Saturday, June 22, 2013

Ooh, ooh I gotta crush on you

My daughter's social interaction with her peers is always a curiosity to me but the other day, under the impression that she might be acting on a little crush on a boy from school, I was watching the way she smiled uncontrollably and persisted in trying to get the boy's attention while waiting in line for the wave ride at the local pool. As it turned out, it was his first stab at body surfing on the waves and she was merely offering her very best encouragement and support. She later informed me that she does not have a crush.

As I wondered about Martha having a crush, I was, of course, forced to revisit some of my own childhood crushes to see if I had any brilliant advice to pass on to my child. I definitely do not. I was an absolute disaster when it came to liking boys. And the worst part of it was that I liked about 500 of them between age 5 and 15. Maybe it was because I didn't have any brothers and my dad was largely absent from my life, but from very early on I was extraordinarily fascinated with the opposite sex.

I remember a boy in kindergarten who I found irresistibly adorable. I remember standing behind him one day, staring at the nape of his neck and his tidy blonde hair and I thought, obviously, I should reach my hand out and tickle the back of his neck. As he swatted at his neck, he turned around, blushing bright red, and all I could do was stand there mute. He stared at me, as if to ask, why the fuck are you touching my neck (but in an innocent 5-year old way) and I stared back at him thinking what do I do now, why did I do that? And that was that. My budding romance with him was doomed by the bizarre, random tickling. Seriously, what was that all about??

So then we move on to 2nd grade and the boy with the palest blue eyes and the curliest eyelashes I had ever seen on a boy and I sincerely believed he was the most beautiful human being I had ever seen in my 7 years of life. Mute staring continued to my standard M.O. Oddly, this did not inspire his affection for me. It probably only inspired nagging discomfort around me. My love was misunderstood.

Why would my mom do this to me?
There were several other elementary school crushes, none of whom I actually spoke to, even when the boy sat directly across from me all year long. Elementary school was a bad time for me with boys anyway, probably because I actually looked like a boy. Oh, the countless times kids would stop me and ask, "are you a boy or a girl??" I can only hope that the instant weeping this question produced gave it away, but who knows, I could have just been a really sensitive boy and not just a girl with a bad haircut. Many of my friends in 5th and 6th grade had boys bringing them Bubble Yum every day, but do you think I had any big, fat, sugary gum to chew? No, it was all home-supplied Trident for me. Love hurts.

As soon as I got to junior high school, I got busy scouting out new boys to have crushes on. Before long I was scanning the entire C section of the phone book trying to locate any nearby addresses that could possibly be the home of the boy I liked from Shop class. Not surprisingly, he ended up asking my best friend to "go with" him. Although she did say yes, I never believed she fully appreciated his charming smile or the precision of his bowl-cut hair hanging straight across his brow.

The 8th grade crush was the crush to end all crushes. It's still a little heartbreaking to me to recall how much I loved that 9th grade boy who was the object of my affection. It's also a little disturbing to recall how bizarre my behavior must have seemed when I saw him every day and was so completely unable to even say hi. He sat behind me in math class and his locker was right near mine and after a few months the entire school new I liked him but each day I freaked out a little more.

Did not make me a boy-magnet
I blame Styx. They totally ruined it. It's all their fault that I put that picture of them from a magazine inside my locker door, provoking total ridicule from the pack of 9th grade boys. Even though I tried to replace it soon after with a poster of The Rolling Stones that was big enough to wallpaper the entire 2nd floor of Smiley Junior High, the cool factor was ruined as I wrestled my huge poster into my locker, practically rolling myself up in it before eventually abandoning the whole effort.

Despite letting him cheat off my math tests (which he totally needed) and finally managing to squeak out a greeting by the end of the year, that crush obviously went nowhere. By the time I got to high school my new BFF and I discovered the drive-thru liquor store in Denver that would sell beer to anything behind the wheel of a car and alcohol saved me from my debilitating shyness. Maybe "saving" is kind of misinterpreting the situation, but it did finally facilitate a first sloppy kiss/make-out session in the back seat of a car and for that reason, I will always have a soft spot for grape Kool-Aid and Everclear punch.

But the bottom line here is, I have pretty much nothing to offer my child in the way of helpful advice with boys. Martha is really not afraid to talk to anyone and she is largely oblivious to the subtleties of nonverbal communication, which may be a blessing. If she ever does ask me for advice, I think I will offer this: 1) mute staring becomes more creepy than alluring faster than you'd think; 2) do not let Grandma take you for a hair cut; 3) Styx just isn't the band for everyone, and 4) just be yourself, baby.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Signs point to yes

Back in 2000 my husband and I ran a marathon together. We were living in Boston at the time and just about every mile of our training happened along the paths that run on either side of the Charles River. Depending on how many miles we had to do, we could always piece together some route by making a loop over the various bridges that cross the river. We got to be very familiar with those pathways. When our training started to include 12-mile runs and longer, we found that while it was heartening to see that it was actually possible to run for 2-3 solid hours, we'd start to get a little whacky by the end of the run. And by whacky, I mean kind of like, mentally unstable. Like the time we did 16 miles and towards the end I announced "Just think, if this was the marathon, we'd still have 10 more miles to go!" and then I laughed and laughed until I had tears running down my face and my husband looked like he wanted to punch me. I was never sure if he was bugged by the reminder of just how long the damn marathon was going to be or if it was my unexplained hysteria that was so vexing.

Another humorous thing I used to do that was met with utter disdain and/or borderline rage was sing a favorite little song when we'd see a particular road sign that signaled we were near Cambridge again, and therefore approaching the end of another long-ass run. Who doesn't love the song "I saw the sign" by Ace of Base? I'll tell you who: my husband. Apparently he is an Ace of Base-hater of the highest order. Or maybe it's just my singing it at the end of a 2-hour run. But I just couldn't help myself. A) It is one catchy mother-fucking song and B) I SAW THE SIGN?!

Well, this little anecdote comes back to me repeatedly in life when, as I agonize over some decision, be it little or big, I think to myself, I wish fate would show me a sign. I am positive that pretty much everything happens for a reason and if you are really astute, you will recognize the signs that the universe is sending you, nudging you towards the "real" answer. Of course, there are gigantic, swiss-cheese-style holes in this philosophy because in most cases, you cannot go back and choose the alternate route and follow that to its conclusion and then use this as evidence that you made either a right or a wrong decision. Are you following me? Life is not a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. But my belief in fate may have something to do with the fact that I would prefer a life where I just followed the signs that I was brilliant enough to recognize, versus one where I have to slog through decisions and question why I am choosing option A or option B and is that an okay reason or a lame reason and am I fucking up my life because I am neurotic or am I actually really wise and methodical and therefore I almost always make sound decisions based on prudent thinking?

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day who is the youngest of four kids (just as I am the youngest of three), and we both agreed we don't much care for the role of planner and boss. Our birth order dictated we be the minions in our families. And now we kind of prefer following directions. I guess this is not always true for me, because there was that one time when I was 23 and I was working a part-time job serving frozen yogurt at Au Bon Pain and I had this scrawny, pimply little manager named Eric who loved to point out how I was not polishing the stainless steel counter satisfactorily. Let me tell you, I did not like following directions from that guy... I guess he picked up on it, too, from the way I walked out in the middle of my shift. I actually felt really good about that decision, like I was definitely making the right call and all the cosmic signals were clearly indicating that I should quit that crappy job, ASAP. I would like all decisions to be so obvious.

For example, should I get a dog? I actually have a dog currently living in my home right now but she is a foster dog (through Secondhand Hounds: if you are thinking about getting a dog, you should adopt a rescue dog because breeders are unreliable and puppy mills are just pure evil). My daughter wants to adopt our little foster dog but I'm too busy looking for a sign to think about adopting her. Physically, this dog is a perfect combination of the three dogs I was lucky enough to own in the last year. Is that a sign that she is meant for me? Sadly, however, the three dogs I owned over the last year have all passed on to doggie heaven for a variety of unfortunate reasons. Maybe that is a sign saying dog-ownership is not part of my destiny right now.

Another decision: should I get a job? I had a part-time job for 5 whole months and then my position was eliminated by the school board. Maybe the fact that I got a job in the first place was a sign that working would be beneficial and now I should be inspired to go find another one. Or, maybe the fact that my job only lasted 5 months is a sign that working is not all that it's cracked up to be and I should instead devise a path to livelihood on my own terms. What do the signs say?? For crap's sake, why is it so freakin' complicated?

And where should I live? When I was in college in Southern California, all signs pointed to Minneapolis as the perfect place for me to live. Now that I live here, all signs point to moving to a warm climate as it is no secret I detest cold, lifeless weather (but summer and fall are so lovely here!). I'm pretty committed to living here until my daughter graduates from high school, but even she is a bigger fan of sun and sand than she is of snow. What the hell are we doing here?

Someone mentioned recently that I may be guilty of over-analyzing things and it wasn't Sigmund Freud so amazingly someone else was able to figure that out about me. The thing is, that's just my nature. I believe the signs really are there and they are simple to see and understand. I need to go back to the split-second before I started considering all these options and if I tune in to what was in my heart before my head starts doing its psycho thing, I believe I will know what the signs are telling me.

Sometimes I wonder if I should give up my dream of trying to write for a living. And then I write. And then I know, even when my writing is horrendous and meaningless, all those little words on the page are a sign: it says continue on the road ahead.