I saw the above passage in my Facebook feed yesterday and promptly copied and saved it because I love it when other people write my feelings succinctly and turn it into an inspirational post so I don’t have to.
Before having children, I heard myriad dark tales of the harrowing experience of raising teenagers. Having eons ago been a teenager myself, I recalled the endless battles with parents, the scramble to balance friends and boyfriends and homework and extracurriculars and part-time work and social activities, and the confusion surrounding figuring out who I was and what I was supposed to do in life. I remember that time as exhausting and exhilarating, a period of self-development precariously balanced with self-loathing.
When my sons, now 18 and 16, were toddlers, I could not wait for them to get older. I longed for a time when I could understand what they wanted and discover who they were. And, through the infinite magic of time that speeds up as we age, I arrived here more quickly than I ever imagined.
While my parents struggled with their teenagers, I’ve found mine to be 10% terror-inducing and 90% delightful. Letting my son drive off at 6 am with his brand-spanking new driver’s license to head to the mountains for a hike, well…that’s terror-inducing. But waking up the next day, pulling up Google Translate on my iPhone to start brushing up on my French for an upcoming trip and finding my sons have been doing the same, well…that’s delightful.
My sons have brought out both the best and the worst in me over the years since they arrived and made us a family. Fortunately, as I have aged, I have relaxed a bit, which has made experiencing my sons’ teenage years more filled with laughter than fraught with frustration. If you get out of your kids what you put into them, I must have given my all.
My husband is a geek. And he is becoming more of a geek with each passing year. In the past, I would never have complained about this because, well, he’s my personal tech support. He’s the geek I go to when I’ve already rebooted and don’t know what the hell to do next. He is the one who talks me off the ledge when my phone is doing that thing again. He totally understands what an HDMI cable is. I simply understand that an HDMI cable is. He’s all about embracing new technology. And, despite the fact that our house contains several plastic bins filled with antiquated tech (my kids tell me that is the correct term) that he still hasn’t taken to the electronics graveyard, much to my chagrin, I have struggled to make my peace with his curious addiction to the latest and greatest invention meant to make life better. At least, I thought I had made my peace with it. That was until the Amazon Echo arrived in our home early in 2016.
It seemed innocuous enough. One day he came home with this curious new speaker thing. I vaguely recall being a little peeved because, as I pointed out at the time, we didn’t need another speaker thing. Because of his tech addiction, we already had four wireless music players. That’s right. Four. This one, he told me, this one was different. You could talk to this one, like you do with Siri. He prattled on for a bit about how this was not just a speaker because this could also turn our lights off and on remotely. While he spoke, I went to my happy place because when something like this catches his eye the only way to get him to stop talking about it usually is to let him have it. So I did. I rolled my eyes, sighed and, like a parent accepting the stray dog her son brought home, told him Echo could stay as long as he took care of it.
Since that night, Steve has been working with Echo to transform our house into what I assume is supposed to be a much more convenient, high-tech haven. He started by adding the special light bulbs necessary and then programming it to operate our lights, at least in the living room and hallway. Then, against my wishes, he persisted in teaching me the commands so I too could turn off our lights by barking orders across the house.
“Alexa (for that is the damned thing’s name), turn off the LIVING ROOM light.”
Emboldened by the success of having this electronic entity controlling our interior illumination, he added more bulbs in our bedroom so we could yell across the room at the thing on the dresser to turn off the lights on our nightstands, a process that takes longer than simply reaching over and turning off the lights by hand. Undaunted, he persevered with his toy. I told him that the technology creeped me out because occasionally, for no apparent reason, Alexa will start speaking, telling me about the weather or giving me some random definition for a word about which I had not inquired. It all feels a bit Big Brotherish to me. He shrugged off my negativity. This is the future. He expects me to assimilate.
Last Christmas, Steve decided our son might be an ally in the ongoing Alexa battle. So he bought a $30 Hue light strip Joe could attach to his bunkbed, presumably so he could read in bed (ha), and he bought him the smaller Echo Dot which doesn’t have its own speaker. Joe seemed semi-interested in the technology aspect until he realized that the light strip made his bed feel like the tunnel between Concourses B and C at O’Hare Airport. Then he too noticed that sometimes Alexa would start speaking out of the blue. Unbeknownst to his father, Joe unplugged the Dot and tossed it into his closet where he found it creeped him out much less.
Undeterred by his family’s lack of enthusiasm for his home automation, Steve continued in his quest. He added more light bulbs to control in his office. He added another Dot downstairs so we could use it as an “intercom” to beckon the boys upstairs when we wanted them. (Side note: It turns out we never do this because we prefer to yield to the more organic and primal habit of screaming at them from the stairs as parents have done for generations.) He programmed Echo to interact with our smart Nest thermostat so we can shriek at her to turn our heat up or down. He set Echo so now if we bellow at her she will play Sirius XM radio on our Sonos system. Most recently, he’s connected Alexa to our home security system so we can clamor for her to turn on our home alarm. Never mind that, aside from the lighting, we are able to do all these things via our iPhones without caterwauling through the house.
Last night, I caught Steve asking to Alexa to do his bidding again.
“Alexa…turn off the Living Room light,” he called out.
“Living Room doesn’t support that,” came Alexa’s reply.
Steve repeated the command more slowly and firmly, as if Alexa were a disobedient child who simply needed to be told twice.
“Alexa…turn off the Living Room light.”
“Living Room doesn’t support that,” Alexa replied again, rolling her eyes.
It occurred to me that perhaps Echo’s name is quite intentional.
“Alexa…turn off Living,” I said, remembering Steve had recently changed the command so it included both smart bulbs in the living room lamp.
“Okay,” she said, and the damn living room light finally went off.
“Sometimes you have to wonder just who is controlling whom,” I said and strolled smugly off to bed for the night.
Steve might have an overactive case of Jetsons envy. He longs for flying cars and homes equipped with every possible automation. And I get it. We Gen Xers are experiencing an amazing shift from our childhoods when we tuned in on one of a few channels on a cumbersome television box with a rabbit-ear antenna on top to watch George, Jane, Judy, Elroy, and Astro living in their sky home with their robot maid, Rosie, attending to their every need, to a time when home automation, or some semblance of it, is reality. It is exciting and fascinating, and it’s easy to get caught up in the Jetson fantasy in 2018. Still, my hope for the future is that the speed of advancing tech becomes so rapid that Steve is at last unable to keep up or technology becomes more efficient so I can stop commanding the black cylinder on my kitchen counter to turn off the lights that all three men in my house seem incapable of operating either on their own or with Alexa’s brilliant assistance. I am not surprised Echo was given a female name. If you want something done, you ask a woman.
Full disclosure: My husband advised me against writing this post. He did this because he is embarrassed for me by what I am about to disclose. He suggested I might not want to share this particular story. Second full disclosure: Listening well has never been in my wheelhouse. So I am going to tell my story anyway.
Steve and I started road cycling in 2009. When we brought my new bike home, a shiny, blue-and-silver $1300 aluminum frame contraption with mid-level components, Steve had to explain to me how the dang thing worked. I could ride a bike, but this was the most high-tech cycle I had ever owned. Steve began by telling me about the brakes and reminded me squeezing the front brake too hard too quickly would cause me to somersault head-over-heels off the bike. That seemed like an important point, so I memorized that. He showed me how to take the wheels off in case of a flat. I sort of paid attention to that detail. Then he continued explaining how to make the bike work for me. About two seconds after he mentioned mechanical advantage, I checked out. Mechanical advantage sounded a lot like physics. Yawn.
I am a bottom line person. Where some people like the fine details and want to understand the minutiae of a topic, I want to know only what I need to know. Call it impatience. Call it short sighted. Call it crazy. I call it being married to a man who tosses me a 300-page camera manual and tells me to read it when all I want to know is which button on the auto-focus monster snaps the photos.
So as he was describing how the gears up front work in conjunction with the gears in the back to help you increase your speed or climb hills or whatever (like I said, physics), I interrupted him to posit when we might get to that ever important bottom line.
“Which gear do I want to be in to make it easier?” I asked.
He started in again about mechanical advantage, yadda yadda yadda, and I went on another mental vacation. I vaguely heard something about “big gear,” “small gear,” “front,” and “back.” I would figure it out. How hard could it be? It was a bicycle. All I needed to know was how to get going and how to stop. I could do that already.
Steve and I participated in the Tour of the Moon ride into Colorado National Monument on Saturday. We first discussed this ride as we were coming off the high of completing the Bike MS ride in June. I registered us and then I forgot about it. Two months went by during which we got on our bikes only twice for short, easy rides. A couple days ago, we started considering our options for the weekend and chose to go ahead with the ride without training. We figured we might be sore afterward, but we could handle it. At the hotel the night before, I glanced for the first time at the ride’s elevation profile. Big mistake. In roughly 16 miles we would climb about 3500 feet. Did not sleep well with that knowledge.
The next morning as we approached the monument and the dreaded climb was looming, Steve asked me what gear I was in.
“I’m on the middle ring,” I told him, referring to my front gears.
The middle is where I most often stay when riding because, well, I don’t understand my gears because, well, I didn’t pay attention during my lesson. In the past, I have tried to switch gears on a hill, lost momentum, stalled out, and simply flopped over sideways still clipped into my bike pedals. I haven’t enjoyed that, so the middle gear has remained my crutch and faithful companion. It gets me where I am going, and I don’t fall over while switching gears. Win-win.
We pulled off into a church parking lot so Steve could investigate. He told me to switch into the easiest gear. I did.
“What gear is your chain on?”
“The big one,” I replied.
“The big one up front?” he asked.
“Yes. Granny gear.”
“Umm…that is not granny gear,” came the reply.
“Yes it is. You told me the big gear up front was granny gear.”
“You want the small gear up front and the big gear in the back,” he told me.
“This is how I have always done it,” I told him.
“Always? Not always,” he asked doubtfully.
“As long as I can remember,” I said.
“Then you have been climbing in the wrong gear,” he replied.
Well, shit. No wonder I’ve hated hills.
With my bike finally figured out (nine years later), we began our ascent. The new gear knowledge worked like a charm. The ride wasn’t exactly easy (rain, hail, and cold weather temps ensured that), but I had no problem riding. My legs weren’t tired. I pedaled up the hills slower than molasses in January, but I never felt like quitting. And you know why? Because for the past nine years I have been training for this one ride by cruising along in middle gear. And that is an oddly perfect metaphor for my life to this point. From the beginning, I’ve made things more difficult for myself than they needed to be. I checked out too soon or checked in too late or somehow managed to do both. There isn’t much to gain from an easy path, so I’ve grown through my hard (and occasionally not necessary) work.
Perhaps you now understand why Steve was reluctant about my relaying this story. It’s embarrassing. This blonde moment lasted nine years. It’s practically a blonde decade. And, at a point in my not too distant past, I would have been too mortified to share this information. But I am older now and working to accept my flaws and appreciate my gifts. I am learning to look on the bright side. I could take this whole bike-gear lunacy and go to a dark place about what a dolt I am and how naive I was not to figure out my bike properly in the first place. Instead, I’ve chosen to be positive. For something between the 3000-5000 miles I have ridden over the years, I have worked at my cycling. Every ride I undertook, I rode with more effort than I needed to give. All the times I felt weak because the hill climbs seemed much harder for me than for others, it was because they were most likely harder. And the times I passed other riders cruising up a hill in a harder gear than necessary, it was because I was strong, stronger than I had any idea I was. That is not embarrassing. It is an awesome discovery of my power and resiliency.
I’m not saying I will eschew the easiest gear going forward. That would be silly. Sometimes the path of least resistance is a good idea. I might, however, keep riding in middle gear a bit longer and see what else I can do.
Sometimes the universe offers me creative opportunities to quench my introvert’s need for solitude.
After a late night at the Depeche Mode concert followed by an early run this morning, I found myself sleep deprived and in need of some down time today. To assuage this need, I grabbed my laptop, surreptitiously exited the sliding door, and settled myself at the table under our covered patio to chill, away from the three men in my house. This turned out to be a short-lived solution as, about fifteen minutes later, hubby discovered me and came out, armed with chips and guacamole, oblivious to my urgent need for peace. He joined me at the table and chomped away while I tried not to lose my mind (because I still haven’t figured out a polite way to tell someone their chewing may drive to me murder them). Eventually, my one-word, choppy answers sunk in, and he wisely vacated. He took our sons to Best Buy, and I took a deep breath and started to unwind.
Everything was perfection until I ran out of La Croix, walked to the slider, and pulled the handle. The door didn’t slide. Curious. I tried it again in case, weak from hunger, I somehow hadn’t tugged hard enough to open it. My original suspicions were confirmed. My husband, with his usual fervor for security, had locked the back door before he left. I would like to think this was inadvertent, but this is not the first time he has locked me out of the house.
Maybe eight years ago, when the kids were younger and exhausting, I escaped for an evening coffee with my friend, Lisa. I returned home a few minutes past ten and found the door from the garage into the house locked. I hadn’t brought a house key with me because my family was home. So, I banged on the door, slightly annoyed, and waited for hubby to open it.
I continued banging for 3 minutes, alternating between kicking it and pounding it with my reddening fist. No answer. With a rising level of annoyance, I got in my car and laid on the horn. That should get him. Nope. I opened the garage door again, walked around to the front door, and rang the doorbell about seventy times. No luck. I called the home phone repeatedly. I called hubby’s cell phone even more. No answer. It set in that my family had gone to sleep. With a noisy, whole-house fan running and ocean sounds on too, my three boys would be dead to the world.
I suppose I might have found the entire thing amusing if I hadn’t just consumed a grande latte and a bottled water, which had left me highly caffeinated and rapidly approaching saturation. It was ten thirty. What the actual hell? I walked through the side gate into the backyard and began to lob small river rocks from our landscaping up towards the second story windows in the rooms I knew might be occupied. The rocks were hitting both the siding and the glass panes before landing like golf-ball size hail on the flagstone patio and wrought-iron patio furniture below, yet not a creature stirred. In addition to my husband, I began cursing my dog. Some border collie. Here I was, violating her borders and storming her castle, and she was a non starter.
Options to awaken my sleeping family exhausted, I ducked back into the garage and closed the door resigned to my circumstances. The need to relieve myself of liquids was becoming urgent. I debated ringing a neighbor’s doorbell, but decided that ringing a doorbell at 11 pm on a Tuesday night might not be very neighborly. I toyed with the idea of checking into a nearby hotel because I thought I deserved it after this bullshit, but knew once hubby discovered I was missing he would be calling the police and hospitals desperate to find me. While the devil on my left shoulder urged me to do it anyway, the angel on my right shoulder convinced me that punishment didn’t fit the crime. Still, I needed a bathroom and wasn’t sure I was going to make it ten minutes to the nearest gas station. I considered urinating in the backyard (why not? the boys had) but knew the minute I bared my privates to the world a neighbor would open their sliding door to let out their dog and witness a full moon they hadn’t expected. So, I peed into a Solo cup from Costco in the privacy of our garage. Yes. Yes I did. And I’ve never looked at red cups the same way since.
Hubby did eventually wake up when our oldest got up to pee and, upon not finding me in bed to awaken so I could tuck him back into bed, notified his father of my missing person status. The garage light flickered on around 3:30 a.m. I had been sitting in my car, reclined in the driver’s seat, trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep for hours. Steve opened the door, saw my SUV, and began to close the door again, assuming I must be somewhere inside. I yelled out pathetically.
“I’m here! I’m here! Wait!!!!”
The look on his face registered somewhere between relief and terror.
His apologies flew like rapid fire from a semi-automatic as I entered the door. I was too exhausted to bitch and went directly to sleep. The next day, when I was in a better mental space, I recounted my story. I told him I needed to blog about it. Feeling horrible and embarrassed about the whole mishap, he begged me not to. And so I didn’t. For eight years. But, I figure the statute of limitations on that deal ran out the minute he locked me in the backyard today.
I do crave my time alone, but I am starting to wonder if my family is trying to tell me something. I’m wondering if I shouldn’t get a lanyard to hold my house key around my neck. Just in case.
When you become a mom, everything changes. Your life is no longer wholly your own, a fact both awe-inspiring and terrifying. Little eyes are making mental notes of your example right at the moment when you are most exhausted, stressed out, and unsure. It’s not fair. Still, we try to do our best, especially when our children are young. For example, when our sons were small and learning to speak, I gave up swearing. Well, at least I tucked my offensive wagging tongue back in my mouth for about eight years when they attended Christian school and I didn’t want my words to come back to haunt me with their teachers. (On a side note, my youngest did go to the principal’s office in kindergarten for exclaiming a hearty son-of-a-bitch when he didn’t get to be the first kid in the reading teepee, but he overheard Sawyer say that while we were watching LOST. That one’s on you, ABC.)
As my sons aged and we moved away from the Christian school, I eased back into my potty mouth persona. First, I stopped substituting cheese and rice for Jesus Christ and crud for crap. But each swear word is a gateway drug for another, more foul word. Soon, shoot became shit and dang it became dammit. From there I went to the hard shit, right to the mother effing F-bomb when the occasion warranted. I mean, when the Costco rotisserie chicken you planned to serve for dinner slips out of your hand like a soapy kid in the bathtub, you have every reason to cut your tongue loose right before you look around for witnesses, invoke the 5-second rule, and toss that puppy onto the cutting board where it was headed in the first place. Who could blame you? Sometimes the situation deserves a meatier expletive.
Today, my friend (and fellow potty-mouth mom) Lynne sent me this article with a link to the new ad from Kraft released in time for Mother’s Day. In the ad, Melissa Mohr, author of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, covers creative substitutions for swear words because, well, moms are expected to set a good example for their kids. In the midst of raucous children interrupting her video and the all-too-common experience of stepping on rogue Legos, Melissa offers examples of ways to curb your swearing with more colorful expressions that aren’t verboten expletives. The ad is funny and honest. It hit close to home for me, as I imagine it will for millions of mothers everywhere.
My husband is not a fan of my swearing. He came from a home where his parents rarely, if ever, swore. In twenty four years, the only curse I have heard from either of my in-laws is an occasional good grief from my father-in-law which, let’s face it, is more of a charming interjection than a curse. Steve would like me to stop swearing altogether. My potty mouth bothers him, and I get it. But, dammit, after years of curbing my own behaviors and words for everyone else, from my parents to my sons to my teachers to my sons’ teachers to pretty much anyone who is not me, I am sick of pretending that you are only a good woman, a lady, when you eschew foul language. While I appreciate other’s reasons for not swearing and I honor their choices, I can’t get behind it in my own life. I am clever enough to cease use of inappropriate words in inappropriate situations. I often avoid swearing in my blog posts to prove that I have good judgment occasionally. But, our boys are about to turn fourteen and sixteen. If they aren’t hearing these words from me, they sure as hell are hearing them from their teenage friends or the television. No point in worrying about what language they might pick up. There are so few perks to getting older, but one of them should be the ability to say whatever you want under your own roof without censure. Steve, if you’re reading this, I understand your concerns, but I gotta be me.
As Mother’s Day approaches, I would like to give a shout out to the moms I know whose foul mouths make me smile, from my friend, Colleen, who runs Personal Paper Hugs, an online store filled with cheeky cards she creates (add it to your Etsy favorites here) to my Queen Bitch, Leanna, whose daily language so closely mirrors my own that sometimes it’s hard to tell which comments are from her mind and which are from mine. I owe a lot to the fearless, mouthy women who raise me up with their honesty, the women who make me feel normal. There is too much unsolicited advice about what defines a “good” mother constantly weighing us down. We spend far more time berating ourselves over what we perceive as parenting foibles than we do acknowledging and appreciating the dedication, resolve, and sacrifice we make daily for our families. Sometimes we even beat ourselves up for letting a couple choice words slip in front of our children. We’re human. It’s about time give ourselves a little leeway to act human, even if we are also mothers. To all you moms out there who curse (on occasion or perpetually), remember that even with the naughty words you are amazing, vital, and, above all, doing a fucking great job. Your kids aren’t going to be derelicts simply because you pepper your life with a few not-so-creative word choices. Sometimes a well-placed curse is the only thing keeping you from losing your proverbial shit. Motherhood is hard. Expletives may be required.
My husband, endlessly keen on electronic gadgetry, came home from Best Buy with a Nest Cam the other day. He had been talking about getting one for a couple months, and each time he brought it up I rolled my eyes and ignored him. His reason for purchasing the remote video camera was that he would use it to check on the dog while we were out. He explained that the Nest Cam has a speaker so you can talk to whoever or whatever you see on the camera once it is in place. He fantasized that he would be able to yell at the dog if he caught her napping on one of our new library chairs, a decidedly verboten location for four-legged, shedding fur babies. While I could see where he was going with his idea, I told him that he doesn’t understand that she is a border collie. Border collies are a bit smarter than your average dog (and, given our current political situation, they may actually be quite a bit smarter than many average US voters).
I’ll be honest. The main reason I didn’t want him to buy the camera had little to do with its price tag and everything to do with his being able to check in on me during the day. Between the hours of 8:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m., my house is Vegas, baby. What goes on here stays here. If I walk around in my underwear all damn day, that is my private business. If I am unshowered and sans make up and dancing 80’s style to Depeche Mode while I vacuum furniture, that is not your concern either. And if, on some off chance, I am eating popcorn and binge watching episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the last thing I want is my husband yelling at me through the speaker to get off the sofa like I am his dog. I have personal space issues. Those issues are that I need it. While the government may have photos of me that I hope will never come to light when I run for City Council, in my own world I like to imagine I am at least somewhat stealthy and secure in my personal space at home.
As proof of this, I offer Exhibit A.
Yesterday, my son’s phone was accidentally taken home by another student. Concerned son asked me to use the Find iPhone app to locate it. While I was checking on its whereabouts for him, I used the app to illustrate my privacy issues for my husband. All three of my Apple devices are always and famously not sharing location for the exact reason stated above. Rest assured that if I go missing in the Colorado wilderness and the bloodhounds can’t track me, you should just write me off as eaten by a mountain lion because you won’t be tracking me using a Find iPhone app that I voluntarily engaged. Not. Ever.
But, I digress. Yesterday hubby set up the Nest Cam while enduring my vigorous and wordy protests. He tried to reassure me that he had zero plans on spying on me. He told me he would set it up so that the only time it was activated was in my absence. He reminded me of the house security system and its camera, which he pointed out had never been abused to stalk me. I consequently reminded him this is mainly because I made him mount it in the garage because my home is Vegas, baby. He had me stand in the living room while he tested the audio capabilities. Then he asked me if I noticed what he had named it. He named it Hal after the sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I told him he wasn’t funny. If you haven’t seen the movie, let me elucidate; Hal is a little smarter than you would want your computer to be. He’s nosey, sneaky, and he’s creepy as hell. Steve was doing little to further his case. I started imagining terrible things accidentally befalling Hal during a routine dusting task. A smack on the back of its little black head with a baseball bat, perhaps?
Later, an email message came in for Steve from Hal. He saw it, began laughing, and forwarded it to me. It reinforced my concerns.
Hal had tracked me to my own living room at 8:17 p.m. There I am looking down at my iPhone, probably right after I got an alert that Hal spotted something in my living room, namely me. The level of creepiness just got upped. All I needed was Hal’s soft and calm voice saying something like, “I’m sorry, Justine. I’m afraid you can’t do that,” and I would lose my shit. I told hubby that I hate Hal. Secretly, though, I hoped Hal hadn’t heard me because I know what he is capable of.
I went to sleep last night not exactly sure where we would eventually land on this whole Hal development. I kind of hoped hubby would return the stupid thing, but he seemed pretty hell bent on using it on the dog as planned.
Today he got his opportunity. While I was out at an appointment, Ruby did indeed help herself to a comfy seat on her preferred library chair near the picture window. Upon receiving notification of movement in the living room, Steve panned Hal around to check the chair. And there she was. Vindication would soon be his. Steve pressed the microphone button on the Nest Cam app and proceeded to chide Ruby loudly to scare her from the furniture. She didn’t budge. He tried again while people in his quiet office silently wondered what the hell he was shouting from his cubby. Ruby lifted her head but remained steadfast. She had seen through Steve’s little charade and she was having none of it. She put her head back down and went right back to sleep. She’s border collie smart.
When I got home, I had to scold her for sleeping in the chair, but I apologized later. She may not be the best behaved dog ever, but she was on my side about Hal. We females have to stick together. The camera is going back. Our house is still Vegas, baby!
“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” ~Anais Nin
Bra shopping. A task that in my world falls somewhere in relative popularity between cleaning the hair out of a clogged shower drain and hanging out at the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Perhaps that is why, upon realizing I was long overdue for some fresh elastic to keep the girls in place, I reluctantly visited the Victoria’s Secret web site and placed an online order for two bras. At least I could avoid the hassle of mall shopping if I had to suffer the abuse of spending a ridiculous amount of money on clothing designed to be worn under other clothing.
When the package arrived the following week, neither bra in my usual size and style seemed to fit right. Stuff was everywhere and yet not anywhere it was supposed to be. Ugh. Guess I wasn’t avoiding the situation after all. Berating myself for not having braved the store in the first place and causing myself double the humiliation and effort, I traipsed to the mall, returns in hand, prepared to right the wrong and put the ugliness behind me at last. Upon entering the store, I was immediately approached by a sales clerk. I normally avoid help at all costs, preferring, I suppose, to bumble through this process in relative obscurity. But I just wanted to be done with it all already.
“Is there something I can help you with?”
“I got these online but they don’t fit. I need to do an exchange,” I confessed.
“Can I see what you bought?” she inquired. I handed the white, plastic shipping bag over and she peered inside, checked the contents, and nodded knowingly. “These don’t fit because you aren’t a 34B.”
I stared blankly at her. This was news to me. I had been wearing 34B for as long as I could remember.
“I’ve always worn that size,” I told her.
“Then you have always worn the wrong size,” she said, smiling. “Will you let me size you?” she asked.
I hesitantly acquiesced. My goal was to escape with something that fit. Maybe she could help me expedite that process. To my surprise, she didn’t grab the measuring tape. Instead, she gave me a quick once over then asked me to turn around. After a quick appraisal of my backside, she delivered this shocker.
“Sweetie, you are tiny. You aren’t a 34. You are a 32. I’d like to have you try on a 32DD and a 32D.”
At this point, I am pretty sure I audibly snorted. She looked to be in her early 50s, so it was quite possible she needed some vision correction. She went on trying to sell me on her size prediction.
“Do you want to stick with the these same styles? What colors?”
My head was spinning as I followed her around the store while she collected items for me to try. 32DD. Hahahahahaha. This woman is crazy. Did she even look at me? I’m not Kim Kardashian size. Anyone can see that! Before I had time to get my bearings, she had handed me off to the dressing room clerk with three bras and a final plea to trust her and give it a try.
Dammit all if she wasn’t dead on. The first bra, a lightly lined 32DD fit like nothing ever had before. There was no seepage out the side, no back fat oozing out under the band, and the ladies looked supported and happy. I had never seen them look so good. Where there had been gapping in the cups, there was none. The cups were full but did not runneth over. Apparently I am a 32DD, at least in Victoria’s secret mind. Who knew? While I still doubt anyone would peg me for a DD if they passed me on the street, the fitting room attendant checked the sizing for me, verifying the other gal’s appraisal. I had entered the store feeling like a big woman with negligible cleavage and was leaving the store feeling like a tiny girl with an enviable bounty. Not sure how it happened, but I’d had an instant boob job!
I am retelling this story here today (after sitting on it self-consciously for months) because it only recently struck me how my own overly critical self perception, fueled by a few negative comments from others that I took too much to heart, affected my reality for so long. It took an objective opinion from an outside party to convince me to test my notions about myself. I have been grateful to that store clerk every day since that visit to Park Meadows Mall in April, not only because I finally have bras that fit but because I am at last willing to question my self perceptions long enough to notice positives I have previously discounted or dismissed. Turns out there is a lot more to me than meets my eye.
Most people I know can quickly point to a creature in the animal kingdom that creeps them out. Some people are freaked out by rodents, but I will happily rescue a vole or mouse that tumbles into our window wells. My mother and sisters cannot stand moths while I operate a catch and release program for them in my home. Some may bristle at bats or shrivel over scorpions or cringe at centipedes. Like most people, the members of our household are not immune to animal phobias. Channeling their inner Indiana Jones, both Steve and Luke are terrified of snakes. Joe and I come unhinged over spiders. I once asked Luke why he despised snakes and he replied with great exasperation, “Mom…they have NO legs.” He then asked me why I hate spiders. I told him it’s because they have EIGHT legs. I’ve always thought the four of us became a family for a good reason. When a wolf spider the size of my palm waltzes onto our porch, Steve saves the day. When a snake appears in our basement, I collect it in a plastic bin and toss it back outside. Luke kills the spiders Joe finds, and Joe walks ahead on hikes to make sure there are no snakes in Luke’s path. It just works out.
Tonight as I was making dinner, Steve was in the basement crawling over and rifling through various tubs in the storage room looking for the boys’ ski boots. After a while he appeared in the kitchen with the good news that he had found them. He then came a bit closer, and I could tell something was not quite right. He leaned in and spoke in a hushed voice.
“I found a snakeskin on the floor in the storage room.”
I looked at him. The news didn’t surprise or frighten me, but I know Steve well enough to know that this was not an easy discovery for him.
“Are you sure?” I asked cautiously, eyeing him for signs of an impending freak out. There were none.
“Where did you find it?”
“I moved the tub, and it was on the floor.”
“Don’t tell Luke,” I warned before continuing. “Do you think it was a newer shed? Could it have been there for a while?” I scanned my brain trying to think of the last time I had been in that room. Could it have been there then?
“Maybe,” he replied.
“I will go check it out after dinner.”
I started laughing to myself. It just figured. Steve would be the one to make that discovery, just as it was completely natural that I was the one who came within inches of the the biggest wolf spider EVER in our window well a month ago. (Oh my holy hell that thing was creepy. I took a photo of it once I was safely inside and it was so big that its eyes glowed red in the camera flash. No lie. But, I digress.)
After dinner, I led the way downstairs to find the offending object. Sure enough. There on the floor of the storage room was a shriveled snakeskin from a snake approximately eighteen inches in length (twenty four inches if you have Steve’s eyes) resting on the remnant carpet. We stood there staring at it before surveying the room, trying to imagine where the damn thing was now. I took a photo of the crinkled skin and started laughing again. The whole idea that there is a snake in my house is ludicrous. I’m not living in southeast Asia. Holy crap on a cracker. This is suburbia! I picked up the skin, gave it a once over, and as surreptitiously as possible carted it out to the garage trash can. I told Steve it was from a garter snake. He, of course, required proof. When I produced a photo of a garter snake on my iPhone, he agreed with my assertion with visible relief. As scary as it is for him to imagine there might be a snake slinking around our house, there must be some comfort in knowing it’s not venomous. I imagine right about now Steve is wishing he wasn’t allergic to cats because this would be a perfect time to unleash one in the basement.
On Halloween, we will have lived in this home on the open space for thirteen years. In that time, we’ve only encountered one snake inside our home (the rattlesnake in the garage doesn’t count) and that was the one I deftly removed. Still, this snakeskin in the storage room advances so many questions. Could the skin have arrived (as Steve hopes) pre-shed and attached to the bottom of one of our camping bins? If not, where did the snake come from? When did it shed its skin? Is it still alive and gliding silently around our basement somewhere? If so, where does it hang out and where does it get its water? How creepy is it going to be when we’re moving out and we find it or its carcass somewhere in that room? How much therapy is Luke going to need if he’s downstairs building Legos and it slithers by? Can a child sue a parent for non disclosure of a reptile?
This morning, as I was sitting in rush hour traffic on my way to the new house to begin Day Three of what will undoubtedly become a biblical, forty days and forty nights of painting, I was thinking about how dull my days have become. Tonight, there is a snake in the basement. Apparently I have got to stop thinking so much. The universe is listening.
Tomorrow is our youngest son’s birthday. Don’t ask me how it’s possible, but the little guy will turn 12 at 11:18 tomorrow night. When I was pregnant with him, Denver was hit with a massive, March snowstorm. We were trapped indoors with a toddler for three days with 54″ of snow in our yard. Thirty-one weeks pregnant, dying to get out, and stubborn as a mule, I refused to let my husband do all the shoveling and my fat, reflux-tortured, pregnant self landed a sentence of five weeks on bed rest. While I was reclined on the sofa, I would rub my belly and tell the little being in there that he (I was determined he was a he) could not be born before May 21st because I had been promised another Gemini son and this Gemini mother was determined to get what she was promised. I repeated to him over and over the date of May 21st and told him I did not want to meet him before that date. Luke, being a natural-born pleaser with minimal patience, arrived as ordered on May 21st just before midnight. Since then, I’ve spent my days ensuring I am as good to him as he has been to me.
Yesterday, Luke requested birthday cupcakes for his classmates. Noting that one classmate is allergic to gluten, Luke asked that I provide gluten-free cupcakes so George could participate in the party too. I thought about heading to the bakery to purchase cupcakes, but decided that today was a perfect day for baking. It was cold and rainy yet again, and our house would benefit from a hot oven and the smell of baked goods on such a gloomy day. So this morning I headed to Target and swiped up gluten-free yellow and devil’s food cake mixes, butter, and powdered sugar and headed home to commence baking.
I ended up with 48 cupcakes and, while they cooled, I whipped up some homemade, vanilla buttercream icing. I pulled out the natural food coloring and tinted the frosting Luke’s favorite color. Using my pastry bag, I lovingly piped beautiful swirls of orange. I stood back to survey my work. For someone who bakes as infrequently as I do these days, I thought I’d done quite well. As I was getting ready to pack them into cupcake tins so I could haul them to school in the morning, an unwanted thought began knocking on my brain. I tried to barricade the door so it could not get in, but it was powerful and the door came down under its weight. Due to food allergies, no homemade baked goods will be permitted in the classrooms anymore. Son of a bitch.
That was the first of a plethora of expletives that escaped my mouth as I stood there facing 48 cupcakes that could neither go to school nor in my mouth. I had spent three hours mixing, baking, transferring, cooling, measuring, monitoring, beating, coloring, and decorating this confections. Three hours I could never get back. Three hours I could have used wisely on other necessary pursuits. My chagrin escaped in a semi-controlled, adult tantrum, witnessed only by my dog who decided it would be in her best interest to vacate the vicinity post haste.
The meltdown moved on like a fast-moving thunderstorm on a hot summer’s day, and I took a deep breath. I remembered the Tibetan monks who create and destroy sand mandalas as part of their symbolic meditation on the transitory nature of material life. The monks use colored sand to create intricate works of art. For days and sometimes weeks, they work tirelessly as a group on these stunning creations, chanting and meditating over them to bring out the healing energies of the deities represented within the mandala. Once the mandala is finished, in an equally ordered and painstaking manner, they dismantle their work of art, pour it into a jar, and release the sand into a river so the healing powers held within each grain of sand can flow toward the ocean and disperse their positivity.
This afternoon, the cupcakes were my mandala. I diligently created them. And during their birth, I had been fully present in the moment, incorporating all my love for my son into my task. The cupcakes were not about me, and they were not for me. They were an act of love, positive energy, and goodwill. I chanted a mental Om, scraped the superfluous icing into the disposal, washed the dishes, and wiped down the counters. I packed up 24 cupcakes and launched the rest into the trash lest they end up in my belly. We will share the spoils with friends tomorrow. But today I will recognize this experience for what it is, a sticky-note reminder that life is full of discomfort, disappointment, suffering, and change. To find peace, I’ve got to learn to let go and let my inner Tibetan monk guide my thoughts. I wonder how I can get him to the surface more often? Maybe he likes cupcakes?