Grand Gestures and Restraining Orders

One of these things is not like the others.
One of these things is not like the others.

Those who know me know that I despise Valentine’s Day. It’s partly because it’s never been a happily memorable holiday for me and partly because I’m highly pragmatic and figure if you’re not loving on the people who matter on a daily basis then one day isn’t going to help. Despite my antipathy towards this pseudo-holiday, though, my sons enjoy it. Or at least they enjoy the candy aspect. So every year I go out and buy candy for their classmates and make Valentine’s Day cards for the boys to write and hand out.

Over the weekend, the boys and I were discussing the Valentines they were going to give their friends.

“I don’t really want to write any out,” said Luke, hoping to avoid any extra work that even remotely felt like a homework chore.

“Even though it’s a pain to do, you might feel a bit awkward if everyone else in the class ends up handing them out and you don’t, Luke,” I nudged.

“Okay, okay,” he acquiesced. “I’ll do it.” There’s the male Valentine spirit I am used to…hands tied, forced to participate.

“There ya go,” I replied. “What about you, Joe? What are you thinking?” I asked.

“Oh…I want to hand them out. I have a plan.”

Now, Luke often has a plan. Luke is dreamer and a schemer. Joe? Not so much. He’s as straight forward and up front as you can get. I was curious. I raised an eyebrow at him.

“A plan, huh? What kind of plan?” I teased.

“I am going to write To and From on all the Valentines except one,” he said quite matter-of-factly.

“Oh…I see. And the one that’s the exception, would that one use a different word than From?”

“Yes,” he answered.

I knew exactly where this was going. Joe has had a small crush on a girl in his class all year. He can’t seem to decide on a best friend, but the boy knows a cute girl when he sees one.

“That’s pretty bold, Joe,” I said. “Women like a grand gesture.”

“It’s not a grand gesture. She’ll only figure it out if she sees that I didn’t write Love on anyone else’s card,” he said shyly.

“Yes. But you’re putting yourself out there, Joe. That’s brave and not at all easy to do. I’m proud of you.”

It was probably because I told him I liked his plan and was proud of him that he told me the very next day that he was not going to go through with it. It was too risky. I told him understood. I do. I didn’t tell my middle school crush I had a crush on him until we were 38 and at our 20-year high school reunion. Only then did inebriated and emboldened me take the time to seek him out and tell him that I regularly used to ride my bike by his house. I don’t know what I expected from my admission, but having him look at me as if he might be in need of a restraining order in the near future wasn’t my best case scenario. Admitting your feelings comes with a risk no matter how old you are. It never gets easier, but the younger you start the better off you will be.

Tonight I called the boys up to write out the cards so I could attach the treats and get them ready for dispersal at class. I left Joe with his class list and went on to other things. When I returned later and was slapping lollipops on the handmade, handwritten notes, I noticed that one of the notes did not have the customary From sign-off. One of them was clearly and neatly signed Love, Joe. It made my heart smile.

I still don’t like Valentine’s Day. I don’t. It’s hokey, commercial, and highly overrated. But this year I almost have reason to celebrate and it’s because of a card that wasn’t even written to me.

 

 

Do You Have The Chops?

That's me...jumping over fire at the Warrior Dash (which for me was really more of a warrior partial jog)
That’s me…jumping over fire at the Warrior Dash (which for me was really less of a dash and more of a warrior partial jog)

“Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This morning I found myself reflecting on my post from last night and considering how difficult it is for me to say no. I am getting better at it bit by bit, but it still troubles me that my inability to say no is such an obstacle to maintaining my sanity. Sometimes I’m willing to sacrifice my mental well-being and my free time because the immediate path of least resistance requires me to accept something I didn’t go looking for and don’t really want to do. And I will say yes against my better judgment merely to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Sad but true.

What’s more striking (and sad), however, is how rare it is for me to say yes to a true opportunity that I should embrace when it presents itself. There’s always an excuse as to why I shouldn’t take a risk or put myself out there. And, oddly, it’s easier for me to say yes to something I wholly do not want to do than it is for me to say yes to something that could truly benefit me and that I honestly desire.

With these thoughts in my head I was scrolling through the updates on my Facebook news feed today when I came across this video. Apparently Billy Joel was conducting a Q & A session at Vanderbilt University where he was set to play a concert. Students were taking turns in an auditorium posing questions to the Grammy-Award winning songwriter and performer. When one gentleman found it to be his turn at the microphone, instead of asking a typical question, this young man started with a statement. He told Joel that New York State of Mind was a favorite of his. Then he did something truly bold. With a trembling, tentative voice, he asked Joel if he might accompany him for a performance of that tune. The crowd in the auditorium gasped, presumably jointly thinking “What a presumptuous little creep.” But what happened next was pure magic. Joel agreed. The young man walked on stage, exchanged a few words with Joel at the piano, and began to play a well-practiced introduction to the song while Joel sized up the kid’s talent. Joel then stepped up to the microphone and sang the entire song. Afterwards he applauded the young musician, exchanged a few more words with him, and told the audience to remember the name Michael Pollock. He then paid him what I think is the ultimate compliment. The guy’s got chops.

After I watched the video, I found myself questioning whether I would have the nerve to ask for what I wanted in that same situation. I’m sure there were plenty of other students in that crowd that wanted the same thing Michael did but didn’t have the cajones to ask. Whether because of fear, some notion of the rules of etiquette, nerves, or a myriad of other reasons, they wouldn’t take the risk. Sadly, I’m positive I would not have either.

We often hear the tired cliches: Nothing ventured, nothing gained and You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. We know these statements are true, yet how often do we let our fear rule our actions? There was always the chance that Mr. Joel would have politely and respectfully told Michael he was not interested. But there was also always a chance that he would consent. Michael chose to focus on that potential positive outcome, and he bravely asked the question. It paid off. And now for the rest of his life Michael will remember that he once played accompaniment for Billy Joel to his favorite tune because he was ballsy enough to ask. What a memory he created for his life’s storybook.

Some people are born with chops. It comes naturally to them to ask for what they want and to say no when the feel like it. The rest of us need to earn our chops. We’ve got to work at it. We’ve got to conquer our nerves and our fears about conventionally accepted behaviors and we’ve got to be willing to go beyond them. It’s not easy. But with time and repeated success it does become easier. With that in mind, I have a new goal for myself. I’m going to start working towards my chops. I don’t want to spend my life wondering what if or realizing I let pivotal moments slip by because I was afraid. I may not have been born with balls, but I’m going to acquire some before my time here is through.

Growing A Spine ~ One Vertebrae At A Time

The drink that nearly caused me a stroke.

Yesterday I wrote about a big risk I’ve decided to take. But, as I was thinking this morning about the steps to becoming a braver, better me, I was confronted by the stark reality that it is honestly easier for me to take a big or foolish risk than it is for me to take a small and relatively painless one. Allow me to elucidate. This morning, I went for an inline skate. After about 9 miles on my wheels, I was hot, tired, and in need of a pick-me-up. I decided a trip to Starbucks was in order. I got back into my car and began rifling through my wallet to see how much cash I had. That’s when I saw it. A gold star card for a free drink. I looked into my crystal ball and spied a Venti Cool Lime Refresher in my immediate future. Come to mama, you green coffee goodness. Then, I flipped the card over. It expired on May 15th. Dammit.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right for thinking it. You’re thinking So what? Ask if you can use it anyway. Right? But, I am a rule follower, and I’m averse to small and completely harmless risks. Need someone to stand on a broken swivel chair on a concrete floor to retrieve a crate of broken glass on a high shelf? That I would do for you without a second thought because I’m not a worrier. I stand on swivel chairs all the time. (Sorry, Officer Buckle.) But, ask the clerk at Chipotle if they’d be willing to donate to the school’s annual silent auction? I’d get the cold sweats before breaking out in hives. Merely to attempt something like that I would need to consume several shots of high-quality vodka, and I’m not sure that’s the right way for a mom to go about asking for donations for a Christian academy’s silent auction.

I attribute this paralyzing fear of small risks to my parents who taught me not to be a bother. I can’t tell you how many times while growing up I was informed that “Children should be seen and not heard.” I was a good kid. I listened to them. I never questioned authority. I never broke a rule. I didn’t even ditch on Senior Ditch Day. You know that squeaky wheel? I was not it. I’m still that way, although I wish I wasn’t.

I sat staring at the card in my hand. Over three months expired. Not a day or two but THREE long months. I found a $10 bill in my wallet and an unused Starbucks gift card. I didn’t need to risk the humiliation of having a clerk tell me they couldn’t accept my free drink coupon. I would just pay for it. End of story. I started my car and put it in drive. Then I thought about Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “Do the thing you think you cannot do.” I’d never asked anyone before if I could use an expired coupon. It seemed so brazen. Could I do it? The internal struggle between my rule-following brain and my wanna-be brave soul reached a deafening crescendo in my head.

Finally, I decided. I would not let Eleanor down. I needed to look my fear, sad and stupid as it might seem, in the face. I went to Starbucks, ordered my drink, and handed the gal my expired coupon. I’d thought about going into a long explanation about how I’d just found it buried under a pile of papers in my house and could I please use it even thought it was expired, but decided instead just to hand it to her as if it were no big deal. Sure enough. It was no big deal. She handed me my drink, told me to have a nice day, and I pulled away from the drive-thru window feeling like Bonnie minus Clyde. I know that you must think I am certifiable. You have a fair case. Just remember that everyone has their demons to face. Mine are small and silly, and I think I prefer them that way.