Saturday, August 23, 2014

Life didn't end with Bad Hair.

The days are shortening, and the evenings are starting to feel a bit like autumn.  The skies of the prairie are starting to take on the harvest technicolor we are blessed to have here in North Dakota.  All of this signals the return of the Great American Drama, also known as School.

I recently did a little "research" on Facebook, asking friends who have known me for at least 20 years, their perceptions of me, back in our school days.  One of the beauties of social media is the ability to stay in contact with people I met 35 years ago.  My intent of asking for feedback was to see if the perceptions held of me were similar to those I had of myself, or completely different.  I was delighted to see my friends play along and generously obliged me with feedback.

The unscientific data resulted in many descriptions, including kind, outgoing, smart, athletic and determined. More than one person mentioned my great laugh and that I was funny.  I was also described as an "includer" and "maternal."  Some of the people who responded knew "of me" and some of them knew me well.   I'll be honest, I was kind of shocked by these perceptions.

I found the responses hugely interesting, because the reality is I felt incredibly insecure and as though I didn't really fit in any particular group.  I felt more comfortable talking to teachers than most classmates.  I was in band, but played percussion, so I was "one of the boys." 
7 to 2.  Us girls were slightly outnumbered by the boys, but we ROCKED those painter caps!

I was a skater and golfer, but didn't view myself as "athletic" because I didn't play the big-gun sports of volleyball or basketball.
Sweet rolled jeans!
A Senior Picture back in the day when they didn't look like soft porn...

 I was smart, that I knew; however intelligence doesn't always rate high on the list of things high-school guys look for in prospective dates.  I really didn't view my GPA as more than a way to get $100 out of my older brother since he bet me I couldn't graduate with a 4.0. 
Bad Fashion & I were BFFs.
I made the hugely unwise decision of chopping off my hair into a cut usually reserved for phy-ed teachers.  This occurred at the same time most of my class was killing the ozone with Aqua Net hairspray.  I learned the hard way that if you cut your hair during puberty, it will take eons to grow back, so I couldn't rock the big hair that didn't fit in margins of year book pictures.  

We couldn't afford the latest trends of clothing, so when others sported their "Coke" rugby shirts,


Girbaud jeans, I did not.  And in High School this seemed to be, in my mind, the stuff of what fitting in was all about.

I had often wondered if the discomfort in my own skin may have actually come across as being aloof or haughty.  My 'research' apparently disproves this concern.  It also shows that my own self-perception was really distorted.  I want to make it clear that these internal conversations stemmed from no comments or interactions with people, as we today would call "bullying." Nope, it was just that annoying little voice in my head whispering negative crap to me.

My senior year I got involved in theater.  If there was ever a place to be accepted, it was the "pit," as the locker bay behind the theater was referred.  I don't know if universally, theater is the land of misfit toys, but it was in 1991-1992 at MCC.  And it was glorious, and freeing, and wonderful. I just wish I had discovered this refuge of beautiful miscellaneousness earlier in high school.
Just a tiny portion of Pit Dwellers. Beautiful girls who became fabulous Women!

Quite a few years ago, I remember telling my niece, "Just get through High School. Just survive. I would NEVER ever do High School again!"  Her sweet face looked at me with sheer bewilderment.  "Really?!!" she exclaimed.  I realize now, more than ever, that these precious beings, teens and pre-teens can not see beyond the chaos that is their world.  Their worth is dependent on the labels they wear or their number of "Likes" or "Retweets."  Their value depends on achieving thigh-gap and looking flawless like the airbrushed facades in magazines. 

I want to take them all, the walking vessels of hormones and angst, pull them close and whisper, "It doesn't matter! NONE of it."  I was filled with self doubt in a time when my constant movement wasn't recorded on social media.  I didn't have to worry about my number of "friends" "likes" or "shares."  My own insecurities stemmed from my interactions which I, more or less, had control over in a real world, not from instances that could be created in a cyber word. 

For the teens I love, this terrifies me.  I want them to know that none of that stuff matters. It doesn't matter now, and as "research" shows, it won't matter in 20 years.  What will matter is the stuff of character and attitude.  What will matter is how you made someone feel and not the bling on your buttocks.  Your laugh will take you further than your model of car.  I want young men to understand that masculinity is not determined by the number of girls they "got with" over a weekend, but from integrity and respect they show to others.  I want them to know they shouldn't trust that naggy little voice filling their head with negativity, because it's usually a liar.  I want them to know that this, the time when EVERYTHING is important, it is just a blip. A single yellow dash on the curvy highway of life.  It is just a moment.  Just survive and get through it. Just breathe and know that all those insecurities you feel, everyone else is feeling them too. Trust me on this.  Your self discovery is just beginning and 20 years from now you will be amazed where the highway has taken you.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Summer of Everything and Nothing

As summer starts to wind down and the days become slightly shorter, I find myself in hives and palpitations seeing the displays of overpriced backpacks, not-the-right-colors crayons and every glue except the required one at Target.  I am just not ready for the grind to begin yet.  I run into people I haven't seen for a few months and the usual "How has your summer been?" or "What have you been up to this summer?" is inquired.  What have we done? Everything and nothing. I'm not sure how to explain it.

Going into this summer, I really did not want the kids to be scheduled to the Nth degree with activities. After the spring we had, I just wanted very little structure. I wanted to them to sleep in, and stay up late. I wanted them to be kids.  Selfishly, I didn't want to sit at the ball diamond for 2.5 hours a day, 4 days a week with the third wild wheel (the 3 year old) in tow, spending our retirement on ring-pops at the concessions.  With the Good Doctor's new schedule, I wanted to be able to play on the pontoon on a Wednesday, if he was off, and mostly, I just wanted to be.

I've been asked if I have given up writing, or have been training for any races. The reality, it most days I wasn't sure which day it was, since there has been just a beautiful lack of any schedule this summer.  Thus, that was usually my reason for missing the deadline for the local paper.  I haven't been running. Not for any real reason, other than I am still battling a tendon issue, but I haven't been inactive either.

I have spent countless hours in our yard.  It is sizable, and the reality is we inherited a lot of maintence to catch up on when we moved in here five years ago.  I have spent time breaking a sweat doing the kind of manual labor that leaves one utterly exhausted, sore in the haunches and shoulders,  salt covered but joy-filled at the end of the day.  I have torn back thorny bushes.  I have broken soil, by hand, to sow seeds and plants.  We got a new family member, an Alpine Goat named Bill, who has attachment (as in he thinks he's a human) issues, so I have pounded fence posts.  I have trimmed, pruned, raked and mowed.  I have helped the Good Doctor rebuild our deck with a lot of sweat and some tears, when he stepped on a screw.  (Not a nail... a screw...)   And through all of this I have thought and thought and thought.

There is something about doing this kind of work that makes me feel connected, in the moment... alive. As I trim the unruly bushes, I discover pines underneath that have been growing despite fighting for sunlight and nutrients.  
The unruly bushes are drug to either the goat, who feasts on the tender green leaves, or to the firepit, where the dead branches will provide us with warmth, light, toasted marshmallows and laughter.  It, we, are all connected.

I have had a lot of time to practice letting go this summer.  Being outside for hours means the 2 bigs are pretty much on their own inside.  The little is usually by my side with a clipper, cutting things I wish he wouldn't.  The bigs have learned a lot more self reliance this summer, and although self reliance may look like a pile of ICEE wrappers or an apple core, I take joy in the fact that they took it upon themselves to NOT come 2 acres out in the yard to ask me to get them something to eat.  They have had to  learn to play with each other better, and work together more without me in constant sight.   I have realized if I am going to play gardener, yard keeper and chef, there will not be time to play housekeeper.  I am SO lucky to have a husband who gets this.  We will have guests over for amazing meals, on the DECK. My outside will be inviting and welcoming, my bathroom will be relatively clean, the rest of the house? Nope. Not gonna happen.  I've come to accept and appreciate that those who come over, really don't care about the way my house looks.

This past winter was too long and too stinking cold to be inside. Plus, I had about 6 weeks of staring at these walls, wondering what lay ahead in my life, to continue to sit and look at these same walls.  I have not been able to get enough of the outside.  The wind rustling the leaves, my daughter calling to the mourning doves and having them answer her with their sad song.  I've needed to feel dirt on my hands, and smell the dampness of the evening as dusk settles around us.  I've wanted to lie on our deck, holding my youngest under a blanket, and count the stars as they fall to Earth.  I've let the belly laughs of a 3 year old wash over me as his big brother pushes him, in a way only brothers do, on the tire swing.  I've found myself in awe that I can smell the sunshine in my line-dried towels when I finally get around to folding them, 3 days later.  I've needed to just be. 

The grind and schedule of school and activities will start again soon.  The checklists, the homework, and the fundraising.  The days will consist of mostly "shoulds" "need to dos" and "requireds."  The drama that accompanies elementary school relationships will once again have a daily matinee and  anxiety will probably accompany it as the oldest moves to a different school.  But for now I will do my best to milk every last hour from this summer before the routine starts again.  It hasn't been a summer of amazing adventures and trips, but one of presence, love and observation.  Those are the things that are not easily captured on film, but more so in the heart and soul.  My hope is not just captured in mine, but in those hearts of those I love.