Friday, November 30, 2018

Memorable Moments at the Movies

It was the Monday after Thanksgiving 2018, and I took my 7-year-old daughter to a showing of "Ralph Breaks the Internet" right after school. I already knew that the movie theater was this kid's happy place, but this trip ended up being extra special.

We were the only two in the theater.

Not only did we loudly talk and make jokes throughout the showing, she got up and danced around the empty theater during the credits. I mean, ran up and down the aisles shaking her "groove thing" to "Zero" by Imagine Dragons.

And then as we were walking out, she said, "I'm gonna tell them this is the best time I've ever had in this theater." And she did. Bless that teenage concession stand employee that listened to her speech and smiled at me over the top of her head.

I think this is the first time I've fiercely hoped my daughter would remember a moment for the rest of her life.

But the more I thought about it, I realized that it wasn't my first "memorable moment" at the movies.

It's the summer of 1999, and I'm with a large group of friends heading to the movies.  We've driven 20 miles to see the new releases playing at the Capri V Theatre in downtown Ottumwa, Iowa.  More specifically, we're here to see "The Blair Witch Project."

Now I can't remember all of the people in our group, but I do remember that I was the last person in line to buy a ticket and Jessica was right in front of me.  Jess and I were both 16 at the time. There were two people selling tickets, and when Jess got up to the counter, one of the employees asked her how old she was.

Let me reiterate that.  They didn't ask to see her ID, they just asked her how old she was. 

And as I heard her say 16, my heart sank.  "Blair Witch" was rated R, and now they weren't going to sell her a ticket.  All of our friends ahead of us in line (some only 16, some older) already had their tickets, and to be perfectly honest, I was pissed off.

She told the cashier that she'd like a ticket to see "Bowfinger" instead.  I gritted my teeth and bought my own ticket to "Bowfinger" so Jess wouldn't have to go to the movies alone.   In case you don't remember that film, it's a PG-13 comedy starring Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy.  I'd like to tell you more of the plot, but I honestly don't remember. I was way too angry to actually pay attention.  I do remember how Jess kept forcing herself to laugh too hard at the jokes and looking over at me in the dark as if she was trying to "will" me to enjoy myself.

It wasn't going to happen.  I was way too angry at her for "ruining" my evening.

I was angry for her automatic honesty.

Which, nearly 20 years later, seems crazy.  I was mad at my best friend for telling the truth.

I recently read a book by Gretchen Rubin were she writes that "what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while." And while it's hard to believe that Jessica Eakins was completely truthful every single day, I do know that she was truthful MORE than once in a while.  If there is an underlying theme in all my memories of Jess, it's that she was an honest friend that never set out to hurt anyone's feelings... but often told people what they needed to hear.

The Capri V Theatre closed a year after Jess died.  And I can't remember the last movie I saw at that location, and I honestly can't remember the last movie I saw with Jess.  I often wonder if this moment - this "life lesson" at the movies - would even be burned in my memory at all if Jess hadn't died less than five years later.  But it is.

So strive to be honest... more than once in a while.  Even if you end up forcing someone else to watch "Bowfinger."

Monday, November 5, 2018

Compare and Contrast

I was the first person from my close group of high school girlfriends to get married and have a baby.

And even though I'd already planned a wedding and had a little girl, when my three friends all got married within the same 10 month span... and then were all pregnant/had their own daughters within the same 7 month span... I felt incredibly left out.  Chalk it up to left over high school insecurities, but I just felt excluded somehow.

Fast forward a few years, and I'm pregnant again.  This time, a couple of my friends are also pregnant and we end up having our babies in February, March, and April of the same year.  "Yes!" I remember thinking.  "Now I get to go through this process again... right alongside someone else. This is going to be great!"

Remember that old expression, "Be careful what you wish for?"

Because of the opportunity to watch these other two kids grow up alongside my son, it has become sort of second nature to compare and contrast their development.  To be honest, this has been both a blessing and a curse.

After reading a social media post, I started thinking that maybe MY son should be talking because HERS was.  After spending time ignoring those gut feelings and (continually) reminding myself that "comparison is the thief of joy" - we decided to have our son evaluated.  Turns out he has expressive receptive language disorder.  And while it doesn't always feel like it, reading that post that ultimately pushed us to have him diagnosed was a blessing.

Enter the "curse" aspect.

We are taking steps to help our son.  He sees two different sets of therapists, we have a communication board in our home, and so on.  But I can't seem to stop comparing where he is right now with where he SHOULD be.  Things are progressing slow and steady, and I know in my heart that all forward progress should be celebrated.  But lately it feels impossible to stop worrying about the future.  When are these sounds going to turn into real words?  How is he going to learn to read?  Will he be able to keep up with kids his age?  Why am I worried about Kindergarten when I should be worried about how he can't even say his own name?

Now, back to those darn social media posts.  Watching children younger than him hit the milestones that he hasn't yet is heartbreaking.  There isn't any other way to describe it.  I wish I could turn off the compare and contrast aspect of my brain, but I can't.  I wish I could stop comparing his development to his older sister, but it's so hard.  I wish I could just say the right things and do the right things and "fix" him, but it doesn't work like that.

All I can do is love him for who he is at this moment in time.  No comparing.  No contrasting.  No conditions.  And some days, that's much easier said than done.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Eavesdropping on Your "Future Selves"

A couple weekends ago, I met my best friend for lunch in a college town located halfway between our houses. Not wanting to get back to "real life" too quickly, we went to a coffee shop after our meal. The place was full of college students with textbooks and laptops and the vibe of being simultaneously stressed out and super relaxed.

My friend and I chose a table outside near a group of four girls who appeared to be meeting for a study session.  As we talked about our husbands and our kids and all the "exciting elements" of life in your mid-30's, I noticed the nearby table of students had fallen silent and a few of them were even snickering.

Oh, ladies.  I hope you enjoyed eavesdropping on your "future selves."

Because while I'm sure I appear to be ancient, I have been in that seat. I have attended many "fake" study sessions where I mostly ate snacks and gossiped about the weekend.  But I also studied hard and made big plans for my life that didn't involve the things I am actually doing today.  Just you wait.

Can you remember when people older than you stopped being cool?  I have vivid memories of being in elementary school and thinking that my high school's class of 1993 had to be the coolest people on the planet. Those teenagers were pictured in the local paper every week being sports stars. They directed/marched/twirled flags in the awesome high school band.  They dressed super trendy, and I couldn't WAIT to get older and be like them.

Then when I got to high school, and made older friends who graduated and went off to college... THEY became the cool kids.  That high school class of 1999 seemed so much more worldly than I was.  Now they were going to parties and drinking with their new friends, they were in cool clubs and doing god knows what without having to worry about their parents.  I couldn't WAIT to get older and be like them. 

Then I got to college.  Multiple times a year lectures from "visiting young professionals" would be part of my courses.  And then THEY became the cool kids. Making their own money, using their degrees, traveling the world, making a difference.  I couldn't WAIT to get older and be like them.

But then, well, as the saying goes, "life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans."

So I hope we entertained you, college students at the coffee shop.  If you're lucky, someday you will have your own partners and kids to vent about to your friends... while a younger generation listens in. And if you're *really* lucky, maybe your conversation will be cool enough that they won't snicker.  

Monday, September 24, 2018

Obituary Anxiety

I have obituary anxiety.  Yes, I realize that how bizarre that sounds, but it's true. 

I'm not anxious about dying. Obviously, if I were to keel over tomorrow, I'd be worried about my children and devastated that I wouldn't be there to watch them grow into the people they are becoming. I'd be sad that my parents were losing a child, because that's a pain that I can't even let myself think about.  But I'm not afraid of dying.  Not at all.

I'm afraid of that five paragraph blurb that will run in the local paper or on some funeral home website.  I'm afraid of my family struggling to FILL those paragraphs. 

I've gotten married and had a couple of kids, so (whew!) that part is taken care of.  God willing, there will be some people to list in my "survived by" section.  But what are they going to put in the biography section?

I guess they could list some of my educational background, but are they really going to make it a rehashing of my resume?  "She worked for five years here, two years here, she really enjoyed this job - but she left it after one year to move to a different state with her husband..."  Blah, blah, blah.

I'm not currently involved with any civic organizations, I'm not attending a church regularly, I'm not volunteering in my community... what the heck is going in that paragraph?  She never turned down a slice of cake?  She enjoyed singing loudly in the car? She couldn't cook to save her life, but she successfully washed/dried/folded 10,452 loads of laundry in her lifetime? 

I think my anxiety isn't *really* about the future obituary, it's about feeling like I haven't accomplished much with my 35 years.  It's about not feeling successful on a day-to-day basis. 

I haven't been able to adjust my definition of success to match the "stay-at-home parent" season of life that I am currently in, and it's a problem.  It's a problem that's entirely in my head, and I'm working on it. 

Here's hoping sharing my thoughts with friends/acquaintances/and even strangers on the internet will help. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

She Left Scars - Part One

On my left wrist, there's a crescent-shaped scar that is the exact size and shape of Jessica L. Eakins's pinky finger nail.  I don't remember what I did or said to deserve that wrist "stab" I received in middle school, but I do remember laughing later when she said it was going to leave a mark. She was right. 

Do you know what a scar actually is?  It's an area of fibrous connective tissue that replaces your skin after an injury.  Connective tissue.  If scars are ultimately about connection, than Jess gave me several.

She was my first best friend.  She was the first person I ever invited to sleep over at my house... and she peed her pants that night. To be fair, she was headed to the bathroom in the middle of the night when she got startled by my entirely black dog.  The dog came running down the hall to greet her, and since she was walking around in the dark, all Jess heard was a jingling sound appearing to come out of nowhere.  If we had been at her house instead... I might have peed too.  I wouldn't say that first sleepover was "scarring," but it's definitely a memory that connected us.

Many years later, Jess "came out" to me in high school.  I can remember the layout of the classroom we were sitting in, I can remember her turning around in her seat to tell me... and then I can remember how she recanted her statement with a "just kidding" soon after.  What I can't remember is what I said in reply.  I'm sure it was an extremely unhelpful "Okay..." or something of that nature.

When Jess "came out" again (for real this time) our freshman year of college, I wish I could say that I responded in a better fashion.  Instead of showing her the love and support she needed, I made it all about me.  All I could think about was how this revelation changed our relationship.  How many times I'd changed clothes in front of her, innocently shared a bed with her, talked about guys with her... it all felt so different now.  This relationship I'd had for nearly my entire life felt *unfamiliar* all of a sudden.  And I hated it.

My reaction to that time in our lives feels like a scar.  Like a blemish on a friendship that was mostly smooth sailing.

Don't get me wrong, we were still friends after that.  Eventually something clicked in my head, and I found myself standing in the "Lesbian Fiction" section of Iowa City's Prairie Lights Bookstore trying to find her a present.  I can't remember what I selected, but I do remember I read about half of it before I gave it to her.  I marked my place with a post-it note saying that I was sorry it took me so long to reconcile her "true self" with the memory of our shared childhood I had frozen in my head.

Later, when she found my note, she told me two things: the first was that I needed to know that all lesbian relationships were NOT like that book (ha!) and the second was that she always knew I'd come around eventually.

Even with her encouraging words it still feels like a scar. A scar that won't heal.  Mostly because we can't talk about it.

Jess died during the spring of my Junior year of college.


(End of Part One.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Power of Storytelling

Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of getting together with some college friends that I hadn't seen in over 10 years.  While we met up with a plan to watch a college football game at a local bar, we really ended up reminiscing with football as background noise.  We ended up telling stories.

What is it about storytelling that has the power to bring people together?

We all know that person who is just an excellent storyteller.  They could be rehashing their most recent trip to the grocery store, and we're somehow riveted.  Maybe it's his body language and the way he punctuates every sentence with his hands, or how she uses different voices to indicate different characters while she's speaking... but there is something about this person's delivery that manages to keep you engaged the entire time.  Talk about powerful.

And being on the receiving end of these stories also has the power to make you feel included. "Ah, yes.  I know this story," you'll think as you smile to yourself.  "I was there.  I'm part of this memory." Even if you weren't there, you might also take comfort in the common experience.  "Yes, I too created a tiny human that sometimes puts random things up his nose."

It's clear that storytelling can bring a room of people together, but can it bring people together across time?

As we cleaned out my grandmother's house after her recent passing, I found some children's books in her closet. The woman saved many things, and finding these books that no one had looked at in over 20 years wasn't surprising.

What WAS surprising was how much I felt my grandfather's presence when I read them to my daughter a few nights later.  I could still hear his strong, clear voice reading me those stories. I could feel my sisters wiggling next to me as the three of us squeezed onto the hide-a-bed during one of our sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa's house.  I could hear my grandma chastising my grandpa from the other room for getting us "all riled up" with his goofy voices and facial expressions when we were supposed to be getting ready for bed.

My grandfather died when my daughter was 3, and while she recognizes him in photographs, I'm not sure if she has any actual memories of him.  But as I read her these same stories he used to read me, I swear I felt him right there in the room with us.

Behold, the power of storytelling.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

I can('t).

I can't.

I can't do this anymore.

I can't clean up one more cup of milk from the kitchen floor. I can't pick up these same toys over and over again.  I can't referee one more screaming match between siblings.

I can't spend one more day wearing clothes covered in random sticky substances - snotty noses wiped on my pants, spit up on my shirt.  The dirty laundry multiplying before my eyes.

I can't spend one more night falling into bed exhausted, worn down not only by the actual day - but by the weight of everything that I didn't get accomplished.  My soul crushed under the expectations of what a GOOD mom would have achieved in the last 24 hours. 

But... I can take a breath.

I can remember that making memories is often messy, and that kids are washable.

I can laugh to myself when I see them making a face that I make, or using phrases and expressions they clearly have inherited from their mother.

I can watch them sleep and marvel at the fact that no matter how old they get, I can look at their faces and see those babies we brought home from the hospital.

I can be the keeper of our family memories.  I can save these snapshots in my head.  I can remind myself that when there are no more sticky hands and dirty faces to clean, I will have earned the privilege of regaling them with stories of the little people they used to be.

I can.

Friday, August 24, 2018


Yesterday was my daughter's first day of First Grade.  And like many parents, I took some photos to commemorate the occasion.  Later that morning, when I was looking them over, I saw that I gotten a pretty cute one of my daughter standing next to a sunflower she planted earlier this summer.  My first thought was, "Oh!  I'll have to print this one for Grandma Betty."

And a wave of grief rushes in.  Grandma Betty died three weeks ago. 

Grief is such a funny thing.  The way you have absolutely no control over what will trigger you. 

Grandma Betty's death wasn't unexpected.  In fact, when my phone rang that morning three weeks ago, I knew exactly what was waiting for me on the other end of the line. I don't even think I said hello to my mother.  I answered the phone with, "Is Dad okay?"

He was, and I was too.

I didn't cry during that phone call. I didn't cry when I told my husband.  And I (surprisingly) didn't even cry when I told my daughter. I cried when I went to Grandma Betty's house a couple of days later.  I was overwhelmed with grief just being in a place where she was *supposed* to be, but wasn't. 

My birthday was about a week ago, and Grandma Betty didn't call me.  She didn't send a card that included a paragraph about what she'd been doing or a detailed report of her most recent visit to the doctor. There wasn't five dollars tucked into the envelope with a note that said, "Go buy yourself a little something."  My sister gently pointed out that she might not have done those things anyway, considering she had been recovering in the nursing home recently.  But the grief seemed to hit in the realization that she would never call me on my birthday ever again.  The grief smacks me with the hard truth that I am now "grandparent-less." 

I'd like to tie this all up in a nice bow, and tell you how I feel her smiling down on me and it's all going to be alright.  But I know these waves, these moments of grief, will keep coming. The spaces between them will increase, the intensity of the feelings may decrease, but I think the grief will always be there.

I remember reading once that "grief is just love with no place to go."  So maybe I'm not being hit with waves of grief at all.  Maybe it's just waves of love. And I'm not about to wish those away. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Used To Be...

I used to be a writer.

Okay, maybe not.  I've never really been published outside of the local newspaper and a college magazine. But I used to feel like a writer. And now, I can't remember the last time I actually edited a piece of my own writing.

I often feel like the designated proof-reader in my family. I've edited college papers for BOTH my sisters, and as they've transitioned into their adult lives - that has turned into editing press releases/stories for my sister in marketing and editing playbills/bios for my sister the drama teacher. And I love it. I feel smart. I feel useful. I feel helpful. I feel like I'm doing something of value - especially when the hum-drums of my current state of "stay-at-home Mom-ness" feel like they are backing up on me.

And I want to write again.

So maybe that's what this is about. Getting back to a creative outlet that I used to enjoy. I've blogged before - about a previous weight-loss project (the blog and the project lasted less than 40 posts back in 2009-2010) and again while I was pregnant with my daughter (started in 2011, unexpectedly took a year off and just got back into it a couple months ago). I used to sit down and write (bad) fiction, or just type general musings about life into Word documents. (Or maybe it was WordPerfect, did anyone else use that program?) I've won a couple of essay contests, I've read Stephen King's book "On Writing". I used to feel like a writer.

Let's get back to that.