The Case For Facebook

One of the best side effects of my concussion is that I got hooked on podcasts. From My Brother, My Brother and Me to S-Town, The Splendid Table to The Longest Shortest Time, not a day goes by when I’m not listening, learning, or laughing (sometimes with headphones on, which makes people stop and look but that’s cool).

Perhaps most lovely was my discovery of The Hamilcast, a podcast devoted to all things Hamilton (the musical, obvs). The moment I found it, I binge-listened, then began to support the podcast through Patreon, which allowed me to join a Facebook group for likeminded Hamilcast peeps. At first, it was merely an opportunity to learn about upcoming guests in advance and put forth questions that might be asked during interviews. Over these many months, however, the Patreon group has grown into much more. We share all things Ham, of course, but also just… life. Halloween pumpkins. Business trips. Ridiculous memes. Difficult days. It is a safe haven of the internet and one of my favorite places to be.

 

The girls’ reaction to hearing their questions answered by none other than Lin-Manuel Miranda himself on The Hamilcast.

That may seem like an oxymoron – “internet” and “safe haven.” And I agree; so much of the internet (like, SO MUCH) is an awful, soul-sucking wasteland. It’s exhausting and maddening. When the virtual world gets really nasty and even dog fail videos don’t help, I turn to my most reliably comforting internet spot: Facebook.

Yes, Facebook. I KNOW. For a whole lotta people, Facebook is the devil. Whether it’s preferring to interact in person rather than virtually; feeling left out or disappointed or intimidated after reading someone’s status update; being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information; growing disheartened or downright furious when you discover that your neighbor doesn’t share your political views; or just not caring that Jim decided to order the cherry finish instead of walnut, Facebook can make people get all up in their bad feelings. And I get that. A lot of what appears on my timeline isn’t exactly fascinating nor does it make me chuckle.

Despite Mark Zuckerberg’s envisioning Facebook as a place for building community and bringing the world closer together, I know that a lot of people feel much lonelier as a result of joining up. I guess I’m lucky in that Facebook has pretty much always brought me exactly what I’ve been looking for: connection and information (and lots of RIPs when celebrities die).

I don’t consider myself a school reunion type. I’ve always reasoned that the people I want most to keep in touch with are the ones with whom I, um, keep in touch… and the others, while nice enough (or not; I can think of several classmates who I still wish were perennially stuck in traffic), were just casualties of growing up and moving on. No biggie.

Then along came Facebook, and I’m friends with a bunch of these very people – folks who were mere acquaintances in 11th grade or who moved away when we were nine – who, in a world devoid of social media, I would probably have never run into again… and I wouldn’t have bemoaned that. Yet because of Facebook, despite having not actually laid eyes on these guys in 20 or 30 years, I weirdly know more about them – their jobs, where they spent the Fourth of July, which of their children or dogs dressed as poop emojis for Halloween – than I ever did in “real life.”

Even weirder? I care. When they don’t post for a while, I wonder how they are. When they succeed, I’m genuinely happy for them; when tragedy strikes, I’m honestly bummed. And, since I consider them to be friends (virtual friends? Vriends?), I value their opinions and experiences. My 7th grade math partner loves their cast iron more than their Teflon? Point taken. That kid from the cross country team had a better experience with Lyft than Uber? Interesting. My buddy who switched schools in fourth grade is talking about what it’s like to raise her adopted daughter? I’m listening.

I may never see these people again face-to-face, but being pals with them online has enriched my life. And brought me whitening toothpaste. So that’s a plus.

It’s not just my relationships with far-flung vriends (it’s gross but I’m using it) that have been enriched, though – I appreciate how Facebook has changed my “in-person” friendships, too. Life is so freakin’ busy, I don’t take the time to contact the slacker Girl Scout moms or my Mothers and More group every time I bring a dog to the vet or watch a soccer game or Nick goes out of town. But if the dog looked super adorable… or my girl scored a goal… or we ate banana splits for dinner because Nick was away… I might have put it on Facebook.
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Super adorable dog.

Which means the next time I actually get together with the Girls Scout mamas or my Mothers and More crew, we have a head start ’cause we’re already caught up on the random minutiae of one another’s days. Consider this: when I haven’t seen a friend for a while but really want to reconnect, we usually spend time with pleasantries (“Read any good books lately?” “Jeez with this rain, huh?”) as we settle in. But when we’ve been following one another’s online posts, we’re ahead of the game (“Was that her first goal of the year?” “What was the whipped-cream-to-banana ratio?”) and get right to the good stuff – the stuff that doesn’t go on Facebook.

See, I don’t use Facebook for everything; I actually keep the vast majority of my life to myself. Ironically, most of my closest friends aren’t active on Facebook (or we don’t use the platform as our primary means of discussion). When something is really important, it sure as heck won’t go on Facebook first. But I do find it an extremely efficient means of communicating, and use it often.

That’s not to say that everything appearing on my timeline is brilliant or enlightening; obviously, there’s plenty of crap. Alongside the photos of someone’s lunch and the rant about fracking, though, there’re also some really substantive things that have taught me about topics I’d never have discovered on my own. Boots for wide feet? Thanks, Facebook! How to self-publish a book? Facebook told me. The neatest sites for following hurricanes? Found ’em through Facebook. Pool liners? Paralympic athletes? Restaurants in Sicily? Secular Judaism? How to be an ally? As seen on Facebook. My timeline shows me what’s happening beyond my corner of the world, from vriends and friends I trust and respect, and I think that’s pretty solid.

Most importantly, Facebook has provided a place for connection when I’ve really needed it. This has never been more poignant than when I’ve shared my struggles with, and thoughts about, depression and anxiety – as well as the daily mistakes I’ve made being a human. After those posts, the number of people who reach out – privately and publicly – to say, “Me too. I didn’t know you felt this way. I’m so glad I’m not alone” – has been astonishing. Because of our connection through Facebook, people I know, and I, have felt stronger, supported, comforted. If nothing else good comes from it, that would be enough.

I know Facebook doesn’t work for a lot of folks because they feel their lives never measure up to the perfect ones scrolling in front of them. Maybe that’s part of why the platform does work for me: I take everyone’s updates with a grain of salt. Just as I’m aware that I only post what I want the world to see, I know the same is true for my vriends. This is especially helpful when a colleague puts up a photo of her brand new kitchen cabinets and I’m attaching mine together with wood glue and rubber bands (literally).
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No joke.

That doesn’t mean I won’t share the photo of my glued and rubber-banded cabinets (ahem); I like to keep it real. Not in an Anything Goes kind of way, but in a balanced way that reflects what’s actually happening rather than creating a shiny, polished version of my story. If it’s been a good few days, my updates will reflect that – but when I lose someone I love or spill coffee all over my purse or wear two different shoes to work, I’ll mention that, too. If the point is connection, my shiny, polished self doesn’t really allow for that.

A friend posted recently that she’d participated in a research discussion asking whether or not Facebook is good for the world. If I’d participated, I wouldn’t have been able to give a one-size-fits all response… but for my world? Facebook has been pretty dang good. Especially where The Hamilcast, dog memes, and self-help quizzes are concerned.
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Listening to The Hamilcast… with cute dogs.

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Guess I should’ve just walked to the mailbox

Before Ella was born, and despite the bazillions of books on babies that I’d read, I felt really alone and clueless. Enter the December 2004 message board on one of the popular All About Baby websites (specifically established for moms, like me, of babies born in that month – I thought I’d state the obvious for you).

Even though I wasn’t (and am still not) a message board person, I soon became a regular poster there. Because I didn’t personally know any other moms with December ’04 babies (and I didn’t want to be phoning my pediatrician every twenty minutes), the women there became my sounding board, my reference library, my dear friends, and my lifeline. They were able to answer my every question – Is your baby’s hair totally businessing in the front and partying in the back, but also with a bald spot? How do you put your baby down for a nap without having to dance a two-step? What flavor Gerber Puffs do you prefer (yes, I assume you’ve eaten them… and tried the formula. And probably the breast milk)? Amazingly, they were genuinely interested in the minute details of babydom that even Nick tired of quickly. She reached for an object today! She is droolier than usual! I can snap a onesie using only one hand!

We shared everything with one another… and I do mean everything. I can tell you more about these ladies’ living room furniture, bra sizes, and candy preferences (Reese’s versus Hot Tamales is a very real rivalry) than I can about many of the women I know “in real life.” Nine years and countless birthdays, weddings, separations, deaths, and the birth of many other children later, I consider approximately twenty of these ladies to be extremely close friends – but now we talk to one another on Facebook.

Last week, one of these Dec04 mamas asked if anyone was interested in exchanging valentines – just one, not to the whole group, like a Secret Santa except Secret Cupid (and except it wasn’t a secret). It sounded like fun so I agreed – certainly Ella and Annie could put together a valentine and I could pop it in the mail; all we had to do was get an envelope in the mail on Monday, Tuesday at the latest.

Naturally, as Monday night rolled around, I realized that I’d completely forgotten about said valentine… and if I wanted the girls to actually contribute (which I did), they’d have to do their part after school on Tuesday, meaning our envelope wouldn’t get into the mail until Wednesday.

I am such a good friend!!

After the girls finished their contributions, including several Rainbow Loom bracelets, I decided that a plain envelope wouldn’t do – I’d need to use something larger. I also decided that this called for Priority mailing, which promised a Valentine’s Day delivery; score! I printed out the postage at home and sealed everything up. All I had to do was put the package in the mailbox yesterday morning.

It seemed chilly yesterday when I loaded up my bags to head to school, but I didn’t think too much of it; this winter has been so bizarrely cold, it’s all starting to blend together. I let the car warm up a bit, and then, after backing down the driveway, I rolled down my window to put the package in the mailbox… but when I attempted to roll the window back up again, it wouldn’t budge.

Frozen. Solid.
And frozen open.

As the cold began to seep inside, I glanced at the dashboard and noticed the temperature: five below.

stuck window3
The car is in Drive but I was stopped, promise.

There was nothing I could do about it – I had to get to work, like, now. I couldn’t warm the car up anywhere. I couldn’t trade cars with Nick. I just had to go. OH GOODIE. And so I did, window down, heat blasting, looking like an absolute moron with my window all the way open when it was five degrees below zero.

Now, you might wonder why the car was parked outside to begin with, given that we have a lovely two-car garage… And that is because, over the weekend, the cable on my garage door broke, sending the door crashing to the ground and rendering it unusable – so I couldn’t park my car inside and had to leave it on the driveway instead.

Yes, I see the irony in the fact that my window was stuck open because the garage door was stuck closed.

Thankfully, I had loads of cold-weather gear in the car, so I was able to don a hat, scarf, and gloves to protect me against the gale that was rushing in through the wide-open window. If it was five below without the windchill, do you know how cold it was with forty mph gusts blasting into the car? EFFING FREEZING, LET ME TELL YOU. Even with the heat pouring in at its highest temperature, it was like standing outside in a snowless blizzard while trying to use the hairdryer.

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Don’t mind me… just admiring the view… La la laaaaa….

Thinking that, eventually, the full-blast heat would melt the frozenness of the door and the window would unstick and roll up again, I kept one hand on the wheel and one firmly on the window’s up button (I had to keep trading hands because the one at the window risked frostbite after about twenty seconds). I also thought that perhaps I could somehow rattle the window out of its frozen grasp, so at every stop sign or light I would pound furiously on the door and then open and close it as firmly as I could.

Yep. Opening the door at a stop sign. And pounding on it. WITH THE WINDOW OPEN IN NEGATIVE FIVE DEGREE WEATHER. I’m sure that didn’t look weird at all to the drivers in the cars behind me.

After a few minutes, the window did start to move… approximately one inch. And that is how it sat for the remainder of my drive to work.

stuck window
Hello, sir. Why, yes, my window is open on this chilly February morning. How are you today?

By the time I arrived, my hands and feet were so cold, I had to pry them open in order to gather my belongings and hobble into the building. There was no way I could operate the remote lock on my key fob without removing my gloves – which was not going to happen – but hey! It didn’t matter anyway, because THE WINDOW WAS WIDE OPEN. See anything you like? Then come on over! Help yourselves! Just don’t try to crawl in and warm yourself up because I can promise you it is NOT WARM inside the car.

I’d worried that I’d have to engage in some crazy mechanics to get the window operating again, but miraculously, after it sat in the sun for four hours (and the ambient temperature warmed up to a balmy 17 degrees), it unfroze and just rolled right back up, almost like it was mocking me. Oh – were you cold this morning? PSYCH!

The important thing is that I got the valentine in the mail. Sure, if I’d remembered sooner, none of this might have happened… but then I wouldn’t have this endearing story to share, would I? And I also wouldn’t be me. So, there’s that.

As always, we Dec04 mamas pull through for one another, even if it means freezing to death on our way to work. It’s all good, though; I know they’d do the same for me.

Living and learning… and cookies

Growing up in southwestern Connecticut, which only saw an average of 24″ of snow each year, was a bit rough for a snow bunny like myself. Because of the relative rarity of measurable snow, even a little bit brought everything to a halt; you could count on school being cancelled at least three times a year, sometimes at the mere prediction of snow.

Moving to Rochester was, therefore, a thrilling experience for winter lovers like Nick, the girls, and me. With an average of 100″ of snow per year here, there’s no shortage of the white stuff to go around, which is awesome for folks like us. (Lest you get the wrong idea, the volume of snow does not lessen our enjoyment of it; we still gleefully celebrate the first nighttime snowfall each year by waking the girls up and carrying them downstairs from their beds to watch the falling flakes, just like my mom used to do with me.)

This is our seventh Rochester winter, and I think I’ve finally got it figured out. Which probably sounds strange – what is there to figure out? It’s just freakin’ snowy all the time – but it’s not quite that simple. Here’s the thing: our snow doesn’t usually fall in large increments. It’s not like we get a foot of snow one day, eight inches a few days later, and another foot the following week. Although we do get a bunch of snowfalls that total over six inches each season, the majority of our snow comes in rather small amounts: an inch today, half an inch tomorrow, the two more inches the day after tomorrow. An inch of snow doesn’t sound like much – and it isn’t – but when you have an inch of snow for 10 out of 14 days, and it’s remained cold enough for the snow that’s already fallen to stick around, it adds up.

Literally.

The exception to this rule is an odd thing we have here called lake effect snow, which technically means that the Great Lakes (in our case, Lake Ontario) gather up moisture which then comes down as snow in the winter. Practically speaking, it means that even when we don’t have a storm moving through, if the conditions are right over the lakes, it can snow pretty much any time, and that snow is entirely unpredictable. Dealing with lake effect snow is like anticipating Pope Francis’s next move – he might deliver a homily in Latin or take a selfie in the Vatican square. On any given day, it can be clear and dry, and suddenly there’s a snow squall so thick you can’t see across the street for fifteen minutes – and then, just like that, the snow is done. It’s kind of cool, in a geeky weather way, but is also maddening because you never know when it might pop up next.

(Side note: I think Pope Francis rocks.)

So anyway, now that the meteorology lesson is over, I’ll get on with the actual story. Oh yes, there is an actual story. Last week, Annie was scheduled to attend an evening Girl Scout outing where we would be caroling at a retirement community. (I know, I know… I said we would be caroling, which goes against everything that the Slacker Moms stand for. But people, it was singing Christmas carols. I just couldn’t help myself.) I also say we because I’d signed up for this to be “my” activity, so I definitely needed to participate.

See, although we may be slackers, we still want our kids’ scouting experience to be a good one, and the troops don’t run themselves, so each of us agreed to be in charge of one meeting or field trip. Because my piano lessons prevent me from attending any of the meetings, I knew I’d have to do an extracurricular activity, and the caroling seemed tailor-made for me. First of all, singing. CHRISTMAS CAROLS. Check. Second, since it was an already-organized activity (our troop was tagging along with several other Girl and Boy Scout troops, one of whom had arranged all of the sing-along details), it was really easy to make it “my” event: all I had to do was bring song sheets, cookies, and hot chocolate. Check. And finally, since I was already attending a(n adults-only) Cookie Exchange later that night, I needed to be making cookies anyway, and I am nothing if not efficient. Check.

Beyond that, the only thing that Annie and I had to do was show up at the retirement community. When she got home from school, this seemed like it would be no problem; she was excited to go, the cocoa and cookies were ready, all was well. It was quite cold that day, with temperatures in the teens and twenties and a decent wind chill. Given that we’d be caroling outside from house to house, bundling up sufficiently would be necessary, but that wasn’t really a big deal. With about an hour to go before our scheduled departure, I glanced outside and noticed that it had begun snowing, but I didn’t think anything of it; no snow had been predicted for the day, so I only just barely registered the falling flakes.

Annie was in the middle of playing – nothing particularly earth-shattering, just, you know, playing – when I gave her the heads-up that we’d be leaving soon. She called back to me that she didn’t want to go because she was busy. Playing. I told her that I was sorry that she didn’t want to stop playing, but we definitely needed to attend, so we’d be out the door in a bit.

Well. Little Miss must have been in a mood, because when I told her it was time to put on her boots, she began having a world-class meltdown. Had I not heard her? She DIDN’T WANT TO GO. She’d NEVER wanted to go! SHE WOULDN’T GO. 

I tried to calmly talk her down, and then glanced outside again. The flakes that had been fluttering to the ground an hour ago had apparently been gathering steam, because, in those sixty minutes, a good two inches of snow had piled up on the lawn, the driveway, the road. As I surveyed the white-out, I was momentarily confounded: I didn’t think we were supposed to get snow today. With that much already on the ground and more continuing to fall, I knew that boots wouldn’t quite cut it; she’d need full-on snow gear.

When I broke this news to Annie (who was lying on the dining room floor, writhing about as though perhaps the subject of an exorcism), she didn’t exactly take it well.

Have you ever attempted to wrestle a sobbing orangutan into a pair of overalls? It is a good time, let me tell you.

As the snow fell ever more steadily and the time of our departure drew nigh (first time I’ve ever written that word, holla!), I considered my options. More specifically, I considered that we didn’t have any options. On another night, I might have said, Ah, forget it. It’s snowing like crazy and Annie’s behaving like she’s possessed. We’ll pass. But this was MY ACTIVITY. I had vats of steaming hot chocolate (carefully packed into dispensers nestled within an insulated carrier) and dozens of cookies and had spent a good hour printing and stapling together packets of Christmas carol lyrics. Plus, the other girls in our troop were counting on us to be there and take the reins… Because it was my activity. Seeing as how Annie is the Girl Scout – not moi – she needed to come along, too.

I finally managed to get Annie into enough snow gear to cover her, but it wasn’t pretty. I can’t remember if I worked out that morning, but after the wrestling match, I’d easily burned enough calories to account for the cookie dough I’d consumed making the treats earlier in the day. After stuffing Annie into her booster seat and heading down the driveway, I attempted to reason with her. She could choose to continue to be upset, growling like a wounded animal, or she could choose to have fun. We would be spending the evening with some of her closest friends. We would be singing! THERE WERE COOKIES AND COCOA, FOR GOD’S SAKE.

Also, if she didn’t stop crying, her tears would freeze to her cheeks and then she’d really be miserable.

Crazy-mom threats. Always a good strategy.

I’d worried that, after our short drive, Annie would still be a hot mess when it came time to join the rest of the troop – but, as luck would have it, she had plenty of time to get herself under control because the road conditions were horrendous. Rochester is typically pretty good about clearing the roadways quickly and efficiently, and even in decent storms, we tend not to have much trouble getting around. This night was different. I’m not sure what happened – maybe the road maintenance crews had read the same forecast I had and didn’t know we were going to get snow, either? – but there were at least three inches of snow in the streets and nary a plow in sight.

As I crept from our street into the main drag, I could see nothing but brake lights up ahead, so I – very wisely, I was sure – chose to take the highway for our ten-minute sojourn. Wrong. The moment I merged from the on-ramp onto the freeway, the traffic was absolutely bumper to bumper. We never drove faster than 13 mph, and that’s when we were moving at all. THESE HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS ARE SO MUCH FUN.

Forty minutes later, I exited the highway, and asked Annie if she was feeling a bit better. When she didn’t answer me, I turned to ask her the question again and saw this:

annie caroling

My little wounded animal had howled herself out.

After driving the wrong way – twice – at last I found our meeting spot, parked, and gently shook Annie awake. She was… not particularly happy with this development. Given that we were more than 25 minutes late, there would be no hot chocolate or cookies before the caroling, so I dragged the insulated carrier with me as we started off on our slippery jaunt around the retirement community. Naturally, the carrier had no straps, so I had to carry the enormous container in my arms, like I was toting a boulder up a mountain. (Does anyone actually do that? Perhaps I need a better metaphor…)

We joined up with the rest of our troop, trudging off through the snow that was far deeper than it had been at our house. As soon as I caught the eye of one of the other moms, she gave me a bewildered look back and said, “I didn’t realize it was supposed to snow…”

Annie came along for the ride, but she wasn’t exactly festive. Partly to defy me and partly because her body temperature hovers somewhere around volcanic, she refused to wear her hat, and within the first ten minutes, at least five adults asked her if she was okay, or offered to loan her their hat. No, that’s just my kid being defiant and stubborn. I realize it’s a blizzard out here, but I’m sure she’ll be fine. When she began literally dragging her feet and stomping on residents’ bushes, I pulled her aside and whispered violently to her that if she didn’t pull her act together, there would be a very serious consequence. I had no idea what that consequence was, mind you (another stellar parenting decision), but with my arms full of the hot chocolate and cookies, I couldn’t very well lug her around, too.

As we reached the third of seven houses, Annie’s demeanor began to change a bit. Rather than stand off to the side and murmur her “thumpity-thump-thump“s, she took the lyrics from me and sang a little louder. At the fourth house, she miraculously perked up when the residents offered the pint-sized carolers some Hershey’s kisses. By the last three houses, I could hardly even see her – partially due to the ridiculous conditions, and partially because she ran so far ahead, laughing and singing with such gusto, I could scarcely keep up.

annie caroling2

When we had completed the final sing-along, our troop members were more than ready to hightail it out of there. We were frozen to our core and covered with snow; my feet were thoroughly soaked, because – not knowing that the snow was going to be so deep – I had worn my sneakers, which proved greatly ineffective. We Slacker Moms don’t sign up for such hardship, damn it! But there were two things that needed addressing before we could hop in our cars and inch our way back home: hot chocolate and cookies.

We – parents and girls – milled around for a good twenty minutes after everyone else had left, sipping and chomping and discussing how none of us had had any idea that it was going to snow that night… And now, here we were, with five inches on the ground in less than two hours. At last, we said goodbye, commenting about how crazy we must be to be out in this weather, how terrible the driving was…

… but also, how rather sweet it had all been. The kids, rushing from house to house, “singing” with such force that the tunes were sometimes unrecognizable. The octogenarians stepping outside and onto their porches, joining right in with the chorus despite the swirling snow. The catching of snowflakes on tongues. The richness of the chocolate, and hugs shared between friends. Knowing that we’d made people’s evenings just a little bit brighter, that we’d genuinely spread some cheer and happiness.

On our drive home, even Annie had to concede: that was really, really fun.

The return trip was much quicker than the journey there, which was a good thing because I still had a Cookie Exchange to get to. It struck me, as I crawled along the streets to my destination, that this kind of snow would have closed school in Connecticut (indeed, our friends who live in Connecticut, southern New York, and New Jersey had already had a snow day due to 4-5 inches of predicted snow), and here I was, blithely driving to a friend’s house to trade cookies.

But hey. Cookies are cookies, man. You don’t mess with cookies, not even in a blizzard.

By the time I reached my destination, the snow had largely stopped. When I left two hours later, I could glimpse the moon.

Turns out it was just lake effect snow after all. Nothing to be concerned about.
The cookies, on the other hand? So totally worth it.