Don’t Be Afraid to Be a Jackass

Have you ever seen the movie Serendipity? The movie stars John Cusack as Jonathan Trager and Kate Beckinsale as Sara Thomas. I love that film. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. It’s a rom-com about a couple who met by accident, and felt an instant attraction to each other. Four years later, days before his wedding to someone else, Trager begins a search for this mysterious woman, Sara, because he has to know for sure if she’s the one. At the same time, Sara searches for Jonathan.

serendipityimageDean Kansky, played by Jeremy Piven, is Trager’s best friend. (Piven also happens to be Cusack’s best friend in real life.) While searching for the mystery woman, Kansky tells Trager he’s a jackass  and goes on to quote Epictetus; “be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” Trager doesn’t care how searching for a strange woman on the eve of his wedding appears. His heart leads the mission logic cannot defy.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live our lives as jackasses? Not to worry about what other people think or how they might be judging us. A benefit to getting older is having the ability to care less about the opinions of others; to throw caution to the wind, to coin a phrase, and finally understand life is what we make of it. To live a fulfilled life, we must not worry about being foolish or stupid, but run through the sprinklers with wild abandon, with the sun on our backs, the grass between our toes, and laughter in the air.

Guess who can’t follow Epictetus’ advice? Teenagers. (And a few adults, but let’s talk about the teens for a moment because they can’t help themselves. The adults – well, that’s another story.)

I’m in the thick of raising teens, and like every stage of parenthood, this one has its pluses and challenges. Here’s one of the challenges: teens spend an exorbitant amount of time worrying how others perceive their behavior. They believe the whole world is watching them, because they have magnifiers and bright lights pointed on themselves. They worry that the world around them will judge them; tell them they aren’t good enough, smart enough, fast enough, strong enough.

Truth is, no one is paying that much attention because they’re busy worrying about what other people think of them. One of my favorite quotes by Eleanor Roosevelt:

You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do. 

Teens just don’t understand that. I feel badly for them. They worry about things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of life, but matter a whole lot to them. If they could let go of the fear, they’d probably enjoy the ride a lot more. (Again, same applies to adults.)

But teens have to be teens. They make decisions based on emotion and not logic or reasoning. So, when I’m trying to be logical with my teens about something that is purely emotional to them, I lose.

I’m learning not to argue. They have to come to their decisions in their own way, and that’s a life lesson for them. Soon they will be out in the world all by themselves and I won’t be there to wave logic in their faces like pom-poms. “This way. Look over here. Pay attention to my wisdom.” I want to shout, but can’t. Their lives. Their choices. I’m only the GPS if they need me. And they need me less and less.

Often I find myself thinking, I’d love to go back to being a teenager with the knowledge I have now. I’d have the great time I was too afraid to have back then. And often, I find myself wanting to say to my teens, “don’t be afraid to be a jackass.”

Since I can’t go back, alas, then I have to live the example now that I want for my teens. Be fearless in the face of fear. Be willing to be thought foolish and stupid. Have a blast.

Are you a jackass?

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Why You Should Go to Your High School Reunion

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Not my class. Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

I recently attended my thirtieth high school reunion. I can’t believe how much time has gone by since I threw my white mortarboard into the air; my insides filled with the helium of elation and the possibilities life would unfold at my feet.

I went to a small high school. There were only 210 graduates in my class in a school that accommodated four shore towns. You can imagine having a small class brings good things and bad; you know everyone in your class and most of the school. Wherever you land in the popularity hierarchy is pretty much where you stay until the end. For teens, your status is often very important. Even though I really didn’t care what people thought of me (still don’t) and my big mouth was proof of that, I still wanted to find the place where I fit in. Four years is a mighty long time to wander the halls staring at the same faces. I was absolutely not popular in high school – I was a baton twirler – need I say more? No one was looking to follow me anywhere, but I did have “friends” in many of the cliques. And thankfully I had a few good friends who let me sit with them at lunch.

Despite my lack of popularity and boyfriends (someone at my twentieth reunion asked me why we didn’t date in high school. Really???? I wasn’t on your radar, dude. You never asked.) I didn’t have the worst time in high school. Sure, while I was there I hated it. I begged my mother to let me go to a new school which only garnished her squealing laughter in reply. But with the benefit of the beautiful and powerful hindsight, I realized high school wasn’t so bad. No one tied me to the flag pole during gym class. Yup, that happened. I bet that kid doesn’t attend his reunions.

Sure, I had people who didn’t like me, and made sure to tell me on a daily basis. I’ll leave them nameless. Thanks to the healing powers of time and Facebook, I’m now “friends” with them. I got into a few fights – all verbal. I knew I could never win a fist fight, but I absolutely could outsmart someone with my big, scary, mouth. Which was the tactic I employed when Paulette wanted to fight me in the bathroom because my guy friend beat up her guy friend on my behalf. As if I had anything to do with that – and just for the record; her guy friend was a jerk.

Group Photo 30th Reunion
My classmates 30 years later!

So, I look forward to attending my class reunions. Who cares what happened thirty years ago? It’s time to get over it, seriously. We’re all adults now and every one of us has realized whatever we made a big deal out of then doesn’t mean squat now. We’ve all been in the path of mistakes, bad choices, life’s sense of humor. We understand what’s important, and if we don’t, well sucks to be you, I guess.

You know what else is great about reunions, you get to see everyone still has the same personality just with less hair, more weight, and highlights. It was nice to watch my classmates interact with the same flair and genuine caring of each other they displayed long ago.

Okay, not everyone was caring back then. I’m sure I wasn’t either. (I should apologize to everyone’s head I bit off during 1983-1987. Forgive my immature, hormonal, over reactive, no filter comments.) But those of us that repeatedly show up to our reunions, who are excited to catch up with each other, were basically all friends back then too. My sister’s grade has never been able to pull off a reunion. I really do believe those of us who show up all got along. It’s special.

Reunions are for forgiveness. Forgive yourself for worrying so much about everything back then. Forgive those that said stupid things that hurt your feelings because they were trapped in brains that hadn’t developed logic or reasoning yet. Forgive yourself for not doing things that weren’t cool because you didn’t want to be judged, but really wanted to do.

Find the moments of joy; football games on Friday nights, parties, good friends, the prom; hanging in the Wind Mill parking lot (okay, you’d have to have been from my area). Focus on those times and forget the rest. The less than pleasant stuff doesn’t matter thirty, twenty or even one year later. Really, it doesn’t and it had nothing to do with you anyway. Let it go. (Unless you were the kid tied to the flag pole. That mattered, but you still need to work on getting past it. Don’t continue to give the bullies the power. They suck. Not you.)

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Jennifer, Betsy, Me, and Ginger – still friends!

I will tell you: I walked into the reunion with my BFF. Almost immediately, she dashed off to speak with someone and I stood there in the middle of the room alone. For a brief moment, fear dragged its cold hand down my back. I was back in high school sticking out like a sore thumb. I didn’t know what to do. Run for the bathroom? I took a deep breath and shook it off. Hell, it was thirty years later. I might look older, have a few more wrinkles, but I had this. I marched over to Ginger and we hugged as if no time had passed at all.

I was home and this crew shared some of my best times.

Thanks for the memories, Shore Regional Class of ’87. I love you tons!

 

 

 

Every Wrinkle Tells a Story

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Google “fight the signs of aging.” Go ahead. I’ll wait. Okay, if you Googled it then you saw the 379,000 results that came up. Most of which are geared toward women. In other words, women, don’t grow old you won’t be attractive any longer.

I buy into this whole anti-aging game. I hate what’s happening to my skin. I hate the lines on my forehead. I’m paranoid my chin will drop. I spend lots of money on products that are supposed to reverse the sun damage I did as teen when the only thing between me and the UV rays was baby oil. My family has blocked all paths to Botox websites.

I want my twenty-five year old complexion back. I miss my natural hair color – black. I know I’m not supposed to care I’m getting older. We want the years to pile up because the alternative is far worse. With age comes experience and wisdom you can’t handle as a younger person. I get it. I really do. I just don’t want to look old. Old should be a four letter word.

Staying in shape is harder than it was even ten years ago. My body creaks and groans in sounds I’ve never heard before. And if listening to my mother’s generation is any indication, those sounds only get worse. I tell myself that won’t be me. My hamstrings tell me something else.

Am I victim of societal norms? Well, if the fact I remove all unwanted hair from my body says anything, then yes I am! Society tells me hairless and young is attractive. I don’t want to be excluded from the popular kids’ table. Unfortunately, old people sit by the bathrooms and there’s a space open at that table. Spaces are always open at the old people’s table.

I need to turn my head around on this one. I may have found the way. Someone said to me, “every wrinkle tells your story.” You know how I love a good story. That phrase resonated with me. Our wrinkles and gray hair are the stories of our lives.

How many times have you said, “my kids gave me gray hair?” Could you imagine your life without your children in it? Not me. If kids equal gray hair, then I guess the gray is okay. (I’m still going to cover mine up, but I’ll try not to get so freaked out about the amount of them.)

We can’t navigate through life without a road map. (Have you ever seen me when I get lost? Probably best you don’t.) Bummer the road map is on our faces, but isn’t the journey more important than the destination? All the roads I’ve traveled have led me here. Sometimes the road was bumpy, sometimes smooth.

The lines around our eyes are paths filled with laughter.  I’m glad I didn’t miss out on the times I bent over laughing so hard I cried. There are countless memories etched into those lines on my face. I’d take everyone of them all over again.

I also have frown lines. Bummer again, but with the good comes the not so good. I’ve worried over the health of a loved one. I worried about school, money, love. I worry about my children every day. Noodge 1 drives in less than two weeks. I’ll be worrying a lot more. But I would never change his growing up. That is the cycle of life.

I’m not ready to toss my anti-aging serums in the trash. Instead, I’ll look at my wrinkles with kindness and give them space to tell my story.

 

In Honor of Best Friends Day: Friendships Are Like Paper Plates

  I’m a firm believer that friendships are disposable. I know that sound harsh, but look at it like this; some friendships are like paper plates and some are like your good stoneware. A paper plate serves a purpose and when that purpose is over or the plate is a bleeding mess you toss it. But […]

In honor of National Best Friends Day, one of my favorite blog posts is making a return visit. To all my stoneware: Thank you for your beauty, integrity, and taking up space in my cabinets. I love you all! S. 

 

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My senior prom. Thirty years ago. (Time flies.) These girls were my besties back then. Betsy, on the left, is stoneware. Loren, on the right, also stoneware. I love them both dearly. Meredith, the one next to me, paper plate. Her plate got tossed thirty years ago. Just the way it goes. 

 

I’m a firm believer that friendships are disposable. I know that sound harsh, but look at it like this; some friendships are like paper plates and some are like your good stoneware. A paper plate serves a purpose and when that purpose is over or the plate is a bleeding mess you toss it. But your stoneware comes out every day, sometimes three times a day and is probably in your favorite color. Stoneware helps you, supports you, is reliable, loyal, accepts you for the cook you are, and heats up like a hot flash for you. You might buy thousands of paper plates over your lifetime, but you’ll only have a setting for twelve of that stoneware.

You don’t know when in your life you’re going to find that perfect set of stoneware. You might have to buy it in pieces. Some during high school, some during college, maybe even a piece you picked up along the way. But don’t look for a bargain. Stoneware is worth the price you pay. And if you do get it on sale, well, then, lucky you.

Paper plates are easy to find. They’re every where you look and they’re cheap. But they will always and forever be only paper plates. Don’t hold any grudges over them, though. I’ve had some paper plates I’ve loved over the years, but they still had to go when their purpose was served. I trashed paper plates in middle school, high school, college, from the countless jobs I’ve held, neighbors, committee groups, the list goes on and on. The best thing about paper plates is when you’re done with the package another package miraculously shows up in your cabinets. Right when you needed them the most. Paper plates are great-fill ins when you don’t have time to wash your stoneware. But when you’re making lasagna for dinner and the cheese won’t stick together and is running off the spatula nothing will do, but your favorite stoneware dish.

My stoneware set is much smaller than twelve, but I’m okay with that. We’ve been together a long time. My stoneware never disappoints me and is as vibrant as ever. It’s always there when I need it, shares secrets with me, makes me laugh, and reminds me why I bought it in the first place.

I’m thankful for the paper plates too. They’re quick and easy. They’re fun.

I often wonder if my Noodges have started buying pieces of their stoneware. Many times I look at the selection in their hands and think, “Dear Lord, that is a paper plate if I ever saw one. Put it down.” And sometimes I think, “that could be a keeper.” But that will be for them to decide. And I know for myself, there have been times when paper plates were disguised as my favorite stoneware. It wasn’t until the bottom leaked that I realized I’d been holding an imposter. I guess that will happen to my kids too.

How about you, faithful reader? What’s in your cabinet?

 

 

 

Sweating With the Oldies

 

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

I’m one of those weird people who like to exercise. For someone who is Type A, exercise has been a constant companion to me. She cures many of my ailments; such as big mouth syndrome, come down off the ledge illness, and a current favorite; mid-life hormonal combustion.

When my friend, Ella, asked me to join her at a Zumba class, I jumped at the chance. I used to take Zumba all the time, and loved it. I mean, who doesn’t love to dance, destress, and burn a gazillion calories?

The class was filled with everyone from seven to ninety-seven. Okay, maybe not that old, but close. Trust me. I think it’s fantastic to find older people getting up and shaking their groove thing. I plan on being in my nineties, wearing my yoga pants, and doing the hustle across the dance floor. (I also plan on completely turning off my filter, and saying every single non-politically correct thing that comes to my mind! People will think what I say is cute because I’ll be old. That’s what everyone says about my grandmother and her miniskirts.)

There’s a down side to Zumba, though. I can’t work out with my nose pinched closed. I do need to breathe, but with breathing comes inhaling the smell of a skunk in the summer sun. I discreetly checked to see if the skunk was coming off of me, but thank everything that is holy, I remembered to wear deodorant and I had showered earlier that day. I was sweating pretty good, and by the end I was a tad ripe, but the skunk stink was on someone else. And not Ella! Maybe I could do what the ladies did back before showers existed. I can spray a handkerchief with perfume and keep it over my face.

If you’re a single male, and into women, a Zumba class might be a great hook-up place. There had to be forty people in that class and only one of them was a man. Those are some pretty good odds. I thought our guy had to be smart swinging his hips around for the ladies until I found out he stalks women from one gym to another. Then he was just plain creepy. Maybe the skunk was him?

I can’t begin to describe how ridiculous I must look in a Zumba class trying to follow the fancy footwork, but I can tell you this: My lack of skill doesn’t stop me. And when I go to Zumba class I’m Jennifer Lopez. At least in my delusional mind.

About an hour in I felt ten years younger. I thought, look at me, keeping up, recapturing the exercise high I miss because I don’t run anymore, and not an ache or a pain anywhere. Ninety minutes in, I thought, when the hell is this class going to end? The muscles in my back twisted into a tightly woven braid, and my knees ached like a bad tooth. I went from feeling ten years younger to feeling ancient. The ninety year-olds were holding up better than I was.

The class had several instructors. They were all lovely, warm, and friendly. These kooky women wanted to take a picture of everyone together after class. Stinky, sweaty people standing in a huddle was a bad idea. Let’s not forget the skunk! Not to mention, my hair wasn’t exactly picture ready after ninety minutes of sweating with the oldies. I found a clever way to hide, and not touch or get too close to anyone. You know how I sceeve people. Again, not Ella!

All in all, it was a great time. Maybe I’ll get asked to go again. Hopefully, there won’t be anymore pictures. And my handkerchief is ready.

 

 

Sometimes We Find Family Along The Way

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Delta Phi Epsilon sorority Delta Omega chapter at Monmouth University. The entire group in attendance at the recent reunion.

Family are the people who love you when you need them whether you’re born to them or pick them up along the way. That is the heart of all my books whether it’s my middle-grade series or my women’s fiction series.

Last week I spent some time with my sorority sisters. My sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon, celebrated its 100th year anniversary and my college’s chapter, Delta Omega at Monmouth University, held an event for all sisters current and alumni. Because when you become a D Phi E sister, it’s for life.

I was a commuter student when I went to Monmouth. There are some great things about being a commuter, but it’s hard to make friends if you don’t get involved with something. As a Freshman, I kept to myself mostly. I’m an outgoing introvert (a personality trait that quarrels with itself often) so I needed some friends and fast. I’d already known a couple of the girls in the sorority and a friend at the time encouraged me to pledge. I’m so glad I did.

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These are some of the special ladies I went to school with. I love them all. 

I met the Coffee King because of that sorority. And I made some fantastic friends. Here’s what’s so great about the girls I went to school with, years can go by and we won’t see each other or talk outside of Facebook, but all it takes is to be in the same room with them and it’s like no time has gone by at all. I walked into that event and saw women I haven’t seen in 25 years. The hugs were fierce and the tears were real. That’s friendship. That’s sisterhood.

I’ve been asked often how could I have joined a sorority. (I don’t adhere to conformity well) but my sorority wasn’t like that. Our motto translated is “To be rather than to seem to be.” We believed in everyone being an individual. There was plenty of room for all personality types. Those girls accepted me for who I was and still am. They let me be me and I let them be them.

Those girls were strangers to me all those years ago. It was scary at that first pledge class meeting with nine other girls I didn’t know, but was about to be thrown together with twenty-four hours a day for six weeks. We had to learn to get along, learn to work together, learn to respect each other and we did it. That doesn’t mean we didn’t fight, because you always fight with family. We had a lot of fun together too. Mostly, it was fun. (I’d tell you some stories, but then you’d need to go into the Witness Protection Program.)

My sisters are there for me whenever I need them. I don’t even have to ask. They only have to hear that one of us is in trouble, sick, or celebrating and they are right there beside you holding your hand or cheering you on too. (Who else would help you bury the bodies??) When my first book came out my sisters applauded the loudest. I am eternally grateful for that. (Ladies, I’ll need you again soon. Stay tuned. wink wink)

 

D Phi E reunion My Family
My family tree. My Grand-Big Sister, Big Sister, and Little Sister. 

These amazing women are my family. The family I picked up along the way. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Joanna Gaines Taught Me a Lesson

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Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Have you ever watched HGTV‘s show Fixer Upper? Fixer Upper is a home renovation show hosted by Chip and Joanna Gaines. They fix up homes in Waco, TX. Chip is the brawn and Joanna is the design brains and beauty. I’m in awe of Joanna Gaines.

She is a mother of four, has a successful television show, a design business, a bed and breakfast, is a devout Christian and is younger than I am.  I have two kids. Compared to her I’m not really a parent. I don’t have the kind of successful business she has, I don’t feel at home in any religion, and I’m getting older by the second.

I’m not saying I would trade places with Joanna. I don’t know what her life is really like behind the cameras. Her kids might hate that she’s not around or their whole lives might revolve around the business and just once they’d like it to be different. She seems super nice, but maybe she’s a good actress. I don’t want to live on a farm with all those animals. Some days I’m not even sure I want the dog. But she sure does make life look clean, neat, and well-adjusted.

It’s hard not to compare myself to her when the laundry is piled taller than I am, dog hair tumbles across the hardwood floor, the mail needs to be sorted, kids need to be driven to a thousand places (that’s not much of an exaggeration) and I have words to write, clients to appease and appearances to be at. Joanna makes it look easy.

But it ain’t easy. In fact, even as I write this the laundry needs attention, again, I’m out of shampoo, I have to figure out how to grab both kids today at the exact same time from two different places, this blog post has been a thorn in my side for days, I need to write a blog post for my client, and I have a word count for the new novel I must hit. I did manage to brush my teeth, cleanup last night’s dinner, and set the house alarm before I left to go to the Starbucks and write. It’s a win, ladies and gents! It’s a win.

We all know social media and television make life look like it’s all homemade food and hand sewn clothes. It isn’t. Life is messy. I don’t believe half the posts I see from moms who go on and on about how proud they are of their children and how amazing this kid is and this mom can’t believe how lucky they are. Every parent (okay, not every) feels that way about their kid. We all love our children with such a fierceness it could blow up the universe. These same moms also want to pull their hair out of their heads from time to time, imagine a vacation alone on a sunny beach with no one yelling “MOM!!!” and have at some point wondered why they thought being a mother was a good idea in the first place. Oh, trust me, it’s true. (If you don’t have teenagers, don’t weigh in on that comment. Come back to me in a few years. We’ll talk then.) Doesn’t make anyone bad for thinking that. Perhaps our Joanna has glimmered that thought too.

Last night I was talking to a friend who had suffered the rampage of Hurricane Sandy. Long story short, she and her family recently moved back into their home. She’s expecting baby number two and the house isn’t ready, the room isn’t ready, boxes everywhere. I said, “It will all get done in time. Don’t worry about it.”

Why do women feel such pressure to be perfect? Me included. Is it because women before us burned their bras and fought for our opportunities to hold great jobs and raise families and own homes and not need the help of another human being while doing all of this, least of all a man? Or is it because the Joanna Gaineses of the world paint a picture we try to strive for? It would be easier to climb Mt. Everest than keep our stuff together in a picture perfect way without help. Heck, even the climbers of Everest have help. They don’t go to the top alone, why should we?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in this whole it takes a village to raise a child business. No, your child is your responsibility. You raise him or her. The occasional car pool is one thing, but the constant watch my child so I can work and go on vacation in Disney mumbo jumbo doesn’t fly with me. Sorry, my opinion. (Before someone goes nuts, I’m not referring to the single mother working three jobs and living in a studio apartment trying to make ends meet. She needs the help. So, help her.)

But it is okay to say, I can’t do that right now. I can’t volunteer for one more group, or wash the car, or dinner is just going to have to be cereal. It’s okay to say to our partners, I need your help with the kids, the food, the horses, the bodies I’m trying to bury. And we shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Our home, children, job, and appearance don’t have to be perfect. And while we’re busy perfecting all these things we’re forgetting to better our souls. We should strive for more kindness, compassion, and generosity. We need to perfect our listening skills, because as a former Speech, Theater, Commmunications major I can tell you with assurance listening is a skill that can be learned. We need to experience things that make us feel better. Yoga, long walk in the parks, sunsets, coloring books, laughter.

When our souls are running over with warmth and peace we’ll be the better mother, wife, friend, business woman. Then and only then can we become the Joanna Gaineses of the world.