The misnomer of ‘unfinished business’

A friend made a comment to me recently that she had some “unfinished business” with a relative, a longstanding disagreement that she believed they would someday resolve. (Read: make her cousin see things her way.) I doubt that will happen. Because I’ve come to realize that there really is no such thing as unfinished business in our lives.

But there are lost moments, missed opportunities, things that slipped through our grasp, chances we didn’t take, sentences we didn’t finish, and misunderstandings we didn’t clarify.

There’s a popular meme that says, “It’s not failure — it’s unfinished business.” I would dispute that. It’s failure, but we’re afraid to admit it. We just didn’t like the way we failed.

We finish the so-called business at the moment it happens: with those conversations we don’t have, the emotions we don’t express. It’s over. The moment is gone. And you don’t get it back. Call it the Butterfly Effect, whatever. But inactions have the same result as actions, because an inaction is itself a choice, an action.

5947645872_92132a2681_bYou don’t get to go back to age 18 or 21 or 25 or 30, — and you’re not the same person as you were then, anyway. So the “business” didn’t end the way you would have liked — it is no less finished. It’s more romantic, more hopeful to term it “unfinished.” But it’s purely a euphemism for a failure or an unhappy ending. Why do we hate to use those words?

I always liked the movie “Sliding Doors” because it shows how one relatively simple action in one instant — like missing a train by seconds — can make a dramatic difference in life.  The problem is that we are all subject to “what if” thinking in our lives as we move through them. What if I’d said the words aloud? What if I’d taken that job? What if I’d confronted that person? What if I’d made that phone call, sent that letter, or what if I’d done neither?

There are theories in physics (and metaphysics!) about alternative realities, where in one reality we make decision A, and in another we make decision B, and we lead two completely different lives in each reality. The catch is, we don’t get to know how that other reality, if it exists, turns out.

With five decades behind me, I see that any regrets I may have are about things I didn’t do more than any foolish things I did. They are about the words I never said, the chances I didn’t take, the emotions I didn’t bare, the people I didn’t stand up to. And if I could give my much younger self advice, it would be to always take the chance. To hell with the fears, the potential for embarrassment and failure. Something wonderful and amazing could happen.

But when you leave this earth, your business will always be finished, one way or another.

“You’d better know that in the end

It’s better to say too much

Then never say what you need to say again.

Even if your hands are shaking

And your faith is broken

Even as the eyes are closing

Do it with a heart wide open

Say what you need to say, say what you need to say.”


Skateboarding Lessons


I’ve lost count of the number of times when, after hearing about a teenage driving tragedy, I’ve said piously, “That’s the thing about young people — they think they are immortal; they never believe it will happen to them.”

There needs to be a new category of people who are just as idealistic, naive, blissfully ignorant — “who think it will never happen to them” — employees over 50.

Harry Truman once wrote, “It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours.” Hell, yeah. And depression is a key side-effect of losing your job. Along with a total loss of self-esteem and an increase in self-doubt and sudden crying jags.

Baby boomers were raised with the ethic that if we worked hard, offered an employer loyalty, didn’t make waves and always stayed busy and made positive contributions to a company, we would have jobs. Our parents worked for 30 or 40 years at companies: IBM, P&G, GM, police and fire departments, banks, insurance companies. They retired with these now near-mythical things called “pensions.”

But in the last couple of decades, the situation has changed. There are very few lifers in lifetime jobs. That’s not a bad thing, really. But what has become frightening is what downsizing, RIFs, recessions, redundancies, etc., have done to those of us over the age of 50 who simply want to work hard and do something related to the field in which we earned college degrees. (Seriously, who in the 1970s-80s foresaw that a journalism/communications degree might be a dead end?)

Like my teenage children, I honestly believed it would not happen to me, even though it happened all around me and often to good and talented people. In a previous job I was ordered to lay off four people in my last week there, losing several weeks’ sleep over it. Two-and-a-half years later, the bitch that is karma left me standing at the elevator toting a cardboard box containing my Yankees coffee mug, family photos and editing style manuals.

Image“It’s a reduction in force across the board,” the HR staffer reassured me. “It’s nothing you did or could have done differently.” As the newest kid in the department, my number was simply up as the company moves toward sale or consolidation.

In the past two months I’ve found myself wondering just how I got here. Damn it, I think to myself, I used to BE somebody! I traveled the world, won awards, served as vp of a national association, met presidents and popes, and interviewed politicians and celebrities. Job offers came out of the blue. But that was then, and this is simply not then.

Printed publications went the way of the Edsel. I turned 50. I took a big paycut and made a lane change to try to keep my career afloat. And today I’m known as a case number to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Does age make finding a job harder? I didn’t always think so, but now I’m not so sure. ImageThere have been books written about unemployment for women over 50 (but I don’t have the money to buy them now!)

At one job interview a few weeks ago, in a very hipster-oriented ad agency where employees actually rode skateboards throughout the office, I could tell the managers were surprised when I introduced myself. I don’t necessarily look my age, but I’m clearly over 45. My skateboarding days are not only behind me, they never existed….I am of the era of roller skates with clamps over shoes.

I don’t have a problem with working with skateboarders. I can even name some popular skateboarders, as well as most of the cool musicians, TV shows, movies, reality celebs. I own t-shirts with clever sayings on them. No, I’ve never worn them to work, but there’s always a first time, right?

The reality is, however, that first impressions based on looks/demeanor/style/age are important. I’ve left the interview suits in the closet, since no one really seems to wear them anymore. I am incredibly adaptable and stay current. But I doubt some of the hiring managers have the time or willingness to find that out. There are other, younger candidates; I’ve seen them leaving the interviews. It’s probably easier to take a chance on them.

ImageI’ve spent most of this “down” time trying to update my software skills, to read all of the marketing/social media/management trends/project management books and articles I didn’t have time to read when I was working. I find all of the “use this time to reinvent yourself” advice difficult to heed. I don’t want to reinvent myself. I liked what I did. I can do it somewhere else, if someone will hire me.

“I was happy being a journalist; I didn’t realize losing my job, my identity went with it,” Maria Shriver once said in an interview. Like Maria, I had no idea how much of my identity was tied into my work. If you asked me, I would always have said — and still would — that being a mom was my most fulfilling role. It’s a role that thankfully has not gone away. But when my job went away suddenly, a big part of my identity got very confused. I was no longer a former journalist-turned-digital-media-maven. I was just out of work.

So the past few months have not been the wonderful journey of self-discovery about which some authors wax rhapsodic. There’s been wallowing. There has been self-pity. Anger, lots of doubt. Fear. Fear is a big one.

But having written that, I am a little excited to be back in the job market, although I wish it weren’t under duress. The thought of working in a place where I can make a contribution again excites me.

And if it means I have to learn to skateboard, I’m game. Just give me the chance.

Danny Boy

Never once during all those long, sleepless nights 17 years ago did I imagine I’d be faced with this reality.Image

Daniel was the “easy” baby. Unlike his colicky older sister, he slept longer, more deeply and woke with a smile. On the nights when he needed a little extra soothing after a feeding or a change, or when teething or a temp left him fussy, I’d sit in the rocking chair in his darkened room, singing softly to him until he fell back to sleep.

ImageWith Gabrielle I’d always sung “House at Pooh Corner.” For Daniel, it was “Danny Boy.” The pipes were calling, I sang, but I’d always be here waiting.

So I blame myself a little, as 17 years later, he prepares to enter college with the ROTC program. When he graduates in 2017, he will have a four-year active duty military commitment and a four-year reserve duty commitment. He talks about it being a lifelong career, though, if his dream of working for the FBI or Secret Service in counterfeiting operations doesn’t come true.

And I’m flummoxed.Image

I was the smartass college student who disapproved of the ROTC guys. It was the late ’70s, and memories of Vietnam were all too fresh. I couldn’t understand these young men with their fatigues and short haircuts. Being drafted was one thing, and supporting troops was a given. But why would a college-educated person with the world in front of them opt to do this? I didn’t get it.

A few weeks ago a local Army major pointed out a truth to me, however. Military personnel don’t ask to go fight wars in Afghanistan or Iraq or Korea or Vietnam or wherever, he told me not unkindly. They go where a civilian president and Congress have determined the nation should have a military presence or participation in a crisis. So if we don’t want our sons and daughters in the world’s hotspots fighting what we perceive to be useless battles, we should not blame or think less of the military.

ImageI’ve thought about that a lot in recent weeks, as my youngest talks excitedly and endlessly about basic training this summer, future summer training programs, military careers, airborne, deployment, etc. The words spin around me.

Would I rather he set his sights on Wall Street and making a million? No. I’m proud that both my kids seems to be focused on careers that are not about money or fame, but about service to others and ultimately, helping their fellow humans. But in the case of a military career, the parent in me is proud, but the Mom in me is screaming, “No! Not my son.”

Dan was the kid I pictured we’d experience a “Failure to Launch” with. I envisioned him living in our basement at 35, surrounded by Legos and Star Wars posters. But in the past few years, he has really come into his own. Not only does he tower over me now in height, he has an assurance about him I could only have hoped to see. He’s comfortable in his own skin. He has goals and a plan for reaching them. That’s more than a lot of parents can say about their 17-year-olds.

ImageI’ve been breaking down while doing housework, in the car alone, or in the shower — places he can’t see me. The reality that he will come home for short breaks, but probably never truly live with us again is hitting a little hard. He’s my baby, my sunshiny little boy. I thought I’d have more time to come to terms with his adulthood, but it’s arrived more suddenly than expected.

Is he in harm’s way any more than anyone else’s child? Not really. I think about those parents in Sandy Hook who sent their 5-year-olds to school that morning in December, never dreaming they were in danger. It’s true that we are only given our children for a short while. We do the best we can and hope we’ve done the whole “roots and wings” thing right.

As my Danny boy prepares to take flight, his sister dreams of grad school in some far-away places the following year. The nest will likely be empty by the end of 2014. They’re finding those wings.

I always thought the sleepless nights, the illnesses, the emotional crises, the education, the bullying, etc., were the hardest things in parenting. I didn’t realize the hardest thing would actually be letting go of all of that . . .

I am so proud of my selfless kids. The tears I am shedding and will likely shed in the months to come are selfish ones. My baby birds are going to fly high and do some amazing things, and the world will be a better place for them being in it.

It doesn’t hurt any less, but it makes me smile through the tears.

ImageOh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the flow’rs are dying
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh, Danny boy, oh, Danny boy, I love you so.


November always makes me think of Dad, and for some reason, George — which makes me smile.

Nope, not an old beau or pet — well, not really.

ImageGeorge was the gorilla who lived in the closet of my father’s den in their home in Florida. At least, that’s what we were told. The kids were convinced over the years that they’d caught glimpses of him. George, we were told, was quite shy. When our clan headed south for a visit, George usually packed up and went to visit his brother out West, Dad said. He always tried to make it back before we left for home, but it never quite happened.

“How’s George, Grandpa?” was one of the first questions the kids would ask when they got my dad on the phone. A shaggy dog (gorilla?) story would follow about the ape’s latest adventures, and they were stories that always thrilled.

ImageGeorge was a surprisingly good correspondent. He wrote letters to the kids, inquiring after their grades and activities. He had nice handwriting, not unlike my father’s elegant script . . . and for some reason, I always envision a gorilla wearing a beanie with a propellor sitting at a school desk, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he labored over a letter.

George was something of a surprise to me, as my dad wasn’t much for children or whimsy during my own early years. The potential for it was always there, but it was never realized until Gabrielle came along in 1991 and Daniel four years later. Whatever mistakes or omissions Dad made during my childhood he made up for with my kids. No, he never changed a diaper, but he sparked their imaginations in so many ways.

“Remember George?” the kids still ask each other at times, and it’s always followed by grins and giggles and more Grandpa stories.

ImageGeorge faded away as my father did, disappearing somewhere into the mists swirling in Dad’s mind. But George’s memory is still strong in the minds of the grandchildren who never actually saw him, but knew what he looked like as surely as they did their grandfather, thanks to his elaborate descriptions.

I look at this photo, taken on his 80th birthday — just seven days before his November 27 death in 2007 — and mourn that creativity and whimsy and gentleness and delight in his grandchildren, particularly his young namesake, his only grandson. At the end, Dad did not know my mother’s name or mine, or even that we were related, but his visage would light up when his grandchildren entered the room, and he would fire  an imaginary cowboy pistol at Daniel in acknowledgement of that recognition.

Every November, I  think of the great poker game that’s going on in the next world. My dad and his buddies — Bill, Leo, Smokey, Ray, and probably my Uncle Larry — are sitting around a table. There’s a coffeemaker brewing endless pots (not decaf, either!), and there’s an Entenmann’s cake or two nearby.

And I always imagine George sitting next to my dad, wearing a green eyeshade, of course. It’s his deal.

Cincinnati’s most popular religion, practiced on Friday nights

Contrary to demographic studies, Catholicism is not the predominant religion in Cincinnati. Friday night football is.

I think I attended one football game during my high school years: the annual infamous Mount St. Michael/Cardinal Spellman matchup. I don’t remember sitting in the bleachers.  I do remember standing under them smoking with other friends who considered football to be bourgeois (in all of our 16-year-old sophistication).

Given my indifference to basketball and football, the midwest was not a logical place to settle down and raise kids. Indiana, where our eldest child was born, lived and breathed basketball. The movie “Hoosiers” depicts it all too well. And Cincinnati, well, the Friday night lights shine bright in large high school stadiums where  as many as four generations gather to watch epic rivalries. If your dad and grandfather went to Elder and played in the famous “Pit,” you are also likely to “bleed purple.” If they went to St. X, you wear the royal blue to the office on Fridays during football season, and if they were LaSalle Lancers, you wear red and the “L” you make with your right hand stands for “LaSalle,” (not “loser,” as it does in much of the country).

Grandmothers and grandfathers hobble in to high school stadia with walkers and canes — and their padded stadium seats under their arms. Two-week-old babies fuss amidst the noise. Marching bands still play. Everyone seems to know the names of the GCL’s top quarterbacks. The four local news stations all reserve 10 or more minutes in Friday night broadcasts for high school game reporting, and one of the cable companies even carries some of the biggest rivalries. Traffic reports on Fridays make note of the games that will most likely disrupt traffic patterns . . . and on it goes. Rain, snow, intense heat? Who cares. Not Cincinnatians.

Enter the Bronx girl.

Luckily, the kids weren’t involved too much in grade school sports, so we missed the fanaticism of some parents who are trying to relive their glory days through their 9-year-olds. Youngest child dabbled in intramural basketball, where we watched parents and coaches being ejected from games for their behavior. We also learned that there were parents who didn’t want our son on their son’s team because he wasn’t talented enough to help take them to city championships. At the age of 11.

So I was happy when both kids played musical instruments and opted to participate in this Friday night religion as members of marching band. For 7 years I attended the occasional football game to check out the band’s halftime show, and thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t one of those women sitting in the stands wearing her son’s football jersey and yelling at the referees.

God has a really interesting sense of humor, doesn’t he?

As senior year of high school approached, youngest child decided that four years of watching football from the band section was enough. He wanted to don the jersey and cleats and see how the turf felt under his feet when he wasn’t counting measures and drumbeats and trying to avoid getting clipped in the head by  color guard rifles or flags.

Can you hear God laughing? I can. Daily.

At 6’3 and 180 lbs., youngest child has a natural athleticism. It served him well in martial arts, track, and even in marching band, where he lugged a 30-lb drum around the field in a 15-minute show. Now, however, he is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with boys who are equally tall, usually heavier, and most have 10 years of football experience under their girdles. And like their fathers and grandfathers, they are pretty zealous about their pigskin.

So I try not to cringe. I try not to pray that the first-string cornerback stays healthy so that youngest child spends the season warming the bench. I’m torn between wanting him to have that exhilarating experience under the Friday night lights and wanting him to stay safe, physically and emotionally. The kids who fumble the balls at football games here on the west side can take a real verbal beating. . .

“Is this defense or offense?” “What does that flag mean?” Why is that player kneeling while the clock is running, if he’s not Tim Tebow?” I pepper my patient husband with questions. He doesn’t want to be there any more than I do — maybe even less. As a guy, he knows exactly how cruel it all can get.

But we love our kids. We’re proud of our son for attempting something that very few kids in the GCL have tried — varsity football at a state championship school, in one’s senior year for the first time. He told us he didn’t want to turn around in 10 years and always wonder what it would have been like to play. So he’s got a lot more guts  than either my husband or I ever did. I would have always sat on the sidelines, too afraid to step out of my comfort zone and to take the chance of not being good.

My son, however, is just enjoying every minute of being part of this team and a game he really likes playing. He is the one who always has a kind word and a pat on the back for the player who fumbled, as well as a high five for the kids being scouted by colleges. I watch him on the sidelines encouraging and respecting every one of his teammates. And my heart swells more in pride over that than over any game-winning play.

Maybe I can learn something from him this year — if I can last under the Friday night lights. It’s SO not a Bronx thing.

A little more Mr. Darcy, please

Young women today want to be unlike the way they are. And they are really much more interested in men who are not like most men today.

It’s a natural conclusion to draw after after reading The Hunger Games trilogy and the Twilight series. Bella and Katniss are self-sacrificing young women who suffer for the people they love. They do their utmost to protect family and friends, even at possible cost of their own lives.

Bella agonizes alone over the choices she makes. There’s no best friend, sister or mom she can talk to about her wish to become a vampire; they’d check her into rehab or a mental health facility if she even broached the subject. The immortals in her life don’t want her making sacrifices for them, and her werewolf buddy just doesn’t get any of the bloodsucker issues. So she struggles alone, silently, with only herself to debate. It kind of sucks, pun intended.

Katniss is a different kind of silent heroine. She has never had anyone in her life she can rely upon, at least not since her father’s death. Adults have failed her, especially her mother. Even with her best friend, Gale, she appears to hold back. Emotions and feelings are internalized, with only the more practical matters of life discussed. She reveals little of her thoughts.

In a world where facebook posts can be embarrassingly revelatory and where young women appear able to discuss the most intimate details of their lives in loud phone conversations in public places, Bella and Katniss stand apart. They suffer in silence. There is no thought of a screeching, “oh my god, can you believe my frickin’ crazy mother?” or “this Peeta guy better not screw up my chances with Gale.” There are no “what is your problem?” confrontations with Katniss’ romantic interests, either, no knock-down, drag-out fights a la “Jersey Shore,” no heart-on-her-sleeve situations.
Is this why we like these characters? Because they live a little more internally, perhaps as some of us think we should or wish we could?

Therapist would likely struggle with Bella and Katniss, who would not be interested in sessions that included the phrases, “why do you think that is?” or “how do you feel about that?”

Then there are the men. Noble and silent in their own ways. Self-sacrificing. Giving. Unlike the crass modern movie comedies, it’s not all about sex; in fact, in Hunger Games sex is not even discussed or referenced. The men make no demands. Edward, Jacob, Peeta and Gale all woo the women they love in a devoted, cherishing way. These young men remind me of such other literary characters as Laurie in Little Women and some of Jane Austen and the Brontes’ heroes.

It all makes me think that we’re not as happy with our relationship world in 2012 as it might seem. Maybe we want to be cherished and romanced a little more. Maybe we don’t want sex to be such a casual deal. Maybe we don’t want to Facebook every emotion, but keep a few things treasured in our hearts.

Why do it this way then?I don’t think our young women know any other way. They’re the generation for whom breakups via text will be a norm.

If these YA novels mean the return of more romantic and noble literary characters, then yay.
A little less Jersey Shore, a little more Mr. Darcy can only be a good thing.

‘Puppy Love’ and its place in our lives

CNN posted an interesting piece yesterday titled “Why We Grieve Teen Idols.” As one person commenting said, “Sad feeling, when pieces of your childhood start falling away. There goes another piece of mine.”

Ah, Davy Jones. My first real crush. I was 6.

No, seriously, it was a big deal. I was allowed to stay up an extra half-hour on Monday nights so I could watch “The Monkees.” I carried a plastic Monkees lunchbox to school, hard-earned after my mother had purchased a “Hector Heathcote” lunchbox the previous year for me. And Davy was my man.

Until I turned 7 and grew taller than him.

Ok, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. I might have been 8 when I passed him in height. And by then I’d already found Donny Osmond and his brothers on “The Andy Williams Show” every Saturday night and tossed Davy aside like an old shoe.

I was loyal to Donny for a good 10 years. (In some ways, I still am, I guess!) By the age of 10, I had a solid plan. I fully intended to marry him when I was old enough, move to Utah, become a Mormon, and raise horses on a mountain ranch with the toothy hunk. (This despite the fact that yes, I’d passed him up in height at about age 14!) When I finally saw him in concert in 1970, my dreams were slightly crushed. There were thousands of other screaming girls filling Madison Square Garden, all wearing something purple and all having the same plan as I did, or at least, a similar version.

But it was impossible to let him go all the same. I watched his show with his sister, Marie, even though no one cool would ever admit to that at the time. His posters, carefully unfolded from Tiger Beat and 16 magazines,  adorned my bedroom wall until I left for college. A form letter he’d scribbled a note on personally was tucked inside my pillow case for 6 or 7 years. But after I’d left the Bronx behind for the not-so-ivied covered walls of Boston U, my father mailed me UPI photos of Donny’s wedding. I felt a pang as I looked at the black and white images. Although I’d moved on to real boys and real relationship possibilities for the future, there was still a little corner of my heart that wept a bit.

The CNN story chalks these kinds of reality up to a loss of innocence, or in the case of Jones’ death, a reminder of our own mortality. For me it’s akin to losing a tiny, tiny bit of yourself, the person you’ve become as the years and experiences pile upon one another. Here’s the bit of me that adored Davy Jones (for all of one year). It’s fluttering away in the wind, now.

I don’t want to even think about how I would feel if I outlived Donny. It would be a far bigger part of me. Somehow that crush, those dreams, did indeed shape my perceptions of what I wanted in  my life, in relationships, in a boyfriend or husband.

About 19 years ago I had the opportunity to interview Donny in person for a story I was doing about “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” I was going to see the show and meet cast members after to talk.

I dressed in a knockout sweater dress and high black heels. I left my hotel room in Minneapolis/St. Paul as excited as I’d ever been. (My husband still laughs about this story.) I sat, enthralled, throughout the show.

But as it neared the finale, I started to panic. What if Donny was a total ass? What if the difference in our height really bothered me in person? What if he was a dud, a disappointment, a horrible interview? Before the show even ended, I knew that if any of those things came true, I’d be crushed. Yes, I was a happily married woman. But Donny had been a big part of my childhood, a savior in my dreams.

My mother once told me that if it hadn’t been for Donny, she didn’t know if I would have made it through childhood and adolescence. When things at home were bad, I went into my room and put my records on, curled up and pretended it was 1980 and I was already Mrs. Osmond and living in a world without anger and alcohol and crying and fear.

So in my 30s, was I willing to risk that my hero was human, or worse, that he had feet of clay? My friend, Woodeene, once told me you should never interview your heroes or idols, whether they were celebrities, authors, artists — whatever. There was simply no way they could ever live up to your expectations, nor did they have to. But you would lose a little something of yourself when you realized they weren’t all that.

So I blew the cast interviews off. Only time in my life I’ve bailed on an interview. I told the publicist I was sick and went home. I can still hear Gary’s incredulousness on the phone when I told him I was flying home early.

Friends who’ve met Donny tell me he is, indeed, all that. He’s a nice guy. I’m glad. But I still don’t really need to meet him. He’s got this great little corner in my heart, filled with gratitude and warm memories. Grown-up me doesn’t need my teen idol any more, and I’m even more grateful for that.

RIP Davy and the other teen idols who have gone before you. You didn’t win a Nobel Prize or cure cancer, but who knows what dreams you inspired in little girls that made them happier, gave them comfort, or just expanded their imaginations? Without knowing it, I’m sure you gave some girl a reason to daydream and hope for a better future.