Estate sales always bring up mental Polaroids of costume jewelry to me. I’m not sure why these two terms are synonymous in my wild brain, but they are. Every “estate sale” yard sign conjures sepia toned pictures of tarnished silver prongs loosely holding yellowing rhinestones, ancient brooches that more than likely squeak in agony when opened, rows of fake cameos, and pearl necklaces galore–all of them nestled in a display on a black velvet material (which tries its best to class them up.)
I own my fair share of old 1950’s- 1960’s era costume jewelry. There’s something about old things that I adore. I can’t help but wonder at their original owner. Was the piece a gift? Was it purchased for a specific event? Did she wear it to a formal, luncheon, wedding reception, women’s club meeting, the Kentucky Derby, or an anniversary date with her husband? Did she wear little white gloves and a pillbox hat or a little black A-line dress? Did she have a fur stole the brooch was pinned on?
There’s a Woody Allen film I love called “Midnight in Paris” where the protagonist, a romantic writer, dreams to one day own a nostalgia shoppe. People close to him in the film think he’s crazy, but I get him 100%. I’ve always had an affinity for antiques, but more important to me, the human stories the antiques tell. I love being able to recognize myself and my own emotions, motivations, and concerns in the things of the past. I think we all do.
We can all relate to the mom on a rusty tin sign advertising the use of a “New and Improved” biscuit powder. She’s busy, but she wants the best for her family the same as we do.
We can study the faces on the old photographs for sale in antique malls and see the same sparkle in the lovers’ eyes that we share when we lock eyes with our soul-mates.
We can thumb through old record albums and tell which songs were the most loved by how worn they are. How many times do we listen to our favorite song on our iPod?
A few months back I went on a road trip with some girlfriends and we ended up in an antique store. (We’re wild and crazy like that.)
I, like I usually do, immediately start looking through postcards and letters. As a self proclaimed letter writer, I can’t tell you the joy I get from reading old correspondence from the past. One letter gripped me in spite of, or because of, its incompleteness. Only a third of it existed in tact, front and back. It began like this:
“November 10, 1929
Tonight is Sunday, and I had a strong desire to be with you, but as things are not as…”
There was more on the back.
“Tonight I went to a tea dance in Jefferson Hall. I saw Mary Ella and she told me that she had just heard from you. That made me want to hear too, so please answer more promptly than I am want to do.”
The signature was missing. I scoured the entire antique store looking for the rest of it to no avail.
I don’t think we’ll ever know who Florence’s friend was–or if she wore a rhinestone brooch to that tea dance.
Romanticizing objects, particularly clothing, is one way my brain stays entertained. I can recall outfits I wore to functions, on dates, to shows, and on various shenanigans. When I put on a certain dress or shirt I am prone to say to myself, “This is what I wore when…”
I wonder if other people do that.
I also can’t help but wonder if, in the far future, there will be a lady wondering who wore my (now new) red dress? To what function? With whom did she attend it? Was it a happy occasion or a sad one?
Maybe this futuristic lady will even poke around to see if there’s anything written about my red dress.
Well, look at that–now there is.
I have panty problems. How’s that for an opening line? I bought new panties today. Not the slinky and sexy lacy thongs on tiny individual hangers, but those big ole’ cotton ones that come three to a pack–rolled up, taped, and shrunk wrapped for bulk sale. It’s been a long time since I bought any underwear of the granny panty variety, and while I was standing in the undie aisle of the dollar market studying the different types of panties, it suddenly dawned on me how unfair it all was.
These days, when you log into any social network or go to any news site you’ll be inundated with article after article about the continued fight for women’s equality and what #feminism looks like in 2014. There have been memes where men have proudly proclaimed their feminist beliefs with graffiti covered cardboard signs, charts and graphs depicting the pay scale difference still existing between the sexes, and hastags like the most recent #yesallwomen to bring even more awareness to society’s continued unequal treatment between the sexes even in our enlightened age. As most articles deal with serious issues like rape, abuse, and birth control, it seems like the online discussion has hit all the ways how the modern American can improve their perspective on the sexes—all the ways except one—sizing.
“Hey babe, pick me up some work khakis while you’re out today, would ya?” the hot-as-hell hubby asks.
“Sure thing.” I answer and kiss him goodbye.
Such has been a regular occurrence for nearly 15 years. Most of the clothes, socks, and underwear he owns was purchased by me WITHOUT his presence. I’ve taken this for granted, as I assume most other wives and moms do, but let’s think about it for a second. Exactly how many husbands routinely buy pants for their wives WITHOUT THEIR WIVES TRYING THEM ON? That concept is so foreign to my brain, that I can’t even seriously consider it, and yet while my husband never darkens the store, let alone the fitting room, every pair of pants I buy him magically fit every time.
The measurements fit, and the pants fit.
Underwear? No problem! IT’S THE SAME MEASUEMENT IN THE WAIST!
I wonder if men are even aware that when we women buy clothes and underwear, it’s an ENTIRELY different experience.
Let’s say I need new pants. I wear a size 14, and I’m tall for a gal. Just go buy a size 14 tall, right? WRONG! (but thanks for playing, here’s your parting gift—dry shampoo!)
Pants can be low-waist, hi-waist, mid-rise, classic fit, stretch, hidden control panel, skinny, boot-cut, flare, and capri just to name a few. A size 14 in one type of pant does not equal a size 14 in another type of pant—even by the same manufacture! Trying them on is the only way to ensure a good fit—and even then you may get it wrong. I have a pair of navy ankle-length-skinny-pants that I fell madly in love with in the dressing room. I wore them the next day to work, only to find out the fit that I adored only lasted for about 3 hours. They got bigger and bigger as the day wore on thanks to the stretch fabric they were made of. I very nearly lost them during a particularly active dance number with the kiddos during story-time, and spend 90% of my work day hiking them up over my hips. Nope, a belt wouldn’t work, don’t even suggest it. (They are only faux belt loops. I have no idea why.)
It seems to me that women have somehow gotten the sour end of the sizing deal. Why can’t we rely on measurements of waists and inseams like our male counterparts? Why do our size numbers seem so arbitrary? It’s almost like they don’t even matter at all!
“Grab a 12, 14, and 16—I’ll try them all.”
You men sigh and slink back to a chair to wait in quiet frustration as we head to dressing rooms with our arms full of jeans and pants. Bless your little heats. Well, I guaran-damn-tee you that we’re hell of a lot more frustrated than you as we slough off pair after pair of pants that don’t fit.
But it’s not just pants—oh no!
Let’s get back to my panties! I mean, let’s get back to panties!
I wear a size 8.
A size 8?? To cover the same part of my body that is a size 14?
Follow the blue hairs to the panty aisle next time you’re in Walmart or Target. I know, it’s daunting, but look through all the briefs, boy shorts, thongs, G strings, hi-cut, low-cut, French-cut, bikinis, full coverage, hi-waisted, and low-rise panties. Grab a 3 pack of bikini briefs and flip it over. There you will find a size chart. It’s not just S,M,L,XL like the men’s underwear—because that would just be ridiculously simple! No, we women have to have size charts that read like wall street stock sales graphs! There are boxes shaded in different measurements under all sorts of size numbers.
“So, according to this chart, I wear a 7, but this chart has me wearing a 9? But…I wear a size 14 pant, and a size Medium tee-shirt….shit, I don’t know, I’ll just grab these.”
You want to know what really sucks for women? The same rule that applies to pants also applies to panties—there’s no way to be sure until you try them on—and you CAN’T try on panties. Ergo, we’re never-ever sure if the panties we buy will fit us, despite the scientific looking mathematical scales, numbers, and graphs on the packages.
I could go back to Disney world on all the money I’ve spent on panties that, according to the size chart, should have fit but didn’t. Damn them.
While you’re in the ladies’ underwear section looking about, mosey over to the panty hose and tights aisle. There you’ll find A,B,C,D,and Q—among other sizes. Yeah, I know…COMPLETELY different. Flip over a package and read those size charts. As far as I know, this is the only place where the inseam will factor into the size, except they don’t actually list the inseam measurement—just your height in ranges.
“So, do I go with the 5’6” – 5’9” or 5’10” – 6′ ? D or Q? Hell, just grab one of both.”
The charts on the back of panty-hose also have weight on them. You’ve gotta match your height AND your weight to find your size. Is there ANY male equivalent to this? Do men have to find how much they weigh on a chart in order to buy underwear? It’s humiliating! I will buy tanning cream to slather on my legs before buying panty hose just for this reason!
Are you understanding the kind of problem I’m talking about, now?
I wear a size 14. I also wear a size 8, Q, D, M, L and XL.
Unless I don’t.
The panties I just bought? They’re inching there way down my hips as I sit and type this. #yesallwomen #equalpayandequalsizes #pantyproblems #keeponhikingthemup
I made the switch from Droid to iPhone with my last contract upgrade, and have been an overly enthusiastic johnny-come-lately to the world of itunes. Ok, who am I kidding? I’m overly enthusiastic about most things. This itunes thing, though. WHOA! How cool is THIS? I can download song after song, and share it on all my apple devices! My favorite feature, by far, is the iTunes radio—specifically the Disney radio channel. Those who know me (or have read me) know that I have a love for Disney musicals that is rivaled only slightly by my love for Christmas music. Wow. That sentence just up the ante on my nerd value. Despite the increased nerd wattage, I’ve been listening to the Disney Radio Station with my kids (and maybe without them.) We’ve rocked car dance parties and after school sing-a-longs to some of my favorite childhood memories and new Disney soundtrack favorites. “Supercalifragilisticegspealidocious,” “Bear Necessities,” “Whistle While you Work,” “You Ain’t Never had a Friend Like Me,” “Be Our Guest,” “Hakuna Matata,” “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” and countless others. We love them all.
OK, so not all of them. I skip all the High School Musical/Camp Rock/Phineas and Ferb nonsense. Just give me the Disney movie musicals, please and thank you.
Today, while I was Nashville bound on I-24 with my little boy in tow, a funny thing happened to me . He and I had just finished a rousing dance party number “When Can I See You Again?” from Wreck it Ralph, when the next song brought to surface for me a memory I had all but forgotten.
Many years earlier, I was traveling down the same stretch of interstate on a big, yellow school bus. We were on a field trip to see the Sam Davis Home, and I was feeling a self-imposed loneliness and artistic melancholy—think Aly Sheedy’s Breakfast club character, only in 4th grade. I remember feeling the cool glass of the rectangle shaped window on my forehead as I lay pitifully against it. I was a total drama queen before being a drama queen was cool. Lost in my own thoughts, I began singing a low, mournful song. “So this is Love” from Cinderella. I know, I know, not exactly a dark, emotionally cutting tune, true—but it has these swooping “Mmmmmm’s” all through it that I was really feeling, you know? I sang it through maybe twice before another fourth grade body plopped itself down beside me.
Hello? Didn’t you hear me?
“So this is love”
“Don’t know it.”
Yeah, I wouldn’t expect you to. It’s from a musical!
“It’s from Cinderella.”
“Band? What band? No…it’s… a movie.”
“Oh! Cinderella! HA! HA! Like the cartoon?”
I was red-faced with embarrassment and anger. Not only had I been called out for watching cartoons, but my favorite one had just been disparaged by a little girl in a Guns-N-Roses tee-shirt!
“You sing pretty, though.”
Well, at least her musical ear wasn’t that bad.
“You know any other songs?”
To this day, I can’t tell you why I said what I said next. Although, I’m sure something about my own superiority feeling threatened by a little girl wearing Axle Rose’s face on her chest had a thing or two to do with it.
“I write my own songs too.”
What? Why did I say that?
She lit up. “You do?! Sing me one!”
Judging her (in more ways than one) by her shirt, I assessed quickly that she had zero knowledge of Tiffany’s album. You remember Tiffany, don’t you? The red-headed-mall-singer? “I think we’re alone now…” Yeah, her. I had the entire cassette tape memorized, so I began singing a bit of one of the deep tracks on it—one I was certain she had never heard.
“...and what do I do now with all this time?” I crooned “That’s all I’ve got so far.” I lied.
“That’s really good! Have you written any more?”
Again, I have no idea why I felt so against the commandment about bearing false witness, but another lying fit seized me before I could stop it. “I’ve actually been thinking about a few lines earlier. Man!” I lamented, “I wish I had a pencil and paper.”
She stood up abruptly and asked everyone on the bus, “ANYONE GOT A PENCIL AND PAPER? SHARON’S GONNA WRITE US A SONG!”
Oh, Jesus! Crap, that’s two commandments in one day. Here’s hoping I don’t see my neighbor’s ass.
She procured a pencil and a few torn pages of paper ripped, no doubt, from a unicorn covered Lisa Frank spiral notebook; then handed both to me while smiling widely. “Here ya go! Now, write!”
I took them and told her seriously and with adult-like weight, “I’ll need a minute.”
She went back to her original seat, and left me to my creative devices. The trouble was, I didn’t have any creative devices! I quickly thought of all the songs that I knew that she certainly didn’t—and not just her, she was telling the entire 4th grade that I was a songwriter! I quickly pieced together some Karen Carpenter, Mama’s and Papas, 40’s big band, and southern gospel lyrics in a cross-genre Frankenstein of a song. I even included some of those “Mmmmmms” I loved so much in the Cinderella tune.
“We’re almost back at school, you got it wrote yet?”
“Some of it.”
“Good. I asked the teachers if you could sing it for us when we get back in the classroom! Yay!”
Kill me. Kill me now.
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I mean I’m really private about my music.” God help me, I think I may have even flipped my hair over my shoulder when I said this.
“Oh..ok..that’s cool. Well, Just sing it to me then?”
I cleared my throat and picked another Tiffany tune to stick the patch-worked lyrics to and sold it as best as I could with many closed-eyed-head-sways to the music.
“You’re gonna grow up and be famous, you know that?” She brightened. “Hey, can I have this? You could sign it, and I’ll keep it—someday it’ll be worth something.”
I happily obliged and signed my very first autograph. (three more followed in my illustrious vocal career.)
I had a good laugh at myself today when that memory came flooding back to me—in technicolor–with Disney music playing on top of my interstate view. I can’t believe I was ever that sophomoric and high and mighty. I feel bad about this, but I can’t help but wonder how long she kept that craptastic song I “wrote.” I wish I could see it again—hell, I could even record it and sell it on itunes. I just wonder what genre channel it would go on.
“Pedal faster! Keep the wheel straight. That’s it!”
“You won’t let go?” I asked her.
“No. I’ve got you.” She said, but something in her voice sounded peculiar to my young ear. I turned my head around, expecting to see her running lopsided behind me while holding the back of the flowered banana seat I was perched on, but she wan’t there. Instead of helping me balance on this contraption, she was on the other side of the vacant church parking lot laughing and clapping!
“Mama!” I cried out in anger and fear.
Her face reflected my fear and she yelled, “Watch where you’re going!”
I crashed in into the shrub-covered fence row before she finished her admonition. I lay there tear-stained and twisted in thorny bracken—my hands and knees bleeding from the painful prickles and pavement. It would be several months before I attempted to ride a bicycle again.
Remembering the difficulty I had in learning to ride a bike, (I finally did, thank you very much) has caused me to put the lesson off as long as possible for my own kids. However, for Christmas two years ago, they both got bikes. I, as the perpetually fearful mom, made certain they came with training wheels. They adored riding them, and I loved that the training wheels kept them upright and scab-free. They soon broke the training wheels and out-grew their bikes, and it became clear to me that they would need new outdoor play things this Christmas. To continue procrastinating the bicycle lesson, I searched for alternatives to the two-wheeled-thorn-crashing-machine. I finally settled on my items; getting one kid a knee board and the other a pair of skates. Based on their squeals and excited, “Yes!” exclamations, I nailed Christmas and congratulated myself for both appeasing them and steering clear of bikes for another year. Enter my awesome Uncle and Aunt from Knoxville.
We don’t visit with them enough throughout the year. Isn’t that what we all realize about our family during the Holidays? Each year, they drive down to celebrate with us, but have only recently started a new tradition of sorts with their great-nieces and nephews—a Christmas shopping spree. Essentially, they give each kid a wad of cash and set them loose in Wal-Mart. My kids are the youngest, so I accompany them on this much-anticipated outing every year. This year, I followed my talkative children to the toy section and watched their eyes light up as they surveyed aisle after aisle of potential playthings. Esther settled herself in the pink aisle full of dolls and teas sets, and Josiah wandered through all the Star Wars and Super hero figures. All was well. Then Josiah saw the bicycles.
“Mama! A bicycle! Look!”
“Mama! It’s a blue bike! Look a blue one! You see?!”
“Yes, I see. It’s just, well, I don’t know if you have enough money for a bike, baby.” I lied. He had more than enough money for a new bike, but I was certain I could sell him on another toy of some kind.
Josiah was visibly heartbroken. “I don’t? Oh…are you sure?”
The mom guilt tasted like rotten potatoes and soured milk combined. “Let me check again for you.” I said optimistically. I pulled out his little zip-lock bag of cash and made quite the show of counting the bills. I gave him a toothy grin. “Wow, Josiah! You do have enough!”
“Can I get this blue one?” He was so full of happiness, he nearly yelled the question.
I couldn’t help but laugh from my own happiness as I looked at his smiling face, and checked the price of the blue bike. “It looks like the blue one is too much money, but look! You have enough to get this awesome red one here!” I pulled the cumbersome two-wheeler free from its hanging restraints and set it in front of him.
“WOW! That is so cool!”
Okay, Sharon Kay, suck it up, butter cup. He loves this thing.
I immediately went to the nearby aisle in a frantic search for training wheels which, we later discovered wouldn’t fit the back axle. To ride the bike, he is going to have to ride it for real. We are past the point of training wheels. This means that I will have to do what I’ve been dreading. I will have to teach him to ride a bike.
He will fall. He will get hurt. He will cry. He will be angry. He will be sad. He will hate it. He will want to quit.
I will encourage. I will cajole. I will console. I will doctor the scabs. I will help him balance. I will wipe away his tears. I will help him back on the bike.
I will let go.
I will let go, and he will balance without me.
I will let go, and he will shout, “Look, mama!”
I will let go, and he will laugh with pride.
I will let go, and he will ride his bike like a champ.
I will let go, and he will peddle away from me.
Maybe what I’m discovering—while writing this piece, actually, is that the training wheels were for me, after all. Maybe I’m still trying to find my balance—but not on a bike. This time it’s as a mom—the balance between keeping them safe and pushing them to learn to ride on their own, and I’m always afraid I’m screwing it up.
When we got Josiah’s Autism diagnosis, it knocked the wind out of us. We saw many of the dreams and ideas for our son blow away. I battled in the only way I knew how, I jumped right into research and advocacy. I’ve spent the years since his diagnosis trying to anticipate what may cause a massive meltdown with him so that I could help him side-step it. In doing so, I began to get a “feel” of how to parent him. To give you an example of what I mean, I’ll tell you another story. This one is about his birthday this year.
Josiah loves Rise of the Guardians, Star Wars, and Spiderman 3–”the black one, mama!”
I got him none of those things for his birthday. You see, I had suffered with him through too many, “I’ve lost/broken my very favorite toy” meltdowns to get him birthday gifts he would fall in love with. Typical children will throw a tantrum. Josiah will cry for hours, and obsessively grieve for months. (This afternoon, he began crying in his room over a toy lion he had broken beyond repair last year.) I decided that, to help him avoid being hurt, I’d keep him from falling in love. So, I concocted a mom-plan that became my mantra for awhile—get him things he’ll like, but not love. At his party, he opened all of his gifts from me with a general, “meh.” Exactly what you want from your kid when you give him a present. Apparently, my plan had worked like a charm.
After he was so crestfallen at his birthday party, I made the brave decision to get him all the things he would genuinely love for Christmas. Should meltdowns occur, I’d just deal with them. His squeals, laughter, and exclamations of happiness on Christmas morning were a balm to my worried soul. It felt, to use the word all families of children with special needs avoid, normal.
He’s growing up, and so am I. We’re both still figuring this thing out, and we’ll both learn how to keep the balance together. I can’t tell you that we won’t get hurt, or that we won’t feel brokenhearted, but I can tell you that I’m sure that now is the time. For Josiah and for me, it’s time. It’s time to shed the training wheels, give him a gentle push, and lift my hand off of the banana shaped seat—but not before checking the immediate area for menacing thorn bushes.
“Everyone thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but we can’t all possibly have good taste!” –Nora Ephron
Nora wrote gems like that. Some were used in movies while others were part of her column or books that she penned later in life. She was an absolute truth-teller. At her own expense and even when we didn’t want to hear the truth, she entertained us all with her words. I adore her and cried when I heard of her passing.
But I don’t want to talk about that, I bring her up to tell you that I am one of those people who thinks they have great taste AND a sense of humor. No. I don’t think it. I know it to be a certainty. I have great taste in decorating, fashion, friends, food, and music to name a few. I take great pride in it, especially my taste in music. Hell, I even majored in Music in college! From classical to bluegrass and everything in between, why I can bore you with details about it all. I can play “name that composer” on NPR with shocking accuracy. I also do my best to stay current with local Nashville area bands and folk and indie artists of today. Like all hipsters who denounce being classified as a hipster, I elevate myself among others whose taste in music is “beneath” my own. This time of year, however, I morph into a crappy music lover.
I blame Christmas in all its fucking glory! Christmas has me “fa la la la la’ing” through the house like an elf on home-cooked meth! If the song has bells, a celesta, a slap stick, and Richard Carpenter’s vocals dubbed over 12 times, I’ll be singing right along—loudly. Please do not judge me when you see me wiping away a tear through that last verse of “Christmas Shoes.” (You just judged me, didn’t you?) Don’t get all high and mighty in your skinny jeans and infinity scarf should you see me dancing in my car to “Feliz Navidad.” One of my many guilty pleasures is a local station that plays all Christmas music this time of year. Their primary goal inevitably must be to pick out and play the crappiest and cheesiest of Christmas songs. Case in point, they’re currently giving away tickets to see John Tesh in concert.
Yes. I know. I should be embarrassed, and I used to be!
I used to hide that I listen to this particular station—quickly changing the dial to the “cool music station” whenever someone got in the car. I used to blush when I began to pop in the Carpenter’s Christmas Portrait and sing. (the entire thing, top to bottom, I have memorized. I can sing all of Karen and Richard’s voice parts.) I used to feel that my love for all things Christmas music related couldn’t possibly coexist with the great taste in music that I take elitist pride in. I mean, in what brain is there a mutual respect for John Lennon and The Chipmunks?
I’d still like my hula-hoop, dammit.
I’ve since reconciled my bi-polar musical taste by doing what most parents do, blaming it on my children. I listen to the craptasic tunes to make their Christmas a “Holly-Jolly” one—by gosh, by golly. I’m leading Christmas sing-a-longs in the car in an effort to boost Christmas cheer!
“Take it away, Russ!”
“Fa la la la la la la la la!”
I’m the picture of Christmas Spirit for my kids. I’m a good parent! That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it; even though it’s completely laughable. After all, I have great taste AND a sense of humor.
A friend of mine gave me a book to read several months back. I’ll have to publicly admit right now that I lied to him and told him that I had finished it. In actuality, I never got beyond the first couple of chapters. I was struck so by what those pages contained, that I’ve been cranially digesting them ever since. The book is The Zen Teachings of Jesus. Now, before you begin to flame me with religious commentary, I should tell you that I’m not going to talk about Jesus or Zen or even Zen teachings–I’m going to talk about Art.
The book spends a fair amount of time discussing Alchemy. For those who are unawares, Alchemy is the fabled science which claims the ability to turn base metals into gold or silver through some magical hoo-doo of sorts; turning the ordinary and mundane into precious and valuable goods. There are other points to alchemy which I won’t discuss, but you can read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for further information. What? You don’t typically get your information from young adult fantasy fiction? You should try Wikipedia then, it’s a reputable site. In other news, there really needs to be a “sarcasm font.”
Back to Art.
The book compared Artists to Alchemists. They take the hum-drum and turn it into treasured pieces. They take the earthly and make it holy.
Run-of-the-mill canvas and plain old paint become priceless portraits that are handed down for centuries. Chunks of rock from the filthy ground are chipped, honed, and polished into spectacular sculptures capturing life-sized creatures in mid-motion, as if Medusa had looked at them with her cursed gaze. Strings and wood, in the gifted hands of a violinist, guitarist, or cellist can move the listener to tap their foot or shed a soulful tear. Vocal cords–which almost everyone can lay claim to–in the skilled throat of a singer can slice your heart open or fill you with a desire to worship the Divine. (should I insert a YouTube clip here of me singing? Nah–that would be too pretentious.)
Or how about the alphabet, y’all? 26 Letters–that’s it. Yet, everything you’ve ever read, sung, or said has been made up of an unlimited combination of those letters! (If you read and speak English, that is. I can’t speak to the number of characters in all the alphabets.) Think about it for a second with me. Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, J.R.R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde, and every other author and songwriter you know only used 26 letters to write that lyric that punches you in the solar plexus. Only 26 letters to create that spellbinding world that carries you away every time you crack the spine of that beloved book. To me friends, that’s the very definition of magic–no, Alchemy.
If it is Alchemy to take the ordinary, and make it cherished and treasured–if turning the commonplace into the marvelous is Art, can we do this in our everyday; in and among our routine? I think we all do in a sense. Let me try to articulate this.
Every weekday morning, I drive about 35 minutes to take our children to school. We live in rural Tennessee; surrounded on every side by rolling hills and stunning natural foliage. There’s this one part of the drive that I always look forward to. It’s only a brief glimpse–a flash of light from the camera–yet it feels like my soul lives for hours inside of the moment. When I see that particular view of the hillsides bathed in the first blush of the dawn light and covered in curly morning mists, I feel as if I were flying inside.
It’s just a hill.
It’s just the sunshine.
It’s just the fog.
And yet it is so very much more. (I told you I’d TRY to articulate it, not that I’d do a good job at it.)
Indulge me a little longer as I labor through this Alchemy thing with you. I think there is another way in which we all turn the common place into the extraordinary– through our love. Think about it. Through our acts of love, kindness, good will, affection, tolerance, and compassion, we are able to turn the complete hideousness of life into the most beautiful. Look at Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and You, (yes, you.). All of these have loved the un-lovable, bathed the broken bones, stared injustice squarely in the face and said, “Not today.”, and given out of their inner wells of love. In the middle of unfairness, war, injustice, hatred, poverty, hunger, and death Humans have the surprising ability to completely change the grossly ugly into the Miraculous Beauty.
You are an Alchemist. Did you know that? You can turn any moment into gold.
Go ahead and work your magic.
“It’s football time in Tennessee!” my dad announces in a booming sing-song voice as he clicks the remote to the channel broadcasting the Orange and White. I can hear the Pride of the Southland Band playing Rocky Top while thousands of fans sing along drunkenly and the sports commentators talk above it all. We’ve got a pot of chili cooked, cheese and crackers, chips, pretzels, hot-dogs, cookies, and several two liters of carbonated drinks. My father, who incidentally is a pastor, comes the closest to losing his religion every Saturday in the fall. He superstitiously wears a Tennessee tee-shirt or sweat-shirt on every game day, and yells instructions and insults at his beloved team.
“The dad-blame quarterback is too afraid of the sack!”
“Yep! There ya go, boys! Snatchin’ defeat from the jaws of victory!”
“OH YEAH! Let’s use the same play that hasn’t worked for the past ten downs!”
“He couldn’t hit a bull in the rear end with a bass-fiddle!”
The season has begun.
Autumn is my favorite seasonal time, and not just because all the world conspires together to coordinate with my hair color. The fall days are a transition from summer to winter and are, in my mind, the loveliest time of the year when the days begin to shorten, the temperatures begin to cool, the kids go tripping merrily back to school, the supper meals get heartier and more savory, the trees dress in their fiery-colored finery, the air is sweet with a tangy musk, the evening dusk is both orange and purple, and the season of football begins.
Here in the South, football is a religion. Stadiums are our temples of worship, fight songs are our hymns, and we work ourselves into a charismatic frenzy shouting for our team (and against the other guys’). I first caught the religious fervor of football while on the high school bleachers. The competitive spirit felt between the Juniors and Seniors at pep rallies suddenly transposed to a family unit feeling at the games. We were all Golden Eagles, and clapped, sang, and cheered as a whole. On cold nights, we’d sit huddled together on those hard ass aluminum bleachers all covered in blankets and coats. We scalded our tongues on steaming hot chocolate sipped from styrofoam cups. We danced when the marching band played “Say Hey!” We yelled for victory as prompted by the homecoming queen and her court (also known as the high school cheerleading squad). Friday night was an Event, with a capital “E,” for us. I have many’a fond memory of those chilly fall nights with the friends of my youth. We felt young, immortal, connected, and happy—despite our scalded tongues.
In college, my love affair with football continued through Homecoming weeks full of Greeks competing to claim the top school spirit prize. There were chili cook-offs, step shows, fight song competitions, and the long awaited homecoming parade. To this day, I can never give someone a gift without remembering the floats I covered with zillions of tiny bits of tissue paper. College football games contained all the goodness of high school football along with the added benefits of liquor and no parents. The marching band was filled with music-major friends of mine who would sneak booze into their instrument cases, and we’d enjoy a bit of our own school “spirit.” I know I had a blast at those games—I just can’t remember most of them. Currently, I’m trying to host a big reunion tail-gate party for our school’s Homecoming this October. I’m hoping to remember this game—even if I don’t understand it.
You see, while I adore everything that is football season, I don’t rightly understand the actual game. Don’t bother trying to teach it to me in the comments—I’m afraid I’m a lost cause. All I know is there’s this yellow line, and the team’s gotta cross it with the ball. If they do, you sing the fight song. If the big, ole sweaty players make it to the other team’s end-zone, that’s a touch down, and you sing the fight song again. That is the sum-total of my football knowledge. I can sing a kicking fight-song.
I think I actually avoid learning the rules of the game, for fear of it spoiling my enjoyment of the event itself. I’m already ignoring how football perpetuates gender stereotypes—what with the bulky and aggressive male heros, and the scantily-clad and leggy cheerleaders. I knowingly turn a blind-eye toward this (and even signed my daughter up for cheerleading) because I am in love with football! Don’t ask me any player’s name or team name for that matter. Don’t ask me about any stats or Heisman candidates. Don’t ask me whether that was holding or a face-mask. Don’t ask me about conferences and leagues. I can’t tell you anything about the game I claim to love. Your best bet is to just ask me what the menu is for the tailgate, and the lyrics to the fight-song. Oh, and here’s a spare pom-pom.
“Let’s Go, Boys!”
“Well, wasn’t that what you wanted? I thought you wished to see the ocean.”
“I did.” said Jane, looking very surprised. “But I never imagined the wish would come true.”
“Well, great oceans! Why bother to wish it then?”
This quote from P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins has always made me catch my breath and stop dead in my tracks. I had it hung on a quotes wall in my school computer lab last year for all of the students to read. I could write article after article about all of those quotes–the books, music, or movies they’re from, the authors who wrote them, and how they’ve helped shape my character. For the sake of time, however, and because I was out shenanigizing until dawn this morning, let’s stick with the Poppins quote.
I’m pretty sure I’m a self-sabotager. (is that a word?)
“Let me explain. No. It is too much. Let me sum up.”
I’ve never had any shortage of dreams, goals, and aspirations, and yet somehow they all seemed like the proverbial desert mirage–unobtainable, feathery figments of my mind. I’d desperately desire to be and do the things I claimed were my dreams, but never actualized any scenario where I would see those dreams lived out.
I would cite varying reasons why I could never accomplish such and such, or I’d do just enough to make it look like I had given my best shot at it; all the while knowing that I had zero intentions of actually being or doing the thing I wanted to do.
Am I alone in this? Does anyone else keep themselves at bay?
I’m sure there are a zillion psychological insights which could tell me why I do this, but I’m guessing fear and control are the primary motivators. You know, like breaking up with your boyfriend because you’re certain he’s going to break up with you, or knowing you’re going to fail so you quit before you fall on your ass in front if a crowd. That type of thing.
This past year, though, has smacked that silly shit right out of me.
Maybe I’m having some type of aging crisis. Admittedly, I have blogged and facebooked about turning thirty-five more than anyone should be allowed to do.
Maybe I’ve just now accepted that my untapped potential is worth a go.
Maybe I’ve finally decided that I am special enough to have special things happen to me.
Maybe it was that Ashton Kutcher speech.
Either way, I’ve personally challenged myself and met those challenges with fireworks, confetti, and champagne. Metaphorically, of course–I hate cleaning up confetti.
This may be the start of a whole new way of life, and now that I reflect on it, I wish I had realized all of this much sooner. Who knows where I’d be or what I’d be doing? I could be singing on the Met stage. I could be autographing CDs for adoring fans. I could be the director for an award winning high school choir.
It doesn’t do for us to worry about the “might have been’s” in life, so today I’m making an official declaration. (cue the royal trumpeters!) Going forward from here on out, I’ll no longer find myself surprised when I get to “see the ocean.” Instead, I’ll expect it–because I drove the car down to Florida myself.
Who’s up for a roadtrip with me?
“How do you know that, baby?”
“He went up front at the balloon thing. They said if you have Autism, come up front, and you took Josiah.”
I smoothed the honey-blonde head on the pillow next to me, and smiled against tears welling up in my eyes. “Yes, baby. Josiah has been diagnosed with Autism.”
I knew I’d take part in a conversation like this someday, but never expected to have such heady and important dialogue with my six-year-old daughter. To my complete amazement, she took everything in and wholly digested it—asking questions like a professional researcher after I explained certain manifestations of Autism.
“Is that why he gets mad when things mess up?”
“Is that why he goes to the Reading Clinic?”
“Is that why he had seizures ‘long time ago?”
“Is that why he has so many teachers?”
“Is that why he doesn’t play toys with me?”
“Is that why he takes medicine?”
“Is that why he doesn’t listen good?”
Esther is two years younger than Josiah, but most everyone we meet mistakes her as the older sibling. This is understandable partly because of her height, (she will grow to be a drop-dead glamazon sooner than I’d like) but mainly for the way she has always looked out for Josiah. It’s not unusual for her to redirect him prior to a meltdown just like a seasoned behavioral therapist, keep a sharp eye out for him on the playground, make sure he has all his belongings and school materials before walking out of the door, or even give him “orders” like, “Josiah, you need to eat your supper first THEN you can have dessert.” To be honest, I find myself relying heavily on her. She’s such a mother hen.
There’s a certain mom-guilt that comes with having a typical child and a special needs child. At least, I’ve found that to be the case. I feel like I’m always playing “catch-up” with Esther to even out the mom-attention. I don’t mean for it to be that way, not at all, but Josiah takes up so much time. I drove Josiah to Nashville twice a week for an entire school year for tutoring. I spend tons of time researching effective methods of instruction. I spend hours compiling all his data for upcoming IEP meetings. I give him more one-on-one tutoring time than I give Esther–and this is all in addition to how Josiah’s needs sometime trump Esther’s.
Josiah is very particular about certain toys. He can share others just fine, but there are some that he refuses to share–Esther thinks this is unfair. Esther has had to settle for what movie Josiah wants to watch so many times that I feel badly for her. I even broke my “no TVs in the bedroom” rule just so Esther could watch her Princess movies. Josiah also doesn’t compromise well. If Esther wants to play tag, and Josiah wants to play hide and seek, they always end up doing what he wants to do. Explaining all of this to her is difficult. I’ve played with her numerous times to make up for the fact that she didn’t get to play with her brother. I know that I’m second best though—playing with your sibling is so much more fun than playing with your mom who gets winded too easily. Keeping a balance of my attention between them is really hard. Am I allowed to say that as a mom? Despite all that I do to keep it even, (hello, hours of cheerleader practice and Saturday morning football games) I’m terrified that in years to come Esther will emotionally vomit up all of her many woes and injustices on some therapists couch.
This is why I cried hopeful tears when the hot-as-hell-hubby showed me a video someone sent him. I was working on my research paper, which coincidentally enough is about using music therapy practices in the general music class to help children with autism, when he poked his head into the bedroom.
“Need some inspiration?”
“You gonna get naked?” I joked. (ok. Maybe I was serious.)
“Naw, for real. You need to see this.” he said and handed me his phone.
I then watched the viral video about the two brothers, one with autism and one without.
I cried. I cried and thought about my Esther and Josiah. I thought about how Esther will most likely always love and look out for her brother, even though it will be frustrating and oftentimes feel unfair. I thought about how Josiah will love her his entire life, and know that she has his back. I thought about how the two of them together have a story that is completely separate from the one that I have with them. I thought about how I can’t wait to read it.
Esther and Josiah compliment each other so beautifully. They’re like two sides of a coin. I have come to realize that I don’t need to worry and stress about keeping any type of balance—they already do.