Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I drive quite a bit for work, which means I spend a good amount of time listening to podcasts or music. Yesterday I drove to Lafayette, which takes me about 75 minutes one way. Normally I favor the podcasts, my favorite shows consisting of This American Life, The Moth, The Satellite Sisters and Manic Mommies. Unfortunately, by the time I finished getting both lunches packed and both kids ready for school, I had failed to sync the most recent episodes.
This left me thumbing through my playlists for something I hadn’t heard for awhile. We all have different versions of comfort music, the songs or albums that follow you throughout your life. They never grow old or tiresome. My mother’s comfort music was Joan Baez. I remember listening to Joan’s voice fill our Minnesota kitchen with her melancholy tunes. My mom and I often sang along to various songs together, but the only song I really liked of Mrs. Baez’s was Diamonds and Rust.
I'll be damned
Here comes your ghost again
But that's not unusual
It's just that the moon is full
And you happened to call
And here I sit
Hand on the telephone
Hearing a voice I'd known
A couple of light years ago
Heading straight for a fall
As I remember your eyes
Were bluer than robin's eggs
My poetry was lousy you said
Where are you calling from?
A booth in the midwest
Ten years ago
I bought you some cufflinks
You brought me something
We both know what memories can bring
They bring diamonds and rust
For as long as I can remember I’ve favored sad songs. I loved this song for the visual contrasts between the sight diamonds and rust. I imagined dazzling jewels perched upon massive mound of junk yard scrap metal. Until looking up these lyrics just a moment ago, I had no idea it was about a long lost lover. In a time where I knew nothing of romantic love, the song pulled me into a wave of emotion, and created a stunning visual against my closed eyelids. Naturally, I loved it.
Each night my mom sat on the edge of my bed in my purple wall papered room, stroked my forehead and sang me , Yes We Have No Bananas, All the Pretty Horses and The Rocking Chair Song, as part of my bedtime routine.
“Sing the one about the horses, “ I begged my mom each night. I meant, All the Pretty Horses.
“But Kate honey, it makes you cry every time.”
“I know, but I like that song. Please.”
Softly, she’d begin the horribly sad lullaby,
“Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
When you wake, you shall have,
All the pretty little horsies.
Blacks and bays, dapples and greys,
Go to sleep you little baby,
Hush-a-bye, don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby.
Way down yonder, down in the meadow,
There's a poor little baby crying mama.
The birds and the butterflies flutter round its eyes,
The poor little baby crying mama.”
Hearing my mom sing about that baby crying mama produced a stream of tears every night. I imagined a Moses-like baby, left alone in a basket in the middle of a field, only the birds and butterflies paying any attention to the tiny baby’s sorrowful cries. I imagined the birds shooting questionable glances at the butterflies and the butterflies flapping their wings in agitation, as if to say, “Well, what do you expect us to do about this kid?”
Why would anyone leave a baby alone like that? My heart bled for the fictional baby. I looked up into the face of my own mother, her lotioned hand stroking my forehead as relief filled and relaxed my body. My mother never left me in a basket in a field. Boy, was I lucky. Now I could get a good night’s sleep, the fathom nameless fears put to rest for another night.
I eventually found The Indigo Girls, the thick down blanket of my own comfort music, on my ipod. I swirled my thumb over the slick disk to find the song I wanted, “Mystery”. I remembered that my sister’s high school boyfriend introduced her, then me, to the Indigo Girls.
Cruising along 65 south, I rolled down the windows. Not caring if the truckers I passed looked down on me and chuckled to themselves, I belted out the chorus,
“I could go crazy on a night like tonight, where summer’s beginning to give up her fight. And every thought is a possibility, where voices are heard, but nothing is seen. Why do you spend this time with me, may be an equal mystery.”
Each time I come back to their music, I vow to learn to play the guitar once and for all. If only I could play one of their songs for myself, to strum my own fingers across the taunt strings and sing, no matter how off key, one of my favorite lines,
“You like the taste of danger, it shines like sugar, on your lips. You like to stand in the line of fire, just to show you could shot straight from your hip. There must be a thousand things you would die for, I can hardly think of two.”
What is your comfort music?
Saturday, September 27, 2008
We could be saying good-bye to our Honda Odyssey mini -van later this week. Earlier this summer, I had been feeling a lot of “green” induced guilt about the mini-van. I kept finding myself driving alone in the van, or with just one child. The empty seats and space seemed to be screaming at me, “This is not necessary!!!” And I agreed. We’ve already made some changes to try and use less gas. Josh car pools to work with a friend of ours. While I drive quite a bit for work, Josh and I always check to see who is driving the most miles on any given day and that person takes the Civic.
I approached Josh about selling the mini-van a few months ago. I figured we could save money on two sides with another car, smaller payment and better gas mileage. Plus, I felt like, someone has to start going back down to smaller cars, maybe we should be one of first families to make the change. While our van definitely has lots of space, it also has a whole set of luxuries we don’t have in the Civic, automatic sliding doors that open with the push of a button, leather interior, seat heaters, and just a really nice comfortable car to ride in.
The hardest part is that Josh bought that van for me a little over a year ago, knowing how much I wanted a mini-van. At the time we were waiting and hoping to receive our referral to adopt from China. I felt sure that if we bought a mini-van, The Field of Dreams theory would fall into place, “If you drive it, they will come.” Certainly, with such a huge car, more children would be destined to join our family. I felt desperate to make that happen. So Josh went out and found the perfect mini-van while I was visiting a college friend in California. It was so exciting. Seeing that van, I just knew we’d have more children soon. Sure enough, we received our information about Kai and the rest is history. Here he is and we’re now a family of four.
Part of me doesn’t want to let go of the mini-van just for that reason, just because it feels like it almost delivered Kai to us. I also wanted the van because I just knew that we could adopt again, that I our family would need one more child. Josh had sort of balked at this idea, but I felt sure he would come around. Secretly I worried it could turn into a point of contention between us. Interestingly enough, I really feel that two is the perfect amount for us. I am totally and completely content with our family exactly how it is right now. I don’t see us adopting another child. That knowledge is incredibly freeing and somewhat disappointing at the same time.
I can’t help but think back to all of the times I loudly declared that I wanted 4 kids. I just knew that I would be the greatest mom ever. I wanted as many children as possible. Plus, telling people about your desire to have four children impresses people. It does and I took a great deal of satisfaction from those looks of approval. I reveled in my ambitious family plan. All of this was set in stone in my mind, until I had my first baby. Then, reality set in with a heavily weighted thump. I quickly whittled the number down to three. You need a mini-van for three children, so that is what I wanted.
In some ways, getting rid of the mini-van makes me feel like a failure as a mother. Shouldn’t I want more children? What happened to the girl who couldn’t wait to watch over a brood of children? But the flip side is that I am so completely and totally happy and grateful and content with the family I have right now. We have a boy and a girl, they get along, (for the most part), are healthy, happy kids. My husband and I are still able to spend time with each other and are both pursuing career goals that we are passionate about.
Regardless, I will be sad to see the van go. It feels like the end of an era and I’ve never been one to handle good-byes well.
Friday, September 26, 2008
He seems to be about 60 years old, with white hair. His hair is the color I imagine I would like to have when I am 60 years old, beautiful shiny white hair much like the plump fairy godmothers from Walt Disney’s Cinderella. As people trickled in, he continued to stand and introduce himself. He then made an open handed gesture to me and I too would introduce myself. Suddenly, we were in cahoots with each other, determined to know everyone’s names and put all in the class on friendly terms.
Once we had all arrived, the teacher asked us to go around the table, introduce ourselves and share a bit about ourselves if we’d like. Another man, Charles, went first. I learned that all five of them have taken classes at the Writing Center before. Two of the students are farmers. One woman works the farm with her husband right now. They have over 2,000 acres of soy and corn. She drives the tractor for him during harverst time, but paints and writes and works odd jobs during the slower parts of the year.
The other woman was also a farmer, but is now retired and enjoys writing now that she can dedicate more time to it. David, the man I met first, worked for Indiana University in Bloomington in the medical school there. He shared advice for Charles, a doctorate student, on how to complete his dissertation.
After so much anxiety about taking a writing class, and sharing what I write, as I sat in the old curved bamboo chair around the single oblong table, I felt completely at ease. My curiosity about other people and just who takes writing classes surpassed my own self absorption.
We spent two hours working on character development. Our teacher led us through several writing prompts and gave us the opportunity to share our writing. Since sharing my writing with other writers is one of my goals, I did it. I read my writing; my scribbles that I refused to analyze to keep myself from chickening out. Despite the fact that my ears did ring as I began to speak, and I could feel the blood rushing to my face right on cue, I did it.
I drove home elated. All I had to do was show up. The hardest part was finding the place. I kept the radio off and drove home enjoying the dark evening as it seeped into my car. The stars glittered in the sky and I rolled down the windows, allowing the wind to accompany me on the ride home.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
I’ve got a few excuses to skip this class tucked away just in case I don’t muster the courage to go. I haven’t been feeling well lately or Thursdays are my long days for work, I’m not sure my mind can function well at the end of the day. The class costs more than $15.00, my default spending amount. Anything over $15.00 and I wonder, “Do I really need this?” The only exception to this rule is sporting equipment, in that case no spending limit applies. I would gladly spend $2,000 on a new bike for my husband if it meant he would enjoy riding more. Equipment and gear equals fun in my mind, and who wouldn’t spend lots of money for fun?
I know that I need to take these writing classes. I need to take several, tons of them. For me to step into this class, I need to shore up a water tower full of confidence and courage in order to wrap my clammy hands around a pen and write. I pray that the teacher doesn’t force us to share what we write. I could vomit if that is that case, which could possibly make a great story.
Speaking of throwing up, the sensation of losing my lunch is actually a really good indicator that I am on the right track. Some people experience chills, others can describe a rush of euphoria sweeping across their bodies, or there are a lucky few that see clear images of themselves in moments of the crystal ball nature. Me? I feel like someone's dad just spun me with reckless abandon on the merry go round and I need to lie down or risk spewing in front of all the neighbors at the park. Ironically, all of this all means that I am probably doing the right thing.
Still, I keep coming back to what this year is all about for me. It is about pushing out and finally doing these things instead of just wondering and pondering about them. That means going to class after work when I would probably rather go home and throw my pajamas on and read a story instead of try to write one.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
He stood back and watched as I tossed the oversized bouncy ball from the toy display up in the air over and over again. The ball was filled with colored glitter, with each tossed the glittered swirled along the outer edges of the clear ball. I enjoyed flipping it towards the ceiling and letting it land in my palm with a satisfying smack of cool plastic. After about 5 tosses, I noticed him watching and I laughed, “Just taking a little break from work. Aren’t these cool?” I asked, stretching one out for him to see. He nodded and took one long stride forward. “At first I thought it was an apple,” he admitted. I kept waiting for you to take a bite!”
“Oh, no, they’re huge bouncy balls,” I gave the ball a bounce on the carpeted floor to illustrate my point.
He wore a camel colored sweater jacket reminiscent of Mr. Rogers. I almost expected a tooting train to encircle him as he stood there talking to me.
He gave one of the green glitter balls a toss into the air and then returned it to the plastic cube on the table.
“Well,” he said as he shifted his purchases to the opposite hand, “I better pay for these. Have a good one.”
Even without company, I wasn’t ready to give up the ball yet. Maybe I should buy a few of these for the kids to play with during vacation. I imagined the baseball sized balls bouncing all over the art and candle filled vacation house…maybe not. Reluctantly, I set the ball back down and headed back to work.
Those little friendly encounters with strangers make my day. I don’t know what it is about them. I just so appreciate a small conversation about bouncy balls in the middle of a book store while I’m working. It makes me feel thrilled to be alive and human, sort of like playing with the glittery bouncy ball. I just might have to buy one after all.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The more or less exercise works like this, when I feel a little out of whack, I stop and write down three things I feel I need more of in life, and three things I’d like less of. For example, I may write I’d like more time with friends, creative ideas and organized spaces. I may write I would like less power struggles with the kids, less anxiety over how clean my house is, and less time worrying about money. I cannot recall where I read about this strategy, but so far, it works really well for me. Amazingly, after doing this, I find myself able to let go of my “less” column, and embrace or actively seek out the “more” column.
I couldn’t help but apply the more/less idea to our recent trip to Sheboygan. On our yearly vacation in Sheboygan we meet several of our friends at a house on Lake Michigan for a few days. In years past we stayed for a week in July. This year we tried a long weekend in the fall. Each year, as we pack up the car and back out of our driveway, I imagine all of the “mores” vacation will bring to our family.
Anyway, here’ s my more/less list for this year’s trip.
More eating less cooking- I ate a TON on vacation, as I always do. The cool part is that we split up into “teams” each team is responsible for the dinner menu and preparation for that night. This year everyone cooked up amazing food. Paul, not to be outdone, even wowed us with homemade jalepenio cheesecake… I swear it is deliscious!
More cups of coffee, less glasses of water-The coffee pot at the house gets a good workout. The last couple of days there were 6 couples at the house, and we all drink coffee, with the exception of Steve. One of my favorite parts of vacation is taking my fresh mug of coffee out to the screened on back porch and watching the sun rise out over the lake. Usually, I do this alone, as others are still sleeping, but with more babies this year, I had more company.
More laughter, less turning in at a decent hour-I try so hard to stay up late. Josh builds a campfire each night for us to sit around, but as usual, I was the first to turn in each night. To my credit, I managed to stay up later than my normal early bedtime though!
More babies, less time sleeping in- There were two new babies this year. It felt great to not be the only mom dragging her butt out of bed at 5am when the kids started to wake up.
More kids, less whining- Our first trip to Sheboygan consisted of newly married couples and only 2 kiddos. This year we had 6 kids! They entertained each other and had a marvelous time. Next year the kids will out-number the adults!
More yard games, less beach time- Because we went in the fall this year, we spent more times playing out in the yard and less time swimming. Jove taught us all a new Frisbee game that I am now obsessed with!
More dishes, less time cleaning them up- Everyone pitches in, so clean up is quick and easy.
More candlelight, less lamps- When nighttime falls, someone manages to get candles lit throughout the house and the lamps don’t seem to get turned out. They light the porch, the kitchen table and the family room, where we all gather until heading out to the campfire.
More hats, less time getting ready-Well, this is just me really. I didn’t want to mess with my hair, so I brought two hats instead!
More couples this year, less space at the long dinner table-We barely fit around the narrow farm table, but managed to get us all in!
More stories to tell about Steve, a cooler and a pair of underwear and less time to tell them- Oh Steve, we love you. I know, Paul made you do it. I won’t give out your secrets on the blog, no worries.
More to come next year, less patience for it to get here- We left the house sad it was already over. Josh is already planning for next year. I feel so blessed that we’ve been able to do this trip with these friends for the past 3 years.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
At some point in the trip, we will all throw out our given lines. Elizabeth will ask, “Are we there yet?” and cry when she is tired but, “I can’t sleep in this chair Mommy!” I’ll tell her to do her best, and we’ll be there before she knows it. Josh will reach his limit for Hannah Montana and past vacation bible school CD’s and claim control of the radio after the first 60 minutes.
Kai will fight falling asleep in the car, as he could miss something really cool if he does, and will whine for about 45 minutes before he acquiesces and brings his thumb up to his mouth for a nap.
I will gather up all of my magazines and books that I saved for the ride and will realize that I need to go to the bathroom…again, and calculate how long I can hold it before mentioning it to Josh.
One of my favorite ways to pass the time in the car is to peek into the compact worlds of the other cars zipping by us. I imagine a young girl of 20 something with perfect skin checking her deep auburn hair in the rearview mirror. She is stunningly beautiful, but you can tell by the way she squints her eyes at her reflection that she is disappointed in her cosmetic efforts today. Thick white clouds hang in the sky as if suspended from swaying braided. The maroon Buick she drives has matching velour interior. I imagine it smelling of flat soda, fruit inspired shampoo and stale bread. Bouncing back in her chair she adjusts the volume knob up on the radio, and pushes her freshly manicured foot down on the accelerator to pass us, trading a fresh lip gloss application for the surge of speed beneath her.
I would like to press pause on all of the cars out on the road with us today and find out where they are going and how they feel about it. I especially notice this desire when I am out traveling at odd hours, early in the morning, before people make their way into halogen lit offices, or in the middle of the night.
Who is running away from home? Who is on their way to catch a flight to a place they have always dreamed of, taking a chance, packing a bag and just doing it. Who is so filled with sorrow and dread that they sit in their car and drive just to move. He drives throughout the town avoiding sleep and her unpredictable dreams. He keeps all thoughts at bay with a turn signal here, and a radio station change there. Bob Dylan squawks poetry with his guitar and he keeps his speed five miles above the limit, a police officer the last person he wants to talk to at this point. Instead the highway turns into a massive game board, each exit an opportunity to make a decision to stay or go. Yet, in truth, he knows not to venture too far away in case sleep will no longer wait patiently in the smooth leather backseat.
In our beloved cars we sit right next to each other, if only for a moment’s passing, so close I could toss a ball into that man’s open truck window. I imagine taping a note to a smooth racquet ball. “How are you doing today? We are off to our vacation house to meet up with friends and I am so excited about it. How about you? Where are you off to?” He reads my note and smiles with pleasure. He likes that I’ve taken the time to inquire about him. Taking one hand off the wheel, he reaches under his seat and grabs a marker. “I’m off to my mother’s in Nebraska. She is auctioning off her farm today and my brother and I both want it. Hopefully I’ll come out on top.” I tell Josh to slow down and roll the large passenger window down. He takes aim and it sails back into our car. I nod knowingly after reading it and the man pushes ahead. I’m happy to know that people still long for land and siblings will argue no matter what their age.
I doubt the above will occur while we’re on the road today. Still, I am looking forward to the trip. I may not be able to stop time to chat with my automotive neighbors, but I can look for a truck that might be heading to Nebraska.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Do you know what this world really needs? We need more female sports medicine doctors. Do you know why I say this? I say this because I am so sick of older male doctors, who are active in exactly zero sports looking at me with their semi-amused faces and asking me questions like, “Well now, why are you doing all of these sports?” Like I should be home cleaning the floor, getting dinner ready for my family or balancing the family budget instead, like being a 30 something female athlete is totally ludicrous, like my interest in sports and doing events is laughable, cute but so unnecessary, like I should be home painting my nails or out shopping for a cute outfit, not training 5 or 6 days a week for an event I won’t place in, for events that I am just thrilled to finish, not to mention an award of any sort.
The silver lining around these experiences is their reactions and flippant comments fuel my feminist fire like you would not believe. For every man that thinks what I am doing is “so cute”. I vow to do more than that dude ever imagined I could do. Uh, how do you plan to run, or bike or swim or anything with that massive chip on my shoulder you say? What am I out to prove? I don’t know. Honestly, I just want to be taken seriously when I go to the doctor for issues that interfere with my activities.
I actually fantasize about finding a doctor that actually listens to what I have to say. I imagine them paying attention and then saying, “Ok, so I hear how important being active is to you. It sounds like your problem could have a few sources. Let’s see if we can break it can’t make a plan of action and see if some modifications could make a difference. It could take a little trial and error, but we’ll do our best to get you back out there as soon as we can.” I am not asking anyone to promise me that they will be able to fix it. But I am so sick of these doctors just patting me on the head and sending me away with a flimsy explanation like, “well, you have really loose ankles and there is nothing we can do about that.” Loose ankles? Well, that is a new one at least.
The very first time I went to an orthopedist I met my fantasy doctor. She happened to be a women, in her late 30’s and SURPRISE she was also a runner. She listened and helped me so much. We talked about different shoes, distances ran, my orthotics, and various strength exercises. She assured me we’d get it all straightened out. We did. The other person who was fantastic was my physical therapist I saw after I cracked my tail bone. His wife was in her 40’s and competed in triathlons. Unlike me, this woman placed in the top 3 of her age division time and time again. He understood the female athlete, he was married to one. In addition to being wonderfully respectful of women athletes, he also provided on-site daycare for his patients receiving physical therapy! How is that for a forward thinking man! Fortunately, I haven't needed physical therapy since then. And that fabulous female doctor? She moved to Michigan.
In a time where the Beijing Olympic commentators joked back and forth about how they have the best job in the world because they get to watch bikini clad women jump around the beach, I long for more men who understand and revere female athletes, regardless of their level of achievement. Surely, an Olympic champion should not be reduced to the type of bikini she is wearing, or be forced to wear such a bikini for extra ratings.
Listen, all I am saying is, if I were a 30 year old male walking into any of these sports medicine clinics, it would be assumed that my participation in sports is good for my physical and mental health and would not be considered cute or sweet or extravagant. The doctor would seriously address the problem. Can you imagine a male doctor smiling, folding his hands across his rounded belly and saying to his male patient, “ Now, why are you doing all these sports anyway.”
I don’t think so.
Here is what I am the most disappointed about though, you ready? I sat there on the paper covered table, wrapped from the waist down in the little sheet they give you, and just took it all in. The condescending smiles, the limited questions that seemed completely irrelevant, the dismissive comment made when I tried to explain what I had read about female athletes and how their injury patterns differ from those in men as a result of varying muscle strengths, the new study that promoted a different kind of strength training to prevent those injuries.
I wanted to say, "Listen buddy, this is important to me, and I am here so that you can help me, not make me feel like I am an 8 year old kid complaining about a skinned knee. Pay attention or just forget it if you could care less, and we won't waste each others time." But I didn't I sat there and waited for his line of questioning to finish, even though it was clear to me it would not lead either of us anywhere.
Lesson learned my friends. This has happened to me one too many times. Next time I will speak up. I will speak up, or walk out. It sounds harsh, but I've had enough. And if it happens, I'll be sure to blog about the experience and let you know how it goes.
Friday, September 12, 2008
I included such an event on my Oprah-inspired “Life List”. I created the list several years ago after the birth of my daughter. After about 5 weeks of sleepless nights, failed breast feeding attempts and an extra 15 pounds to shed, my world felt about as expansive as a Geo Metro. Compiling the list allowed me to spend time perched on an imaginary window seat looking out upon the future as series of adventures. It took me awhile to get started, but after I got rolling, the ideas tumbled out like shiny swirled marbles. I kept the list taped to my bathroom mirror for a few months. Eventually it grew tattered and worn, so I took it down to stow it safely away somewhere. Today, I have no idea where it is.
Still, as a result of my list, I’ve gone to hear one of my favorite authors, Maya Angelou speak in Chicago. I sat in the audience of the Oprah show. My sister and I secured seats in the fourth row up from the stage while she interviewed Donald Trump about the first season of The Apprentice. I must confess here, there is something about seeing Donald Trump up close and in person. I am not a Trump fan, and yet he came across and very charming and handsome. Yes, I said handsome, I don’t know, it surprised me too, the hair doesn’t seem so bad in person. Who knew? During the taping of that same show, Oprah looked up and winked at me during a commercial break. I think she must have found my utter delight a bit amusing. I actually got a little too worked up that day, and found myself with a massive migraine on our way back home. “Kate,” my sister said bewildered, “Why would you have gotten a migraine from going to the show.”
“I think it was because I was so excited,” I explained, “I don’t think I was breathing much.”
This Novermber, I will cross “take an all girl vacation” off my list as well. My sister and I are going on the The Manic Mommies Escape 08. We both listen to the podcast called, Manic Mommies. It is a show created by two full time working moms, Erin and Kristin. They recount their lives as they try to , “DO-IT-ALL”. They have created quite the community of listeners with the help of networking sites like Big Tent. (all new to me). So, a bunch of the listeners are planning to “escape” motherhood for a bit, on this trip, which just happens to be a 4 day cruise to the Bahamas right after my 33rd birthday.
I have never met Erin or Kristin, nor have I met any of these other listeners. I have a tendency to day dream about meeting new people and instantly making a new best friend, the way kids seem to do with such ease. Although, in my defense, this sort of instant friendship has happened twice in my life, I met one of my best friends Veronica the day I moved into the dorm at IU. I helped her change a light bulb in her halogen light, and we’ve been great friends since. The summer before college, after some dreadful entrance exam scores in math, I was required to attend “Math Camp” at the University of Illinois. I failed the camp, but my roommate from those two weeks and I are still friends. She managed to pass despite the bad roommate luck.
In this case, I see myself and my new friends, years later sitting around at some “reunion” laughing, “Do you remember when we met on that Manic Mommy cruise? Yeah, and you had just told that waiter that he had a sesame seed struck between his front teeth? And he told you he normally carries a toothpick in his apron but ran out of them yesterday?” Hardy har-har.
I’ve booked the flight to Miami in November. Before I know it, Jenny and I will board a cruise ship with several other women that I have never met before to sail to the Bahamas for a little RR, leaving the husbands and the kids at home to fend for themselves. I cannot imagine a better way to celebrate my 33rd birthday. I have to admit, I sort of pictured a car and a few more ladies that I actually knew beforehand, on my “girls only” trip. Regardless, I will cross another adventure off the list. I am still several steps away from my life feeling boring, predictable and constricted. No Geo Metros here, bring on the cruise ship, I’m ready to have enough fun to fill that baby up!
Monday, September 8, 2008
Naturally, I thought of Ann when I found myself immersed in the life story of a beautiful elderly woman who pulled the threads of her past in the middle of the Target restroom, letting them unravel before me in under the unflattering fluorescent lights. For me, it was another Target expansion for my job. I stood before my section among the greeting cards lost in my own thoughts. A woman with curled long black hair and a billowing white embroidered blouse tip toed up to me. “Scuse me Miss? Can you tell me where I can find photo envelopes?” Her husband stood quietly behind her, hands thrust into his worn overalls. His slightly smudged glasses sat on top of his bulbous red nose.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I began, getting my standard response ready, “I am just a vendor. I don’t work for Target. I’m not sure where those are.”
“Oh, of course,” she said looking at my clothes and noticing that I was not dressed in the traditional red and khaki. “Well, we’ll just keep on looking.”
As soon as she turned to leave I felt a pang of guilt. I should have just tried to find it for her. I shop Targets frequently. Certainly I could find it easily enough. By then, they were gone, and I still had a lot of work to do. I silently vowed to take the time to help the next person.
After finishing half of my new section, I stopped to take a restroom break and get a snack. When I walked up to the sinks to wash my hands I noticed the black haired woman from earlier leaning into the sink applying brown eyeliner. Her hair hung down her back in soft waves. I wondered if she slept in curlers at night, remembering how I had wrapped my own once long hair in pink foam curlers for awhile in high school.
“Did you find the envelope you were looking for?” I asked as I lathered my hands up with the slightly stinky pink soap.
A little startled, she jumped and turned to me looking confused. “I was working in the cards and you asked me for help finding picture envelopes.” I reminded her, feeling guilty for scaring her.
A look of recognition crossed her face. “Oh yes. I remember now. Yes, we did find them. I told my husband, now you know what we need to do? We just need to think of the place where they are the least likely to be, and I’ll bet they‘ll be there.” She finished washing her own hands and grabbed a paper towel from the wide mouthed black dispenser. “And that’s just what we did! There they were!” Her face lit up with satisfaction.
I thought where the least likely place would be in Target, maybe women’s underwear? Hardware?
“I wanted to send a picture of a birthday cake to a friend of mine who is dying from cancer,” she continued.
“Oh gosh, I am so sorry,” I said. Another woman and her developmentally delayed adult daughter walked in.
“I gotta go PEE PEE!” the daughter yelled.
“Well go then honey.” The mother answered calmly.
“Yeah, lung cancer,” she continued, stepping aside to let the mother and daughter pass. “His birthday was July 3rd. Do you know he’d never had a decorated birthday cake?”
“Oh no!” I exclaimed, immediately thinking of my family and their obsession with Taylor Bakery birthday cakes.
“So my husband and I, we drove to Kentucky and made sure he had a decorated cake this year.”
“That is so nice of you!”
“We took a picture of it too. I wanted to be sure to send it to him, so he’ll remember it.”
“What a thoughtful friend you are,” I replied. By this time, the woman and her daughter had finished their business and we moved away from the sinks to give them some space. The woman looked at me with a slight smile. I realized that I was really finished in the bathroom, as was the black haired woman, but she was on a roll, ready to tell me more. I didn’t want to cut her off. The only thing waiting for me was more cards.
“ He was a hunter. So we had deer put on that cake for him.”
“Wow,” I said, this took me back a bit. I tried to imagine a deer cake. I’m sure he loved it. If they can do Nemo and Dora, certainly a few deer wouldn’t be too hard.
Over the next 10 minutes or so, this woman shared how her friend Howard, married a woman 30 years younger than he. “But I never seen two people more in love. I tell him, ‘Howard, age doesn’t mean a thing.’” She explained that they were so close because they had both lost one of their children. “I lost my son 4 years ago in a car accident.”
“Oh, I am so sorry.” I said again, the lights in the bathroom seemed brighter, my reactions amplified by the white tiles of the bathroom. She dug in her purse and produced a laminated picture of her son.
“He was 47,” she stated.
“He looks just like you,” I said. Studying the picture before handing it back to her.
“We both have the same high forehead,” she said, smoothing her own forehead with her hand as if it were really that of her son. I thought of my two kids and how often I pass my hand across their sleepy foreheads at bedtime.
As if reading my mind she said, “You just can’t ever take a day for granted you know. Once they are gone, it’s like hole in your heart. It never ever goes away.” She put the picture on the eyeliner back into her purse.
I took this as my cue to turn towards the door and make our way back out into the red and white retail world. She followed me out. Her husband stood leaning against the wall just outside of the restrooms, his hands still resting in his pockets.
“You have a lovely wife,” I told him. He smiled and nodded.
With that she pulled her purse strap up over her shoulder and looked at me with her newly lined eyes and said, “I sure hope I will see you again honey.” There is something about women calling me honey that I love. They could be any age, young or old. It is like a verbal pat on the back, a word of gentle inclusion.
“Oh, me too.” I said. I turned and walked back to my little section of cards. I felt so honored that she shared her story with me, a stranger in such an unusual place like the bathroom. I know I am not out there saving the world each day. But somehow I felt such a sense of buoyancy after just those few moments of connection into other person’s life, that for whatever reason, I was the one she shared with that day. I smiled, imagining the photo envelope making its way to Kentucky, and the smile curving across Howard’s face as he viewed his deer birthday cake once again.
Friday, September 5, 2008
While I felt pretty nervous about joining the group, I pushed past it, knowing that this situation presented just another hurdle for me to clear. So I sent the email to join, was accepted as part of the group, and started receiving the messages from members.
Each week the moderator asks the members to provide an update of what they are working on, and how it is going. The emails flooded in. One stated he was still just posting on his blog and left the address for others to reference. I followed the link and found a somewhat cryptic short story that jogged back and forth in a manner I couldn’t seem to follow. A female member stated she completed another chapter in her book. She stated she would bring it to the next meeting to workshop. Another member shared that she may have finally secured an agent to market her book.
Wow! Excitement and intimidation surged through me. One of them has an agent huh, cool. I read on, “We’ll see though, I’ve been burned before. Not many agents are willing to take on gay erotica when it comes down to signing on the dotted line.”
Gay erotica? Mmmm, this was a little hick-up in my brewing anticipation. Is that a new genre? Suddenly I morphed into a 12 year old, blushing at the mention of sex, not to mention gay sex or worse erotica? How is that different exactly? Ok, so how immature am I? I scolded myself. Yet, I couldn’t help thinking of this woman bringing her newest chapter to Borders and reading it aloud for us, and then trying to critique it. I envisioned my crimson face and neck giving me away as a totally un-evolved person and writer. She must be a really great writer if she is working with agents and that only heightened my anxiety.
So, I unsubscribed to that group. I guess I have to take things a little bit at a time. I did become a member of a writer’s group/community in downtown Indy. It is called The Writing Center. I take my first workshop there on Monday night. The class is called, “Getting Started.” I can handle that one. Maybe in a couple of months I will have gained some maturity and courage to expose myself to genres and styles way outside my realm. Then you may hear me say, “Gay erotica? Oh yes, it is quite the expansive genre. .. really empowering material…” Or something along those lines, so get ready.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
For once in my life I would like to be hit on by a guy who is around my age. When I was in college, my friends used to tease me, as I was a magnet for the foreign graduate students. If you were from Germany, did not speak much English and studying physics, then apparently, I was your type my freshmen year. But it doesn’t stop there, after college, I drew in an aging wanna-be-big- hair rocker. A few high school friends and I were at a local bar when the rocker approached me. Among those friends was my ex boyfriend. To his delight, a guy who very well could’ve passed as a member of White Snake, with long hair curly hair, tight jeans and puffy bangs, asked me for my phone number. Stunned, I gave it to him, a fake number, but still. This wasn’t anything like my daydream where a mysteriously handsome someone buys me a drink, finding me utterly fascinating, all the while reassuring myself, as well as my ex, that “Oh yeah, I’ve still got it.” Instead, he just laughed and I steamed; foiled again.
It keeps getting worse. Now, in my thirties, it seems that I am getting a lot of winks from guys who have to be nearing 50. What is this all about? Just once, I swear, one time, I would love for an attractive guy, my age, to give me a compliment or suggestive smile. Just once, just enough to boost a girl’s confidence you know? One of my best friends in college had men falling all over themselves all the time in her presence. I cannot tell you how many times a new guy slid up next to me and said under his breath, “So, what’s the story with your friend Veronica?” Augh! I wanted to say, “The story is, take a number Mister, she’s got you guys lined up out the door and around the block. Good luck to you.” If I didn’t love her so much I would’ve just quit hanging out with her. But to her credit, she is pretty awesome. What can you do? The girl can work a crowd like no one I have ever met.
Lately, at the two workout centers I go to, I’ve gotten the “How are you doing?” with a slight head nod from a couple of men. As I happily answer, “Fine thanks!” thinking how nice and friendly people are, how I love community places where you can get to know people, the guy throws in a wink at the end, like a misplaced exclamation mark. What is that?! I kid you not, the second time it happened, I turned around to see if someone else was behind me. This guy had gray hair! He had to be well into his fifties. Do I seem that attainable? Is there a mark on my forehead that says, “Easy prey, don’t worry about her age.” Or worse yet, do I look older than I am already? I even checked my fly, like maybe he was trying hint with his flapping eyelid that I should zip up my shorts to avoid future embarrassment. Nope, I was all buttoned and zipped.
There is a thread of hope in this case though. As I was signing up to continue my contract at one place, the slightly strange young guy working the desk asked my age as he filled out the appropriate sheet. “Surprised, I answered, “32.”
“Oh, sorry,” he backpedaled. “I meant your birth date.”
I gave it to him and then, bless this boy’s wonderful heart, he replied, “Gosh, you don’t look 32, I would’ve guessed 27.”
YES!!!! Not all is lost quite yet. You can bet that I will be holding that thread for a long time.
Monday, September 1, 2008
And then there are the days when your daughter secretly leaves you a love note on your flip flops.