I turned 50 a few months ago. There. I said it. (Or wrote it.) I’ve refused to acknowledge the fact that I’m past the half century mark. Most likely, my life is more than half over. What do I have to look forward to besides wrinkles, sags, and memory loss? I’m struggling to find anything good about aging. I’ve tried on a few platitudes for size. “I’m grateful for all the good things in my life.” “Life has been an amazing journey.” Blah, blah, blah… My children are wonderful, happy, and healthy. I have a successful career. I don’t have the financial worries that plagued my life in younger days. Yeah, great. I also don’t have my youth. That was worth something, wasn’t it? Continue Reading »
About five years ago, I received an email from a woman. She was someone I knew through work, but not very well. I still remember the date: January 2, 2008. In her email, she told me about a New Year’s resolution that she had made. She wanted to reach out to the people in her life that she admired and wanted to get to know them on a more personal level. It seemed that I was part of that resolution. She and I knew each other professionally. We were often in meetings together. Oftentimes, she and I were the only women in attendance. Her resolution was to reach out to women like me, women she knew in a professional sense, but wanted to get to know on a more personal level. I’ll admit, I was a little taken aback. Why did she want to know me? What was this all about? I remember briefly wondering if she was going to try to sell me something. Pampered Chef? Candles? I hated those kind of “parties” where women got together and then were forced out of politeness to purchase something that they didn’t want or need. Continue Reading »
Late last evening, I sat out on my patio by myself reading The Business of Being a Woman on my iPad. Written in 1921 by Ida Tarbell, the book argues against women’s equality and for their return to the home where “they belong.” The book is an interesting contrast between Ms. Tarbell’s argument against women seeking a fulfilling life beyond the boundaries of hearth and home and her own life as a leading journalist of the day. Continue Reading »
If this LIFE is a play, I’m not sure what part I am supposed to be playing. I look around me, and everyone else seems pretty clear about their role. Meanwhile, I feel like I am floundering to figure that big mystery out.
It’s been a weird past week, full of Stepford Wives, lesbians, and religious zealots. I suppose a weird week is kind of typical for me lately. Many times, I feel invisible in the midst of it all swirling around me. I observe. I watch everyone else. I wonder where I fit into the whole crazy theme. What do I feel strongly about? What is MY passion? Where am I headed? I don’t even want to think about where I’ve been…
Before I left on my trip last week, I spoke at a luncheon on a military base. It was a gathering of the Officers’ Wives Welcome Club. Many of these women were new to the community. Most of them have spent their entire married lives following their husbands around from base to base and country to country. I admire their commitment and their strength, but there was something that was really odd about the gathering. Most of these women don’t work. They have not been able to grow their own careers due to the frequency of their husbands’ moves. That is admirable and understandable. Nevertheless, I was unprepared for this group of women. There they were in the middle of a “workday” all dressed up at a luncheon at the Officer’s Club. Yes, and they WERE dressed up in a strange kind of way. They didn’t look like the women I normally encounter in the course of a business day. They looked frilly and girly, lots of lace and floral fabrics, curls, and pearls. A staff member was with me, and she sent me a text during lunch. “It smells like my grandma’s closet in here! Looks like it, too!” I knew just what she meant.
Earlier that morning, I had briefly planned a speech. I don’t usually bring note cards or even write notes. I talk off the cuff about current projects. As I looked around the room, I wasn’t sure if these ladies would really be interested in my standard economic development speech. I was suddenly nervous. The president of the group was talking about a “Home Tour,” a golf tournament, and an upcoming “Fashion Show.” I felt like I was in a time warp! I remembered my mother dragging me to tons of events like this luncheon when I was a little girl. It was how women filled their time. Back then….it was how women filled their time. I had no idea it was still going on!
I spoke briefly to the glazed-over crowd. I talked about our Visitor’s Guide, local merchants and restaurants. I wanted to run out of there. The entire experience freaked me out. We discussed it back at the office. I wasn’t alone in feeling shaken by the experience. Why was that? What was that?
There but by the grace of God go I.
I am home now, and so happy to be back. The conference was in Charlotte, NC at the convention center. Other than my organization, there was another large group meeting at the convention center, too, the Eucharistic Congress. There were hundred of priests and large groups from area churches. Nuns, people in black robes, others carrying large crosses or statues. They all seemed to know what they were doing and why they were there. The seemed purposeful. There were large rooms labeled “Adoration,” or “Confession,” or “Meditation.”
On the first day I was not feeling well, and headed out to find a pharmacy. I didn’t know where to go, but thanks to Google Maps and my Droid, some unknown voice guided me to a CVS and back to the conference center before lunch was served. While I was still marveling about the wonder of having GPS on my phone, I saw a group of ladies wearing bright pink shirts that said, “Jesus Is My GPS.” Huh… Not that I don’t believe in Jesus, but I don’t think I would have had much luck if I would have used prayer to find the CVS. It just tickled me. I pictured myself down on my knees praying to God to guide me to a pharmacy.
Snobs – or Where are YOU from? Oh….. I see….
When I sat down to lunch that day, I was with a group from the Chicago area. I vaguely knew most of them. We all had similar jobs in our respective communities. We sat wondering/discussing this large religious group sharing the facility. I related my story to them about the women in the pinks GPS shirts. The one named Kimberly, not Kim (if anyone calls and asks for Kim, her staff knows NOT to put through the call!) said she had seen the women, too. She said, “Oh yes, I saw them. You know, the ones with the big hair and frumpy clothes. They looked like a bunch of ‘Downstaters.'” Oh, how I loved telling KIM that I was a ‘Downstater,’ too!
The rest of the meal (and each time I was with these people) was spent posturing for prestige and importance. Their particular burb or neighborhood was VERY, EXTREMELY important to them. They wanted to make sure that everyone knew how incredible they were! Bleh!!!
You’re NOT a Lesbian? Gross!
Turns out that I am a freak. Yes, there was the Lesbian Dinner where I was the only one of five women who had ever been married to a man or (God forbid) given birth to a child. It really freaked them out when they heard how many years I’ve been married. 27 years??? Four kids??? I caught them staring at me curiously (and I hope not hungrily!) for the rest of the conference.
On the last night of the conference, I sat with a group from Canada. There was a woman about my age, and it turned out that she was also married with children. By that point in the evening, I was comfortably buzzed from the champagne bar, so I asked her. “Have you felt like some kind of oddity at this conference?” She knew just what I meant, and we sat laughing for a long time. Yes, we were the freaks at this conference.
The last day of the conference, I was alone. My friend had flown home a day earlier than me. I was going to catch a flight out the next morning, but wanted to have an afternoon to explore the city. I walked miles and miles and truly enjoyed myself. I sat on benches. I looked at architecture. I browsed in shops. The only thing that disturbed my peace that day were the comments or stares from men. Trust me, I’m not a looker, but what with the large number of women uninterested in men, I suppose I’m OK. The comments and behavior was rude, though. Men can be so damn rude and insincere.
I had dinner in a very nice restaurant that evening. I dined alone for maybe the first time in my life. I was OK with it, but it seemed to disrupt and disturb the entire wait staff. They seemed to want me to eat and get the hell out of there. The manager came over about four times to talk to me. “Was I alone? What brought me to the city? How long was I staying?” Well, I thought it was all very nice that he was being so attentive. That is, I thought it was nice until he discreetly passed me his card with his cell phone number written on the back. He said, “Hey, give me a call later. I’d be glad to show you around the city.” Oh, I bet he would… What do you bet he had a wife and kids at home!
It was wonderful to see the girls. It was good to see T. We had dinner around our kitchen table last night, and I was happy to be there. Lola and I watched a few retro-cartoons together. I’m teaching her about “Wally Gator.” I loved him as a little kid! I ran the vacuum. I unpacked. I couldn’t have been happier to be a freak at home with my husband and kids.
Something strange happened to me one day last week, and it got me to thinking. Strange things are always happening to me. I am a magnet for the world’s oddities. I happen to believe that it’s because I am open to new experiences. I am always waiting for meaning in my life. I keep the lines of communication open to the world beyond. I have a lot of friends there. They might want to get in touch with me!
I started, what has now become a tradition, a few years ago. Souper Sundays. I love to make big batches of soup in the winter. I love to have people over for Sunday dinner. And thus, Souper Sundays were born. If you like soup, and it’s Sunday, then c’mon over! The kids always knew that friends could be invited for Sunday dinner. My parents often came, too. Through the years, we have had regulars Sunday guests. Some still come for dinner on Sundays. Others, not as frequently, but always they know that they’re welcome. Out of Souper Sundays, another tradition has grown, too. In the summertime, Cheeseburger Sundays have replaced Souper Sundays. We don’t just serve cheeseburgers. Last Sunday, we had hot dogs and brats, too, but you get the drift.
When I told my (former) therapist about Souper Sundays, she claimed that I “collect strays.” I had never thought of it in such terms, but she was right. I hate for people to be alone or lonely. I want those around me to feel welcome and cared for. I want to trust that people are basically good. Oh, and have I mentioned that trusting and welcoming people into my life has bit me in the butt a time or two? 😦 For the most part, collecting strays, as my therapist called it, has been one of the most rewarding things in my life. I have an eclectic group of friends. I cherish the hell out of them. I’ve met some of the best people in the world, because I have been willing to take that chance and reach out to them.
Tonight as I drove home from work, my phone rang. It was one of my best friends, a 70-year-old man. He frequently comes over for Souper Sundays. Yes, he was a person that I brought home and made a part of our lives. He also became one of the most influential people in my life. He became my mentor and my shoulder to cry on. He became a friend to T, who loves to fish with him, and he became like a grandpa to the kids. I was so thankful to hear his voice tonight, to talk and laugh with him, and to hear the smile in his voice as we caught up on each other’s lives. I felt so thankful as I drove along talking to him that I had to burst out and tell him how much I loved him. He laughed so genuinely and said, “I love you, too.” Good friendships are priceless!
Back to the incident last week. After meeting T for a quick lunch, I stopped by Target to pick up a few household items. I was browsing around in the women’s clothing department, when a woman stopped me. She said, “Can I ask you a question?” I said she could, but instead of asking me anything, she stood there scrolling through pictures on her phone. I waited, but was a little freaked out. What kind of picture was she going to show me? Did I look like someone she knew? Once she found the picture she had been looking for, she flipped her phone around for me to see. “Do you think this dress is appropriate to wear to a funeral?”
Oh, my. No. It most certainly was NOT something that I would wear to a funeral. It was the kind of dress that I would see someone else wearing in such a situation and wonder what in the hell they were thinking! It had spaghetti straps and was a maxi dress. I LOVE the new maxi dresses that are out this year. Too bad I will never get a chance to wear one! I’m so short that it would look like I was playing dress up in my mother’s clothes. Even if I hemmed a maxi dress, it would still never look right on me. Maxi dresses are for beautiful, tall, stately women. To pull of a maxi dress, you must be lanky and elegant. That is NOT me! Hey, accept what you have. I love the dresses, just not for ME.
This poor woman asking for my advice obviously owned the maxi dress that she had pictured. Uh oh… I didn’t know what to do. First of all, it was definitely NOT appropriate to wear to a funeral. I felt bad, though, when I looked up at her. She looked so hopeful! She said, “What if I wear a white shawl with it?” (Oh, boy…..yuck!) Also, she didn’t look like she had a great deal of money to spend. I don’t mean to be judgmental here. Been there, done that, recognize the look. So, I went against my fantastic fashion sense, and gave her some practical advice. I suggested that a white shawl may look a little too perky for a funeral. Yeah, I think I used the word perky. I suggested that maybe she could use a lightweight, short-sleeved flyaway cardigan. I told her that it was such a versatile piece of clothing to own. You could pair it with so many things, and it just so happened that I had seen one a few moments ago that would be just perfect. (Perfect if you HAD to wear a maxi dress to a funeral.) This woman and I took off across the department to check out the cardigans. When she saw it, her eyes lit up. YES!
We were both so happy about this fashion find, that I forgot that she was outfitting herself for a funeral. Heck, I think we almost hugged. I quickly apologized for her loss. She reassured me that it was no big deal. Very old person, more like a family reunion. Well, OK…
You would think the story would end there, just a tale to tell, but no. Yesterday, I was in kind of a cruddy, sad mood. I was driving down a busy street on my way to lunch. I was feeling kind of (no, VERY) lonely. As I drove along, I glanced up. There she was. Wow. I was shocked. There was the maxi dress woman walking along on the sidewalk. It looked like she was just out taking a walk on a beautiful summer day. She looked up just as I looked over at her. In the moment that I recognized her, she also recognized me. Her face lit up, and she waved like we were old friends. There. That is why I keep on trusting and believing in the goodness of people. Most people…just not all of them.