Keep on Rollin’

I’ve got Black Water by the Doobie Brothers stuck in my head, and I’m glad about it.

For at least the past five years, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am. Consumed by my roles as wife and mother, I can’t seem to recall who I was before, and lately I’ve become more and more anxious because I can’t envision who I am outside of these roles.

Just contemplating doing a “role stripping” exercise in a book I read recently prompted a nightmare in which I was cleaning my empty house. It was a place where I used to live with my spouse and kids and now I was vacuuming white carpet enclosed by white-painted walls and afraid to turn around because I was certain there was a malevolent presence lurking just behind me, laughing at my fear.

I don’t have to pay a therapist to analyze that dream. Read More

Fifteen Bands for Fifteen Dollars

May 14, 1994.

Weeks from graduation, my friends and I drove to the park-and-ride and took the Metro from safe and boring Fairfax County, Virginia, to RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Tickets in hand, we had our bags searched, and we joined 30,000 other concert-goers for the HFStival, what for us (or maybe just me) was an epic concert put on by the local alternative rock station. Read More

The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg

The Last Time I Saw You
The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I could have made it to last month’s book club at the library, but I wasn’t interested in that book at all, so I skipped it. This month, we have Elizabeth Berg’s The Last Time I Saw You, about a group of individuals who are attending their 40th high school reunion. Having just committed to attend my 20th high school reunion, I was particularly interested in the premise of this book. Read More

The Sour Grapes Test

The other day I found out that I graduated high school with a woman who is now a famous mommy-blogger with a recent New York Times Best Seller.

I felt a bit conflicted when I heard about this. And by “conflicted” I mean “in a bit of a crisis.”

My clearest memory of this particular classmate is from our tenth-grade biology class. We were studying genetics. The teacher had the whole class stand up and then she read off recessive traits. If we didn’t have the trait, we sat down, and if we had it, we stayed standing. As the teacher called out traits, I kept standing. Soon I realized that it was only me and one of the popular girls left standing. She looked around the room and saw me. I gave her a meek little smile and she gave that popular-girl half-smile, half-sneer thing that made it clear she was not happy about being in this recessive club with me.

I hoped that the next trait would force one of us to sit down. I even considered sitting down whether I had the next trait or not, but as it turned out, I got to sit down without being forced to lie. My ring finger is longer than my index finger and apparently hers are the same length. Or at least I think that’s the difference between us; it’s been more than twenty years, and my diaries from that time are in Ohio in the rafters of my mom’s garage so I can’t sift through the teenage angst to find that one detail. Regardless, I felt relieved to take my seat.

And now she’s famous and my friends (who’ve never met her) are quoting her and sharing links from her on Facebook.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. I’d been assured by parents, fellow outcasts, and teen movies that the kids who were popular in high school would be relegated to obscurity afterward while the nerds would inherit the Earth. I’d comforted myself with this thought for years, thinking that maybe its effects for me were diluted because I wasn’t even a very successful nerd; I only got 1320 on my SATs, attended Renaissance Festivals but didn’t dress up, and although I joined Model UN, I never could figure out the point. But now, it seems, it wasn’t true at all.

Hoping for compassion, I told my husband the high school biology story.

“Wow, so that’s why our kids look so much like me!” he exclaimed.

“What?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Because you’re so recessive. My genes are dominant. That’s why our kids look like me and not like you.”

“Have I met you?” I thought but didn’t say.

Then I had a fun time with another friend of mine doing the “sour grapes” thing.

“You don’t want to be on the New York Times Best Seller list,” she assured me. “It’s just a popularity contest. I mean, look how often John Grisham is on it.” And then we laughed, and that helped for a little while.

Then I made the mistake of mentioning the situation to my minister. I said I was having some trouble knowing what to do with this new information.

“You just feel happy for her,” she directed. Of course. What did I expect? She’s my minister. She’s professionally obligated to see the good in everyone.

And none of it helps because that’s exactly the problem: I know I should just feel happy for her. I feel ashamed that I’m not. I mean, I do feel happy for her, but not “just” happy. I keep thinking about that tenth-grade sneer and about how her blog—while occasionally very funny—just isn’t my cup of tea, and how her book—although I’ve not read it—appears to be just the type of feel-good overly optimistic rah-rah self-help book that I read only when I want to feel awful about myself.

And she keeps showing up, probably because she’s got great publicity people who can reach into my no-tv, no-mainstream-media life and still make me aware of her stardom or semi-stardom or whatever.

And just like in high school, half of me wants to hate her and half of me wants to be her.

But.

Then I tell myself, “You know? Really, this isn’t about you at all. What’s the harm in feeling happy for her? Sure, it’s luck of the draw. Sure, it’s a popularity contest. But she’s also got a compelling story, and she tells it in a way that resonates with a lot of people. So, good for her.”

Next year, it will be twenty years since we graduated high school. People can change, and based on her story, she was going through quite a bit of her own crap when we knew each other. Maybe after all these years she’d not be scandalized to know she shares all but one recessive trait with me. Or maybe I’m grown-up enough not to care if she is.

Maybe that’s the real problem. Maybe part of me really is trapped back in tenth grade, feeling doomed to obscurity and belittled on the basis of things outside my control, always comparing unfavorably to the people around me, wanting to opt out of the popularity contest at the same time that I secretly want to win at it.

Although it’s not even this particular popularity contest I want to win at. I don’t want to write a best-selling self-help book. I don’t want to be a mommy-blogger guru. I’d like to publish a book, but the party I want to be invited to is the one with Lionel Shriver and Marilynne Robinson and Jennifer Egan. So, no need for jealousy, right?

It’s been a few days now since I started writing this post. I’ve talked it through with a few more people and mulled it over while just living my life, and I realize that this is actually a unique opportunity for me. It’s given me a chance to revisit that unpleasant popular girl/unpopular girl dynamic from when I was fifteen and to react to it differently. Looking at it as a chance to see how I’ve grown over the past two-plus decades and reframe that old hurt, I really appreciate this opportunity. It threw me for a loop at first, but now that the dust is settling, I think I have more perspective. Despite what my minister says, I don’t think I need to feel anything in particular about the success of someone else, I just need to accept it as reality and move on. We each get what we get. If I’m happy for her, great, but the key is to not feel unhappy about myself.

The real test, however, will be how I feel if I see her at our 20th reunion next year. But then, I doubt she’ll be the only test at that reunion. There’s a reason I’ve been avoiding my reunions for 20 years. But, maybe it’s time to jump in. Chances are, it won’t be as scary as I expect.

A Record of my Accomplishments (Decluttering-wise)

Here’s what I did yesterday while the sitter was with the kids:

 

Left side of upstairs closet #1. Luckily, it passed the cat's rigorous inspection.

Right side of upstairs closet #1. Don't ask what's in those plastic storage bins.

Pantry (aka, closet under the stairs with the low doorframe I always whack my forehead on). Yes, it's stuffed. But that's a good thing, right?

 

If you sent us a card for our wedding, sorry but it’s now in the recycling. (Well, I kept a couple of personal notes, but the cards that were just signed are outta here.) And what you don’t see is that there used to be a ridiculous set of white plastic shelves just inside our office door that served as our pantry. I managed to get rid of enough stuff that I was able to fit all of the items from those shelves into either the kitchen cupboards or that under-the-stairs closet, which might explode next time we go to Costco. The shelves are now in the upstairs bathroom waiting for the extra toilet paper and tissues that are currently stored in my clothes closet.

Today, I moved all of the craft supplies from the upstairs closet to the hutch-and-buffet thing in our dining room, which is where we do most all of our crafts anyway. I made space in that piece of furniture by moving a bunch of cake pans and glass pitchers to the otherwise useless space in the back of the corner cupboard in the kitchen. I did this while standing on a stool with my son clinging to my legs and laughing.

The bottom shelf still holds food items, but the upper two shelves are all crafts.

 

Craft closet/pantry extension/hutch and buffet. The green boxes are from the extra wedding invitations I finally discarded. They now hold pompoms and sheets of colored craft foam.

 

While the potatoes simmered on the stove this afternoon, the kids and I raked the yard in preparation for the snow/rain/sleet/slush we’re getting as I type this. Mostly what the kids did was sit in the leaves I piled on the tarp then rode on the tarp as I hauled them and the leaves to the holding piles under the big evergreen tree things at the edge of the yard.

I got one heck of a workout this afternoon.

 

Leaves that were, until a few hours ago, covering our lawn. We keep them in piles to use as "brown" for the compost throughout the year and to cover the garden beds in the hopes we'll have lovely soil in them that's ready to plant come spring.

 

I also went through a collection of keepsakes in the antique trunk my mom gave me when I got married. I found portions of my childhood rock and shell collections, which I gave to my daughter, and several stuffed toys which I tossed towards the children and let them dive upon. Included in the bunch was a plush football with the initials of my high school on it that my brother made in home ec class, a hand-made “word fun” activity sheet (an Easter-themed word-find) that my sister made for me, I think when I left for college, and this:

 

I'm pretty sure my little brother drew this for me to take with me when I left for college. I love that Garfield is saying, "Rad."

 

I also found several school photos, band photos, and homecoming photos of friends from middle school and high school. I considered scanning and posting those to my Facebook profile, but decided that these were people I’d prefer didn’t unfriend me.

When my husband returned home from work, my daughter immediately showed him all of the great stuff I’d given her and made a point of how special they’d been to me when I was a kid and that now I had given them to her. My husband spent the evening asking me where things were. (“Honey, where are the crackers these days?”) I gave him helpful responses. (“In the cracker cupboard, dear.”)