Acceptance

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking an awful lot about acceptance. I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this or not, but yours truly was not at the height of popularity in our high school. As a matter of fact, I think even the debate team guys were cooler than me (although I at least got a letter jacket….for band)! I’m sure that someone can trace back our need for acceptance to caveman times when early man lived in groups and helped each other with the hunting and gathering and the like. So why now, when I can do my own hunting and gathering, do I still feel the need to be accepted? Why does it still hurt my feeling to not be a part of the “in crowd?”

Occasionally, I will see friends posting about doing things together on Facebook and I still get that little twinge of feeling left out. Generally I recognize it and can rationalize it away, but it’s still there, and if I feel it, that makes it real, at least to me. Even now with my good job, husband and fantastic children, I can still feel myself lacking in some area. That low self-esteem can be a bitch!

Sometimes I try to think about when things changed. At what point in my childhood did I become “uncool.” what could I have done differently that would have made me a part of the “in crowd.” Was it the way I dressed? The friends I chose? Where I lived? You can’t look back and wonder what if, you just have to accept that things happened the. For a reason and we should just accept it and move on. I totally understand that, so why does it still bother me? I should be long past the pettiness of high school, although I think sometimes I’ve just traded the halls of high school with the conference rooms of my current job.

A year or so after I left college, I was talking to a friend who had recently been back to see some friends. She told me that after we left another “popular” group had come about. It really surprised me because I had never felt popular. I guess it all just has to do with perspective. By that point in my life I did develop a little more confidence than I had in high school, and I was away from the “Howies” of high school. I didn’t have to deal with the bullying and teasing I had endured. I was free to be myself and not be made to feel inadequate just because I didn’t look, act or think like anyone else.

What do I want my kids to be when they grow up?

 

A couple of weeks ago my five year old started kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten. We dressed him in his approved uniform, strapped his see through backpack loaded with supplies to his back and sent him off into the public school system. My precious red-headed child who has to be tucked in every night. My precious boy who every day from nine weeks old until days before his fifth birthday had only attended one day care/pre-k program his entire life. He walks the halls and everyone knows who he is, he knows who they are. And we went to this huge school with the halls full of children, parents, faculty and staff and not one familiar face amongst them. I’m not sure if the adjustment period is harder for him or me!

This adjustment period has made me think, however, about what I want for my child. It’ obvious that I want him to be kind, to be intelligent and work hard in school. I want him not to hit my friend’s kid when they invite us into their home. I want him to come home every day on “green light” and not yellow or red. But what else? What would seem obvious is that I want him to be musically inclined. While I love the fact that he loves music and strumming my guitar, I want it to be his choice. I want him to be able to decide to love music like I did. Sports? I used to kid that I’d die if my child was a jock, however this weekend I’ll be taking him to his first football tryouts! And it was my idea!

I’ve also spent time thinking about him and his friends, and even more so this year. You see most of the kids from his Pre-K class went to a different school this year. There are few other kindergartners at his school that he knew. I want him to find a good peer group and kids that he can hang out with and spend the night with and share secrets with. I want him to be…dare I say it…popular. I kept thinking about how I wanted him to have lots of friends and not be teased like I was in school, never thinking about the fact that if he’s not being teased, chances are he could be the teaser? I can handle a little jock, the ball games and tournaments, but do I want him to be the jock who laughs at the drama kid? The one who pushes the band geek? Do I want him to be the kind of kid who makes others miserable like I was? My only hope is to teach him compassion. To expose him to different types of people in different situations. To instill values and to help him see that everyone is different and we are all special. According to him, he already understands that, I just hope he can translate it to other people. At this point, he doesn’t even realize that there are racial differences with his friends. He plays with one boy at school and it’s more important to him that he’s taller than this kid than if the other child has “brown skin.” I’m terrified to think of a days where that will make a difference.

I want him to have the courage to follow his own path and the compassion to respect everyone else’s path as well.

Faking it

As a kid, I remember imagining myself as a grown-up: I would be a veterinarian (I wanted to be a vet FOREVER, until I realized how much chemistry I would have to take to make that happen).  I would have a husband, who was always kind of a shadowy placeholder in my imagination, since I never had anyone particular in mind.  I would have a daughter, whom I would shower with all of my worldly wisdom.  And somehow I would magically know exactly what I was doing.

I guess some of that came true.  Instead of a vet, I became a librarian, because after my freshman year of college, I stumbled into a part time job  at the town library, and was shocked that someone was willing to pay me for something I enjoyed doing so much.  I do have a husband, who is thankfully not at all shadowy.  And I have a daughter, AND a son.  That part I never pictured. Also, I suspect my daughter is never going to be particularly receptive to my showers of worldly wisdom, given that my attempts to brush her teeth usually involve her clamping both of her tiny hands over her mouth and screaming, “No toobush!  No toobush!”

But the part where I magically know exactly what I’m doing?  I’m still waiting for that.  And I’m beginning to suspect a scary truth about becoming a grown-up: Most of us are faking it.

I like to imagine that this didn’t happen in the old days.  Those pioneer women who gave birth in the back of the covered wagon, then got up an hour later to fry up some bacon and brew some coffee over the campfire.  They knew what they were doing, right?  And when their husbands came back from hunting with, oh, I don’t know, a bear, they said, “Oh, no problem!  I’ve cooked bear hundreds of times.  Would you like that medium or well done?  Oh, and I think tomorrow I’ll start building that sod house we’ve always talked about.  I’m thinking brown curtains to match the dirt?”

Maybe I just never listened closely enough to my own mother’s worldly wisdom, but I’m pretty sure nobody ever told me that being a grown-up would involve so many things I had never been taught how to do.  Things like buying a car, or its even more nightmarish counterpart: buying a house.  Paying bills.  Taxes.  Saving for retirement/college/cat food in our old age. Insurance.  Car maintenance.  House maintenance.  Landscaping.  Gardening.  Pet care. Politics.  Social politics.  Getting and keeping a job.   Coming up with and preparing twenty-one tasty, yet nutritious meals a week.  And most of all: parenting!

When I was pregnant with my son, I dutifully signed up for all the prenatal classes: childbirth (where they made us put clothespins on our earlobes to simulate labor pains), breastfeeding, and infant care.  In infant care, we got to practice putting diapers on smiling plastic dolls.  The dolls did not roll over on their stomachs in the middle of the diaper change and take off down the hall naked.  Clearly my daughter never took the class.

After all of the classes, and a brief, but unpleasant stay in the hospital, we drove home with our newborn son.  Yes, the classes had taught me how to change his diapers, and how to carry him, and how to bathe him.  Breastfeeding was a lot more challenging than the class led me to believe, but a nurse in the maternity ward had helped us work out some of the kinks.  But the really important stuff: how to guide him through the next couple of decades without him ending up on the FBI’s Most Wanted List?  Yeah, the classes never covered that.

Parenting is a daily reminder of just how little I know.  Sometimes it’s in the form of questions I never thought about before: Do black holes ever disappear?  I don’t know.  Let me fire up the laptop. (What did parents do before Google?)  And sometimes it’s things I’ve never tried before: Mom, could we make an Angry Bird out of felt?  Well, we can try (never mind that it takes me two hours to thread the sewing machine.  Still, I’ve learned you can do a lot with hot glue).

But mostly it’s all the potentially life-altering decisions you have to make as a parent:  Should I take him to the doctor for this fever?  Should I sign him up for soccer/piano/swimming/Tuvan throat singing?  Does he have enough interaction with friends at school, or should I arrange more playdates?

I try my best.  I read a lot (one of the perks of being a librarian is that I have access to thousands of free books.  Wait, so does everyone else…).  I talk to my own parents, my friends, and the local mother’s club.  I know I am really so much luckier than those women in the covered wagons.   They were pretty much on their own, in an age where their only recourse in many cases, like illness and injury, was to hope for the best.  They had no phones, no Internet, no supermarket, and no directory full of specialists they could call on to say, resod the roof, or replace the wagon wheel.

Still, I think about those women a lot.  I’m pretty sure they complained less than I do.   Probably they didn’t have the time.  And although I like to think that they grew up learning most of the day-to-day things they needed to know to survive, I’m sure that in reality they were hit with just as many unknowns that they had to muddle through.  I think that’s what being a grown-up is really all about: muddling through the daily challenges, even when you aren’t quite sure what you’re doing.  You can always learn from your mistakes (and hopefully laugh about them) later.  And, hey, as far as parenting goes, that’s why they invented therapy.

This is Ashley. She knows how to castrate cows…

When I was sixteen, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere other than the house I had always lived in. Never mind that the Georgia summers were so hot and humid you could only go out before 10am, and when I did go out, usually to pick blackberries or wild plums, I had to lather myself in a toxic cocktail of sunscreen and bug spray, and wear heavy rubber boots to avoid unpleasant encounters with rattlesnakes, water moccasins, or fresh cow patties.

I grew up on a farm. That was unusual enough among my classmates and friends. What made it even more unusual was that it was my Dad’s hobby. For months now, my husband and I have been engaged in a ponderous debate about the pros and cons of maybe getting a guinea pig as a pet for our son. My Dad had thirty COWS.

They roamed about the farm, eating grass, generating fertilizer, and seemingly searching for escape routes, since we were always having to chase them off our dirt road and back into the pasture. (In one famous incident, my Mom had to rush out of the shower barefoot, and clad in only her underwear and one of my Dad’s old shirts, to herd the bull out of our neighbor’s yard. An hour later, when she drove to her church organist job in the town eight miles away, that story had already reached the choir.)

Along with the cows came an endless series of tasks: they had to be herded from field to field; supplemented with hay and feed in the winter, and water and mineral salt in the summer; inoculated; dehorned; given fly-repelling ear tags; and eventually loaded onto trucks headed for destinations I didn’t like to contemplate (although I was a vegetarian for most of my teen years). Every winter and spring, there would be new calves: adorable, big-eyed, knocked-kneed creatures, who would cautiously creep up to nibble my hair if I sat still enough in the middle of the pasture. But along with the calves came late night calving problems, sometimes involving the vet, and usually requiring the use of a medieval-looking device called a calf-puller.

There were other unpleasant tasks as well. The day I arrived at college, my Dad introduced me down the hall of my dorm with, “This is Ashley. She knows how to castrate cows.” Luckily for me, the guys, including my future husband, were all on a different floor.

The farm was a mixed blessing for me. From a very early age, I was allowed to wander alone through acres of fields and forests, a freedom I’m sad to say my own kids will probably never know. I enjoyed the thrill of walking so far into the woods I wasn’t sure I could find my way home.

But the farm was isolating too. With all of my friends living miles away, I felt like an outsider (I didn’t realize until I was an adult that most teenagers feel that way, no matter where they live). I envied my friends in town the ability to walk to a classmate’s house or to the grocery store (once, I decided to walk to the only market close to us to buy a soda. It was a three mile walk each way, and I ended up being much thirstier than I was when I started).

I left home for college in Massachusetts when I was eighteen, and only came back once or twice a year after that. A few years later, my Dad retired, and my parents packed up and moved out West. The farm, I heard, was sold to a new owner, who tore down all the barns we had built and cleared a lot of the trees. So, home, as I knew it, is gone.

I’ve carried it with me though, through four different towns, in three different states, in different parts of the country. They’ve each been a “home” too, in their way, and I’ve made one or two lifelong friends in all of them.    My current home is in a beautiful town sandwiched between a small tree-covered mountain range and the Pacific Ocean.  You’d think it would be overdeveloped and pretentious, but it has a reputation for being foggy and cold, so the status-minded Silicon Valley types take their salaries over the hill.  It’s true that you often have to drive through a thick layer of fog before the sunlit beach and town suddenly appear, a moment that always reminds me of Brigadoon.  But it’s a friendly, down-to-earth, ocean-weathered paradise, where you can find Priuses and pickup trucks in equal measure.  Plus, I can easily walk to at least four different grocery stores for a soda, and there’s not a calf-puller or a rogue bull in sight.

Still, in that place in my head where I am perpetually seventeen, and not sure how on earth I ended up here or what I should be doing, I take refuge in the hammock I hid out in the middle of the woods, in a strange circle of rocks, just off the north pasture.  It may be hot, and humid, and covered in cow manure, but it will always be my home.

School days, school days….

Today my son starts kindergarten. “Big boy school.” for the first time since he was eight weeks old he will go to a different place every day. He will not be in the same place as his baby sister. He will be in a new place with teachers who don’t know him at all. Teachers who I’ve never met. Who is more nervous? Me, of course. He seems like he couldn’t care less, has even told me he’s tired of me talking about it. He knows he’s going to a new school with a new teacher and he has to listen to her. He’s cool, I’m wound up! His backpack has been packed for a week. His lunch box has been packed since early this evening. We’re ready to go!

At least he is. I need someone to hold my hand!

One big thing has changed, however. He’ll be at a school that requires uniforms. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great thing. It certainly makes my job much easier! He has three colors of pants and four colors of the same shirt. The thing that I miss is the back to school shopping. It was always my favorite thing to do before school started! Every year my Grandmother would take me to Atlanta for a big shopping trip. We headed out early in the morning and hit Lenox Mall first. We always ate lunch at The Zodiac and then headed to Phipps Plaza. We would end the day with frozen yogurt from the cafe in Lord and Taylor. I always tried to put together what I thought was a really great outfit for the first day and new clothes that I guess I thought would change the years of alienation I felt from the “popular” girls. Like the only reason I wasn’t one of the cool kids all those years before was simply that i didn’t have the right jeans or a cool enough shirt. I guess it didn’t really occur to me that it wasn’t my outward appearance that mattered. I still wanted to fit in on the outside and it didn’t matter to me that just because I looked like everyone else, it didn’t mean that I really fit in.

Looking back, the friends I had were the ones I had things in common with. Wouldn’t have really been happy hanging out with those people anyways. I wish I could go back to that younger, insecure me and tell me that the outside appearance isn’t what really matters! It’s the people who you are comfortable being yourself with that really matter. It’s a little like Halloween, really. You dress up on the outside, but it doesn’t change who we are on the inside. It’s a little harder to find those people who your insides fit their insides, but they’re there. I just wish I had realized that in my friends I had all along what I had been looking for in the way I dressed. I hope Jay figures that out too. Maybe now with the uniforms, it gives the kids a chance to figure each other. out as a person and not be so focused on how they dress or what kind of jeans they’re wearing. But I will admit, I kind of missed getting to do that shopping, maybe mom needs something new in her wardrobe…