As many of you are (painfully) aware, I’ve recently become an Empty Nester. Along with the expected emotional upheaval (I miss my kids a whole, whole lot), I’m working through some other garbage. Namely, I’ve reached the rather painful conclusion that my life is half over, and (aside from rearing two dynamite young people) I haven’t done a damn thing with it.
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In case you’re curious what I’ve been up to today:
I accidentally ordered and consumed 1/4 of a skinny vanilla latte before I remembered that I’ve quit caffeine cold turkey.
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Sorry I’ve been a way for a bit. To catch you up, I present 14 things that’ve happened since we last spoke:
December 15. Sent a rather frantic email to the Saint Louis Zoo to find out whatintheheck they’d done with my daughter’s Christmas present. Response: “It’s in the mail.” (It was.)
December 16. Sat at Starbucks and nursed a skinny peppermint mocha while I worked on my book project for the Center for Church Communication.
December 17. Served breakfast at The Bridge and volunteered at Bridge Bread’s retail shop. (Which is awesome and you should absolutely stop by if you live in The Lou. It’s at 2604 Cherokee St.)
December 18. Panicked about Christmas. Started reading the Bible again.
December 19. Saw Daughter #2 sing in the Macy’s Holiday Celebration with the St. Louis Symphony. Magical.
December 20. Went to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery to see the Christmas lights and sample beer with several hundred of our closest friends. Watched grown people cut in line to see the clydesdales. Determined that Stella Artois is the grossest beer ever made.
December 21. Had dinner in Omaha with L, with whom I’ve been friends for 31 years. She continues to be the most creative, most sincere person on the planet. That evening, she attracted the attention of Kevin, a recent transplant from Philly, after he overheard me ask her if she was still firmly ensconced in spinsterhood. Given his hopeful facial expression, Kevin clearly had spinster confused with something else entirely.
December 22. Drove back to St. Louis. Saw a bald eagle sitting in a cornfield. They’re huge. (HUGE!)
December 23. Discovered hard root beer.
December 24. Gathered with some folks who, like me, had no particular place to be on Christmas Eve. Dear friends made music. I talked. We had communion, collected an offering for The Bridge, sang “Silent Night” by candlelight, and enjoyed a simple meal and some wine afterwards. Lovely.
December 25. Spent time with my parents, Jack, and Daughter #1. Ate a handful of vegetables and way, way, way too many cookies.
December 26. Re-taught our favorite friends how to play Pitch. The boys won. That will not happen again.
December 27. Cussed at the rain. Went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Also will not happen again.
December 28. Let go of Skittle, our One-Kidney Wonder. Jack and I disassembled and put away her crate under the curious and confused gaze of our other pooch. I can’t think of Skittle without crying, and my eyes look like I’ve been drinking heavily and/or smoking cigars and/or playing chicken with a swarm of bees. It’s not especially attractive. It’s been a tough day. Tomorrow will be better.
So now you’re all caught up. Anything new with you?
My brain and I would be excellent contestants on Let’s Make a Deal. Remember that show? At the end of each episode, the polyester-suited host challenged crazily costumed women to produce random objects from their purses. Really random objects, like yo-yos wrapped in aluminum foil, a miniature rubber elephant wearing a top hat, one of those green, nose suction thingies hospitals send home with infants… that sort of thing. If the contestant could come up the object, she’d win a prize.
If Monty Hall were to walk into Starbucks this morning (my office du jour), and invite me to play a slightly modified version of his gameshow—one in which prizes were awarded for the most cluttered, random thoughts—I’d be sitting in a Brand! New! Caaaaar! in a hot minute.
Following are eight things that’ve crossed my mind in the past hour or so:
- I’m drinking a skinny vanilla latte, so I’m reminded to offer you my semi-annual PSA: Some vanilla flavoring is partially derived from beaver anal gland secretions. Yep. It’s true. It goes by another name, castoreum, because “Now with juice of anal glands!” isn’t the sort of thing you want to see on a package of “all natural” cookies at Whole Foods. Admittedly, each of us consumes less than a millionth of a pound per year, but is there such a thing as an acceptable amount when it comes to this sort of thing? And even if you’re not eating the stuff, you may be dabbing it behind your ears, because castoreum is used in perfumes. Have you any idea how many beavers were chased down and stripped of their dignity so we can smell like the contents of their anal glands? I may need to start a GoFundMe campaign: Justice for Beaver Butts. Or something.
- Have volleyball players always worn spanx as shorts? Or were spanx modeled after volleyball shorts?
- Speaking of sports, I don’t understand the appeal of watching two people beat the stuffing out of one another—let alone paying to watch it happen. How do we explain that to kids? “Never use violence to solve problems. At least not for free. Make sure you get paid to beat someone into a bloody pulp.” It’s a miracle we haven’t created an entire generation of professional hitmen.
- If your church does a “meet and greet” or “pass the peace” or “hold hands across the pews and sing kumbaya,” guests who are introverts hate you.
- I once stole a handful of candy from a Brach’s Pix-a-Mix display and stuffed it in my purse. We were at a Woolworth’s or something at the mall, and I tripped as we were walking out of the store. Every single piece of Neapolitan coconut and assorted flavors of Milkmaid caramels went skidding across the floor, landing at my mother’s feet. I don’t recall what happened next, but that was the last time I shoplifted.
- I cheated my way through my high school Government class. Our teacher used the same 10-question, multiple-choice tests every year, and that was back when I could actually memorize a list of ten things. This may or may not explain why I can’t recall who succeeds the Speaker of the House as POTUS and why I had to rely on School House Rock to explain how a bill becomes a law. (This is a world-premiere level confession; I’ve never said it out loud. I’m still afraid Mr. Barelman’s going to show up at my front door and strip me of my high school diploma, which would subsequently void both my BA and MA. I guess that doesn’t really matter, since I’m using neither of those degrees.) That was my one and only episode of cheating. My guilt is my consequence. Please don’t tell my dad.
- I should drink more water, but bathroom breaks are terribly inconvenient.
- I’m worried about how many of you are questioning my character because of #5 and #6. And I just remembered my dad reads my blog.
All right, that’s enough of that. Thanks for indulging me some random and a bit of silly. Sometimes it’s nice to pretend like all is well with the world and write pure drivel.
I’m sitting in a lime green beach chair on Art Hill in Forest Park, munching on some baby carrots. I’ve kicked off my shoes, and my legs are stretched in front of me, cushioned by my favorite blanket—one I’ve had for 27 years. On my left, Jack’s sitting in a similar chair, eating the club sandwich I packed for him. On my right is my favorite friend and her youngest daughter, who, at the moment, are passing back and forth a bag of chocolate, mini-donuts. Around us sit thousands of people with impressive picnic dinners and goblets of wine spread in front of them. It’s an incredible evening; the sky is impeccably blue, and it’s just cool enough to require a hoodie. Maybe 400 yards away, at the foot of the hill and just in front of the Grand Basin, sits the Grammy-award-winning St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO).
At some point toward the end of the third number, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March from a Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I’m overwhelmed by a feeling I can only describe as I Can’t Believe This Is My Life.
Some people might describe the whole experience as a “blessing.” I’m not inclined to use that word, because I think true blessings ultimately come from God, and I have a tough time believing God dispenses them discriminatorily. The world seems to do exactly that, though—dispense blessings discriminatorily—and I suppose that’s why the word privilege comes to mind instead.
Please don’t roll your eyes at me. I know privilege is a hot-button word right now, and I think that’s because it’s misunderstood. Some people seem to equate being described as privileged with being accused of racism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia. Others become defensive because their lifestyle and possessions have nothing to do with cultural or systemic advantages, they say; rather, they’ve sought out opportunities and worked their tails off. Please know I’m not accusing anyone of anything, and I’m certainly not suggesting people are handed their stuff on silver platters. (Usually.) In fact, the list I’m about to present is about me, and no one else. And if it makes you feel better, you can call this a list of things for which I’m grateful. As for me, I’m calling it:
Privileges Related to a Night with the SLSO
- I had the financial resources necessary to go on an epic family road-trip three summers ago—one that included a brief stay at the ocean. Which is where I purchased those beach chairs. And no one followed me around while I was shopping for them.
- I live in a city that values cultural activities and tries to make them financially accessible to everyone through free concerts; free art, history, and science museums; and free musical theater.
- I can afford fresh produce and healthy bread.
- I have multiple grocery stores within two miles of my home, two of which are within easy walking distance.
- I have laundry machines in my house. Which means I can wash my socks anytime I’d like. Which means I can remove my shoes at a concert without offending the people around me.
- I have reliable transportation.
- I have a support network of friends who have resources—like zoo parking passes so I didn’t have to spend $15 to attend a free SLSO performance. And donuts. They have that resource, too.
- My husband and I have flexible employers, so we can leave work a bit early without it affecting our paychecks and without fear of being fired.
- I live in a country where it’s safe to be outside.
- I have multiple options of clothing/blankets to keep me warm if needed.
- It’s easy for me, physically, to get around.
As I look over this list, most of them relate to economic privilege, but I know I enjoy many others as a middle-class, white, cisgender, highly educated, able-bodied, mentally and emotionally healthy, Christian heterosexual. (I saw you raise your eyebrows at the mentally/emotionally healthy claim. I’m medicated. Soooooo…that counts.)
I’m not beating myself up over any of this, by the way; I’m just learning that it’s good to recognize how my experience of the world may differ from yours. And since I have these privileges, I ought to find ways to use them for good.
Someone else’s good, that is—not my own.
1. BreadCo (or Panera, if you live outside the Lou) has a new menu item—the Lentil Quinoa Bowl. In addition to the lentils and quinoa, it has tomatoes, kale, spinach, and a sliced, hard-boiled egg on top. It might be the healthiest thing I’ve ever eaten. But I almost didn’t eat it, because it came with a spoon large enough to excavate a hole for the foundation of a new apartment complex.
I took a picture for you—hoping to illustrate how truly ginormous this spoon was—but the photo just doesn’t do it justice. I don’t know if they ran out of regular spoons so the manager raided her grandma’s serving utensil drawer or what, but this thing was ridiculous.
I managed, of course. I just wanted to warn you.
2. A couple of days ago, I made myself a deal: I can only watch Mad Men while I’m using the [h]elliptical. I know there’s a danger that I’ll just be less motivated to watch Netflix instead of more motivated to exercise, but it seems to be working. It’s worked twice, anyway.
3. When I was in high school, I decided I was going to join the FBI. My decision was solidified when my dad told me I’d never make it through the training. He also told me I’d never make it through college calculus, which compelled me to earn a math minor. “Oh, I’ll show him!” I pronounced to no one in particular. “I’ll go all the way through Calc III! That’ll teach him!” Here’s some free advice: Never ever take a math class just to prove a point. I cried every day that semester. Anyway, I was all set to get my Jodi-Foster-in-Silence-of-the-Lambs on—until I realized I’d have to carry, and likely use, a firearm. And the FBI dream died.
Or did it?