Monthly Archives: June 2011

You marry a family

When you fall in love, everything looks brighter. Your world revolves around the person you’ve chosen and you picture a future walking hand-in-hand, sharing private jokes, the two of you alone against the world. In the flush of romance you willfully ignore the fact that it won’t be the two of you alone. He has parents and siblings, aunts and uncles, and cousins, first, second and once-removed. You don’t stop to think about whether or not you’ll like his extended family. Your own rarely intrude.

You may have met the future in-laws, and perhaps a sibling or two, but until the wedding itself, you are only vaguely aware of the other relatives. Sometimes, the family you marry into is a grave disappointment, the boorish uncle, the over-bearing aunt, the elderly curmudgeon, the cousin with wandering hands. Every family has someone, although some are buried so deep in the closet along with the other skeletons that you may never discover them. I did not marry into that kind of family. I married a family that is the envy of my family.

My family is quite small and half of them live on the opposite coast. Growing up I had no extended family nearby. When I was young, I knew that if anything bad ever happened to my parents, I could call on my mother’s brother, who lived in New York, or my parent’s best friends, who lived in our town. These adults were my back-up parents, and as such, they occupied a place in my affection befitting people I knew I could rely on, without hesitation.

When I married into my husband’s family I acquired two more people that I consider back-up parents. I’m not talking about my in-laws; they occupy their own unique space. For back-up parents you have to go a tad farther afield. I’m talking about my husband’s aunt and uncle, Amy and Adam.

This designation comes with no obligations. In truth, the members of my generation are starting to envision a future when the roles will be reversed and we will become care-givers for those who came before. Rather, I use the term to convey a fondness and respect that would otherwise be difficult for me to articulate.

This weekend we will be celebrating Adam and Amy’s birthdays. I hope you’ll all forgive me for using this week’s post as a vehicle to wish them both a very happy birthday.

Happy Birthday. I’ll see you soon; have a gin and tonic ready.

Silent running

I love our Toyota Prius. It’s fun to drive, makes me feel greener than I have any right to, and gets great gas mileage. It does, however, have one huge drawback; it doesn’t make any noise when it backs up. If you’re thinking, “Hey, my car doesn’t make any noise either, what’s the problem?” you’re mistaken. I’m not talking about the backup beep that trucks make. I’m talking about the regular engine-running-noise that most cars make all the time, whether they’re going backwards or forwards.

The Prius is a gas/electric hybrid. When the car is moving slowly, the battery is doing the work, not the engine, so it moves along quietly, with only the noise of the tires on the pavement. When it comes to a complete stop, it falls silent. (First time passengers always think the car has stalled at that point.) When you put a Prius in reverse and take your foot off the brake pedal, there is no audible clue that the car is beginning to move. In a parking lot, this silent running can be dangerous.

We have a small shopping plaza in our neighborhood that has Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, and Walgreens. It’s a busy place with, from my layperson’s perspective, a poorly designed parking lot. There is no prescribed traffic pattern so it’s rarely entirely clear who is at fault when there is a dust up between cars; there are so many ways to go wrong. Between a car and a pedestrian though, the pedestrian is usually right, unless the car is a Prius.

One day, after a quick stop at Walgreens, I got back in the car, checked each of my three mirrors, swiveled my head until I was dizzy, and eased backwards out of my parking space. I heard a loud “Hey!” and stopped. An older man and a younger woman had appeared in the tiny space of blind spot, during a split second when I must have blinked. I rolled down my window and called, “Oh! I’m so sorry.” The woman yelled back something like, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” or “You almost killed us!” I stuttered that I was sorry again and drove off when it became clear that they were not the forgiving sort. But at that point, I was mad.

While it’s true that the Prius is quiet when backing up, it does have back-up lights. Do pedestrians eschew all responsibility for their own safety on principal? Yes, the law is on the side of the pedestrian. Does that mean you should close your eyes and step off the curb without checking to see if anyone’s coming? Is being right enough compensation for being dead?

When we bought the Prius, early in ’05, it did beep when you put it in reverse – inside the car! The only people alerted were the ones buckled safely in their seats. In short order, Andrew figured out how to silence the beep. If he could figure out how to make it audible on the outside, we’d all be a little bit safer.

What’s so lucky about rabbits?

I’ve been wondering why rabbits are considered good luck.

I practice a superstition-based ritual that invokes rabbits. On the last day of the month, after I crawl into bed and say good-night, I say “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit,” and go to sleep. The trick is not to say anything else until I wake up in the morning and repeat the invocation (or is it an incantation?). If I remember to say my “rabbits,” I’m supposed to have good luck for the month.

It’s hard for me to remember to say “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” in the morning, so I put a reminder on the floor next to my bed. That way, when I wake up, I see a note that says don’t forget your rabbits, and I’m good to go. I occasionally talk in my sleep, which makes me wonder if I’m subconsciously sabotaging myself. That could account for why I never feel particularly lucky, even after rabbit intervention.

Wishing for luck by calling on rabbits won’t attract attention from the ASPCA, or PETA, but where were these guys when I was a child and every kid I knew was carrying a real live (or real dead) rabbit’s foot for luck? I’m guessing those rabbits did not all die of natural causes.

And what about the way doctors used to tell women they were pregnant? “Congratulations,” they’d say after getting the lab work back, “the rabbit died. You’re pregnant!” Did a rabbit really die? Were the lab technicians eschewing microscopes and instead deploying hounds and rabbits? “Okay, if the hound catches the rabbit and kills it, this one is pregnant.”

Then there’s poor Lennie from Of Mice and Men. All he wanted to do was talk about rabbits. Remember what happened to him?

So I’m rethinking this whole rabbit-as-a-symbol-of-luck thing. Maybe I should hang up a horseshoe and wash my hands of rabbits altogether. To be honest, remembering to say my rabbits every month causes stress with no clear evidence of benefit. On the other hand, every little bit helps. Remember the joke at the end of Annie Hall? “My uncle thinks he’s a chicken,” says the Woody Allen character. “Why don’t you have him committed?” asks Tony Roberts. He replies, “Because we need the eggs.”

Who teaches this stuff?

There must be some vast secret society that I am not a member of because other people always seem to know things that I don’t ─ and they’re surprised. I’m not talking about esoteric subjects; I’m talking about mundane things. For instance, where do clothes do their shrinking, in the washer or in the dryer, and when are you supposed to put down crabgrass killer?

I remember telling my sister that I could live happily on a diet of jelly beans. She said, “No, you couldn’t. You’d die if that’s all you ate.” I insisted that other than rotting my teeth I’d be just fine. She had to explain that jelly beans have none of the nutrients a body needs to keep its systems going. It was quite an eye-opening conversation. I was in my early thirties at the time.

Perhaps some of my woeful lack of practical knowledge can be attributed to not having paid attention in school. We may have covered laundry in home economics, and nutrition in kindergarten, but I’m pretty sure there was nothing about crabgrass.

I am mystified by most things that are health-related, which is particularly galling since my father is a doctor. I thought osmosis would give me an edge in that department, but apparently living with him wasn’t enough to counteract the fact that doctor’s children never visit doctors and are, therefore, uniquely ill-informed about what goes on inside their bodies.

As an adult, I started to collect medical information on an as-needed basis. The problem with that system is that you don’t know what you don’t know, so how do you know to ask? When a friend told me that she was taking calcium to prevent osteoporosis I asked how she knew to do that. She said her doctor told her. By then I had acquired a primary care physician that I was not related to, but she never said anything to me about calcium until I asked her. She reacted as if it was something everyone knew. I guess she didn’t realize I wasn’t a member of that secret society.

Menopause (a subject that clearly merits its own blog post) is something doctors should volunteer information about, because it turns out that quite a few things can be attributed to it. However, if you don’t know what those things are, you might think you were going mad, or had been bitten by a tse-tse fly or something equally exotic.

Thankfully, today we have the Internet. I can find out anything I need to know with a search on Google. It might take a while, though. When I searched stages of menopause it returned 4,320,000 hits. Before I’m done reading them all, I’ll die of old age. It would be easier if I could find out where that secret society meets. Anyone know?