Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Road Not Taken -- Maybe For A Reason

I've been thinking about that Robert Frost poem recently, the one
titled "The Road Not Taken," but usually mistakenly referred to on
countless truck-stop keepsakes as "The Road Less Traveled."

end of the poem goes: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I / I took the
one less traveled by/ And that has made all the difference."

who need to feel better about their poor choices read those words,
probably painted on porcelain plates in their bathrooms, and take
comfort in the illusion that they're living unconventional lives. But
the catch is, Frost doesn't say the outcome of his trip was good. Just
that his decision made all the difference. And that he can't go back
and change it.

That poem sprang to mind when a woman cornered me
at an indoor play area last week. She was my mom's age, and I
mistakenly thought the twin 22-month-olds she toted around were her
grandkids. They were not.

"My husband needed children, so I had
them," she explained, as though she were talking about knitting socks.
Her youngest grandchild is 6. Her oldest son is older than her husband.
Her third husband.

She started in on the Kabalah and how if I
don't send Zev to a religious school he has a "70 percent chance" of
becoming a drug addict. She said I should have many children. She said
I should hire a nanny. She said I should eat less meat (not for health
reasons, but as a budget cut to help pay for the nanny).

"You have a lot of opinions," I said, trying to ease away from her.

"Not opinions," she said, raising her finger in the air. "Experience."

Ah, experience.

Grandmom has taken the road less traveled by. And clearly it has made
all the difference – but why is it that lonely road travelers like her
think I want to retrace their brambly paths and rush toward their

I like the beaten path. It's got fantastic
amenities, good lighting, lots of company. Just think about what the
road less traveled has to offer: nothing. No bathrooms, no Starbucks,
no truck stops from which to buy Frost-inscribed knickknacks. Nothing.

mom is about to discover this. This week she is leaving Israel to
embark on a journey to – I think – Slovenia. The reason I'm not sure is
because she was not entirely sure where she was headed. She just hooked
up with a tour group and "where they are going, that's where we're
going," she said. It's a very romantic way to choose to travel – but so
is hitchhiking on dark, desolate highways, and I wouldn't recommend
that, either.

I know the Frost poem is a metaphor, but it's
kinda a lousy one because if you were ever truly faced with a forked
road, it'd be lunacy to choose the one that veers away from everyone
else. When I was a news reporter, I covered the funeral of a
39-year-old woman who died from exposure. She had gotten lost while
driving in the desert, and decided – so it seemed, anyway – to get out
of her car and die.

Her friends were touchy-feely new age types
who opted to "celebrate," rather than question, the woman's choices,
but I had to wonder how far off the beaten path she must have wandered
that she couldn't find her way back to a main road. Her friends swore
she didn't commit suicide, that she didn't have a reason to, but who
chooses the road that leads to sure death? Or, for that matter,
newborns younger than your grandkids?

Zev wasn't done playing, but Grandmom wasn't done talking – so I packed up our stuff and said goodbye.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

was such an abrupt and impudent question. We hadn't arrived together.
We didn't even exchange names; what business was it of hers where I was

"Not down the path you've taken, I hope,"I said in my head. "I have to go," I said out loud, adding under my breath, "back to planet Earth.''

I'm just doing the same thing everyone else does – using
poetry-turned-pabulum to convince myself that my choices are the right
ones. But I doubt it. If Grandmom's trail is the road less traveled,
she can weather it alone.

I got in my car, and got on the freeway.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More Belly Achin'

People don't know this, but pregnant women eventually have children.

think they know this. They see a pregnant woman, and they understand,
on some level, that the lumpy protrusion she's carrying around contains
a small human life form. But they don't truly grasp it.

How else
to explain the wild disparity between the way a woman is treated when
she is with child versus the way she's treated when she is with

Oh, I remember the days when my enormous form would
elicit smiles and loving words from total strangers. Women I didn't
know told me I was beautiful. Men stopped me to reminisce about their
wives' or girlfriends' pregnancies.

Now I'm just the motor
behind an unwieldy stroller that bruises people's ankles and terrifies
small dogs. I'm the woman getting looks because I should have known
better than to bring my toddler on an airplane – he's small; couldn't I
have just mailed him to our destination?

I was once a glorious
symbol of human fecundity. Now I'm just some kid's mom, and I'm taking
an awful long time with that squirmy potty-trainer in the bathroom

“I bet I could burst out in a fit of tears right here,
and a crowd of people would surround me, saying, ‘Oh, what's wrong?
What can we do for you? Comped meal?' ” a very pregnant Maura noted
over dinner at a restaurant the other night. “But if he cried,” she
motioned to Zev, “it would be, ‘Shut that damn kid up.' ”

She's right – but why?

kids move erratically and have the ability to leak fluid from every
orifice. They make a lot of noise for no apparent reason, and they
require bizarre and space-consuming gear. They're messy, fussy and not
a little bit gassy.

But so are pregnant women.

Maura and
I were working on a theory as to why this phenomenon occurs, why
society loathes moms but loves mothers-to-be. But when the food
arrived, Maura dove into her plate, Zev demanded to be taken to the
potty and we both lost our train of thought.

Forced to figure
this out on my own, I can only guess that it has something to do with
our national fascination with the Next Big Thing.

We love
expectation – anticipating something that is just outside our grasp.
Camping out in line for the first “Star Wars” film must have exceeded
the joy of actually seeing the film. Would anybody watch “American
Idol” if the buildup to the finale weren't so deliciously orchestrated?

A pregnant woman is like a wrapped present or a furniture
catalog; when we look at her, we can enjoy the idea of something –
which is often more gratifying than the thing itself.

Of course,
the “thing” in this case is a baby. A noisy, inconvenient baby. And
what baffles me is that a pregnant woman is always pregnant with a
baby. What else could be expected of someone who's expecting? Nobody
goes into labor and delivers a unicorn or a rainbow. There's no
mystery. The only mystery, to me, is why baby-haters love gestaters so

People have to know that eventually that pretty pregnant
lady will be flabby and overworked and tired of being judged for her
child-rearing decisions. Now, I'm not suggesting that society stop
bending over backwards for pregnant women. These poor souls have had
their bodies hijacked and have no idea what they're in for – give them
all the adoration you can.

What I'm saying is that there is no
reason the party has to end when the cord is cut. Instead, people
should view pregnancy for what it really is: the first step to a long,
long commitment.

Here's what I propose: Everyone reading this
should adopt one pregnant woman. Pick just one that you know, love her
up the way you already do – get her a mid-afternoon snack, rub her
shoulders, forgive her bizarre emotional outbursts. And then continue
to do this for the next 18 years.

Maybe you'll have to throw in
a few extra snacks for the moppets, and you'll definitely have to hold
off on scolding the woman when her little ones scream on the plane. But
otherwise, it won't be all that different than the way you treated her
before she popped.

If you need me, I'll be at the table with Maura, awaiting my random acts of kindness

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Born At The Right Time

A recent study found that the eldest children in families develop a
higher IQ than their siblings. Since I'm 10 years older than my only
sibling, I gobbled up the research with crow-footed glee. But one thing bugged me:
The study also said younger sibs tended to be more “groundbreaking” and
creative than their older counterparts.

“That hardly seems fair,” I thought to myself. “Why can't I be smarter and more innovative?”

I IM'd Sis for some answers.

Me: So there have been a number of stories in the papers lately about studies linking birth order to IQ and success in life.

Sis: Yes. I heard about it on “The View.”

OK. So you know that they say that firstborns have a better chance at
having a higher IQ, but that younger children are more likely to be
revolutionaries, right?

Yeah, yeah. I think probably in most families that is very true, but
sometimes when the older sibling is really smart and excels at
everything the younger sibling tries to immulate that.

Me: Emulate.

Sis: Hahahaha.

Me: Or, in our case, maybe immolate.

Sis: See! Why is it that you know such good English and you had the same parents as I did?

Me: I read books. What did you think about this whole aspect of the study showing that younger siblings are revolutionaries?

Sis: Well, I think you had more of a bond with our parents than I did so you were perfect and did what they wanted.

Me: Uh-huh. I'm not sensing any resentment or anything.

Sis: I think that's true.

Me: What's true?

That I changed the way things were in the house. Just because you were
first, and had things a certain way didn't mean I was gonna do that
too. And I didn't.

Me: OK,
I guess that's a form of revolution. What about in terms of your
approach to life? You did go into journalism after all – apparently to
immolate me.

Hahahaha. Well I'm both! I tried as hard as I could to be like you the
best I could, but no more than that. No overachieving. Just achieving.
I agreed with the study, but I'm saying that the opposite is true also.

Me: What about the study did you agree with?

Sis: Hold on let me find it somewhere. Send me a link to the study.

Me: [I send a link.] I'd like to point out that you said you were going to find the study and then asked me to send you a link.

Sis: LOL. See!

Me: More telling is that I did it.

Sis: [After
reading it.] OK. So … I would say that the study shows older siblings
have a higher IQ than their younger siblings because of the family
dynamics. And in our case that was definitely true. You were quiet and
dutiful because it was easier for you to be. Being a little kid with a
bunch of older people was harder, and I tried to get attention by doing
not so smart things while you got attention for doing great things and
just being yourself.

Me: Well that's a giant oversimplification of my childhood, but OK. Also "not so smart things" isn't what you did to get attention.

Yes it is. Screaming and acting up, and running around, while you were
quiet and studied. If I had your life, I would be different.

Me: You'd be you, but with a younger sister. We were both essentially only children.

had a much tougher family dynamic than I did. [Our father died when Sis
was 12, after a long battle with cancer.] But that had more to do with
Dad's illness, in my opinion, than birth order.

Sis: No.
I think it's birth order. Birth order determined how we got to live. If
I came first I would have had your life. You would have had to have

Me: Wow. Look at the wording of that ... do we need family counseling?

Sis: Well, it's true. You had delicious hot meals every night [Dad cooked], while I ate Hot Pockets [Mom did not].

Me: Wow.

Sis: What? It's so true.

Me: I know ... it's just ... wow.

It would have been a calmer environment. When I went off to college, I
got straight A's because I could study and do what I want.

Me: You got what?

Sis: I did too. Wanna see my first year report card? All A's.

Me: Are you sure you want to go on record saying you got straight A's through college?

Sis: I got straight A's my first year because …

Me: Because you took that high school-level math class that you'd already taken four times before?

Sis: LOL. Noooo!

Me: Three?

Four. But that's beside the point. Mom's kookiness and everyone else
wasn't there to make me crazy. There was already a method to how the
family was running that YOU helped create ... not me. And it didn't go
well with my personality so I spent more time arguing than studying.

Me: OK. So since leaving the house, do you find yourself more motivated and intellectually curious?

Sis: Yes.

Me: So I can expect great revolutionary things from you?

Sis: Duh.