Friends, with a small f

My friend Lorna just posted about Friends. I never watched Friends; at its peak, I was commuting 60+ miles per day for college, so I was sleeping, driving, or studying whenever I wasn’t in class. But her post makes me want to check it out. At the very least, I’d get to indulge this 90s nostalgia I’ve been nursing. (Someone please remind me how awful brown lipstick looks on…um, almost everyone.)

But friends. Small f. That’s been an issue. It’s not that I don’t have friends — I do. I consider Lorna a great one. It’s that I don’t have friends I could sit down and have a cup of anything with that didn’t require driving a good distance. I don’t have anyone close by I could tell things I wouldn’t tell my Facebook wall, like how I just got my nipple stuck in the bread machine while I was putting it away. (The kids are still laughing. With me, they say. Little turkeys. Also, life lesson: Carry the bread machine with the lid opening facing away from you.)

I used to have friends. Then I had a few bad friends and just…stopped looking for new ones. When I say bad, I mean…look, I’ve had some pretty awful breakups, but I still continued to date. That says something about how I feel about making new friends. But I’ve come to see how much I need friends. Just a few. One. One local friend who can relate to me where I am now. But I worked over 100 hours this week, and my weekend has been spent making up to the kids for all the hours I said, “Just give me five more minutes before you tell me the thing. Just one paragraph. One sentence. Where’s your tablet?”

How the hell am I going to make friends like this?

My daughter has taken it upon herself to find me friends. At our local town fair yesterday, she was introducing me to vendors: “Hi, I’m Anya. This is my mom. Her name is Nicole. She needs friends. She’s really nice!”

I now know how people feel when their moms try to set them up on dates. Only worse, because it’s my 8-year-old announcing to total strangers how socially inept I am.

Then I discovered I accidentally sent my mom’s birthday present to our old house. Anya introduced herself to the new owners last week, so I took her with me when I went to retrieve it. My daughter, being who she is, opened the door like she lived there and invited herself in. Then insisted on taking me on a tour of the house (which looks amazing — they are clearly better at decorating than I am) and tried to arrange a playdate. For her, but also for me.

“She’s really nice,” Anya said of the new owner as we left. “I bet she’d be your friend.” And she is really nice — I don’t know that I would handle the former resident of my house barging in as gracefully as she did. So yeah…nice. We could maybe be friends. But we are not 8. It’s more complicated now.

My Meetup attempts have failed. I’ve talked to a few moms on Peanut, but I barely have time and stamina for the little social media and texting I already do without adding another app that requires I type with my thumbs. (My wrist is flaring again. More on that later.) And there are days when the only time I see daylight is when my kid gets on and off the bus. I’ve volunteered for the school carnival in the hopes that I might talk to someone there. But most people around here meet friends at church, and…I don’t church.

Anya ran into roughly 15 friends yesterday. Whereas I’ve lived in this town a collective 18 years and saw no one I knew.  Not one person. One of us is clearly better at the friends thing. So maybe I should give Anya’s method a shot.

He was nice to me

Twenty-nine years ago today, I attempted suicide. Last week, a guy I went to school with succeeded.

I haven’t seen, or even much thought of, this guy since I was 14. We weren’t close; in fact, I never would have said we were friends. But he was nice to me. He was cute and funny and ornery; when I picture fictional characters like Peter Pan or Huck Finn, it’s his face I see. I don’t remember him not smiling.

From what I’ve gleaned from the internet, he had a whole lot to be unhappy about since I saw him last. Eventually, it overpowered him. I’m sorry for that in a way I can’t quite express.

Junior high is not the best period of a kid’s life — it certainly wasn’t a high point in mine. I flip through my yearbooks now and don’t remember many of those people. But I remember him. Was he sometimes jerky, as almost-teen boys are wont to be? I’d be surprised if he weren’t. But I don’t remember that. What I remember is that he smiled a lot. Laughed more. And he was nice.

May he rest in peace.

I am so not cool

In the immortal words of Keith Mars, I was never cool. In fact, me quoting Veronica Mars is probably the coolest part of this post.

I’m bumbling and awkward and have a hopelessly dorky sense of humor. You’ve heard of 95% of the bands I like, because they used to be played a LOT on the radio. (Probably still are, on oldies stations.) I tend to prefer mainstream movies and popular authors. My fashion sense peaked somewhere around 2004. Which is also where my hairstyle comes from, and when I purchased the majority of my shoes.

Since my daughter was born, I’ve been out of step with the world, and I am just now catching up on the music, movies, and software updates that came out in the intervening years. (Books are on my list, but further down because they require more time than I have to myself these days.) My daughter was born in 2011, so I’m now nearly 10 years behind you all. I’m the Midwest personified, without all that Republican stuff.

Speaking of the broken democracy in the room, I have strongly held opinions, but I hate to debate, so aside from the occasional FB share I keep them to myself. I also hate haggling; I have paid full price for everything I’ve ever bought. Perhaps I would feel differently about both of those things if I were more persuasive and charismatic, or at least more argumentative, but I am none of those things.

I talk to myself. A lot. It’s slightly more socially acceptable now because I have children; people assume I am talking to the kids. Sometimes I am, but not usually. My social media and this blog are also, to some extent, me talking to me. It’s how I sort things out, how I remember, and how I make room for other thoughts in my head. The rest of it’s what passes for my social life. Because I am so, so, so not cool.

The nice thing about middle age is that I’m finally completely at peace with being uncool. Somewhere between 40 and 50, we all just become ourselves. Probably because none of us are particularly cool anymore, and even the coolest among us aren’t really sure just when that happened, or how. We leave the jockeying for dominance to the younger set and just get on with things. It’s one of my favorite parts of middle age, actually.

I will never go big; I will always go home. I like it here. It is my favorite place to be.

Invasion of the body snatchers

If there’s a stage in menopause where you wake up in a body not your own, I’m in it.

I’m not talking about the digestive issues, either, though part of me wonders if that wasn’t influenced by my hormonal upheaval. No, I’m talking about these pillows on either side of my waist. My upper arm flags. The bags under my eyes, and the matching bolsters on my jawline. The overall jiggliness of myself when I attempt (badly — really, you do not want to see this) to have a dance party with my kids.

I was prepared for grays. For wrinkles. For my bra to wander towards the floor (which, thankfully, is not an issue, at least at present). I was not prepared to look like my grandmother. But here we are.

It’s been a chain reaction of self-loathing. I hate my body, so I hate how I look in clothes. I buy clothes that work better for my body, but I hate them too because they look so…old. I hate my hair, and my face, and I contemplate drastic revisions to both. A new haircut, or maybe hair color. Taking a laser to my face. Or maybe I should focus on my body — have some fat sucked out. Only I’m broke, squeamish, and have seen that episode of X-Files one too many times.

Think smaller. Like anti-aging serum I’m not sure I even needed that — after three days! — left a red, scaly chemical burn-style rash all over my face and neck. Oh, right: I have sensitive skin. I forgot that in my desire to blast the top layer of it off.

So now I’m pudgy and flabby and gray and wrinkled AND red and scabby. Nice.

I’m not opposed to aging, and I’m not a fan of trying to look 30 when you’re 70. But I guess I’m also not ready, mentally, for the age I am. It’s the back bookend to the feeling I had when I entered puberty: I wasn’t any more ready for boobs and body hair and armpit odor than I am for the changes I’m going through now.

Once again, my body is not my own. And I do not approve.


Ten songs

Maren Morris’ “Song for Everything” got me thinking. For years I’ve tried to put together a soundtrack of my current stage in life, but I’ve never managed to pull it off. Probably because a soundtrack is more of an overarching score. It’s not defined by a moment, a month, a week, a year.

These ten songs provided the score to key points in my life. Not that they were the only significant songs to me; there were many, many others. But these helped shape who I was, who I have come to be.

Stay the Night: Chicago. The first song I obsessively listened to the radio to hear. The first 45 I bought myself. Before I bought the 45, I sat in front of the radio with a blank tape in the deck and two fingers on Record and Play so I could tape it — a position I would proceed to spend the next several years in. (Gen Xers know what I mean.) It hasn’t aged well, this song. But I couldn’t make a list of songs that were important to me and not include it. In many ways, this song was my introduction to music.

November Rain: It seemed like Guns ‘n’ Roses’ releases were perfectly timed to coincide with fights with my high school boyfriend…which in retrospect tells me all I need to know about that doomed little relationship. (It was a good year for GnR. Not so much for us.) This one was the end-all: the breakup. It still gives me a twinge.

Silent Legacy: Melissa Etheridge. I’ve talked about my suicide attempt, but what I’ve never really talked about is how worthless I felt after the fact. Selfish, weak, whiny, and completely unlovable. I know that’s not what this song is about, but it still made me feel seen. Gave me hope that someday, things could get a little bit better. (I would really like to go back and give teenaged me a hug. Poor kid.)

Beautiful Day: U2. This song was the first thing to make me smile after my first adult-relationship breakup. I listened to it on repeat until I believed it. The first few chords bring on a tidal wave of sensory memory from the furnitureless living room of my first apartment.

Normal Life: July for Kings. I first heard this song shortly before I got married (the first time around), and it embodied everything I hoped my life was about to become. Things didn’t work out that way, obviously. This song holds the distinction of becoming equally important at another point in my timeline: Shortly after the birth of my daughter. When I moved into the house next door to my parents and realized, suddenly and completely, the driving forces behind the life trajectories of most of the people I’ve known.

And Around: Tabitha’s Secret. My first husband was a Rob Gordon type, and he hooked me up with some pre-Matchbox Twenty Rob Thomas. This song was pretty much the soundtrack of our divorce from my perspective. (Plus a boatload of Sarah Maclachlan, which I listened to while washing dishes and crying and feeling like such a movie cliché.)

Wake Up: Joe Hedges. Every so often, the song you most need to hear comes along at precisely the right moment; this is one of those. This song kicked me out of the funk I found myself in when my post-divorce relationship blew up; it made me realize it was high time to start focusing on me. I found 43 Things, set some goals, took some classes, and set upon my current path of self-improvement. (At which point I met R. Of course.)

In the Blood: Better Than Ezra. This is the song that pulsed through my veins during my early pregnancy with Anya. The thrumming drum beat felt like the little pulse tapping away inside me; the song embodied my nervous excitement at finally getting and staying pregnant. The pace suits my energetic daughter, so I still say she chose it.

Ride: Cary Brothers. As “In the Blood” was Anya’s song, this is Kai’s. And much as the former suited her, this one suits my dreamy, stormy boy. I was so cold the whole time I was pregnant with him; my blood coursing through my veins felt like a cool stream. This song is the auditory equivalent of what it felt like.

The Book of Love: Peter Gabriel. This song will forever remind me of my husband, my partner-in-everything, the man who made me a mom and a wife long after I gave up on either of those things happening. Love didn’t end up working like I thought it would, but that’s not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.

I’m beginning to see the world with new eyes. Older ones. Sympathetic ones, mostly. I’m not a “Youth is wasted on the wrong people” person. I’m more a “being young is hard and it’s a wonder any of us make it out alive” person. I don’t know when I stopped being a young person myself, exactly, but clearly I have; some of the people I consider young can vote. I’m cool with being older, though. Means I came out the other side.

I can’t wait to see which songs make my next ten songs list.


I don’t believe in love at first sight. But if I did, I’d say have experienced it exactly six times:

  1. At 16, when the boy who would become my first love smiled at me for the first time.
  2. At 27, stepping into the living room of the apartment my wasband and I ended up moving into together.
  3. At 32, the night I first locked eyes with R.
  4. At 37, when I held our daughter for the first time.
  5. At 40, the morning I gave birth to our son.
  6. At 44, when I first entered the house we just bought.

Each time, that first glance set off a chain reaction deep inside me. A sense of homecoming. It wasn’t so much that I could see the pieces falling into place, but that I could see where I fit, finally. Everything up to that point suddenly made sense, because it all led me to that moment.

There is nothing about this living room I don’t love.

It’s a little embarrassing to talk about, really. I don’t tend to think in such woo-woo terms. But I can’t deny that those six moments held a significance that was apparent immediately. I dated a lot of guys between that first boy and R, but the others didn’t make me feel the same way. I’ve lived other places, and even loved those places, but none of them gave me that immediate feeling of being home.

This picture pretty much sums up the adult life I’ve been working towards since I was 19.

So buying this house was understandably a big deal in more ways than one. Because three of the people on the list above moved into it with me. And while there’s still much about the house that feels weird and foreign and new, in many ways it feels like we’ve always been here.

I recently came across the Day Zero post I wrote nearly a year ago, in which I committed to writing my wish list for a house. It’s funny how much of what I was looking for I actually got. Of my incredibly specific 34-point list, here’s what I didn’t get that I can’t easily/immediately add myself:

  • A built-in vanity in the master bath
  • A walk-in pantry
  • A covered patio/sunroom with a ceiling fan
  • A walk-in closet for Anya
  • All wood/tile flooring

I mean, if I were designing a house from scratch, what I’d come up with would be almost exactly this house. I imagine that factors heavily in the way I feel about the house. But it’s more than that. We just fit here.

See, even the couch fits! Not that we won’t be buying a new one at some point. This one’s ten years old, and looks it.

The lack of posts recently is because I have been busy. First unpacking, which is now mostly done — no, really! — and then cleaning and sorting and organizing. Which will be an ongoing process for a while.

I wish I could say this was a temporary state, but the big difference is the garbage bags have been emptied and removed. All that crap’s still on the floor. I just stay downstairs as much as possible. But I will eventually have to go up there and deal with it.

The previous owners took good care of the property, but they weren’t much for dusting and vacuuming, it appears. My birthday present of a new Roomba (named Milo) is getting quite the workout. We’re all pretty congested these days, but I’m hoping that things will improve once I get some of this dust out of here.

The sorting and organizing I expected; no matter how streamlined and efficient your organization process, it never transfers perfectly from one house to the next. You have fewer drawers, more cabinets, more closets but less shelving. That sort of thing. My current project is the closets: They all have wire organizers that are simply not up to the loads we need to place upon them, so we’re in the process of replacing/upgrading them.

I am also in the process of buying all new curtains, because the last time I bought curtains was with wedding present money. From my first wedding. In 2002.

Funny thing about these projects: They don’t feel like home improvements, but home realizations. It feels like we are helping this house become what it was always meant to be.



Waiting for spring

A few quick updates from last weekend:

  • I did not puke. Nobody did. I’m hoping that means the bug is all gone. (We Lady Macbethed the house, just in case.)
  • I woke up Thursday looking more like myself than I have in lo these many moons. The big dietary difference was peanut butter. PB is now getting the stink eye. One by one, all the foods I used to love are moving to the no-fly list. My younger self would recoil in horrified confusion at my diet these days. But then my younger self would view everything about present-day me with baffled amusement.
  • After a bumpy start (the first printer didn’t work coming out of the box, so tech support sent me a new one), my new printer is installed and works beautifully. Mostly. I haven’t managed to set up the ink replacement plan, because I can’t get the Best Buy site to talk to the Canon site. But I can print. So I’m better off than I was last weekend.

What else is new?

I’ve been wallowing in musical nostalgia, catching up on what two of my greatest musical loves — John Waite and the Goo Goo Dolls — have been up to since I became a mom and lost track of pop culture. JW appears to have gone heavily blues/country in recent years, and that’s not the head space I’m in now, so I’ve put off listening to his new albums at length. However, after the disappointment that was Magnetic (for me, anyway), I’m in love with several tracks on GGD’s Boxes. We diverged for a while, but it feels like we’re back on the same page — an odd sort of forward-looking nostalgia. GGD was my band back in the day, so it’s like coming home.

Dried chickpeas are a no-go for me, but supposedly I can have canned chickpeas if I rinse them well. So I found a hummus recipe to try. Also a guacamole recipe, because I’m still running low on fat — I’m hoping I can tolerate avocados now. What I don’t like about guac is the garlic, but I can’t have garlic anyway. Maybe I’ll like it without? I have a can of chickpeas, a jar of tahini, a lemon, a lime, and a couple of avocados, so…we’ll see.

Anya’s teacher has recommended that we supplement her school-sponsored speech lessons with outside therapy sessions, so we’re currently searching for a new clinic. Hopefully extra sessions will give her the leg up she needs to get past these last few pronunciation hurdles. It’s one more thing to fit in our days, though. I’m glad the kids weren’t interested in spring activities, considering.

At the shallow end of the pool: Mrs. Meyer’s honeysuckle-scented laundry soap is making me ridiculously happy. Every so often I catch a whiff of something that smells absolutely lovely, and then I realize it’s me. I have unironically held my shirt to my face and inhaled deeply, like someone from a detergent commercial. So even though the bottle’s more than half full, I’ve purchased a backup. When something so simple makes you this happy, you don’t want to run out of it.

Over on the murkier end of the lake: I realized that all of my current writing projects feature my grandmother’s kitchen. I don’t have happy memories of that room, so I’m not sure what it says about me that I keep revisiting it in fiction as opposed to, say, my childhood kitchen, which was the location of so many happy moments. My grandparents are dead and their house bulldozed and gone, yet I can’t seem to let it go.

Speaking of writing, I’m not making much headway on my books. Or any of my personal projects. Perhaps some of the blame lies with the long hours I’ve been working; after dinner, I just want to go to sleep. However, I think the truth of the matter is I’m too busy treading water to muster up creative energy. Somewhere between psychoanalyzing my postmortem relationship with my grandmother and sniffing my laundry…that’s where I’m at these days.

Or it could be that my metaphor’s off. Perhaps it’s winter’s last hurrah: the tail end of my hibernation. Perhaps in a few weeks I’ll wake up and, just like the trees, I’ll find my branches covered in tender green leaves. Maybe we’re just waiting for spring.