You can’t take it with you-But it appears I’m going to try

Have you ever read the book by Tim O’Brien ,”The Things They Carried”, about the Vietnam war?  Great book.  Completely unrelated to this blog post.  But for some reason whenever I am amidst the piles and piles and PILES of things to sort through and I feel overwhelmed, I think I should write an autobiography called “The Things She Saved”.

I’m a saver.  Keeper of memories.  Storer of crap.  Collector of random objects important to people who are no longer on earth.  Holder of things other people intend to claim. I’m not going to make it onto the Hoarders show but I can and do save things for an unreasonable amount of time (forever) and (considering the dire storage situation in our house) an unreasonable amount of things.

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I am drawn to magazines like this.  I love them.  I like books and blogs and articles and Instagram feeds and all sorts of information on organizing.  But I am not organized.  People seem to think that I am.  I don’t know what gives them that impression.  I have been “getting organized” for decades and have finally come to grips with…if you are getting organized you can still find your own stuff and somewhat function.  If you actually ARE organized-someone can find it when you die.  Sorry kids.  I will never get there.  (side note: Just read a long article about Swedish death cleaning…riveting. Too bad I’m mostly Danish)  And for all my reading about decluttering…

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Yep.  So embarrassing.  I took the photo and then recycled it.  Promise.

I have boxes and bins and baskets full of crap.  And I always mean to let go of it but then I start to look through it and then I fall in love with keeping it all over again.  But I am getting better.  Truly.  I got rid of 50 books last year.  Nobody even noticed which gives you a window into the scope of my problem.  But I’m always looking for a system.  A “once and for all solution”.

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Have you seen/read that little gem?  It’s depressing and shaming and impossible.  I hope she has triplets some day.  Call me Marie after the triplets.  I can’t wait to see how and where you will neatly stack the sippy cups and diapers and toys and then later the sporting goods and school paper avalanche and electronics and cords.  My GOD the cords. You won’t be emptying out your purse each night.  Your sunglasses won’t be honored and ‘getting their rest’.  You will be clinging to your sanity by a thread.  You will eat questionable food from the bottom of your Birkin bag which will be right there in a crumpled Ziploc next to your bent sunglasses.  I tried her little system.  I made it through pants.  I tried on all my pants.  Got rid of over half.  woo.hoo.  And shouldn’t this only be an E-book?  Because now I’m storing that thing too.  Also-I don’t have the right pants for certain occasions now. I have got some feelings about Marie.

I have all sorts of reasons for saving things.  Thinking I might need it again.  Thinking someone else might get use out of it…someday.  (True crazy story…I’ve saved holiday cards because I have considered if someone had their house burn to the ground…I would still have their card and they would be so happy when I delivered their holiday card from 2009.  WHAT!??  Why trust Shutterfly when you have me on your card list? And a lot of the cards I have saved…the COUPLE has broken up.  I don’t think they are going to want that card.)  Other saving rationale includes-Guilt I spent money on it.  Guilt someone else spent money on it.  Guilt someone else wanted me to have it even if I didn’t want it in the first place.  Guilt that I actually need the thing but it is a piece of crap so not useful but I don’t have a decent one so I save it until it can be replaced but then it never gets replaced.  Sentimental reasons.  Ooh.  That’s the one.  There. That’s the one that gets me.  The feeling like the object holds the memory for me.  I fear I will forget if I don’t have the object.  Which is only slightly ridiculous because I come across things now and again and it brings back all the stories.  It works!!! T-shirts from high school.  Programs from shows I saw as a child.  Figurines that belonged to my Grandma.  A wool shirt my dad wore in high school.  In high school. In the 60’s.  Officially vintage and only 45 or so years away from being an antique.  So touching right? Then again…I also have my kids first haircuts.  I oddly also am storing my brother’s first lock of hair that was cut off.  And I have teeth.  I have my kids’ teeth.  What I’m saying is I have hair and human teeth in random places in my house.  So basically I’m a sociopath.

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Here is Junk Drawer #1.  1 of 2.  I spy a hotel key card that never got returned.  By the way…great hotel in Midtown Manhattan.  A backup to the backups pair of glasses-because a prescription from 15 years ago is so handy.  A tooth box with a few visible teeth.  A Dora the Explorer PC game for a computer that is no longer used. A junior ranger patch from Yellowstone National Park. A restaurant gift card to a restaurant that went under financially.  A peppermint Chapstick that burned his lips when my child tried it. A $5 bill.  Canadian.  Pokemon cards. Staples.  Erasers. A tear off tab to a life insurance policy my grandmother bought in the 70’s. Jewelry. A bronzer. I’ve never used bronzer. See? See how fun it is.  Every day is a scavenger hunt. The problem is everyday is a scavenger hunt.

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Oh…remember Blockbuster?  They were militant about you having your card when you rented movies. Until they started closing their doors…5 years ago.

The problem is I have always been like this.  I saved rocks. Cards. Tiny mementos from vending machines. Gifts from friends. Costume jewelry. Movie stubs. Notes from 6th grade. Notes from 11th grade.  All the flyers I had tacked up on my wall freshman year of college. Shells from beach walks from vacations in the 80’s kept in a green and black canvas Snoopy tote.  Do I still have them? I’m so glad you asked.

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Once I took a writing class and the assignment was to write about what was in the garage.  One woman wrote about a picture that hung above her bed for years.  It turns out it was a Van Gogh sketch that was pilfered during WWII and brought across enemy lines.  And years later, she found it in a box in her garage.  This really made an impression on me.  WHO has an actual Van Gogh IN THE GARAGE!!! I don’t.  I do however have sporting goods of every ilk for sports that nobody in this house participates in any longer.  So…

So I am on a mission.  Fall cleaning.  I already went through the garage.  And now onto the interior.  I’m finally fed up with living in a thrift store.  30 bags in 30 days.  Join me if you like.  Or don’t.  I’m too disorganized to start a national movement.   I’m starting with easy broad categories because I am a professional.  Clothes that I haven’t worn in FIVE years. Objects with no FUNCTION.  Toys that are BROKEN-(also known as garbage). Shit that belongs to other people.

I know I will never be organized.  I’m an abstract random.  I likely have ADD.  And I clutch things for good and bad reasons. I’ll never have an alphabetized spice rack. I have a friend with an actual alphabetized spice rack.  I just found that out and I still like her because she has a lot of other good qualities.  I’ll never have dozens of open spots on the bookshelf, or the basement shelf or any shelf.  And I’m really looking forward to finding and then selling the 3 Picasso pieces that have somehow slipped my mind.  And I likely will leave my family members with the burden of unnecessary crap.  I give full permission and my blessing to have a massive bonfire after I’m dead.

It was a busy week in our house.  The girl got her braces off and the dog got neutered. So I guess the theme of the week is “Let Us Let Go Of What No Longer Serves Us”.  Who is excited!!!???

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You Say It’s My Birthday

*The following is simply the way I remember it.  Memory is faulty.  If you remember it differently we will have to agree to disagree.

I just celebrated my 46th birthday.  I’m now closer to 50 than to 40. I have lived longer than Jesus and Princess Diana longer than Elvis and River Phoenix but I’m not even halfway to Betty White.  So, I’m really focusing on Betty.

My birthday has always coincided with back to school chaos which was fun when I was a child.  New shoes. Old friends. Mom buys me Sassoon jeans. It’s not quite as much fun when the day opens with your own kid blaming you for ‘nearly missing the bus’ because they were not awakened at the perfect time.  Alert: Concierge parenting services are no longer available here starting on Monday. I’m 46 for pete’s sake.  I need my beauty sleep.

This is my birthday in 1974 in my graphic lion dress.  I’m not clear why there are 19 candles on the cake when I was 3 but I am clear why they held my hand so that I wouldn’t fall face first into a 3rd degree facial burn. Polyester can also be quite unforgiving with open flames.
In elementary school, I associated my birthday with friends coming home on the bus with me, our little legs in terry Izod shorts sticking in the high humidity to the green vinyl seats on the school bus.  Home parties with favorite foods and games and favorite friends and Pepsi served in crystal glasses.

This is 1978.  I’m in my yellow gingham “Jenny” dress.  Nice feature to have your name embroidered on your clothes in case your friends forget who you are. (In later years I would force my brother to wear that dress and march him around in it.  I called it playing “Fashion”. He was a very good sport but a hopelessly clumsy runway model.)

 

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This is a few years later.  The 80’s.  We had english muffin pizzas and someone gave me an ice cream cone puzzle.  Look at those fashion icons.  I’m in front wearing my “crayon shirt”.  Nothing will catapult you to popularity quite like wearing school supply graphics on your clothing.

Then there were some years of stress with birthdays.  Who to invite.  Who not to.  Would my dance theater friends blend with my school friends. Did I have to invite so-in-so just because I went to her party?  Someone was mad at me, should I include them? The middle school birthdays are a blur as the middle school years are a blur.

High school.  My very best high school birthday was junior year. 16.  My grandma made me a bouquet of sugar cubes tied with pastel ribbons for a “sweet 16”.  I’ll never forget the time and care she put into making that.  I had spent the previous summer at The School of Cleveland Ballet and was eager to see my friends again.  My friend Eric picked me up in his sporty car and we were going out to dinner.  Very decadent. I dressed up in my “I spent my summer with artsy people” grey and white striped floor length skirt and long grey t-shirt knotted to the side. We went to TGIF’s and several other friends were there to surprise me.  It was a happy shock. I deeply regretted wearing my weird skirt.  Friday’s was not yet ready for the avant-garde apparel. God I loved that skirt.

College.  Freshman year my birthday happened less than a week after arrival.  It felt weird and sad being in this unfamiliar place on my birthday away from my family.  I had exactly one friend on campus.  Paul.  We had known each other forever but he was dealing with his own adjustment…and everyone else around me was new.  But then my entire corridor of 7th floor Mohn made me signs and cards and brought chocolates and made a huge deal out of it.  Near strangers. I was floored.  Unbelievable.  It was going to be ok.  These were good people. Later, a few of them would be in my wedding party.   Later still, one of the sign makers would be my very first phone call when my dad died.  And Paul, even amidst his own swirl of the new normal stopped by and gave me a white t-shirt and black cotton cardigan from the Gap.  In a box with tissue paper. And it was wrapped with a ribbon.  I cried.  I wore those shirts until they were threadbare.  Senior year I turned 21.  I was the last to turn 21.  Many of my friends were abroad studying in other countries.  Two friends set aside the fact that they didn’t know each other and took me out to a bar called the Rueb that is closing this month after 50 years.  One friend was Paul. The other was Tam.  Tam ordered a Japanese import beer and Paul ordered a tap beer.  They both disapproved of the other order but kept it to themselves. I didn’t know what to order.  They gained consensus on assuring me I would love numerous long island iced teas. 21!  Woohooooooooo!   I had exactly one that gave me a blinding headache and then I went to bed VERY early for a 21st birthday.

The pre-children years.  Dinners out. Parties. Cards and coffees and phone calls with singing voicemails.  One year my husband surprised me at a local restaurant with friends at a long banquet table on an outdoor patio.  The weather was perfect. The mood was perfect. It was so much fun.  My husband pointed and said, “Look!!!  I found Tam.  I FOUND HER!  I even FOUND TAM!”  It was quite a feat.  I mean she was just in Minneapolis but this was before Facebook and Google and somehow he found her digging through my mysteriously curated address book.

The kid years.  The first year we had a baby we went on a boat ride while my parents watched the 5 week old.  It was 50 degrees.  We had cocoa on the boat and wore fleece jackets and had to cut the boat ride short because I was nursing.  I bolted from the car into my house screaming, “GIVE ME THE BABY-MY BOOBS ARE EXPLODING!”  Memorable.

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This was 40.  Family over for dinner.  The glasses do not help facial symmetry.  Look at that glorious cake.
Years of sweet cards from the kids. Trying to behave themselves and keep the sibling punching to a minimum because “It’s Mom’s birthday.” Punching resumes September 9th.   Take a picture with Mom.  Sit still for just ONE photo.  It’s her birthday.  Just do it.

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Good takeout on my birthdays. Well wishes.  Phone calls. Facebook love.  Emails. Texts with emoji’s. Tiny nieces and nephews singing on my voicemail.  Some birthdays spent at curriculum night or dance carpool or both.  Some with breakfasts out to celebrate my birthday AND the kids going to back to school.  Below is year 42.

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And now 46. It’s easy to think that there is nothing new on the horizon for birthdays the older you get.  But expect the unexpected.  I had a delectable coffee and french croissant with my Mom.  I got my hair cut and colored from my dear friend Patty.  She mercifully squeezed me in last minute so I didn’t have to turn 46 AND have grey hair.   I got surprise presents on my doorstep.  A friend of 39 years sent me flowers.  I went home to assemble egg bakes for 50 people for Saturday when my friend came over with some sporting equipment for my youngest son.  We were discussing how it would have be fun to go the U2 concert.  While we lamented and I whisked eggs, my husband bought tickets, sent the email link and pretty much made the decision for us because we are both professional procrastinators.  I got to see U2.  Finally.  Bought my very first concert t-shirt at age 46.  Finally.  Did something spontaneous.  Finally.   I felt 16 again because I knew every song.  Bono…he still has it at 57.  It would have been a different experience at 16 since Bono seemed so much older then and I wouldn’t have had my miniature gin and tonic because…well illegal PLUS $10.  $10?

And this…

I took my puppy on a short walk in the afternoon.  A woman in a small car stopped and jumped out, leaving the car running.  She said, “Oooooh.  I don’t believe I’ve met this little guy yet!.”  She hands me her business card.  She is cooing to my dog.  She says, “Well, he’s cute.  But that fur?  It will get matted if you aren’t careful.”  I look at her card.  I am defensive.  I say, “He’s just a puppy.” I am defensive about my dog’s unruly fur.  She says, “I do IN-home grooming. I come to you.  I groom a TON of neighborhood dogs. So let me know.”  I’m not feeling it.  She criticized my puppy on my birthday.  20 seconds before she hops into her car, she turns and says, “Just so you know…I do it ALL.  Everything. I groom, do their teeth, the ears, trim their nails.  I do it all in your home.  I even do the anal cavity.  What I’m saying is, I will come to YOUR OWN HOME and do the anal cavity if that’s what you are looking for.

Then she sped away.   And I’m speechless on my birthday.
So-The important memories and people remain important. I am still in contact with everyone mentioned above.   A birthday wish is never wasted.  I am overflowing with gratitude and love for all the people in my little world.  People are so good.  My birthday means I’m aging but I’m getting more grateful and more focused.  I don’t have the luxury of wasting time but have the gift of knowing how fleeting it is.  And I celebrate just being here to make another trip around the glorious sun.

Don’t give up middle aged people. You never know…you may just get an offer this year on your special day that you just never EVER expected or never knew existed.

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Throwback Thursday: 21 years

 

 

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So I have this weird thing I do.  (many weird things but I’m only sharing this one today) Sometimes I think about people who have died when I catch myself watching a sunrise or staring at a beautiful tree or looking at a bird in the yard and I think…How can they have missed this?  They should see this bird, this incredible bird.  If they had just lasted 7 more years, they could be staring at this yellow bird right now.  How did they not see this particular sunrise?  I know they saw sunrises…but not this one.  They didn’t make it long enough to see that tree! Two more years and they could have stood right beneath the canopy of this tree.  And how lucky am I to see this tree? Why am I the lucky one?

And I feel such gratitude for such luck. (stay with me…)

I’m 21 years into my marriage today.  To the same human.  How?  21!? But I’m only 30 years old! Time has just tumbled forward snowballing faster and faster. I’ve been told it goes by even more quickly with every passing year.  I was 23 when I got married.  Were my daughter to follow in our footsteps, she would make a lifelong commitment to someone just 9 years from now.

But.I.won’t.let.THAT.happen.  ha ha ha. Seriously, though she isn’t allowed.

There are many articles, studies, books all devoted to what makes for a lasting marriage.  Statistics have been compiled.  Algorithms laid out. Theories have been developed. Therapies have been formed.  I believed in all that as a newly married person.  I could easily cite why we were married, why it made sense and why it would all work for the long haul. If you ask people what the ‘secret’ is they have many simple explanations.   People often say God brought them together,they have similar values, they are opposites and opposites attract, they “grew up together” (a case for marrying early), they “knew who they were” before they got married (a case for marrying later), they work hard at their marriage, they put their relationship first, they are just the perfect compliment to one another, and on and on and on.

I wanted to believe it was simple and formulaic but I don’t believe that at all.

  1. God brought us together.  God likely only gets partial credit for some things and is harshly criticized for others and people make it pretty convenient to involve God in the argument if it suits them.  If you meet someone at an Atheist Convention in Vegas and you are 9 cocktails in and end up getting married that night, God planned that out just for you?   Mmm-I’m not so sure.  Seems like the bright lights and adrenaline and Johnnie Walker Black may have set that up for you.  And if God brings all these people together does he bring over 50% apart?  God makes the matches but then it’s all free will when people split up?  Nah. Plus,  I don’t believe in the one person for one person myth.  There are probably other men I could have contentedly married and we could have lasted 21 years.  There are also probably several nice, docile, pleasant, lovely women out there who enjoy bass fishing, Cheetos, tank tops and sub-zero house temps that my husband could be happily married to right now.  Stay away from him you bombshell fishing floozies-we’ve already put in 21 years renovating each other.
  2. Similar values or opposites attract.  Yeah.  Sounds good.  Until a city mouse wants to be a country mouse. Or the person who always wanted children suddenly feels it at the very core of their being that they do not. The frugal saver spends lavishly on a whim for the first time in their life. What if one with the ever stable job walks away to ‘find themselves’?  What if the opposite thing that was so alluring is now the very thing that you can’t tolerate? People do change.  Similar values in 1995 may not mean similar values in 2005. In our case, some of our most sweeping changes were the very scaffolding to hold us together.
  3. Timing.  The exact right age to get married. Once, in college, my friend Erika’s dad told us this at dinner-(I’m paraphrasing) ‘There are no soul mates.  You don’t find the right person and marry them.  You get to an age where you are ready to marry and end up with whomever is in front of you at the time’  Needless to say-we were disturbed and insisted he was wrong.  He wasn’t wrong.  Wise words from George.  If you ‘grow up together’ you have the challenges of getting on the same maturity trajectory.  If you already ‘know who you are’ you have challenges compromising because you have your own ways of dealing with life independently.
  4. Working hard at marriage.  Sheesh.  Is there any other way?  Two humans that live together?  It’s a lot of work to just get up every day and be yourself.  To consider another person and their needs/wants/dreams/hopes on an ongoing basis is…is…is.. A LOT.  And I like him and love him and it’s still a lot. Rewarding. Joyful. Instructive. Humbling.  I think people who stay together work at it and I still think people who end their marriages worked at it too.  Regular date night is not a guarantee of anything except a decent meal-usually.
  5. The appearance of happy.  We look happy a lot of the time. We are generally happy. We have loved each other truly, madly, deeply over 21 years. HOWEVER, it is not a stretch to say that at one point or another (I’ll just speak for both of us here) we have fantasized, albeit briefly, about the other person falling into a well.  Not a huge well. Not a super far fall. Nothing life threatening…but a fall into a well nonetheless.  We were at many weddings where we watched in awe what an ‘ideal’ match was about to take place.  Oh-some of those couples just made it look effortless.  I would have bet a kidney they would be together until death doth them part.  Alternately, we were at a few weddings where I clenched my teeth and waited in vain for someone, anyone (please) to stand up and OBJECT when the opportunity arose.  I would have bet a kidney those marriages would last a year, if that.  I’ve been to a lot of weddings and had I placed bets…I would be out two kidneys right now.

I have my own theory on marriage.  I think we have made it to this Thursday due to gritty determination and luck.   We have been very determined but mostly so, so, so lucky.

I’m grateful to see this, specific Thursday view of this lovely lake and I’m glad we made it these 21 years so I can be here with him. ❤️

Delta Chi Latte: Accepting late pledges

I have never had a huge group of friends.  I have many good friends.  Cherished friends. But generally, even as a little girl, my friends were not all friends with each other.  The biggest group I was ever part of was maybe three or four girls.  Groups of friends in elementary school formed pretty naturally driven by activities or geography or moms.  But by middle school I had narrowed the field quite a bit.  I think I almost preferred it that way.  I’m a secret introvert and even now if I go to a party where I know I have to make small talk with 30 people, I feel a little ill.  I want to grab one person and hold their face in my hands and discuss their relationship with their mother at length.  I know.  Now you won’t invite me for coffee.  It’s ok. I just generally suck at making ‘light conversation.’

In late high school when we were actual women making friends with other women, I had one ‘best friend’ and we floated between groups of other friends and hung out with a group of boys as a duo. This totally worked for me.  The guys were a blissful counterweight to any drama she and I might attempt to stir up.

1989 and 2014 below…


College was similar.  Again, I had lots of women I spent time with but not a sorority atmosphere certainly. I have several friends from those four years-but they aren’t friends with one another.  I found my future maid of honor in college.  We disliked each other a great deal the first few weeks of freshman year.  She found me bold and over confident.  I found her shy and irritatingly not wanting to be the center of attention.  Plus, she wore mysteriously preppy rugby shirts and I was trying out my REI meets goth look with all black clothing, dark red lipstick and hiking boots.

We must have pushed past all that since now she is the executor of my will.  Below you will find a montage of our early relationship and no, no alcohol was involved in striking any of these poses. Sadly, no mood altering chemicals were involved when I chose any of those haircuts either.  I can own it.

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Then I made “couple friends” and anyone who is over 14 knows how difficult that is to navigate.  The odds of both people in one pair really enjoying both people in the other pair are well…let’s just say even match.com or tinder wouldn’t dare try to code that algorithm.  And then large groups of couples who all enjoy hanging out together?  Even more tricky.                                                                 (note: 3 of my favorite couples to hang out with in our 20’s…all divorced now-maybe it was me?)

Graduate school.  In two years of seeing the same people every.single.freaking. day, I made a few friends.  Three.  And I made one lifelong close friend.  We were like hecklers at a comedy club except we were in Psych classes.  I’m not sure everyone appreciated our bond.  We thought all of the same people were exactly the same kind and same amount of crazy.

Work.  Various settings.  Various people.  Please.  I have yet to find an adult human who relishes attending their own company party let alone hang out with their co-workers every weekend. Worlds colliding.  It rarely works out ideally.

Church.  Surely church is filled with a lot of nice women.  I never did find 6 that all wanted to hang out together though. Never.  Acquaintances yes. Cohesive friend group?  Nope.

Neighborhood.  No.  We live on a street that ranges from newly married to retired couples. There are no block parties.  No progressive dinners.  No pool parties.  Last year we had 0 trick or treaters.  One banner year we had five.  They must have gotten lost. My closest neighborhood friend lives next door and I surely couldn’t have survived the last 18 years without her but we have our differences.  She is 69.

So-over the years when I see on social media photos of 8, 10, 12, 15! women together on trips or dinners or book clubs or scrapbooking weekends or reunions or 5k’s or wine tastings or etc…I always think…really?  How?  How did I never end up having a group of friends?

And then I realized I have one now…my first friend group.  At 44 years old.

I have finally found my sorority.  Accidentally.  It’s my ‘mom friends’.  The extensive group of women who surround me who are raising their children alongside me are my tribe.  Phenomenal, intelligent, strong women.  They know me.  They know each other.  We have a lot in common and the kids bond us together even though some of our kids are different ages and don’t even hang out with one another.  Doesn’t matter anymore.  They are women who work outside the home and women who work inside the home.  They have one child, they have four children.  They are single, married, widowed, divorced.  They are estranged from their parents, have ailing parents, have dead parents, have under involved parents, have over involved parents, all while parenting their own kids.  A few are over the top optimistic and a couple are intensely sarcastic and a couple are so wicked smart and a couple are wild procrastinators. They are volunteers and coaches and organizers and entrepreneurs and piano teachers and writers and religious and not religious and some are great cooks and some are ultra crafty and some exercise and some talk about exercising but never actually do and some are loud and outgoing and some aren’t and I value and cherish them all for their gifts and their challenges and their grit.

These women, they make my life so much better.  My circle of trust.  They make the grind of life tolerable.  They are my go to when I have a question about what the heck is wrong with my kid(s) or to tell when something goes well with my kid(s).  They celebrate my successes and lament with me when it all goes to shit.  Some of them I see in person 3 times a year, others I see weekly.  We go on mom field trips and do important ‘doughnut research.’  It is my first experience of having a large number of women who make me feel “we are in this together”. I have 20+ women who would drop everything and pick up my son if I needed it.  I would do the same for them.  They are my emergency contacts.  I have cried with them in Target.  In Target.  Right there next to the light bulbs and laundry detergent and bananas.  That is friendship.  It is an intricate but strong and supportive web of friendship that holds me together some days during these intense parenting years.

These women…they teach me.  They educate me on camps to look into, where to buy something for less, why a particular teacher is so valuable, what to open my eyes to and when to shut my ears.  NO KID REALLY NEEDS TO BE 6 YEARS AHEAD IN MATH.  They know stuff.  They recommend books and doctors and websites and restaurants.  They gently explain the reality of why I could never actually survive being a hockey mom and how many things are likely going to turn out just fine and probably don’t need my micro-management.  They point me in the right direction when I need to get whipped about something and present convincing arguments for when I really need to calm the hell down.    (It’s almost always the second one)

This photo was taken on my birthday last year.  Not even nearly everybody who is important to me is in the photo (obviously)…and I didn’t even have a chance to talk to everyone this day and hold their face and delve into their inner soul.  But it’s ok.  They know I care what happens to them.  I’ve got their backs.  I’ll catch up with them at school or on the soccer field or in the church parking lot or over lunch or maybe at Target.

We will cry at Target.  Together. Sisterhood.

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I am a Cross Country running champion (spectator)

If you are a parent, one of your primary jobs seems to be serving as a witness to the lives of your children.  I’ve witnessed a lot.  Although if you ask my youngest son, he will tell you I missed one preschool field trip to the apple orchard and ALL the other moms were there and he was completely and utterly alone.  So-we both have to live with that failure.

So far, my children have participated in what feels like 1,000 school, church and extra curricular activities that include t-ball, soccer, football, dance, choir, scouting, orchestra, cross country, knowledge bowl, and a few others I have blocked from my mind.

A lot of it has been fun.  Some of it has been not so fun.  Some of it has been downright irritating.  I’m not a great spectator because I lack a fiery competitive spirit and yet am sitting amongst the superfans.  I don’t care who wins.  I don’t get any great thrill when one team wins over the other or when one person beats out all the others.  When I watch the Olympics, and I LOVE the Olympics, I fall in love with the personal back story of all the athletes.   I will always root for the person with the toughest personal history every time. I will pray for the athlete with a compelling twist in their journey where they almost didn’t make it to compete after years of effort. I will root for the athlete who tells a story about how his mom drove him to practice for 15 years without complaint. (maybe I’m rooting for her)   But I’m not a great spectator. My cheers are very vague, “Oh go YOU!”

Until I discovered my love of spectating at cross country meets.

At most kid sporting events, you can hear spectators cheering/yelling at the kids, yelling at the coaches, yelling at each other. There is lots of yelling.  More yelling than cheering sometimes.  It took up all my yelling energy just to get everyone clean, packed, dressed, fed and in the car and at the destination on time. I suspect by the time we arrive at the event, I’m all done with yelling. It’s time for me to sit in my chair with an iced tea.  But I can hear a lot of other parents that have plenty left in the tank to scream on the sidelines. Calling plays. Making position suggestions. Lamenting the amount of play time doled out to their kid.  Complaining about the referees’ ability, a particular call, their age.  Screaming at their own kid to PUSH themselves.  Reminding their kid (loudly) that they will get ice or or $5 or other such incentives if they score.  I heard a coach on an opposing soccer team tell his team, “Swarm them like angry bees. Swarm them!”

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Dance is no better.  Studio dance culminates with a recital. There is a quiet subversive chatter at those events.  Kids didn’t get the part they wanted.  Kids got put in the back that should have been in the front.  Wrong kids featured.  Kid with poor attendance got the lead. Music choice sucked. Recital is too long. Teacher wasn’t good so choreography is too hard/too easy/too jazzy/too old/too young/too much.  (I should know the teacher critiques-I taught dance for years.) I love watching dance.  But even I find it difficult to watch a 3 hour recital where I can see 2 minutes of my child after they have put in a year of instruction.

I watched competitive dance this year for the very first time. That’s a whole new world.  It’s not your mother’s dance team.  There are some phenomenal dancers on high school dance teams.  Seven, eight, nine consecutive pirouettes.  Please.  I bow down to you.  However, I sat next to a mom who clapped when a student on a different team fell down.  Seriously.  She clapped.  She followed it up with verbally blasting her own daughter because she missed a turn.  We can’t be friends now. Ever.

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Music.  Generally not too bad.  Choirs is virtually painless.  Orchestra?  It’s almost an endurance test in the early years.  Have you heard a 9 year old try to play the violin? I have.  Two different kids.  Please no. No.  My daughter has played for 6 years now.  I have to say…it didn’t sound like music until 7th grade. That was year FOUR for those of you keeping track.  Even at the music concerts there is chatter about private lessons, what ensemble group to audition for next year, who got the solo, first chair, practice habits.  I’m coming clean.  Kids in this house-they didn’t get in their 5,438 minutes of music each week.  Never.  Math comes before music. I can’t fight ALL the battles.  I’m only 1/4 Chinese rendering me virtually useless when it comes to being a Tiger Mother.

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Knowledge Bowl.  Have you witnessed this craziness?  Hundreds of kids from everywhere battling it out to answer questions like, “In what dystopian novel could you find the quote ‘We stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought'”?  Buzzers are rung all over the room while I try to think of more than one dystopian novel.  Wow.  By the way…It’s from Fahrenheit 451.  These kids are middle schoolers who are well versed in Bradbury.  I was reading the Sweet Valley High Series in 6th grade.   Those crazy Wakefield twins and their romances NEVER said anything deep or memorable and I liked it that way.  Hundreds of parents are walking up and down the hallways watching kids answer questions and discussing how their school runs practice, what teams are the best, and other things I’m not interested in.

This brings me to Cross Country.  Watching cross country is my thing.  Finally, I’ve found my sport.  Truth be told-I cried at nearly every meet.  Cried.  This is why.  It’s all outside at a school on (mostly) lovely fall days for about an hour.   They run in huge groups divided up by grade and gender.  I can pick out a couple of kids I know in the blur that go by but I’m keenly watching for my son who is fairly easy to pick out since he refuses to wear actual running shorts because (“Mom-they are insanely short”)

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On both sides of the course, the spectators watch and wait and cheer.  And everyone cheers and claps and smiles.  For everyone.  I learned some things from the high school runners who were there watching the younger kids.   They yell, “Pace yourself!”  “Pass a couple!” “You’ve got this!” “Go go go!” “Finish strong!”  Now I say those things.  I can belt out a really good “pass a couple”-it’s such a reasonable cheer for a non-competitive person.  And when they are finished…many of the runners go back to cheer on those behind them…their teammates and those who are competing against them.  And some of the kids have buddy runners who run with them and encourage them to keep going and to finish. This makes me cry every time.  The kids who need the extra help giving it everything they have and the kids who are giving the extra help giving it everything they have make me cry in equal measure.  And everyone cheers those kids on until the very last one crosses the line.

This. This is what appeals to my deepest sense of what I think is right and important about athletics.  Participation.  Being part of a larger team.  Belonging to the group.  Get out there and do something and try even if you are not first, or second, or twelfth.  Do this with joy.  Do we not all benefit when everyone crosses the finish line?   The pure joy of participation is not exclusively owned by the winners.

Next up for my professional spectator role: Track!?  My son said he would like to try track.  I said, “Great.  I’ll sign you up. What made you decide to try track?”  He said, “It sounds fun.  It’s all the cross country kids.”   I hope he does his very best.  I hope someone in front of him is pulling for him and mostly I hope he turns around at the finish line to root for anyone still running.

I plan on swarming them all with cheers. An encouragement swarm. Finish strong!

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The Dog ate my Wi-Fi

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Ah…quarter one of the school year is almost over. We have settled in here and already survived our first round of sore throats. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy having a few moments to have a complete thought while the kids are at school. And I also must mention that having that complete thought is absolutely necessary since the hours between 2:55 and 9 are energy draining, patience testing and soul crushing juggling after school activities (and required drop offs and pick ups at various locales), last minute schedule changes, homework, some semblance of dinner, preparations for surviving the next day and the bedtime rituals that range from a peaceful drifting off to an epic meltdown.

One of the things the whole house enjoys during the summer months is no homework. But we are back in the thick of it and the homework is mind-boggling. As a student, I didn’t even complete have much homework until the high school years. And even then, I regarded homework as more of a light suggestion than a requirement. Now they brainwash them early and I’m hoping it pays off in the end…for me.

The first grader is already giving me a hard time over his 7 minutes of whatever and he knows I’m old now. I can see it in his eyes…he thinks, “I will be the one to finally break this woman. She’ll be 55 by the time I graduate from high school…there is NO way she can keep up this pace.”  We.will.see. I feel the need to enforce the homework to build the habit no matter how inane it is at 7 years old.  I was indeed questioning the necessity of (mock) wandering around our house with him looking for thermometers to tally.  Thermometers: one.  Such valuable learning.

The other two kids are in their homework routine. Truth be told, they don’t need my help nor do they want it with homework. They have surpassed me in math aptitude years ago; we all know it and they are polite enough to not bring it up. From time to time they will say something cute like, “Mom, do you remember the Pythagorean Theorem?” No. I don’t. So I’m just support staff for them now. I buy protractors, change ink cartridges in the printer, bring treats when they hit a depressive slump and give sympathetic looks when they have to read endless paragraphs about Mesopotamia. Recently, one of my children was found SLEEPING at 7:35 pm, having been lulled by an insufferable textbook into a quick eye nap. Now that I remember.

So I’m first in line when they need moral support but worst of all-tech support.

The school gives the kids their own personal ipad in grades 6-12. Yay? I like this idea in theory. It is equalizing. Everyone has the same access to technology and it is free. (as much as public school is free) So they are fortunate. Truly blessed students-21st century learners…blah.blah.blah.

However, the ipads, the technology, the upkeep and troubleshooting are a 21st century pain in my ass. First, the ipads caused us to need a wireless printer. Fine. $60. We all use it printing from every device and every corner of the house. Still, I question the reasonableness of asking every family to purchase a number of accessories just to make your ‘free’ iPad functional.

The cords and chargers and keyboards and cases are everywhere.   Everywhere. Fine. I can live with it. Decorative basket to hold every necessary accessory is a jumble resembling a Christmas light nightmare despite my best efforts.

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yep.  That’s a Nerf bullet in there too.

My husband just built this last week.  He is quite hopeful that this will alleviate the need to charge things in 6 different spots.  I admire his optimism.


The apple ids, the downloading, ios updating, the charging, Wi-Fi passwords, password changes, logins, logouts, learning new apps, navigating the integration of everything. We have had tears/rage at 10:45pm when something goes wrong. (okay, they cry and I have the rage) Help me.

It really makes me rethink the college courses I selected. I took “Math for Poets”. Seriously. I should have taken classes in IT. Oh wait…there were no IT classes available because it was 1989-1993 and I was busy marveling over the word processor that my roommate owned. Magical. I remember one friend would “IM” her boyfriend freshman year and I thought she was absolutely part of the fringe of society.

A few days ago, my husband had to reset the modem and it booted my 9th grader off an online quiz. She can’t get back in because it is designed to only let you go through once to prevent cheating. He felt terrible. She wasn’t thrilled. We considered how to explain it to the teacher. What excuse was best to plead her case?

What excuses can they use? There are no excuses.

I literally could have said, “The dog ate my homework” in high school and a teacher might have believed me. I could have feigned illness, said I missed the instructions on the blackboard, conjured up some tears and it could have worked. I would have easily gotten an extension.  Honestly, I could have concealed my grades from my parents for months. They wouldn’t know a thing until the grades were mailed out. And they might never know if I intercepted them first. (Tip: If you find yourself in 1987 again, intercept 4th quarter grades because parents completely forget you even have grades after June 8th)

But now?

Everything in detail is at my fingertips and theirs now.  On the computer, and on the mobile app on my phone. I can see their schedules, their instructors, their standardized test scores, their lunch accounts, their grades, every quiz, and every 5-point assignment. I can set alerts to be pinged for missed assignments, a ‘grade drop threshold’, absences, etc. I can track and see their every move. Many pop tarts have been purchased this year. I’m privy to every single thing. I actually need to deal with the pop tarts limit after I post this…it’s out of control.

I had to download my defunct Twitter account to follow the high school principal. I don’t want to be on Twitter! I’m probably the only person in the world that is following Jimmy Fallon, 5 arts organizations and one high school principal.

So I’m sorry for holding you back kids. I’m sorry I have to learn alongside you starting at a significant deficit as a digital rookie. I’m a bad troubleshooter.

The only excuse they have now is this:

Hey, my mom makes a killer chocolate chip cookie when I’m neck deep in the periodic table and can give some pretty decent pointers in navigating dreaded ‘group project’ relationships but she doesn’t know SH&T about dropboxing a password protected Notability assignment with a Google link into a subfolder using a hot spot as a Wi-Fi connection.

Hindsight is usually 20/20 but mine is 20/10

I had an eye exam today.  Same prescription. No change. I was pretty thrilled about no change until the Dr. said, “Yep. You are still hanging on.”

I’m still hanging on?

In other words, enjoy these last few months before bifocals ma’am.  Yeah.  Then I got a little lesson about my declining eyes.  Between the ages of 40 and 45 most humans lose 50% of the flexibility in their lens and need bifocals.  By age 70, 100% of it is gone.  (That’s not exactly what he said because I stopped listening after realizing my eyes are living on borrowed time) The lens doesn’t bounce back.  Rigid.  I’m rounding the bend to 44.  My free from bifocals minutes are ticking down.  It bothers me to think about it. And here is why.

I was wondering when the wheels were going to start to fall of the bus.  I didn’t think it was really happening already.  As it turns out-it’s happening next year. I’m scheduled for just a lovely series of tests and scans and checks and exams in the year following my 44th birthday.  On top of the normal things.  Next year I’m having extra things plus I’ll be the owner of a nifty pair of bifocals.   Next year is the year to get a baseline as a reference for all future deterioration.

The aging doesn’t bother me nearly as much as all the necessary maintenance.  Now begins the (hard) work to just stay as good as possible.  I’m just not new anymore. Like an older car, I’m still reliable but stuff needs to be fixed and attended to.  I can get from point A to point B but things need to be assessed. Maintained. A lot.  That bites.  I hate to think of wasting all that time not trying to improve anything but just trying to preserve what is left. I still have all my original parts.  For now.  But I now need to place time and effort into the preservation of things…

Like:

My hair.  I color my hair.  Actually a lovely lady named Patty colors it for me. I have been dealing with unsightly roots for a few years now. Since 2005 I think.   I know I wouldn’t ‘have to’ but I come from a long line of stubborn and proud women (on both sides) who dye their hair until their last hour.  My grandma’s Great Aunt Messina dyed here hair secretly.  She had a tiny dark glass vial of hair dye she hid behind a wood panel behind the barn and only the women in the family knew her secret.  She lived on a farm.  If a farm woman at the turn of the century fought the aging hair, who am I to mess up that legacy.

Also in the hair category.  My poor eyebrows and eyelashes.  They are getting so lonely.  Thinning.  Really thinning.  I thought it was all in my head at first but it’s real.  I now need assistance with growing adequate eyelashes.  Medical intervention.  What what what what what??? I still have to shave my legs but I don’t get to have eyelashes?

Exercise.  I’m not a fan.  It’s boring and just reminds you of every twinge of pain you may have had and every time you chose the cheesecake over the cup of soup on the menu.  I never had to exercise for the first 30 years so now I apparently resent it extra.  I have found yoga fortunately because it doesn’t feel like exercise thereby tricking myself into doing it regularly. Now I need to exercise for the sake of my heart, my mental health, my sleep, and to wrangle my frustrating diastasis recti.  (that’s when your stomach wall separates during pregnancy from having a giant MOOSE of a child) Do you know what really calls attention to diastasis recti?  Lack of exercise and clothing.

Eating. My metabolism is slowing.  In the last year, I have really noticed a difference and it has moved into the slow lane.  I can’t eat nearly the volume I used to or my waistband will be angry and show me by squeezing the life out of me later.  I’m not willing to live on rice cakes AND I’m not willing to run 20 miles a day so now I just have less.  I figure when I’m truly elderly I’ll be down to one spoonful of food a day, which will free up some time for me to go to the…

Dentist. My teeth aren’t bad. Yet. I haven’t even enjoyed a root canal. My mom has assured me that someday I will ‘clear my schedule’ to have multi-step dental work done.  So I have that to look forward to. It cracks me up when teenagers (when they have braces) whiten their teeth in pictures because they think braces make their teeth look discolored.  Stick around ladies.  Years, red wine and 653,345,678 cups of coffee will someday wreak havoc on those beautifully straight teeth that your parents paid $8000 for.

My skin.  I never went to a dermatologist until 2 years ago. Two years ago I had to go in because I had an unsettling darkening on my face that has faintly taken the shape of South America.  Hyper-pigmentation. After 40 years of diligent sunscreen use, I feel it’s unfair that this shows up on my face. I couldn’t get a skin thing on my ankle??? I could have passed it off as a tattoo.  So 5 trips and a few Dixie cups of liquid nitrogen + bleaching cream + a medical grade sunscreen 46 that I apply DAILY…it looks fine.  Skin is the largest organ.  Plenty of potential for other things to go wrong requiring maintenance.

10 years ago I thought I would have a lot of things ‘done’ by now.  I was a big talker.  I wanted things refurbished, rearranged, up-cycled, exfoliated away and put back to their original locations, restored to their original grandeur.  I took for granted how little I needed to do at the time to look and feel decent but set my sights on having a plan in place for over 40.  But now, I can’t do it.  Now I’m only willing to do the bare minimum (i.e. hair color, yoga, copious amounts of sunscreen).  Now it isn’t worth it to me.  I fear having any procedure done where my husband would have to explain to our children, “Mom died on the table from an unnecessary procedure but her glutes….her glutes looked a-ma-zing.”

All that said. I’m lucky to be here.  Damn lucky.  Only the truly privileged get to age.

But it isn’t for wimps. None of us are going to bounce back from getting older.

When I left my appointment today, I had to sit at the ‘eyeglass’ station and fill out some papers.  There was a mirror.  It wasn’t a great hair day.  It was a tired eye day.  And then I noticed something else. I had a deep crease just below my hairline from having my chin stationary for 15 minutes and my head pressed firmly against the Phoroptor.

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It’s called a Phoroptor. Trust me.  I learned that after writing “pressing my head against his equipment” which for obvious reasons sounds like a different kind of story.

Anyway, even my forehead doesn’t bounce back fast these days.  An hour later it was fine.

So, I guess I’m satisfied with what is.  I’m hanging on.

Do you think he used the word hanging on purpose?