’m going to have watch this all for a second time.” It was THAT good. We’re in the midst of Watchmen and loving it. We also enjoyed: Working Moms, Game of Thrones, Schitt’s Creek, The Crown, and Russian Doll.

The crazy dude who stabbed people at the Rabbi’s house in Monsey is a big topic here, because we live about twenty minutes from Monsey. My brother, who is a local reporter, spends a lot of time covering similar communities in the area. Anti-semitism is disgusting and should be called out with equal vigor as other forms of prejudice.

Check out the house where Harry and Megan spent the holidays.

What are you all doing for New Year’s Eve?