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Monday, September 15, 2014

Love me, this is who I am

“I’m probably going to have fake teeth one day, you know,” I said to my husband as I came down the stairs after looking at my gums in the bathroom mirror. “And I’m not sure my new electric toothbrush can do anything about it.” A birthday is an especially good day to identify all of your flaws and point them out to your spouse because I suspect everyone is a little more forgiving on your birthday. And today is my 41st birthday.
My birthday pie helpers!

“That’s nice,” he said, looking up from the presentation he was creating. “You can always get implants.” And yes, he really was talking about my teeth…

“Just thought you should know what you’ve gotten yourself into,” I said plopping on the other end of the sofa. He knows, boy does he know. I think we’d only been dating a few weeks when I sat him down on the couch of my rental and listed all of my faults, outlined all of my flaws, described the mistakes I’ve made, and detailed the specific type of baggage I would be bringing into a relationship if we really, honestly, and truly were going to have a relationship. It just seemed that he should know it all because if he couldn’t handle it or didn’t like what he heard, well, I wanted to know that sooner rather than later.

And here we are five years later. And instead of talking about my son’s health problems or my varicose veins or the part I played in causing my first marriage to fail (because it takes two people), I get to talk about my wonky teeth. The question then becomes, why does it matter? I suppose it’s because we all get a little vulnerable every now and again and a birthday is as good as a reason as any to feel vulnerable about getting older. Will you love me when I’m wrinkled? Will you love me when I’m gray? Will you love me when my teeth fall out and I need implants? It makes me think of that children’s story “The Velveteen Rabbit.” In one scene the horse is talking to the rabbit about love. It says:

“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”

Then again, I suppose you could say that of all days, a birthday is a day to put all of the things we don’t like about ourselves aside. It’s a day of acceptance, a day to just be who we are without explanations or asterisks. It’s another opportunity on the carousel of life to finally accept who we are, flaws and all. Perhaps in a few more turns of the calendar I’ll get to that place. For now, I’m just getting used to saying them out loud. I think it’s a good step. Plus, we all need a little reassurance now and again that we are loved--and will be loved--no matter what.

Friday, September 05, 2014

High school at 40

Apparently all it takes to slap me back into the social awkwardness of high school is a gathering of moms from my son’s school. As I walked down the hill to the wine event, there were sweaty palms and my heart pounded from under my blouse. “What if I don’t know anyone?” I asked myself. “Or what if no one talks to me?” I fretted.

Rewind 20 minutes earlier when I'd joked with my husband about a children’s story we have stacked on the shelf called “Pelican and Pelicant.” It’s about two birds, one who is confident and one who isn’t. I was feeling very Pelicant. He talked me up (as good spouses do) and pushed me out the door. “Have a good time,” he called after me.

As I entered the crowded house, another mom was stepping up the stairs behind me. “Apparently I’m not the last one,” I said to her just before introducing myself. “And there are more behind us,” she said. “I just saw some people parking.” Her name was familiar and we exchanged niceties before I went to look for the hostess. Not knowing what to bring, I had a small paper bag filled with fresh figs and plums from our garden.

She was in the kitchen pouring champagne. I said hello, and she welcomed me with a glass. From there I turned and began talking to a mom that I recognized from when C and her daughter were in the same 1st grade class. We had a good long talk about school and kids and the unexpected parts of life. It was in the conversation that I realized that probably most of the women at that party only knew a couple of other people, or maybe just one other person.

As the night went on, I ended up chatting to a bunch of women I recognize from school but had never talked to. As it turns out, they were all friendly. There were no sorority pranks. After two glasses of champagne, I may have even admitted to a few that I’d been secretly wanting to be friends with them, which is true. And then I even felt comfortable sharing how nervous I felt on my way down and how silly it was.

From there, I wished I’d had a piece of paper to share something with them I learned from one of my best friends. “Pretend my hand is a piece of paper,” I said as I held it out flat. I drew a circle on my palm. “Imagine that inside the circle I wrote the words comfort zone.” Then I pointed at another part of my palm. “Now imagine that it says magic way over here,” I said. “This is where the magic happens.” And that’s pretty much how I felt. I got out of my comfort zone and found magic.

Just like I always tell my kids, you can never have too many friends to turn to on the playground. And now I have more people to turn to while I’m standing outside the school waiting, or while I’m at back-to-school night, or at Spaghetti Bingo—our school’s annual fundraiser. My only regret—doing my little awkward dance when telling people about how nervous I’d felt before the party.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Who's your Plus One?

Take my Plus One Challenge and make it personal!
The Ice Bucket challenge has been a hugely successful awareness and fundraising campaign for ALS. Fortunately the neurological disease hasn’t affected anyone in my family. The viral video campaign, however, has saturated my friends and my Facebook newsfeed.

To make my moment in the spotlight more meaningful for me, I’ve decided to make it the Plus One challenge. That means in addition to donating to ALS, I’m also donating to an organization that has impacted my family. My Plus One is Camp Taylor, a free summer camp for kids with heart defects in honor of my son. I'm challenging everyone who has already taken the Ice Bucket challenge--and those who are soon-to-be nominated--to consider yourself challenged to the Plus One campaign.

ALS is doing great work, but are countless worthy charities in need of support. So why not donate to two charities? Open your wallet and make this whole ice-bucket-thing personal by donating to an extra charity that has meaning to you. Are you in? Who’s your Plus One? It's probably different from mine, and that's okay.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Take a look at me now

On most days, my office is my bedroom, my desk is my bed, and my knees serve as my table. The dress code is stretchy slacks and a cotton top. It has to double as a hiking outfit and it needs to hide dirt from young hands and camouflage dog fur.

Failed selfie attempt
Monday was different. It was a rare dress-up day. I found some slacks and a top that when worn together qualified me as a certified professional. A professional what, I’m not entirely sure. At the very least, I didn't look like a slob. All the fuss was because I took a meeting with a woman from my undergraduate alma mater. Our talk took me on a walk through the years I lived in Boston, the Stetson West dorm, my radio show at WRBB, and lounging on the Quad. I thought of my semester abroad in London. I reminisced about my senior year co-op in Boulder, CO.

Almost full-length selfie
I'll admit that I was worried about the meeting. I was worried what she might think of the life I’ve made for myself since leaving Northeastern 18 years ago. Yes, I was a reporter for a handful of years, but for most of those years I have been raising kids full-time—aside from my stint as the official mom blogger for Oxygen Media, getting my MFA, and writing a book. As I recounted all of those things to her, I realized I have accomplished so much since leaving the workforce (in addition to raising lovely young humans). My accomplishments haven’t been along a traditional job path, but they are not insignificant. Not to mention a chunk of these were accomplished while I was going through a divorce and single parenting

Got it! Cute, right?
Sure, the meeting had undertones of wanting me to donate with more regularity to the university that launched me into a writing career. I should be doing that more often. There were many terms that I needed extra grants, scholarships, and loans to pay tuition. Talking about my college years gave me a renewed appreciation for young people who are facing more competition to get into school and higher price tags. The percentage of kids going to college has risen by 48 percent since 1990 while the cost has tripled. It’s scares me to imagine what it be like 10 years from now when I might have four kids in college. But that's a side point...

In the meantime, my stylish outfit and my motivational chat have prompted me to revisit goals and amend deadlines now that the kids are back in school. Along the way I just might get a little more dressed up every now and again--even if I'm just headed to my four-legged office. Or perhaps I'll relocate my office to a cafe.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

My first friend

(Yes, this is a Google Maps screenshot)
In 1980, when my family moved to a different house on the same street, it may as well have been to a different state. You see, Walnut Street divided those two blocks of Pound Street like an impassable highway to my six-year-old self. In that simple move just a block away, I lost touch with my first best friend. Walnut Street was the boundary that separated one school from another. The north side went to Washington Hunt Elementary and the south side went to Roy B. Kelley Elementary. I ended up at the latter school after the move.

I’ve always felt bad about that lost connection. At six, I was allowed to cross the street, and so I could have done a better job trekking that extra block back to Juniper Street where she lived—I just didn’t. All these years, I've wanted to apologize to her about that.

I have the best memories of from when we played together. I remember eating snap peas off the plants in her yard in the summertime, having white rice with butter at her family's dinner table (something that never appeared on my family’s table), and getting pulled home by her dad on a sled in what felt like the middle of the night on our first sleepover attempt when I ended up being too nervous to stay the whole night. She remembers other things—running away from home to my house and the time when I fell on my way home from school and a stranger gave me candy. I didn’t eat it, but instead gave it to my mother. Apparently my brother ended up eating it anyway. I wonder what he and my mother remember about that day?

I connected with her a few days ago via Facebook, and connecting with her (and finally apologizing for losing touch) is one of the things that makes Facebook actually worthwhile. But ultimately, all of these stirred up memories from decades long ago make me wonder what things have already been solidified in my children's memories, things that they will carry with them for the next 35-plus years.