Users’ Manuals I Could Really Use
Help Needed as I Muddle Through Middle Age
So much information. So much misinformation. Politics! Parenting adult children! Aging! Where – and to whom – do you turn when you really need to know what’s what? Where are the users’ manuals I – and all middle-aged muddlers – could really use?
For news, life used to be simple. When I grew up, we had dinner every night with Walter Cronkite. This man, “the most trusted man in America,” told us all what was important and true. Fake news? We didn’t know that term. To this day, I miss his coverage, calmness, cadence, and honesty.
When I was 17, Seventeen magazine was the source of all wisdom and light. I read “Dear Abby” too, but Seventeen was my go-to resource for All Things Important, like lip gloss colors, skirt lengths, and how to tell if a boy likes you.
Of course, I also relied on girlfriends for guidance and direction. They would address the pressing questions of the day: “Does this dress make me look fat?” “Do I look better with my hair parted on the side or in the middle?” and “Why hasn’t he called?”
In those days, I rarely listened to my mother’s advice. In fact, the last time I did was the day she recommended/insisted I wear a powder blue Belgium-knit pantsuit to Freshman Orientation at Barnard College and pull my side-parted hair back with a barrette. Every other girl showed up in blue jeans with their long hair parted in the center and hanging unbrushed and dangling down.
Walk and Read Like a Wonk
Two years into college, my publication choices had matured. No more teen turmoil. No more frivolous fashion follies. It was time for more serious, thoughtful fare. I was an “intellectual,” a foreign policy wanna-be expert. I read The New York Times, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. I did read The Washington Post’s Style section, but it was strictly for “intel” (gossip) about the latest doings of the DC power set.
For a short time, there was – I confess -a fling with bridal magazines, but since I intended to marry only once, there was no need for a long-term relationship – i.e. a subscription.
In my 30s, I still read The New York Times, but having moved back out West, I also became an avid reader of local newspapers. And, it was then that my addiction to People magazine began. Sure, I would kid myself, saying I only read that glossy gossip mag when I got a pedicure, but pretty soon I was seeking it out at my doctors’ offices, rifling frantically through the piles of Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated.
Once – with devil-may-care-bluster – I had People delivered to my home. Handsome Hubby brought the mail in one day and, holding up the latest edition, he queried with a concerned look, “Really?” That was it. I canceled the subscription and went cold turkey – at least until the next pedicure appointment.
Mother DOES Know Best!
Then came my baby-making and child-rearing years. Magazines were no longer enough. I bought parenting books by the armful, before realizing that my best guidance to “All Things Maternal” came from my mother. I forgave her for the powder blue Belgium-knit pantsuit fiasco and she forgave me for taking so long to realize that her advice was invaluable.
Life was good. I still had a career, but I cared more about family and hearth.
That said, I still clung to my illusions as an intellectual. Once, a friend who was moving out of state offered me her collection of Real Simple magazines going back three years. Frankly, I looked at her like she was real simple. Ah, but times have changed. We recently bought a new house, and now I’d give my cleaning-challenged right hand for all those helpful hints on how to use baking soda and salt to solve a plethora of troublesome household stains and spots and whatnots.
Yes, through the decades, my magazine choices have evolved. But I still need guidance, perhaps more than ever. It has gotten so serious that I actually read user manuals before plugging in major – and minor – appliances. Something I never did when I was younger. Really, there are things you can learn from an electronic toothbrush manual – things that, please excuse the pun, will shock you. I’m just saying – do not brush your teeth in the bathtub with an electric toothbrush.
Now Wikipedia has joined People on my list of guilty “must-haves.” I confess, of all the things I missed on a recent trip abroad was instantaneous access to Wikipedia. At home (and in restaurants) it is my constant fact checker, much like the yearly updated Farmer’s Almanac was my mother’s go-to source of information a generation ago.
Users’ Manuals I Could Really Use
Wikipedia, People, Real Simple, the Internet writ large – they’re all good for the day-to-day challenges of life, but sadly they are of little help in addressing one of life’s biggest dilemmas. You know the one I mean – how to parent “grown-up” children.
Sadly, I cannot turn to my mother for help on this subject. Even if she were alive, she wouldn’t have much insight in the how-to-deal-with-adult-children department. While she was great with little people, dealing with her own grown-up brood was definitely not my mother’s strong suit. She was more benevolent dictator than a trusted advisor, respectful of boundaries and differing viewpoints. Yes, wise and loving, but a demanding dictator nonetheless. She really never forgave my brothers or me for growing up.
My girlfriends don’t seem in much better shape when it comes to dealing with their adult children. We all wander around blindly, trying to find the balance between respecting their independence and our own visceral need to know if they are alive and not-bleeding-in-a-darkened-alley-God-knows-where. I mean, is it really that hard to check in once in a while, just to say “yo”? I understand there’s even an app for that!
Unfortunately, the dream of developing a strong, close relationship with adult children may be similar to the idea of remaining “friends” with former boyfriends. It seems the right thing to do at the time, but ultimately it is unpleasant and unattainable.
Lacking a solution to this adult parenting dilemma, I am stuck clutching my phone, waiting for calls, emails, and/or texts from my children. It is pathetic. I know.
Siri, Alexa – Today’s Techno-Pied Pipers
Thankfully I still do have my magazines, newspapers, the Internet, and now those talking Pied Pipers, Siri and Alexa to guide me. Hello, my new talking techno-besties. Siri, how old is Leslie Stahl? Alexa, where are the Warriors in the NBA rankings? How do I get rid of age spots? Somebody, anybody, can you find my cell phone? I’m hoping I got a text from the kids.
But my devices don’t answer the big All Things Important questions. Recently, I asked Alexa, “What is the meaning of life?” She answered, “Depends on the life in question. 42 is a good approximation.”
Huh? That doesn’t even make sense.
Honestly, what I’m really looking for are new users’ manuals, ones with lifetime guarantees to help me navigate as I muddle through middle age!