In honor of the new school year, here’s a post from five years ago:
THE BEST DAY
When I was a kid, do you know what my favorite day of the year was?
Yeah, okay, Christmas. (Good guess.) After all, I was a little girl who loved dolls and clothes and anything wrapped up. And unwrapping stuff. And tree-trimming and angel decorations. And parties and singing. And staying up late and getting up early. And Christmas lights, and cards in the mail. And tiny hot dogs wrapped in dough. And cookies. And having my hair curled. And money. And pie.
That’s pretty hard to beat.
So you do know what my second favorite day was?
The first day of school.
I loved summer – long hot days filled with swimming and biking, and warm evenings with night-time hide-and-seek and fireflies and the ice cream man and late bedtimes.
But by September I was ready to go back to school.
And that first day of school was so very thrilling.
I went to parochial school that required homely navy jumpers. But we didn’t have to wear our uniforms the first day. I got to wear something pretty. And new too. My mother would buy me a special first-day-of-school outfit. No hand-me-downs for that day. And the whole school would go to Mass first, where I also got to wear a mantilla. A dress AND a lace headscarf. Very special. I loved that triangle of white lace, but if I could go back I’d like to wear my mother’s black lace mantilla. How cool.
I’d fidget all through the long Mass, and then Father What-Ever-His-Name-Was would come to the pulpit and start reading names.
“Grade One,” he’d start. “Sister Saint Adelaide: Denise Nadeau, Stephen Bernier, Janice Houle…” and all the way up to Eighth Grade.
And the children would get up as their names were called, and go stand by the Sister. And she’d line them up two by two and they’d march down the aisle and out the door and over to the big brick school across the street.
It was so exciting to find your new desk in your new classroom, and discover who would be your classmates for the year. Saint Anne School had two classes for each grade, and it took just that one day to be certain you had the better teacher and the best kids. You’d sneer at the “other class”, even if your former best friend was in it.
The September weather was fine and we’d go out at recess and run around the schoolyard. We had jump-ropes and cat’s cradles.
We’d get new textbooks. Well, not new, really – most of them were written about 1910. But they were new to us and we took them home in our new bookbag (I liked red plaid) and covered them that night with brown paper cut from old grocery bags. And I always had a new pencil case with ticonderoga pencils and a pink pearl eraser. And a protractor – though I had no idea what to do with it, except I could rub my pencil along the ridges and make a design on my new composition book.
Sister would give us lots of tests that first week to see what we knew. I sucked up like nobody’s business.
I got to write on the big old blackboard.
And be almost the last person standing in the spelling bee. Damn you, Andre Dorval.
Of course, it didn’t take long before I couldn’t wait until my third best day – the last day of school.
But that first day was so sweet.
I went to school until I was thirty. (My parents told their friends that I was majoring in Transferring.)
But that first day was glorious every single time.
When I retire, I am going back to school. I’ll find a class in an ancient brick building with heavy scratched-up desks and a real blackboard. The whole semester will be worth it for that first day.
There was a large old bottle on the floor of my parents’ closet. What it originally held -wine or whiskey, I don’t remember. The neck of the bottle was just big enough for a dime. Pennies and nickels didn’t fit. Just the dimes.
And when my Dad emptied his pockets at the end of the evening, if he had any dimes and he could spare them…which wasn’t all the time, they went in the bottle. Mom too, I think… once in a while a dime from her purse went in the bottle.
(Mom kept her quarters so we kids could go to the Saturday matinee movie – fifteen cents to get in and ten cents for snacks – and you got a double feature!)
But back to the bottle of dimes. We kids all knew where the bottle was, and during the course of the year, we’d watch the dimes start to grow. None of us would ever touch the bottle. I never once in all those years stole a dime.
Because I knew what it was for.
Yes… that was our spending money for vacation.
The factory where Dad worked would always have a shutdown in the summer – a week, sometimes two, and that is when all the employees planned their vacations. Families made their plans around the factory schedule.
And when the time came, my mother would pull out the (hopefully) heavy bottle of dimes and give us kids some coin wrappers and we’d count out the dimes. OMG, we were rich! Some years there were THREE HUNDRED dimes in there! THIRTY DOLLARS in there!
Of course, we could never go away for two whole weeks. One week was rare. A few times, my parents rented a little cottage on Highland Lake in Winsted, Connecticut – only about 25 miles from our home. And those were amazing vacations! A full week on the lake! Swimming right in the backyard! And company! Because it was so close to home, all the relatives would take at least one day and come up. That was the best part. (The worst part was rainy days. With no TV.)
More often, we would travel up to Vermont for just a few days. Staying in a motel instead of renting a cottage was a bit more expensive, so three days was about our limit.
But it was LUXURY!
A Motel With A Swimming Pool!
I did not want anything more.
We had no exotic vacations. We didn’t see the world. We didn’t get on an airplane – although once in a while we would drive to the airport on a Sunday and watch the planes take off. (I was 20 before I flew for the first time.) Trips to restaurants were scarce. The farthest I ever traveled as a kid was to Washington DC. We went by train to attend my father’s military reunion. It was like a dream come true.
But, OMG – A Motel With A Swimming Pool!
We’d go during the week – to avoid the higher weekend rates. Sometimes my parents’ best friends and their kids would come, and we’d play follow the leader in the two cars.
There was a racetrack near the motel. Green Mountain Race Track, near Bennington Vermont. Horseracing, which my parents loved. (I do too, even now.) My parents would go to the track one evening of our vacation – especially if their best friends had come along. Of course, kids were not allowed at the track. And although I love the horses, not being allowed was… Spectacular! Because: PIZZA! For us kids by ourselves at the motel! We were absolutely forbidden to swim at night, but who cares – we had pizza and TV and we were in a Motel!
We ate out for breakfast. We could have pancakes! OMG, pancakes in a restaurant tasted so good! The cream for the grownups’ coffee would come in a tiny glass bottle – like a miniature bottle that the milkman left in the aluminum box on our porch And my mother would let me keep the bottle!
Lunch was usually a cook-out by the side of the road. My father had a little hibachi in the trunk and charcoal, and we’d have hotdogs. Hotdogs were my favorite thing in the world. Besides pancakes. Lunch would take a really long time, because it took forever to get the coals going, and then another forever to cool off the grill enough to put it back in the trunk. Our day often consisted of breakfast in a diner, driving to a good spot for those take-forever hotdogs, and then back to the Motel With A Swimming Pool!
We did some sightseeing. A musuem or a monument. Vermont is not exactly the museum capital of the world. But we’d find something. And we could buy a souvenir! Oh those dimes! I liked little change purses with embossed leather. Or colored pencils. Or a miniature monument. My sister Claudia leaned toward tiny dolls made of brittle china dressed as Indians. Christine liked charms for her charm bracelet. I don’t remember what my little brother liked. Anything, I’d guess. He was always really easy to please – happy with anything he could hold in his hands.
We all liked this:
So did my parents, since at least one of us would be quiet in the car. I was not allowed to play with this in the car, though. If I looked at anything but the road, I threw up.
We sometimes went out to dinner. Usually it was a Howard Johnson’s, or any restaurant that was almost identical to Howard Johnson. I had a hotdog. But this was different than the hot dog I had for lunch. It had a grilled roll. And it came with french fries rather than the potato chips we had for lunch. And the best thing of all: we were On Vacation – in a Motel With A Swimming Pool – so I could have a hotdog for lunch and a hotdog for dinner if I wanted. Because: Vacation!
Sometimes other relatives came too – I remember my great-aunt and uncle, Catherine and Rocky, came once. We went, I think (I can check with my Mom, but I love remembering it in my eight-year-old mind, and so I don’t really want to be corrected), to see some property that my Uncle Rocky had bought or won, sight-unseen. We drove through wooded nothing for miles and miles until everyone had to pee so bad we had to stop the car and pee in the woods – which I had never done before and so was both mortified and enthralled. And when we got to this “resort” property there was nothing there. The swimming facilities that were promised in the brochure turned out to be a muddy hole dug in the dirt.
The grownups laughed themselves silly. Which was just wonderful. How I loved seeing adults laugh like that!
And, so that the trip was not a total waste, we went to a local ski resort that ran their ski lift in the summer for a ride up the mountain. A ski resort! I had never heard of such of thing, except in a Bing Crosby movie. The ride was amazing – better than any ferris wheel for a great high-up view and a cool breeze. My uncle Rocky was so scared, he would not get back on the lift for the ride down, and the operator had to go up in a golf cart and bring him down. It did not upset me to see a grownup so terrified – somehow, it felt reassuring – that it was okay for everyone to be afraid once in a while – even when you grow up.
My father had my brother with him in his chair lift, and my mother was on the chair behind them with me. And she hollered the whole time for my Dad to hold my little brother tight and not let him fall to his certain horrific death. Miraculously, Dad managed to keep my brother alive.
And my father had the opportunity to save my little brother’s life later too. Back at the Motel With A Swimming Pool, enjoying said pool, Tommy inadvertently waded to the drop-off at the deep end, and went under – and Daddy jumped into the water fully clothed and fished him out.
So sometimes grownups are afraid and sometimes grownups are heroes.
That’s what I learned on vacation.
In the last few years I have seen several instances where seeking a second opinion has saved someone’s life – or at least saved someone from unnecessary treatment or surgery.
An incorrect diagnosis nearly doomed someone I love. I am grateful every day that he sought that second opinion.
No one person has all the answers. Sometimes listening to someone else can make all the difference.
I am certainly NOT the one person with all the answers.
But I thought I would offer some second opinions on the everyday (but still important) stuff in your life. Just so you can consider an alternate view.
Opinion: “This job sucks.”
Second Opinion: I have found with most jobs that suck, it’s not the job so much as the boss. Most jobs are a series of rather boring, but not horrendous, tasks. But working with a jerk can make tedious work into a nightmare. So here’s a different way you might want to think about it, if you are stuck with an unpleasant boss – either momentarily or for the long term: You have an idiot boss, but this idiot is actually helping you pay your bills. Isn’t it kind of cool that you can use this idiot that way?
Opinion: “I’m devastated that I didn’t get the promotion.”
Second Opinion: So you don’t have a job that sucks, but you were up for a promotion and someone else got it. Instead of hating yourself – or the person who got the job you wanted, just consider the possibility that – in this instance only – the person who got the job was the best qualified to do it. The very best response I ever heard from a person who didn’t get the job was the time the rejected guy came into my office and said, “I really wanted that job. Tell me what I can do so the next time that kind of position opens up, I WILL be the best person for the job.” And I told him where he could improve, and he worked on it. And got the next promotion.
Opinion: “My house is a wreck.”
Second Opinion: If you are have trouble keeping your house clean, or your yard neat, it is not from a lack of effort on your part. Things can so easily get out of control, and then they overwhelm you. But you have plenty of self-discipline – just look at how you don’t swear at your idiot boss and how your kids are still alive. Every once in a while, I check in with FlyLady.net – who truly helps people get the clean house they deserve in just 15 minutes at a time. Certainly you have enough self-discipline to clean for 15 minutes.
Opinion: “My childhood was awful.”
Second Opinion: It saddens me that you do not have sweet memories of being a kid. There are a few people that have true horror stories, but most people’s childhood was not unrelentedly despicable. Most of us had parents that weren’t perfect, but they did their best. And once in a while they succeeded. Can you think of one nice day? How about two? How about a day when you went to the beach? Or laughed yourself silly? The writer Anne Lamott said, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”
Opinion: “My life has no meaning.”
Second Opinion: It’s true that your life probably has little meaning to anyone but you. It has meaning to YOU! But since you are insignificant in the schema of the whole universe, then you are free to give your life whatever meaning you want. Do what you want. No one else cares that much. Don’t be depressed over that fact. Try revelling in it. And if you want to be remembered, try making someone else happy. But only in addition to you.
Opinion: “I can’t …. dance, sing, draw, balance my checkbook, give a speech…. “[whatever – feel free to fill in the blank]
Second Opinion: This is literally a second opinion – a second-hand opinion. Handed down to my from my very wise mother. She told me, “You can do everything. You won’t be good at everything, but you can do everything.” So give it a try. You can do it – even if it turns out to be one of those things you can’t do well. Just get through it. And once in a while you will find that you might actually be pretty good at something. And most of the time, you will find that not being great at something isn’t even close to important.
Opinion: “I’m ugly.”
Second Opinion: No you’re not. You’re fine. All you need to do is shower, comb your hair, dress in something that makes you happy. That’s all there is to it.
And if that opinion is not enough, here is another:
Third Opinion: No you’re not. Yes, there are some gorgeous people in the world. And they are us. Gorgeous You. Me. Gorgeous. Period.
Last night I was vegging out with my favorite mindless pastime – reading makeup reviews on Sephora – when the following lipstick review intrigued me.
That was it. No explanation. Just three stars and the words “exceptionally ok”.
And as I considered this short phrase, I started to like it. I started to love it.
Now I have often extolled the virtues of staying true to what you love (Five Things You Deserve Now). I strongly believe you should be passionate about even simple things. I know I feel wonderful wearing something I love or using my great-aunt’s china. Or reading a great book. Or even finding the perfect shade of lipstick.
But I realize that there are many things that are just fine without needing to be fantastic. Exceptionally OK is more than good enough.
Everyone’s lists are different… things that need to be excellent and things that might be fine if they are just ok.
Here’s a few of my exceptionally ok stuff:
Movies. Oh, I used to be a film snob. (…and you can usually spot one because they say ‘film’ and not ‘movie’….) But now I’ve come to enjoy lots of not-so-great movies. I can watch a classic gem like “The African Queen” one day, and happily laugh at “Ted” the next day. Entertain me. Many days, a few hours of entertainment is exceptionally ok for me.
Houses. My house is gorgeous, and I love it. I’m enormously fortunate that my husband is such a great homebuilder and that we have such a lovely home. But I am also aware that although I love my home, I would also be happy with a simpler place. I have lived more modestly. I was fine with it. Because loving your house has more to do with how you take care of it and what you do in it than with how many amenities you have. I was happy in my first one-room apartment. And if I moved back tomorrow, I know it would be exceptionally ok again.
Cars. I appreciate great automobiles. But I also like one that starts when you turn the key and gets you where you need to go.
Music on the Radio. There are some folks I know who can’t hit the button fast enough when a song comes on that they hate. But for me, most of the time, any music is fine. I know three and a half minutes later, I get another chance to hear a better song. How exceptionally ok is that?
Tea. I’m fussy about my coffee. A fabulous cup of coffee will brighten my whole day. And a lousy cup of coffee gets on my nerves. But tea? I guess I am not a connoisseur of tea. It pretty much all tastes the same to me. My favorite cup of tea is whatever my mother makes. Because she made it. She is my favorite boiler of water.
Restaurants. My food has to be completely inedible for me to complain in a restaurant. First, because someone else cooked it for me. Second – and even more important – someone else is going to wash the dishes. And third – and most important of all – if I am out to eat, nearly all of the time, I am not there for the food. I am there for the company. My friends and family. Delicious food is a bonus. But a hot dog is exceptionally ok. Just as long as it lets me be with the people I love.
Gifts. Anything you buy me is good. Don’t fret about it. And by the way, I no longer fret about what I give you either. I’m happy when it pleases you. But I know it’s just a little insignificant representation of our significant affection for each other. What it is doesn’t matter. It’s exceptionally ok.
Kid’s Art. Any story or drawing or musical offering by anyone under twelve is absolutely exceptionally ok. Do I appreciate talented kids? Sure. Do I like average kids too? You bet I do. Especially if they are related to me. But even if they are not. (But if they are, the age limit goes away. You can be in your sixties or seven years old – I will like your song, your painting, and your dance steps. Guaranteed.)
What’s on your list?
I am ashamed of myself.
Oh, I was often ashamed of myself as a kid.
Mostly ashamed if I had been naughty. And when I was naughty, I would sometimes attempt (with no success) to lie my way out of it. And so then I would be doubly ashamed. Ashamed I had misbehaved and ashamed I had lied.
And as I grew older, I realized that the lie was worse. That was a good lesson to learn, and it served me well as an adult. I found it much better to confess to a mistake right away, both in my personal life and in business. To say, “I was wrong” and get on with my day. Better for all those around me, and much much better for my peace of mind.
I find now that I am not too much ashamed of anything I say or do. I try to be kind and honest and try my best.
I’ve been thinking about actions over the past several years that I am ashamed of. And I can only think of one. A few months ago, while shopping, I dropped a rather expensive makeup compact and it smashed to pieces. There was no one around, and in a weak moment, I walked away. I know I should have brought my accident to someone’s attention, but I did not. That shames me. So last week, I took one small step towards making it right. I didn’t have the nerve to confess, but I went back to the store and bought another identical compact. But I know that’s not really good enough – I gave them my money, but I have a nice product in return. I should have a smashed product in return. Maybe next week I will be braver.
But that is not why I am ashamed today.
I am not ashamed for something I have done.
I am ashamed for something I did not do.
Not long ago I was speaking to an acquaintance. A person who is not a close friend, but someone I have known for a long time. I have always liked this person. I’ve thought her funny and spunky and tough.
When I ran into her rather unexpectantly, she complained about her job. No big deal. She always complains about her job. Everyone always complains about their jobs. So I nodded and smiled sympathetically. Yeah, work can be irritating. I’m retired, but I remember.
And then she said something not funny or spunky or tough. She said something blatantly racist.
And I said nothing.
I nodded and smiled. And eventually said goodbye and went on my way.
And I have felt ashamed ever since.
My silence is so much more shameful than not paying for makeup that I broke.
In order to be pleasant, in order to be ‘friendly’ – I became complicit in hate.
I cannot make it right. I cannot take back my silence.
But I promise to never be silent on hatred again.
I need to speak up. To say:
I do not like that kind of talk.
I do not feel that way.
Some folks today sneer at the concept of political correctness. As if it is a sign of weakness to rein in your ugliest thoughts. That it is fine to even have such ugly thoughts. I am appalled that so many people feel that they are now permitted to say whatever hateful thing they want. This is not right.
I want our future to be better than that. I want our present to be better than that.
I want to be better than that.
So I’m ashamed.
I was saying “Happy Anniversary” to my brother yesterday, and I remembered a happy little experience from his wedding.
I danced with a man I did not know. But not just any man. A big tough-looking biker type – (although he could have been an actuary for all I know) – who wore a leather vest over his great bare chest. And not just any dance. With this rather scary looking thug (although he could have been a flight attendant for all I know) – I danced the chicken dance.
How many people can say that? How many people are allowed a memory like that?
I am very lucky indeed.
Last week I met a talented famous woman who charmed the hat right off of me. And I am allowed to keep that memory too.
I have had a few “important” experiences: I flew on the Concorde, which no one will ever be able to do again, and I attended a meeting at the top of the World Trade Center, which no one will ever be able to do again.
And I have also had some “medium” experiences – not crazy rare, but still stuff that not everyone gets the opportunity to do. I attended a World Series game. I saw Peter Paul & Mary in concert. I rode a cable car in San Francisco. I watched dolphins play in warm Delaware waters. I shared an elevator with Donald Sutherland – and he wore a cape, for heaven’s sake!
But for me – the very best experiences are the simple personal things I got to do and see that have meaning to just me. Like my chicken dance with the biker dude. Like the restaurant encounter with the wonderful old producer. They are MY experiences. My memories. I can share them if I wish, but their meaning is special only to me. And even if I share them, I don’t give them away. I get to keep them.
I keep small memories like:
– My parents surprising me one Christmas with a gift of oil paints, brushes and canvasses. At sixteen, I was overwhelmed by the idea that my parents thought I was an artist, good enough to paint with the real thing.
– Going with my family to the Drive-In (a precious memory in itself) when I was nine, and having my three-year-old brother fall asleep in my lap. I remember watching him sleep and being astounded even at that young age by how completely I loved him.
– The Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan show for the first time – on my 13th birthday.
– Looking up from my morning coffee one Sunday a few years ago, and seeing the face of a little bear pressed up against the glass patio door, looking in at us.
– Taking my oldest nephew (now 41, then 6) to see E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. And Oh My God, being completely destroyed as he sobbed uncontrollably when it appeared that ET had died. I took him in my arms and assured him that the little creature was not really dead and he was about to show everyone how fine he was. I never ever want to make a child cry again.
– Overhearing my husband telling someone that I was smart.
– Tasting creme brulee for the first time – in Paris, no less. How amazing are the French people for creating such a beautiful city and such a delicious thing to put in my mouth!
– Going to a nude beach and not dying of embarrassment. Actually loving it – and loving my body and everyone else’s.
– Publishing my first novel. Holding it in my hands for the first time. Knowing that I did it. I wrote it. And knowing it’s good.
– My father walking me down the aisle on my wedding day. Seeing friends and relatives all smiling at me. Seeing my husband smiling at me.
All these experiences are more than a part of me. They ARE me. Along with thousands of others – thousands of kisses from my mother, hugs from someone else’s children, small victories at work, road trips with my husband, playtimes with pets, giggles with my sisters, beach days and snow days.
And the incredible thing is – that every one of us has our own unique experiences. Little and big events that are ours alone. We are memories that mingle and merge and become human beings.
How fortunate are we that we get to be human beings?
This week, my husband and I treated ourselves to dinner at our favorite restaurant.
We only eat there once or twice a year. First, because it is fabulously expensive. And second, because it keeps it fabulously special. But oh my, it is fabulous. A charming setting with fine French cuisine exquisitely prepared and served.
Soon after we were seated, an old woman came in. She used a walker and the maitre d’ assisted her to her table. She smiled at us as she sat down and said, “I am allowed to have a little extra help these days because I am one hundred years old.”
Well. She looked old, but one hundred? She was flamboyantly dressed – bright colors and flowy materials, lots of jewelry, generous makeup, and a large royal blue hat.
The waiter offered to bring her a drink while she waited for her dinner companions, but she said what she really wanted was a small table for her hat.
“I don’t think we have anything like that,” said the waiter.
“Oh, yes you do,” she replied. “I eat here regularly and I always have a table for my hat.”
And the waiter went to the maitre d’ who soon came over with a little makeshift table. With a tablecloth.
Her friends came in – a couple also also very old, but probably not a hundred. The thought crossed my mind that if the gentleman were 80, he was “young” enough to be her son. He was certainly solicitous of his wife – a frail tiny woman who also had a walker – he went back to the car for her pillow and her lap blanket, and after much discussion, he ordered for all of them. His manners were old-fashioned and impeccable.
My husband and I had our glorious, leisurely meal. We love the five-course tasting menu – so many small dishes to savor. (My favorite course, which I mention for no other reason but to enjoy it again in my mind, was the arugula ravioli in a white truffle sauce. Not that there was anything wrong with the rack of lamb. Or the chocolate souffle.)
After coffee, before our long drive home, I excused myself to use the restroom. When I returned, my husband was conversing with the old woman and her companions. This didn’t surprise me in the least. My husband engages with everyone everywhere – which is a nice offset to my public shyness. I meet the most interesting people because he just naturally makes friends with everyone.
And that evening was no exception.
I joined my husband at the old woman’s table and introduced myself.
And the old woman introduced herself too, in a quite extraordinary way. I will not give you her name, because she did not know that I am a writer, and this was not an interview. But after she told me her name, she added,
“I’m a famous TV producer. I’ve won many, many awards.”
“Well, it’s a great honor to meet you,” I replied, as I shook her gentle, but not weak, hand.
We left the restaurant shortly afterwards.
And as soon as we got to the car, I pulled out my phone and googled the woman.
She wasn’t exaggerating. She WAS a famous producer. The winner of several Emmy and Peabody awards. And she was one hundred years old.
I read her biography on Wikipedia and several news and feature articles on the drive home.
She didn’t start out with a career in television or media. She had a very practical education and worked in a very mundane job. She took time for her family. It was through some volunteer work that she had the opportunity to produce her first documentary. And she not only excelled – she fell in love with the new talent. And it became her new life.
I thought about our short exchange, I realized that I had been right. It was indeed a great honor to meet her.
She reinvented herself. From an ordinary nine-to-fiver to a world-class producer. Imagine that! Imagine having the confidence to believe that you can produce a documentary when you have no experience in it.
And she’s courageous. Imagine the doubts you might have, but then – you are brave enough to do it anyway.
And imagine discovering a talent – a genius – that others recognized and rewarded.
It was an honor to meet her for her accomplishments.
It was an honor to meet her for her creativity.
It was an honor to meet her for her character.
She’s proud of her age. She isn’t afraid to be old. She used a walker. She needed assistance to be seated. But on the other hand, she wasn’t surrendering either. Her hair was not gray. Her clothing wasn’t drab. She was fanciful and alive in every way.
She wasn’t modest. I was tickled that she introduced herself as “famous.” She’s 100. Does she have time to beat around the bush? Coyness and centenarianism aren’t compatible.
Yes, for bragging rights’ sake alone, it is an honor to meet a famous person.
But what if she weren’t? What if it had turned out that she just had some mild dementia – and she was just a crazy old lady?
An old lady with a great imagination and flamboyant wardrobe.
Still a great honor.
A great honor to meet the old lady that I am hoping to be.
A grand old dame with a table for her hat.
This week a friend posted the following quote on her Facebook page:
And I thought –
Yeah! That’s Me! That’s Totally Me!
And I started to reflect on all those decisions I made that were difficult, but were best for me. Like dropping out of school years ago (I did go back later), changing jobs, and most recently, retiring.
And looking over those decisions, I see that I might have to change that little epigram a bit:
Yeah! That’s Me! That’s Totally Me!
The sentence didn’t quite work with “I never feel bad”. “
I always feel bad” – well, that’s probably a little closer to the truth.
Difficult decisions are difficult BECAUSE you are not just choosing to go on to something wonderful. You are also leaving something behind. Changing jobs means leaving friends, and leaving behind the known for the unknown. As much as you think the new job will be fantastic – after all, that’s why you are leaving – you’re not SURE of that. Important choices are always filled with a fear of regret.
Major decisions are harrowing.
And how about decisions that you make that perhaps aren’t best for you?
Of course we make those decisions all the time.
I know someone who left a job he liked because he needed medical insurance for a sick kid. I know someone who moved away from her family because her husband had a great job opportunity. And I know tons of people who do favors for others all the time – when they really would rather say no.
So let me tweak that saying just a bit further:
Yeah! That’s Me! That’s Totally Me!
I’m not exactly Mother Teresa, but I can give someone a ride to the car dealer, or visit a sick friend in the hospital when I had originally planned a beach day. Or let my staff get credit for work I did myself. Because when it comes right down to it, helping other people feels pretty good.
And you know what also feels pretty good sometimes? Being bad feels good.
So then the adage could also be:
Yeah! That’s Me! That’s Totally Me!
I can stop on the way home from Yoga and buy a bag of potato chips and eat them all in the car. I can dance all night in shoes that hurt. I can go to the drugstore for bandaids (for mysterious blisters) and come home with four new lipsticks.
But mostly – overwhelmingly – whether I am doing good stuff for me or bad stuff for me, the truth is:
I don’t know how things will turn out.
I am groping my way through Life. Hoping that as I grope, I clasp onto the handle side of the knife. That the stray dog will kiss me and not bite me.
That as I close my eyes at the end of the day, I will be smiling. That perhaps, accidentally, I did what was right.
Because my epigram must be:
Yeah! That’s Me! That’s Totally Me!
I hate Criticism.
Constructive or destructive – don’t tell ME what you don’t like about me! I don’t want to hear it.
Over the years, I have discovered that I can kind of do Criticism if I just take my time. Let it slowly work its way into my consciousness. Criticism has a big barrier of Defensiveness that it must climb its way over. And it can’t do that it one big leap. It has to inch itself up one toenail at a time.
Of course, now I have created this Criticism-Toes-In-The-Crevice analogy that was not really the one I wanted to use. But don’t criticize me, okay?
Here’s the analogy for accepting Criticism that I prefer:
The Doggy Bag of Criticism.
I think of Criticism like some leftovers from a restaurant.
Say you are in the restaurant and your food is really late in getting to the table. The chef feels a little bad that the kitchen is so backed up, so he has the waiter bring you an appetizer on the house.
But you didn’t order this appetizer. And it doesn’t even particularly appeal to you.
And you don’t want to spoil your appetite for when you finally get your main course. And you are even a bit afraid that the appetizer might contain something you’re allergic to. You’re suspicious.
This could make you sick. This could kill you.
You think it looks a bit like an oyster sitting on a yellow mushroom with a topping that looks a bit like peanut-butter-and-jelly.
This uninvited offering sits on the table. It’s there. It’s not going away. But you are trying really hard not to look at it.
But it’s food. And it was free. And you don’t want to be rude.
Thankfully, your Real Food arrives.
Being a nice person, you don’t want to tell the waiter to take away the unbidden
piece of shit gift. So you ask for a doggy bag – telling the waiter very nicely that you’ll save that delicious-looking amuse-bouche for tomorrow.
So you bring it home. Luckily, it is wrapped in aluminum foil, so you don’t really have to look at it at all. But you can’t really bring yourself to throw it away either. So you put it in the freezer.
And about a month later, as you rummage through the freezer for the pound cake you hid from your spouse, you come upon this aluminum foil packet, and you’re not even sure what it is. So you unwrap it.
And there it is. That oyster/mushroom/pb&j thing. Frozen, it doesn’t look quite so bad. But you’ve recently been a little worried about aluminum foil and whether it causes dementia – even though that idea is probably demented in itself. So although you don’t really want to eat that tidbit right now, you don’t wrap it back into the questionable foil; you put it into a little baggie. That way you can see what it is without having to take it out and examine it.
And for the next two months or so, every time you open the freezer, there’s that appetizer. You’re getting used to seeing it. It’s actually looking pretty harmless. Sometimes you even pick it up. Not that you want to eat it or anything. You just need to make room for the chocolate ice cream.
But then it happens.
You have a craving for a snack, and open the freezer, and the chocolate ice cream is gone. And you pick up that baggie with the little freebie appetizer – which was really given to you as a gesture of kindness.
And you wonder if it would kill you to take a taste.
So you pop it in the microwave. The smell is not awful. In fact, it smells kind of like gruyere cheese.
And you take the teeniest tiniest little bite. It IS cheese. And the PB&J stuff is a kind of tapenade. It’s not so bad.
The thing that looked sort of like a slimy oyster – well, that IS a slimy oyster.
But you know what? It didn’t kill you.
You digested it. That part anyway that you didn’t spit out and toss right down the garbage disposal.
Parts of that appetizer were okay. And you survived the part you didn’t like.
And it nourished you.
It saved you from – well, maybe not a lot – let’s say minor hunger pangs.
And now you know that you can be brave and eat the parts that taste okay, and let them sustain you – while you are still free to discard the stuff that you don’t like.
Just like Criticism.
I’ve often thought there should be a course in Coping.
Maybe in Junior High. Maybe sooner. Maybe Kindergarten.
But I’m not sure it would help. Can we be taught how to react to stress? Should we all react the same way?
Just recently a friend left for a road trip – a vacation the whole family was excited about – only to have car trouble halfway to their destination. They lost half a day of their precious vacation and were stranded scarily on the side of the highway. … and it cost them a bundle. “We’re fine!” she reported.
At the same time another friend was vacationing at a luxury hotel in an exotic location. And there was no fridge in the room. This was unacceptable.
And yes, I could say the first friend had a great attitude and the second friend had a bad attitude.
But they are not the same people. They do not have the same brain connections. They process stress differently. My friend who wanted a fridge seems to have a bit of OCD (in my perhaps incorrect and inappropriate opinion), and small disruptions can really throw her off balance. It’s not that her expectations are so high; it’s that she needs those expectations to provide order to her perceived chaotic world. She doesn’t need ‘luxury’ – she needs ‘no surprises’.
Then there are two more friends who have completely different reactions to pain. One friend goes to bed for the whole day when he has a headache. The other friend had hip replacement surgery and was up and walking the next day. “I’m fine!” she reported.
So is my first friend here a hypochondriac? Maybe. But maybe his brain perceives pain really strongly. Maybe he hurts something awful.
I won’t deny that I prefer the folks who are cheerful. Who don’t let car trouble or even surgery get them down. Who say, “I’m fine.”
But I can’t feel what others are feeling. And I’m pretty sure the more stressed folks don’t really want to be stressed. They feel what they feel.
Some people can’t bear to visit their sick relatives in the hospital. Some want to sit by the bed all day.
Some people want to dance the solo at the talent show. Some people throw up when they have to speak in a business meeting.
Some people can throw a party for 50 without ever running out of shrimp or toilet paper. Some people burn the hotdogs and drop the coleslaw when the neighbors come over.
Some people grieve for years at the death of a loved one. Some go back to work the day after the funeral and say, “I’m fine.” And it doesn’t mean they didn’t feel real love or don’t feel real loss now.
And some people can hold their aged cat’s little body and cry and cry.
But some people go into the kitchen and cook and cook, and use every pot and dish and fork. And then cook some more. And they say, “I’m fine.” And it doesn’t mean they didn’t feel real love or don’t feel real loss now.