Monday, March 28, 2011

Just tell me when I can open my eyes...

The scene was terrifying, much worse than what had been playing in my mind for two days prior.  As we headed down the interstate toward our destination, I tried to erase the fear in my head with happy thoughts.  "The ocean is here!"  or "Someone will be making my bed and cooking my meals all weekend!" or "I don't have to see those damn dogs for three whole days!"   I couldn't fool myself though, as my throat began to tighten like the Grim Reaper himself had his cold hands wrapped firmly around my neck.  I could barely swallow as we drew closer to It.

I locked eyes with the beast.  My breathing became shallow and staccato-like as we rose up into the air, hurtling across the spine of this monster masterpiece of architecture.  I literally contorted my body (thanks, yoga!) and plunged my head into the backseat floorboard, (still buckled in the front seat) landing with my nose mere inches from the well-worn sneakers of an eleven-year-old boy. Oh, yes, such was my desperation.  "Just tell me when it's over," I managed to choke out of my nearly frozen mouth, and I tried with all of my might not to scream like a little girl.    It was nearly three miles of terror, one of my biggest phobias playing out for my family to witness (and later mock).  My debilitating and totally paralyzing fear of bridges had slapped me across the face this time like a drunken bar fly, and I had just booked a three-day weekend in city completely littered with them.  What was I thinking?

A couple of weeks ago I planned an impromptu trip to Charleston with my family.  The weather man promised me perfect weather, plus I was utterly sick with Spring Fever.  After a cold and snowy (for the South) winter, we all needed to be some place sunny, colorful, and ocean-y, with a pub every ten feet or so.  I quickly searched online for a hotel room, and I landed on a good deal in Mount Pleasant, across the Cooper River from the historic downtown area.  While visions of shrimp and grits danced in my head, I couldn't shake a bad feeling lurking down deep inside me: How in the world would I make it across that very scary well-constructed bridge...over and over and over?

I get it.  Bridges don't kill people, bad drivers on bridges do.  Believe me, I have tried for years to discover the root of this phobia because it has completely changed how I live my life.  How can I drive to unfamiliar destinations?  What if I encounter a body of water or a highway overpass taller than my house?  As with all phobias, my fear of what will happen is totally possible irrational. I'm afraid that forces stronger than me will send my car off the bridge and into the murky water below or concrete highway, which ever the case may be.  What if I faint and careen over the rails?  What if there is an earthquake at the exact moment I'm in the middle, and the bridge crumbles into a million pieces?  It could happen.  I tried anxiety medication to overcome this ridiculous fear, but instead of curing my phobia, it just made me want to eat Doritos and stare.

Here's the kicker that should have been the cure:  I have to cross a river everyday to get to my office.  This is definite proof that I'm crazy exposure therapy doesn't work.  It's the same every morning and every afternoon - stomach churning, heart racing, sitting stick-straight in my seat, gripping the wheel tighter than Lindsay Lohan and her vodka bottle.  It's thirty seconds each way of pure, unbridled panic that leaves me sweaty and cursing myself for not buying a lottery ticket.

I crossed the bridge in Charleston three times that weekend, each time a little easier than the last.  On our way home, we took a different route to visit a friend which meant I didn't have to face it again that Sunday morning.  I felt more relaxed thinking that maybe the new route would mean a smaller, less heart-palpitation-inducing bridge, and that I would even be able to open my eyes and not stop breathing during the ride.  But that wouldn't be my luck, would it?  The alternative bridge was old, not so shiny, and came with a cage at the top (because people have OBVIOUSLY careened over the edge).  This time?  I screamed like a little girl.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Band Geeks (re) Unite!

We're getting the band back together! The marching band, that is.  After more than twenty-five years apart, a group of former band geeks (well, I'll only speak for myself) dating all the way back to the class of 1978 will be gathering around drink coolers and finger food for an afternoon of story telling and marveling at how none of us has aged. I'm sure we'll laugh about those heavy, red uniforms, lousy with gold buttons (Brasso, anyone?), that made us sweat straight through our underwear in August and those embarrassingly tall, furry hats that made this group of teenagers look like we should be guarding the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West instead of marching in time across a football field.  I'm hoping that once the adult beverages come out, so will stories divulging what happened that one time at band camp and maybe even a few secrets will be spilled about the antics in the back of the dark bus on the ride home from late-night competitions.  Ah, yes...a bunch of forty-somethings smiling and laughing like teenagers without mortgages and steady jobs, and I can't wait.

Music fills nearly every waking moment of my life.  There was never any question that I would be in the band.  I watched as my older brother excelled in music, and I wanted to follow in his foot steps. Being four years younger than he, I idolized his high school friends with their feathered hair and freedom.  He would take me with him to marching band practice, and I can vividly remember those cool, autumn nights as I sat on the top step of the school and watched them rehearse below me on the parking lot.  I tried so hard to act cool when I was actually allowed to enter The Band Room with the older kids,  but cool doesn't come easy to a dorky eighth-grader.  (Come to think of it, cool doesn't come easy to a dorky forty-two-year-old either.)  I fell desperately in love with no less than half a dozen of these high school boys, most of whom didn't even know this shy thirteen-year-old girl existed.  They had no idea how I would melt inside with just a passing smile and "Hello".  For those few brief minutes, I pretended I belonged there.  Oh, how I counted the days until my sophomore year, waiting impatiently to be a part of this musical family.

When my time finally came, I ditched my saxophone during marching season so that I could be on the color guard.  It was a position that would put my smiling face in front of the band, twirling a rifle for the world (well, a small fraction of North and South Carolina) to see.  Plus, it got me out of wearing those God-awful uniforms, although an ascot, cummerbund and beret weren't showing up on fashion runways at the time.

It was hard work.  I remember those sweltering days on the ball field at camp, relentlessly practicing our routines.  My big 80's hair helmet wilted under the blazing sun and stifling humidity.  There were days when I thought I would spontaneously burst into flames right there on the fifty yard line.  It was worth it, though.  I remember having tears in my eyes the first time we marched onto the field for a Friday night football game.  I was so proud of Us, so proud of what we had accomplished in those few, short months.  We were, in my opinion, spectacular, and I was in my element at last.

But, things changed for me after a while.  I began to feel conflicted about the perceived stigma of being in the band.  My heart was telling me to stay, but that insecure part of me that was ravenously craving popularity was telling me to go.  I longed to be a part of the other side of Friday night - the cheerleaders and football players.  I wanted to be noticed, and who would give this dork a second look if I was hiding behind a big, red cummerbund?

So, I quit.  It broke my heart, but I took the poor advice of "friends" who didn't know the real person behind the Aqua Net hairdo.  I never did make it with the "cool" crowd, but in retrospect, it's no surprise.  What I was too young and stupid to see at the time was that being a part of this marching band gave me the confidence that I lacked everywhere else in my life.  When I stood on that field, I felt invincible and accepted.  What I wouldn't give to experience that incredible rush of emotion today.

I'm counting down the days again, but this time the only sweat will be on the outside of my cup of wine.  I still have those same butterflies in my stomach just like I did when I was thirteen.  The thought of seeing these grown-up teenagers makes me anxious with worry that I'm still as geeky as I ever was.  I will probably still avoid eye contact and twirl my hair, but I'm going to try to follow our beloved band director's advice: Don't hesitate, anticipate, or look at the ground...or something like that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I feel pretty! Oh, so pretty! I feel pretty and witty and bright!

I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror early one recent morning scrutinizing my reflection as usual. It has become a daily ritual for me and maybe for other women facing the reality of middle age. The changes in my appearance over the last few less-than-stellar years are clearly evident. I see the stringy, unruly hair peppered with white and want to chop it off for good. I look at the flabby arms that refuse to get with the program even after the one million or so push-ups I do each week, and, depending on the lighting, those deeply set parentheses that surround my mouth can sometimes make me never want to smile again. I was having a good old-fashioned "I Hate Lynda Fest" when my six-year-old daughter came bouncing into the room.

I should clarify that this little ray of sunshine is not a morning person. She has already perfected the I-don’t-care-if-every-light-in-the-house-is-on-and-you-are-screaming kind of grumpy refusal to even flinch when it’s time to get out of bed every day. She is my Teenager in Training and would lounge in bed until noon if I let her. She puts on her clothes while half asleep each morning and slinks down the stairs to breakfast, so to see her fully dressed and downright giddy at 6:15am on a school day is highly suspect and more than a little unusual awesome.

She didn’t say anything to me. Instead, she just flashed an over-sized grin and headed for the digital scale. She stepped up, and upon reading the results, she pumped her fists in the air and shouted, “Woo hoo! Fifty-two pounds! I can’t wait to go eat and weigh myself tomorrow! You know what, Mommy? I bet I’ll weigh even more.” With that realization, she walked over and stood beside me in front of the mirror. She stared at the pillow-wrinkled little face looking back at her, the same face with serious bed head closely resembling a bird’s nest. She glanced at me, back at the mirror, and then smiled, giggling a little for effect. “What has you so happy this morning?” I asked.  Without missing a beat, she answered, “I am SO pretty! Aren't we both pretty today?”  She then proceeded to dash out of the room like a lightning bolt clad in a pink golf shirt and khaki pants.

My first thought was, “Where did I go wrong?”  No, I don't think I've ruined my Miss Congeniality of the elementary school set, but where did I go wrong with myself? When did I become such a Me hater?

I distinctly remember thinking I was awesome when I was a kid. I would stand in the front yard of our house and twirl my baton while dancing to a soundtrack playing exclusively in my head. Some days I would even ditch the baton and just prance around the yard like I was practicing some elaborately choreographed song and dance spectacular. I loved to swing and serenade the neighbors with my extensive knowledge of any and all Partridge Family tunes. If they were lucky, I might favor them with a Three Dog Night selection or two. I believed I was the second coming of Judy Garland.

However, in the span of time between my drooling over Leif Garrett in “Tiger Beat” and watching Madonna on “American Bandstand”, the game changed. I blame three decades of low self-esteem on MTV.  There...I said it. Once Duran Duran and their scantily-clad video models flashed across my television screen, crawling through the jungle with painted faces, I knew my own freckled face wouldn't be gracing the magazine racks after all. As a product of the television generation, I was bombarded by images encouraging me to be a porcelain-skinned, golden-tanned Pixie Stick who exists solely on Diet Coke and rice cakes. I eventually mourned accepted the fact that I wouldn't be “shaking my ass on the hood of Whitesnake's car”, and moved on.

Today, we are not only accosted by perfect humans on television, the world is lousy with them twenty-four hours a day. They are on our computers and popping up on our stupid smart phones. The Disney Channel is teeming with gorgeous tweens and teens who can sing, dance, and act (well, mostly). I preach to my kids that those seemingly awesome little performers they idolize have enormous help from stylists who dress them to computers that correct their pitch because many of them just can't sing in tune.  I want them to understand that it's mostly smoke and mirrors.  (By the way, I have also warned my daughter that if she ever ends up on Youtube doing bong hits and babbling incoherently,  she should be aware of the fact that her days are numbered.)

I'm still jealous when I see someone like Christie Brinkley who, at fifty-six, still makes me want to put a bag over my head, but maybe one day I'll embrace this face - this pale, wrinkled, tired face – as being, at least in the eyes of a six-year-old, pretty. Oh, and about the whole getting-on-the-scale-and-hoping-I've-gained-weight thing? HA!!!  Not in a million years.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Shuffling through the papers I found...

There is a hallway downstairs that leads to the laundry room.  This small stretch of space is the way into my house from our garage which means it is Grand Central Station.  There is also a bathroom on this hallway, so when we get home in the afternoon, we are falling over each other to get in, get to the toilet, and get our hands washed.  Add to that the fact that three delirious, people-missing dogs are jumping all over the three exhausted, snack-needing humans, and, well, let's just say that many days I am an epic failure at keeping my cool.

When we moved in several years ago, my daughter was only eight months old, and my son had not yet started kindergarten, but I had visions of the future.  I couldn't wait for my children to be precious school kids with colorful backpacks loaded down with art work that I would cherish forever.  I decided that this hallway would be the perfect place for a rack to hang their darling bags and sweet, little coats for quick retrieval when heading out the door each day. 

Above the coat rack, we mounted a huge cork board intended to be the new home for all those papers coming in each week.  I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.  There are usually no less than six-hundred pictures, math sheets, carefully labeled maps of Africa and at least one draw-the-line-to-the-opposite-word worksheet that wind up on my kitchen counter.  If I knew no one was looking, I would chuck every last one of them in the garbage, but because there are surprise inspections of The Board, I have to carefully choose the best and mount them as a means of honoring the fact that my daughter has mastered simple addition and that my son got an A on his algebra test.

For as militant as I am about keeping the rest of my house clean, I tend to let the The Board get a little overgrown, so to speak.  The drawings start to interfere with the hanging of the backpacks, and the pushpins holding the treasures start to falter with the responsibility of keeping in place a stack of papers at least seven deep.  Each time you walk by, the breeze generated by your passing causes ruffles and occasionally a casualty hits the floor.  I'll cram it back up there and vow to address the over-crowding another day.

Saturday morning as I was bringing laundry from the dryer to my bedroom, I struggled past the The Board with an armful of clothes, bumping into backpacks and ripping down a picture of Horton Hears a Who in the process.  Finally fed up with the mess, I decided it was time for a schoolwork purge.  I put the laundry basket down and started randomly pulling off papers, surprised at how out of date much of the display had become.  Then, as I lifted a carefully drawn snowman from the corkboard, I saw it.  It was faded, and strangely juxtaposed beside my daughter's crayon drawing of our family and a flower made of construction paper, but there it was -  a newspaper clipping of my mother's obituary, apparently posted on The Board two and a half years ago.

I stood there for a moment wondering why in the world I felt the need during those black days to advertise my mom's passing on The Board.  It isn't like I was apt to forget about it, and of course, I knew the details of her death and funeral service intimately.  For reasons that escape me now, I was compelled at the time to put a reminder of the most gut-wrenching day of my life right there beside foam cut-outs of butterflies and hand-made name tags from summer camp.

I took the fragile-looking paper in my hand without removing it from The Board, and I read it voraciously, like I had never read it before.  And then I got mad, madder than hell.  I looked at the beautiful painting that my daughter crafted of the sky in winter time and felt cheated because her beloved Granny never got to see it.  I thought about the announcement for my son's induction into the Junior Beta Club and wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that my mother should have been sitting in the audience with us that night.  Some days - and it doesn't matter that I'm forty-two years old - but, some days I just want to talk to my mama, damn it, and it makes me mad as hell that she isn't here.

I left it on The Board.  It felt wrong to move it.  I obviously placed it there for a reason, not realizing that I would uncover it two and a half years later, and understand all over again that I miss her desperately.  I'll continue filling the board with the keepsakes my children are creating, and let my mom's watchful eyes stay in the middle of the chaos...just like always, just like she never left us.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Break Up

I'm breaking up with Facebook.  No, really...I am.  Actually, I have decided on a trial separation to see if we can somehow re-kindle the love we once had together.  My relationship with Facebook is much like any other in that once the thrill is gone, it's gone, baby.  But maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  Maybe if we step away from each other we'll realize that we can make it work somehow.  For now, it has lost its luster, and this turtle is missing the safety and comfort of her hard shell.

A couple of years ago I posted an entry here declaring my undying affection for my new love, Facebook.  It was like I was re-born.  This shy, bumbling geek of a human could actually talk to people in a virtual world and sound smooth, in control of my tongue even.  There is nary a faint shadow of the person who is too introverted to make eye contact with the cashier at Target.  But talk I did.  I felt compelled to comment on your pictures, your status updates, and attempt to be cute and witty in the process. I tried to come up with snarky little remarks to make you laugh.   It's funny how the disguise of a computer screen can turn you into a Homer Simpson-quoting Prom Queen.

But that isn't me.   There is nothing put-together and polished about this poster child for the Society of Middle Aged Dorks.  I have gone so far as to feel sorry for any of my Facebook friends who might re-connect with me in the flesh because they would be sorely disappointed.  I will stumble over "Hello".  You will see the wrinkles on my face that are deftly removed from any and all profile pictures.   And, if you catch me on a milk and bread run at the grocery store after a grueling workout, I'm going to stink, too.

I hate to admit it, but there are other reasons for me to leave.  Sometimes the perfect lives that show up in my news feed are simply too hard to stomach.  How awesome that you are spending the better part of the year at your vacation home where peace and tranquility reign, and children don't fight (or beg to watch iCarly).  I'm also very happy to see the fifteen foot Christmas tree adorned with designer ornaments stationed perfectly in the front window of your million dollar home.  I've been waiting all year for that.  And, I'm really glad that your kids are angels because honestly...there are days when I consider downing a fifth of Jack and running off to join the circus.

Since I'm coming clean here, I guess I should make another thing clear - I am not your teenage dream.  I simply can not,  at forty-two years of age,  live up to what you remember about me from days gone by (real or imagined - mostly imagined, I'm sure).   There is absolutely nothing sexy about the way I scream when socks are left on the floor or when dishes are chucked into the sink instead of the dishwasher, just ask my husband.   Sure, I take good care of my body and have sincere pride in being fit, but only so that when my children are teenagers, they can rest assured in the knowledge that I can kick their asses in a heartbeat if the need should arise.  It's survival of the fittest, my friend, and I intend to be the fittest.  I'm not trying to win any beauty contest or your heart for that matter.

Don't get me wrong - there are a few good things about Facebook.  I don't really have close friends outside of cyberspace, and many of my online friends are people I have grown to adore.  Unfortunately, they don't even know it.  Also, several of my relatives, who won't have anything to do with me in the real world, will communicate with me in the virtual world.  Another plus is that I never miss out on those viral Youtube videos because they are posted in abundance for my viewing pleasure.  Oh, and I get alerted each time my second cousin does her laundry, so that's a bonus.

I'm thinking that thirty or so days apart might help me to decide if I want to make a clean break forever from my personal Facebook page.  If you really know me, then you know how to reach me.  I'll still be blogging and updating my Facebook blog page so that the three people who read it can stay in tune with my mundane life, but for now, as far as social networking goes...I'm just going to shut my big, virtual mouth.