The Weekend Fun Folder

My new friend Jody, who I met at work, has a Fun Folder (a Google Doc), which she fills with ideas for destinations, activities and things to do in each new place she lives. After every weekend, she talks about the interesting thing’s she’s done, as if she’s gone on a mini-vacation, even it if was only biking in a new area or kayaking down a river several hours away that I didn’t even know existed.

That’s how she views each weekend, like it’s a mini-vacation. It’s kind of brilliant. While I’m planning all the tedious chores I’m going to accomplish over my weekend, she’s concocting a mini-trip to some place I’ve never heard of even though I’ve lived here 18 years longer than she has. Of course, she’s a lot younger than me, so perhaps her youthful energy has something to do with her extreme fun planning.

A few weekends ago I wanted to join in the fun, so we met up to go kayaking at White Rock Lake in Dallas. The lake is not swimmable and sometimes bodies are found there, but that hasn’t deterred White Rock Paddle from setting up a rental shop on the shore. Of course Jody doesn’t need to rent; she has her own kayak that she attaches to the rack on her car. She’s the kind of person who just exudes adventure. Plus, as an added bonus, she’s always ready for a flood.

This is a photo of Jody and her dog Navi kayaking.

Jody and Navi kayaking on White Rock Lake.

Oh, and did I mention her dog, Navi? Navi likes to go kayaking with her. Many of the Fun Folder ideas include dog-friendly places. After our kayaking outing, for example, Jody found a place that allowed dogs on the porch and probably added it to the fun folder.

Last Saturday, I spent the day cleaning the house. Meanwhile, Jody invited me to go kayaking again with her and Navi in Fort Worth, sending me this photo of the enjoyable time they were having:

This is a photo of a dog in a kayak.

What Navi was doing last Saturday.

Meanwhile, back at my house, my dog was squaring off against the vacuum, which she vehemently distrusts. This is her keeping an eye on the vacuum while I took a break:

This is a photo of a dog staring at a vacuum cleaner.

“Stay right there, or else…”

So what’s wrong with this situation? Obviously, my fun folder was woefully under-consulted that day. However, I did vacuum up what seemed like a whole dog’s worth of fur. So at least there was a feeling of accomplishment. Not fun, but accomplishment.

Next weekend, however, I’m opening the fun folder. Accomplishment is overrated.


Goodbye and Good Riddance Shoulder Frank

Is it just me or does everyone experience the ugly little troll who hurls insults into your ears as you try to do something difficult?

I call my troll Shoulder Frank. He’s short and squatty with unkempt hair and green hands and feet. His teeth are red and misaligned. His eyes are too big for his face. And every time he comes he wears the same hideous black and red striped shirt. Oh, and he smells like sulphur, so there’s no mistaking the fact that he has arrived. He shows up while I’m writing without ever letting me know in advance that he’s coming. And then he plops down on my shoulder, kicks his little legs and bullies me.

Take yesterday, for instance. There I was at my computer, slogging away on my novel revisions, when Bam! Shoulder Frank appeared out of nowhere. The first thing he did was read the paragraph I had just written.

“This stinks!” Shoulder Frank said. I tried to ignore him and continue typing.

He leaned closer. “Are you kidding me? No one will ever want to read this.”

“Go away, Shoulder Frank,” I said. I tried to shrug him off, but he’s got a strong grip.

“Give it up! This is the most boring thing I’ve ever read!” he said. Evil laughter spewed from his gaping, odorous mouth.

I jumped up from my chair and stomped out of the room. There wasn’t enough space for both of us in my office. I paced the kitchen waiting for him to leave. I drank glass after glass of water, as if I could flood Shoulder Frank away.

Every time I peeked into my study to see if he’d gone, Shoulder Frank jumped up and down in front of my keyboard shouting, “Hahahahahahah!”

So I went on a walk. Then I did the laundry. Then I checked Facebook. Then I thought about making cookies. Then I decided not to make cookies because what I really wanted to do was write. Then I got mad. I was letting Shoulder Frank have all the power. Not only did he want me to stop writing, he wanted me to stuff my face with cookies when I had expressly set a goal to refrain from eating cookies this week. Shoulder Frank probably knew that. Because apparently Shoulder Frank has free access to my thoughts.

If there is anyone who does not deserve attention, it is Shoulder Frank.

There are only two places that would allow a vile creature like Shoulder Frank to exist: The twin cities of Fear and Self-Doubt. I don’t want to live in either of those places. I live in Dallas. I choose my visitors. Shoulder Frank is not invited.

Just so there’s never any confusion on his part, I made a sign and put it on the door to my office. If he ever tries to show up again – and he will because he’s more persistent than anyone I know – I am just going to point to the sign and say, “Rules are rules, Shoulder Frank. You’re not welcome here. Now go home and let me get back to work.”


Teaching Teenagers to Drive is Not for The Anxiety Prone

I just want to go on record to admit that I am a horrible driving teacher. And I don’t think that my son would argue with me. As a parent, here’s what I’ve realized from the terrifying experience of having a teenager with a driver’s permit: If your own first memory involves anxiety and fear, you probably having no business teaching a teen to drive.

Exhibit A: When I was three years old, my older brother got to go to real school while I had to stay home with mom. On his first day of school, I was seriously pissed off that I couldn’t get on the bus with him. To stop my incessant whining, my mother and I struck a bargain: she would let me walk my brother down the driveway to the bus while she watched out the window. (That probably wouldn’t happen today, but it was the ’70s after all). Once the bus pulled away, I began a tortured trudge back to my boring house with no teachers or show and tell or recess with monkey bars and swings.

Suddenly, I noticed dark, wiggly tentacles extending across the pavement. Slithering. Like they wanted to wrap around my legs and drag me away. I considered closing my eyes and making a run for my house. But I feared the tentacles might catch me and drag me down below the earth. My heart galloping, I screamed and began to cry, frozen in place.

My mother rushed outside and, once she figured out the problem, proceeded to explain to me what shadows were. Yes, that’s right. I freaked out over a bunch of shadows. And I still remember it.


Don’t these shadows look kind of like tentacles?

My faith in the world was shaken a little bit that day and has remained somewhat wobbly ever since.

If you have any fear-based formative memories like that and you still harbor a bit of anxiety today, I respectfully submit that perhaps you should outsource your teen’s learning-to-drive process to save your sanity. Asking an anxious person to teach an impulsive teen with poor direction skills to drive is like asking someone who faints at the site of blood to become an EMT for a year. Some things, especially those involving life or death, need to be left to professionals, or at the very least, non-panicky adults.

My son got his permit last summer but since he goes to boarding school, he doesn’t get a lot of driving practice. The last time we drove together was in December. It was raining and holiday shopping traffic in Dallas had built up to a crazed frenzy. My son was home from school for winter break and was eager to practice driving. I let him drive to a bookstore, determined to give calm, patient, wise instruction. The short trip went something like this:

Me: two hands on the wheel, please.

Son: I know, mom.

Me (seeing brake lights ahead): Be ready to stop.

Son (rolling eyes): I know, mom.

Me (slamming hands to dashboard as car cuts us off): Stopstopstopstopstop! Did you even see that guy?

Son: Can you please just say stop ONE time? Oh my God! I need to be medicated to drive with you!

Trembling younger son: Can I get out and walk?

Me: Can you just pull over and let me drive for now?

Son: Fine, forget it, I don’t even want a license.

Obviously, this is not a recipe for my son’s driving success or my family’s mental health. I have no idea how other anxious people teach their kids how to drive and survive the process. I’m all for persevering through fear and meeting life’s challenges but I’m also a believer in realizing when you are outgunned, so to speak.

My horoscope today tells me to “Ask for help and get it.” So before my son comes home for the summer and asks, “Can I drive?”, I want to submit this official letter:

Dear Son,

With minor exceptions for country roads, I respectfully resign from being your driving instructor, effective immediately. I am gratefully transferring the reigns over to Dad and to the capable people (regardless of whether or not they pick their nails during your drive time) at the local driving school. I hope you understand this is for the good of all involved. 



Phew. I feel calmer already.