How walking like a pirate is making me a (slightly) better person

Borrowed from families.com
Borrowed from families.com

I have never parked in a disabled parking space, but I have looked longingly at the empty ones. They are always so tantalizingly convenient–right by the front door of wherever I need to go. I have caught myself wondering why places like Safeway and Home Depot have set aside two, four, or even six spaces, when they often sit there unused. Just look at all that prime parking real estate!

Look at all that prime parking! Photo courtesy of Alpha Paving Texas.
Photo courtesy of Alpha Paving Texas.

Hey, I think. I’ve been circling for eons and I’m in a ginormous hurry. Or, I grumble about what a pain in the ass it will be to lug the crate of water/shop-vac/propane tank to or from the car. Life would be so much easier if I could just park in one of those geographically desirable spots. Thoughts like these may be accompanied by a twinge of something inappropriate, too–jealousy? resentment? Hopefully not “going to hell”-sized bad feelings, but enough to make me feel a little ashamed.

Likewise, I’m no tri-athlete, but I have occasionally rolled my eyes at the slow movers of the world. The I-need-a-scooter-to-meander-through-Target types, the ten minutes in the crosswalk folks. You know. Those people.

Then, six weeks ago, I leapt off a rock and significantly altered my worldview. I felt a horrible rip and shock in midair, knowing before I landed that the next 24 hours would be spent lying on top of a bag of frozen peas–instead of hiking and frolicking in paradise as I had planned. So much for my trip to Wilson’s Promontory.

From the Australian National Park website.
From the Australian National Park website.

It was time to drag my torn calf muscle home. Stubbornly refusing a wheelchair at the airport, declining the boot from the doctor, and hiding my crutches in the hall closet, I started to wonder what my problem was. Weeks passed before it dawned on me: I don’t want to admit that I’m middle aged, let alone mortal. And now that I’ve got the gait of a pirate crossed with a slug, there is visual evidence that both are true. In the frenzied ebb and flow of urban life, I am a visual thorn, causing people to stare before rushing past.

Walking into a store the other day, I heard the greeter say, “How’re you doing today?” Before I could answer he added, “Oh, my.” He grimaced. “Want a cart to lean on?”

No, I don’t want a cart to lean on. I want a new friggin’ leg. This one sucks.

At the crosswalk, people wave for me to cross…then scowl as they realize how long they will have to sit there. At the store, on the street– everywhere I go–I’m the one making you all wait, and I can tell I’m driving you crazy.

Shoot, I’m driving myself crazy. Everything I do takes three times as long as it used to, so I’m doing less and less. Forget something upstairs/in the car/at the store? Oh, well. Can’t find my phone? Make calls later. No shoes handy? Drive carpool in slippers. I make decisions based on how long I might have to stand or how far I will have to walk. If I need milk, I go to the market with the dairy closest to the door. If parking’s tough, I go early and circle like a hawk. And you should see the strategies I’ve adopted for unloading the dishwasher. Thank goodness I work at home, so I can ice and elevate whenever I need to. Theoretically, anyway. Sometimes the freezer just feels too far away.

After my daughter’s piano recital last week, I had to walk from the performance space to the reception. Noticing a couple behind me, I lurched to the side. “Go ahead,” I offered. “I’m terribly slow.” “Not to worry,” the man replied warmly. “We have issues, too.” I saw, then, that his wife had a pronounced limp. We exchanged smiles and hobbled along together for a while–not talking; just understanding. It was a relief to know that at least these two people would not get annoyed or leave me behind.

The past six weeks have felt like an eternity. Despite my frustration, however, I need to keep in mind that while I will start physical therapy next week, some people may never be able to run around. I’m fortunate and I know it, and this injury has given me a lot to think about. What’s been my hurry, anyway? In a hundred years, will anyone care that I had to wait an extra 15 seconds for someone to cross the street or get into their car? I won’t. I’ll be six feet under.

There. I’ve admitted it. I’m mortal.

So, if you need a little more time in the crosswalk, that’s ok by me. I have nothing but empathy for the slow folks out there these days. And don’t worry; I won’t be encroaching on any of those disabled parking spots until biology dictates I must. With any luck, I’ll be getting older and slower someday, so prepare yourself. I’ll be needing your patience and understanding.

 

The Family Truckster Turns Thirteen

From National Lampoon's Vacation, via Pinterest.
From National Lampoon’s Vacation, via Pinterest.

Miss Twelve is about to turn thirteen.

That means the station wagon we purchased in anticipation of her birth is already a teenager. Believe me, I can tell.

Here’s what’s good about the family truckster: it runs.

The trouble started a year or two after we bought it. The doofus replacing our cracked windshield re-mounted the rear-view mirror upside down. It took us a few months to figure out exactly what was wrong; I suppose that’s why we didn’t just call him back and make him fix it. Though it works, God help you if you try to adjust it. One touch and that thing will be swinging against the dash—leaving you to wonder how to get home without killing anyone. I’ve tried taping it up there, of course, but when the car heats up, the tape peels and dangles like streamers. Adding to the festive ambiance, the two pieces that were supposed to hold the mirror up are tucked in the side of the passenger door, making a little music with the random forks and pens when you open and close it.

Sadly, the mirror was just the beginning of a long, steady decline. Now, over a decade later, the dash and seats are scarred from endless bike and lumber hauling. A hairpin got caught in the cigarette lighter, shorting the system. Knobs were pried off by toddlers when I got tired of watching them destroy the house. The ashtray was kicked one too many times, leaving a gaping, crumb-filled hole between the front seats, and milk has dribbled from abandoned sippy cups into every nook and cranny.

Eyeing the disaster, a friend once mentioned that she kept her car clean by forbidding all food and drink. This confused me. “When do you eat breakfast?” I asked.

But certain issues are especially indicative of its teen years:

It’s sullen, sluggish, and difficult to steer. This vehicle would prefer to lounge at home at all times. When forced to move, it goes where it wants to–making it difficult to park, hurry, make a U-turn, and, of course, avoid disaster.

It needs constant refilling: gas, oil, and especially coolant.

It smells funny. Unlike my child, I am able to bathe it now and then, but for the past year and a half, coolant has been dripping onto the engine block and boiling away, releasing the noxious fumes into our choking faces. As the leak worsened, clouds started to pour through the air circulation system, a development which rendered the windows alarmingly and persistently foggy. (The spouse likes to squirt a bottle of water on the windshield first thing, which does clear it a bit–and might work well with the kid, too, now that I think about it.)

After the fourth unsuccessful trip to the garage, the mechanics gave us an ultimatum: pay two grand to have the entire system ripped out and replaced, or shell out a couple hundred bucks to bypass the whole climate control system. We opted for the latter. The first time, they put the hose in wrong which led to another issue:

It is unexpectedly soggy. Just as thirteen years of bottled emotions erupt in a lake of tears, we discovered about a gallon of chemistry had pooled on the floor of the passenger’s side. I have mopped and scrubbed, but it refuses to be clean or dry, so no one is allowed to place books or bags on the floor. And now that the hose has been properly installed…

It’s permanently unbalanced. Although the fan works, there’s no air conditioning or heat. When it’s hot outside, we’re trapped in a hair dryer; when it’s cold, the North wind blows.

What’s more, our car is dangerously volatile. The wagon has a new trick, which I unfortunately discovered a few days ago. The struts on the trunk gave out just as I was cheerfully stashing backpacks in there. Suddenly the trunk and my face got well acquainted. Not surprisingly, that has caused me the mother of all headaches. Note that the trunk doesn’t always collapse, so we are constantly, gingerly maneuvering around it–dreading the worst, and only slightly placated when it manages to stay open long enough for us to grab a bag without getting a black eye.

The spouse was on the freeway recently when the car in front dropped some large, vital piece onto the roadway. It was sucked up under our wagon, destroying two of the tires. Remarkably calm and clear-thinking under pressure, he managed to steer the car safely onto the shoulder. Later, he put his head in his hands. “Why did I do that?” he asked. “I had the perfect opportunity to steer right into the guard rail and get us a new car.”

He’s got a point. This kind of teenager will never go to college.

 

 

 

On Barbies and Bodies and Beauty

Thought I would share an essay I wrote for another site with the larger world:

Puberty is a wild ride; I must have forgotten. Or maybe–despite the hideously awkward classroom discussions and cheesy pamphlets–I just experienced puberty as my own ri…

Source: On Barbies and Bodies and Beauty

I’m not lurking; I’m finding my zen

The view from another, more photogenic, San Francisco hill.
The view from another, more photogenic, San Francisco hill.

As I may have mentioned before, I do a boatload of driving.

In fact, I drive up and over one particular hill at least six times every day. Let’s not explore the reasons why. Suffice it to say that having two children in schools on opposite ends of the city can make a person do ridiculous things.

Over the past six months, I’ve developed a habit of pulling over and parking at the top of the hill. Maybe I’d feel a little embarrassed if it didn’t feel so dad-gum therapeutic.

It’s not the most spectacular view of San Francisco, but the sky is constantly changing there–like moods. I am always surprised by what I see.

Sometimes the clouds split and a ribbon of light rips across the horizon.

Sometimes I can see it raining one place, sunny in another.

And sometimes–like this morning–the hill is adrift in fog and I see nothing at all. I always look for a while anyway.

I might comb my hair or clean out my purse. I might eat breakfast, read a few pages, or listen to the inane commentary of morning talk shows.

Often I close my eyes and take ten breaths.

The neighbors must wonder about me–though I have taken to setting my alarm for seven minutes, so I don’t wallow indefinitely–but for that tiny envelope of time, there is nothing but the sky and me. It is strangely satisfying.

***

IMG_0853

 

 

Well, this is awkward.

http://27.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l7ci7gzez31qzrfwao1_500.jpg
http://27.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l7ci7gzez31qzrfwao1_500.jpg

I am not the sort of person who walks into a party and makes four new friends and a business connection. I’m the sort who drops her canapé and says something congenial, but a little off. What’s worse, I intermittently pause for an eternity. You might give up and wander off, in search of someone who can speak English.

It’s true, I didn’t get that Rhodes Scholarship, but there’s a lot going on between the ears. I’m probably thinking about how your new hair color is flattering–or should I pretend I didn’t notice?–and how I can’t remember if I saw you at the lecture last month. Have I mentioned that provocative article I read? Or were you the one who told me about it in the first place? And aren’t our kids about the same age? I’m thinking your daughter’s name starts with an “M,” and is like Maria, but definitely not Maria.

“So…how are you?” I might venture at last.

The weird thing is, once I warm up and get over myself, I usually have fun–which is why I still try now and then.

A few years ago, my daughter switched schools, and I was invited to a cocktail party for grade level parents. I knew no one, and was therefore at a complete loss for what to wear and how to comport myself–even more than usual. I didn’t even know the woman hosting the event. Imagine that awkward moment while I teetered on the front steps, wondering if I was staring at the person who sent out the evite. “Is this–? Are you–?” I tried.

Luckily, she was. And she was very kind, but after bringing me in and supplying me with a beverage, I was on my own in a sea of people who knew each other well. It was terribly uncomfortable. I hung to the side, wondering whom to approach, what to say, and whether I looked a little too schlumpy for such a schmancy gathering. How would I break the ice–or even melt it a little?

Then, something magical happened. Another mom entered, garnering a hearty reception. Let’s call her Ellen. Ellen was three sheets to the wind. While our little cohort had been murmuring politely around the grand piano, grazing the artful caterers’ spread, and sipping gin and tonics, St. Patrick’s Day had apparently packed quite a punch in the outside world. Ellen had a spray of tiny freckles, a charming smile, and a bewilderingly complicated entourage of past and present significant others. And Ellen was wearing green sparkly fishnets topped with the tiniest pair of black lace hot pants. I swear. She drank more, laughed a lot, and spoke with a naked honesty that both charmed and astonished everyone in her wake. Suddenly, it didn’t matter what I was wearing or what I was saying. No matter what I might do, Ellen had already outdone me…and she was clearly welcome. I was free to flounder happily.

I was only a part of that particular school community for a year, but every day I was thankful for Ellen and her hot pants.

Now, in a couple of weeks I will join tens of thousands of others for a conference in Washington, DC.

I have gone through the closet repeatedly, wondering what I could wear that’s warm and comfortable, makes me look confident, happy, and successful, and yet seems well-grounded and completely effortless? I have reached out to a few people I know will be there, done a little reading, and–while on my way to pick up carpool–practiced responding to the question, “what do you do?” since the answer is neither simple nor brief.

But mostly, I’m wishing Ellen would be there.

 

 

Why Some People Call Me Elaine

Image credit:
Image credit: Eric Loeffler

Though my name came from a Norwegian immigrant who lost her mind on the prairies, that wasn’t why it caused me discomfort as a child.

At summer’s end, I would brace myself for the inevitable embarrassment known as roll call. Most people butchered my name and expected me to be a boy—but none more than my new teachers.

Time has passed and, from the other side of the desk, I’ve grown to appreciate having such an uncommon moniker. Still, imagine my relief when–asked my name by a semi-bored barista–I suddenly realized I could say ANYTHING AT ALL.

Fears

Image from http://www.smithsonianmag.com
Image from http://www.smithsonianmag.com

Then

  • Clowns
  • The dentist
  • The basement
  • The dark
  • Getting lost
  • Getting lost in a dark basement full of dentists dressed like clowns
  • Escalators
  • The principal
  • Being a disappointment to my parents
  • Drowning
  • Caves
  • Mean girls
  • The Shining—never, ever read Stephen King books in grade school
  • Being tickled until I wet my pants
  • Juvie

Now

  • Jury duty
  • The mortgage
  • The Internal Revenue Service
  • Airport security
  • Serious illness
  • Insomnia
  • Mammograms
  • Hand guns
  • College tuition for my kids
  • Ignorance
  • Colonoscopies
  • Being a disappointment to myself
  • Termites
  • Alzheimer’s
  • The basement
  • The dentist
  • Clowns

Somehow stuck at 90 words today, but this note makes it 100.

****

I realize that was a total copout, but a) I’m human, and b) tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. I need to spend a little more time cooking, cleaning, and being grateful instead of tearing my hair out over ten words.