Category: Just Trying to Relate

Wherever You Go, There You Are

A story about something that’s very difficult to explain correctly, but is an important notion, and so it is worth trying to explain anyway.  Oh,  I hope I can do this thing justice:

“Okay, so, you’ve seen Before Sunrise, right?” asked M as she worked to WhereverYouGowrangle her two-year-old into a denim jumper.

The little girl arched her back, splaying chubby legs in a deliberate “V,” out and away from her mother’s reach.

“No –” I said.  “You know I don’t watch movies.  At least, nothing that was made after 1969.”

I was only half-kidding.

“Yeah….okay, well, you’ve heard of it, right?  Ethan Hawke and that French actress, Julie….” her voice trailed off as she engaged in a concentrated effort to guide a handful of toddler ankle through the neck hole of the jumper and then out the skirted end.

“Delpy?”  I offered.

“Yes, that’s it, Julie Delpy.”

I stood — leaning on the door frame of M’s daughter’s nursery — with my sunglasses still on, and my house keys in hand. I hadn’t yet committed to anything beyond a five-minute interlude amidst 1,440 minutes of daily grind. I had a million things to do at home.

“So, yes, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke….” M said, situating her daughter upright to survey the progress.

“Socks,” M noted aloud, as the little girl dutifully reclined into her mother’s lap, extending a foot and wiggling corn-niblet toes in my direction.

M reached for the sock drawer as she continued:

“….and, anyway, they meet on this train — they’re in Budapest — and they have this immediate connection, and so, on a whim, they get off together in Vienna and spend a day walking the streets and having these really amazing conversations.”

M is from Jersey; when she talks she uses her hands to help her words along.  I watched as she punctuated “immediate” and “whim” and “amazing” with gestures that somehow seamlessly worked two tiny pink socks into the choreography.

I love watching her talk.

“Yes, yes, right.  I remember the gist,” I said.

I hadn’t seen the movie, but I had seen the trailer several times:  With a stolen-moments sense of urgency, two dialog-happy young  strangers discover the very best parts of each other over the course of a day spent canoodling near incredible European architecture.

And of course, cue The Lemonheads:

I know a place where I can go when I’m alone. 

Into your arms, whoa, into your arms I can go.

I played the song in my head as I followed M back downstairs and into the kitchen.  She had now transitioned from Before Sunrise to its most recent sequel, Before Midnight.  She was pouring milk into a sippy cup while weighing the merits of  this latest installment, but I could only hear those lyrics still on repeat in my imagination:

And if I should fall

I know I won’t be alone

Be alone anymore.

That familiar pang signaling an impending bout of nostalgia grabbed at that space between my heart and my throat.  Every breath drawn felt like I was on the verge of both a smile and a cry.  A pleasant gag, maybe?

From behind the cover of my sunglasses, I looked past M and fixed a steady gaze on an empty glass turned upside down in her drying rack.  Sunlight streaming through a nearby window caught the glass at just the right angle to cast a bauble-like effect within it, the colors like a bridge to sunbeams past.

Like those that hit at vinyl dashboards during early evening drives on winding roads to wherever-the-Hell — a fog of Marlboro Light hanging heavy in the air, a Guy You Like sitting next to you.

I know a place that’s safe and warm from the crowd.

Like those that pierced the tiny spaces between fans of leaves so that when lying in the grass below — looking up at this tree canopy — you had a trippy cathedral in which to contemplate how The Cure was more a band of poets than a band of musicians. Or some other kind of indulgent, beautiful nonsense you used to have time think about.

Into your arms, whoa, into your arms I can go.

“I mean, I’ve  had those moments.  I’ve lived those moments.  I’ve walked through cities with a guy — I’ve had amazing conversations while strolling museums.  Albeit in the tri-state area as opposed to somewhere in Europe, but….I mean, I’ve lived those moments, you know?”

M’s words drew me back into the here-and-now of  Wednesday morning in a kitchen, in a house, in a neighborhood, in suburbia.  I blinked free from once-upon-a-time and studied my friend.

My toddler-rearing, milk-pouring, laundry-folding, mom-wife-friend, who in that instant didn’t really seem like any of those things at all.

M looked so young. Too young to be using past tense when speaking of long walks through interesting cities with someone who cares to really know her.

No way am I the only one who appreciates the way she uses her hands to help her words along.

“I’ve done some really great things,” I heard her continue.

Now I knew this whole conversation wasn’t about a movie anymore.  For either of us.

The movie was just a jumping-off point from which we’d both hoped to dive into something deeper.

As I’ve said before, moms talk about real things.  Real important things.

I dropped my keys on M’s kitchen table and flipped my sunglasses up to rest on top of my head.

Screw the grind.

“Yeah, I know.  I know,” I said wistfully.  “Me too.  I’ve lived those moments too….I’ve done some really great things too.”

“Lauren — I want to go somewhere,” confided M, who was standing right in front of me now — looking at me as though whatever I said next might help her get there.

“I want to go somewhere….” M repeated.

“I know.  Me too,” I said again.

I was enjoying the camaraderie so much that I didn’t want to acknowledge how the word “go” didn’t fit for me somehow.

But “go” can mean so many things, I reasoned.

“I want to go to Paris,” M sighed.

And there it was.  I wanted to say “me too” again.  But now I really couldn’t.  Because now the divide between her trajectory and my trajectory was too wide to stay the course.

So instead of “me too,” I said:

“I don’t want to go to Paris.  I mean, I don’t need to go to Paris.  I don’t really need to go somewhere at all.”

I took a moment to think critically about what it was that I was actually trying to say.

“I don’t need to go somewhere,” I repeated slowly.  “I think I need to…. feel somewhere.”

M looked at me, considering my words.  I don’t know exactly what she was thinking, but I know she wasn’t confused, which was enough for me.

My best friend, J, always likes to say, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

And it’s really true.  Cliche, but true.

Because the “go” is nothing more than new geography if the “you” is all out of whack.

See, the passage of time has a way of making you believe that everything has to evolve, that nothing is forever,  that people change.  That the essence of “you” is malleable, you know.   It has to be.

Dreamers in cars on winding roads to wherever-the-Hell….wonderers contemplating under tree cathedrals….they have to move on to more important things someday.

(Like pouring cups of milk?)

No way.  Not so.  I know better than that.

I know that I am essentially unchanged at my core.  I know because sunlight hitting the dash of a 1994 Toyota Corolla brings me to the same “place” as sunlight hitting glass in a 2013 drying rack.

Weird, but true.

And that “place” is not somewhere you go, but somewhere you feel — it’s that longing for something beyond the ever-changing circumstances of our little material existence.  It’s that sense that something good has yet to be fully realized.

I want to “be” there — in that state of longing — because anticipating good things makes me the kind of person who I could bring to Paris.  Milk-pouring, laundry-folding, harried-mommy me can stay behind.  I’m bringing the girl who pleasant-gags at sunbeams.  I want to travel with a dreamer.

But first I have to find her again.  And she can’t be flighty, showing up only when there’s good music (or too much beer).  She has to stay put.

M and I were now standing in her driveway — I was heading home, and she was hooking her big, brown bear of a dog to an outside leash, preparing it for a wash-down.

The dog had rolled in something dead again; the lighted Yankee candle on M’s stove top was no match for the stench.

M turned on the hose.

“So, Paris, huh?” I called out over the rush of water.

M looked up, still scrubbing soap into suds.

“Yeah….” she said.

“You’ll go, you know.  Just go,” I said as I paced backward out toward the street.

“Yeah….” she said, shrugging her shoulders.  “I don’t know….”

When I got home, I downloaded The Lemonheads to my iphone.  I added some Gin Blossoms and Toadies, too.

I went to my car and hid the booster seat far enough back that it couldn’t be seen in the rear view mirror.  I crumpled up stray PTA fliers and zip lock bags full of pretzel crumbs, and threw them in an empty grocery bag on the floor.

Slidding into the driver’s seat, I plugged in my music, and turned up the volume.

Loud.

Make up your mind.

Decide to walk with me.

Around the lake tonight.

Around the lake tonight.

By my side…..

And then I opened the sunroof and waited for sunbeams to hit at the dashboard of my 2010 Ford Expedition.

Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

 

 


Some Thoughts On Hope, Control, And Self-Sabotage

I woke up the other morning draped in unsettledness.

I am confident anyone reading this knows exactly what I am talking about.

It’s like, you feel the physical impact of unrest immediately upon waking, but your mind hasn’t caught up with your instinct quite yet, so you have to lie there in bed and do a mental review of the usual suspects until you hit on the one thing that exacerbates your anxiety, signaling a match:

Ugh…(identifying feeling of icky unsettledness while still half-asleep). 

Uh-oh.  Something’s wrong.

What is it, what is it, what….is….it?  Think…..think…..

Did the husband and I fight last night?  No.

Forget to a pay a bill?  Something with money?  No.  Thank God.

Kids — oh…..yep — [oldest son] on the trip.  Eight more days until he comes home (shoulders further tense; pulse picks up the pace a bit).  Yeah, there it is.

Oh, and then my blog — never wrote a post for Monday.  Or Tuesday.  Ewww….lazy.  You’re slipping!  Okay, so that too.

That all?  Yes — I think so.

So, in my case, I woke up the other morning with residual stress because my baby isn’t home and I had neglected my blog.

These two things are related, by the way.  And this relationship is what I want to explore, because I think it touches on something observable on a macro-level — beyond me and my little experience.

Let me explain:

I didn’t create a post for yesterday (or the day before), even though I had made a comittment to publish something every single weekday.  And most Saturdays.

And while this might sound like no big deal to some, it is a very, very large deal to me.

When I set a goal, only the threat of losing life or limb qualifies as an appropriate distraction from said goal.  It’s just the way I’m wired — I’m incredibly intense about the deals I make with myself.  Recently, in a moment of reflection and self-assessment, I discovered that in all likelihood, my voracious appetite for the setting and meeting of goals is really a means to make sure a sense of hope is always available to me in good measure.

Goals not yet attained equal — in my mind at least — possibilities.  Possibilities with unlimited sub-possibilities attached.  And possibilities equal purpose and movement and discovery.  And purpose, movement, and discovery are all necessary in creating a sense of hope.

Hope that what is good might become even better.

So, yeah, ignoring my blog for a few days was crippling to my sense of hope.  Crazy?  Perhaps, but it’s my truth.

Now, neither life nor limb has been threatened lately, so what gives?

Well, you see, my oldest child is off on his first trip without our little family unit of four.  He is with his grandparents for a ten-day adventure, canyoneering and rock propelling and ATV-ing out in the wild, wild west of Utah, Nevada and Arizona.

We make our home on the East Coast.

So, my baby’s clear across the country.  Nearly 3,000 miles away for what feels less like “roughly a week” and more like 240 hours.

240 hours in which I must cede control over one half of what is most precious to me (in the event that my other son ever reads this post someday — yes, [youngest son], you are the other half).

So, I have a thing about fueling hope, and I also have a thing about control.

And right now, I have no control.  And when I can’t orchestrate, I self-sabotage by avoiding most things that involve purpose, movement and discovery (see above explanation on goal-setting).

I don’t know why this is.  I certainly don’t mean to do this — though it seems beyond my capacity to overcome.  Like, my loss of control over one particular thing ushers in a whole psychology of abandon, where I engage not at all in anything other than frittering away the minutes and the hours and the days on complete nonsense until I regain control over whatever it is I feel I’ve lost control of.

So, I can’t focus on writing a blog post or changing the sheets in the boys’ rooms or preparing a proper dinner, but I can go for my third jog of the day, repaint my bedroom, and on-line shop on etsy for “mid-century modern oil paintings of Italy.”

Right now, my most recent post is three days stale, the bed sheets are soured, and dinners are cobbled together without a plan — a can of baked beans, a few slices of bread, cheese? Check.  Dinner’s done.  [Throw haphazard mash-up of foods on table and exit kitchen to walk aimlessly around the house].

But — I have run more miles in one day than I typically do in three, my bedroom walls are a newly christened muddy gray, and I ordered an awesome portrait that I’ll find space for once it arrives in five-to-seven business days.

Bursts of unproductive productivity seem to be my coping skill when I lose charge over my comfortable and carefully-curated environment.

And, yes, I very much realize that this tendency only serves to add more things to the list over which I have completely lost my grip.

As I said, self-sabotoge.

Now, I wish I had something more intelligent to offer up.  I wish I could type out some really clever transition sentences that would bridge to an “a-ha!” conclusion statement — one that turns this whole jumbled mess of a situation into a teachable moment, complete with instructions on how to better proceed at times like this.

But I’ve got nothing.

I did want to share this with you, though.  Because, as I mentioned earlier, I suspect I am not the only one who grapples with control issues and unproductive bursts of productivity and self-sabotage.

I suspect this is a universally human thing.

So, see, I do it too.

And  that’s pretty much all I wanted to say.

Until tomorrow, when I will have only 120 hours left to go, and therefore will likely be in a better frame of mind — one in which I am able to tell a story with clever transition sentences that bridge to an “a-ha” conclusion statement.  Or at least one with lots of self-depracting humor and other attempts at levity.

I will work that story out in my mind as I paint my sitting room today….


A Poem For Moms

Bringing back that poem I wrote maybe four years ago, about a day in the life of a mom.  Happy Mother’s Day everyone!:

“A Day In the Life of Me, a Mom”

Eyes open to a new day.

Way later than I had hoped to be up.

My joints hurt.

My eyes, wrinkled and puffy

like the raisins on a gingerbread boy.

No time to hit the gym….at least maybe a quick hot shower — NO!

Is that my husband STILL here, in the bathroom

that I had hoped to occupy?

Yes.  Him.  Hairs and all.

Hot water gone.

Damp towel draped lazily over wet shower curtain (it will get mildew that way, I scream in my

head)

I know he forgot to use the Tilex

that I leave hanging on the towel bar.

 

The usual back-and-forth

Something about no clean underwear.

I just ran 20 loads this week…how can it be?

 

Kids are up.

There is no escape now.

Make my way downstairs with a bird’s nest for a hairdo.

COFFEE.  PLEASE…..

I wait to take the first sip

until husband leaves for work.

It tastes better that way.

Ahhh….partial sanity.

 

Younger son has a cold

I listen to him gulp his juice like only

a kid with a cold can do.

Hot breath into glass between sips.

Obligatory “uhh” noise punctuates each swallow.

I escape into the world

of on-line news….it is bleak

 

Check the decorating blogs and visually

arrange the furniture I cannot yet afford.

A girl can dream….and satiate her desires

at Target.  Instant gratification with quick and cheap

trumps saving and waiting any day.

 

Here comes the older boy.

I think I had the lady at the Hair Cuttery

have too much of her way with the scissors.

He looks like an escapee

from Jonestown.

Or a matchstick.

 

Pancakes (that they won’t eat)

Eight glasses of — gulp — o.j. (they will spill at least two of them)

Yogurt drinks (they will fight over who gets the blueberry)

Sigh.

Sigh again.

 

My house is scaring me.

How do we go through so many dishes?

Collect so many dust bunnies?

Never have clean laundry?

Why did we get a dog?

Why does the mailman never look up when I wave, which I only do because we

always seem to be in the kitchen window when he

arrives?

 

Why does my husband never have clean underwear?

 

Make my way to laundry room to remedy the latter

only to find

a Pottery Barn catalog that I must

sift through.

 

Sigh.

 

Trip to bank (kids knock over the rope stands).

Change machine is broken. And sticky. And reminds me to worry about

the flu.

 

Target store equals drapes I don’t need, and a Nerf Gun that younger son will need assistance

with each time he wants to shoot a bullet

and he always wants to shoot

100 bullets a day.

Also plastic Popsicle molds

Undershirts for husband

Zone bars for me

because I still might be on a diet.

 

Home.

 

Sigh.

 

Kids tear through construction paper and tape

as though they were building the

Great Wall of China

And of course the tape was

MINE.  As in, from my little desk.

My little corner of the world where at least some things are sacred

Like having tape in the dispenser when I need it.

The tape is empty now.

All the tips of the crayons are broken.

The silly putty they played with last week

is still stuck on younger son’s chair.

 

Search in-box for e-mail I have been waiting for

Grad school adviser still has not answered the questions that I need answered

before I decide when to begin this whole

$30,000 process.

I secretly resented having to go back

until now b/c it may not work out and so I realize

that I may have wanted to do this more than I could admit to

my husband.

 

Dinner equals leftovers b/c Giant is too expensive anymore

To buy food in quantities as if I was a

new wife with new recipes

to feed a new husband who doesn’t care about how much

underwear is in his drawer

Kids take over an hour to eat

half their dinner.

 

Daddy says they can have a bath

not on your life, husband.  I cannot drag this

day out any longer or have

water all over the floor.

I quickly hose them down while they

still splash water all over my floor.

Younger son puts his lips to my ear

as I hold him, carrying him damp and wrapped in a towel

and it is not a kiss I get, or a special love secret

But a shout. Loud and just

for the fun of it.

My ear rings.

I yell at him.

And set him down on the floor among half his closet

that has apparently barfed toys

All over the floor.

 

I am done.  I am tired.

I still do not know what I want to be

When I grow up.

At least I have coffee and a best friend

whose husband gives her dumb Wal-Mart roses too.

 

I think I’ll send this to her.

 

Then surf the decorating blogs again

for the tenth time today.


Tell A Better Story

“I don’t know….” I said, trailing off as I searched for the right words.

“It just feels….I don’t know, like….like I’m given my lines every morning, and I just follow this script that someone else has written for me.”

My friend nodded in agreement as I continued.

“I’m more than a mom and a wife.  Bigger than the sum of my parts.  But, I’m not living like I have other roles.”

“That’s exactly how I feel,” my friend chimed in.  “I feel like I’m ‘just’ [my husband]’s wife, or ‘just’ [the kids]’ mother.”

The two of us stood on the safe side of a chain-link fence, looking on as twenty-two 7-year-olds kicked dirt into dust clouds on a baseball field.  We were careful to keep one eye on the game so we’d know when to give a wink or a clap or a thumbs-up to show that, yes, we did just see that hit/run/catch.

God forbid a mom doesn’t see whatever play her own child deems to be the “game changer.”

I hit a home run, and you were talking to your friend.  You didn’t even see me — you were probably talking about pillows or furniture.  [Eye roll].

I have many times been accused of ignoring my sons’ shining moments in favor of gabbing about furniture.  Furniture or “fashion,” actually.

And knowing that my boys think that furniture and “fashion” is what us moms are talking about, huddled together on the safe side of a chain-link fence, well…..that bothers me more than being accused of neglecting their game in the first place.

I have stood with many, many moms — for hours upon hours upon more hours of soccer games and baseball games and other kinds of games.  I’ve also sat with many, many moms — some friends, some strangers — in the collective wait for piano lessons to end, or dentist appointments to be over, or for our kids to take “just one more” turn on the tire swing at that park that has all the cool equipment, but is always swarming with bees.

I have stood with and sat with all these moms, and I can tell you as I tell my boys: Mommies talk about lots of different things.  Lots of different, important things:

We talk wistfully about our college years, when we hadn’t yet made any permanent choices, and the world was still seemingly at our feet.

We talk about current events, and carefully negotiate our way around politics so as to allow for the sharing of informed opinions (brains!) that don’t ruffle too many feathers in the process (respect!).

We talk about books we’ve read, and how we could or could not relate to the author’s perspective.

We talk about the books we always secretly planned to write.

We talk about traveling — where we’ve been, and with whom —  and where we still hope to go “someday,” and with whom.

And, as was the case during this particular moment of waiting on a baseball field one beautiful Saturday morning, me and my mom-friend — we were talking about who we wanted to be.

And neither of us came to any concrete conclusions, other than “more.”

We knew we wanted to be more than what we had been in the business of being lately.

As I sat in the passenger’s seat on the drive home, I thought about my friend and our talk, and how it wasn’t at all like the douche commercial I used to think these kinds of talks were reserved for.  A bunch of bad actresses with wedge haircuts  and male-imagined “female issues” we were not.

No….we were good actresses (with great hair, by the way), who grappled not with phony “female” problems, but with real human issues that women just happen to be incredibly deft at identifying and discussing.

When I got home, I went for a run, which lately I’m relying on more and more as a means to clear out my head as opposed to lean out my thighs.

Sanity trumps vanity any day.

So I ran.  I ran without my iphone because I didn’t want my thoughts muddled by lyrics that send contrived little vignettes into my imagination, leaving false notions of “how things go” to rattle around in my head.  I often wonder how much of my life is foolishly spent in an effort to imitate bad art  simply because I don’t spend enough time alone with my own thoughts.

And, so again, I ran.  Without music.  And it felt really, really pure.  I watched the street move under my feet as tiny rocks and pebbles blurred into ribbons of peach and gray against the black of the asphalt. I lost my self to the forward movement of it all, which was immensely satisfying; from the moment I left my friend and that baseball field, I’d had this nagging sense of urgency about needing to move forward.

And yes, it was a need to move forward in a figurative sense, but this run — beyond that lamp post, beyond that house with the blue shudders, over and beyond that tiny little bridge that eases the break in my favorite bike path — this literal running ahead toward whatever new landmark I picked on the fly felt like the kind of consistent pattern of accomplishment I was craving on a bigger scale.

A few months back, I read a book in which the central theme was how our lives are like movies, and we are the scriptwriters.  It’s our job to create a great story for our character.  And great stories, it turns out, require one to step into a whole bunch of different roles, meeting a whole bunch of different challenges, and then facing a whole bunch of new challenges so that we keep the whole risk/reward pattern going indefinitely.  For those curious, the book was A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  And, for those further curious, the idea behind the book was more interesting than the details contained within it, but that’s just my opinion.

The important take-away was this notion of diversifying your experiences to maximize the risk-reward potential that provides the fodder for personal growth.

I suppose that’s kind of what I have been chewing on lately.

It’s at the heart of most of my mom-to-mom conversations.  And with the conversations I have in my own head, usually while trying to fall asleep at night.  It’s my biggest motivator to “move” — whether pounding the pavement during a run, or forcing myself into some sort of commitment, like attempting to churn out thoughtful entries on a blog that I keep inviting people to read.

I want to move forward — forward and “out” in a million directions.  I want to diversify my experiences.  I want my character to have a full story — a good life with lots of different roles.

This is where I am right now, and I needed to get it down in writing.  I once told a whole dinner table full of people exactly how much I weighed — down to the ounce — because I knew it would hold me accountable for the diet overhaul I kept threatening to undertake.  Within three months of my public revelation, I had lost 12 pounds.

So, now I’m saying that I want a better story, and it will involve some sort of action on my part.  And now that I’ve said as much, it means I’ll likely do it.  I am thinking that some of my posts will (hopefully) start to reflect that.

As I work on my own story, I’d love to hear from any of you in the process of an edit and re-write.  If you are upping the ante on your own risk-reward cycle, how do you plan to go about it?  What challenges do you deem necessary for the kind of growth you seek?  What role are you aiming to play?

As I’ve said before, I love to hear how other people think and relate to the world.  This could turn an off-the-cuff post into an interesting discussion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A Second Look At How Being “Settled” Can Be Very “Unsettling”

So, tomorrow is my birthday.

Weeeeeeeeeee!

That “weeeeeeee” was meant to be read with a heaping dose of sarcasm, by the way.

So, yes……where were we?  Birthday.  Right.

So, tomorrow is my birthday.  I will be officially turning 36, but if you ask my husband, I’ve been 36 for quite some time now, as he likes to remind me that at 35, I was really in my “36th year.”  See, he’s splitting hairs here, about the way we humans mark the passage of time — on the back-end as opposed to the front.

The husband also recently revealed that yes, it was appropriate for M’s husband to suggest that she (38 years old) and I (a fresh 35 at the time) Google “office dress for middle-aged women,” when the two of us were curious about what, exactly, we would wear when we ventured back out into the world beyond the Target-library-grocery store circuit.

Middle-aged!  Middle-aged?

“No way!” I protested.  “You’re cracked.  Middle-aged…..puh-lease.”

“Baby — how long does the average human live?” he countered.

“Geeze…I don’t know,” I floundered, already sensing that I was not going to like where this was headed.

Being the prig that he sometimes is, he answered with what I believe is the actual average life-span number, according to the CDC.

“What, 78?” he quipped.  “So…what’s half of 78?  39?”

My stomach dropped at the notion.

“So, okay, then you have about three years left (remember at a fresh 35, I was really in my 36th year, so his math was sound).  And M is, well…….[her husband] was right about her.  Middle-aged, babe.”

This conversation happened in the kitchen: Me, at the computer Google-ing work dress for women in their mid-thirties, he, leaning against the counter, eating a stray piece of something from one of the kids’ already-cleared dinner plates.

I wanted to get up and give him a swift shove for being so smug.

I literally wanted to push him.  Hard.  Send him hurling backward to make contact with the refrigerator, shaking loose all the school papers and important reminders.  Sending magnets to crack and break against the ceramic tile.

I, of course, didn’t play out the fantasy.  But my violent impulse did make me wonder:

Why was I so spun up about the whole age thing?

It took me some time to peel at these onion layers — the ones that had covered an almost unnatural fear of getting older.  But I did eventually figure it out.  And, a while ago, I wrote a post about it.  I have re-published it below, and I invite you to read my theory and then let me know what you think.

Oh — and the mention of some content in my “About” page was referencing old material that I have since re-written, lest anyone get confused by a seeming inconsistency.

Enjoy…..

An essay on why I cringe at the thought of another passing year.  Turns out, I’m not completely vain after all.  Yay!:

….the absence of my own possibilities sometimes feels like a phantom limb reminding me of all that will never be….

Okay, so, in my little “About” page, I made some ridiculous statement about not feeling like I had grown chronologically older since 25 or so, and I went on and on and on about “vertical” versus “horizontal” movement of time and growth and something about wisdom trumping years and blah, blah, friggin’ blah.

Well I am back — a mere five days after the fact — to tell you all that whatever I thought I was selling is such a pantload of crap.  Cancel your orders.  Don’t buy it.

Anyone in my most intimate circle knows that I talk incessantly about getting older.  I mean, like, incessantly (J and M, thank you for always listening, btw).  And I most certainly do not mean older “out” like I would have had you all believe, but I mean older “up.”  Up in age.  Up in years completed orbiting the Sun.  Up in moments gone by.  Up in number of pounds that won’t budge from my middle, in the number of creases that frame my eyes when I smile, in the sixteenth-of-an-inch increments that I swear — swear to goodness — I notice my hairline receding by every few months.  Older.  I am getting older, and I feel it now.  I feel the weight of that movement — that upward movement — every. single. day.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait — couldn’t wait — to get to the “next big thing.”  I was never ever satisfied with where I was. Too restless to live in the moment, I could never carpe diem.  Rather than “carpe”-ing I just, well, carped.  I could include several quotes here mimicking the “me” that I was during each phase of life that I deemed a necessary evil on the way to the golden ring (the golden ring always changed, by the way — being old enough to go to junior high, old enough for high school, old enough to date, to vote, to get a real job, be married).  But I think you get the point.  And yes, I listed voting.  I did not list driving.  I am a nerd.  I already know this, thank you.

And now?  Now I want to hold on to every moment of every day– down to the second.  I am absolutely beyond myself at the notion of putting another year behind me.

I don’t know how so much of my 30’s has escaped me.  Well, maybe I do.  I got married young by today’s standards (one month after turning 23).  While my peers were still dating and job-hopping, I was celebrating wedding anniversaries and managing a joint checking account.  And then I got pregnant at 25.  And again 15 months later.  Before I had turned 30, my husband and I were eyeballs-deep in meeting a mortgage, rearing school-aged children, negotiating in-laws, and hunkering down in our “forever” careers (my husband’s outside the home, mine inside of it).  My late 20’s and early 30’s were a blur because I was bum rushed by the milestones that most others parse out —  allowing at least a few years between each of life’s big “gets.” When I finally got my sea legs aboard this existence I created on the fly,  I was somehow already 34.  And I was incredibly aware of my age.

Huh.  That’s funny.  34 doesn’t sound old. And further more, things slowed down considerably at 34.  These last two years, my life has been relatively static.  Kids are incredibly self-sufficient. My return to graduate school was slow, and very very part-time; upon graduation, it was agreed that I’d hold off on re-entering the outside workforce for at least a little while.  Marriage kinks had been more or less ironed out several years ago — we’ve long found our rhythm as a couple.  So, what gives?  I thought it was the “fast” of it all until I entered the “slow” and still felt panicky.  I could never really put my finger on it.  Why I was obsessed with age.  Why I felt old.

There was one thing that should have clued me in:  I repeatedly considered women who were older than me quite young. Why?  It all came down to their level of “settled”-ness.  For example, a particular acquaintance of mine: At seven years my senior, she still seemed to me just beginning her life.  She had deliberately developed a nice career that still offered much upward movement. She was in a lovely condo in an important city.  She had established a serious relationship with someone she might very well marry.  She had things that mirrored all that I had with one exception: she had an “out” from it all.  With no wedding ring, no mortgage deed, and no children, this friend still had one foot in the land of infinite possibilities. And, while I would never in a million, zillion, trillion years ever, ever, ever want any “out” from my beautiful family and the life that we’ve built, the absence of my own possibilities sometimes feels like a phantom limb reminding me of what will never be.

Could this be at the root of my whole “getting older” conundrum?  Was it not so much increasing years, but decreasing possibilities that was making me mourn for yesterday, and last month, and last year?

With this stressor always at play in the recesses of my mind, my heart, and my soul, I was ever grateful to come across this post by blogger Jennifer Fulwiler: Behind the Scenes of a Mid-Life Crisis.  I read it, and I knew.  This was it.  What she said.  Exactly what she said.  All of it.  I would love for each of you to take a few minutes to read her words; whether you share in my fear of getting older or not, I think there is still wisdom to be gleaned.

Do any of you feel like me?  Anyone unsettled about being settled?  Let’s discuss.

 


How I Was Feeling On One Random Day In March

I love to write stories.  Love to.  I enjoy putting myself back into some particular moment, and then doing a second walk-through to gather up all the important details and figure out how to arrange them in words that other people will want to read and relate to and enjoy.

Some stories take a lot of effort to get “just right.”  Other stories, well, they sort of write themselves.

I was cleaning out my e-mails (again) the other day, and I came across one of many I sent to J (for those who don’t know, J=BFF).  Every now and then, just to vent, I barf out my every frustration at the keyboard and then hit “Send.”

These aren’t the prettiest of stories; they are quite rough, actually, and often make me look like a mean mommy or a bad wife, or both.

But, these off-the-cuff ramblings are real.  Completely real.

So, I’m going out on a limb again, and am sharing one such message with you, in the interest of “keeping it real.”  The last time I published something not intentionally written for this blog, it was a poem about a day in the life of a mom.  This is most definitely not a poem, but it does sort of touch on what a day in the life of a mom can look like, especially on some random day in March.  Enjoy….

An e-mail I sent to J back in March, when the weather was awful and my kids kept getting sick and I was feeling completely murdery and irritable and bloated:

Hey,

I am still in the T-shirt I wore to bed last night.  I simply added black leggings (one of seven pairs I own).  That counts as dressed, right?

The boys are both home.  [Older son] has been sick with the flu all week; as for [younger son], I finally gave up fighting his protests of “how come [the brother] gets to stay home again?  It’s not FAIR.  He’s an idiot!”

I just love a seven-year-old’s logic and reasoning skills, don’t you?

“FINE!” I shouted.  “Stay (the f#!@) home!”

I didn’t actually say the f#!@ part, but I wanted to.  Badly.  And, I did imply it with my tone and body language while arguing in the foyer at 9:05 this morning (school starts at 9:15, natch).  With one eye on his indignant little face, and the other assessing the dirt and debris taking up residence in ALL FOUR corners of the entrance way, I was at the end of my rope.

I wish it were possible to erase your life and re-draw it without bad attitudes and dirt.  And maybe sketch in some better furniture, too.

[Older son] has been hovering like a ghost in the background of my every move — fifth-day jammies now growing roots into his skin, blanket wrapped around his shoulders like a cape, dark circles under his glassy eyes, and carrying the TV remote from room to room.  He is displaced from one TV-viewing area (“You need to watch that somewhere else.  Mommy can’t clean the bathrooms while listening to that ridiculous Sponge Bob.  Go downstairs, please.”), and then from another (“You need to watch that somewhere else.  Mommy can’t fold the laundry while hearing that ridiculous Scooby Doo.  Go upstairs, please.”).

I am now missing a remote, and have successfully participated in helping him spread his flu germs all over the house.

[Younger son] has claimed a spot on the living room rug (why, why, WHY do they like to hang in the living room of all places?), lying like a dead body, save for the bent elbows and tiny fingers that jab at a 3DS.  His feetie pajamas are covered with dog hair and lint.  He has refused to brush his teeth, and this — paired with [older son’s] eau de ill — has made for some really ripe atmosphere.  It’s like I can actually feel the air — thick and muggy.  And every room — even mine — smells like jungle rot.

The eggs and toast that [older son] requested are lying limp and cold in a bowl (a bowl, as all our plates are dirty) on the kitchen table.  The table is covered with finger print smears — grease, goo, bodily excrements, I’m sure — that can be seen when the dull, depressing March excuse for sunshine hits my dirty window, casting a poorly filtered spotlight on the table’s surface.  So, so, so shudder-inducing.  Outside, it looks like the illustration in a depressing children’s library book, circa 1976.  All pencil sketches and sepia brownish-yellows.

I have eaten two chocolate chip cookies, a handful of macaroons, some Hershey kisses and Starbursts (stolen from the boys’ Valentines stash), and an avocado sandwich, for good measure.  Seven weeks of beauty detox dieting possibly down the drain.  And — I also have a movie theater headache….similar to a too-much-artificial-sweetener headache, but with the addition of that sandbag feeling around my temples.

Bathrooms and laundry are only halfway done.  I look like Hell.  My too-blonde hair does nothing to help my tired, Russet-potato face.  My gut is aching from all the crap I packed into it.

I have spent most of the day (when not riffling through the pantry in search of something else to satisfy this tapeworm I seemed to have developed) screwing around on the Internet.  Here’s what shows up in the Google drop-box:

white window panels with black trim

perez hilton

images of celebrity crow’s feet

natural fiber runner rug

images of Domino magazine table vignettes

By the looks of things (cough, cough, achoo, gurgle, cough), it seems tomorrow’s gonna be more of the same.

Somebody please — HELP ME!  Come wrap me up in a straight jacket and take me to a rubber room!!!

Call when you can.

So, there it is.  One of my real e-mails.  Unfiltered.

See you all back here tomorrow for a quick story about trying to be funny and then having no one laugh.  Ouch.


Houston, What Was My Problem?

A quick story about how an off-the-cuff comment can haunt you for the rest of your life, and then a question for you:

So, it was a Sunday morning.

In our house, Sunday mornings are spent hunkered down at the kitchen table, my husband sifting through the inserts while I work the crossword puzzle. The kids eat their breakfast early and then are quickly shooed away; the husband and I like to talk — completely unedited and without disruption.  You know, like two….adults.

Second cups of coffee turn into third and fourth cups of coffee, and minutes turn to hours as morning threatens to become afternoon.  But who’s watching the clock?

We instead watch cars and neighbors navigating their own Sunday routines, the large picture window framing out a sort of reality TV.  We comment on the ordinary and analyze the mundane, but that’s part of the fun.

It’s Sunday, after all.

Sunday mornings are just….easy.  Easy and nice.

So, on this one particular Sunday morning, the husband and I were doing our usual — he, comparing lawnmower prices from two different ads, I, gnawing on a Bic pen as I contemplated a five-letter word for “spectacle.”  I’m pretty sure we were on our third cup of coffee.  The kids were long gone.

Safe to say, I was blissfully absorbed in “Sunday.”

Which is probably why I had my guard down, so to speak, though I still contend that there should be no need for such “guard” in your own home in front of your own husband — especially on a Sunday.

Anyway, I guess I had my guard down, because I made a comment that I am still hearing about, and likely will continue to hear about until one of us dies or at least becomes senile.

Thinking I had solved 1 Across, I inked S-C-E-N-E into the top left of the crossword grid.

Five-letter word for “spectacle” is “scene,” I reasoned.

But then, by my later estimation, “scene”  didn’t work with some of the surrounding clues.

Damn it.

All caps in blue ink is a bitch to correct.  My crossword was gonna look a mess, and I had just started.

I bit my lower lip as I lifted the magazine from the table, holding it square in front of my face.  Maybe a different perspective and a better view would somehow make it “right.”

No….it was definitely wrong.

I drew in a deep breath as I set the puzzle back down on the table.  Hunching over, I propped my elbow up and rested my head on the upturned palm of my hand.  I grabbed my coffee cup, and as I drew the cup to my mouth — but before taking a sip — I said:

Houston…..we have a problem.

I don’t know why I said that, because I never say that.  Like, ever.

But I said it, and I said it seriously.  As in, long and drawn out and contemplative, and punctuated by a heavy sigh — an even more dramatic delivery than the astronaut’s, who, in a moment of distress, made that phrase famous.  Only, I wasn’t an astronaut in distress.  I was just a mom in her robe at the kitchen table, coming to terms with a few errant letters on a crossword puzzle.

Houston, we have a problem?” repeated the husband, his eyes wide with mild shock and his grin slightly mocking.

I looked up to meet the husband’s eyes and immediately looked away.

WHAT –?” I challenged.

I knew “what,” though.  I sounded like a complete nerd.

“Houston…..we have a problem?” the husband repeated, now laughing.  “Oh, babe…..really?”

“Shut up, [husband’s name],” I fired back, now feeling my cheeks flush.  “I was just being silly.”

“Baby….no you weren’t.  You were serious,” he teased.  “It’s okay…..” the husband trailed off into more laughter.

With my legs outstretched and my feet snuggled into the husband’s lap, I felt even more vulnerable.  Like a rabbit trapped in a snare, having to watch the hunter load his gun.  I couldn’t figure a graceful way to recover my legs and feet, so I just sat there partly frozen.

This comment provided the fodder for a few more minutes of gentle heckling before the husband became once again engrossed in his inserts.

I went back to my crossword, deciding that morphing some letters into new letters was much better than scratching out all the letters.  But the whole time I worked to solve the puzzle, my mind kept re-setting to that fateful comment, re-playing it with the exact inflections and cadence.

Houston…..we have a problem.

[Shudder]

It was pretty awful, I admitted to myself.

Sigh…..

I know I’ll hear about this again tomorrow, I thought.

And I did.

So, there’s my example of how an off-the-cuff comment can haunt you for the rest of you life.  Now I ask you:

Have you ever said something seemingly benign that became the source of your social undoing?  What have you ever said — off-the-cuff in casual conversation — that now makes you squirm to remember it?

 


Sounds Good To Me

A quick discussion of pleasant and unpleasant sounds:

A few weeks back, I posed a question that asked you to divulge the things that run through your mind as you work yourself into sleep mode.  In my own response, I mentioned crafting really good answers to James Lipton’s Actor’s Studio queries.

For those of you unfamiliar, Lipton closes his celebrity interviews with a quick Proust-like session (“what is your favorite….what is your least favorite…”); the answers — reactive and yet somehow deeply reflective — reveal more about the subject than anything  gleaned from the previous 45 minutes of standard back-and-forth.

I’d like to use today’s post to address one of Litpon’s questions.  As you work toward an answer, try to stay true to your original instinct.

What is your favorite sound?  What is your least-favorite sound?

My favorite sound would have to be a church choir on Christmas Eve.  More specifically, my own church’s choir singing Veni, Veni, Emmanuel.

I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I cannot offer any further explanation.  I can only say you’d have to hear it yourself.  When I crave “close-enough,” I listen to the version by The King’s Singers (itunes) — loud, in stereo.  Chills.  The good kind.

My least favorite sound is the sound of the phone ringing anytime after 11:30 p.m.  At my age, no one calling after 11:30 p.m. ever has good news to share.  This sound becomes exponentially worse in half-hour increments:  12:00 midnight, heart races; 12:30 a.m., heart races into eardrums, creating that whooshing horse-trot effect; 1:00 a.m., horses now galloping through ears and down sides of neck; 1:30 a.m., I have been stampeded and am therefore dead.

Close runners up:

My second favorite sound is my husband asking, “Wanna swing over to Lowes and pick up those cabinets for the kitchen renovation?”

My second least-favorite sound is a tie between one of my boys saying, “Um….I don’t feel well,” and the actual sound of  vomiting.

Okay, so on that note, what say you?  What are your favorite and least-favorite sounds?


70 Times 7 Is Only 490

A story about being inappropriately bored in church, and also about not liking to think about forgiveness:

As I write this, it is Sunday afternoon.  My family and I just returned from Mass.  I am still feeling all “churchy” and contemplative and hyper sensitive to God’s infinite presence.  Fortunately for you, my reader, I am also feeling a need to over-share in that self-deprecating way that aims to add levity and humor, per my usual.

So it’s all gonna be good.

No preaching here, so no worries.

I promise you’ll soon be getting a chuckle at my expense, which really is the reason I write, so, just read and enjoy.

Okay, I want to talk a little bit about inner conflict and being human and the truth behind what’s really going on in the mind of that nice young woman sitting with her family — second-to-last pew on the right.

That “nice young woman” is me, by the way, and I don’t know that I come out looking real good at the end of this.  But I’m feeling sort of confessional right now, so let’s just go there, shall we?

It all started off fine and well enough.  My husband, sons, and I had actually managed to be up and dressed and in the car with plenty of time to spare.  This morning, there was no heated debate over the merits of going my way out the neighborhood — slower back roads and few lights — versus my husband’s way — quicker main roads, many lights.  No awkward maneuvering around an already advancing processional of altar boys, deacons and priest.  No piling in to the undesirable pew — the one behind a poorly placed, view-blocking steel buttress — only to realize there isn’t enough room even there, unless each boy (now nearly ten and eight) takes a lap.

No, this morning, we arrived on time.  Early enough, in fact, that I was able to pull out a kneeler and spend a few minutes getting real pious, complete with folded hands and a subtle mouthing of every third word to the Hail Mary.  You know the drill — the I’m-so’lost-in-prayer-I-occassionally-forget-myself-and-mouth-a-few-words, as if to say:

Look, fellow congregants — I am so incredibly Catholic!

By the time the Mass began, I was feeling particularly devout.

Things continued going smoothly throughout the first few readings.  I was able to maintain a laser focus on every word spoken, my mind conjuring appropriate images of early Christian men in beards and dusty sandals.  I clearly constructed  St. John’s lonely island of exile.  When “lampstands” were mentioned, I refused the picture of dancing candles, a la Fantasia, that my mind kept offering up.  I knew better.  I traded the silly cartoon depiction for a much more sensible notion of what I can only describe as”elusive light,” which matched nicely with the metaphorical language of the passage.

As I hope you all can see, I had worked hard to invest every one of my senses in the process of absorbing the Word.  Please, by all means, acknowledge how participatory I was being.

How very, very participatory.

And then, the priest approached the lecturn to address the congregation.  In other words, “speech time.”  This is usually my favorite part of Mass.  I love to see how the readings will tie in to lessons for our modern world.  I anticipate the little nuggets of wisdom that somehow seem to speak just to me, giving me something to chew on all week.

I settled my back against the pew.  I folded my hands and rested them on my crossed legs at the knee — my best “listening” pose.  I shot a sideways glance at the husband, jut to be sure he was making appropriate eye contact (he usually isn’t).

Alright, I thought.  Here we go….and — action! (This typically really does run through my head right before the priest begins to speak.  I don’t know why).

It was at this point that suddenly, and without warning, things took a nosedive.

I knew I was in trouble when the priest used the opening lines of his homily to foreshadow what would be its overarching message: forgiveness.

At that very moment, all my earnest efforts at being virtuous during the service fell undeniably limp.

I released my back to allow a slouch.  My hands left my knees, and drew themselves up as I crossed my arms over my chest.  My eyes moved from our pastor to the window across the way.

Ehhhhh……foooorgiiiiiveneeeessss. 

Sigh….

Oh this is just great, I thought.  Now I’ll have to wait another whole week, and sing through a whole other Gloria plus respond in song to a whole other Psalm (my least favorite part of Mass) before we get to the next speech.

Me and my spirit — we were both kinda pissed.

Forgiveness homilies never pack the theological punch that I crave.  They typically hover above the fray of the nitty-gritty –where good stories are made — staying safely in “generalities” land.

Basically, forgiveness homilies seem, well, lazy.

I feel they are often akin to “movie” days in elementary school, when the teacher likely lacked proper plans to fill all six hours of instruction, so out would come the inane two-hour film about a boy who loses his red balloon!

See, everyone already knows about the whole forgiveness thing.  We get it.  This is the stuff more fitting for a child’s Sunday school project — perhaps a coloring page of the Prodigal Son and his father, or a re-creation of “the good thief’s” crucifixion using popsicle sticks and foam stickers.

But in our for-the-adults message?  Meh….no thanks.

I drew in a sharp breath and exhaled a bit too loudly.

My mind began to drift.  I slowly panned the church for people I recognized.  Hmmmm — I wonder who came today.  I whipped up a quick game of Where’s Waldo? trading out the bespectacled guy in red and white stripes for neighbors who belonged to our congregation.  I had pretty much planned to check out until communion time.

And then I heard the words that managed to break the barrier I had stubbornly erected.

The priest was bringing out the big guns, reminding us we are to forgive “seventy times seven.”

“Seventy times seven….” everyone knows, is metaphor for “infinitely.”  We are to forgive an infinite number of times.  There is to be no statue of limitations on forgiveness, apparently.

The words smacked against my chest and fell into my lap, forcing me to deal with where to put them.  Another sharp breath, another loud exhale.

I quickly did the math in my head, and decided that no, it was quite possible that the equation was literal.  I mean, 490 is a Hell of a lot of forgiveness.  I momentarily considered grabbing the iphone from my purse to double check, using the calculator app.  No, I was pretty sure I got it right: 490.

I saw a parade of faces dance before me — disembodied heads of those I know who make even 490 seem like too big a number.

Oooohhhh, this is gonna be hard, I thought as I prepared to flesh out a very creative definition of forgiveness.  Glancing at the crucifix above the altar, I squirmed in my seat.  I proceeded anyway:

Well, forgiveness technically relies upon the advent of remorse.  There is really nothing to forgive if the act isn’t first initiated by the wrongdoer through remorse….

Helping the notion situate more soundly in my conscience, I added:

I mean, I go to God in prayer all the time seeking forgiveness.  Yeah, that’s right, I first seek it, and so he then grants it.

There.  That’s better.  No way some of those disembodied heads would float over to make an act of contrition.  In fact, their indignation was the crux of their problem anyway.  So, good — I can safely avoid this whole forgiveness thing because there would likely never be an opportunity to extend it anyway.

I then imagined certain people coming to me, seeking my forgiveness.  Would I really even want that?  The hand wringing, the humbled shoulders, the quivering voice.  The awkward, stilted dialogue.

Completely gross, I decided.  No, that’s no good.  I don’t want the drama. 

It is probably appropriate to, at this point in my story, assure you sheepishly that yes, this is exactly what ran through my mind today.  In church.  Moving on….

to Plan B:

Well, who am I to grant forgiveness anyway?  I’m far from perfect myself.  No, no need for anyone to be groveling at my feet.  I’m not worthy.  Plus, I’m not one to hold a grudge.  I may not have the whole forgiveness thing worked out, but I definitely execute a hearty forgetting.  No problem there.

I felt pleased at myself for allowing this last caveat.  It felt redemptive — I’m not a complete jerk, see?  It’s not about proper remorse afterall.  It’s simply about the unnecessary-ness of the act in the first place, at least among broken people toward other broken people.

I think at this point I was making the case for a lifetime full of half-baked relationships — cooked around the edges and raw in the middle.  Stuff that’s easy to refuse because it will likely make you sick.  Uh-oh:

Great, now I seem really weird.  Even in front of myself.  Which means God is likely not too pleased either. 

I wondered if the flip-flopping in my stomach was self-induced or the beginnings of a Holy shake-down.

I’m so screwed.

I glanced over at my husband, who had been making a lot of self-satisfied “Mmmm-hmmmms” throughout the whole talk.  He now wore a smug grin.

Oh that’s just perfect.  His first Mass in what seems like forever, and this was the message?  The forgiveness message?  I will never hear the end of it.  He will lift lines from this homily for months on end, throwing them like arrows aiming to pierce all my best quips.

I remembered back to when he read The Grapes of Wrath and took to claiming the “devil was rampagin'” every time we argued.

Oh, Lord help me.

I decided that for now, having to ride home with my husband would be reparation enough for all the thought sins I committed in church today.  The rest could be worked out later, in time.

The ride home went about the way I expected, by the way.  So indulgence granted, thank you very much.

I am not done exploring this whole forgiveness thing, though. It is still stuck in my crawl even now.  I will churn this over time and again in the weeks to come. It will likely be revisited in future posts, too, because the whole idea of forgiveness is an important one.  And my distaste for the whole thing seems to beg the question of whether I don’t like my allowing of said forgiveness, or I just don’t like witnessing other people’s remorse.

Now that would have been a great basis for the homily.

In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts.  Anyone else have an an unusual aversion to this or another virtue?  Any idea why?

 

 

 

 

 

 


All The World’s A Stage…

A short essay on whether we notice the weird behaviors of others, and then a question about the last time you were self-conscious:

I remember taking my older son, who was quite young at the time, to a birthday party at the ever-popular play gym in our area.  Because of his age, I elected to stay, planting myself among all the other hovercrafts who were sitting on the good side of a two-way mirror.

The adults looked on as little bodies tumbled and jumped, kicked and rolled and ran, each of us tracking our own child’s every move.  We guided their balance with a fixed and steady gaze.  We helped them land safe dismounts by breathing deep and holding in.

But mostly, we just prayed our kid wouldn’t do anything weird.

As is often the case at events like this, one kid was doing something weird.  And his mother was visibly panicked.  No longer sitting with the other parents, she was standing, thisclose to the glass, audibly coaching her child through his episode as if he could hear her.

I was doing a fairly good job of not paying attention, though it was difficult because she was blocking my own view of the party.  Instead of focusing on my son, I tried very hard to seem incredibly interested in a stack of tumbling mats shoved in the leftmost corner of the play area.

No way would I let on that I noticed a thing.

After several minutes, this poor woman turned to me and gave me “the look” that parents — usually moms — exchange in a quest for a “hey-I’ve-been-there-too” head nod.  I smiled broadly and gave “the nod,” after which she said,

“It’s funny.  We’re all worried about how our kid is coming across in front of the others, but the thing is — nobody notices.  Because they’re just focused on how their kid is coming across.”

I laughed with her and “completely agreed.”

Except, I really didn’t agree.  Because I noticed.  I always notice the weird.

So, I took my boys bowling over the holiday break just last week.

The bowling alley was relatively crowded; families occupied the lanes on either side of us, forcing us to share a ball machine and snack table with lots of people I didn’t know. Other families floated in the background, waiting for an empty lane to come up.  Like I said, there was definitely a crowd.

As I stood up to bowl my turn, I suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious.  All at once, I was way too aware of myself:

The way I awkwardly gripped the ball.

The way I sort of sashayed up to position — a half walk, half completely unnecessary gallop.

The way my ugly bowling shoes caught on the waxy floor, causing me to fake-pivot (the best save I could come up with on the fly).

The stupid expressions I could feel myself making once I turned around to face my kids after knocking down only three pins.  What is it with that face, by the way?  The face we make in that precise moment we spin around to go back to our seat…..it’s like a dopey outtake from the opening credits of a bad ’80’s sitcom.  Look directly into the camera.  Now, give an “oh, gee” shrug, and then shake your head in amused resign.

All of it — every stitch of it — weighed like lead on my shoulders.  It was gross to be feeling so lame.

Now, this very minor crisis was unexpected, I’ll have you know.  The advent of my thirties several years ago brought with them a new found sense of peace.  A peace that helped put such gripping insecurity to rest (mostly).  I learned that I’m not the star of anyone’s show.  Nobody cares.  Really, they don’t.  And they aren’t looking to care, either, so it’s highly likely that no one is watching me — or you, for that matter — so rest easy!

I reminded myself of this,  but for some odd reason, my mind forced upon me the memory of that play-gym party years ago.  Don’t ask me why, but I remembered the weird kid, the panicked mother, the attempt she made to reconcile the awkward situation, and my own private acknowledgment that people do notice these things.

People are watching us.

They’re watching us, and they think we’re weird when we bowl.  Or chew, or dance, or puzzle over a map, or when we ride in cars.

So….today’s question:

When was the last time you said or did something that left you feeling surprisingly insecure?  When was the last time you felt certain you were being unnecessarily weird?

As I mentioned, my moment was four days ago, in a bowling alley.

Now get going with those comments.  If you leave me hanging here, I’m gonna feel…….

weird.