Toys vs. Gender (How I Plan to Parent)

This morning started just like any other Thursday. My alarm went off to the rousing tune of “Dancing in The Streets”. I felt like staying in the sheets. So…I did. Then, it went off again, and I felt a little guilty for telling Martha to shove off. Then, I finally faced reality and pulled myself out of bed. My work won’t do itself. The students won’t teach themselves.  But it’s too bad about the some work things though. Take for instance, house work. One day, if my vacuum comes to life, Beauty and the Beast style, I wouldn’t complain.

After a hot second of panic after noticing a text from my husband, I settled back down. He needed something and I had time to run it to him at work before being late for my own.

The dogs were still snuggled in their downstairs beds. It’s raining, so they park it nicely downstairs until they dry.

But one thing you have to understand about my home, is that there are toys everywhere. And as much as I try in vain to contain them in their respective “cat” and “dog” baskets, it doesn’t work. They are everywhere.

I have three boys and two girls. And it freaks people out to tell them, “yes, we have five children…” and then, Barney Stinson and wait for it, “they all have tails.” If you want to see the facial expressions of nosy strangers change in less than two seconds flat, pull that on them. It works well.

This morning, I saw something that I’ve seen in the past, but I never thought much about it. And it might be that I’m overthinking it now.

I opened the bathroom door to find our youngest cat in the hall with a dog bone. Not a soft toy, not a squeaky toy, no.. a rawhide.

Kip is a gray and white tiger stripped kitty. We got him in August, 2014 at ten weeks old. He’s quite the robust little dude, weighing in at almost sixteen pounds. He chases anything and will bring balls back. He plays fetch like a dog. He sleeps either on my husband and me or in the middle between us.

This morning, he was not only “holding” the rawhide, but he was also chewing on it.

“What are you doing big man?” I asked. And as a pet mom, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty, that they will answer me.

Kip rolled onto his back, giving me his best “cute boy”. I scratched his tummy and walked down the hall, ready to leave.

I drove into town laughing a little about Kip and his chew bone.

And I wondered why I didn’t take it away from him. There was no “real” reason for him not to have it. The dogs take the cats’ toys enough.

Is there a rule for toys? What belongs to whom? Why?

Is there a reason a dog toy “can’t” be a cat toy?

I don’t remember ever being told that I couldn’t play with a toy because it was a “boys'” toy.

I had trucks. I had Matchbox cars. I had a cash register (that I used often to ring up products at my various stores). I had toys of all shapes and sizes. I had art supplies.

So, when did I learn gender?

I don’t have an answer to this. But I do know that is a social construction and I know that in my own ways, I subscribe to it.

But there are also some things that I understand quite well.

Toys don’t have gender lines.

If a girl wants to have trucks, she ought to have trucks. And if a boy wants a doll, he ought to have a doll.

And there are many people that might disagree with me. I can hear their voices now “how’s ya’s gonna teach ’em to be a boy?” Or, “girls need to learn how to be girls.” Well, for starters, I plan on teaching them to love. To love themselves and their family. Then, I plan to teach them equality. Girls that “drive” toy trucks grow up and have interests in the way things work. Girls that dig in the mud and get dirty grow up to be archaeologists and run the Smithsonian. And boys that play with dolls become great soccer coaches. They teach grade school. And both of them grow up to be the kind of people that worry more about others than pink versus blue toys.

I hate cooking and can’t sew much. But somehow, miraculously, I am still alive. I’ve never developed an interest in some things that are stereotypical “female” interests, and I am perfectly okay with it.

Call me crazy, but it doesn’t make sense to start children out in life by limiting what they can do before they even have fully developed senses of self.

And when I have children, human ones, they will have toys of all shapes and sizes.

And I’ll keep an extra chew bone nearby for those that don’t like it if my son plays with a doll or my daughter has trucks.

And I can present my chew bone to my critics and tell them what to do with it.

“Chew on it. And while you’re at it, bite your tongue. Like, for real.”

That’ll keep the critics distracted, me from the doghouse, and my children from the narrow minded.

Trucks and dolls still intact.

 

 

 

Maybe I’ll Wear That Prom Dress

The Red Wings were Stanley Cup Champions. Everyone said “my precious” at least once. The world lost Lisa (Left Eye) Lopez, and the world also discovered that Winona Rider occasionally had sticky fingers. Yes, 2002 was a heck of a year.

It was also the year I took myself to the prom.

I wanted to go with the current crush I had. And I even worked up the courage (much needed) to ask him. He already had a date, but he turned me down nicely and thanked me for asking him. Thanks to that, I could still show up at work and not feel like a complete ninny. I thought I masked my huge crush on him quite well. Turns out, I didn’t.

Most of my friends were going and they all had dates. I didn’t.

The truth is, I didn’t get asked out much as a kid. I didn’t know why but it took awhile to figure out it wasn’t me. I wasn’t the problem; it was a fairly normal experience for many teenage girls that are mentally older than they are numerically. And this would continue into the first couple years of college. One day, out of what seemed like nowhere,  teenage me turned into an fairly extroverted adult.

I decided I was going anyway.

The prom was the day after my seventeenth birthday. I was going to go and I was going to be fabulous.

I called and made a hair appointment. My favorite stylist, who was also the mom of a classmate of mine, was free!

“It’s all about the dress” my mom proclaimed.

If I was going to take myself, I’d be dressed well!

“I want a poufy, frilly, pretty pink dress” I said. I envisioned a Cinderella style ball gown.

We went everywhere on the dress quest. I had a favorite dress destination. The Fashion Bug in Lapeer. It was about thirty minutes from home and I found it magnificent. Fashion Bug had everything I wanted. Including a charge card that, thankfully, I was too young to have.

We went, and it was a bust. They had lots of dresses, but not my dress.

We looked everywhere. Nothing. My dress quest was coming up short.

But finally, about a week before the dance, we went to JC Penny.

And I found it.

My perfect dress wasn’t pink. It’s not a Cinderella style.

Instead, it’s jewel blue. It has a classic skirt, and it ties corset style in the back. And because I am a bit of a hoarder, I still have it.

I put it on and spun around. I felt like I was floating. The dress was modest enough for a seventeen year old but it had just the right amount of sass that I felt magnetic.  The color of the dress is what I now refer to as my color.

“I’m very proud of you” my mom said as I got ready to leave.

“Have a good time kiddo” my dad chimed.

I got in my black S-10 truck, turned the radio on, and away I went..

As I parked, I looked around to see if any of my friends were walking in also.

No. Dammit.

It looked like I was going in alone too.

I got a little nervous. “Who walks into the prom alone?” I thought. “It’s all about the dress” I heard in the back of my mind. “Knock ’em dead” I told myself.

I got closer and closer to the door. And when it opened, I saw some friends.

They told me how nice I looked and us girls appraised and applauded each other’s dresses.

And then, we walked in as a group.

I might have driven to the dance alone, but I definitely didn’t attend it alone.

Now, fourteen years later, I am once again on the hunt for a perfect dress.

I am participating in my first spoken word story event. Listen to Your Mother is May 1, and it is being held at a concert venue where some legendary artists have performed. Never in a million years did I think I would ever be on the same stage that Bob Dylan once held in his hand.  Eminem. Nirvana. Red Hot Chili Peppers. And me.

St. Andrews Hall will never be the same.

I keep looking in the closet thinking “maybe I’ll wear that prom dress.”

I won’t. Even if it still fits, some things just look goofy after awhile. Remember, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I will walk onto the stage, and just like the seventeen year old me, I’ll be by myself. But I am certain that I am far from being alone.

I’m taking a chance, and this time, it’s not all about the dress (although that is a huge element).

It’s about me. My words. My voice. My story. My opportunity (thanks Eminem, you got that stuck in my head now).

It’s my time to arrive.

 

 

Survival in the Meat Department 

“It won’t be that bad…”

“It’s after 5:00 on a Saturday…”

“The sun is out…”

“They’re all at the movies…”

Those were my thought as I headed into town. They weren’t even in the same ballpark as correct. They were all at Kroger too. With me…

Do not wait until the night before Easter to buy a ham. In fact, don’t wait until the night before a holiday to do any shopping, of any kind, ever.

To be honest, this is the first time I’ve bumbled this sort of thing. 

I’m normally hyper prepared for the dinners hosted at my home. I’m used to having everything at minimum, five days early. However, this year, Easter escaped me. 

I knew it was coming up, but I had the first weekend in April stuck in my mind. 

Every. Single. Person. In my town, the county, the neighboring town, maybe even the  population of last minute preparers from the entire state showed up. 

 I parked, jovial as ever. I actually somewhat (and I do mean somewhat) enjoy grocery trips like this one. I like them because they are simple. The only items I needed were those for dinner. Only. Quick trip in and then, boom. Out the door. 

I grabbed a buggy and put the bottles and the plastic bags to recycle inside, remembering my cloth bags. Doing my part to save the planet? Check! 

(I forgot my nicely prepared list and clipped coupons, but still, score for me.)

The mission started strong. I remembered what I needed and scrawled a new list in the produce section. 

I saw a former student and said hello, exchanging holiday plans and wishing one another well. 

Things were going well. 

Then I rounded the corner. 

“What. The. Actual….”

There were four, yes four, hams left. And three women in front of me. All of them more experienced, more skillful holiday dinner warriors than I am. Welcome to Thunder Dome. 

“Alright. You just have to keep your game face. Just walk up there, grab the stupid ham, and walk away. All is well.” I bolstered myself and entered the arena. 

The other contenders looked at me like “who is she” like I was a Greaser on Soch territory. 

I stared back, thinking, “it’s a ham. It’s not Game of Thrones. But really, ladies, if you want to throw down, I’m a mother of dragons too. So check yourselves.” 

I attempted to approach  cautiously, not wanting to draw attention to myself, but my brave footwear choice gave me away. Who wears flip flops in March? With a hoodie? Me. That’s who.

I studied the selections and the other contenders. They seemed to see I was not a greedy threat. I only needed one ham. Yes, apparently, there is enough to go around. 

We acknowledged each other with small nods and thanks. Silently wishing each other favorable odds in other departments. 

I went immediately to the “health and beauty” aisle. 

And I found the biggest bottle of vegan, organic, lavender soothing bubble bath I could find. 

But I just got a ham?

I am many things, and like Whitman himself, am also at times, a contradiction. 

When it came time to check out, I found the shortest line, saw another former student, who happened to be working. I handed him my bag of bags and made conversation. 

I don’t know a stranger.

“What are your Easter plans?” I was asked. 

“We are hosting. I waited until the last minute.”

“You’re not alone.”

“I see that. I’ve never been this ill prepared.”

We chatted and laughed about people in general. Then she saw my ham. 

“It’s not scanning.”

“Great……” I thought, but I said, “I didn’t catch the price.” 

She politely asked my former student to run it back to the meat department for a sticker.

By this time, another lady got behind me in line. She was not a contender for the hams.

“You making dinner for the family?”

“Yes I am” I replied.

She looked at my bags. 

“You don’t have nearly enough wine for that” she said.

“Nope, no wine. But I got myself IBC root beer. Does that count?”

“Sure thing.” 

My ham came back and I swiped my card.

I wished my friendly cashier a happy holiday and my new lady in waiting as well. My former student asked if I needed any help getting my things out to my car. I declined but thanked him.

When I took my items out at home, my fancy bubble bath was in the bag with the ham. 

Was that on purpose? A jab at my conflicting values?

I smiled and put that on my list of things to tackle tomorrow. 

Or at least before Memorial Day, the next time I have to procrastinate. 

Maybe the odds will be in my favor?

Or as Katniss would say, I volunteer as tribute. 

Today at Kroger could have been a battle, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t that bad, and I still remembered to recycle.

At least I have that figured out. 


Eleanor Roosevelt Girl Wonder (a.k.a. The Day I Won The Dress Code War)

I still have clothes I wore fifteen years ago. This is one part nostalgia. One part hoarder. And another part… height. I’ve been the same height since I was twelve. Now, some things I have lovingly donated because once you are not a teenager, the “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” needs to rule your every wardrobe decision.

When I was in tenth grade, I had to fight what we’ve finally come up with a word for: shaming. I was once “shamed” for a beautiful silk blouse.

I was sixteen.

My mom bought me a beautiful sheer silk blouse. I still own it because it is so lovely (and the whole hoarder thing). It is sheer black and it has gray and silver flowers on it. It also came with a black silk tank to wear under it. The tank reaches my hip bone when I stand and the straps are about as wide as my index, driving finger, and ring finger put together.

I wore it to school with a black skirt, which did touch my knees, and black dress boots. This was 2001, and I was already watching Sex and the City. I found my kindred shoe spirit in Carrie Bradshaw. It also happened to be the year that I was first told that I look like Sarah Jessica Parker. This is something that I now get frequently.

I walked into school that day, like every other day, eager to see my friends and start my day. I knew that second and fourth hours would come around eventually, and I would have to face math and science, but everyone has a struggle. Those were mine.

None of my friends make a big whippity do about my shirt.  In my experience, teenagers don’t care. Unless you’re doing something really outlandish, they don’t care. They are trying to get through their own days without mishap, caring about yours is not on the agenda.

And beside that, I hit a phase around fourteen that I never outgrew. Pretty dresses. ALL the dresses. Some may call me a hoarder.

The fancy(ish) blouse, skirt, and boots thing was nowhere near abnormal for me.

The day droned on as it does when one is a high school sophomore. But I had a ray of sun in the middle of my day. I had English third hour. I remember loving tenth grade English and reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I sat next to people that I still know today and are not at all surprised that I teach writing. English was the best class ever. I got to read, we wrote, and I wasn’t (too) bored with the grammar and sentence diagramming. It was easy for me.

But then, after third hour, and before lunch, all hell broke loose.

I walked to my locker, which was on the hallway that all the science classes were on as well. The senior that had the locker next to be helped me pound it open (it stuck at the top) and I prepared to go to lunch. My best friends were waiting and it had been two whole class periods since we’d last seen each other. Something exciting must have happened. Surely!

“Miss Scott, you’re going to need to cover that blouse. It’s transparent. You’re violating the dress code.”

Oh no. I turned my head and saw my tenth grade chemistry teacher.

“Why me? Why now?” I thought.

I don’t really know why I chose that moment to exercise my “I know the English language better than you do”, smarty-pants, high school showoff moment, but I did.

“Well, actually it isn’t. My shirt would qualify as translucent, or even opaque mostly.” I slammed my locker and stared. Game on bro. Whatchu got?

He had the power to either a.) send me to the principal’s office, b.) make the rest of my day a nightmare. or c.) order me to change.

“You need to find something to cover that shirt before I see you again Miss Scott.”

“Yeah, I’ll get right on that…” I thought.

I was a straight A student, minus the occasional B in math and the evil known as science. I followed every rule. I only punched boys when they deserved it. But nowhere, anywhere, not in anyone’s wildest imaginations did I have the word “rebel” attached to me. Ever. It would have slid off of me like melting ice cream down a cone.

I had no intention of doing any such thing to cover my beautiful blouse. So, I didn’t.

I ignored him and went to lunch.

But my fit of teenage rebellion didn’t last long. I had chemistry afterward.

I walked into the room, sat in front of two friends and next to my lab partner.

“Miss Scott, I see you didn’t find something more appropriate to wear.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“You have a choice Miss Scott. You may either cover that up or you may go to the office.”

I don’t hide anger well. My face shows everything that I think. Poker will never be my game.

I should have taken my chances with the office.

But one of my friends, a boy I’d known since sixth grade, gave me his Red Wings hoodie and gave me the “don’t fight it” look.

Mr. Chemistry won that round. I slid my friend’s hoodie over my head and proceeded to try to make sense of the elements.

The bell rang and we walked into the hall. It was only then that I realized that my friend’s hoodie was HUGE. He stood a good six inches taller than me. I’ve been the same height since I was twelve. My friend was at least six foot.

His hoodie bagged on me and it covered my skirt completely. I looked like I wasn’t wearing pants. I felt horrible and exposed. I looked like I’d done something wrong, and I hadn’t. My blouse was more conservative than a cheerleader’s top and my skirt was longer. Yet there I was, wearing a Red Wings hoodie of shame instead of an Hester Prinn letter. But little did anyone know, including me, that when I’m made to feel bad about myself, war is going to break out. And in this case, I felt like the Delta Force.

“Miss Scott, I better not see you without that hoodie for the rest of the day.”

“Fine.” I said. “You might see me with it, but I’ll be damned if you see me with it on.” I thought.

I walked to my next class and promptly tossed off the hoodie.

Round two.

I made it through fifth hour Spanish, but I had to walk by Mr. Chemistry to get to sixth hour geometry.

“Miss Scott, didn’t you hear me the first time? I gave you explicit instructions.”

And to the office I went. Where I should have gone the first time. With the hoodie on.

I went into the office where I addressed every person by name. Then I sat. Waiting for the assistant principal to call me into her office.

Thank goodness! I was to see Ms. Assistant. A woman! She’d understand this debacle.

“Miss Scott, what are you here for today? Are you okay? Why are you missing class?”

I told her about Mr. Chemistry and the battle of the skirt and hoodie. I also got a little bold.

“I am not going around the school looking like a tramp. This hoodie covers my entire outfit and it looks tacky.”

See, I could be bold? And tramp? Sex and the City was paying off.

I proceeded to tell Ms. Assistant Principal that I was aware of the dress code and to my understanding, I wasn’t in violation. Yes, it said no “spaghetti” straps. My tank was the width of three fingers. Yes, it said that shoulders needed to be covered. Mine were.

Ms. Assistant Principal looked at the blouse I’d worn to school. “It’s fine” she said. “I’ll let Mr. Chemistry know that you are not violating the dress code.”

The day ended. I went home. And I told my mom about Mr. Chemistry.

“He did what?’ my mom asked.

“He told me to borrow a hoodie from someone and cover up my shirt” I replied.

“There is not a thing in this world wrong with that shirt!” my mom exclaimed.

When I told her how the hoodie covering all of me, including the skirt, made me feel, she also gave me a bit of advice that I’ve never forgotten.

“Don’t you ever do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. I don’t care who tells you to do it. You stand your ground, and if they have a problem with you, they can deal with me.” My mother sounded like Eleanor Roosevelt, who was one of my heroes.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

 

I look at stories about dress codes today most of the time, I cringe. I remember being that girl, shamed by an older male teacher. I wasn’t “acceptable”. And although I don’t condone arguing with an elder, particularly one in any sort of authority role, I find it less “acceptable” to shame a teenage girl.

I developed some guts that day. In the science hall of my former high school. The rest of my gumption would form later. That was enough for sixteen.

Mr. Chemistry left me alone for the rest of my high school career, and Ms. Assistant Principal wrote me letters of recommendation to college.

Do dress codes have their place? Yes.

But so do women and girls, and that place isn’t the principal’s office.

Eleanor Roosevelt wouldn’t have it.

 

 

IMG_6062.JPG

 

 

 

 

Skulking Is A Good Thing

“If you can count the number of friends you have on one hand, you’re doing good.”

“If you have five friends by the time you’re an adult, you have many.”

“You’ll find out who the real ones are when the time comes.”

My mother has always been a genius. The woman was born brilliant and regardless of whether or not she knows, or would admit it, it’s the truth. She would have been equally wonderful to a son, or sons, but from experience, she was perfect for a daughter. Singular.

When I was growing up, I had friends of all kinds. Some were closer to me than others, but I never roamed the hallways at school without knowing someone. I had a “friend”, or at least someone to sit with, in every class. My friends had varying interests and went on to become whatever they were destined to be, and many of them surpassed their own expectations. I am proud of them.

My mom warned me that as an adult that would change. If I had five friends I was doing great.

As an adult, the number of close friends I have can fit in the palm of my hand.

I hate (not really) Taylor Swift for her trademark “squad” because I had one long before she made it popular. If only I were a famous singer too… I’d have cornered the market on that phrase long ago.

But since “squad” makes me think of cheerleaders, acrobats, police, and other assorted craziness, I’ll go with “skulk” which sounds horrendous; however, a skulk is a group of foxes, and they are truly foxy. They are beautiful because they are confident, independent, brilliant, and they love without condition. We are a skulk. Taylor may have her squad. My word is more punk rock anyway.

I started thinking about this today as I was in my home office, working on projects and doing all things “teacher” that I do at home.

I have a bookshelf to the right of my desk that is decorated with things from those in my skulk. I have a Winnie the Pooh plaque that reads “Friendship is knowing you can lean on each other.” And isn’t that what is about?

I’ve had my share of part-time friends. The ones that let me down. The ones that move one step to the right when I lean backward. And although I have forgiven them for their letdowns, I  haven’t forgotten it. But I thank them for their roles in teaching me what it really is to be a friend.

Next to Pooh, I have all the cards that my skulk has sent me this year for various things.

I have quite a few “you got this” and “thinking of you” cards. We send them because we can and because the cost of postage is minimal compared to the emotional value of receiving true words of love and gratitude on card stock.

I have every one that each of them has ever sent me.

Ever.

 

And sometimes, I pull one out of the stack and read it again. Just because I can. And because the words of good friends are always worth reading more than once.

It doesn’t matter what kind of day I’m having, their words are always there.

My motto for life is “I got this” and I truly know who “gots” me when I don’t myself.

They aren’t aware of how many times a day I thank the cosmos, fate, coincidence, or just sheer luck that I have these women.

Every woman needs another woman that just gets her. That understands without any judgment and says, “I got you.”

You’re lucky if you have one. You have a national treasure if you have two.

If you have more, you need to start thinking of what you did right in life and keep it on repeat.

I fall into that latter classification.

Somewhere along the line, I did something right.

I received a new card in the mail today from a member of my skulk. All my friend wrote inside was “thinking of you” and “love”.  That’s all I will ever need.

Thank you to those that cheer me on and mean it.

Coincidentally,  the card I received today?

It was designed by Taylor Swift.

 

 

Why “They” Believe Me

 “You’re too young to be the teacher!”

“You teach college?”

You’ve never taught high school?”

Do they think you’re a student?”

“They actually take you seriously?”

All common questions when people hear that I teach writing at the university that I once attended. 

Why, yes. “They” do. 

When I was younger, in my late teens and through my twenties, I got annoyed when people mistook my age. 

“You’ll appreciate it later” is a refrain I heard often. From my mom. My grandma. My friends’ moms. Everyone.

“Yeah….doubtful” and I snorted a little. 

I was annoyed at my twenty-eighth birthday. Not because it was a bad birthday. On the contrary. My husband took me to a Tigers game and we had a fun day. No, it was the “late twenties” but that bothered me. 

“Late twenties. Late twenties. Late twenties. LATE TWENTIES.” I scoffed from Woodward all the way across the parking structure, through the passage between Ford Field and Comerica Park. 

“Late twenties…

Then twenty-nine….

I proudly proclaimed it would be my FIRST twenty-ninth birthday. I would only turn 29.2, 29.3, 29.4, and so on after that fateful day. 

We did a really nice dinner with both sets of parents. And it was a good day.

However, thirty reared its ugly head. It loomed. Kind of like the marshmallow man in Ghostbusters. 

Or should I say, 29.2?

It wasn’t the number that bothered me. It was what it signified. I was married. Check. Owned my home? Check. Grad school? Check. 

But there was still something

And I don’t know what it was (is).

I should be something. Feel something. Say something. Else…

I was thirty after all.

My husband, my best friends, and my family knocked my birthday not just out of the park but into the next city. Hey Toledo, did you notice?

A few days before my birthday, two of my best friends took me on a mission. We ate breakfast at Toast, a place in Ferndale that I had heard of but never visited. Then we took a trip to The Peacock Room in Detroit. It’s one of the most beautiful dress shops I’ve ever seen much less shopped. 

The entire day was fit for a queen and we took an iconic photo in front of The Thinker to commemorate. 

The next weekend, the weekend of my birthday, my husband took me to the Detroit Institute of Art to see the Frieda exhibit. It took my breath away. And I thought that was the end of the day. It wasn’t. 

We visited John K. King books on Layfayette. It is a bit of heaven on earth. 

Then, we ended up at one of my best friend’s homes. We went to dinner with her, her husband, and their delightful daughter. 

The day of my birthday, we had lunch at one of my favorite local places, ate cake made by another of my talented best friends, and went bowling with our parents and my husband’s aunt. 

My 29.2 birthday was not just a celebration. It was an event.

And I was the star. But what made it truly great was the participation of farm near every person I care about. Even my lifelong friend participated from California. 

Every time someone asks me my age, twenty-five is my “go to” answer. Don’t ask me why. I don’t have a good reason that isn’t itself a lie also.

Unless…

It’s because I started teaching when I was twenty-five.

When students ask, and they do, I say “I’m younger than George Washington, and I’m older than Miley Cirus.” And then they guess. And I state that even if the answer was correct, I would not tell them. Like politics and religion, my age isn’t a classroom topic of conversation. 

Yet they ask. 

Every year.

Today, I received a comment on my age that I haven’t received in the past.

My compliment came from a woman that I know only casually from school.

She has the most beautiful Eastern European accent. 

“Your parents must be so proud of all you have accomplished at such a young age. To teach college?”

I said thank you and that it had been a lot of work. 

“You have a young face and an old soul. I admire the way you connect with every person you meet.”

“I think that’s an important trait to have.” I replied,  “every person has something valuable to add.”

“You are a good teacher.” Then she told me to have a good class.

I thought of her comment about a young face and an old soul. I thought of it on my way to class and on my way home. 

What did she mean? I’ve heard that expression but no one has ever outright labeled me an old soul. 

I’ve always felt a little different. I like weird things. I listen to weird music. I wear weird clothes. I read weird books. 

And I have always been “old” for my age. Ask my parents. Or my K-12 teachers. Better yet? Ask my friends. 

I am just over a month from 29.3.

I am looking at this a little differently than I did last year. 

I am, as my gracious complimentor said, an old soul. And yes, I buy outrageously expensive vegan, organic lotion with SPF. 

Maybe that’s why “they” believe me. When I look in the mirror, I see a 29.2 year old. 

But maybe, just maybe, it’s not about what I see.

I’m beginning to see that the world sees me differently. At least my world does.

The people that matter to me see that “oldness” and know it’s the best part of me. They have helped me develop my best self.

And the friendly face at school today helped me too. 

This year, I’m not going to be 29.3. 

I’m almost 31.

No Such Thing As A Skinny Bitch

On January 27, 2014, I did something stupid. It was one of those polar vortex days. My school called off class after I had already gone into work, so I was already up, dressed, and annoyed. Two weeks into a new semester is not a time to get behind. 

I thought I would be a hero. 

“I’ll be helpful, AND my workout will be done.”

I thought I would shovel the driveway. 

We don’t have a long drive. Ours is a mid-1970’s sub with quarter to half acre lots. However, at 5,000 below zero with a wind chill of artic hell, it felt like it was a mile long. 

I came inside about 45 minutes later and said to my husband, “I can’t feel these fingers”, referring to my pinky and ring finger on my left hand. 

I assumed I’d just gotten cold (really cold) and it would come back. 

I was wrong.

The next day, I couldn’t feel my entire left hand and part of my right. 

“Do you think I should see a doctor?” I asked my husband. 

“I think you just have freaky hands.” He said.

I went to the urgent care anyway. He proclaimed that “the capillaries in your hands are still cold.” I should have known then to question everything that would happen next.

The following day I got up and couldn’t feel my legs from my hips to knees on both sides. 

I was scared. I didn’t know quite what to think but I’m a highly imaginative person. Dr. Google told me a host of horrible options. And I believed all of them even though I was fine three days prior. 

I made another appointment. This time to see a “regular” doctor. 

We went through the same smattering of questions. What was I there for? What did I do?

She couldn’t figure it out. She said she had no idea. But I had “hyper reflexes.” Fantastic. Was I Spider-Man now? 

She looked at me after a fashion and said “I think you have M.S.”

I’d read that the day before. Dr. Google told me all about it. I have a cousin that I don’t know but I know he has M.S. 

She sent me for a brain MRI. The waiting period was the worst. Tell a person like me, an empath, a sensitive, okay, an emo, with a highly imaginative streak, that she “might” have a life altering disease. Tell her. And watch her world implode. 

The most exhausting part was pretending to be okay for the outside world. My students didn’t need to be affected by my crisis. My family, aside from my parents, didn’t need to know. 

I told only my husband, my parents, and my best friends. Rally they did. Thank God. They aren’t rocks. No, they are planets. They’re too amazing just to be limited to minerals or parts of dead dinosaurs. 

My MRI came back fine. I was fine and I could prove I had a brain! Science backed and everything! But, I did have a “cluster” and the neurologist scared the hell out of me again when she said “it looks like brain cancer”. 

How? Does one go from being FINE to M.S. and brain cancer?!

It wasn’t. Further examination proved it to be a generic anomaly that I was born with. It’s harmless and, perfectly normal. 

Another MRI showed  what really happened to me. I pinched several nerves in my neck. 

THAT WAS IT?!

I was furious. 

Three doctors. Plenty of worry. Two MRIs later. And the nurse from my primary care doctor was right. At that visit, the follow up to the urgent care, she looked at me and said, “you have a pinched nerve.”

I could have surgery. 

I could go to physical therapy.

I could just deal.

If I stuck to a specific exercise plan, I could get the feeling back. I would be fine.

So I did.

I bought an $80 exercise bike and began working on my legs. This seemed stupid at first. I’d been an avid walker, yogie, Pilates girl, and not-very-good-but-I-try runner. The bike whipped me. My legs felt like they weighed 60 pounds. Each. 

For six months, I worked to get feeling back in my legs and hands. Until one day, I just had it. I was typing and realized I could feel the keys. 

The feeling in my legs returned too. One day it didn’t feel like making every effort to walk.

I’ve kept up the workout. Every now and then I fall into an awful temptation to quit. When I can’t shake five pounds or I just don’t feel like it. I have complained about being fat when I’m not. And some days it feels like too much effort.

I hate it when I’m heckled for being anal about getting my workout in every day. Or when someone says “eat a cheeseburger.” Sit on a pin. 

“You’re a skinny bitch. You can afford it.”

There is no such thing as a skinny bitch.

Everyone has a struggle. 

I keep this routine up because I’ve been terrified. I worried that my (fortunately mis) diagnosis would alter my decision to have children among other fears.

I have had to work to get back to the woman that could easily walk 20 miles a day for breast cancer. I’ve had to work to walk up and down stairs with ease again. 

I will eat a cheeseburger when I want to. Or noodles. Bread. Cake. Whatever. I. Want. 

There is no such thing as a skinny bitch. 

And I know that and yet sometimes, I still want to throat punch the smiley girl on my DVD telling me “you can do anything for 60 seconds.”

I have two choices. Hurt my hand and break the tv, or continue to be badass.

I humbly choose the latter. 

Thumbing My Nose at Third Grade

There have been many times I’ve thumbed my nose at third grade. First, I thumbed my nose at it when I was told I read at a tenth grade level. In fifth grade. Then, when I published my first poem, in tenth grade. Again when I became president of my high school writers’ club. Placing in multiple essay contests in college. Getting my degree in English. Going to graduate school. Getting my master’s. And the first time I stood in front of a class of my own. 

To the teacher that told my parents that I would “never learn to write” and I would “never be a good writer”, I mostly thumb my nose…at you. 

I have thought of my third grade teacher often. I think of how I should feel sorry for her. She was ill often and she died too young. But I am reminded of the assumptions she made about me as an eight year old little girl, and my heart breaks for her. The eight year old I once was. 

I remember my mom and dad telling me that we were going to work on my cursive. Sounded good to me. 

In those days, my  dad got home before my mom and  for weeks we worked on my handwriting. He bought me a pad of that huge writing  paper for kids. The kind that looks like a painter’s easel. Every day, for at least 26 days, we worked on cursive. He chose a letter for me and I would practice at my childhood desk in the living room. 

Week after week I improved. I should have learned cursive in second grade, but that debacle is a story for another day. Needless to say, I didn’t. I had a real winning K-4 education to say the least. My parents were my real teachers. I wonder if that could get some sort of back payment from the district? I went to school and made friends. I don’t recall learning until grade five. 

I don’t remember when I found out that my third grade teacher cast my ability in such doubt. My mom might have told me, but I doubt it. She wouldn’t have ever deliberately repeated the cruel, doubtful words to me. 

By the time I reached middle school, I could only write in cursive. This remains true today. My printing is passable but I take pride in my handwriting. 

I took my first creative writing class in seventh grade. Again in eighth. And by the time I was in high school, I was writing terrible short stories that my featured my friends and our famous boyfriends. I married a Hanson brother more than once. Terrible short stories but for a budding writer, but we will just call them “the early work” and move on. 

In high school, I started to become known as a writer. My classmates knew it. My teachers wanted more of it. I came to writing easily. It was something I craved and I excelled. I was allowed and encouraged by everyone around me to shine. And I did. 

It sounds like boasting but it isn’t.  I was encouraged to be good. My family, friends, and teachers saw something in me that was unique. Eminem said that no matter how many times he got his ass handed to him as a kid, he could write what no one else could. That one thing he always had. While I wasn’t getting beaten up in school, and I did well, I too thought the same thing. I could write what no one else could. 

I was once the kid that “would never be a good writer.” Tell a kid with a keen curiosity and a natural storytelling ability that he or she “will never” and that person will do one of two things. One: that person, like me, will do everything humanly possible to prove you wrong. Two: the kid will absorb your words and think they are the truest thing since sunshine. Only that kid won’t photosynthesize. That kid will wilt. 

I’m pretty sure that my third grade teacher was only taking about my handwriting, but now, I think how dare you. How dare you tell my family an unequivocal “she will never.” How in the actual hell does one know what an eight year old “will never” do? 

I would love to tell her how wrong she was. I can’t but I think she knows. Somehow I think she can see. 

Now,  I turn my thumb around and flip my it up at my dad for teaching me cursive. At both of my parents for teaching me what my school so expertly failed at for many years. At my seventh and eighth grade creative writing teacher. At my tenth grade English teacher. I am a teacher because of her. I flip my thumb up at my college professors. And I flip two thumbs up at the first people to hire me to teach. 

There are plenty of things I’ll never do. I’ll never become an astronaut. I’ll never be the pop singer I wanted to be at age eight. I’ll never paint like Kandinsky. And the odds of my winning an Oscar are not in my favor. 

But I will also never make “never” statements about a child. 

And I’ll give one more. To my third grade teacher, thumbs up. I did write. And I do it every day. 

Sunny Days are First World Problems (in suburban middle class Michigan)

I got ready to leave today and thought, “I don’t wannnnna.” In my head, I was a surly four year old whose mother just asked her to pick up her Barbie dolls. In my head, I stomped my foot. I slammed my doors. I cursed the day for just being Wednesday.

Sunny days are first world problems in suburban, middle class, Michigan.

I leave to “begin” my Wednesdays at 2:00 in the afternoon. It is hard. By 2:00 in the afternoon, I am well into the goals I set for the day and the routine that I have established.

Today, when I left the sun wasn’t shining. In fact it had just rained. But when I arrived at my destination, the sun was out. In Michigan! And in March… The sun was out and it was kissing 60 degrees.

I am quite happy to have the obligations that I have on Monday and Wednesday, but I wish that I could begin the day early and end at a “normal” time. As much as I would hate a 9:00-5:00 job, 5:00 p.m.. is a reasonable “quitting time”. And because I am a morning person, by 5:00 p.m., as I write this in fact, my brain is slowly turning itself off for the night.

I didn’t used to be a morning person. As a child, teenager, and even as a younger adult, it wasn’t happening. I wasn’t much of a night owl either though. I was a mid-day lion. I don’t know when the switch occurred, but it has and I can’t deny that I am much more productive and have my best “game” earlier in the day.

I spent ten minutes thinking about getting out of my car. It is good that I arrived early. I call my car “Barbie Beach Mobile” because a.) it suits the model, and b.) there are few things that I like better than sunshine, sand, and flip flops. I am a summer girl through and through.

“Ahhh… blessed be” I thought. I sat with the window down, my glamorous pink sunglasses on, and my hand gently resting out of the open window.

It took me a full ten minutes to muster up the get up and go to actually get up and go. I walked into the building, and in my head, the four year old was still pouting. She was having a ballistic fit that she was inside and it was sunny. She wanted the Barbie dolls thrown all over the living room.

Sometimes adulting is hard.

But then I saw a sight that never stops getting old.

I saw two people that I have the pleasure of teaching and they were walking in together. I walked in behind them, but I was a good distance away from them.

“I love this class” one said.

“I know. I do too” the other acknowledged, “the pronoun joke was actually kinda funny.”

“She is kinda funny.”

The four year old in my head was sent to her room and the adult in me took over.

This is why I am here. I am here to create moments like “the pronoun joke” and to have people looking forward to learning what I have to teach.

Am I going to create that kind of excitement for every person? No. I’m only one person.

But I am one person that loves what she does, even on sunny March days, in Michigan.

People poured into the room and one by one they all said “hi” and I asked how every person’s day was going.

As is habit, when class started, I asked “how are you today, how are things, anything we need to talk about before we talk about writing?” I ask this every day. My best friend taught me once that sometimes, one just needs to get the wiggles out. I let them get their wiggles out first thing.

“It was really damn hard to come to class today!”

I looked right at the person that said it and asked why.

“It’s finally sorta nice out.”

The rest of the class agreed.

“How about this,” I started, “what if… when it gets nice, stays nice, and dries out, we take our act on the road once or twice when we can?”

The class looked at me like I’d told another pronoun joke.

Take our act on the road?

“Let’s go outside when we can. If we don’t ‘need’ tables or computers, let’s go outside. We can all sit someplace and conduct class on the grass.”

I’ve given them a million dollars.

No, two million dollars.

The person that mentioned liking the class on the way into it asked, “like, for real?”

“Yes! I’ve done it before. It’s a nice change. As long as you let me wear my glamorous pink sunglasses.”

They agreed to let me be fabulous and we could go outside when Michigan says it’s okay.

After we made a plan to go outside when we could, the four year olds in all of us went to our rooms, put away our toys, and waited patiently for dinner. We were good kids again.

We discussed research methodology and ethical incorporation of source material. I talked about annotation and we looked through databases.

On the way out, they hoped that it was sunny and warm on Monday.

The “I love this class” student walked up to me before leaving and said, “you know, thanks for offering to take us outside.”

“Of course” I replied “I love being outside and it really is a nice change of pace.”

“Well, I appreciate that you can tell that people get restless. That’s pretty cool. See you Monday! And I hope it’s sunny again.”

Sunny days are first world problems in suburban, middle class, Michigan. But they can be the greatest aid to a teacher of writing and the college freshman that just want to be four from time to time.

Adulting is hard. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be boring.

 

 

 

I’m Not Sure Why It’s Funny

I like to think that I’m above a good joke about butts. I’m not. I could never have been an astronaut for several reasons but actually saying “Uranus” makes me laugh hysterically. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I am a twelve year old boy. Welcome to grade six, it’s nice here. 

Today I was at my parents’ house for a bit. I was visiting with them and among other things, collecting the quilt I had as a kid. The special one that my great grandma made for me. One of the only tangibles I have left of one of my favorite people. 

While I was there, I also collected the mother/daughter journal that my mom and I started last summer. I stared it as a project to give my (someday) children. I do think it’s important for me to share generational stories and actually know my children, instead of the lip service that so often passes among other people. 

We also picked up on the conversation that never stops between us. It’s scary at how accurately we can predict what the other will say. Right down to tone and inflection.

 I am my mother. I am her speech patterns. I am “buggy” instead of “cart” and I’m “pin” for “pen”. Do not ask me what some words are. Just trust me. 

So there we were. In my parents’ kitchen. My dad was watching an episode of NCIS and I was getting ready to leave. Then it happened and I’m not sure why it’s funny. 

One of the characters said something about another being from Djibouti. Pronounced: Jah-booty. 

I looked at my mom and in my very best Lost in Space, I said “I’m from Uranus. I’ve landed on earth to take up residence in Jah-booty.” 

Now, the thing to keep in mind is, we are both silent laughers. Not the silent “this isn’t funny”. No…. The silent “I can’t breathe, move, or feel my face.” You might want to put a hand under our noses and check for air. It wasn’t until we both snorted that I believe air was taken in again. 

She looked at me: “Jah-booty!”

I looked back: “Your anus!”

My dad looked like: “You two are bonkers. Certified bonkers.”

My husband will one day be up for sainthood, as will my father. 

I’m not sure why it was so funny. But we both doubled over and had tears streaming down our cheeks. I looked like a member of The Cure. 

A few minutes later, I collected myself. I left relatively intact and made my way to work. But in the back of my mind, while facing a room full of college freshman, I kept hearing “your anus” and “Jah-booty” on replay. If I laughed out loud at random, it’s alright. The students known I’m inclined to laugh at my own jokes. But I didn’t tell them this one. 

They get enough “hey what did the noun say?” 

“What”? 

“I don’t know. I had to ask a pronoun!”

I had a moment today with my mom. It should go in our journal. Because that’s what happens when mothers and daughters have an unshakable bond of love and then of friendship. We break apart at butt jokes. We trap farts in a jar. Or not. 

We trap memories and laughter. Held together by smile lines and journal entries. These are life’s sprinkles.  

Mothers and daughters can laugh about butts. Because we should be able to laugh about everything. And I treasure these jokes. These moments. These silly “I can’t breathe” laughs. 

She’s my mom. She laughs about butts. I occasionally think I’m a robot from outer space. But don’t tell anyone. We are ladies after all. 

But at the end of the day, I could text her “your anus” at 11:00 pm. And she’d laugh, texting me back “Jah-booty.” 

This is what happens between mothers and daughters.

I don’t know why it’s funny. 

But I know it’s an essential. Like a sprinkle. Only better.