Thursday, November 22, 2007

An Unexpected Pleasure

I met my daughter’s new boyfriend for the first time today. Man, I hope I haven’t sent him screaming to move immediately to another city without leaving a forwarding address.

He came to pick her up for school at 8:00 a.m. I did not know he was coming until about 7:55 a.m., when my daughter so advised me just before closeting herself in her bathroom for final grooming procedures. No sooner had the door snicked shut behind her when a car pulled into my driveway and a slightly premature NB, being from the old school of manners, did not commence horn honkage but smartly jumped out and came to rap upon my door.

I called to the groomish daughter but she was doing a final pass-through with the blow-dryer and did not hear. NB had seen me in the living room window. I could therefore not ignore the fact that he was standing on my front porch in sub-zero weather. So I mashed down the million morning cowlicks of the hair on my head but was forced to ignore those of the hair on my legs. I gathered about me my ratty pink bathrobe, the miasma of my morning breath, and my dignity, and I opened the door.

Betraying not a flicker of dismay, NB stepped in and held out his hand, into which I was compelled to place mine, sticky with the half cinnamon bun I had just scarfed and portions of which were probably still adorning my teeth as I smiled a bit wildly at him. He then stood chatting with me just as if I looked like Jennifer Aniston on her best day. (Or even her worst. The point being, Jennifer Aniston is never caught looking bad. Jeez. I guess if you have to explain your pop culture references, that’s not a good thing.)

So I must say, I was charmed by the young man, in the few brief moments I got to spend with him before my daughter, catching on that he was here, catapulted out of the bathroom and down the stairs screeching, “I’m all ready! I’m ready to go!”

Actually, she didn’t do that. It just sounded good for the story. She, too, appeared outwardly perfectly calm about this first presentation of her mother to the NB. She may have then spent the entire drive to school describing to him the day she discovered she was adopted; I don’t know. But I was very proud of her graciousness in the moment.

I would like just the teensiest bit more notice next time he’s coming over, though.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The First Mention of Christmas

We’re scarcely halfway through November, but of course the Christmas hype begins the minute Halloween is over. It’s been making Grammar a bit cranky. Up until just a few years ago, I used to be a great sentimentalist about Christmas, but I have come, alas, to a time in my life where that is no longer so. I have joined the cranky ranks of Grinches who find the whole thing too much fuss and bother.

One of my sisters recently emailed me to discuss this year’s Christmas dinner. I come from a big family: my parents, blessedly both still with us, and three sisters, all of whom have spouses and children. Luckily my husband came from a very small and agreeable family, because the logistics of trying to get my family of origin together for Christmas dinners has always meant that his family takes whatever date and time is left over. My sisters have apparently had equally understanding in-laws, and as well, we have all continued to live reasonably locally. It’s been very serendipitous for my mother, who has always felt so strongly about having her entire extended family together for Christmas dinners. We have managed to make this happen almost every year.

There came a time when I would have preferred to give this up; the youngest generation kept increasing in numbers and by the time we reached a total of 18 people, I felt it was just getting too unwieldy a group, the event too much of a zoo. Grammar is an eremite by nature. I handle cacophony very badly. If I had wanted to sit at a dinner table with squadrons of people, I’d have joined the army.

Well, it can’t go on forever, of course. Half of the youngest generation are now grown-up. It won’t be long before they begin to marry and have children (and in-laws) of their own, and logistics, and likely distance, not to mention sheer numbers, must break up the old meta-clan. This will be, in fact, the third consecutive year where we will be missing one or more of our squadron. I know this hurts the heart of one of my sisters in particular, but it’s the way of time and the world, and we’ve certainly done better than most at staying together all these years.

I’m afraid I have no desire at all to play the hosting matriarch to the Grammar family as my own mother insists she has enjoyed doing all her married life. Once my kids are on their own, especially once they have their own spouses, RH and I plan to make a habit of spending Christmas seasons aboard a cruise ship, away from all the frantic activity. (In some ways, I married myself. We’re two happy hermits together.)

So does this make me unforgivably selfish? It’s an interesting moral question, isn’t it? We only get one life. To what extent do we sacrifice it to the happiness of others and to what extent do we do what makes us happy? Where is the line? Some would say that making others happy is what gives them happiness. To those people I say: fill your boots, and the line for beatification forms on the right. Guess I won’t be in it.

Instead, we’ll be the boring but usually appreciated elders who just disburse generous cheques to everyone for Christmas and make it clear we don’t want any gifts ourselves. Occasionally we might even invite a child and their family on a holiday-season cruise with us, to enjoy the food, d├ęcor and entertainment it has cost us only money to provide. Ho ho ho.

The extended Grammar family at Christmas Dinner. (But replace the flag with a TV screen showing a fireplace with a cozily burning log.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Them Cellular Tellyphones

Today’s subject of interest to Grammar is cell phones. Cell phone etiquette is something everybody has strong opinions about, and it seems to me that this is one area that quite sharply divides the generations. My parents’ generation pretty much believes they are instruments of the devil, my children’s generation is working on a way to implant them permanently in their heads, and we Boomers in between like the technology but are not obsessed with it.

Accordingly, etiquette rules between these three generations will run the gamut from Use Only in Case of Emergency to There is No Place, No Time, no Circumstance where Cell phone use is not appropriate.

You can find all kinds of websites that have some version of “The Ten Commandments of Cell Phone Use” (presumably all written by people over 40). In my opinion, you only need four simple rules. You may talk at will on your phone if:
1. you are in a place where it is not otherwise inappropriate to speak aloud;
2. you are speaking at the same volume you would to a person standing right next to you;
3. you are not ignoring someone who is there in person in favour of your phone, unless they have given you permission to do so;
4. you are not driving a car, unless you have a Bluetooth headset thingy. (I don’t know what they call those things.)

This means, for example, that I believe it is quite acceptable to speak on your phone on a bus, at a bus stop, in a restaurant (notwithstanding rule 3, above), or any other public place where people are speaking aloud. I fail to see any difference between two people sitting behind me on the bus having a banal conversation with each other and one person behind me on the bus having a banal conversation on his phone. Either way, I’m forced to hear it. Either way, it may be irritating, but if the one is allowed, I don’t see how the other can be considered rude.

I think it is okay to talk on the phone in your car if you have the hands-free Bluetooth thingy. Certainly it might be ideal not to speak at all when driving, but of course we all speak to our passenger(s) when we have them. I see no difference between doing that and speaking to a little doohickey attached to your ear.

Cell phone ringing is a separate matter. That certainly can be annoying and intrusive, especially if you’ve chosen for your ringtone something that only you could possibly think is cute. However, I think, first of all, that it is simply a fact of life we all just need to get used to, just as we got used to the noise of automobiles and airplanes and Musak in elevators and the myriad other sounds of modern life. Secondly, every cell phone has a vibrate option. Use it whenever possible.

The vibrate option even makes leaving your cell phone on at a concert or other public performance okay -- if you’re awaiting a kidney transplant and don’t answer it until you’ve hied yourself to the lobby.

Some of the Ten Commandment-type lists on the internet include not trying to impress people with your cell phone. This is an outdated rule. If you still think anyone is impressed by your cell phone -- wow! Congrats on coming out of that ten-year coma, dude!

While I do not go into withdrawal when my cell phone is charging or otherwise temporarily unavailable for use, I do believe they’re one of the best inventions of my time. I love the security and convenience of knowing I have a phone right at hand wherever I am, and I also just think it’s, well, way cool. It’s something I couldn’t really have imagined as a kid. Sure, the people on Star Trek had “communicators”, but they were from the 23rd century or something. It wasn’t something I ever thought about happening in my lifetime. I would have been less surprised by flying cars or jetpacks. (Where are those, anyway? Is anybody working on this?) And even Captain Kirk didn’t have a Bluetooth communicator that he could just stick behind his manly ear. When the crew of the Enterprise used their communicators, they always stopped and stood in one place as if they were at a payphone. It was as if the writers’ imaginations didn’t extend to the concept that if the communicator was mobile, the person could be, too.

Lastly, Grammar doesn’t even care if people use good grammar while talking on their cell phone. She doesn’t care about that at all. Grammar has a very fine understanding of the difference between formal speech and the vernacular and will fight to the death for an individual’s right to speak in the vernacular on their cell phone. (Well, maybe not to the death. Or even fight in any sort of physical way. Or even make a scene, really. But as I was hastening away from any sort of controversial situation, in my head I’d be thinking about your rights.)

So I’m clearly pretty liberal in my ideas about cell phone etiquette. (RH is a little crotchetier, and in fact refuses to get one of his own, although it doesn’t seem to stop him from borrowing mine every time he goes out.)


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A chat about showers, that goes nowhere

I was standing in the shower this morning, thinking, not at all surprisingly, about the subject of…showers. (Yes, that’s how much imagination I have these days.)

My mind meandered back to my earliest memories of personal hygiene. I seldom had showers until I was 11 or 12 years old. Prior to that, it was evening baths, every other night, and up until the age of eight or so, generally shared with a sister. Hair was washed once a week by mother. (We were assured that any more often than that and you were robbing it of its natural, essential oils. And by Saturday night, naturally, one’s hair was essentially oil.) You lay back in the tub to wet your hair, then mom shampooed it with a glob of God knows what from a vat of whatever product was cheapest, then you held a facecloth over your eyes while she rinsed your hair with cupfuls of the dirty, sudsy water from the tub. That’s how it was done, and not only in our house but in the home of pretty much everyone we knew. It was not something you questioned, any more than you questioned the absolute ineluctability of sitting at the dinner table until every disgusting, ice-cold green bean off your plate had made its way into your belly.

But by now, of course, I’ve been doing the shower thing for some 40 years, and about 80 per cent of the time it’s done on total automatic pilot. I find myself dripping on the bathmat, towel in hand, with no recollection of the actual event. I don’t know if I washed my hair, rinsed the soap off, or shaved anything. But I assume so, just as I assume, when I find myself parked in the Safeway lot, that I stopped at red lights and used my turn signal appropriately along the way. (My car has certain default places it knows to go to when it realizes its driver has disappeared to her happy place somewhere. It’s very good about it.)

About ten per cent of the time, the morning shower is sheer bliss. The mornings I wake up stiff or achy or chilly, or all of the above, stepping into that stream of hot water is nothing short of glory. Some mornings I could stay in the shower for hours.

The remaining ten per cent are simply a chore: the days where I feel lazy in the extreme, or unwell, and it feels like too much of an effort to be hygienic. But of course it is not optional, not in today’s North American society where if you smell anything like a human being, it pretty much guarantees you will not be treated like one, and where you can buy special oils to put into hair turned to straw by daily washing and blow-drying.

I have nothing to wrap this topic neatly up with. The preceding sentence, according to grammatical purists, should correctly read: I have nothing with which to wrap up this topic neatly. But either way, I got nothing. This is me, petering out…

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A little Weltschmerz

It’s hard to watch my young adult children as they agonize over work and school, crying and cursing and breaking out in enormous zits as they stress over deadlines and exams and so on. Their worlds are still so black and white, so filled with sound and fury. And they don’t yet get that it signifies nothing, because they have not yet experienced the bizarre and alarming Time Warp phenomenon. You know what I mean: that thing where you close your eyes for a moment and when you open them, it’s 20 years later and you’re all, like, “Whoa! What just happened here?”

They have no perspective. They don’t know that there is really very little that matters enough to lose sleep over because they haven’t traveled far enough into the Big Picture. (Although I suppose it could be argued that their current worries are in fact significant because it could affect whether they open their eyes at age 40 and find themselves vacationing at a five-star resort on a beach in Cancun or in an old refrigerator box.)

The young simply can’t grasp the concept of “this, too, shall pass”. This is their now, and that’s all they know. As far as they’re concerned, they’re facing an endless now of math tests and Christmas albums that have to be mixed by Sunday. For them, the future is still some hazy, faraway utopia where they imagine everything will be easier and better. They find it scary having to make all these grown-up decisions; they still think that every one of them is life-or-death. They believe that with age comes wisdom. (Hah.) They see most older adults freaking out less about things and figure that’s because we actually know what we’re doing and that they will someday reach that point.

We don’t know what we’re doing. It’s just that we know that at least 90 per cent of the time, it really doesn’t matter. Also, we’re just too tired to care a whole heck of a lot.

In fact, pretty much the only thing we really worry and stress over…is our children. What a funny old world. Now excuse me; I must go get another cup of coffee so that I don’t doze off and suddenly wake up to find myself 137.