Friday, October 29, 2010

Going through "The Change"

Last weekend, my husband was trying in vain to reach a twenty-something co-worker by phone with an urgent change of plans. While he was busy calling and leaving voice mail messages, I was busy trying to remember what we did before the time when everyone was available at your fingertips twenty-four hours a day. (I decided that I prefer the simpler times when friends didn't have the option to call me while sitting on a public toilet in a noisy restaurant.) After hearing that he was having no luck  contacting Mr. Young Guy, I said, “Did you text him? Kids these days don’t always answer their phones, and they most certainly never check their voice mail, but I’ll bet he’ll answer you right back if you send a text instead.”

And, then the unbelieveable happened.

It took a minute for my brain to process what was happening to me. I felt weak. Everything looked woozy and wavy, much like going back through a dream sequence in a bad '70’s sitcom. A wave of cold sweat washed over my body, rendering me weak in the knees. My mind was racing wildly as I thought the unthinkable to myself, “Did I just call a twenty-four year old man a 'kid'?” Oh. Dear. Lord. I really had. As clarity started to return, I came to realize what had just transpired: in less time than it takes to find a rerun of “Murder, She Wrote” on cable, I had become My Mother.

I should have seen it coming. The signs were everywhere, like when I uttered the phrase, “Well, for heaven’s sake” to my kids a while back or when I stuffed some tissues and mints into my purse that I purchased online from QVC.  It should have been clear to me that the transformation was imminent the night I was watching a recap of this year’s MTV Music Awards, and I couldn’t correctly identify a single artist who won. How could I not recognize the shift in my shoe collection from “spiky and sassy” to “comfortable and supportive” as a sign of the coming apocalypse? I even made biscuits from scratch last week. And, to top it all off, my television is on the Weather Channel more than any other station lately. This can't be true!  I'm too young to be warning you about an approaching cold front!

In reality, it’s not like this recent shuffle in hierarchy is really going to affect me much. I don’t go out trolling for college guys or hang out in bars frequented by the I-Have-Never-Even-Heard-Of-Max-Headroom set. (By the way, did you know that they let pre-teens attend college these days? It’s true! I see those youngsters milling about at the university every day.) The last time a cute, young guy even looked me in the eyes was when he was asking me if I wanted whipped cream on my Pumpkin Spice Latte. I’m sure he has no idea how close I came to slapping him for calling me “ma’am”.

There is an upside to this new chapter in my life which, by the way,  I have deemed “The Matlock Years”.  I am no longer required to suck in my stomach when I go swimming. It’s perfectly acceptable for me exhale loudly and let it all hang out as I bend over to retrieve the tortilla chips from my pool bag. I may even grunt when I get up from my lounge chair.  In addition, all thong underwear are now strictly prohibited because no one looks at a Mama’s butt to see if her granny panty lines are showing anyway. And, if I want to blow my nose and tuck the Kleenex into my bra, then I am now officially licensed to do so.

Consider yourself lucky now that you  have me as the go-to person for Starlight mints, old wives’ tales, and neck-pain-induced weather predictions. I have the credentials to decide if you are wearing too much make-up, dating the wrong guy,  or spending your money foolishly. I get to eat dessert for breakfast and watch as many reruns of “CSI” as I choose while “resting my eyes” in the recliner.  I can say without a shadow of a doubt that, yes, your face will, in fact, freeze that way.  Now, tell me… how come you never call?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Kickin' and Screamin', Part Doh!: Just call him Juice Box

I was sitting upstairs at the computer diligently scouring the internet for a way to end global warming and human suffering (either that or I was updating my Facebook status – can’t remember which), when I heard the garage door opening. My husband was home from his first ever training session for all newbie soccer coaches. He has me to thank for this gig, by the way.  Of course, not ONCE did it occur to me that by having him as the assistant coach, he would have to attend every practice and every game thus giving me the choice of sitting on the sidelines and watching seven year old kids run laps or sitting on my deck with a nice Merlot, watching the sun set in silence.  Nope, that thought never even came to mind.

When the league director sent out an e-mail to parents asking (begging!) for volunteers to help with coaching, I decided this was my husband’s new calling in life and signed him up right away. He balked at first saying, “But I don’t know anything about soccer other than you can’t use your hands!” The director assured him that all he needed to do is “point toward the goal, and tell the kids to kick the ball that way.” It didn't matter that he wasn't familiar with the rules or that he hasn't really exercised since the Clinton administration because “Hey, how hard can it be to herd first and second graders up and down a soccer field," said the twenty-something guy with no kids.

Being firmly in our forties, my husband and I aren’t exactly the typical parents of a five-year-old, as we have come to find out. During my daughter’s pre-school years, we felt a little obvious being the only parents with gray hair and a solid memory of life before cell phones and Britney Spears. We may not have walked to school in the snow uphill both ways, but we definitely have a stack of dusty vinyl albums in the attic, and we clearly remember the olden days when Music Television (MTV for you whippersnappers) played music videos…all day…every day. Most people think I must have had trouble getting pregnant because we waited so long to start a family. The truth is that we just decided to have lots of fun first – ten years of fun to be exact. Lots and lots and lots of fun, and then, when we started getting too old to have lots of fun, we had kids. Now, we juggle the AARP recruiters on one hand and little girl Princess parties on the other.

Even though I knew my husband would probably seem like the wise, old sage among the other soccer coaches, I figured he could handle it. He has no problem mowing the lawn with a push mower and carrying first graders up and down a few flights of stairs and with only minimal noise from his creaky joints.  I've seen him heave recliners and couches into pick-up trucks with the best of them while suffering hardly any discomfort, and since his back only goes out two or three times a year, there were no worries here! Really.

When I heard him come in from his practice drills that night, I waited upstairs for him to find me and tell me how this coaching thing would be a piece of cake. I waited…and waited…and waited. "Is he on the phone," I wondered out loud as I got up from the computer, leaving your photo album from that fabulous trip to Mexico to be "liked" at a later date.  I decided he must have made himself a snack and gotten sidetracked by a tornado movie or one of those Smackdown wrestling shows, but as I made my way into the den, this is what I found:

"What happened to you,"  I blurted out, doing the best I could to suppress inappropriate laughter. There he sat in the recliner, covered in sweat with his hand soaking in a bowl full of ice.  I tried to muster up some sympathy during my mad dash back upstairs to retrieve the camera.  (I am the Best. Wife. Ever.)  I felt this moment needed to be captured for posterity (and as fodder for blogging).  Strangely enough, he didn't think it was that funny.

"Ummmm, I thought you weren't supposed to use your hands in soccer?"

"We weren't actually playing soccer tonight.  We were learning drills to run with the kids, and I jammed my finger", he said as he lifted his hand to show me the swelling.

I felt terrible.  Maybe I shouldn't have sent him out there with those young guns who have no idea who Frankie is and why he wanted everyone to Relax.  A wave of remorse washed over me as I realized that maybe all that running up and down a soccer field might cause a disc to slip or gout to settle in or angina to strike or whatever other kind of malady that happens to old geezers like us.  Wow, had I just thrown my middle-aged husband to the lions?

Just as I was about to succumb to the guilt, I snapped out of it, rationalizing that profuse sweating and a sore finger were but a small price to pay for me to have one hour of sanity one night a week. 

"Make sure you put the bowl in the dishwasher when you're finished with it," I called out as I headed back upstairs. "Oh, and be sure not to leave your shoes out either."

So, maybe I'll try for that Wife of the Year award next time...

Friday, October 15, 2010

To my son in his tenth year...

From the moment eleven years ago when I found out I was pregnant with a boy, I have struggled over how to raise a son. I knew only a few things about males - they don’t care about the toilet seat position or the arrangement of bed pillows. The clothes hamper is a mysterious contraption to them, and they tell too many fart jokes. I figured a girl would be much easier. You dress her in some pink bows, and tell her to not to hike up her skirt while you hide by the front door with a shotgun ready in case some teenager in a sports car wants to have his way with your baby. Even though the mean girl syndrome is reaching epidemic proportions, I think girls have less to prove than their male counterparts. Boys have to be tough, aggressive even, or they might as well have "mama's boy" stamped across their forehead.  And, it's safe to say that a cute girl in a marching band uniform is more acceptable than a cute boy in the same get-up.  They don't call them "Band Geeks" as a term of endearment, you know.

When my son was a toddler, I bought all the right “boy” things for him. His room was decorated in a sports theme, and he had a basketball goal, a football, and a bat and glove. We encouraged him to learn to ride a bike and kick a soccer ball like typical boys do, but he mostly left the athletic gear alone to collect dust in his closet. More often than not, I would find him creating elaborate “sprinkler systems” in the den with jump ropes and cords while pretending to be a landscape engineer. He would build a zoo with stuffed animals segregated by species. He would feed and water the animals and give you a tour if you showed interest. I thought his imagination was delightful, but sadly, I knew in the back of my mind how hard it is to be Creative Thinker in a Football World.

Now that he is on the threshold of his middle school years, the wall separating the tough guys from the not-so-tough guys is becoming increasingly apparent. I have already seen him teased by the neighborhood boys because he would rather play detectives than football. He brushes it off, but I know it stings. I also know that kids have a hard time seeing past this afternoon, so I want to tell him how it looks through the eyes of a Grown-up Dork who somehow survived public school on the outside of the “In” crowd.  This is for you, J...

1. Organized Sports Don’t Matter: This will be harder and harder to believe as you move through middle school and high school. Athletes are groomed to see themselves as far superior to those boys who can craft a clever work of fiction or perform a complicated piece of classical music but can’t kick a field goal or throw a touchdown. They are celebrated and idolized by not only other kids, but by teachers, principals, and parents. We all know this is true whether it is spoken or not. When was the last time you saw the High School Chess Club Champion on the front page of the local newspaper on a Saturday morning? Here is what you need to keep in mind: Bill Gates wasn’t a football star, but I’m willing to bet that some guy working the assembly line in one of his manufacturing plants sure was.

2. Never, Ever Stop Writing Stories: I’m just going to be brutally honest here. It is not cool to be a boy who understands the subtle nuances of writing an interesting essay. (And I’m sure you know the definition of nuance.) Your English teacher will love you, but that basketball star next to you in the locker room will probably shove you around to make himself feel tough if he thinks you are weak. I know you won’t see it in that moment, but you and your brilliant mind will always have the upper hand. Remember that you aren’t going to blow your knee out pushing your pen across the paper, and J.K. Rowling has more money than Brett Favre. (And more class…)

3. Keep Your True Friends Close: If you aren’t Mr. Sports Guy in school then you need to accept that you probably aren’t going to be Mr. Popular either. It’s just that simple. The class clown may garner attention, but those kids usually have issues. Seek out true friends who, like you,  prefer building robots to building a reputation as the Big Man on Campus. It won’t matter that you aren’t the Homecoming King if you are surrounded by real friends, those people who care about you only because of who you are and not the size of your house, your parents' bank account or the number of people who know your name. Popularity is fleeting and meaningless, but I know that concept will take years for you to understand, if ever. Most people never get it.

4. Be Proud to be a Geek: As strange as it may sound, some kids are going to be mean to you because you are smart. You might even get beaten up because you make an “A” in calculus. Hard to believe, right? Here is the truth about a bully: His mama doesn’t love him, and he has a long and miserable life ahead of him dipping a french fry basket into grease eight hours a day. Deep down, he is secretly jealous of your intellect and ambition. I’ll leave it up to you whether or not to throw him a bone and give him a minimum wage position in your multi-million dollar corporation. Now, lock arms with your Krelboyne Band of Brothers because the Physics Club rules!

5. You are Loved Unconditionally: Never, ever forget that one. It’s the most important one of all. I don’t care if you are an astronaut or a social studies teacher or a garbage collector. I will love you no matter if you can conjugate a verb or find the value of “y” because that is what moms do, even slacker moms like me. There is no problem so big that we can’t handle it together. You will have to trust me on that one. Life can be hard and, many times, cruel, but I am your rock, and there is no pumped up jock or self-hating bully with a meaner streak than me. I've got your back. I know that high school graduation seems like a lifetime away to you, but believe me when I say that it is nothing more than a hormone-and-acne-filled blip on the radar of life. You are destined for great things, and don't let circumstances or envious people convince you of anything else. 

Oh, and about girls…they are bad….all of them. Now, go clean your room.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thank you, Madame Stambaugh

I recently came across the obituary of my high school French teacher, Madame Stambaugh. Although I was sad to hear of her passing, I can't hold back a smile when I think about everything this woman taught me. She was a bit kooky and eccentric (not unlike myself), but I loved the slow, meaningful way she moved around the classroom. It was as if by her gestures alone, we were to understand that these were words to ponder over, to drink in and savor as you would a café au lait from a quaint Parisian coffee shop. It was obvious that she wanted us to have the same kind of love affair with France that she did. Her graceful way of teaching a romance language to this unsophisticated group of small-town, southern teenagers left a mark on a certain awkward sophomore and ignited a love of All Things French in me that lingers still today.

Growing up lower middle class in the South inherently lends itself to daydreaming. I knew there was a big, ol’ world outside my tattered screen door, but I assumed the only way I would see it was through books and television. I pored over my parents’ musty-smelling, outdated World Book Encyclopedia collection for signs of life beyond the fried chicken and corn bread existence that was mine. For some reason, France spoke to me. Maybe it was the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower or the Champs Elysees. Maybe it was the berets. Maybe it was because I had a date every Saturday morning with Pepe Le Pew, and I figured that if a cartoon skunk could be that charming, I could only imagine what a catch a real, live Frenchman would be! I had visions of cozy book stores and sipping coffee from tiny cups while looking at the lights of Paris with my dark-haired Pierre whispering sweet nothings to me in a thick accent. We would gaze into each other’s eyes as Edith Piaf's songs played in the background. (Ahh, yes, the original emo music.)

When I reached high school, we were required to have a year of foreign language instruction in order to graduate, and I rushed to sign up for French my first semester. Although the day to day lessons weren’t exactly romantic, I delighted in being “Mademoiselle Claire” for that hour. (And what a bonus that I got to select my own name since the one I was born with didn’t translate! Oh, and a message to John Bender:  Claire is certainly NOT a fat girl's name.) I could be a cultured, well-heeled woman of the world, if only in my own mind, during this time with Madame Stambaugh.

I immersed myself in this class.  I joined the school's French Club and was elected Treasurer.  I relished our trips to French bakeries where I could nosh on crusty bread and delicate pastries.  I would close my eyes for a moment and pretend that I was in a bistro across the ocean and not in the armpit of America. I listened to French music and began to groom myself for my exciting adult life as an expatriate in France.

But, somewhere along that road, life got in the way.  I found that I really liked boys, even boys with no interest in discussing the pros and cons of living in a flat in Paris versus a cottage in the countryside.  I realized that I had to get an education and a job if I wanted to be on my own.   Parents became sick and died.  Children were born, and the burden of a mortgage was heaved onto my shoulders.  I began to realize that my feet were soundly planted in my mosquito-filled hometown, so I carefully folded up my dream of living abroad and tucked it safely away under the heading "To Be Opened at a Later Date".

I had mostly forgotten about that dream until reading of Madame Stambaugh's passing.  I wish she knew what her class meant to me, what it did for me, and how it opened a small door to a big  world.  It is obvious now why my all time favorite movie is "Ratatouille", the story of a little rat that finds the big time at a magnificent restaurant in Paris.  I will not apologize for listening to "La Vie En Rose" over and over until I'm spent.  Most of all, I would like to say, "Thank you" to a teacher I will never forget.

Repos dans la paix, Madame Stambaugh.  Repos dans la paix.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Everything you wanted to know about running but never really cared enough to ask...

It’s not unusual to have friends come to me for advice when they decide to start an exercise routine that involves running. I am certainly no expert, but I have been hitting the pavement (under duress) for twenty years now, so I am qualified by my experience if by nothing else. My first instinct is to tell the unfortunate, naïve would-be runner NOT to run at all. I tell them that running is torture, and running is brutal. Running is for masochistic loners who are looking for a way to exercise that doesn’t involve eye contact with other humans or team work of any kind. Running is for people who want to bitch-slap tiny, Lycra-wearing exercise instructors and for those of us who just want to get their cardio workout finished sans conversation.

I sometimes suggest that sweatin' to the oldies with Richard Simmons might be preferable to running, or perhaps they might just forget the whole idea and enjoy a stint in the recliner with the remote.  Even a bikini wax administered by a surly, disgruntled immigrant cursing you in her native tongue is better than running.  They usually laugh nervously at my suggestions.  They think I'm joking.  I'm not.

If you still think the Nike Life might be for you and that running can't be all that bad, then let me fill you in on the darker side of the sport.  These are the harsh realities that seasoned runners usually keep to themselves and that the running industry would rather you not know about. I have picked out a few of my favorites to share, and I'm calling it....

Bad Things That Will More Than Likely Happen To You If You Become A Runner

Chafing: Big deal, right? Chapstick is easy enough to apply.  Oh, how I wish it were the lips! If you make the mistake of taking to the road in ill-fitting shorts or a not-so-supportive jog bra or underwear that are slightly too snug (or too loose for that matter), you will find out just how friction works between cotton/spandex blends and human flesh. Sure, you can use Vaseline or a runner’s gel made especially for this purpose, but what if your tube is empty, and you can’t make it to the store before your next run? What if you are just too damn lazy (like me) and decide to run without it? There will be blood shed.

Case in point: I recently ran gel-free on a morning when the humidity topped out somewhere around 147% and sweat was steadily pooling into every crevice of my body. I could tell that I was in big trouble when I went to adjust my jog bra and the movement sent a searing pain from the bottom of my rib cage. When I got home, I started peeling off my wet clothes only to find that area where the bottom band of my jog bra rests was bleeding. B-l-e-e-d-i-n-g. The skin was gone. The fun didn’t stop there, though. I was also bleeding (bleeding!) from the inside top of both thighs where they had been rubbing together for the last ten miles or so as if to start a fire. When I got into the shower and the soapy water hit the raw flesh, I screamed like a little girl.  My thighs were so sore that I walked around like Popeye for a good day and a half.  The bottom line here is make sure you grease up before you go-go.

Losing appendages:  Okay, so maybe I exaggerate here.  I haven't actually lost a toe, but let me tell you a little story about toenails.  Once upon a time,  there was a tired, old runner who could never seem to find a pair of shoes that fit her properly.  She noticed that her toes were constantly sore,  throbbing, and even turned frightening shades of red, blue and purple!  Oh, my!  She kept on running through the pain (because that's what the little voices inside her head told her to do), and frequently found blood in her shoes and socks at the end of each run.

One day, the pain was so excruciating that she ended up limping home.  In the privacy of her bedroom, she slowly pulled the sock off her right foot, when lo and behold, one of her toenails stayed inside the sock! Her toenail had separated permanently from her nail bed sometime during the run.  Just then, she heard someone calling to her from outside.  She threw open the window, and saw her Prince smiling from down below.  She let down her long, beautiful hair, and he climbed up those golden locks to whisk her away to the Land Where Doritos Don't Make You Fat.  (Either that, or she took a shower and hobbled downstairs to get a Band Aid and eat some peanut butter crackers.)

Runner’s Trots: This is a very sensitive subject and one that a Proper Southern Lady should avoid, but I’m telling you this as a warning, so here I go. If you have never heard the term “Runner’s Trots”, you are probably familiar with the other name for this condition: explosive diarrhea. That’s right. You’re running along thinking how awesome you are for dogging some Granny in a baseball cap on that last hill when, all of a sudden, you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. You start experiencing intestinal cramps akin to the onset of labor, and you realize that you seriously have to go to the bathroom…NOW.  This would be a manageable condition except that you are five miles from home, and there isn’t a single public restroom in sight. Once safely off the road and into the woods, you are trying to remember what poison ivy looks like as you squat and chant, “Leaves of three, let them be”.

Runner’s Trots can happen to the best of us. When your body is working hard to pump blood to your legs, sometimes the intestines are deprived of normal blood flow which can cause irritation, pain and the nearly uncontrollable urge to poop against your most determined will. There are even some long distance runners who carry a wad of toilet tissue with them on race day just in case they have to “do it on the road”.  The bottom line here is, when planning your running route, make sure you are never more than a cramp or two away from a toilet.

Although these are some of the most disgusting side effects of running, let's not forget shin splints,  plantar fasciitis, blown out knees, aching hips, creepy stalker dudes, and rabid dogs.  And no, I have never experienced "runner's high", the mythical state of being that would make all the bad stuff seem like butterflies and ice cream.

Even though I hate it, and even though I would rather be a cashier at Wal-Mart on Black Friday, I still continue to do it every.  So, what's my motivation? That's easy: Skinny Jeans.