Anya’s first holiday parade

I haven’t been to a small-town parade in something like 30 years. For one, I’m not really a parade person — I don’t even watch the Macy’s parade on TV. Standing out in the cold to watch a parade of people I don’t know seemed silly. Then, even when I had a kid to take (thus far she’s yet to participate in the event), something always came up. It was cold. She was sick. I was sick, or pregnant, or had a small baby. But this year the stars aligned: The weather was good, we were well, and off to the parade we went. (Just Anya and I; Kai was sick. And also, he’s 2; he’d have been bored. As would his father.)

Parades aren’t what I remember. I don’t recall anybody throwing candy at the parades I attended. The kids attending this one brought bags from home — and filled them. I remember the floats in the parades of my childhood being far more elaborate than these. But I don’t remember the emergency vehicles blaring their sirens.

Anya was taken with the Shriners in their tiny cars, as I always was. Unlike me, she was enamored (and envious) of the beauty queens, perched primly on the back of a convertible, with their shimmering smiles and twinkling crowns. Like me, she grooved to the bass drum line, bopping her head and tapping her thighs with her hands. And even though the kids in the parade calling out names and waving in our general direction weren’t waving at her, she waved back enthusiastically and yelled encouragement.

The drums were always my favorite part. But I paid attention to the rest of the band this time. And the flag girls, and the kids with the wooden rifles. (I never understood what those are all about.) I looked at their determined smiles, their carefully rehearsed precision, their proud shoulders as they performed their hearts out.

And suddenly, I saw it. The community behind the parade. I’d never felt that cohesive hometown pride here, but there it was.

This is Anya’s hometown, I realized. This is our town. And it’s entirely possible that she will grow up here. Someday she could be wearing a crown and waving from the back of a convertible. Or performing a carefully rehearsed flag routine. Or playing the bass drum. And that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, I don’t guess. It would be pretty wonderful, in fact.

I feel suffocated here at times, I admit. I never planned on staying this long. I always thought we’d move away, or at least move back to the city. But I see now that we could make it work here. We’ll get out of it what we put into it, at any rate. And that starts with getting involved in local events. Like parades.


To the skincare kiosk clerk

While we were in Nashville, we visited Opry Mills Mall. We’d planned on eating at the Rainforest Cafe, but we went in the wrong door, and thus had to walk a gauntlet of kiosks on our way to the restaurant. I’m pretty adept at fending off the kiosk salespeople, despite the limited amount of time I’ve spent in malls in the past decade. I don’t straighten my hair because I don’t like to. I have skin and respiratory allergies, so I don’t use [insert beauty product here]. I don’t wear jewelry because I have small children who would rip it from my person, and possibly eat it. I don’t even take the proffered free samples most of the time; I thanks-but-no and keep walking.

I don’t know what made me slow down to take the hand cream from the skincare kiosk sales clerk. I was tired, and Anya was in awe of the whole mall experience and thus dragging her feet while gawking at everything, and boom! She got us. I was content to shove the packet of hand cream in my purse (along with the straightening cream packet thrust into my hand from another salesperson in another kiosk), but the clerk looked at my face — really looked at me — as I turned to murmur my gee-thanks-bye. “Oh!” she said. “I have something you will really like. An eye cream!” And she starts jabbering at me about how it’s like a face lift and pulls out this scary syringe-looking cream dispenser.

Stunned into speechlessness, I was working up a refusal when R and Kai dragged us away. Which is good, because when I caught my breath, what surfaced was anger.

Ignoring the fact that a) I’m not a face product person and b) the skin allergy story is actually the truth, I in no way wanted whatever snake oil she was peddling, all because of the way she was peddling it. She was content to sell me hand cream until she saw my face — and then she got excited! It could not have been more clear that she thought I looked old (or, to put a kinder face on it, tired) if she’d come right out and said those words.

Since neither of us got to finish saying what we wanted to say, I’ll put my piece here.

I’m over 40. Faces look like this if you live long enough. Especially if you’re tired. Which I am; I got less than 4 hours of sleep last night.

Two days ago, I got married. I handled almost everything about the ceremony and reception myself: I designed and printed the stationery, made the bouquets, decorated the venue, cooked all the food, baked the cake. My goal was to host a wedding and reception that was welcoming and personalized to both R and I as people and to us as a couple, so I skipped the wedding vendors in favor of an almost entirely DIY event. I then proceeded to socialize with — even hug! — all of our guests, even though I’m introverted as hell and so much social interaction drains me. We had a great time, and I enjoyed every bit of the wedding and reception, but I am running on fumes now.

Yesterday, I dragged myself out of bed and drove my family three hours to go on our first real family vacation. In a real hotel, with a pool and everything. My kids have never been in a pool bigger than a kiddie pool, so of course we went swimming. Only they can’t swim, and neither can I. Their father can; he was a lifeguard. But that’s 3 against 1. 

We had fun, despite all that. But I can’t say I enjoyed the pool time. I was too busy trying to be in two places at once, and not drown in the process. It was tiring. Especially after the long drive, the long week, and all of the excitement of the weekend up til that point.

Also, like every mom these days, I have the internet on tap 24/7, ready to scare the daylights out of me. So when my son suddenly awakened at 3 a.m., coughing and choking, I was convinced it was dry drowning. Even after he fell back asleep, I sat up, holding him in a semi-upright position so he could breathe easier. I kept one hand on his chest to monitor his breathing while I Googled up a storm, trying to decide if I needed to take him to the emergency room, call his doctor, or just wait and see how he was when he woke up.

Once it was clear that he was fine, just suffering allergies or perhaps a minor cold, it was daylight. We’re only in town a couple of days; I didn’t want to waste one of them napping in the hotel. Instead, I poured some coffee down my throat and dragged myself out.

We spent this whole day at a children’s science museum. I have been dragged all over three stories of exhibits by each child individually and simultaneously. I’ve been made to climb higher than my acrophobia can smoothly handle, dragged into conversations with total strangers I wasn’t prepared to join, and subjected to a few heart-stopping moments in which I couldn’t locate one child or the other. They napped on the drive over here. I didn’t.

So yeah — I’m 43, and exhausted, and probably sporting the deluxe set of eye luggage. But I earned every bag and crease and line, so holster that syringe. If you’re lucky, someday your eyes will look like this, too, and you’ll understand that it’s a privilege, not a flaw. 

But of course it wouldn’t have mattered a bit if I had said all this to her. She would still go on to accost the next not-twentysomething who walked past her kiosk. Hell, she’d have gone on to accost me, had I stood there long enough. It’s her job.

I learned something from the experience, though. I learned that the next time some pretty young thing tries to sell me something to make me look young enough to be my own kid, I’ll tell her “look, I earned this face” and keep walking.

Peeking down a path not taken

Years and years and years ago, I had a modeling agent chase me down in the mall and give me her card. It was during a really low point in my life, and I wasn’t sure my self-esteem could handle me being treated like a piece of meat, so I never followed up with her. But I’ve always wondered if I should have.

This past weekend, I went in to have my wedding makeup trial run. And nearly fainted. Just as I did during my wedding dress fitting (and every single other dress fitting I’ve had), many hair appointments, the hair drug test I took for a previous employer, and even some of my doctor appointments. I have never actually fainted during these events, but I have come dangerously close: Greyed vision, sweating bullets, and the inability to sit up without assistance. This time I passed it off as a hot flash (peri-m does have perks), but it wasn’t. I just get faint when people are up in my face, messing with me. It’s like I can’t get enough oxygen or something.

This kind of thing would be catastrophic for a model. Imagine how many callbacks you’d get if you needed three times as long for hair/makeup/wardrobe because you had to keep taking breaks so you wouldn’t faint.

Interestingly enough, a similar incident occurred towards the end of my engagement photo session, when the photographer was taking photos of us individually. Now, that could have just been the heat combined with low blood sugar; I was getting pretty hungry by that point, and downing a juice box rescued me for a bit. But still. Talk about vasovagal don’t-look-at-me. There could be no greater career killer for a model.

So obviously I made the right choice by remaining a wordslinger. Good to know.

Dealing with derailments

Before I even got over my sinus infection, I started my period. And it’s the period I expected to have after 90-some days. (I appreciated being let off easy last month, but I knew I’d pay the piper eventually.) So September’s kind of a wash. At the start of the month, the house was clean, I was on track with all my goals, and everything was running like clockwork. Now it’s just chaos.

I’m working on learning to better deal with derailments such as this. I read an article on the topic earlier this week, something about things like this being the down side of relying on routines. But because of the aforementioned chaos, I have lost the link and cannot find it back. You’ll just have to take my word for it: Sometimes routines fall apart, and they take the whole house of cards with them.

The first thing I’m working on is forgiving myself for the lost progress. So far I am not kicking myself too much for the blow to my workout plan; the fact that I actively miss working out means I will take it back up again just as soon as I am able. And that’s really what I am aiming for with these challenges — not to do some weird stunt for a month and then quit, but train myself to exercise each day, just as I brush and floss and clean my contacts each day. I’ve done it before; I can do it again.

Speaking of brushing, I bought a Quip toothbrush, and it’s got me brushing twice a day. I have been trying for years to get into a morning brushing habit, and never managed to pull it off. But I enjoy brushing with the Quip so much that once a day just isn’t enough. It’s amazing what a comfortable toothbrush can do. It takes some of the sting out of failing in all these other areas to have taken on a habit I’ve been trying to cultivate for over a decade.

Yesterday really drove home the need to practice regular self-care. I had just nursed Kai to sleep when I felt a sharp pain in my chest that quickly moved to my back and radiated out to my side. I ordinarily brush these things off, but I’m 43 and a former smoker with a heart murmur and a rotten cardiac family history. I felt I should rule out heart attack before I grabbed the heating pad.

I was home alone with a sleeping Kai; Anya was with my parents. I debated my options. Ask my father, who can barely walk due to an ankle injury, to bring Mom’s SpO2 meter to me, or to watch Kai so I could go to his house and use it? Wake Kai and take him over there? I didn’t think I could safely carry him. Finally, the obvious occurred to me, and I asked Mom to send Anya over with it. My levels were, as always, stellar, so I did some stretches and got on with my day.

Later on, it became obvious to me that the pain was due to stresses from my current work setup (tablet at the kitchen table) and from carrying Kai’s ever-increasing weight. Yoga and time will fix it. And if I continue doing the yoga after my back feels better, the pain likely won’t recur. But I have to make the time to do the yoga.

At the beginning of this month, I’d decided to do yoga on the days I can’t jog, but then I came down with this sinus infection. Derailed again. However, the stretches I need to do for my back do not require me to hang upside down; I can do them even with a head full of crap. So step two in my derailment management plan is to modify the plan in the face of speed bumps. No, I can’t run, or do downward dog, or do crunches. But I can, and should, do some cobras and cat/cows and half moons.

Fall is my favorite season, but it’s also the one most likely to disrupt my progress. This fall, I’m going to work on dealing with those setbacks — forgiving myself for not being able to uphold the promises I made to myself, and modifying my goals to accommodate the snags. I may not get where I wanted to go as quickly as I had planned, but so long as I do eventually get there, what does it matter?

On letting go

(I still haven’t done the writing assignment from last week. And my sinus infection is hampering clear thought. So…bloggity blog blog.)

In my goals list is one of those maddeningly vague ones: Let it go. I had something specific in mind when I added it to my list, I’m sure. But that’s gone now. I can, of course, think of things I want to do that fit the goal. But what’s the point?

I don’t mean that in a teenage-angst sort of way. I mean, really, what is the point of letting go? The more I think about it, the more that I see it isn’t what I want to do. I don’t want to let things go; I want to let things in. It’s not that I want to strip my closet down to the bare minimum (though, admittedly, it is a fun exercise to boil my possessions down to only what I need — I enjoy it in much the same way I enjoy Twitter as a writing exercise); it’s that I want to use what’s in there. It’s not that I want to get rid of my old books; it’s that I want to make room for new books. It’s not that I want to cut people out of my life; it’s that I want to fill my life with good people so that there is no room left for the ones who, in some cases years after they left, continue to hurt me.

I’m feeling pretty isolated as of late. And Facebook, which all too often is the sum total of my social interaction, has been irritating me. Again. Which typically puts me in a flush-it-chuck-it-nuke-it mindset.

Please tell me someone remembers this movie.

I let go is because letting go is easier. It is easier to toss it, to walk away, to retreat into myself than to reach out. It’s why I have resigned myself to having very little in the way of social support, as opposed to putting myself on the line and maybe actually making a friend or two. Or, for a less deep example, it’s why I keep patching and wearing these stupid bras that don’t fit rather than subject myself to an actual bra store that sells something small enough to fit my child-sized ribs.

It’s easier. And I don’t have to talk to people. That could be my epitaph.

But I’m not dead yet. Only the horse is dead. Perhaps I should stop smacking it? And, I don’t know, give Meetup another shot. Or at least go buy some new bras.

I see you

The other day, I was in Bed Bath & Beyond, being followed around by one of the more aggressive salespeople I’ve encountered of late. He was trying hard to sell someone — anyone — something. He was even multitasking: While trying to sell one customer on a product (I forget which), he noticed me checking out a chair cushion and paused to give me an in-depth background (plus demonstration!) of the product. The experience was akin to car shopping on a Sunday afternoon; it was quite a pitch. The cushion, unfortunately, wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind (I’m looking for something to make my kitchen chair, which doubles as my office chair most days, a little more comfy; this cushion would have been too unstable on the uneven wood seat), so I thanked him and moved on to the item I’d actually gone in to purchase (a mouthwash dispenser) before quickly exiting stage right.

I hate being sold stuff. If I need a salesperson’s help, I will go find one. (Which happens almost never.) Most of the time, I know exactly what I want, and am not interested in hearing sales pitches. It’s one of the reasons I shop online so much. And why I move so quickly when I must enter a store with salespeople on commission.

But he’s stuck with me. It took me a while to figure out why: He saw me. He saw all of us. He wasn’t just saying what he was supposed to say; he watched us shop, picked up on what held our attention, and tried to provide the information needed to persuade us to buy it.

Since I had the kids, I feel pretty invisible. I am no longer a person in my own right. I am faceless, nameless, nonexistent outside of my function as Anya and Kai’s mother. But to this guy, I was a person. A person he wanted to sell something, sure. But he didn’t treat me as a wallet; I was a woman with a problem to solve.

I feel bad now, because I didn’t tell him why that product didn’t fix it. It wasn’t his fault. He did a great job.

The older I get, the more important it is to me to tell people when they’re doing a good job. I don’t think any of us hear that enough. (No, not even our kids.) And salespeople are people, too.

This all has got me thinking about the other good employees I’ve encountered — at doctors’ offices, in shops and restaurants, banks and post offices. Those people who take an extra five seconds to treat me as a person, not a widget on the assembly line of their day. I want to start acknowledging these people. Thank them for seeing me, and let them know that I see them, too.

This may or may not happen; I am me, after all. But I see them. I hope others see them, as well.

Wishful pausing?

I’m beginning to wonder if I really am in perimenopause, or if my body is simply confused by all this breastfeeding. I haven’t had much in the way of hot flashes these past few weeks, and the rest of my symptoms could simply be related to breastfeeding. Or stress. Or endometriosis.

Let’s be honest: My body never did figure this menstruation thing out, and it’s far too late to worry about that now.

I’ve always assumed, based on my mother’s experience, that I would go through menopause early. There’s no firm basis for this belief; my maternal grandmother died at the age of 49 without having gone through The Change. But as my menstrual experience has closely mirrored my mother’s (we even started at the same age — 4 months before our 14th birthdays), I figured my end would also come at roughly the same age as hers.

But then I threw a curve: Two late pregnancies, and one extended breastfeeding experience. Even if I were close to menopause, I might have altered the end date by continuing to nurse Kai.

It also occurs to me that my interpretation of my symptoms might all be so much wishful thinking. I want to go through menopause. I love being a mom, don’t get me wrong, and it wouldn’t be awful (thought it would be rather inconvenient at this point) to have another child. But I am done with endometriosis. Done with the pain. Done with the swelling, the bloating, the mood swings. Done with wearing a panty liner day after day for months on end, just in case I might start, for fear of ruining my clothing. (Also done with ruining my clothing.) Done with periods that last 10-14 days, draining me emotionally as well as physically. Done with scheduling my life around a natural bodily function. But really — it’s the pain. The constant, unrelievable, never-ending pain. The pain that, at best, makes my entire abdomen feel like a hand that’s been slammed in a car door. The pain that feels like a spike in my tailbone. The pain that makes it hard to bathe, dress, walk, hold my children, think, breathe, be. The pain steals my hours, days, weeks.

I’m ready for the next stage. The stage in which I can produce something other than children and blood and pain.

The media bombards us with women who fight time. Who resist aging both inside and out. Women who turn to science to produce children when their bodies are past the age at which they can do so naturally. The women who nip this and tuck that. What of the women who accept it, embrace it, and move into their new role with grace — with enthusiasm?

Because there is a place for women who can’t reproduce. In the animal world, and in the human world, too. (What, you didn’t think animals went through menopause? Honestly, neither did I.)

I want the time and space to create. I find myself brimming with more creative energy than I’ve had in years, and I want to feel well enough to use it. I want to write, make jewelry, paint, garden. This morning, as I lay awake in the predawn hours, I found myself planning sewing projects — me, who barely knows how to use my own sewing machine. I want to try my hand at cooking new dishes, take up new hobbies, learn. I want to put more time and effort into the Etsy store I created with my daughter.

If I weren’t laid up in agonizing pain for great portions of my life, just think of what I could do with all that time. It could be the start of a whole new life for me.

Is it any wonder I’m ready to begin?