Out of Step

Do you ever feel like you are completely out of step with the rest of the world? I’m sure everyone feels like that from time to time. It seems to me a perfectly human way to feel. I feel like this a LOT. Usually, I can brush it off and ignore it enough to continue about my day with my normal amount of zany weirdness. But there are times when I become so aware of my out-of-stepness that I can’t ignore it. It sneaks up on me at the oddest moments, and brings with it an almost physical pain laced with a longing that is all too familiar. It’s a weird feeling — almost like stepping outside of yourself for a moment. One moment, you are sitting there, minding your own business and living your internal sort of life. And the next, you are standing there, right next to yourself, looking in surprise at … well “you”. It brings reality into sharp-edged focus in a way that is singularly disconcerting.

This happened to me not that long ago, as my daughter and I were sitting down to breakfast at a favorite restaurant. We had gotten up early that morning for an appointment. My daughter recently got her braces off, and we had to go into the dentist’s office that morning so the techs could make her permanent retainer. We decided to grab a little breakfast while waiting for the retainer to be completed. I hadn’t slept well the night before. My allergies were bothering me more than usual, and I had been up most of the night not feeling well at all. I am NOT a morning person, even on the best of days, but this day was particularly bad. I felt horrible. And grumpy. And yucky. My hair was a mess. I had on an old t-shirt and an even older pair of yoga pants, because I had been running late that morning. These were the first clothes I could grab. I had no makeup, although I seldom wear makeup. I had forgotten my glasses and only had my sunglasses to wear so that I could see the world. My eyes were swollen and puffy from lack of sleep and allergies. I had dark circles under them, and I couldn’t breathe. Basically, I felt like my entire body and soul had been coated in slime. I was sitting at our table, slumped over a glass of iced tea and feeling really pretty awful about the world, and I kept seeing these cheerful families walking by. Whole families of morning people, joking and laughing and smiling and having a great time. And, just like that … it hit me.

These are not my people.

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I wish they were. I wish I was one of them: a person who goes to bed on time and gets up early in the morning with a smile on my face. I wish I was a person who looked forward to the coming of each new day with anticipation and excitement and fun in my heart. I wish I was always turned out and put together perfectly: makeup on my face, cute outfit, hair done and in place, matching shoes. I grew up striving for this ideal of “perfection”. I grew up being told this is what I should want. I should be pleasing to those around me. When people look at me, they should see things that are socially accepted and expected. The face should always be done. The hair should always be done and perfect. The nails should always be done, in an appropriate color and with no chips. The outfit should always be cute — not cute to me alone, but socially acceptably cute. The shoes should always match, and they must be socially acceptable as “girly” / feminine shoes. This means high heels. There should always be a smile on my face, even if my feet hurt.

I’m not any of those things. I’m not girly. Although both my husband and daughter think I am (thank you, God!), I am not particularly pretty. I hate clothes. I hate the whole process of shopping for them and mixing and matching them into different outfits that use all the same pieces but look completely different so that no one will know I only own three skirts. (I really, actually only own, like, three skirts. But I only like one of them. So I wear that same one over and over again.) I would walk around wearing a garbage bag with holes cut out for my arms and head, if I didn’t think it would get me arrested for public indecency. Now that I no longer work in an office setting, I am strictly a t-shirt and jeans or yoga pants kind of gal. I fail at hair, so mine is generally messy. I can’t fix it so that it looks nice, no mater how many times I try. And it’s blue — well, mostly blue, but with some purple and green tossed into the mix. My clothes are wrinkled and look as if I slept in them. Sometimes, this is actually true. My shoes don’t coordinate with any kind of “pretty” or “girly” outfit. I only own 3 or 4 pairs of shoes, to begin with. I used to have more, but my feet grew after I got pregnant.

I am scoring big on the nails, though. The rest of me might be a hot mess, but my nails always look good. I feel I should give myself points for that.

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I never get enough sleep. I plan to go to bed early. I have the best of intentions, but it never works out. I get distracted. Or I hit productive creative streaks late at night. This means I never get up early, given the choice. I am never willingly up at the crack of dawn  and looking forward to a productive morning. I seldom see “morning”. For me, “morning” starts around 10:30, which is practically lunch time for most people. I am never happy to face a new day. In general, I am hung-over and groggy from too little sleep. And I look it, too. I can admit this. It hurts, but I can admit it.

So I wonder, sometimes, what my goal in life should be. Should I be longing, even in a subconscious way, to be more in step with the rest of the world? My husband thinks I should be. My parents think I should be. I know it sounds weak and a little bit lame as I type it out here, but I have tried to be this way. I have tried to change so that I can be the way those around me want me to be. I have tried to change so they will be proud of me and happy with the person that I am. Is this me, trying to gain acceptance and love? I’m sitting here thinking about it, and I think … yeah, that’s probably what it is. I’ve tried so hard to be someone else — anyone else — just so I won’t be “me”.

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But isn’t it kind of stupid to continue trying, only to fail miserably every time? Each time I realize this is not who I am, I feel a sense of utter failure. I feel bad about who I am. I feel bad that I am not normal or conventional or creative in the proper ways. I just feel … bad. It doesn’t sound like enough to describe the true depth of how I feel, but it’s the only word that comes readily to mind. How many times do I have to bang my head against the same wall before I realize all I’m going to have at the end is a headache?

Maybe, instead, I should try harder to focus on the person I am. Maybe I should try harder to learn to love her. Maybe I should look at her, in her t-shirt and her slightly ratty yoga pants, and think, “She is a great gal. She is smart and creative and not afraid to live her own life.” And, if I think this enough times, maybe one day it will sink in. And then, it will be true. I won’t be afraid to live my own life and be who I am. I won’t feel out of step with the rest of the world. Instead, I will feel perfectly and beautifully in step with ME.

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A Rough Flight & The Kindness of Strangers

When we last met, I was (rather unhappily) preparing to wing my way to Hawai’i with my family. Oh, how I hate to travel. I like going to new places, having new experiences, and making great memories. But I hate the mechanics of getting there. I hate it with a passion. I keep telling myself to roll with the flow, or whatever, but I am not sure I will ever learn to do that. The whole act of traveling from Point A to Point B is stressful and overwhelming, especially when going by plane. We are three days into our trip now (well, 2.5, technically), and I am far enough removed from our airport experience to say it was worth it. It has been a fun and relaxed trip so far. In fact, I have thought of so many things I want to blog. But I have been too busy living and enjoying my family to take the time for it! Now, that’s a good vacation!

This afternoon, my husband and daughter are at the beach, enjoying sand and sun and ocean waves. I begged off, since I have little to no interest in going into the water. And I am just about the whitest person I know — literally. I am so fair-skinned I could almost be invisible. Hours in the sun are not a great idea for me, even if I slather on the extra-heavy sunblock. And so, it seemed like the perfect time to sit down and blog a little.

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So … Let’s start where any good adventure story must: in the beginning, with planes, trains, and automobiles. Remember how I said life would be grand if I could figure out a way to drive to Hawai’i? If that underwater car or a personal submarine ever becomes a thing, sign me up! Because our trip might have been a lot smoother if we had used some other mode of transportation. Sadly, Hawai’i is surrounded by water. Islands tend to be that way, after all. Right? So our travel choice was by plane. The first leg of our trip left at o’dark-thirty. We got up around 3 AM so we could leave home by 3:45 and get to the airport two hours ahead of our 6:30 AM flight. My husband thinks I’m insane because I have to be at the airport 2 hours ahead of my flight. It’s not just a suggestion with me. It’s a compulsion. I have so much anxiety and dread over going through airport security and getting scanned and talking to strangers that I need to have the mental luxury of knowing I have lots of time in which to accomplish this entire process.

We did the trip in two legs: Dulles to Chicago O’Hare. And then Chicago to Maui, which was our final destination. The first part was a little under 2 hours. The second part was a little over 8 hours. And all ten hours was pure, hellish torture.

Remember how I mentioned my daughter has strep? We got the diagnosis and her antibiotics on Thursday afternoon. We left home on Friday morning — way, way, way early on Friday morning. Even so, she had two doses of medication, and we knew she wasn’t contagious. I was worried about her flying with a lot of congestion, but her doctor told me it was okay for us to go on the plane. Keep in mind her doctor didn’t diagnose her with a sinus infection or anything like that. Initially, they told us to do the saline rinse and antihistamines for congestion. After the strep test came back positive, they prescribed the antibiotics. Which is fine. I’m not complaining about this at all. I am happy for my daughter to have as few doses of antibiotic as possible and only when absolutely necessary.

The problem is that, while the antibiotics went to work on any bacterial infection in her system and her throat calmed down, her congestion just got worse. And worse. And then, we added in a pressurized airplane cabin and all the air pressure changes from going up and down and maintaining cruising altitude. It was horrible. There’s no easier way to say it. It was just horrible. Things started out okay, but once our Chicago flight reached cruising altitude, the pressure built up and up in my daughter’s sinuses and ears, until it felt like her head was going to explode. She was in so much pain. She was in tears because it hurt so badly. I haven’t seen her in this much pain on a flight since she was a little baby. It tore me up, especially since there was very little I could do. When we landed at Chicago, we had a 2-hour layover. We were able to eat and get her some decongestant, and she felt a lot better. I breathed a silent sigh of relief that, maybe, the worst was over.

It wasn’t. Because the same thing happened on the Chicago to Maui leg of the trip. Only this time, she was in unrelenting pain for 8 hours. The pain was so bad that she ended up throwing up, which has never happened for her on a plane before. We weren’t fast enough with the airsickness bag, and barf got all over her and me. Luckily, we didn’t get any on the seats or the floor around where we were sitting. There are few feelings that are worse, as a parent, than having to sit and watch your child suffer. She spent nearly the entire 8 hour flight leaning on my shoulder for comfort, although I felt completely inadequate to truly comfort her. I did my best, and maybe just being close and knowing someone loved her in that moment helped. A little.

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And this is when an amazing, beautiful thing happened. After she threw up, my daughter went into the bathroom at the front of the plane to try and clean herself up a little bit. I followed her up there to see what I needed to do to dispose of the “yuck” bag and to get some supplies so I could clean our area of the plane, to the extent it needed it. I explained to one of the flight attendants that my daughter was having a hard time with sinus pain and pressure, that it was so severe she was sick to her stomach and threw up, and that I needed some supplies to make sure our area was clear. And then I kind of hovered outside the bathroom door, waiting for my daughter.

As I was anxiously hovering and, I’m sure, looking as socially awkward as a person can possibly look, a lady sitting on the front row came up to me. She told me she had overheard what I told the flight attendant. She asked if my daughter had motion sickness. She said, if that was the case, her family had Dramamine and would be happy to give some to us. I told her it wasn’t normal motion sickness, but caused by too much sinus pain and pressure. I explained that my daughter was on antibiotics and had taken decongestant a couple of hours earlier, so I wasn’t sure about giving her additional medication. This lovely woman nodded and said, “Don’t worry. I have just the thing.”

She went back to her family and dug through her bag, coming up with a pair of Sea Bands. These were brand new, in their little plastic case. They had never been opened. She said they were traveling with her grandson for the first time, and they had bought these for him. But he was fine and didn’t need them. She said we could take them and use them, to see if this might help settle my daughter’s upset stomach.

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So, picture this: I am standing there next to the bathroom door, trying to be inconspicuous and out of the way and failing miserably. I am disheveled and grungy. My hair is in a quick and messy bun, but it is flying all around my face. I have on no makeup. I have been up since way before 3 AM because I wasn’t able to sleep the night before we left. There are dark circles under my eyes, and I am about a split second away from crying. And I have barf all over my shirt. And this lovely woman … this absolute stranger … is standing there, holding out a thing that gives me the hope I will be able to help my child. When I told her I was worried about giving the bands back to her, she pressed the little box into my hand and hugged me. “Don’t even think about it, Mama,” she said. “We’ve all been there.”

“Don’t even think about it, Mama. We’ve all been there.” Could any one person say anything wiser than that to another person? I mean, think about it. We are living in pretty crappy times. Sometimes, it seems like we all hate each other. Sometimes, it seems like we are all so caught up in being angry and miserable that we can’t even see the beauty of life around us. I swear there are a lot of times when I think people are just looking for a reason to be angry and hateful and miserable. But there are good people out there. There are beautiful, caring, and loving people out there. Even now. When you are bogged down in the accusations and the hate and the vitriol spewing forth from every direction, close your eyes and remember that there are people out there who are capable of loving you, even if they don’t know who you are.

And I think that is what this post is really about. Because the pain and dread and awfulness of that flight will fade in time. One day, probably in the not-so-distant future, the story of my daughter’s flight from hell will become one more family memory that we trot out during Christmas or when we are all comparing the war stories of life. But I will always remember the stunning kindness of that stranger on our flight. I will always remember her hugging me tight, telling me without words that I can do this … that I am strong, and that I can do what’s right for my child … that I am not alone. I don’t know her name. I don’t know where she is from. I don’t know anything about her. But I will always remember the kindness on her face and in her heart. She will always live in my own heart. And I hope that, one day, I can pass her heroic kindness along the way.

“Don’t worry, Mama. We’ve all been there.”

The Adventure Season

Summer travel season is upon us. It managed to sneak up on me, just like it does every year. I always feel like I have plenty of time. It seems like school was just out yesterday, but, somehow, a couple of weeks have gone by. And now, my family heads out on our vacation tomorrow morning. EARLY. Like, 3 in the Blessed AM. Yeah. That type of early. For me, I would be perfectly okay with a 3 AM wake-up call if I hadn’t bothered going to bed. I’m a night owl, and will happily stay up until the wee hours of the morning. If I have gone to bed, though, forget about it. I am miserable.

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My family is going to Hawaii. Everyone I have told this to looks at me with a mixture of surprise and delight on their face. “Hawaii!” they say, “You’re so lucky. I wish I was going to Hawaii.” Guess what? I wish they were going to Hawaii, too, and I wasn’t. It sounds terrible when I type it out loud, doesn’t it? I know, it really does.

It’s not that I don’t want to go to Hawaii, specifically. It’s that I don’t want to go anywhere at all. I am tired and grumpy. And I hate traveling. There. I said it. I hate to travel. Once I arrive at my destination, I am sure I will have a great time. But I am filled with dread at the idea of actually getting from Point A to Point B. It will require spending time in large places crowded with people. It will require talking to strangers. It will require being crunched up next to someone I don’t know, all the while acting nice and friendly, when I am really pretending I am alone in my own private space with plenty of leg room. I think I should be able to drive to Hawaii. Yeah. That’s the ticket. We need to make that underwater driving thing happen … or something.

Plus, my daughter is sick. We just found out this morning that she has Strep. And I am sick, too. I hope it’s just an allergy thing. It feels like an allergy thing. Given the multitude of allergies I have, it is likely an allergy thing. But traveling when you feel less than yourself is never fun, even if you love the whole act of going from one place to another. When you’re a fuddy-duddy stick in the mud like me who hates to travel … well, it’s really pretty awful.

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I left my packing to the last minute. I did pick out my vacation nail polish a few days ahead of time, but that was about it. Up until about 10 minutes ago, I was frantically rushing around, getting the last load of clothes dried and tossing the last couple of things into the suitcase. I’m sure I forgot something. But hopefully it’s nothing vitally important.

And, for what it’s worth, my nails look fabulous. So, Hawaii — here we come! Ready or not.

Feeling Sad

 

I live half a country away from the place my heart calls “home”. It’s a 2-day car ride. It’s a 3 to 4 hour plane ride. In terms of quality of life, the place where I live might as well be on the moon. It is that different. It’s more expensive and more stressful and filled with people who are, at best, inconsiderate, and, at worst, downright mean. We’ve been here for fifteen years, which feels like an eternity in exile. In many ways, I feel I have adjusted to living here. There are even things I like about it. But the longing for home and to be with my family is always there. It’s an ever-present ache deep down inside me. Some days, I’m okay. Other days … not so much.

Today was a “not so much” day. It didn’t help that the weather was gray and muggy, threatening rain all day long. Or that I woke up with a headache. Today, my anxiety was through the roof. I felt I couldn’t breathe, like the weight of this place where we live was pressing down and down on me, until I would be ground to dust beneath it. I’m tired. I think that might be the best way to explain it. I’m tired of living here. Not the kind of tired that can be cured with a good night’s sleep, but the kind of tired that makes you feel worn thin in all the important places.

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Today was my daddy’s birthday. He turned 87. And I wasn’t there. I couldn’t be there to eat lunch with him. I couldn’t be there to give him a gift and watch him open it. My daughter and I sang Happy Birthday to him over the phone, but it’s not the same. I’m half a country away, and I miss my family.

A few months ago, it looked like we might be able to move back home. My husband was interviewing for a job in our hometown. He had cleared every hurdle with flying colors. He got nothing but positive feedback at every stage, from everyone in the managerial chain. He was called back for a second interview, and then a third. The company even insisted my daughter and I come to town with him to look at houses. And then … everything went right down the drain. There was some last-minute political maneuvering within the company, and my husband ended up on the losing end. It was one of those “friend of a friend” things.

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It sucked. There’s no nicer way of putting it. It just sucked. It still sucks. It was like, for one moment, the heavens opened up before me. I could look forward and see the future. I could see all of my closely-held dreams, moments away from coming true. It’s stupid and more than a little ridiculous of me, but I can’t let go of it. I still want to go home. I still have that dream. I still feel blindsided by the way the whole thing went down. Months later, and I’m still blindsided by it. I think my sweet husband has moved on from it so much better than I have. But my heart is still grieving.

I want to be with my family. I hate how morbid it sounds, but I want to have time with my parents before it’s too late. I’m lucky they are both in good health. They are rather curmudgeonly and set in their ways, but they are relatively young at heart. But, still … How many more birthdays will there be? Today, it really hit home for me. Just a few short months ago, it looked like we would be packing up to move by the time the end of May and beginning of June rolled around. Instead, it now looks like we are forever stuck in our same, old, fast-paced rut.

Today was my dad’s birthday. He turned 87. I sang Happy Birthday to him on the phone. And then, I hung up and cried.

The Junk Drawer

There is a neighborhood near where I live. I love this neighborhood. I’m not sure exactly what it is about it that attracts me so, but the attraction is undeniable. There is something homey and lovely about this neighborhood. It’s not exactly old, but also not exactly new. It’s a grid of sidewalks and broad streets lined by well-kept houses with beautiful yards. It is full of bird song, and, sometimes, I even see bunnies or deer, if I walk in the back parts of the neighborhood, where it connects with a city park. There is something that’s just so … “Norman Rockwell” about this neighborhood. The houses, for the most part, aren’t big or fancy. Some have been added onto over the years, expanding to settle in and fit on their lots. Some seem to have been unchanged since the day they were first built. It’s not the kind of neighborhood you would drive through to ooh and aah over the houses. It’s just a normal, everyday neighborhood where people go about the business of living their lives. They go to work. They come home. They tend to their yards. Maybe they drink coffee on the patio and watch their kids play. Realistically, I know there is nothing special about this neighborhood. Nothing at all.

And yet, this neighborhood never fails to give me happy feels. This particular little spot on the map calls to me on a soul-deep level. It’s not too much of one thing or another. It’s just a whole lot of “normal”, and I think this is a big part of why I love it so. I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood like this. I’ve always wanted to have a cute, not-too-large and not-too-small, house. I’ve always wanted to have a beautiful yard full of flowers and budding trees and birdsong and the buzzing of happy bees. In my imagination, there would be a porch in front and a patio in the back, both perfect for sitting quietly to enjoy a cup of tea and a book. Maybe, if I were lucky enough, even a nice spot for getting busy with my writing. My kitchen would be warm and welcoming and homey. My closets, table, and hallways would be uncluttered. My floors would be honey-colored pine, and they would always be clean. I would be organized and good about putting things away. In short, I would have all my shit together. And life would be the most perfect kind of beautiful normal I could make it.

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I’ve never lived in a house like that. Or in a neighborhood like that. I grew up in the country, so we didn’t really have neighbors. I mean, neighbors existed, but we never saw them because everyone lived far from each other. We might as well have been all alone. There were no sidewalks. There were no manicured yards or perfect flower beds. Not that I regret the way I grew up. I don’t — at all. I had horses and cats and dogs. I was able to experience fresh air and nature and hard work, all of which are beautiful and wonderful things. At night, I could sit on our front porch and watch the stars come out while listening to the scurrying night sounds of life around me. I loved growing up this way, and a part of me wishes I could live in the country, even now.

But the other part of me, the realistic part, knows that I will never live in the country again. My husband is a city person. He needs activity and things around him. He doesn’t like being alone with his thoughts or with the quiet of nature. He gets bored easily. So, that part of me — the part that knows I am destined to be a city dweller for the rest of my life — has wished for a plain little house with a big yard and beautiful flower beds in a quiet, welcoming neighborhood. Instead, I have a townhouse. It’s in a teeny cul-de-sac neighborhood with six other houses. My house is too tall and full of stairs. The closets are too small, and my family tends to hoard things. Seriously, we never clean out our junk. My house is laid out in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, but it isn’t practical. It lacks storage space. The kitchen looks large and inviting, but, in reality, it is too small for more than one person to be in there at a time. It’s hard to find a place to put the Christmas tree. There isn’t enough space for an office and a guest room. My flowerbeds tend to be overgrown. I’ve found I’m not good at weeding them. They don’t seem to have enough dirt, so planting anything is difficult. All the front lawns have to look the same; it’s an HOA rule. Our backyard is smaller than a postage stamp, which means it is constantly muddy and torn up from our dogs.

But, really, the only thing wrong with my house is that it’s not what I wanted. It’s not the kind of home I ever imagined having. It’s not the kind of house I wanted. I was so excited when I moved here and we started looking for houses. My excitement lasted exactly five and a half minutes, because that was about how long it took for sticker shock to set in where property values were concerned. Even so, I was pregnant when we moved in, and I was ready to nest. I wanted a home I could put my heart and soul into, a place I could LOVE. But we had a long-term houseguest when we first moved in, and I quickly discovered my husband didn’t want to do anything new to the house. And I was too pregnant to do any of it myself. And then, I had a baby and a toddler and a little kid. So, life just kind of zoomed by me. I think I gave up. I gave up on the possibility of loving my house. Instead, this house, in my mind, is the compromise my husband and I made. We never planned to stay here. It was a “temporary thing”. We have now lived here for almost 15 years, partly because the economy unexpectedly tanked and partly because my husband hates change. And I am beginning to believe this is the only house I will ever have.

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This is where that neighborhood I love so much becomes dangerous to me. Even as I enjoy my walk through there, taking in the smells of flowers and the sound of birdsong, I feel this aching longing inside of me. I am proverbially standing on the outside and looking in, just inches away from what my heart wants. But still impossibly cut-off from those hopes and dreams. It makes me sad, sometimes. And, sometimes, I can feel my depression creeping in on me.

And that’s when I have to remind myself about the junk drawer. As I walk these sidewalks and look at these houses, it’s so easy to think about how perfect and beautiful they look on the outside. When I see the swings and the toys in the yards, I think about happy children running and playing and screaming in delight. When I see the flowers blooming all over the neighborhood, I think about quiet cups of tea on a perfect patio. Each house looks kept and loved and beautiful on the outside. It’s easy to think that life on the inside must be perfect, too. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that all these people have everything figured out, that they have managed to do what I seem to have failed at in magnificent fashion. In contrast, my mind thinks about my own unmade bed, my overgrown backyard, my overstuffed closets sorely in need of a good clearing-out.

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But, if I think about it, really hard, I bet every single one of those perfect-looking houses has a junk drawer. I bet they have at least one place where all the flotsam and jetsam of life ends up collecting. One place where they put all the things they can’t manage to toss or all the things that don’t seem to have a place. And, if there is a junk drawer, maybe there is also a cluttered table top. Maybe there are times when the people who live in that house can’t get along. Maybe they sometimes yell at each other, or they are late for dinner, or they forget to put gas in the car. Maybe their kids have problems in school. Or maybe they are sad over the death of a relative.

And then, I feel a little better about my own life. Because, maybe, my life looks perfect from the outside, too. I know my bed isn’t made. I know my kitchen table is cluttered. I know I have an overflowing junk drawer. But no one else knows this.

The point isn’t that I’m happy thinking about the potential unhappiness of strangers. I’m not. I actually hope the lives of all these unknown people are as perfect on the inside as they seem on the outside. The point is this: None of us has a perfect life. We all have to compromise, here and there. We all have to make the best of things. We all have to learn how to be happy with what we have. We all have to learn to count our blessings. But, in spite of not being perfect, life is beautiful. My life is beautiful. I have a husband I love. And he loves me back. I have a daughter who laughs with me and plays Pokemon Go with me. I have two dogs who love to snuggle with me. I laugh, every day. I love, every day. So, yeah, it’s not perfect — not on the inside, and not on the outside, either. But this life is mine.

And, once I learn how to cherish that idea, maybe I can start learning how to fall in love once again — with my beautifully imperfect life and with my unexpected house, too.

A New Hair Day … Again

I got my hair done recently — maybe a week ago or a week and a half ago. My natural hair color is just about the same as my skin tone. I think I’ve talked about this before, probably more at length than anyone cared to hear. (Or … read …?) But, the short story is this: In my younger years, I was a natural white blonde. As I got older, it turned to more of a honey blonde. And then, in my early to mid-twenties, a strawberry blonde with golden highlights. My twenties were great for my hair. I look back at them as my best hair years, by far. Heading into my thirties, I already had a good deal of gray interspersed throughout my head ‘o’ hair. And the hair that wasn’t gray was starting to turn into a mousy sort of ash blonde. I have very fair skin, and my natural hair color doesn’t present enough of a contrast with my skin color. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I look like I’m all one color. The ashy blonde of my hair makes my skin look sallow and ashy, too. And, thus, I become rather invisible in my natural color, which caused me to turn to dye. I was a bottle redhead for a number of years.

I had my daughter in my mid-thirties, and pregnancy wasn’t kind to my body. Or to my hair. For several years after my daughter was born, I did nothing at all with my hair. I didn’t cut it. I didn’t style it. I didn’t color it. I barely even brushed it. I would like to say this was because I was too busy being a super mom and having all kinds of fun with my growing daughter. But that would be a lie. The truth is that I was depressed. I suffered from depression for many years before I finally sought counseling for it. I felt like my hair was thinning, but I didn’t know what to do about it. Frustration plus depression all added up to: “Screw it. I’m not going to care any more, because it takes too much damn energy.” It’s not a great place to live, but I floated there for a long time.

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Eventually, things got better. That’s a really simplistic explanation, but I could write post after post about depression. And this isn’t about that. It’s about hair. I started caring once again. It didn’t happen overnight. But it happened. Once I started caring, I didn’t want to be invisible any more. So I went back to dying my hair. I started out quite normally, moving from a dark brown to the darkest, blackest of blue-black. And then … I took a deep breath and decided I would try “crazy” hair colors. I had always wanted blue hair, and my stylist was fun and supportive and completely willing to give it a try. She didn’t treat me like I was silly or ridiculous or insane.

There is no going back. It’s like I crossed some sort of no-man’s land that exists only in my mind. Or, maybe, like I finally found the truest, most honest form of my own existence. I’m not sure how to explain it, really. I’m an introvert. Like … Introvert, with a capital “I”. You would think I would hate having crazy hair, because people notice it. Some people love it, and they aren’t shy about telling you so. Some people hate it, and they aren’t shy about glaring at you in disapproval. But I love it. I freaking LOVE it. It’s like I wasn’t truly alive until I started going crazy with my hair color. It gives me joy and makes my spirit lighter. It makes me feel, really and truly, like ME.

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My latest hair adventure is something I like to call “Grunge Mermaid”. I wasn’t expecting it to look exactly like this. My last hair color had a very ocean or mermaid look to it. It was two kinds of blue with a little bit of green thrown into the mix. Having been off of my beloved blues for a while, it felt refreshing to have my favorite color back on my head. This time, I thought it would be more of the same. That’s the thing I love about crazy hair adventures. You kind of know what you’re going to get, but not really. And, so often, the reality far exceeds any expectations.

My latest hair is bright blue. And peacock green. And red. And even a little bit white, where some of the bleached strands show through. It is bright and vibrant and kind of like “KAZAAM!” up in front. In back and on the sides, it is this unexpected mix of colors that look like the ocean and graffiti at the same time. It’s the best hair yet. I say this every time, and I think it’s true every time.

I’m already thinking about what I want to do in a few months, when this hair fades. Purples were good. Maybe it will be time to revisit them. Or, I could go pink once again. One thing is for sure: I hope I never have to go back to “normal”.

 

An Interesting Outing

I think I live a pretty boring life. I don’t mean this in a bad way or a negative way. I just mean it as the truth. I look at blogs where the owner/writer seems to have a constant stream of daily adventures to post. Ditto with Instagram accounts or Podcasts. (I don’t actually listen to any podcasts. I just read the descriptions of them and think about how interesting they sound. I know. I am strange …) And then, I think about my own life in comparison. For the most part, my life is a never-ending series of “same old, same old”. I don’t have daily adventures. I don’t even have weekly or monthly adventures. I am a creature of habit and routine. I suppose no one wants to admit to this, but I’m pretty much okay with it.

But, every so often, an interesting day or outing comes along and surprises me. Like today …

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I had a nice walk this morning. This, in and of itself, isn’t interesting. I didn’t see anything unusual or bizarre in my wanderings around my little neighborhood. But I got to start my day off feeling rather accomplished. And then, I got to have breakfast with my sweet husband — an even bigger treat! I indulged in two glasses of iced cold brew coffee, which has had me buzzing all day. I love that giddy coffee buzz!

This afternoon, I headed out to my favorite restaurant for a late lunch. It’s Tuesday, which means my favorite dish is on the menu. I mentioned I’m a creature of habit, right? Um … yeah. My server had pink hair, which is wonderfully interesting. As you guys may know, I currently have blue hair with some red/pink and teal/green mixed in at the ends. It was fun to encounter a kindred spirit.

On the way home, I saw a man standing at a bus stop. He was holding up a phone and yelling, and there were three police officers surrounding him. The police officers weren’t doing anything. They didn’t seem aggressive or even overly perturbed. They were just standing there with their hands on their belts. Perhaps this, in and of itself, is aggressive? They do have guns on their belts, after all. But I don’t know. I was driving, and the scene went by quickly. I hope everything turned out okay for everyone involved.

A little ways up the road, I was in the left lane approaching a traffic circle. The left lane and the middle lane (the one immediately to my right) both go straight through. The farthest right lane curves around into the circle. My light was green, as was the light for the lane next to me. So I picked up speed in order to continue through the light. The truck in the lane next to me did the same. Just as we were approaching our intersection, an 18-wheeler started to run the red light from the circle. The cab of that truck darted out into our lanes of traffic, and we all had to slam on our brakes to avoid a collision. It was a near miss. You could hear the squeal of tires on pavement and smell the burning rubber. It was nerve-wracking for me, but, I’m sure, not as much as it was for the driver next to me. The truck cab was blocking his lane completely. It was fortunate he had good brakes on his vehicle.

I don’t mind admitting my heart was beating a little faster after that incident. But I continued on my way. I went through that intersection, then a couple more intersections. On the third or fourth one, a car suddenly stopped and put their emergency blinkers on in the lane to my right. A couple of cars started to swerve into my lane, right where I was, but they ended up going around into the right turn lane. Another lucky miss!

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My normal route home takes me through a small and quiet neighborhood. Usually, the streets in there are deserted in the middle of the day to early afternoon. I don’t mind telling you I turned into that neighborhood breathing a sigh of relief after all of my unexpected adventures on the road. I was home free, I thought.

Not so! I stopped at the first stop sign. I saw no one coming, so I started on my way. Just as I turned the corner, another vehicle came out of nowhere. It raced around the corner in front of me, going so fast that its momentum carried it out into the middle of the street — right in the path of my car! Luckily, there was no one around, and I was able to swerve out of the way. But it was a close call.

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I’m home now, safely ensconced in my comfortable office chair in front of my computer. I love to hear the click-clacking of my keyboard. It is soothing away the surprises and near-misses of the afternoon. I would like to say I refuse to go back out into the world, but I don’t have that luxury. In about ten minutes, I have to pick up my daughter from school. Surely, I have had my share of “interesting” for the day. Right?

The Grumps

I’ve got me a case of The Mean Grumps. I would say I just woke up in a bad mood, but I’ve been in a bad mood for the last several days. So I’m not sure I can write it off to something as simple as waking up with the grumps. I mean, I did wake up that way. But several days in a row? Ugh.

The most annoying thing about it is that I can’t put my finger on any exact cause. I think it’s a case of a lot of little things piling up to feel like big things. I feel unsettled and frustrated and annoyed. But not with any one thing. With everything.

It’s not really that things are going so wrong. It feels more like nothing is going right at all. My life seems to be flying away at the seams, leaving me to chase down thread after thread. It feels I will never be able to catch them all. I try to step back, take a deep breath, and remind myself that I don’t have to catch them all — not all at once. I can start with one thread. And then move on to another and another. And yet, when I think about doing that, I feel itchy and impatient all over. I don’t want to go thread by thread. I want it all different NOW. I want it all fixed NOW.

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And yet, I know thread by thread is the only way to go. The problem is that the thought of it makes me so tired. I feel exhausted by it. There are so many tasks, both physical and emotional, facing me. And, honestly, I don’t want to do them. When I think about going step by step and putting in the work and hours and mental and physical effort needed … Ugh. It makes me want to curl up in a ball and let the world pass me by. It all feels like Too Much.

As I was lying in bed this morning, it hit me: The Grumps. I turned up my ceiling fan to make the room cooler and cuddled up under my blankets and thought about how I didn’t want to get up at all. Wouldn’t it be much better to stay there, in bed? Yes, it would be. And that’s exactly why I had to get up and start on my day. Even though I knew I would make little progress on all the things I needed to do. Even though I had me a case the The Mean Grumps.

They Say It’s Your Birthday

Today is the anniversary of the day of my birth, better known as my birthday. I sat down to write this post in order to reflect on my thoughts and feelings about the turning of another year in my life. But … I dunno. As soon as I started typing, I realized I don’t really know how I feel about today. Or about the year that has just passed.

I don’t feel bad about it. Not really. At the same time, I don’t feel fantastic about it, either. Like many things in my life right now, I feel kind of “meh” about the whole thing. It’s sweet to be remembered by my dearest friends and my beloved family. That part is always great. I love feeling loved. Dessert is good, too. I don’t let myself have dessert very often, but I splurged a little bit today. There was also my favorite dinner at my favorite restaurant. This was good.

But how do I feel about life? About my life? That is the tough question, isn’t it? I think that’s the question that has kept me up for the last two nights, tossing and turning while my family sleeps.

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If I’m being honest with myself … And, really, I should be honest with myself at least once a year, right? So, if I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit I’m not where I would like to be in my life. There. I said it.

I am not where I would like to be with regard to my weight and weight loss. At this time last year, I felt pretty good about my weight. Well, that’s not true. At this time last year, I was stuck in the midst of trying to help my husband recover from his heart attack and surgery. So I have to go back a few months before this time last year — to November or December. At that time, I felt pretty good about my weight and weight loss goals. I had lost quite a bit of weight (almost 50 pounds!), and I felt optimistic about things. I wasn’t where I wanted to be, but, for the first time in a long time, I felt like I could at least see that goal and a clear path toward it.

And then, the heart attack happened. My life has been in a constant state of stress ever since then. We went from panic and stress and anxiety over the heart attack and surgery to panic and stress and anxiety over my husband’s work situation, as well as panic and stress and anxiety over my daughter’s school situation. I am ashamed to say this, but I gained back a lot of the weight I previously lost. Not quite all of it, but enough to make me feel as if I am starting over again, from Square One. It’s … frustrating. And disheartening.

It doesn’t help that I’m stuck in this darn boot. It hurts my back, and I can’t exercise. This contributes to my frustration. Even with the high pollen counts wreaking havoc on my allergies, I want to be outside walking for an hour a day. I am mentally ready to try and get back to normal, to the extent I can. I am mentally ready to throw myself back into exercise as a stress relief. But it seems my body and mind aren’t quite in synch at the moment.

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And then, there is the other horrible sink-hole in my life: my writing. Or, should I say “lack thereof”? I am nowhere near my writing goals. I’m so far away from them that it sometimes feels as if I am going backward. I can’t see a light at the end of this tunnel. I can’t even see the tunnel.

My creativity is … stuck, for lack of a better word. Or, maybe that’s the perfect word. It’s what it feels like most of the time. I have all these ideas and thoughts and THINGS inside my head, wanting to get out. Begging and screaming to get out. But when I sit down to let them out, nothing happens. It’s uncomfortable and horrible and scary — a constipation of the creative part of my brain. The ideas are there, but they are mired down in a flood of anger and frustration and guilt. Plus, there’s all this emotional baggage from my childhood, and there are all these secrets. Secrets I’ve kept my entire life in order to protect others. But it seems like, the harder I have to hold on to these things, the less room I have in my head for creative stuff.

I’m sure the constant state of stress in my life isn’t helping. I keep waiting for things to settle down, but I am beginning to think this isn’t going to happen. My husband is mad at me over the writing thing. I am mad at me over the writing thing. It’s just not a good situation. I’m not sure how else to explain it.

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And there you have it. The state of my union, or something like that. I feel like my life is topsy-turvy and constantly whirling out of control. I feel confused about this a lot of the time. I can’t figure out how or when this happened. It seems like, one day, I had everything figured out and under control. And then, the next day, it all went to heck. Maybe my husband’s heart attack was the downturn. Or maybe everything was a mess even before that, but I didn’t realize it. It’s funny how fragile life can be, how one thing can turn everything on its head.

Here’s what I know. I can’t control the things around me. I can’t control my daughter’s annoyingly inconsistent teachers. I can’t control the stress and worry around my husband’s job and our living situation. I can’t go back in time and make the heart attack never happen. But I can control myself. I can make a plan, and I can do my best to get my own mind back on track.

Hopefully, I will be out of the boot and into a brace this Thursday. If so, then it’s time to get moving again. I will have to be patient with it, but I am determined to work my way back to a good exercise routine. I am researching different strength-training exercises, and I plan to incorporate those into my routine, too. I know from experience that this won’t be easy. It is hard to stay motivated and in motion when sitting still is easier. Well, it’s physically easier. I need to remind myself that it’s not mentally easier.

And I’ve decided to start journaling again. I need a quiet space where I can let go of thoughts and feelings and secrets I’ve kept inside myself for far too long. When I started this blog, I intended to talk about them in here. I quickly realized that was not going to be possible. Maybe it will be one day, but it’s not possible for me right now. I’m too afraid of offending people I love. Not that any of them pay a bit of attention to my blog. But it would be just my luck they would stumble into one of the posts where I talked about my childhood and my feelings and emotions surrounding it. But I still need to let these things go. I need to release them into the ether so I can make room for newer, better things.

It’s time to make a move and see what the coming year will bring.

The Saga of My Ankle

I have my first broken bone. I am firmly ensconced in the latter part of my second twenties, and I have my first broken bone. When you’re a kid, you expect to break a bone here and there. The world expects this, too. It’s a badge of honor, in a way. When I was a kid, I kind of wanted to break something. I realize now how macabre this sounds. And how stupid. But I was a kid. I was the definition of stupid innocence, as we all are when we’re kids. I was a quiet kid, and I tended to be invisible most of the time. You know … out of sight, out of mind. There was a part of me that thought the attention would be kind of great. I wanted a cast everyone could sign. Maybe they would write messages on there or draw cute little pictures. It would almost seem like I had real friends. It would almost seem like I was a real person, just for a little while.

But let me tell you this: Having your first broken bone in your second twenties is not any of those things. It’s not expected. Or neat. Or cool. It is attention-grabbing, but, as an adult, you are pretty much past wanting this kind of attention. Or any attention, unless you are a reality TV star or internet celebrity. There’s something that feels slightly sad and a little bit pitiful about having one’s first broken bone in the twilight of one’s middle age. This is probably just me. I feel there is something poetic about having my first broken bone a scant two years before I’m eligible for AARP membership. And by poetic, I mean slightly terrifying, a little bit confusing, and, yes … also kinda funny.

Is there anything that can make us feel our own mortality faster than breaking something on our bodies? I’m not sure, because that’s how I’m feeling right now: old. And mortal. And old. And fragile. And mortal. And old. Did I mention mortal and old?

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The other really bad thing about breaking a bone in one’s youngish “old age” is that people always want to hear your story. They see a cast or, in my case, a boot, and they want to know what happened. And how it happened. They want all the gritty details.

When you’re ten or twelve or some other “kid” sort of age, there is usually a good story. It is a story of adventure and excitement and good intentions gone bad. It is a story of trying new things, and, maybe, failing at it. But the point is in the trying. That’s hero territory. It is a story of epic proportions and, most importantly, fun.

I feel this is generally not the case once you pass a certain point in adulthood. Once you’ve passed a certain age, any broken bone story is going to be boring at best. Mostly, it’s going to be ridiculous. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself here. Because my broken bone story is just that. If you looked up “ridiculous” in the dictionary, I’m pretty certain my broken bone story is in there, somewhere. Looking ridiculous. But, of course, I’m going to tell it to you. I realize you are likely dreading it, but I’ve typed this much of an entry already. You have to know you’re not going to get away without having to hear it. Because it might be ridiculous. But it is my story.

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And, like most of the slightly ridiculous incidents in my life, this one started with my dogs. Oh, how I love my dogs. They always make life a little more interesting, don’t you think? My life would be a lot more boring and a lot less muddy without these fuzzy goofballs.

My Springer Spaniel was the key player this time. He likes to charge the door when he’s excited. He has developed a particularly bad habit of trying to do this when we leave our house through the garage. I have worked with him on this. And I continue to work with him. We are making slow progress.  So, a few weeks ago, our neighborhood’s lawn care people were outside our house, on the front lawn. My boy, always excitable, was even more interested in getting outside to say hello to all these strangers. I was backing out of the house, telling him to stay, and I tripped over the step down from our house into our garage. And then, I tripped over our vacuum cleaner, too. Because we are silly humans, and we store our vacuum cleaner right next to the step into the garage. In retrospect, this is probably not a great idea. I came down, hard, with my right ankle twisted under me. All of my weight on one spindly, twisted ankle.

It all happened so fast. That’s the funny thing about it. In a moment or two, I managed to pull ligaments and put a hairline fracture into my ankle. I earned myself a few weeks in a lovely boot for my trouble. All of this, of course, after I walked around on it for a couple of weeks, trying to pretend everything was fine. I come from (fool)hardy people, what can I say?

But that’s it. The long, the short, and the painful truth of it all. I’m 48 years old. I tripped over a step and a vacuum. And I broke myself. I have to go now. I think I hear old age calling, and she wants to have a chat with me about my careless habits.