Friday, July 26, 2013

Golden Girl

     For the past few years I have found myself in a black mood around my birthday.  It has been as bad as or worse than Mother's Day, which is the mother of all horrible holidays.  Case in point: it's a quarter to midnight on a Thursday night, two days before the ominous day, and I am up staring at my computer screen because it seems a better alternative than sticking my head in the oven.  Please excuse the dark humor, but I am feeling a little Sylvia Plath at the moment.  Aside from the insistent ticking of the clock, reminding me that I really ought to think about sleep sometime, there is nothing here but empty dark silence in which to sit and ponder exactly why it is that I am sitting here pondering.  Why the sudden doldrums around what used to be one of the happiest days of the year?  Is it because my expectations are too high?  Has it taken this long for me to pull back the veil of naive youth and realize that a birthday, for all intents and purposes, is just another day out of 365 other perfectly common and mundane days?  Nope.  After much pondering I have come to this conclusion: it is because I'm old.  Now everyone over the age of 40 is closing their computer and rolling their eyes and huffily tucking a few stray grays behind their ears.  "What I wouldn't give to be 29 again", they are thinking.  Perhaps this is because they were never 29 going on 75.  As I think about it, I'm not sure I ever was young.  I have always loved the color purple, cats, crooners and long, slow Sunday drives.  Looking back, I am beginning to fit the pieces of the puzzle together and so many "aha moments" are flooding my brain that it's about to have a power surge, which, given my prematurely elderly state, is likely to cause either a stroke or an aneurysm.

     I realize, for instance, looking back, that watching reruns of The Golden Girls after high school is not a normal teenage activity.  I have loved black licorice since I was a little girl, and I was taken aback when I heard a debate on the radio a few weeks ago over whether or not black licorice was "old people candy".  The overwhelming consensus was that ,yes, most connoisseurs of black licorice had been enjoying it since the days they could chew it with their real teeth.  I was slightly incensed, until I thought back and realized that my initial love of black licorice began with my great grandfather feeding me handfuls of black jelly beans as my great grandmother scolded him from the next room.  I may or may not admit to having purchased bridge mix in bulk within the past year.  I don't remember any elderly member of my family feeding it to me, but I somehow instinctively know that bridge mix is definitely old people candy.  The fact that I enjoyed it whilst watching a documentary on the stock market crash of '29 doesn't exactly gain me any youth points either. (neither does the fact that I use words like "whilst".  At least the old lady within me does not actually remember the crash of '29, although that would be much more "Twilight Zone"......young people know about that show, right?.... And moving right along.....It has also become apparent recently that my wardrobe choices could earn me admission into the nearest assisted living center.  I occasionally wear a soft, cotton nightgown to bed in the summer.  It's much cooler and more breathable, which is probably why the Golden Girls always wore them.  My mom took me shopping on Monday evening to buy me a few new things for my birthday.  I returned with several cute shirts, two of which were cardigans.  I decided they would be comfortable and look fetching with my Chuck Taylors, which is probably why Mr. Rogers always wore sneakers with his cardigans.  I blame the fact that, a few weeks ago, I limped and winced down Table Rock mountain, trying to keep up with my fifty something parents, on having tight IT bands and abnormally short legs, though I can't figure out why that blasted knee creaks and aches whenever it rains.  If I weren't up typing right now, I'd be up on one of my five nightly bathroom trips.  I wonder if I could invest in an overnight catheter.

     Ok, ok, so you get the point; I'm a few bottles of prune juice away from my golden years.  Why should this blacken my mood?  Maybe because the superficial side of me has bought into the cultural myth that youth is everything.  I watched "Oz the Great and Powerful" with my best friend last night.  Near the end of the movie (spoiler alert), Glenda the good witch, uses her powers to expose her evil sister, Evanora, as the hideous old hag she really is.  This is one of countless media portrayals of age being a sign of weakness and ugliness and youth being good and beautiful.  I thought to myself, "what if the scenario were reversed?  What if Glenda's youthful, dewy, radiant face suddenly became wrinkled and wizened and Evanora remained young and flawless in her cruel, cold, eternal beauty?"  I honestly think it would be hard for society to root for the old woman over the picture of perfect youthful beauty.  When men begin to go prematurely gray, they are "distinguished", like Sean Connery, who apparently discovered the fountain of youth when he was about 65, and has not aged a day since.  When women begin to grow gray and sport wrinkles, we are one step closer to Driving Miss Daisy territory.  This must be a pervasive fear among women everywhere, as the anti-aging industry became a 114 billion dollar industry in 2012.  Youth has become our national idol, and we bow to beauty and sex appeal.  And I fall into the trap as often as anyone.  I know the collagen and elastin moisturizer I slather over my face each night will not reverse the appearance of the deep grooves running from the corners of my mouth to the end of my nose, yet I still slather it on every night.  I guess there is a part of me that is afraid of getting older.  And yet, when I really think about it, some of the people I admire most are far from their glory days, and some are no longer encumbered by this mortal existence: Audrey Hepburn, who was never more beautiful than she was in her later, Unicef years, Elie Wiesel, who earned every last white hair atop his head as a crown of glory for enduring the unspeakable hell of being a Jew in Nazi Germany and lived to tell a story to inspire millions; Mother Teresa, Gandhi, both of my grandmothers.  These are all people who have really lived, and who have all gotten better and more glorious with age.  Every wrinkle is made up of a thousand laughs or a thousand sleepless nights.  Every gray hair is a lesson learned.  If growing older puts me anywhere nearer to achieving the level of grace and wisdom attained by these giants of humanity, well then, stick me in a porch rocker and call me Ethel.   


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Things Remembered

     A few weeks ago, my husband and I were in Utah for a weekend get away with some dear friends.  We had a bit of time to kill before a movie started, so we decided to walk around a local mall.  In the middle of the mall was a kiosk which shimmered with glittering silver and glass trinkets of all kinds.  Like a magpie, I immediately changed course and headed for the shiny kiosk of wonder.  At one corner of the kiosk were shelves filled with snow globes.  I'm sure my eyes widened as I stood transfixed by the whimsical orbs.  My wide eyes scanned the rows until they fell and stopped upon the one.  It was every little girl's dream world, somehow encapsulated in a glass ball.  Two white horses, a mare and a foal, stood in the midst of a few shimmering, silver trees, while delicate glittering snow floated softly and silently through the magical globe.  To add to the splendor of it all, the globe  played music!  It took about two minutes of staring at the snow globe before I knew that I had to buy it for Morgan for her birthday.  Morgan began taking horse back riding lessons this summer and she loves the horses.  Add to that the fact that she is a pink wearing, fairy-tale reading, day-dreaming, princess tea party throwing, girly-girl to the core, and well, there was just no way to prevent the universe (with the aid of my credit card) bringing the girl and the globe together.  With some effort, I pulled my eyes away from the hypnotic orb to find someone whom I could pay.  I half expected the Wizard of Oz to appear from behind some invisible curtain, and was slightly disappointed when a rather ordinary, all be it very pleasant, woman, emerged from behind the counter. She removed the snow globe from it's glass prison, and asked me if I would like it engraved. Would I ever?!  The only thing that could have possibly made the gift any more treasured would be to have it engraved with a personal message.  I had her engrave, in a delicate, cursive font :  Happy 9th birthday, Morgan.  Love, Mom and Dad.  I must here insert that the chosen message took me a good ten minutes to decide upon.  By the time I  finally decided, and looked back on the relative simplicity of the chosen message, I felt a little like Ralphy from  A Christmas Story, beaming with pride over his descriptions of a Red Rider BB gun with a compass in the stock.  But, however simplistic, the message added the perfect finishing touch to the perfect present.  Somewhere deep within me, my eight-year-old self nodded approvingly. (also, somewhere deep within me, a voice intoned, "my precccious", but that could be another issue altogether).  Dirk, however, apparently not in touch with the eight-year-old girl within, shook his head noticeably (I think perhaps he even grunted a few times in apparent physical pain), as the muggle woman behind the counter took a chunk out of our bank account with one smooth swipe.  It was only as I walked away, treasure in hand, that I looked up to notice the name of the store.  It was Things Remembered. "How appropriate", I mused.  The whole atmosphere of the store had made me feel like I was once again a little girl in pig tails, hunting for leprechauns and fairy rings and dreaming of becoming The Little Mermaid when I grew up.  It was definitely a nostalgia store.

     Back at home later that week, I glimpsed the black and white striped bag (containing the precious) in it's hiding place in the closet as I reached for a pair of jeans.  I stopped short as my eyes fell upon the name of the store, neatly printed across the front of the bag.  "Things remembered", I mused again.  Sometimes the simplest of phrases can strike a chord somewhere in the recesses of your heart or mind.  It can awaken something in you which has long been forgotten.  Suddenly I was transported back to my girlhood bedroom in our little Virginia townhouse.  I was sitting at a small wooden bench, which folded out into a desk.  A crayon was clenched so tightly in my hot, chubby hand, that the wax almost melted.  I was coloring furiously, passionately, and purposefully, the picture of ponies in the book that lay open before me.  Sweat beaded around the wisps of baby hair which still framed my round face.  I  remembered how much I used to love to color.  I am not sure, out of a childhood filled with happy memories, many easily more exciting than sitting alone in my room coloring, why that particular memory came back to me.  But the feeling that came flooding through me as the memory unfolded was that of complete and utter contentedness.  I had not been doing anything significant.  The coloring book which I was putting my whole little girl heart into filling with beautiful colors, has long since disintegrated in a landfill; or perhaps, with any luck, it has been recycled numerous times and is now in the fibers of the tissue box which you will certainly be pulling out by the end of this sentimental post.  Lately I've been doing a lot of introspection.  I deactivated my Facebook account again, partly in an attempt to rediscover my own identity; and not who "friends" on a social media site identify me as, but who I truly am and always have been.  In a way, the memory of exerting myself to the point of heat exhaustion to color a meaningless picture of Little Ponies, helped me remember who I am.   I am the the girl who pours her heart out performing small acts which no one ever really notices or cares about. Now, instead of coloring ponies, I wipe noses and floors, vacuum rugs and fold laundry.  I am and always have been a nurturer of people and a beautifier of spaces.  I have always put my whole energy into striving to improve whatever tiny portion of the world I may occupy.  It is only recently, through outside influences, such as Facebook, that I have felt the need to do anything beyond that.  I would read posts about people running marathons and getting PHDs and I would feel that my life was too small to be significant.  I began trying to be more impressive, more witty, more popular.  I was always filled with this nervous agitation that I needed to think of the most witty, "like" getting status update.  I was basing my self worth on what a few hundred acquaintances who had known me in a former life "liked" or did not "like" about me.  I had completely lost sight of the contented, beet faced girl coloring in the corner; so happy to be making a small contribution of beauty and color to the world.

     So now, what to do with this memory and awakening that my inner psyche has gifted me?  I don't think pulling an Emily Dickinson is the answer.  I can't help anyone by shutting out the world completely.  I had contemplated ending my blog writing, until I received the nicest hand-written note from a friend the other day, stating that she was inspired as a mother by my posts.  Her kind words helped me remember why I started this blog in the first place; to reach out to other mothers through expressing the emotions that we all sometimes feel and laughing at the experiences that we all go through.  Her note was an affirmation that my blog is doing just that.  So, for Tiffany, and anyone else who may be reading this; here is the advice I have for the week: Remember who you are.  Not who the world says you are.  Not who social media tells you you should be.  Not who the airbrushed woman with four dogs and a spotless house (as if) on the cover of Good Housekeeping says you can be if only you would shape up.  Remember who you are.  It's who you have always have been.  I am a nurturer, a beautifier, a dreamer and a writer.  And I am content being a stay at home mom.  It is the perfect environment in which to nurture and beautify.  Of course there are those days when catching the next available flight to China and changing my name and hair color briefly sounds like a viable and desirable option, but at the core of who I am, I find peace in my small and mundane domestic responsibilities.  It is important to live in the present, but sometimes the only way to do so fully is to unearth the past.  In today's world it is so easy to lose sight of who you are or what your purpose is.  After having three children, it is easy for me to forget just about everything, including the fact that the car keys do  not belong in the freezer.  Sometimes you need to take a few moments apart from the world, encapsulated in your own little globe of thought and memory.  Sometimes the best way to find peace in the present is through things remembered.