Love Is All

Usually on Mother’s Day, our kids make cards for me and we do something special. But as my grandmother used to say to my father when he was little, “If you’re not going to be nice to me every day, then don’t bother with Mother’s Day.” I do feel that the overpriced brunches and corsages are a little much and not what women want. We want appreciation, and someone else to do the dishes and clean the bathrooms.

Somehow on Father’s Day, which is today, we tend to let things slide. Since it’s part of the mad-dash of year-end activities, the day often gets short shrift. This year we’re not really celebrating today because my daughter is on a school trip in Spain and my son is writing as much as he can for a musical he’s submitting to his school tomorrow for consideration for next year’s theatre season. Since I’m writing the music with him, that’s what I’m doing today, as well as sexy things like returning something that’s broken to Amazon, and contacting the doctor to fill out medical forms, and going through piles of papers. Since the laundry is overflowing, my husband is doing load after load even though it’s supposed to be his special day. This is why I love my husband. He’s not sitting around glued to the television, wondering when his snacks and beers are going to be delivered. He’s scrambling around trying to help us so that everything gets done. Given how much he’s been traveling lately, it is amazing to not only around have him around, but to have him do chores so that I can keep my sanity.

Here’s what I have to say to any of my female readers: the guy you want to marry should be the guy you’re attracted to and best friends with and someone who makes you laugh. But he should also be the one who does laundry on Father’s Day and is as happy to mow the lawn as he is to cook a Julia Child’s meal. The guy who knows how to craft the perfect email when there is a problem, whether with a teacher or a workman. The guy who can comfort a crying baby and intervene with a moody teenager.

Recently, I had my first professional singing gig in 12 years, and it was a huge success– standing room only and such tremendous applause, that I wish I could have bottled it. My parents got to be there, which is special since they live 3,000 miles away. And my son got to hear me for the first time in his memory. (My daughter will have to see me next time since she was still in Spain.) A lot of the audience said that their favorite song was one of the originals I played, called Billy and Me, which is a love song I wrote for my husband when we were first married. Twenty five years later, it still applies, and in fact more so. There is nothing sexier than a guy who is a great dad and who really supports his wife so that she can be a happy person.  Here are the lyrics to the chorus:

Love is all I know/Take me wherever you go

Love is all I see/Cause you take in all of me

So in honor of all the wonderful men out there who are great dads, here’s to you. A big part of finding your world stage, is being that person who allows others to claim their world stage as well, both children finding their way and wives needing the space to reclaim theirs.

HPIM2501_1.jpgThis is our family 12 years ago, right after I had stopped performing, since I was focusing on these guys.

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Proud

Whenever I drive around, I see bumper stickers with something like “Proud Parent of an Honor Roll Student” or I see an elite college on the back of the car for all to see. I get that people are proud of their kids, but it reminds me of all the senseless bragging on social media: “I’m just so blessed that little Timothy got into all eight Ivy League schools.” Or the endless hashtags: “#proudmama”, “#howdidIgetsolucky” and on and on. I think, though that in addition to too much bragging, we’re focusing on the wrong things. What about accomplishments that have nothing to do with grades and college or Division 1 championships? Those are the things that matter most to me.

This week has been one of those harrowing weeks in which my husband has been away on business in China, my daughter was on a school camping expedition for two days, then home for three and then off today for 10 days in Spain for another school trip. The exterminator came twice, my son had an SSAT class, then a math tutor, my daughter was the photographer at the school prom, my daughter had a cello lesson and then a tennis lesson, and my son will have had two soccer practices and two soccer games this week. In addition, one of my son’s friends had a family crisis that involved my intervention and both kids had hours and hours of end-of-year homework. In addition, my son decided he wanted to write an original music based on kids riding the rails in the Great Depression and needed me to write some of the music for his presentation– since it’s being considered for the school’s musical next year. And we had a lot of yard work that had to get done, in addition to packing. Did I mention that in all of this, I had to prep for my first professional gig in 12 years, in addition to my coaching business?

Here’s what made me proud this week. I needed to get a few hours of yard work done before Thursday morning, which was Trash Amnesty Day, meaning the town would take extra trash and yard waste. I asked my kids to help out and they ended up working in the yard until 8:30 at night, asking me to go inside after a while, since I was so exhausted from everything else, and then they finished up without me. I didn’t pay them, but they just pitched in and made it happen, even though they still had hours of homework. I needed them and they came through. In addition, one of my kids’ friends called late on Thursday night in crisis and my son was calm and supportive to him, since the boy was depressed, and also suicidal. I got on the phone and talked to him as well and then called the school the next day to talk to the school psychologist who then talked with him. She will get help for him. But it was my son who was there for his friend when he felt like he had no out. That makes me proud.

To find your world stage, forget the values of social media, which are mostly fake anyway. Remember that how much money you have or where your kids go to college or what you do for a living– those are all superficial things that in the end don’t matter. What matters is helping out your family and being a good friend. And this week, my kids showed me that they understood what mattered, and that makes me incredibly proud.

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Know Your Limits

We all have limits, whether imposed by laws, like speeding limits or self-imposed, like dietary rules. We also have limits of what we’re able to do– whether it’s how many miles we can run, or how high a note we can sing. Those are easier to see, but the limits that are harder to recognize are those on our spirits. We are daily bombarded with robot calls and endless emails. (I get about 100 emails per day and my husband about 300.) We have multiple forms of news and social media, which are hard to shut off. We have endless requests from people, whether it’s a needy child or a demanding friend or a difficult co-worker. We may have learned to set boundaries and even how to re-state our boundaries if they are ignored, but that doesn’t mean that others will listen and respect them and follow suit. With my coaching business, World Stage Coaching, my clients often talk about stating boundaries that others don’t respect, whether it’s a boss demanding more work and more travel, or a parent assuming they can crash at your apartment, or relatives who expect you to take care of their kids when they come to visit. Ultimately you can set boundaries until you’re blue in the face, but if others don’t hear you, it can feel useless. Here’s where limits come in. It’s helpful to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m at my limit here. I am not able to___________ (fill in the blank).” And then you leave.

This week, both of my teenagers are inundated with end-of-year school work, my husband is gearing up for a week in China, having just spent almost a week in Colombia. My daughter needs food and supplies for an up-coming camping trip and after she returns, she is home for three days before she leaves for 10 days for a school trip to Spain. My husband will not be around for any of this and we have no family nearby.  A few night ago, I found myself writing a welcome card for our new neighbors to go with the box of cookies I bought, while talking to the exterminator who was droning on about ants and how best to handle them, while my husband announced that he forgot he was going to be on a Korean radio talk show and would be on the air (from home) in the next few minutes– and this was 8pm at night. My son was on the phone with his math tutor and my daughter had just come back from a tennis lesson and was trying to write an English paper. After the Korean interview, we did dash over to give the neighbors cookies. I don’t even remember dinner. And that was only last Wednesday night between 8-9pm. It occurred to me that boundaries didn’t come into play here. The reality is that I had reached my limit. After a certain point, I told my family I was off duty and focused on myself.

Yesterday, I got a massage and got my hair done, because I knew that if I was going to survive the recent demands on my time, I was going to need to keep taking care of myself. I told everyone in the family last night that I was going to focus on getting ready for my up-coming cabaret concert. But both my kids wanted to sing by the piano– which is sweet for absorbed teens– so we sang songs, while my daughter strummed the ukulele. My son had also decided last night that he wanted to write a musical about teens riding the rails in the Great Depression and had already written 1-2 songs and a scene by 10pm and wanted me to set one of the songs to 30’s music, which I did, because I was happy that he was excited about this new project. Still, it tested my limits last night and again today, when he was asking about how people talked then and what names were common– all great questions, but I had reminded him that I will have more bandwidth for helping after my show is done. Did I mention that I haven’t performed professionally in 12 years? Today, it became clear to me why I couldn’t get back to it earlier. There is so much non-stop giving that happens if you’re a really committed parent. People talk about how kids just need an hour of quality time. It’s not true. They need lots of quantity time– so that you’re around when they’re excited about a new show they’re writing or they ask about why kids are trying drugs or how to ask a girl to dance. They need you around a lot when they are teenagers, just as they did when they were babies.

So, today, like yesterday, after a certain point, I had reached my limit, and I shut the door and took a nap. It wasn’t completely uninterrupted, but it was good enough. I will no longer try to defend boundaries I have chosen over and over. Instead, I will let people know that I have reached my limit and I’m done— whether it’s explaining, giving, or finding missing objects. It’s a good feeling not to be available to solve every problem. I look forward to implementing it more often.

To find your world stage, know your limits and inform others when you’ve reached them. And then go take a nap, or have that massage, or do something else nice for yourself. You deserve it.

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Remembering

Those of us who are American are heading into Memorial Day weekend, which is the time that summer seems to start, even though technically that doesn’t happen until late June. It’s a time for barbecues and relaxing into summer mode, even though most schools are still in full swing. It’s also, of course, a time to remember all of our soldiers who have died, but all too often that gets lost amidst the picnics and beach time. When I was growing up, my parents would often get out the flag and hang it up to remember that my grandfather volunteered for World War II in his early thirties, because he had intelligence gathering skills that he knew would help the war effort, even though he was leaving a wife and child behind. We hung the flag to commemorate all the heroes who have fought in wars, whether they made it back or not.

Last fall, I wrote about Veterans Day, which is more specifically geared to all veterans who have served and continue to serve, whereas Memorial Day is devoted to remembering all those who died in our wars.  Here’s what I wrote:

I think of my grandfather Horace, who left his young family to volunteer for World War II in his thirties because he felt that he had to fight for our freedom. He was among the early boats that landed at Normandy in June 1944, and described years later the terror of arriving on that beach, knowing that the Germans who were planted up the hill would just be shooting at them non-stop as they tried to make their way from the water on up. Many didn’t make it, but my grandfather somehow did. When I was twelve, I visited Normandy and I couldn’t believe how steep the hill was and how unprotected that beach was. It’s amazing that anyone made it out alive. And yet that landing was a key turning point in the war. With over 150,000 soldiers, the Allies’ successful attack created a victory that became the turning point in the war. Today, I honor all the soldiers who have served our country throughout time. I am grateful for your sacrifice and for the freedom you fought for, so that we could all be free. America is great because of all the soldiers who shivered in the cold, in trenches and huddled in boats… . 

As we gather around our barbecues and celebrate the sunshine and the return of warmer days, let us not forget all the men and women who fought so that we could be free, particularly those who never returned. And let us not forget that democracy is not a given, but is something that must be fought for over and over. As you seek your world stage, don’t forget that we have an obligation to remember those who bravely came before us and sacrificed their lives, so that we may have the freedom to choose our own path. I will always be grateful.

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Soccer Lessons

When I was little, soccer was just coming to the States as something big in California, and by the time I was in third grade, most of my friends played it. I remember playing in the hot fall sun, running up and down the field and following the ball, since I didn’t know how to hold my position, and my grandfather asking my mother if I was going to have a heart attack because my face was beet red. In one of my first games, I scored two goals, which thrilled me since my dad took me out for ice cream sundaes to celebrate. Soon after, however, the coaches realized that I could kick far and was better on defense. I became the full back sweep, the last person before the goalie. I prided myself on protecting the goal and clearing the ball down the field. I ended up playing five years through my childhood and one year in high school before I hung up my cleats. I wasn’t the best player– some of those went on to Division 1 soccer in college– and I wasn’t the worse. But I loved it.

Because it was the seventies and eighties, my coaches were mostly women, some of whom had never played soccer, since the boys got the more experienced coaches. The coaches I had for most of my years were a team of two women, one of whom, my main coach, was disabled. She had an aggressive form of MS, so each year she coached us, she was less mobile. The first year she tired easily, which is why she had her assistant to help. By the last year, she came to practices in a walker. I never saw her kick the ball, and I’m not sure the assistant was much better at soccer, but they knew how to coach, we did well as a team, and most importantly we also learned a lot about life.

When my daughter was in second grade, I decided that I wanted to coach my own team, not because I had been a great player, but because soccer had taught me so much that I wanted to pass on. When I got my team list, which was supposedly a “random, computer-generated list” I realized that I was given all the beginners except my daughter, who was a strong player. (My husband, who understands statistics, reminded me that this was not random, but generated by a mom who worked for the town and wanted her daughter on a team of stars.) I had 14 six and seven year-old girls, and part of the challenge was getting them to focus long enough to learn the game of soccer, in between chatting and cartwheels. We were the Bad News Bears of soccer, inexperienced and expected to lose, but the good news is that none of the parents were pushy, because these families wanted their girls to have fun, not to push them to get on travel soccer by age eight.

The nice thing about our team is that no one expected us to do very well– I wasn’t a known coach and the team had almost no talent, or so people thought. I read books and watched videos about how to coach, and every week we had circle time before our practice started where we made sure the girls knew each others’ names in the early weeks, and could talk about what was working and not working on the team in later weeks. We played both in the fall and the spring, and each week the girls got better and better, so that in the final game, which was the championship against the hardest team– the team that had all the star players– I reminded my team that I was proud of them no matter what, but that since no one was expecting anything of them, this was their chance to shine. And shine they did. We won, to the other teams’ shock. We won in spite of rain and mud and injuries and the other team so sure that they were going to win.  I have never seen such a triumphant group of little girls, their white shirts covered in mud, with huge toothless grins on their faces.

My daughter is back playing soccer in high school, having taken a few years off, since she and we didn’t want her to enter the intense world of travel and club and select soccer. My son, however, begged us to be on the travel team, so finally he tried out at the end of 6th grade for the last two years of the program. His team plays hard and he’s improved as a player, but the boys aren’t particularly nice to each other and after months of playing don’t really talk to each other off the field. Most of the parents and many of the team just aren’t friendly, as though we are rivals of some sort, competing for the few soccer scholarships handed out, when in reality most of these kids will never play Division 1 or professionally. I’m not the first to point out that youth sports, particularly soccer, has completely lost its way, which is sad to see, because the lessons I learned have served me my whole life.

Soccer is so much more about “going for it” in general than it is about scoring goals.  It’s about your personal best, even if that isn’t perfect.  It’s about embracing the process of learning, not the end result, about learning grit and being kind to yourself when you make a mistake or lose, and being gracious when you win. It’s about friendship and fun and team work, and realizing that we all have an important position to play. These were the messages my coaches passed on, two older women whose kids had been long grown but loved being part of little kids’ lives. How to play became less important than how to be on a team, how to be in the world, how to show up on a field and go for the goal, whether you make it or not.

 

Some of my team in 2011– my daughter is the tallest in the middle.

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Real Friends

It gets harder to make new friends, as well as maintain friendships we have, as we get older because everyone is so busy these days. It’s bittersweet because I realize how much energy teens put into their friendships, whereas adults often don’t. I have a friend from college whom I haven’t seen in six years; he never calls or emails and takes weeks to get back to me, and only after several calls or emails on my part. Another friend doesn’t work but over-schedules her kids so much, that she is constantly exhausted, driving them to different states for sporting events. The only way I see her is if I initiate. The last time I saw her was at soccer tryouts for our sons’ travel teams. She spent the whole time complaining about how much she hated traveling to Connecticut and Rhode Island for soccer games and standing in the pouring rain, but her son wanted to be on a “select” team in addition to the travel league. I said, “You know, you could have said no. You were the one who signed the papers.” She looked surprised, but I was kind of done with the excuses. After all, we’re the ones who create all the busyness. It gets old trying to chase down friends who don’t want to take the time. I think people have forgotten what friendship really means. It doesn’t mean that you post occasionally on a Facebook wall, or that you wait for the other person to contact you, but that there is a mutual give and take and a commitment to being there for each other.

This spring, my daughter signed up to host a Spanish exchange student, who just left after ten magical days, and then they will meet again next month near Madrid. Maria showed up, in a way, like Mary Poppins, full of joy and energy and support and wisdom and soccer skills and insights, and so much more than we thought we would be getting. With Maria here, our daughter was more focused in school and felt happy having another teenager girl in-house to do things with, from karaoke in the basement to basketball outside to soccer to bowling to singing songs around the piano. Maria was a guest and we certainly worked hard to make her visit special, as we did last year when we hosted a French student. But there was something different at play. Maria became a friend in ten short days, not just to my daughter, but to my son and my husband and me. She was grateful and insightful and warm and present. She was, in a word, a friend in the truest way. After a bad soccer practice that made me cry because the boys on my son’s team were so mean to each other, she was there to comfort me. Before my daughters’ audition for the school musical, she was there to make sure my daughter was prepared. She joked in the car to make my son more relaxed before his exams. She made us all laugh in English, even though it was her second language. That’s why she seemed like Mary Poppins– she arrived and magically everything was better and more fun. The fact that a Spanish teenager who is 16 could be a better friend to me in ten days of knowing me than many so-called friends, definitely made me think long and hard about who my true friends are. People seem to forget that friendship means regularly checking in about how the other person is doing, and there has to be reciprocity too; it can’t just be one person doing all the tending. But so many people schedule themselves so tightly, there is no rooms to care for others, beyond their kids and their busy calendars.

To find your world stage, take a chance and host an exchange student. It may be a magical experience. And if not, remember that busyness is never an excuse for not being a good friend. If you take the time to check in and ask about how things are and be present, you will be light years ahead of most people, who use busyness as an excuse for not being there for others.pexels-photo-541518.jpeg

Innocent Bystander

When I was in college and taking Psychology 101, I never forgot learning about the Kitty Genovese case, which took place in March 1964. A 28 year-old American bar manager was stabbed to death in her apartment building in Queens. Over 30 witnesses either saw or heard the attack, but none called the police. This ultimately became known as the Bystander Effect or Genovese Syndrome. Here’s what Wikipedia states: “According to the principle of social influence, bystanders monitor the reactions of other people in an emergency situation to see if others think that it is necessary to intervene. If it is determined that others are not reacting to the situation, bystanders will interpret the situation as not an emergency and will not intervene.” We tend to need “social proof” to know how to react. During the Asch Conformity experiments, one line was written on the board and compared to three other lines, one of which was clearly the same length. And yet, the room was completely filled with actors except for the one student, and the actors kept giving incorrect responses. Ultimately the lone student would switch his answer to conform to the others even though it wasn’t right. 

This week, I had two experiences with being an innocent bystander and having to act even without social proof. Last Sunday, I was in Boston walking down one of the busiest streets filled with lanes of cars. I happened to see an old couple standing on the curb next to a parked car. At first, I assumed they were going to get into that car. But then I realized that they were peeking out into traffic and trying to figure out how to cross when they weren’t at a crosswalk and the man was using a walker. My first reaction, as it is for many people, was that I was sure they knew what they were doing and I didn’t need to intervene. I figured that they would make their way over to the crosswalk. But a little voice nagged at me, so I asked them if they needed help. They said no, but they clearly weren’t moving toward the crosswalk. It would have been tempting to move on, but I felt like they were in over their heads. I said, “You know you should really cross at the crosswalk, since it’s much safer” and the woman said, “My husband can’t walk well and we can’t walk that far.” They clearly were wanting to cross right then and there in front of three lanes of traffic. So I said, “Maybe you should at least wait until the cars have a light, so the street will be clearer.” But the woman was in a hurry for some reason and didn’t want to wait. So I took a breath, walked in front of them, put my hand out to traffic, and miraculously the entire crowded Boston street stopped, with no honking, as I stood there with my umbrella in the middle of the street in the pouring rain, and the couple slowly made their way across the street. It felt like a scene from a movie in which a person is standing in the street and all the cars are silently stopped. I was grateful that I chose not to be an innocent bystander while that couple crossed the road, because I would have felt horrible if something had happened.

And two days ago, I witnessed my son’s soccer practice, in which one kid was being bullied by the whole team, right in front of me and two of the coaches. The kids were shouting mean things to this boy, about how they thought he was a lousy player, and laughing at him and refusing to pass to him. He just stood there and took it. I kept thinking that someone would intervene and yet no one did, not even the coaches. So after five minutes of this, I ran over to the coaches and yelled, “You need to stop this right now. Do you hear what they are doing to him? Imagine how he must be feeling?” The coach looked more embarrassed that I had called him out than upset about the situation. In fact, he didn’t seem to think that this was a problem. It took another 10 minutes before the coach gathered the kids and simply said, “You need to be nicer to each other.” What? That was it? I was stunned at how complicit these adults were. They should have been ashamed of themselves for allowing this. But the reality is that it happens all the time. I think about the Holocaust and how so many people decided just to be innocent bystanders, thinking that since they weren’t Jewish, it wasn’t really their problem. I am grateful for the people who did stand up to injustice even if most people didn’t.

To find your world stage, remember that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. If you are watching and someone needs you, you have a moral obligation to respond. Don’t wait for social proof to know whether to act, and don’t assume if there are others around, that you don’t need to do anything. The world is sad and broken enough. We need more people willing to respond, regardless of what others are doing.

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Good News

After what has felt like years of winter, it is finally spring in Boston. Today it was 70 degrees and sunny and even though I put on some sunblock, I still got burned. And yet, it felt so good to finally feel the sun on my skin and to look up at the beautiful clear sky. It is so easy to focus on the sunburn and forget the glorious day, since it can be hard to remember the good things when bad things happen, even minor things like sunburns. Everyday it seems that there is more bad news in the newspaper. Even so, the Polyanna in me sees the silver lining and thinks “And yet…” The recent Southwest flight that killed a passenger who was sucked partially through a window was devastating to that family. And yet, everyone else survived because a very skilled female pilot guided them safely to the ground. The recent Waffle House shooting was horrible, in that it was another mass shooting, falling so recently on the heels of the Parkland shooting and the students’ protests of “Never again.” And yet, the hero who saved the day was a black man in the south, the kind of person who is sadly not celebrated enough. And the horrible event in Toronto in which a crazy man plowed into innocent people was reminiscent of the Nice and Berlin attacks, and yet even in the horror, witnesses rushed to help the wounded. One woman left the cafe where she had been sitting to hold the hand of a man who was dying, since she didn’t want him to die alone.

Yesterday it was cold and pouring rain after only a few days of sunny spring days, and after our long winter, it felt like a cruel joke. And yet, I saw the explosion of pink and white blossoms overhead and the tulips confidently poking up through the ground. I spent all day today doing laundry and cleaning and tidying and my husband did hours of yard work to get ready for our Spanish exchange student who is arriving late tonight from Madrid. In addition to getting our kids to art classes and soccer games, my son needed help prepping for his Model UN competition for tomorrow and my daughter for a singing audition for a musical. My husband and I are dragging from hours of chores, and yet, we will have a 16 year-old Spanish girl in our house for ten days and then my daughter stays with her family in a few months. Last spring, we hosted a French girl for my daughter and next year we hope to host a Chinese student for my son. This is what makes me feel hopeful, that in a world that seems to have gone mad, there are students from other countries coming to stay with us and learn about our world, just as we will do with them. It makes the world seem smaller and more friendly.

To find your world stage, remember to look for the good news in the bad. Sometimes you may have to search hard, but there’s always something. And next time it rains, remember to look for the blossoms that provide the contrast to the dull grey and give us all hope, when it may feel hard to find.

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Don’t Need to Know

Now that I have been off Facebook for three weeks, I have to say that I have a feeling of calm that I could not have predicted. The first few days of not being able to check it literally felt like withdrawal, like the time after my junior year of college when I cut out all soda and caffeine, resulting in withdrawal headaches for weeks. The reality is that I was so much clearer and more focused my senior year without being constantly propped up by Diet Coke, as I feel now without the quick fix of Facebook. Today’s students use Adderall as study aids, even though they don’t have ADHD, because they want a competitive edge. The fact is that Adderall is just speed in a pill, no different in terms of how the brain receives it than street meth. As our society speeds up faster and faster, we think that we have to and that we even can stay on top of everything, but the reality is that we can’t. We can’t do it all or learn it all or see it all, but we think we can. Facebook and social media in general plays into this, this belief that we can be friends with everyone and be seen and celebrated and not miss out. It’s kind of sad really, if you think about it. Because having real friends takes time. Georgia O’Keefe once wrote: “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” In spite of the fact that O’Keefe died over 30 years ago, it seems as though she could have written it today.

The reality is that we have the same bodies and brains that we had fifty years ago, when there were no personal computers, or internet or social media, and yet we think somehow that we can go faster. When I was in my twenties in the 1990’s and worked at a law firm to support my music, the firm hired messengers to deliver packages and to hand out last minute messages about meetings from office to office. Today, documents would just be emailed. But the pace then was slower because it had to be. We think progress is great, but we couldn’t envision the downside of cyber bullying or 24/7 work or “friends” who are not really friends. One hundred years ago, we couldn’t image such cheap and easy air travel or the idea that most Americans would own their own car. But we also couldn’t imagine endless international business trips that our bodies are not frankly designed for, crossing oceans in hours when it took our ancestors months, and expecting our bodies to react to the time changes easily. Or traveling by car at such high speeds, and being confronted with the dangers of texting or other myriad distractions. One hundred fifty years ago, most people lived and died in the same place and married someone who grew up near them. Only the very wealthy got to visit great sites around the world. For everyone else, they lived in the same place and knew the same people. But at least they knew who their friends were and didn’t waste time corresponding with fake friends on Facebook.

If you think about Facebook as a concept, it mainly provides noise and distraction. There are exceptions, of course, in which old buddies or distant family can find each other again. I was able to find my third cousin and get the details of a funeral that my father wanted to attend for his second cousin, since my grandmother had been very close to her first cousins. But Facebook also has allowed me to reconnect with old flames (with my husband’s permission of course), only to find that they haven’t aged well, which reminds me of my own mortality in a strange way, even as I gloat that I look better than they do. But mainly it’s all the endless information that none of us needs to know. One of my “friends” is a guy I musical directed once in college. We weren’t friends even then, but he was a guy with a good voice I once knew, who is constantly posting about how evil Trump is. Even though I don’t like Trump, do I really need to be hearing from this guy I knew once at age 20? What about my favorite post, which is “Had such a blast at so and so’s wedding! So glad to be invited. Here are some awesome pictures!” when in fact you weren’t invited but had to wade through dozens of pictures from the party you didn’t make the cut for? The reality is that I don’t need to know that the woman who was a friend at age 16 but isn’t anymore is selling her couch and her daughter has Lyme or that the guy from junior high has medical issues. If someone doesn’t want to tell me, then I don’t need to know it, any more than I need to cyber-stalk celebrities about their lives. Because in the end, who cares? What does Kate Winslet’s life with kids from three different husbands have to do with me?

The answer is to shut it down, get off, breathe and look around at your own wonderful life. And if your life isn’t what you want, then roll up your sleeves and get to work. But having the breathing space to just focus on you and your immediate world is so incredibly freeing. To find your world stage, remember that you don’t need to know what everyone else is doing and what parties you haven’t been invited to. Just focus on what matters in your own life and enter more fully into it without distractions.

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Affinity

I remember years ago having an argument with one of my friends, who is a gay Jewish man, about who was more oppressed. I felt that women were and he was sure that gays were, in addition to Jews. We finally gave up and laughed, because the whole thing was so silly. I think of this often as I contemplate what college life will be like for my kids in a few years, with its safe spaces to protect students from anything upsetting. Affinity groups exist for every possible sub-group, based on race and sexual orientation and culture. It seems that more and more we are separating and protecting ourselves from those who are different. This is unfortunate because so much is lost when we hide from people whom we can learn from.

There is a new trend in K-8 schools to start affinity groups for young children, sorting students by race, so that kids of color feel more support. My son’s school tried that last year with the kindergartners, and many of the parents were so upset by the idea of separating the races, that the experiment was discontinued and the head of Diversity and Inclusion fired. Many parents pointed to the fact that “separate but equal” does not work, as shown in Brown vs. the Board of Education. At the Bank Street School in New York, not only are the races separated, but the children of color get special favors and treats, and the white children are chastised for their “white privilege.” According to the New York Post (July 1, 2016), here are the stated goals for the white group (see right).

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What’s interesting is that a long-term study called the Diversity Challenge, which was the largest study on college diversity, followed 2,000 students from UCLA over 5 years to see how diversity impacts identify and attitude and conflicts. “Data from our study showed pretty conclusively that intergroup contact reduces ethnic tension and increases in friendship across ethnic lines,” says Sidanius. “Universities should do everything in their power to increase the level of contact between different ethnicities. They should make roommate assignments random and fight against the natural tendency for students to segregate themselves.” This study came out in 2009. (See diverseeducation.com– March 10, 2009.) And yet almost 10 years later, we still have this idea that we need to protect ourselves from people who are not like us.

And yet, what defines us? Should I only hang out with white people or just women or just people who are upper-middle class or just Americans or just people from the Boston area, or what about just coaches or just musicians or just parents or just people who are married? All of those things define me, but if we start breaking in affinity groups to protect ourselves, which group speaks to who we are? For someone who is black and rich, can they relate to someone who is black and poor? What about working class white people. Do they have a lot in common with educated whites? What about gay people who are Asian. Are they more Asian or gay? This weekend, I spent a few hours rehearsing with a friend and colleague who is a musician who also went to Yale. But he is a man, he is gay and he is black. Wouldn’t we normally not be in the same affinity group? Last night, we had dinner with a couple in which the wife is white and grew up on the Upper East Side of New York City. The husband was born in Vietnam and escaped on a raft after the fall of Saigon. She went to prep school for high school. He worked in his family’s diner and went to public school. If he had been in the Asian group or the poor affinity group, he wouldn’t have connected with a rich, white girl, and they would have missed out on a great life together.

I totally understand why schools have created diversity programs, since traditionally minorities have been under-represented. But my son’s school has over 50% non-white students. In spite of that, racial diversity continues to be emphasized even though the school lacks economic diversity more than anything, since there is only so much scholarship money available. Students need to learn that race is important but it’s only one part of identity– it shouldn’t be over-emphasized. Yes, we need to do a lot better as a society to stop police brutality toward black and brown people. It’s unfair and unacceptable. But we also need to attend to all the poor white people struggling from unemployment and addiction in Appalachia, for instance. Instead of safe spaces protecting us from others, we need to be more involved with people not like us, to care about other races and classes and cultures and life circumstances.

To find your world stage, stop thinking about how you’re oppressed and how your rights are being violated, whether it’s because of your race or sex or religion or culture, and instead seek to understand and be understood. The world doesn’t need more affinity groups and safe spaces, or people arguing about who is more oppressed. Instead, we need more joy and connection, no matter where we come from.

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