Help A Brother Out…Talk About Man Jeans Today

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is to be honest and talk about things openly, especially when the thing we need to discuss might make us or someone we care about uncomfortable. At some point, however, the truth needs to be spoken, no matter how ugly it might be. To move beyond it, to improve our life and the lives of those around us, we must be brave. We must face the thing that frightens us and remove its fangs so it can gnash its teeth at us no more. I’m here today to open a dialogue about such a topic.

There is an epidemic among middle-age men in this country, an unheralded scourge that has been spreading each year, leaving more and more unfortunate souls in its wake. Each day, I encounter an ever-increasing number of victims who suffer from this disease. Sadly, most sufferers remain unaware of their sickness, unable to identify the thing that is causing women to point and giggle behind their backs. That sickness, my friends, is man jeans. Yes. Man jeans. There. I’ve said it.

Bad jeans all around…but it was 1998.
Bad jeans all around…but it was 1998. That’s my story.

Now, I know there has been a lot of blog time spent on mom jeans. Saturday Night Live lampooned them in a skit back in 2003. Mom jeans, with their nine inch zippers, pleated fronts, and roomy seat are touted to fit even the least active moms and be suitable for any occasion. Yes. It’s true. The post-child female body doesn’t always fit back into those darling, low-slung, hip hugging jeans from our pre-child-bearing days. Sometimes moms need something with a little higher rise to hold in the residual baby bump and to reduce the disfiguring effects of the dreaded muffin top. This is why mom jeans were first invented, and why women bought them. But eventually women began clamoring for something more attractive to wear for the years between Abercrombie skinny jeans and Goodwill-bought, elastic-waist, polyester, granny pants, and clothing makers rose to the challenge. Stores devoted entirely to the purveyance of the best fitting denim for most any shape and size sprouted up, and moms began finding fashion again. While it’s true that with the switch to designer denim we had to give up no-fuss, washer/dryer care, as well as abandon that little bit of pleated expansion space that left us room to sneak off and ingest an extra cupcake or three at the block party, designer jeans made motherhood and midlife a lot sexier. For each woman turned from away from mom jeans, though, the disparity in the denim choices between the sexes grew until we arrived where we are today…with a preponderance of middle-age men wearing man jeans while the women who love them stand by in their fashionable denim, shaking their heads and wondering when they married this old geezer.

An unidentified man and a cute toddler wearing man jeans. The toddler is pulling it off.
An unidentified man and a cute toddler wearing man jeans. Note: the toddler is pulling them off.

I’ve heard it said that many men hit what they feel is the best year of their life and become lodged there permanently. It’s their happy place. Based on the outfit choices of most middle-age men I know (and, unfortunately, at 46 I know a lot of middle-age men), they gave up on themselves sometime during the Clinton Presidency. For those of you in the dark about what exactly qualifies as “man jeans,” let me point you in the right direction by putting it in simple, Jeff Foxworthy-worthy language for you.

If your jeans came with a tag that said “relaxed,” “loose,” or “comfy” fit, you might be wearing man jeans.

If you’ve had your jeans since college and you were in college over 10 years ago, you might be wearing man jeans.

If your jeans came from LL Bean, Kohl’s, Land’s End, Bass Pro Shops, or any outlet store, you might be wearing man jeans.

If you require a belt to keep your jeans up or you’ll end up looking like those “hoodlum” kids you complain about, the ones who wear the waist of their jeans below their boxer shorts, you might be wearing man jeans.

If your idea of shopping involves grabbing a pair of 36″ x 34″ jeans off a wall to fit your 34″ x 34″ body without ever considering trying them on, you might be wearing man jeans.

If there is so much excess room in the butt of your jeans that you could drop a load in there and no one would be the wiser, you might be wearing man jeans.

If your favorite pair of jeans has sparkly embellishments on the pockets, well…then, I’m afraid you might be wearing your wife’s jeans.

I understand that most men don’t like to shop. You hate spending money on clothing, and if I tell you it might cost you $200 for a good-fitting pair of quality denim that will last, you are going to tell me exactly how many beers you could buy with that cash today. But at some point, men, you’ve got to face facts. You’re middle aged. Your pecs have seen better days, you’ve got clothing older than your children, your new boss is ten years younger than you, and the hair on your head is thinning while the hair in your nose is coming in nicely. And, it sucks. But are you ready to cash it in? Should we just hand out grandpa pants, the fetching ones that you can pull all the way to your burgeoning man boobs? Put on a pair of your jeans. Take a good, long, hard look at yourself in a full length mirror and acknowledge that you’re not the man you once were. You’re better. You’re smarter, wiser, and more successful than you were twenty years ago. You deserve designer denim. And if you pick up a pair of raw denim, you won’t even have to wash them for six months. 😀

If You’re Not Hungry Enough To Eat An Apple….

Some fine table manners right there.
Some fine table manners right there, I tell you. Come get him, girls. 

Dinnertime is frustrating for every mom. I think that’s just a universal reality. If you’re lucky enough to belong to a family where your children sit at the dining table and eat all the food you cook (or microwave or pick up at the drive-thru window) without complaining or begging to watch television or texting or playing video games or burping the alphabet, if you belong to a family where mealtime each evening is a pleasant affair where your family calmly and politely discusses the events of their day over the mutual breaking of bread, well, then throw yourself a frigging fish. You’ve got yourself and your family trained better than circus seals.

I spent the first eight years of our sons’ lives desperately trying to make dinnertime a good experience for all. Nearly every evening, somewhere between Luke’s penchant for puking at the sight of any food of which he does not immediately approve (which narrows the family menu down to chicken nuggets, steak, or pizza) and Joe’s ADHD-driven inability to sit for more than three minutes, our dinner routine would downward spiral its way into cajoling, shouting, bribing, and eventually crying, most of the time on my part. Around the time the boys turned seven and nine, I decided that I’d had enough. I’m a slow learner, but I eventually catch on. I gave up trying to make our boys well-rounded eaters who used manners and ate everything on their plates without argument. I figured their wives could figure out how to do that someday. I had less frustrating things to focus on, like teaching them math facts and educating my husband about proper shoe storage. If I take the time to teach my boys everything polite society would have them know, when would I have time to drink wine?

Eventually, the boys did learn to eat more foods just as I suspected they would. And I figured out some meals that I could prepare that all four of us could ingest without anyone puking or swearing or even crying. It has taken me many, many years, but I’ve finally gotten dinnertime running nearly as smoothly and reliably as a 10-year-old Honda. Tonight, for example, I served grilled chicken (courtesy of my husband), pasta for the boys, quinoa salad for hubby and I, steamed broccoli, and fresh strawberries. We had a brief flirtation with polite conversation before Joe spilled his entire glass of ice water all over his brother. Somehow, once that was mopped up, we still managed to have 10 minutes of cordial mealtime. Because the boys are growing and sucking down food with the unbridled ferocity of our Dyson vacuum, our table time is minimal, but I don’t care. When it’s over, if all the food is gone and we managed more than few grunts in between scarfing bites, my goal has been successfully achieved. The kitchen gets cleaned, the table wiped down, and I slink upstairs to our bedroom where I hope to become like the Cheshire Cat and fade into the bed so that I won’t be noticed for the rest of the night. My work is finished.

Or is it? Every night between 8:45-9:30, Joe decides he’s ready for “second dinner.” Now, I never planned to condone the notion of second dinner. Dinner is served just once. That’s how it was in the house where I grew up, and that is how I planned for it to be in our home. Life, however, laughed at my plans. Joe takes medication for ADHD, and that medication is a stimulant that deeply reduces his appetite while it’s on board. Because he doesn’t eat much at lunch, consuming approximately the daily caloric intake of a waif-like, chain-smoking, Diet-Coke-swilling runway model, he is famished by dinner. That hunger is merely pacified by the full meal I prepare at our usual dinnertime, which leads us to second dinner. Second dinner, it was long ago decided, is his problem. By the time second dinner rolls around, the cook has gone home for the night.

Tonight I went down to refill my water bottle and found Joe staring longingly into the stainless, silver box in our kitchen, both doors wide open in an effort to cool the room, apparently.

“I think I am going to make this salmon,” he announced, hastily grabbing a frozen fish steak from the lowest tray in the freezer.

“Ummmm….no,” I replied. “You’re not flash-thawing salmon and then cooking it. That will take about 45 minutes. What other ideas do you have?”

He dropped his head, begrudgingly returned the salmon steak to its home, and closed the freezer door. He then inched his way closer to the open refrigerator side and peered in.

“You could make me some sautéed kale,” he suggested.

“Ha. Good one,” I replied. “I’m not cooking anything. The kitchen is clean and it’s closed.”

“I could do it myself,” he said.

“You’re going to wash and chop kale and sauté it on the stove and then eat it?” I said with a bit too much incredulity.

“I could,” he replied.

“You could if the kitchen wasn’t closed,” I reminded.

I was getting annoyed by this process. Why couldn’t the kid eat a bowl of cereal like his father would be doing in an hour? Why does everything have to be a production? He should just plan to head to Broadway after high school. I’m sure he would fit right in there.

“You know, Joe? Eat some baby carrots. Eat an apple. No cooking.” He stared me down with his steely teenage glare. He’s practicing his intimidation, but he’s not quite tall enough yet for that to be working for him with me. I continued, “Dude, if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry. Period.”

He shrugged, picked his iPad off the counter, and headed up the stairs. Game. Set. Match.

I was pretty proud of my brain for coming up with that appropriate little nugget of wisdom, discovered just this week courtesy of a Facebook meme, and perfectly echoed in this clutch situation. Sometimes, Mom, you’ve still got it, I told myself. Now, if I could convince myself to live by that phrase, perhaps I could be swimsuit-ready by the time pool season gets underway.

Asleep At The Wheel Again…ADHD and Motherhood

The day my 8 year old decided to cut his own hair and photograph it.
The day my 8 year old decided to cut his own hair and record the event. Not his best decision-making moment, but it has made for some good laughs.

It’s laundry day. Well…actually, every day is laundry day, but today I finally decided to toss a couple loads into the washer. As I collected the boys’ hamper, I noticed that Joe had thrown a couple of his jackets in. I hate it when he does that. Sometimes the hamper is replete with clean clothes he tried on but decided not to wear. While I’m grateful that he’s finally learned to put his clothes into a hamper after thirteen years, he now puts everything in there. He often puts his shoes in there. His shoes. It’s much easier to toss everything into the bin than to put it away, right? It keeps the floor clean and then he doesn’t have to listen to me complain about that too. It’s genius, actually. A simple, expedient filing system that gets me off his back, at least for the present moment. And Joe is 100% in the present moment all the time.

Frustrated by the discovery of the jackets, I confronted him.

“Joe…why are these coats in here?”

“I wore them,” he said with typical teenage attitude, eyeing me like I am a moron for not realizing that dirty clothes go in the hamper.

“You can wear a jacket more than once before it needs to be washed. Unless it’s got a stain or it stinks, you should just hang it up to wear again,” I informed him.

He appeared uninterested.

“Every time you do this, it’s more work for me. I know we’ve talked about this before,” I said with the usual tone of parental disappointment that is meant to encourage enough self-reflection and remorse to induce self-awakening and, hopefully, an apology. If you’re wondering if it ever works, the answer is no.

“I know,” he admitted.

“Well, then, why do you keep doing it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t mean to do it. It just happens on accident all the time.”

And, there it is. A succinct description of exactly what ADHD is. Joe’s ADHD includes impulsivity, inattention to detail, and inability to focus. So many times when he was younger I would repeatedly scold him for the same behaviors. Once, before we’d diagnosed his ADHD, I asked him why he kept chewing on his shirts even though we had discussed ad nauseam that he needed to stop doing it. He said he didn’t know why he did it. He knew it was wrong, but he simply couldn’t help it. That explanation was mind numbing. Here was a kid who was obviously intelligent, who could repeat minutiae about different dinosaurs from different epochs, remembering the dates they existed and statistics about their size and weight, but there he stood telling me he didn’t know why he kept gnawing his clothing like he was a goat. As a parent, it frustrated the living hell out of me. How could he be so smart yet so unaware at the same time?

When we had Joe evaluated for ADHD, the psychiatrists at Children’s Hospital explained to me that the frontal lobe of Joe’s brain simply doesn’t work the way mine does, ultimately leading to his greater difficulty in choosing between good and bad actions. As a child, if I was punished for something one time, the frontal lobe of my brain would remind me of that event and help me make better choices the next time I encountered a similar situation. Joe’s frontal lobe, however, simply isn’t as active as mine. The doctors explained that it is as if there is a little man in there whose job is to help him make good choices but that little man continually falls asleep on the job. It wasn’t until much later, when Joe better understood himself and his brain, that he was able to admit that his inability to stop negative behaviors when he knew they were wrong frustrated the living hell out of him too. We’ve spent the years since his diagnosis working to understand how we can help Joe and what we simply need to accept is part of his make up. It’s a work in progress.

I’m laughing now thinking about the question I posed to Joe earlier. I know how he works. I just needed to remind him again and move on. He will eventually stop putting clean clothes in the hamper, just like he eventually started putting dirty ones in there. It’s merely going to take a lot of patience and a lot of repetition. Six years into my understanding of this ADHD world, I am still making silly parenting mistakes with Joe.

You’ve got to wonder when the little man in my frontal lobe started taking so many naps.

The Gremlin and The Missing Ski Sock

One lonely, Smartwool, shark-festooned ski sock. Just one.
One boy’s lonely, Smartwool, shark-themed ski sock. Just one. It breaks my heart.

Last Wednesday morning, before our son left for his three-day adventure at Outdoor Lab, we unpacked and repacked his gear bag a final time. I wanted to make sure that he knew where everything was and to verify again against the packing checklist provided by the camp that he had everything he needed. I also secretly hoped it would increase the chance that he would come home with everything that was originally packed in the bag. The probability that Joe would come home sans at least one item was high. This is the kid who has famously come home wearing only one shoe. One shoe. Don’t even ask. But hope springs eternal, and I am always optimistic that the kid might just surprise me someday. And I like to set him up for success, so we discussed the bag, its contents, and my expectations.

“Listen,” I said, “The only things in this bag that I really care about are your ski socks. I mean, I’d prefer you come home with everything, but the ski socks are at the top of my list of items I’d like to see returned on Friday, okay?”

To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure why I was telling him about the socks. They weren’t the most expensive item he was packing or the most important. I suppose I was thinking about the plans we had to ski early on Saturday morning and simply hoping to avoid a last-minute, Friday-night trip to REI before closing to replace yet another pair of ski socks.

“Okay,” he replied, messing with the flashlight he was packing.

“I was thinking that one sure way to make sure the ski socks make it home is if you wait to wear them until Friday. Then they will be on your feet when you return. Just keep them in your bag and wear them Friday.”

“Okay,” he answered again, clearly listening to me with a quarter of his left ear only. Teenage boys can be such great listeners and even more impressive conversationalists.

Having given him what I envisioned were adequate tools and preparation, I sent him off to Outdoor Lab with relative peace of mind.

Friday afternoon when he arrived back from camp, exhausted and disheveled, the first thing he said to me before even getting into the car with his gear was, “I’m not sure I have both of my ski socks.”

I glared at him.

“I mean, I think they both might be in the bag, but I only remember for sure seeing one of them.”

I glowered.

“You’d better hope they are both there,” I said.

“I’ll check while we’re waiting for Luke,” he said as he began rifling through his belongings in the back of the car.

Of course, there were not two socks. Why would there be? It had been my only request. If you say you want something, you’re about 100% certain to miss out on that exact thing. Call it Murphy’s Law. Call it a jinx upon yourself. Whatever. I’d set myself up for certain disappointment when I made that request. You’d think by now I would know better than to verbalize anything like wishes.

Now, I’d like to say that I was totally zen about the revelation of the missing sock. I’d like to say that I took it in stride, like a patient, understanding, and loving mother. I’d like to say that my yoga training reminded me to take a deep breath and have the presence of mind to realize it’s just a damn sock. I’d like to say those things. I can’t. Truth is that, after I too checked the bag to substantiate the missing sock, I went the teensiest bit ballistic. Let’s just say that my response was less Buddha-esque and more Godzilla destroying Tokyo. I’m not proud of it, but after 46 years I’ve had to admit that I am actually human and capable of a great deal of ill-advised moves. This was one of those times.

After my little meltdown, I left Joe to sit in his corner and stew while I retreated to mine. I’m sure he was mentally shoving dirty socks in my mouth while I sat indignant, annoyed, and pouting. It was the principle of the thing, right? Sure. It was one sock, but these kids have cost us a fortune with the vortex they’ve created into which one sock from each pair of socks they own continually seems to disappear. As I took some deep breaths and let go of some of my righteous indignation, perspective began to creep in. It was a sock. What was I doing? Why did I care so much about it? I tried to ascertain what the loss of one, grey, Smartwool, shark-emblazoned sock represented because clearly it went way more than wool deep with me.

I walked to Joe’s room, knocked, and waited to be invited in. I sat down and told him my truth.

“You see, Joe, the thing is that part of my job as Mom is keeping things in this house together for our family. I’m Chief Equipment Manager. I’ve spent fourteen years doing things like making sure each deck of cards has 52 members, each DVD and video game is in its case, and each person has enough basics like socks, underwear, and pants without holes. It sounds crazy, but someone has to do it. Every time a sock goes missing, it’s like someone’s chipping away at my efficacy as household manager. At the end of the day, when you take off two socks and toss them aside because you don’t care and can’t be bothered to put them together into the hamper, I feel like there’s no respect for how hard I work to keep us all together and functioning. I’m sure it doesn’t make any sense to you. It is just a sock, but somehow it’s more than that to me. I am sorry for yelling at you, though. I overreacted.”

He looked at me thoughtfully and apologized too.

I’m not sure he completely understood what I was getting at, but he was making an effort. He might be a little more careful with his belongings…at least for a few days while the memory of my tirade is still fresh in his mind and the loss of two week’s worth of his allowance to buy a new pair of $20 ski socks is still stinging a bit.

A wise friend of mine has taught me that most of the time when we lose our shit over a little thing, like a sock, for example, there’s a gremlin hiding there. The gremlin is a much more dangerous but largely unacknowledged beast that takes that little thing and through the magic of mind-trickery and shadow puppetry turns it into deceptively larger but illusionary creature. My gremlins often creep out when I feel undervalued, invisible, and inadequate. This sock monster was a perfect illustration of how much work I have yet to do on combatting and ultimately containing my gremlins. Sooner or later, I hope I will learn not to give my gremlins water, feed them after midnight, or expose them to light.

The Sky Falls…Get Used To It

When the sky gives you snow, go snowshoeing.
When the sky gives you snow, go snowshoeing.

Denver was expecting a big snowstorm this weekend. On Friday, the weather forecasters on all the local channels had everyone in full on survival mode with Winter Storm Warnings posted for counties all along the Front Range. Ahead of the storm, grocery stores were packed with people and short on food. There were lines at gas stations, and events were cancelled in advance of what might possibly be up to 18 inches of snow over 48 hours. (Go ahead and laugh at us, Boston and Buffalo. We deserve it.) While all the preparations were going on, I shook my head and made plans to see a movie. I knew we had enough food to survive weeks even if it meant we would have to eat canned tuna and white rice, so I went back to watching Season 2 of Scandal. After a lifetime in Colorado, I don’t spend much time worrying about snow. It’s cold. It’s white. It happens. Every single year. Many times. We own shovels, all-wheel drive cars with snow tires, and skis, for sweet baby Jesus’s sake. I’m not exactly sure why snow surprises people. We freaking live here at a mile high where it can snow pretty much any time between September and May, and it does. While it can be annoying when the first flake of snow falls before summer has officially ended or when we’re halfway through spring and our tulips and daffodils get crushed under a heavy, wet, spring snow, it’s hardly shocking. It’s par for the course.

It’s Sunday evening as I write this. Most of the storm has passed, and we have about 8 inches of snow on the ground, which is not surprisingly less than was forecast. The snow continues to fall lightly, but the roads are plowed. They are icy in spots but not impassable. Even when the heaviest snow was moving through last night and the visibility was diminished, hubby and I were able to return home from an afternoon viewing of American Sniper without incident by driving cautiously in the blowing snow. So far it appears, to the great chagrin of our sons, that most schools will be open tomorrow. And after two snowy days, the sun is even scheduled to make an appearance. As I predicted, the sky, while yielding snowfall, has not itself fallen. The world will go on.

What I’ve been puzzling over all weekend is the way we Americans get ourselves in a tizzy over everything these days. We’ve come a long way from the American pioneers who drove wagons pulled by oxen over unmapped territory, encountering new landscapes and sometimes grumpy natives, without assistance from the National Weather Service, CNN, and global positioning systems. Sadly, we’ve become a nation full of Chicken Littles who thrive on drama. Perhaps it’s because we live in the cushiest time yet experienced that we’ve become completely paralyzed by the notion of adversity? You’d think with all the information available to us we would find ourselves at greater ease. Instead we experience the opposite. The news overwhelms us. Everything we hear causes panic. We live in fear of everything from Ebola to measles, terrorism to random acts of violence, natural disasters to run-of-the-mill snowstorms. What I can’t decide is if we are so conditioned as human beings to endure calamity (fight or flight, you know) that in the relative absence of it we can’t help but continually ready ourselves for it. Is it because of our human makeup that we are unable to relax or have we with our non-stop, 24-hours-a-day news cycles created a relentless culture of fear?

I’m sure I don’t have the answer to these questions. I simply know that we become stressed far too easily these days over things that aren’t really worth the worry. And if I get to the store tomorrow and find it devoid of milk, eggs, and toilet paper because the storm crazies preparing for a veritable Snowmageddon snarfed it all up on Friday when I was binge watching Scandal, everything will still be fine. I just won’t be making any omelets.

 

 

 

Boldness Is Another Word For Temporary Insanity

Taking the plunge…holding up my top with one hand and telling the world to shut it with the other.
Taking the plunge and holding up my top with one hand while telling the world to shut its big, fat, negative yap with the other.

Damn Facebook and their annoying, personalized, Minority-Report-level-of-creepy pop-up ads. It’s depressing when Facebook reminds you of who you are. It consistently vexes me when an ad pops up for the exact shirt I looked at online yesterday. I want to shout to the heavens…You don’t know me. Yes. Maybe I briefly toyed with the idea of that shirt yesterday. But I am a different person now. Maybe I changed my mind. Maybe I don’t like that shirt anymore. Back off! You don’t know my life! But, alas, they do.

And it is because of Facebook and the existence of profiles and cookies and other Internet hocus pocus that I do not yet fully comprehend that I today impetuously spent $400 and 50,000 frequent flyer miles I’d saved up for years on something that up until the very second it appeared on my screen I had no idea existed. Today I registered for BlogU, a weekend conference for women, moms, bloggers, and writers that will take place in Baltimore in June. I clicked on the ad, saw that the conference was being hosted by a few successful, female bloggers on sites I recognized (like Scary Mommy), checked out the seminar topics, noticed that there was an option for a “single room” that was rapidly selling out, jumped the gun, and bought myself a seat at the table. Just like that.

After I’d received my emailed confirmation, though, the panic set in. What the hell are you thinking? You are going to have to TALK to other women now. In real life. For three days. Women you have never met before. Women who are probably better writers than you will ever be. The doubt began to seep in. Suspecting the insidious negativity demon was planning an all-out mental assault, I quickly pulled up the site for United Airlines, logged into my account, and booked a round-trip flight to Baltimore for the first weekend in June. Boom! 

I sat back and stared at the confirmation on my screen, simultaneously dumbfounded and impressed, cycling between abject terror and confident detachment. My whole impulsive display of bravado boiled down to a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” It doesn’t get much bolder for a confidence-challenged, fledgling blogger than registering for a conference for writers. It first requires a belief that you deserve to be in that company of writers.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me what career I would want if I could choose to begin it tomorrow. And, for the first time ever, my ideal job description was easy to articulate: I want to write what I want and make money doing it. Now, I don’t live under a rock. I know this is the dream of every poor and frustrated writer on the planet and probably some in outer space too if we are, as I suspect, not entirely alone. Still, I’ve wanted this ever since I was a girl and I stumbled upon a copy of Erma Bombeck’s The Grass is Always Greener over the Septic Tank. As I perused the pages of that book back in my grandmother’s bathroom in Buffalo, New York, I realized that there was a woman out there who was being paid to write her mind. I tucked that knowledge away in the deep crevasses in my brain. A couple of weeks ago it bubbled to the surface and skittered its way out of my mouth before I had the chance to swallow it with good sense again.

Truth is that I’m tired of the self-doubt. I’m tired of the second guessing, the pooh-poohing, the maybe-somedaying. I’m not the best writer on the planet, but I’m not the worst either. Yes. Anyone can write. And it seems that anyone and everyone does. We all have a forum these days. But, there is a time to make an investment in your dream and to have faith in yourself…or at least to be willing to research the possibility of it. I’ve reached that point. And I have a few months to work with my therapist on developing self-confidence or at least the bullshit skills to fake-it-until-you-make-it. I’m hoping that in four months’ time I’ll be able to converse in person with other writers. Maybe even without having to consume a half of a bottle of wine first.

Going Left Shark

Image credit (http://www.eonline.com/eol_images/Entire_Site/201512/rs_560x388-150202131054-1024.Katy-Perry-Super-Bowl-Shark.2.ms.020115_copy.jpg)
Image courtesy of EOnline.

 

Like many Americans, I watched the Super Bowl a couple of days ago with my family. For the most part, we were not invested in the outcome of the game, with the exception of our youngest who a year ago became a staunch New England Patriots fan (presumably just to vex the rest of us). We were tuned in for the spectacle and the ads and the cultural experience. No one wants to be left out of the conversation on Post Super Bowl Monday when the country is engaging in deep commercial analysis and heated game commentary. One thing our entire family agreed upon was that we were looking forward to seeing what Katy Perry would do at half-time. While none of us are huge Katy Perry fans, we all like her well enough and were decidedly more interested in her show than any of the half-time shows in the past five years. So we watched.

When Katy came out dressed in flames, channeling her inner Katniss Everdeen, and riding a jungle cat for Roar, we were duly impressed. But when Teenage Dream began and the sharks came out, we lost our minds. Seriously. We couldn’t stop giggling over those dang sharks. Joe, our resident Sharkboy, immediately requested a similar costume for Halloween in 9 months. The dancing beach balls and palm trees were fun too, but the sharks were stars. As good as Katy was, no one could mistake that she was being upstaged by sharks. Twitterverse blew up with all kinds of hashtags…#KatyPerrySharks, #dancingsharks, and #superbowlsharks. And pretty soon there were dancing shark memes to pass around. The country apparently felt the same way we did. We fell in love with them en masse.

And nearly as quickly as the shark love affair began, people began singling out the Left Shark (the one on the viewer’s left) as their favorite. There’s always a favorite, right? While the Right Shark was flawlessly performing a highly choreographed dance routine, the Left Shark looked a little off cue, a little goofy, a little devil-may-care. He was the class clown, there for the laugh. Soon everyone was tweeting about #LeftShark. There was an immediate assumption that the Left Shark forgot his choreography and that’s why his movements weren’t in sync with the Right Shark. But the show’s choreographer went on record saying that the Left Shark performed exactly as he was supposed to. And everyone loved him, including me. Right Shark? What Right Shark? Who cares? So conventional. Boooooring!

This morning, though, I was thinking a bit about Right Shark and how he’s been relatively ignored while Left Shark has gone onto Internet infamy. People are saying that he should have been the Super Bowl MVP. I can almost hear Right Shark using his most Jan Brady voice and exclaiming loudly, “Left Shark! Left Shark! Left Shark!” It seems so unfair. I can relate to Right Shark…out there, doing his job, behaving as expected, and feeling unnoticed and under-appreciated. We tend to overlook the thing that is a constant. We tend to notice the novel, the amusing, the different.

Still…there’s something valuable to be learned from the Left Shark phenomenon. We admire someone who can cut loose and have a good time. We laugh at the class clown. We appreciate the one who is brave enough to stand out. We all have that friend who, while perhaps unreliable, always gets invited because they’re just that much fun that the occasional hassle they present is 100% worth it. They say that, in the end, it’s the way you make someone feel that matters most. So we love the Left Sharks of this world because they spread joy, reminding us that life is too short to take seriously.

Go a little Left Shark this week. See what happens.

 

 

 

 

These Weirdos Are My Tribe

These weirdos are your tribe.
Weirdos preparing for the polar plunge on a 4 degree day.

“When you find people who not only tolerate your quirks but celebrate them with glad cries of ‘Me too!’ be sure to cherish them because those weirdos are your tribe.” ~Anonymous

I am a writer. I am also socially inept. I’m not sure if the social ineptitude is a result of the writing or if I write because I want to appear less socially inept. Either way works, I guess. Let’s just go with the notion that I’m awkward. I’m not in tune with other people’s feelings. Blame it on my being INTJ. Blame it on my ill breeding. Blame it on the aliens who abducted me as a child and conducted sloppy experiments on my brain. All I know is it is what it is. In forty-six years, I haven’t been able to outgrow it.

Every August, our sons’ school holds their annual Back to School Night. They host a tastefully catered meal for parents to enjoy while they go over school policy minutiae before sending us off to our children’s classrooms to receive more information that we of course will promptly forget. I’m sure many people look forward to these type of social events, a chance to get together again with friends from last year and to meet new people. Frankly, I’d rather have my spleen removed by a 10-year-old surgeon wielding a teaspoon as a his primary implement. I have to drink two glasses of wine before I go simply so I will be somewhat comfortable making small talk. Small talk stresses me out. Small talk is never small talk. The amount of effort small talk takes makes it big talk.

This year, we arrived at the dinner and found out that it was not going to be out on the lawn because of the threat of rain. They had the dinner set up inside the gym. I prefer the outdoor setting because it’s easier to flake out when you are in open surroundings. Still, we went inside, like socially weird teenagers, praying we’d get in and get out without being guilted into signing up for any random committees we’d rather die than be on.

We weren’t in there long before a couple we remembered as the parents of one of Luke’s friends from the previous year approached us. We didn’t know them very well, but I sensed they wanted to be there about as much as we did. We exchanged some pleasantries and they asked us to come join them at their table. Having fairly successfully avoid social interaction at the school during the previous year, we had no one else to sit with so we dragged our paper plates to their table. I tried my best to be cordial, but holy cheeses that is hard for me. At some point, I notice how weird that thing I just uttered was and then I begin to spiral clockwise in a whirling toilet flush of social doom. One way or another we got through the dinner, and Steve went with them to Luke’s class while I ducked out to sit in Joe’s classroom in my girl-in-the-plastic-bubble-of-pitiful-but-comfortable-silence sort of way.

On the way home, Steve and I had our usual debriefing about the night’s events.

“I think Lynne is trying to make friends with you,” he said.

“No. I don’t think so. They just didn’t want to sit alone. You know you’re always looking for someone you sort of know so you don’t end up with the new crazies you don’t know at all. Lesser of two evils,” I retorted.

“She came right over to you,” he replied. “Maybe she likes you.” What is this? Third grade? I started wondering if he thought she was trying to pass me a note. I played it off.

“Only because she doesn’t know me,” I said. “There’s a reason I don’t make friends easily.”

“Yes. It’s because you don’t know when people are reaching out.”

It’s true. I’m obtuse. I have never been successful at discerning when people are being nice because they feel they have to be nice or when they are being nice because they truly want to. I’m simultaneously suspicious, pragmatic, and cautiously optimistic. I tend to assume the worst, expect the mediocre, but subconsciously hope for the best. I’m complicated. It’s no wonder I don’t make friends easily.

Over the past few months, Lynne made a concerted effort to set up a couple of opportunities for our boys to get together. Her initial efforts made it much easier for me to insinuate myself into her life like a fungus. And it turns out we have a lot in common, like introversion, yoga, a penchant for expletives, a taste for fine vodka and any kind of wine, a troubling addiction to internet memes, and a gift for dry sarcasm. In other words, we’re awesome, something she was intuitive enough to ascertain before I did.

In so many ways, I remain the dorky kid who walked to my first day at a new school in third grade in handmade clothes feeling like an anomaly in a sea of popular and normal. The friends I’ve made over the past few years have all reached out to me first, which is a good thing because otherwise I’d still be standing stiffly in the corner, gazing at my feet, wondering why no one likes me. Every day I cherish these friends who made the effort and who have been able to recognize that my crazy is simpatico with their crazy. These weirdos are my tribe.

 

And Just Like That All Was Right In The Universe

Squeeeeeeee!
Squeeeeeeee!

Sometimes you just know things are meant to be.

A little over a month ago, I told my husband that if The Decemberists (an Indie folk rock band I’m partial to) scheduled a concert in Denver this spring or summer, I would be there. I’ve already seen them in concert. A few years ago I stood in a cramped theater surrounded by hipsters with long beards, swept up in a sea of flannel, and swore to my friend I would see them live in concert again. And then I told hubby that the scheduling of said concert could possibly preclude all sorts of previous engagements, including but not limited to graduations, anniversaries, vacations, and surgeries. I kept checking their site for a concert announcement while waiting for their latest album to drop. And drop it did. Today. Nothing makes a lousy Tuesday masquerading as a Monday better than the long-anticipated release of new music.

This afternoon, I got a concert alert stating that yes, in fact, The Decemberists will be bringing their North American tour to Denver this spring. I’m not going to lie. I did squee a bit when I saw the message title. When I opened the actual message and examined it a little more closely, however, I honestly released a sound that was somewhere between a girly squeal and a coyote yip. I didn’t even know I could make a noise like that. Not only are The Decemberists coming to town, but they are coming to my favorite venue, the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater. On my birthday. And Spoon is opening up for them; tickets for their last show here sold out before I got one and now they are coming back as if to make it up to me. Are you kidding? Did I mention this is all going to happen on my birthday? On. My. Birthday.

I know I am an infinitesimal speck of dust in an unfathomable universe. I know that by comparison this one event is meaningless and smaller than the smallest particle comprising a grain of sand when you compare it to something like this photo of the Andromeda Galaxy. But, when things like this happen…when everything seems divined by some higher, magnificent power…I take note. I stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and wallow in perfection because I know that this the-world-is-amazing-and-I-am-so-fortunate-to-be-alive feeling of utter joy will pass soon enough, probably when I have to deal with Joe’s science fair experiment again. Luckily, that too has only the importance of the tiniest particle on a microscopic particle comprising a grain of sand, so it’s all good. The universe is awesome.

Sadists Invented Science Fair

IMG_4981
Joe and his 4th grade science fair project

It’s Science Fair time again. How the hell did we get back here again so quickly? I swear I just put last year’s science fair boards into the recycle bin. Am I in a time warp?

This year, Joe wanted to do his science fair project on how today’s supermarket bread doesn’t grow mold because of preservatives. He thought it would be interesting to see how long it takes organic bread to mold compared to conventional bread. We talk a lot in this house about our food, about food transparency, and about how we deserve to know what is in our food before we ingest it. We try to be healthy with our eating habits. I prepare whole foods, buy organic most of the time, and watch their sugar intake when I can. I do allow splurges because I’m not going to be Diet Hitler and slap bad foods from my sons’ hands before it reaches their mouths. (Although it sure would be helpful if someone would do that for me.) Food is something Joe thinks about. So he wanted to investigate preservatives more fully and designed his science fair proposal so he could do just that. His idea was rejected, however, along with the ideas of many classmates, because the experiment part was not deemed difficult enough.

Now, I love science. I do. I find it fascinating, and I understand the importance of getting children involved in it with hands-on discovery. But, I thought the main impetus for science fair projects was to foster genuine interest in science. These kids aren’t inventing the wheel. They’re showing how an alkaline interacts with a base (hello, baking soda volcano) or how plants grow better with healthier soil. The science experiments at this age aren’t meant to solve a world dilemma. I’m sure there are national contests that turn toward higher level concepts, but this is not what is going on at the boys’ school. Last year, the science fair winner at their school was an experiment about whether mood rings work on cats. As creative as that project was, I’m pretty sure no one won a Nobel Prize with it. Still…it got a darling little girl (and potential future crazy cat lady) interested in hypothesis and experiment, and I applaud that.

After Joe broke his disappointing news to me at pick up, I got cranky. Science fair makes me cranky to begin with. Multiply it by two school-challenged kids doing science fair projects simultaneously, and I border on downright hostile. Then, tell me that the idea that engaged Joe’s curiosity and interest in research wasn’t good enough, and I bear teeth like a grizzly. I poured a glass of wine early and got busy investigating back up ideas with him. As we were researching (and I was quietly muttering about voodoo dolls and black magic curses), we discovered something interesting. On every web site geared toward middle school science fair projects that we checked, the moldy bread experiment was mentioned. Curious.

Joe and I discussed two options: he can take the research in to show his teacher and fight for his perfectly appropriate project or he can come up with a new idea. One idea we’ve bantered around (in keeping with the same food/preservatives theme) is determining if food coloring can lead to increased pulse rates and hyperactivity. We suspect it does based on how his brother Luke reacts to food-colored candy, like Skittles, versus non-food colored candy, like chocolate, and how his mother feels her heart race when she eats Hot Tamales. We believe Red #40 and Yellow #5 are responsible for most of the insanity in our home. And Joe likes the idea of using his brother and mother as a human lab rats. I think that’s a middle school dream come true.

No matter what happens with Joe’s science fair project, I’ve determined one thing to be true. Joe’s teacher is a sadist conducting her own science experiment. She’s trying to see how many parents she can send over the edge.