Friday, October 28, 2011


I’m afraid of the dentist. Not the actual person. My dentist is a very nice man, as is the hygienist. No, it is the whole concept of the dentist and what they do to you there that scares me. It is not the normal, “I hate going to the dentist” kind of fear. No, it’s one that is almost overwhelming and causes me to change my behavior in ways to avoid this every six month ritual of having my teeth cleaned.

I always postpone my appointments. Sometimes it is for legitimate reasons, a work conflict, a school thing for the kids. But sometimes, it’s just because I’m scared. I’ll postpone it several times, pushing it months into the future. When the day finally comes and I have to go, my palms sweat as I flip through an Architectural Digest in the waiting room. Once they get me into the chair, I try to make small talk to keep my mind off of the inevitable. My heart palpitates and I get the sudden urge to get up and run. Then they start with the scraping. The noise vibrates in my head, I feel as if my teeth are about to shatter. They put that suction thing in my mouth to keep me from drowning in my own saliva – and how embarrassing would that be? My obituary would say, “Died in the dentist chair, choked on her own spit.” Not the way I want to be remembered. Then more scraping and poking and prodding which reminds me of the Nazi dentist in Marathon Man and all I can hear is Laurence Olivier saying “Is it safe? Is it safe?” Then images of Steve Martin as the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors flash through my head and I’m certain that I’m about to be tormented by the real life version of these evil movie dentists. I feel on the verge of panic until they finally say, “…all done, now rinse and spit.”

This is an irrational fear. I know that. I still can’t shake it with all the logic in the world. I don’t admit it to my children because I don’t want them to pick up my phobia. I want them to love the dentist. And they do. In fact, my eight year old has already decided what she wants to be in life…a dentist. Sometimes I find her searching the internet for pictures of teeth or information about dental schools. She’s serious about this dental thing. It figures…anything to upset your mother.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Bed You Lie In

There’s an old saying that goes, “You make your bed, now go lie in it.” It roughly means, if you create a situation, you have to deal with it yourself. But whenever I see my children’s beds unmade and my repeated pleas for them to pull up their comforters are ignored, I think of that phrase and of the literal importance of my kids making their own beds. Yes, it would be easier not to push them to do it. That would be one less daily battle to fight in a seemingly endless war of skirmishes over shoes left in the middle of the living room, clothes dumped everywhere, and an endless array of dishes that pile up in the family room, making it look more like a diner than a place to watch t.v. Yeah, letting them skip making their beds would be easier. I could make the beds myself in a shorter time than it takes for me to yell at them. Or I could let the cleaning lady do it. But then what would my kids learn if someone else always does those types of things for them?

When I was about six or seven and my mother worked as a nurse, there was a woman who came to our house to watch us after school and to clean and cook until our parents came home. Her name was Ernestine Johnson, I think – funny I can remember that far back when I can barely remember my own children’s names. Even as she cleaned the rest of the house, Mrs. Johnson was given strict instructions not to empty the trash cans or make the beds in our bedrooms. My brother and I had to do those ourselves. I vaguely remember complaining to my parents and wondering if Mrs. Johnson was here to clean and make beds, why she didn’t clean and make beds in our rooms.

When I was in my early 20s, some old family friends came to stay with us for the weekend. I went to make the bed in the guest room. Our friend watched me do it for a second, and then shook his head. He pulled the sheets off and instructed me to make the bed again, but this time he wanted to show me how to make a bed the way he’d learned in the army. To this day, I don’t know if he was every really in the army or not, or if he was just trying to give me a difficult time about my sloppy bed making. Whether he was a military man or not, he sure knew how to fold crisp hospital corners and make the bed look as if, once tucked in, you could bounce the proverbial quarter on it. Here was a guy, a very successful businessman with a car and a driver, a own household staff and several vacation homes, making the bed with great precision. It’s important to know how to make a bed correctly,” he said, carefully tucking in the last corner, “It’s not just about how you make your bed, it’s about how you make your life.”

He was right, although it took many years of unmade beds for me to figure it out. I know it’s silly, but in a way, I find I feel better when my bed is made. Things feel more in order. In a weird way, I feel more in control. If I can have some order in my bed, in my room, at my desk, then maybe, just maybe, can be at peace with the chaos in life I can’t control.

My children need to know how to make a bed correctly because just as you make a bed, you make your life and however you do it – well or sloppy – you will be the one who will have deal with what you do. So will I continue to push them to make their own beds? Will I force myself to pull up my own covers and tuck the corners in properly during the rest of the week and not just on the weekends? I will try. Now if I could just remember the trick to those hospital corners!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

All Bets Are Off

Lefty liberal that I am, when I’m searching for my daily news fix, particularly when I’m looking for someone to validate my opinions, I’ll channel surf my way over to MSNBC. There I can find a plethora of pundits who share my viewpoint on the world. I usually find myself in agreement with Rachel Maddow on most things, that’s why when I saw this article about her reaction to the al-Awlaki killing, I was surprised to find myself on the other side of the fence for a change. Maddow and other journalists and politicians have raised questions about the legitimacy of the president issuing a kill on sight order for an American citizen without due process. The argument is that since there was no trial, no conviction, no court determined guilt to justify an execution order, how could the president issue one.

When they announced Bin Laden was killed, my daughters were surprised by my reaction. Nicole asked me why I was happy that a man was dead. I tried to give her context, explain to her what Bin Laden had done not only to the people who died in the building on 9/11, not only to their families and co-workers and friends, but to an entire nation. We had a friend and a friend’s mother who worked in the Towers. Thankfully, both got out, but despite that, our world and our outlook changed that day. Everyone’s did. I talked to Nicole about how life was in our country before 9/11, what our perceptions were – that we were so na├»ve to believe that an act of terrorism wouldn’t and couldn’t happen on our own shores. I described to my ten year old about a time before airport security checks and homeland security departments and terror alerts. I told her about planes crashing into buildings, underwear and shoe bombers, lone shooters on military bases, the reason officers with mirrors check under our cars when we enter parking garages, and why back then, before all this happened, we weren’t so afraid. I tried to explain to her that back then, the average person never believed that groups of people in foreign lands hated us so much that they would take their anger to the streets in a campaign of terror and target civilians rather than soldiers. Still, on some level, to my child, it didn’t justify why I was happy that someone had been killed. Hadn’t I always taught her that killing was bad?

When they announced al-Awlaki’s death earlier this week, again, I was pleased with the action and again, my daughter was confused. Another man had died, this time, an American. I started to repeat what I had explained months earlier; finally, I gave up and just said, “If you publish on the internet, make video and audio recordings, stand at a pulpit and declare that you are at war against America and urge others, even help them plan how to kill Americans, all bets are off.” It wasn’t the best answer a mother could give. I know that. But in a way, it’s true. If you do something bad, all bets are off. You might get a trial, you might not. Maybe you should have thought before you started doing bad things. A guy walks into a bank with a gun drawn; I’m thinking he’s declared his intentions, whatever happens after this, he brought it on himself. I really don’t want to hear him complaining if he gets shot by the police before he gets a chance to have a fair trial before his peers – that’s on him. Like I said, I usually find myself on the side of the left wing pundits but in this case, I’m not too worried about the precedent being set by the president placing a kill order on an American citizen (here or abroad) without due process. Obama campaigned saying that he would target and dismantle the terrorist network. That’s what’s he’s doing, systematically, thoughtfully. I’m pretty sure he didn’t make the decision to sign the kill on sight order between grabbing a bowl of Cheerios and watching an Everybody Loves Raymond rerun on t.v. But now even Obama’s own supporters are giving him a hard time for doing the very thing he promised to do. Despite getting to live in a really big house with someone else to clean the bathrooms, it can’t be all that fun being president.

There was clearly no question that al-Awlaki was an enemy combatant and was engaged in behavior that resulted in a military action being launched against him. Is the lady on our block that leaves out peanuts for the squirrels going to be taken out by a drone missile without first being given due process of law because this precedent has been set? Sadly, no. As much as I would like her to stop her behavior – can I tell you how many rats she attracts to the block through her actions – I think it’s safe to say she’s not going to be targeted by the U.S. government for execution.

My daughter doesn’t get it. Maybe someday she will. Sorry Rachel, as much as I’m a fan, this time I’m not on the bandwagon.

If you want to read more about Maddow’s response, check out: