Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Blue Reliant


Ella asked for a phone. 

We said "No."

But then we told her we might consider a pay-as-you-go flip phone. She crossed her arms, shot us a tween look of exasperation and said, "But that is so old it would be embarrassing."

And just like that the moment I have been waiting for since I was sixteen was upon me.

The year was 1991. Think grunge, plaid, and Smells like Teen Spirit. I drove a 1980-something baby blue Plymouth Reliant station wagon with faux wood trim and a leather wrapped steering wheel, meaning someone had literally wrapped a leather cord around it. The interior was a vision in blue. Blue carpet, blue dash, blue seat belts, and cracked blue pleather seats that released a fart sound whenever someone moved across the surface.

I went to a school where kids drove their parents' 'other' BMWs and 'older' Audis. But it was a big school. I could have hidden my clunker among the mass of cars and gone unnoticed. Except for one thing. I had repeated the first grade. 

Not that it needs to be said, but from my parents' recounting of this time in my life, I was asked to stay back in first grade because of my outstanding grasp of all knowledge. My teacher, Mrs. T, believed me to be the type of student she needed to assist the incoming first grade class in their quest for the highest levels of education. Once I bargained for a batch of Mrs. T's famous Monster Cookies, I graciously accepted her offer. 

So as an incoming sophomore in 1991, I had my driver's license and wheels. For a brief time, I was the only one. And for that reason only, the Reliant and myself by proxy, stood out. Other than being the designated driver for the entirety of my sophomore year, there was nothing cool about this station wagon. It shuddered at speeds over 35, emitted a high-pitched squeal always, and reeked of vomit-infused vodka from one of my many passengers. I was a suburban taxi driver.

One evening I was at Burger King with a handful of friends. It was the hangout spot on a Wednesday night for many kids from the high school. Among the fryer grease and sticky floors, we hunkered down at a small table surrounded by juniors and seniors. It was like touching the coat tails of greatness. Just then the doors flung open to reveal a well-known and very cute senior. 

"Hey!" he called and all conversation stopped.

We all turned. Who was the lucky person who could have captivated this senior mini-god's attention?

He was looking straight at me. "Hey, you! Your bumper just fell off. It's sitting in the parking lot." 

All eyes turned to me. Someone dropped their Whopper with Cheese and the flutter of the paper was loud in the silence that followed. My face in flames, I pushed up from my plastic chair and walked out of the restaurant and into the night. Parked between a Volvo and a Land Rover was my little blue Reliant. And laying awkwardly on the concrete in front of it was my bumper. It glinted dully in the moonlight. I picked up the bumper, opened the back door, slid it in, shut the door and straightened my shoulders. 

But before shuffling back into the restaurant, I swore to myself that one day I would use this moment of humiliation to teach someone else a lesson. Like my future child. She would learn how driving the Reliant taught me valuable lessons about humility, pride and greed. I would share with her the tale of how Burger King and a faulty bumper was God's way of making me a better person.

But I am forty-one years old and with the passage of time, my perspective has grown generous. The truth is that my bumper falling off didn't teach me anything, at first. I was a kid, after all, who still wanted to be liked by everyone, to be cool and to drive a really nice car. It is only as the years have stacked high that this particular moment stands out for me. Because it was one of the many lessons that have served to remind me that it's not the things in our life that make us happy, content or cool. It's our character, our values, our compassion, our humor, and our love.  

So. Here I am. Staring down a tween who thinks that flip-phones are artifacts once used by ancient cultures. They are her blue Reliant. I could tell her my story as a reminder of why she should be grateful. Why she should be perfectly happy with whatever she gets. But I don't. Because I can remember the sixteen-year-old girl in me. The one who left Burger King with the bumper stowed in the trunk, praying that the damage was so great her parents would finally consent to buying her a new car. Maybe even an old BMW. Incidentally, they did not. 

Instead, I share my story with her, hoping for a laugh, and then tell her that I understand how it feels when all your friends have something and you don't. And that it's hard not to want those things too. And then I stopped. Because I can't expect her to get it right away. She will be disappointed, emotional, even angry with our decision. But one day she will get it. And I can only hope she will be the better for it. 

****




Thursday, October 15, 2015

Crooked Paths

When I was young(er) I envisioned my professional life as a series of switchbacks. Always moving forward and every so often moving up. But when I stayed home to raise the kids, I skidded off that tried and true path and found myself, if not at the bottom of the hill, on a washed-out single track with no discernible destination.

Side note: I would like to encourage the use of a different term for a mom who leaves her career to raise the kids. Because the term stay-at-home mom is the lamest, most watered down version of what being a mom actually looks like. Sure there were many days when I didn't leave the house, had permanent knee and butt imprints in my jammie pants, and cried when Oprah had her a-ha moments. But still, there were many other days I was a mom in the wild, wrangling strong-willed toddlers and slobbery babies down grocery store aisles and past judgmental teenagers.

Now that I am old(er) and the days of questionable diapers and temper tantrums are behind me, I find that my path, while rocky and long, has taken me to a place that the younger version of me would never have considered. Because the 'me' of my early years would have tilted her naturally colored head, scrunched her line-less eyes, taken a sip of her perfectly chilled Viognier and declared this path unlikely, an unreachable dream, never happening. Then she would have enjoyed a blissful night of sleep, one of literally dozens back then. In the morning, she would have woken up, dressed in an unhurried manner, eaten a leisurely breakfast, chatted or made out with her husband before heading out, well-rested and probably singing, to her income-producing job in the city.

Man, that girl was annoying.

But I am on this path of my own making. And on it I am writing, have written, a book. This path I've chosen is not paved, it's not straight, it is riddled with self-doubt, and I'm fairly certain it plummets over the side of the publishing cliff.

But here I am. Trying to be a writer. Stealing moments of time with my keyboard where I get to disappear into a world of my own making.

And I love it. But don't tell the other me. She's a hater.

So there it is. The world I've been living in for the past year and the one I continue to inhabit as I write book two. I don't know where this path will end, but I do know that working towards something that nurtures passion feels, well, really freaking good.

I used to worry that my kids would only ever see me as the mom who did their laundry (not well, mind you), made their meals, kept the house in "order" and managed their busy schedules. I worried that my example wasn't good enough.

Silly me.

One evening last spring, the kids were watching Star Wars, and I was on my computer, earphones in, my music turned up loud enough to drown out Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker's epic battle scene.

I wrote my own final scene that night. When I typed the words The End, I took out my earphones and whispered, "I did it."

Someone pushed pause on the movie and the kids and Sean crowded around me. "What did you do, Mommy?" Sawyer asked, climbing over the computer to get into my lap.

"I finished my book. I mean, I'll have to edit it a million times and then revise it, and then probably rewrite the entire thing. But, I finished it." I stared at the computer screen, shocked.

Sawyer burst into tears and we all turned to stare at him. "Why are you crying?" I asked.

"Because now you're going to get a secret agent and become famous," he said between sobs, "and you won't have time to be our mommy anymore."

We laughed. Hard. I reassured him. "Buddy, that just doesn't happen. Chances are this book will never be read by anyone outside this family."

"Then why did you write it?"

A question my younger self would have definitely asked. But this me, this 40-something mom of three and wife of one, this me knows the answer.

Because I could. And I didn't even have to take off my worn-in jammie pants to do it. Would I like to be able to share that my book will be in bookstores and available for purchase on Amazon tomorrow? Yes, I would like that very much. Will it happen? Maybe. Maybe not.

But that's okay. The other day my daughter told me something that has made every twist and turn of my path well worth it.

She hugged me and whispered, "I'm really proud of you, Mom."

And that beats writing The End any day.


***



   

Thursday, May 28, 2015

One space

One space. Just one. Not two. Two spaces are for people over forty. Raise your hand if you know what I mean. You, with your hand raised, are one of two people. A smooth-skinned youth with naught but your future hopes and dreams ahead of you. Or a mature self-starter who read about this rule on another blog or (spare us all) in the Chicago Manual of Style, and who feels just a tad superior about your educated awareness.

Now, put your hand down and get out. Get out, get out.  Get out.

To those of you left, welcome. What I am about to tell you is earth shifting. A truth thrust upon us by this new world we inhabit. It's unsettling and will make you question everything you once believed. Remember Santa? This is just like that, except worse.  

I learned how to type in the 7th grade. And I was good. Fast, accurate, "like a breath of fresh air across the keys" is not what my typing teacher recorded in her grade book. I imagine she would have though, if asked to describe my typing prowess. 

Quick question. When I wrote 'learned how to type' did you picture a computer or a typewriter? If you thought computer, get out. Why are you even still here?

A typewriter is the correct mental image. Until recently, I didn't think much about it. Then a friend of mine (who sprang from a different decade) reacted with bug-eyed shock when I told her I learned on a typewriter. As though typewriters are akin to orange julius, Members Only and Whitesnake. 

It was one of those reality-check, slam you in the face kind of moments. My childhood straddled a technological divide. By admitting an association with the typewriter, I had confessed to being part of a generation who struggled through backspace and whiteout. The tail end of those generations, mind you. It's not like I used an abacus. Geez.

In class all those years ago I learned many important typewriting life lessons. Not the least of which was to put two spaces after every period. Two spaces. For readability and clarity. Two. Absolutely no exceptions. And thus have I practiced and applied this rule with due diligence and pride to every period I have ever typed. 

Until now. 

I wrote a book this year. During my writing sessions a little voice popped up here and there whispering lies about periods and spaces. "Be quiet," I told that little voice. "You know nothing." Then I finished my book and as I cheerily took on the process of revision my little voice piped up again. "One space after a period," it hissed like a traitor. "one space." 

With shaking hands and a brave heart, I googled it.

It's a funny thing, history. Two spaces after a period should be a valued part of ours. Of a simpler time when kids played outside by themselves until sunset. Of Rubik's cubes and Atari. A time when we lived life at a slower pace with one TV and no remotes.  

Those of us adjusting to one space should be revered for our historical willingness to work our fingers to the bone for a sentence. And for our ability to adapt as times change. So I revise my book and with each space I delete, I shed the dated version of me for one who presses the space bar just once. After. Each. Period.   

To you who feel bound to the letter of the law established under the rule of typewriters, come out and into the sunshine of one space. It's fun, it's easy and feels a tad naughty allowing our sentences to get so cozy.

Try it. Go ahead. I think you'll like it.


...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

10 Tips on Surviving Lice: From a mom who's been there done that

It happened.  Oh, yeah.  It happened.  I thought it was just an urban myth.  A story spun by vindictive women of yesteryear meant to scare innocent moms of today.  A practical joke.  Nothing that would actually ever happen.  To me.

Until it did.

It was summer and we were mountain biking with the kids.  Keira, the careful, thoughtful biker of the crew.  She often stops to check out "something shiny" on the path.  Get the picture?  So it wasn't surprising that she was lagging behind.  But this time it wasn't something shiny.  It was something crawly.

"My head itches, Mommy.  Really bad."

"I'm sorry, honey."  I'm not really listening.  This complaint does not rate very high on my Indicators of Bad Things scale.  It barely registers on any of my parenting scales really.  All I'm thinking is, yeah, probably because you haven't showered in, what, like a week? 

So we continue down the path with Keira stopping every few feet to take off her helmet and scratch her head.  I roll my eyes, so dramatic that one.  When we finally get back to the parking lot, Keira is in tears.  I grudgingly take off her helmet and casually glance at her head.

It was waiting for me.  A smirk upon its tiny insect face.  See, you didn't believe your kid was miserable.  This is what you get, bad parent.

Lice.  The Paynes had lice.  So, parents (mostly moms out there for obvious reasons) this one's for you.  My 10 tips on surviving lice.  An unofficial guide on how you can beat these little buggers.  Without completely losing your mind.

10.  DO NOT SCREAM "LICE!" IN A PARKING LOT

His little beady eyes were staring at me from among the dark strands of her hair.  Ewww!!  The only sensible thing I could think to do at that time was to immediately and loudly alert my husband.

"LICE!!  Honey, oh my god, she has LICE!!"

A bike pump clattered to the ground.  Another family of bikers were staring at us from across the parking lot.  My face burned, Keira burst into tears, and my two other kids chimed in, also loudly,  "LICE?  What's LICE?  She has LICE?"

The family of bikers scrambled into their car and passed by us casting looks of barely contained terror our way.  So dramatic, that family.

Helpful Hint:  That family was not lice educated.  Unless they came over and rubbed their heads all over Keira's, tried on her helmet, put on her shirt, there was no way they were getting lice.  They were just scared, judgmental people with no compassion for the bug-ridden families of the world.

9. COME UP WITH AN ERADICATION PLAN IMMEDIATELY - IT MIGHT SAVE YOUR MARRIAGE

We jumped in the car.  I frantically googled lice, lice products, lice anything.  My head started to itch.  All heads in the car started to itch.  So many options for lice removal.  There was the chemical way.  The homeopathic way.  The essential oil way.   The chanting with incense way. The ignore it and blame it on someone else way.  How could I choose?

The car screeched to a halt in the Safeway parking lot.  Sean walked in.  He walked out, hat low, head ducked, furtively holding a small white bag.

"Did anyone see you?"

"No, it was clear.  No one saw me."

Whew.

I opened the bag.  Chemical, baby.  We were going chemical.  With the headlights off, we quietly rolled out of the parking lot and headed home taking our creepy, crawly secret with us.

Helpful Hint:  There is much discussion about which method to choose.  The chemical way is harsh and I did have concerns about using it on the kids.  But, if you are a salt of the earth, homeschooling person with tremendous amounts of patience and/or an inclination to wear long, flowy skirts, then you would probably do well with the mayonnaise method.   At this point, I had no strong convictions other than wanting the bugs gone, eradicated, their blight upon our family nothing but a distant memory.  We used RID.

8. DO NOT PANIC

This is a case of hindsight.  We panicked.  I made the kids strip down, briefly considered burning the clothes, but changed my mind and threw them into the washer.  We took the kids up to our bathroom where we removed all rugs.  I gave them towels.  They sat naked and shivering on our cold, tiled, bathroom floor.  It looked like a prison camp for children.  I expanded my search.  Sawyer and Ella both had evidence.  My head itched even worse.

Over the next four hours we shampooed and combed, and combed, and combed, and combed.  It became a game for me.  Like locating and digging out blackheads.  I cried triumphantly at each nit I found.  My head itched.  It was my turn.

Helpful Hint: All live lice should be dead after the initial shampoo.  Your job after the first shampoo, is to comb, comb, comb to remove all nits.  Nits can hatch later and bring all your problems back.  So comb, comb, comb.

7. DO NOT BUG BOMB YOUR HOUSE

You do not need to go over your house with a magnifying glass.  Or burn everything your kids may have looked at.  Just wash and/or dry on high heat everything they may have slept on or have just worn.  Pillows, bedding, blankets, stuffed animals, hats, clothes.  Lice prefer warm juicy scalps.  They are the ultimate mooch and do not generally survive longer than 24 hours away from their host.  Much like a 46 year old who still lives at home.

6. DO NOT EUTHANIZE YOUR PETS

God really thought this one through.  People lice need people blood.  So the lice on your head turn up their noses to dog and cat blood.  It's true, look it up.  Step away from your dog.  He's not part of this.  

5. SPILL THE BEANS

I'm sorry about this one.  I really am.  But it must be done.  And it will feel icky, like you're calling former partners to alert them about a sexually transmitted disease.  But it is the right and responsible thing to do.  I'll give you an example.

"Hello, Nita?  This is Melissa.  You know how Keira was at your house yesterday watching cartoons on your couch and scratching her head?  Well, we just discovered she has lice, so uh, maybe you should hose down that couch?"

Or perhaps your child recently had a play date at an OCD parent's house.  You can fess up using this informational opening:

"Hello _____, long time no see.  How are the kids?  Did you know that lice is more common than you think?  And that also, it's not indicative of poor hygiene?  Interesting factoid, lice actually prefer clean hair over dirty.  Since we're on the subject…."

The only way to stop the spread of lice is to contact those you've been around within the last two weeks.  It's humiliating, I know.  Just grow a pair and do it.  Honesty is like chicken soup for the soul, or something like that.  

4. COMB

At this point you might think you are out of the woods.  You might even be feeling just a tad bit cocky about the whole thing; pleased with your lice handling skills.  That confidence will be your greatest downfall.  Keep combing.  The nits are still there, patiently waiting to bring you down a notch when they hatch in 7 to 12 days.  Keep combing.

3. ORDER THE LICEMEISTER

You may have already done this.  If so, bravo.  But if you haven't, order it today.  The brushes that come with the kits are crap.  The Licemeister will pull out nits even after you have patted yourself on the back for a nit-free head.

2. FOLLOW-UP TREATMENT

Don't skip this.  If in all your exhaustive combing you have missed a nit, it will hatch.  Then that little nit will become another round of lice yuckiness.  For your own sanity and reputation, do the follow-up treatment.    You do not want to have to make another round of phone calls.  A second round of phone calls will only serve to earn you the reputation as an inefficient lice manager.  Play dates will be cancelled, carpools dissolved, sleepovers prohibited.  Don't let this happen to you.

1. IT'S ALL ABOUT THE NITS, NO LICE, NO LICE

When you do not think you can take the combing any longer, when you have actually begun to communicate like a monkey because you act like one, when your flashlight has run out of batteries, and all you dream about is nits, then you know that it is the most critical time to KEEP COMBING.   I combed for 4 weeks after our second treatment.  When I went a full week without finding a single nit, I combed for another week.  Excessive?  Perhaps.  But I had to know that the bugs had left the building.  And they had.

-------

For the record, we are currently a lice free family.  But we have been irrevocably changed by our experience.  I'm itching now just writing this.  I itch any time I think about lice.  I find myself casually scrutinizing other people's hair for nits.  I think twice before affectionately tousling the hair on a kid's head.  I'm a tad bit paranoid.  We never found a live bug on me, but we did pull out a few nits  Ick!! Ick!! Double ick!!

Somehow, Sean escaped the lice.  But as a reliable source once shared with me, it is a well-known semi-fact that the family member least likely to get lice even when everybody else is infested is the dad.  Is it the short hair?  A superhero immunity?  Are they like a dog?  You be the judge.

If you and your family are currently enduring lice…be strong and comb.  You will be fine.  If you, like us, have earned a lice survival badge, then fist bump sister, we are family now.  And if you have never had lice and are at this very moment congratulating yourself for your strong constitutions, cleanliness or general wealthiness, well now, I do not wish lice upon you because that is cruel and vindictive.

But, does your head itch?


---

Monday, November 17, 2014

An Alien And A Mika-Maka


A colorful illustration of the state of New Mexico covered the side of the U-Haul.  On top of New Mexico was an alien.  A looming, green alien with a pointed chin and bottomless black eyes, our traveling companion, our sentry standing guard as the miles between Ohio and Colorado fell away.   The U-Haul was on the smaller side.  But then, we had just graduated and gotten married. We didn’t own much more than our newly acquired wedding presents, an old couch, a halogen lamp, and a hot pot.  

Our wedding day had been unseasonably cool for August in Cleveland.  Wet and gray, the ground soaked through.  We said our I dos while the rain drummed against the stained glass windows, the sun poking out just as we cut into the flower encrusted cake.

On this morning - the day we packed up and moved our lives to Denver - it was warm, humid. The U-Haul door slid shut, disrupting the early morning peace.  A cloudless blue sky peeked down on me through the thick green of the trees as I stood beside my alien and took it all in for the last time. 

Standing in front of me, white hair curled delicately around her face, was my Mika-Maka.  My grandmother.  And the only grandmother in the entire world with that name.  A name made-up by my cousin, but one that fit her like a glove.  Because, that’s exactly what she was, a Mika-Maka.  The only one of her kind.  She grasped my hand in her velvet soft one and placed a flower in my palm.  It might have come from my bouquet or from my parent’s yard, I was never sure.  I held it to my nose and sniffed, it smelled good.  

Then she put her arms around me and hugged me close.  I held on, feeling so big, like her bones were fragile and I could crush her small body if I squeezed too hard. But I held on tight, because that’s what you do when you say goodbye to your Mika-Maka. 

“I love you, Missy,” she told me, kissing me lightly on the cheek. She smelled good, too.  Like chocolate fudge, zucchini bread, and flowers.  I soaked it all in.  And that hug, so brief against our shared lifetime of hugs, back scratches, hand-holding, and snuggles, is the one I hold in my heart today.  The one I can recall vividly, like it was just yesterday.  A gift, that hug.  A gift I feel immeasurably grateful for receiving.

Because that was the last time I saw her.   

Our lives have moved forward since that morning.  The years have fallen away quickly, breathtakingly so, as did those miles on our journey to Denver with our meager possessions in tow.  But that day, on the eve of the biggest chapter of my life, my memories remain rich in detail.  They are mine to take with me as I travel -  a flower, a new bride, an alien, and a Mika-Maka.    




Thursday, September 4, 2014

Indelicate Matters


Not to be indelicate, but I've been having some stomach problems lately.  A not so "polite" subject matter and certainly not one for the dinner table even though it's all about the food.  Probably not really a subject matter for a blog either.   Or is it?

It's something I've dealt with most of my life to some extent.  I know many women out there can relate.  Not so sure about the men as most of you seem able to set a clock based on your water closet visits.

Up until now it's something that really only affected me say, after a night where I imbibed too much (college years), anytime I ate fast food (kinda obvious), all road trips, or after eating anything which offended my stomach in an unforgivable manner.  But lately, and especially in the months leading up to my 40th birthday, things went downhill fast.

What is it about turning 40 anyway?  It's like my body fell asleep in my late 20's and on my 40th birthday jerked wide awake and shrieked, "What the hell??  What has happened to us, precious?"  

I wonder if turning 40 is God's little inside joke.  Just something to keep Him entertained along the way.  Does he chuckle to Himself as we morph from:

"Oh, me? I'm in my twenties.  I'd love to run a marathon with you - I haven't been training, but I used to run a bit in college.  How hard can it be?"

TO

"What are these tiny, unidentifiable scribbles on this piece of paper?  Is it hieroglyphics?  Is it code for something?  Excuse me…what did you say?  Would I like to borrow your READING GLASSES???"

But it's no joke.  It's real.  A very real reminder of what a delicate balance we must maintain in our health.  So as my body has begun to show the signs of a little wear and tear, I know all is not copacetic.   And so, as we do upon reaching 40, because the road ahead just got a little shorter, I decided to call my doctor and make an appointment.  

I really like my doctor.  And it isn't just because I get to weigh myself at her office instead of having a size 0 nurse weigh me.  When I operate the weigh machine I get to move the scale around until I land on whatever number I'd prefer to see, hop quickly off and delightfully declare, "Well, look at that, 125, just like my driver's license says!"   

I do like that part, but I really like her because she isn't afraid to visit the holistic side of things when meeting with patients.  I also love the wind chimes and hummingbird feeders.  It makes me want to tell her that I meditate to a CD of a very well-known guru from India.  Which I don't. I just want to impress her because the rock art and water features make me feel relaxed and inspired.  

My point is that she listened to my long list of bodily digestive woes, and came up with a plan to help me move forward.  She didn't just prescribe me a medication and send me on my way.  Instead she looked at my lifestyle, my habits, and with a few tests developed a plan to figure out what's bothering me so we can move towards healing my grumpy gut.    

Why, you may ask, am I over-sharing this obviously personal information?

Because I have the list of foods I am allowed to eat in the next 6 months sitting beside me right now.  And it is not a long list.  At all.  I think Ella's first words would have made up a longer list than this.  Also eating is going to take more brainwork on my part.  I have to read labels very carefully, plan every meal to make sure no offending characters are involved, journal about how that meal made me feel or didn't feel, then do it all over again in a few hours.  And to top it all off, my happy hour acquaintances are also banned from joining me on this journey.

Despite everything, I am going to do this.  Because my health is important.  I only have this one body and I want to take care of it.  I am 40 and I hope to be 80 one day.  Getting older is quite a ride.  But older is beautiful, too.   So tonight I will begin my new food journey and while the kids and Sean are enjoying tacos I will be happily munching away at…let's see here...chicken liver, plain roasted beets, and a white potato with no butter or sour cream.  

Dear Food Journal,

Tonight's meal did not make my tummy feel bad at all.  Hooray!  However, it did make me feel so, so sad because it tasted terrible.  Also, I really, really, really miss taco night.  

Love, 
The ever hungry but hopefully healthier me 

   

...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Definition of a Friend

I googled friend today.  And Google told me that the definition of a friend is:

noun

1. a person who one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations

2. a member of the Religious Society of Friends, a Quaker

verb
1. add (someone) to a list of contacts associated with a social networking website.
"I am friended by 29 people who I have not friended back"


Umm, thanks Google.  I think.  Wish I had googled this years ago when I gave a toast at my friend Kelly’s wedding.  It would have been so much more...accurate.

"To Kelly - the person with whom I have had a bond of mutual affection for years, and, uh, not in a sexual or family relation way, and also not just because we're Quakers.  Which we're not.  Here, here!!"

As for social networking...well, you know what you've done!  You, social network, have single-handedly downgraded the word "friend" to that of a well-worn, meaningless, ego-driven verb.

"Would you friend me on Facebook so that you can learn to love me through my posts about working out, the funny things my kids say, and my favorite dinner?  Plus, also, you'll get to see close-ups of me ONLY from my good side while standing in different places.  It is sure to be a great friendship!"

I think it's actually quite challenging to come up with a single definition of a friend.  But when I googled inspirational sayings about "friends," I found loads of pictures of kittens in various states of happiness.  Kittens snuggling with each other, or with a newborn, or cuddling with large vicious-looking dogs or gorillas. So I wonder, in my friendships, am I the kitten or the gorilla?

Fifteen years ago I was a bride in white arranging flowers, making critical decisions between two disturbingly similar shades of cream, and choosing a capped-sleeved bridesmaid dress in pastel green.  To this day, one memory stands out.  Other than marrying the love of my life, of course.


It’s this.  My friend, Taryn.  Taryn, who has particular aversions.  Like shredded meat, Broadway musicals, swim goggles, and anything that limits her physical movement.  Like capped sleeves on a pastel green bridesmaid dress.

The idea of Taryn wearing fabric across her upper arms…two pieces of fabric designed to give the wearer a beautiful neckline, but ultimately, with the unintentional side effect of severely restricting upper arm movement.  Today, thinking of the hours spent posing for pictures, walking down the aisle, dancing, arms mummified to her sides throughout it all, and knowing that inside, and not even deep inside, she was probably panicking and using early stage labor breathing to deal with her rising hysteria…well now, that’s what Google would call a true “bond of mutual affection.” 

Friendship is this and so much more.  It really can’t be captured in a single definition or event because it is layer upon layer of capped sleeves, honesty, forgiveness, laughter, tears, encouragement, embarrassments, sacrifice, and shared time.  

Being a friend is not about the number of phone calls, texts, emails or Facebook comments we make.  Those are just the icing.  The cake part is the sincerity, the joy we feel at a friend’s success, the sadness we share at a failure.  It is the ability to truly want the best that life has to offer for another person, a person who is (now I get it Google) outside of our blood-ties or our marital bed.

So, why am I all concerned about Google's opinion on friends?  Well, school has started.  Which means my kids have left the safe cocoon of home where family ties are strong and forgiveness comes easy.  They have been thrust back onto the playground where everyone is learning how to navigate the tricky world of social interaction.  So I am taking the time to think about the people in my life who have taught me how to be a true friend.  And I will share these stories, these friend definitions, with my kids, in the hopes that one day, they will wear capped sleeves for someone else. 

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(Psst...share your friend definitions with me.  I'd love to hear more!)