Jane Roper

Writer. Blogger. Hater of Olives.

Author: Jane (page 3 of 33)

Put ’em in a pickle jar

Exhibit A.

Exhibit A.

I remember people, mostly older women, I think, saying that when I was a kid: “I wish I could put you in a pickle jar!” I always pictured one of those pickled people jars (Exhibit A), which I guess were big around the time people said it, that being the mid 80s. That seemed like a weird thing to wish on a kid.

Of course, they meant they wanted to put me in a pickle jar so I couldn’t grow up. Also a weird thing to wish on a kid, but at least there was a rationale.

I actually said it to Elsa the other day.  I am now officially an old woman from the 1980s. Nice to meet you!

I think it was after she said for the upteenth time in several weeks that she’s going to ask Santa for a Segway. I mean, this kind of statement is not going to be issued for much longer, and I absolutely relish the innocent absurdity of it. Pickle relish.

Likewise, it won’t be much longer that the girls will deign to play frisbee — or something resembling it, involving flinging a piece of plastic around, frequently onto the street or into our neighbors’ cars — with us after dinner, or pogo stick in the driveway, or ask me to draw a picture with their name in bubble letters and a family of cats underneath it, as Clio did the other night. (Long story.)

But yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve lamented the growing up of my children puh-lenty here, so I won’t belabor the point. Here’s the thing that’s magnifying the melancholy for me lately, though: We recently found out that there’s a very, very good chance that the schools in town are going to move the fifth graders up into the middle school because of elementary school overcrowding — starting with the girls’ class, in 2017.

(Release arrow, cut to me with arrow through heart, bleeding, moaning, expiring on the ground in agony.)

Which means that next year will be their last, not second-to-last, year in elementary school. And a mere year and three months from now, they will be walking the halls with big, pimply, braces-wearing, texting, French kissing middle schoolers.  PLUS, the middle school is adjacent to and shares some facilities with the high school, which means they’ll also be around…shudder…teenagers. Boys who shave and drive cars and  fight with knives. Girls who drink and get pregnant and date Marines.

Yes, that’s right, our high school is the one from Grease.

I’m sure there will be some effort to keep the fifth graders separate from those horrid beings, and maybe they’ll even still have something resembling recess. And on the upside — a pretty major upside, actually — the middle school is a ten-minute walk from our house, so we won’t have to drop off and pick them up every day.

That’s pretty much the only advantage I can think of, though. I worry in particular about Clio, who has always been a little young for her age. (Although she is definitely exhibiting some serious tween characteristics: First thing she said when I mentioned the middle school thing was: “You said we could get a phone in middle school. So does that mean we can get a phone in fifth grade?” And she keeps telling me I should get Snapchat on my phone. Why? And how does she even know about Snapchat?)

But I know, I know. They’ll be fine. And fifth graders really do seem different from the rest of elementary school kids  anyway. I remember feeling that way when I was in fifth grade. (The first boy-girl party, the first glimpses of  bras on girls, the gradual eschewing of the playground equipment….)

And most middle- and high-schoolers, especially in our Mayberry of a town,  are way more Sandy than Rizzo.  Plus, they’re actually teenagers, as opposed to people in their late twenties playing teenagers. (I swear, that movie traumatized an entire generation of kids who thought that that was what high school looked like.) They may even feel protective of the fifth graders, in some way. Right?

Still. I wish I could keep them in the pickle jar of elementary school just a wee bit longer. Things are going fast enough as it is.




Writing is fun. Sort of.


The writer, pondering potential names for new city-states.

“Dear mom. I hope you had a great time in Virginia. Did you do anything exciting? Or did you just write?”

Thus began an email I received this week while away at VCCA, a writers’ and artists’ colony in Virginia.

And from a phone conversation with the girls:

“How come you get to go fun places and we can’t come with you?”

I think in the girls’ minds, I’m at some kind of summer camp for writers —  with bunk beds and swimming and arts and crafts. (Plus, probably, some “adult” stuff, like talking and drinking wine.) In a way, they’re right. To me, a residency like this is sort of like summer camp, complete with bugs. (There are stink bugs that scuttle around in the bedrooms and studios, stupid and bumbling, but harmless.) I take nature walks and eat meals with the other fellows — sometimes even at picnic tables, if it’s nice out.

But the main activities are writing and reading. And hitting one’s head against the wall, literally or figuratively, if one is having a bad writing day.

“I don’t think you’d have much fun if you came with me,” I told them. “You might like the fish pond and the frogs. And spotting baby bunnies.  But other than that, I pretty much sit around all day writing.”

“Oh.” (Baffled. Why did I have to travel hundreds of miles away to do this?) “Are you done with your book yet?”

And then I got the immense pleasure of saying: Well, I finished the first draft.



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Middle-Aged Kids

12400971_10153728391686675_6907650197711424513_nThe girls just turned nine, which in child years, if you think about it, is middle aged: Halfway to eighteen. (Eighteen being a somewhat arbitrary number except that it’s when the girls will head to college or elsewhere most likely.)

The parallels with adult middle age pretty much end there, because as far as I can tell, they’re not taking stock of what they’ve accomplished so far, analyzing their skin in the mirror, or starting to think about their own mortality. And, most significantly, I’m the one thinking about the fact that they’re middle aged, not them.

It’s just going by so damned fast is all. They keep zooming ahead, leaving a trail of outgrown toys and clothes in their wakes. As rewarding as it is to see them learning new things and discovering who they are, I think the bitter of it outweighs the sweet — barely, but decidedly. (I suppose that makes me a glass half empty sort of person. Also known as a writer.)

But not only because I miss the children / preschoolers / babies they used to be one / five / eight years ago. Mostly, it’s because their non-stop forward motion is a constant reminder of mine.


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Life Moves Pretty Fast: 5 Ways to Ditch Your Phone Addiction

Didn't have a smartphone. And look how happy he is.

Didn’t have a smartphone. Was awesome.


“Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Thus began my address as valedictorian of my high school class — along with, probably, the valedictory addresses of hundreds, if not thousands, of teenagers around the nation in the late 80s and early 90s. (What do you want, I was eighteen.)

My tender teenage point was that as we raced forward toward our futures, stiving and achieving, we should stop to smell the roses now and then. Be present. Look around.

Still a pretty good point, I think. It’s one I try to remember, but frequently fail to — along with a lot of us these days, methinks.

A few weeks ago, I was at the T station, on my way in to Boston. In many stations, you enter through the same gates people are exiting, so there’s a bit of a dance to make sure you’re not going in the same gate someone’s about to come out of, and vice versa. I was on the brink of putting my fare card into a gate that appeared to be clear, when a woman started barreling toward me from the other direction. She was completely engrossed in whatever was happening on her smartphone, not looking up.

“Excuse me!” I said as she got close.

No response.

“Hey! Coming through!” I said, louder.


I had no choice but to step aside.

“That’s OK. Don’t worry about me!” I said as she zoomed through. I’m not in the habit of being loudly sarcastic with strangers, but come on. 

She didn’t hear me, of course.

Pardon my French, but I’m sick of this merde. I’m sick of having to dodge pedestrians looking down instead of up. Sick of everyone being so glued to their mini screens that they’re oblivious to the world and the people around them, zoned out, rude, distracted, and isolated. And I am FURIOUS when I see people looking at their phones while they’re driving.

I hate it when I get reeled in by my phone, too. Like most people, I’m weaker than that little thing. I’m easily hooked by the feedback loop of mild, immediate gratification that comes with hearing the ping of a text, seing an email in my inbox, and finding I’ve gotten a “like” on Facebook, or a reply to one of my tweets. I can always think of something I “have” to look up on Safari (What was the name of that movie I wanted to see? Where can I buy some winter coats for the girls? Is Dick Van Dyke still alive?) and it’s like this little bubble of pleasure when I do. But then I want more. And more.

Sometimes, yes, having a smartphone on one’s person is incredibly useful. I can check my schedule, figure out what to make for dinner, text the babysitter, and even read the New York Times on the fly. (I don’t have as much of an issue with reading on the phone, but it inevitably leads to other things….) I can send pictures and have fun text conversations with my dearest friends.

Being self-employed, my phone also allows me a measure of mobility I wouldn’t otherwise have. I can reply to urgent emails from my clients while I’m at the grocery store, or review documents while I’m waiting to pick up the girls from school.

But. But.

Plenty of studies — which I won’t link to here, because I am too lazy to go look them up, but Google them yourself sometime while you’re stopped at a red light* — have shown that our phone addiction leads to a reduced ability to stay focused, affects short term memory, and causes generally dickish behavior around your children, your family, your friends, and your fellow humans. (There may not be a study on that one…)

Moreover, it keeps us from being present here and now. From daydreaming. From connecting with others. From coming up with new ideas and insights and plans.

I don’t want to go through my life that way. I don’t want my daughters to see me behaving that way. I don’t want to be controlled by a small machine and I don’t want to get to the end of my life realizing I’ve spent more time taking Buzzfeed quizzes than being in the world, as difficult and ugly as it can be sometimes.

So here’s what I’ve done to try to shake my dependency. Maybe some of these will work for you, too.

They say that bad habits are broken and new ones established bit by bit, via achievable, incremental goals. So it’s probably not wise to try to do these all at once. And it’s probably good to set a timeframe for a phone “diet,” like 30 days or something. And then hopefully you can stick with the new phone behaviors you’ve established. And you can enjoy vegan-like feelings of superiority.

1. When you have down time — you’re waiting in a line, riding the train, stopped in traffic**, standing in an elevator — wait 30 seconds before you look at your phone. Look around. Smile at someone if by some chance they’re not looking at their phone. Count silently to 30 in your head if you have to. Then pull out your phone if you must — but you may find by then that the urge has passed. Work up to 60 seconds. Work up to a million. (Unless you’re at the DMV. At the DMV, all bets are off.)

2. Set alarms or timers on your phone to regulate when you check your email. Use the little dog bark sound, ’cause it’s fun. Every hour. Every two hours. Whatever. I’d wager that there’s pretty much NO email that can’t wait for an hour. I mean, fine, if you’re expecting an important email from work or the Joint Chiefs of Staff, do what you have to do. I know how it goes, because the Joint Chiefs never freaking leave me alone. But otherwise? You can go without the gratification. And remember: It’s not love. It’s JUST EMAIL.

3. Likewise, set alarms for when you can check social media. Three times a day, say. Four if you’re nasty. You’ll survive. Really.

4. Or, if you’re feeling really brave, take Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps off your phone altogether. I know, it sounds scary, but I took a deep breath and did it a couple of years ago, and have never looked back. And I am now a better person than you. But no I’m not. Because sometimes I reallyreally miss it. I have mega urges to Tweet or post something, or see who retweeted me or gave me a “like” so I can feel more awesome and loved. But the urge passes. And I can always feed my social media jones when I’m back at my computer. (There, I sometimes use an app called Self Control to block social media sites for a period of time. I’m going to turn it on right after I share the crap out of this post on social media.)

5. Use an app like Forest, which helps you cut down on how often you look at your stupid phone. As a reward, you get to add little trees to a virtual forest, and earn new types of trees the longer you go without “cheating.” It sounds silly, but LITTLE VIRTUAL TREES! Bam. There’s your gratification. (Thank you to my friend Cathy Elcik for this recommendation.)

Perhaps you’re reading all this and thinking, “This was a nice thing to read while I was waiting to get my license renewed, but now I’m going to go on Facebook and get in a political debate with my right wing cousin, and then look at beautiful photos on Instagram, and then check my email, and I’m OK with that.” I totally get it. It’s fun. It’s an escape. It’s like Doritos. And it can be enriching in its own way.

But do me a favor? Please at least have the courtesy to put your phone down when you’re coming through the subway gates. Or I will fucking trip you.


Art conquers Smartphone Addiction


*Illegal in most states. Hooligan.

**Still illegal. And a really bad habit when your kids are in the car. I’m trying hard to stop, and so should you.


What, Me Worry?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 9.10.17 AMA couple of weeks ago, Clio had a cold. And it was awesome.

I was away at a brief writing retreat at one of my all-time favorite getaways, and Alastair texted to say that Clio had some sort of rash — the itchy kind that seemed to move around a bit. So, in other words, hives. But, we assured ourselves, they weren’t the isolated, fast-growing, raised ones that she experienced in the few days before her diagnosis.

The next day, though, the hives persisted. And the following morning, she woke up with a fever. No other symptoms — no stuffy nose or sore throat.

Cue panic.

One of our big worries as Clio approached the end of her treatment, over a year ago (!), was that any time she had any little blip on her healthy kid radar — a fever, an ache or pain, a nosebleed, a headache — we would freak out, convinced that she was relapsing. Surprisingly, this didn’t really happen. In part because she never had any symptoms that I couldn’t rationalize away as being the sort of thing any kid might have from time to time.

True, I had to speak to my inner worry-wart a little more firmly in the case of the nosebleeds (turns out the kid was just picking her nose to excess) but other than that, this post-treatment transition hasn’t been nearly as stressful as I feared, at least not in terms of health worries.

But hives combined with a fever — yeah, that set the worry-wheel spinning for sure, for the first time. I tried and tried to get myself to back away from the ledge, convince myself that it was nothing, but I was preoccupied enough that I had a tough time concentrating. And when I sat down to do my morning work on my novel — which involved childhood cancer — I closed my laptop and said, aloud, “no way.”

I found myself imagining, in spite of my best efforts not to, what might happen to our family’s life if Clio relapsed — our life which is so very settled and ordinary and happy these days.

It would implode. I would be shattered. I do not know how in God’s name I could go through all that again — the hospital, the procedures, the chemo, my child suffering — with the knowledge that this time there was more risk that Clio wouldn’t get through to the other side.

I kept telling myself, don’t go there, don’t go there. But it was like walking along a precipice. You can’t help looking over the edge.

We called the clinic, and they told us to call Clio’s pediatrician if we were concerned. (Damn them! What did they think we were? Normal people??) So we called the pediatrician, and he was able to see us that afternoon.

I love our pediatrician. We switched to him after Clio was diagnosed, because we’d been so frustrated with our previous pediatrician, who we feel like did not take our concerns seriously. He’s the colleague of a good friend, and he totally understands and does not belittle our concerns, and is familiar with the world of pediatric oncology.

He took one look at Clio’s throat and nose and said, “she’s got a virus.” (Hives can occasionally be viral in nature, and looking back, I remembered another time Clio had hives once out of the blue, as a toddler, before developing a cold.) He tested for strep. (Negative.) Treatment: rest and fluids.

I drove Clio home feeling like an anvil had been lifted from my chest. I had the fleeting sensation of being back in our life BC — our sweet, ordinary little life when the girls were four and five, no cancer, no scars.

A cold!! My healthy, vibrant, eight-year-old, piano-less0n-taking, silly-song-composing, Pokemon-card-collecting daughter had a cold.

What a beautiful, beautiful thing.

(And I caught her cold! But who cared?)

Praise be to the cancer gods, for turning their ugly heads from us. Remind me to pick up a free-range, sacrificial goat next time I’m at Whole Foods.

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