How to Choose Your Masseuse by Bob Marks

NOTE: This is my first installment featuring a guest blogger – my Dad! Many thanks for his willingness to share a story here on my new site. I’ll be hitting up other family and friends soon to commit to more guest appearances. I have lots of Word Nerds in my life who inspire me, so this is my special way to feature and thank them for their positive and encouraging influences upon me. 

 

I am comfortable being your first guest blogger, Michelle, because I am definitely not your mom. I am, in fact, your dad. I even pinned your name on you. I chose it because (1) I love the melodies of the French language and (2) I was thinking that the song “Michelle” by The Beatles described my feelings about you very well. Your readers may want to dial it up on Youtube or their MP3 or Alexa or whatever they do these days. I first heard it on a vinyl LP33. To our family you are now known as “Mitchie”, which pretty much dilutes the French sonority, but is probably an even better fit.

In any case, my purpose today is not family history, but a contemporary illustration of the old saying, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” This antiquated homily apparently originated in the days when it was not uncommon to receive a horse as a gift. The idea was that one could tell the age of any horse with a careful examination of the animal’s teeth. But it was thought to be bad form, and probably politically incorrect, to do a dental exam after getting the poor creature for free!

My dear daughter, Mitchie, gave me a gift certificate for Christmas last year. It was good for one hour of “therapy” at a popular, nation-wide spa which I will not name. Suffice it to say that I have been very envious of the many massages she has enjoyed from her membership in this wonderful establishment. Two months had gone by before I really noticed the certificate sitting unused on the top of my bookcase. So, I phoned (by land line, of course, since I don’t have a phone that doesn’t plug into a wall) and the spa’s rep immediately assured me that they were delighted that I would be coming in tomorrow. I was told my massage therapist would be Erin, and I had an appointment at noon!

I eagerly announced my arrival (“Robert Marks for Erin!”) at 12 sharp the next day and could tell right away that I was not nearly as eagerly awaited. The charming woman at the front desk was profusely apologetic, but had to tell me they could not locate me in their register and, oh sorry, but Erin wouldn’t be coming in after all. I guess either one of these failings absolutely precluded my getting a massage at noon. I asked if Erin had flown the coop, but was told that, no, she just wasn’t scheduled to come in that day. To make up for my “inconvenience”, they wondered whether I could reschedule for 3 p.m., same day. If so, I could choose my therapist, either “Becky” or “Rylyn”. I was surprised because Mitchie’s older daughter has a good friend named Rylyn, a rather unusual and very pretty feminine name in my mind. Naturally, I took dibs on Rylyn, and we agreed on the 3 o’clock rubdown.

When I bounced back in at 3 on the dot, I was greeted fulsomely and assured they had verified me in their world-wide records and Rylyn was ready for me. Then I was ushered into the “relaxation room” where I plopped into a vibrating chair with visions of my masseuse dancing in my head.

I was drifting off after ten minutes of lovely vibrations when my reveries were interrupted by a gruff voice wanting to know if “Mark” was in the room. I looked up to see a hulking, 250-pound male with a knitted wool cap holding my appointment slip. He was not so much a lineman type; more like a linebacker. He asked me if my last name was Roberts, and I said, “No, it’s Marks, but my first name is Robert.” He told me he was “Rylyn” (male spelling unknown). As he led me down the hall to the cozy room where I anticipated soft new age music and fragrant aromatherapy, it dawned on me that Rylyn the Linebacker was the newly-selected massage therapist with whom I was going to spend the next hour in very close contact.

I got as comfortable as possible on the table and told him to use as much pressure as he thought I needed. He then proceeded to pound the stuffing out of me. I was in pain nearly the whole time, but decided to stick it out because it must be good for me or Rylyn surely wouldn’t be doing it. When I finally emerged from the massage chamber, the ladies at the front desk cheerfully told me I was “good to go!” Was that a giggle I heard behind me as the door was closing? There’s a fine line between massage and manipulation.

I don’t want to seem so unkind as to suggest that my daughter’s gift to me was anything but appreciated. I’m not looking that gift horse in the mouth. To prove all’s well that ends well, as a gesture of the spa’s gratitude for allowing them to cater to my massage needs, they awarded me another free hour of their services. To make this happen, they told me that Mitchie’s original gift certificate to me is still valid!

Thanks for giving me a chance to begin and end my blogging career on a site as distinguished as iamnotyourmom.com. Michelle, ma belle, your words go together very well.

Massaged and Manipulated,
Dad

It Was My Family, In the Kitchen, With a Board Game…

My memoir about Family Game Night begins with that time the younger daughter swallowed a chip from her Headbanz board game. The incident required two weekend visits to the emergency room and started with a hypothetical question, “What would happen if Cici swallowed a piece from a game?” she asked.

I replied not thinking too much of it, “Well, it would depend on what type of game piece it was. What are we talking about here?”

“Maybe a flat blue round chip from a game?”

“Really? Well, we would probably need to take Cici to the emergency vet if she did that.”

(Insert child’s blank terrified stare.)

Finally realizing where this was headed, I panicked, “Wait, did YOU eat the flat blue round chip from the game?”

Needless to say, the hypothetical situation quickly turned to reality with a trip to the human emergency room where the six-year-old’s throat and gut were thoroughly checked via X-ray. The chip was translucent, so it never showed up on the images. The ER doctor assured me that was a good thing; it must not have gotten lodged and, therefore, wasn’t blocking any essential bodily functions.

They sent us packing, but first told us to “watch for the chip” if you know what I mean.

But we were back the next day after she complained of feeling ill. I had pictured the piece lodged in an important spot. In retrospect, she probably had only pangs of guilt. The entire process above repeated itself.

PSA to Children and Childish Adults: Do NOT swallow the game pieces.

These things happen though. My older brother, six years my senior, reportedly once shoved a bean up his nose. Something he found in the yard. It quickly got stuck in his nasal passage and required his own ER visit. My most memorable trip to the hospital warrants its own full story, so I will be sure to write about it soon, but I’ll keep you in suspense about it for now.

Speaking of injuries and hospitals and games, everyone knows the traditional board game Clue results in a murder. The victim is Mr. Boddy. My older daughter recently observed “With a name like that, you’re just asking to be murdered.” She has a point.

For the under 8 crowd, there’s Clue Junior. We discovered it earlier this year. Rather than a gruesome shooting or stabbing or clubbing of the head by The Candlestick, the non-violent mystery to be solved is “Who ate the chocolate cake?” You follow a trail of crumbs straight to the culprit. This is what happens in my house every night. I come home from work and identify who has eaten what for their after-school snacks based on the morsels and bits I find on the counter, in the sink, and all over the floor. Just call me the Snacking Sleuth.

In the classic version of Clue, the colorful cast of characters and suspects includes the well-known Miss Scarlett, Mrs. White, Miss Peacock, Mr. Green, Colonel Mustard, and Professor Plum. We have a newer version of the game in which Dr. Orchid appears on the scene. Where did she come from? I wonder what kind of doctor she is? The kind who sees children who eat stuff they shouldn’t? I am skeptical of her, the same way I am typically skeptical of the new person in Book Club or the new neighbor who moves in across the street. This is a tendency I’m not proud to admit.

Just ask my dear friend K. about it. When she showed up as a coworker at my office 15 years ago, she wanted us to be friends. I resisted aggressively for months. Back then, in my early 30s, I was cocky and thinking I had plenty of friends and didn’t need anymore. But K. was determined to prove me wrong. She made it her mission to make us friends. Ultimately, she won. Thank goodness, she did.

My hesitance to befriend Dr. Orchid aside, Clue is one of my favorite games to play with The Precious Pair. However, the past several times we have played, one of them has beaten me. Yes, I am in the transitional stage of life when my kids are starting to beat me at board games. What does this mean? Am I losing my edge? Or, most likely, am I overthinking games (and everything) in my middle age?

The last time we played Clue, the younger daughter claimed victory, having guessed the suspect, the room, and the weapon accurately before I had even a clue about any of the solutions. (Pun intended.) I had carefully marked my Ex’s & Oh’s on my tracking sheet to show who had what cards, or what cards I thought they had. In the end, I was way off the mark.

I need to work on my board gaming strategies. I am a competitive person, so losing all the time against them is not going to work well for me long-term. As these two keep maturing and getting smarter, I need to up my game. I need to get back in touch with my childhood Family Game Night roots so I can dig into their little psyches and better understand how they’re playing…

Yes, Family Game Night has represented something special to me since I was a kid. As a lifelong devoted eater of food, my memory goes directly to the snacks! Salty stuff like popcorn or a cheese & summer sausage tray, and sweets like ice cream and, to wash everything down, ALWAYS “pop” – as we called it in the Midwest. That older brother of mine, the one who shoved the seed in his nostril, had a game night comedy routine where he would guzzle his pop, burp loudly, and pretend he was drunk. Yep, it was the classic teenage boy comedy act. Circa 1980. His 8 year old little sis – as in me – loved it. Even better were the nights when my stepmom would join him in this silly gig. My dad has it captured on movie film.

Few would disagree how priceless it can be to have family members coming together like this, even for just a few hours, with common goals: to focus, to compete and, yes, to win. And it’s okay to want to win. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. That’s why it’s called a game. Our family was competitive, and when we sat down to play Trivial Pursuit, Uno, Pictionary, and many others, we weren’t messing around. Each of us was there to win, even our baby sister when she came along. She learned a love of games and the family art of competing at an early age. That edge stuck with her, and today she is the most successful of all three siblings, as an attorney in the often intense area of family law.  

But even more important than winning, we were all there to bond. And to laugh. And to sit in close proximity to one another, where we could enjoy each other’s company and comedy routines. Sharing a game creates the ultimate example of togetherness among families, friends, neighbors, classmates, and even coworkers. (Wow, you have not seen true competitiveness until you meet the people where I work!)

Board games on the kitchen table with their playing tokens and pretend money and indigestible chips do far more for family bonding than today’s modern digital gaming habits. I pray for board games to stick around. To think my grandchildren might not enjoy the tradition of my own childhood and that of their mothers’ childhoods, well, that would be a shame. May the power of video games and apps and virtual reality never snuff out the real intimacy and down-to-earth entertainment value of Family Game Night.

In It To Win It,
Meesh

Stop and Save the Scribbles

I’m a sentimental saver. This is not to be mistaken for a hoarder. I would not qualify for one of those cable shows you get sucked in to watching for hours on a Saturday afternoon. Because, after all, you have nothing better to do, right?

No, my saving habits are not problematic. It’s actually a sweet trait I possess. If you give me something – as a gift or as a hand-me-down or for whatever reason- I will remember you gave it to me and when and where and why. If the time comes to pack up a house and move, I will not want to part with said object due to the sentimental connections I’ve mentally fabricated among it, you, and me. Did I say this tendency is not a problem? Well, I fibbed…

It becomes a problem at a time like this, when I’m facing the monumental challenge of sifting through 13 rooms and a semi-finished basement to prep and stage our house for sale. My Realtors explain the objective is “to create the impact of a model home” and “to remove ‘all signs of work’ from the house.” Both statements mean you must remove everything you need to function daily as a human being: dish soap, laundry soap, body soap (as people, we do use a lot of soaps), but also kitchen appliances, bath mats and small rugs, garbage cans, hampers and piles of laundry, all family photos, and any signs of the dog. Ultimate success will come to us only once it appears no one actually lives here at all. And it certainly won’t hurt if the master bath ends up looking, feeling, and smelling like a spa. White fluffy towels required.

You can likely sense by now I am stressed. I have packed and moved a house only one other time in my adult life, and that was 11 years ago when I had one child versus two and a much smaller house to shove into boxes and bins. Even then, I splurged and paid packers. As a much more sensible middle-aged woman, I can’t justify an expense like that when we have three able-bodied people to handle the task.

Have you noticed how trendy it is to purge these days? We’re living in a Purging Revolution with tiny, adorable Marie Kondo at the helm. If you’re not familiar with her, look her up. I feel extra trendy to say I was a fan of Marie long before her new Netflix show which has fast-tracked her to fame. My dear friend K. from college gifted me her book “The Joy of Tidying Up” a few years ago. I’ve read it once already and have started it again. It has a fascinating impact. It makes you WANT to tidy and organize everything you own. Of course, I will never part with this book. I will always associate it with my friend K. who sent it to me via Amazon as a “just because” type of gift. See, I really do remember the details behind the objects I own.

But back to the three able-bodied people who live here. As is often the case with a mother and her daughters, each of us plays a distinctly different role in everyday life, and this process of packing up the house is no exception. As I’ve said, I am the Sentimental Saver. The older daughter is the Minimalist. The younger daughter is the Clutter Keeper. These competing positions have already led to multiple disagreements about what we should keep, toss, donate, or share with their younger cousins.

For instance, I sunk to the depths of digging through my teenager’s trash can after she decluttered her room recently. Inside I found multiple homemade birthday cards from her mother, as in me. What the heck?!? I was hurt. I made her keep a couple of them.

Related to this startling discovery, this same daughter confided in me during a recent car conversation, “When I’m a parent, I might not do a good job of saving my kids’ artwork. I don’t attach emotion to material things like you do, you know? I mean do you have to save every scribble?”

“No, you don’t,” I replied, “Even I have been known to smuggle a drawing or two into the trash when nobody was looking.”

Then I got sappy on her, “But, let me tell you, be sure to save a few of the scribbles. You’ll want and need those someday to help you remember your kids were actually tiny once and capable of only scribbling at the time. As much as it pains me to admit it, I’m starting to forget more and more what that was like.”

And this is precisely why the piling, purging, and packing exhausts me. Granted, it’s physical work loading boxes into the car and unloading them at the storage unit, but it’s the mental work that’s especially draining. This process requires letting go of possessions that represent our shared past – their toys, their art supplies, their clothes. All of it speaks to me about our earlier years in this house and as a family. If I part with these items and have less evidence of them when they were little, will I remember them that way even less? Ugh.

As this question weighed heavy on my heart, we went to service at our new church this past Sunday, and the pastor’s message was made for me to hear — “Do you want more stuff or more stories?” he challenged. Wow. Mind blown. Yes, of course, I want more stories! Who would answer any differently? In fact, I want more trips and game nights and backyard BBQs at a new house we have yet to find. I want frequent visits to see family and friends and visits from them to see us, too. I want more money to donate to the causes we care about. I want less time cleaning a big house and more time writing about what happens in a smaller one. And I really do want less stuff, so I can fit it into less space with a more reasonable mortgage payment.

This is my path to freely affording more experiences versus more things. Yes, please. Sign me up for this life.  The simple and decluttered kind where peace, happy times, and all the people I love are there; not the stuff.

Well, except maybe the scribbles.

The Reformed Sentimental Saver,
Meesh

 

An Open Letter to the Girl Half My Age

To Whom It Does Concern:

Hello, and thank you for reading this letter. What I have to say here will be good for both you and me. After all, I have lived a while, and you are full of life. We can learn from one another, and perhaps reach a point of mutual understanding.

The contents of this letter are certainly not intended to mother you, because I am not your Mom. (I own a website that publicly declares this!) Consider me a mentor you don’t even know yet. So, float your trust to me, as I share 5 key lessons with you today. Something tells me these concepts will come in handy for you in the years ahead:

Your Brain, Your Heart and Your Gut Serve Different Purposes. They perform separate duties and constantly compete with and contradict each other. Listen to each of them to determine which one is right for the job at hand. Listening is one of the hardest habits you will learn. Because, much like me, you always have something to say. But you’ve got to stop and hear the signals from Inner You. Your Brain will overthink things; Your Heart will take risks; and Your Gut will offer you a nice blend of the two. In most cases, go with Your Gut. But protect yourself with Your Brain and push yourself with Your Heart on various occasions.

You Can Only Fix and Change Yourself. It is not your job to take care of other people at all costs. Spoiler Alert: The exception will be the children you will have.

Believe in Boundaries. This one goes nicely with the tip above. Life is not a game of X-treme Loyalty, where a gold medal goes to the girl who sticks around the longest because that’s what she’s supposed to do. There’s no guilt or shame in having high standards and expectations of others and their behavior. Hold your people accountable.

Give Your Best. If you’re on the other side of high standards and expectations, then deliver. You will rarely disappoint anyone, including yourself, if you consistently bring  your best effort to your job, to your relationships, to your piles of laundry. The world wants your best. At the same time, don’t fool yourself with unrealistic expectations. You will fail more than you’ll ever expect or plan for. Fail with dignity; never excuses, please.

Joy Wins. Do not fight at the price of your peace. Give away love and kindness to anyone who will receive it. Laugh instead of crying, but go ahead and cry when you really mean it and when you have actual tears to send down your cheeks, not the crocodile kind. And if something or someone has rattled your joy and you can’t seem to get past it, go to bed. A night of sleep will always reduce your pain and lessen your worries. Your pillow is home.

So, I’ve got to be honest – if you followed all this advice now and moving forward, your life would be downright dull, and you’d never have anything worthwhile to write about later. You will likely not listen to what I’ve said here because you believe you have many advantages over me, and you think you know what you are doing.

You are wide-eyed. I’m getting wise.
You sleep like a baby at night. I’m awake writing you this letter at 1 am.
You are enviously whole. I’m beautifully broken.
You don’t know yet what your life holds for you. I know quite a bit more…

You see, you are me 23 years ago, and I am you 23 years ahead. You have only an inkling or wild guess about who I am while you are a mysterious memory to me. To be frank, I’m pretty frustrated with you right now. Frustrated by some choices you are going to make. At the same time, I can’t be angry with you. Your decisions will also lead to some unbelievably wonderful results: strong friendships, a special bond with your family, a stable career you enjoy, and best of all, The Precious Pair, but I won’t spoil that part entirely for you. (HINT: They will be strong, creative, and – YES – joyful, just like you. Aren’t you proud already?)

Finally, for good measure, I want you to know you will lose things – lots of things. Keys, debit cards, credit cards, library books, your cell phone, and other assorted possessions. Do us both a favor and keep better track of your stuff, would you?

All My Love,
The Girl Twice Your Age

 

 

The Pig in My Blankets

No, this is not a scandalous tale about a man in my bed. Sorry to disappoint you. The pig I refer to is actually female, and she’s not really a pig. She’s a dog. A pug, in fact.  A pig-pug.

The beginning of this relationship dates back to 2011 when I lost my favorite pet ever – a 16-year old terrier/poodle mix named Chuckie. After I mourned him for several months, I began the search for the dog I always thought I wanted…a pug puppy. There was just something about them that had me fooled. For one, they are so ugly, they are adorable. I always liked the fawn ones, which is a fancy word for beige. So that’s what I set out to find for myself in the Summer of 2012.

Mistake #1 – I bought her on eBay. What can I say? I Googled “pug puppies for sale in Indianapolis” and that’s where I ended up, inputting my credit card information and paying $350 for the puppy, sight unseen. She was not AKC-registered, but did have papers from another much less reputable source verifying her purebred status.

Once I had paid for her, I told the family and showed them her photo online. This led to lots of excitement among The Precious Pair who were ages 3 and 8 at the time. They wanted to go ahead and name her, so that led to a brainstorming session. It had to be a name that meant something special to our family. Cheese. That was important to everyone. Chunk of Cheese seemed fitting as she was chunky. CiCi would be her nickname. It made sense and it stuck.

The girls and their dad went to pick her up on a hot summer day while I was working. They ventured to an unknown area of town on the near westside of the inner-city. They got lost in a less than desirable neighborhood and had to stop for directions at what my oldest daughter remembers simply as “a knife store.” They eventually found the home of the breeder and picked up the eBay puppy. Thankfully, it had not been a scam.

Here was this sweet tiny dog – of Asian descent from a Latino family. We loved the diversity of this adoption! Amazingly, she had even been born on Cinco de Mayo, and she came to our suburban home right around the 4th of July. God Bless America, and God Bless Our Puppy!

Mistake #2 – We mistook her homecoming as a joyful occasion. Puppies are sweet and adorable. Oh, yes they are. That’s why we dog lovers buy them and adopt them – time after time. They are also royally inconvenient and stinky and disobedient. All the above applied to our Chunk of Cheese known as “CiCi.” Honestly, it took a full three years to potty-train her. Now she does smartly scratch at the backdoor anytime she needs to go, except in the mornings when she insists on getting a walk on her leash out on the front sidewalk. There’s a particular landscape rock she loves to pee upon. But it took us a long time getting here and a lot of carpet cleaner. She does have occasional relapses, like during the recent Polar Vortex when she basically refused to step a paw outdoors. There were several mornings I stood out in the subzero temps pleading with the dog to relieve herself. When I reached the point of cussing at her, I really hoped the neighbors weren’t overhearing my one-sided conversation with my canine.

Mistake #3 – We failed to focus on her discipline. Aside from a few weeks in PetSmart Behavior Class, her training was non-existent. This explains many things such as her habit of jumping on your chair if you get up from the dinner table without pushing it in. If you make that fatal mistake, your dinner will be gone, or at least your main entrée. CiCi has snagged many a hamburger or turkey sandwich or slice of pizza this way. And then there was the time she ate an entire box of Rapid Release Junior Tylenol Tabs. That snack required an $800 trip to the 24/7 vet clinic. Before and since, she has eaten crayons, Legos, and lethal amounts of chocolate, including a full box of Thin Mints, among other forbidden foods and non-edibles. This animal has Guts of Steel, as we call them. But her greatest weakness – and I can relate to this about her – is PEANUT BUTTER, one of the truest gifts to the universe. And she will do anything for PB. Thank God we figured this out. It’s our only hope for controlling her.

Mistake #4 – We took her to $5 Nail Trim Wednesday at Uncle Bill’s Pet Store. If there’s one thing CiCi despises, it’s getting a pedicure. Unlike our peanut butter alignment, I do not understand this quirk about her. I adore a great pedi. On my most recent trip to my favorite nail salon, I chose a sunshine yellow color. When I flipped over the bottle, I read the name of it –  “Happily Ever After” – and this made me smile. But back to the dog story…we have been banned from Uncle Bill’s after getting CiCi a $5 nail trim that cleared the store due to her screeching from behind the scenes. Now the only place we can take her to get her nails clipped is the vet’s office where it costs me $46 each time, more than the price of my own pedicure. And the invoice from the vet always states “non-compliant patient” in the memo area, and that costs me extra.

Mistake #5 – I let her in my bed. I have not been sleeping well in recent months due to some life changes I’ve made and the corresponding stresses I’ve endured. Among those changes and as my title implies, I’ve started allowing the pig-pug to sleep with me. I’ve noticed articles on Facebook lately that swear “Women sleep better with dogs in their beds” – really? Who are these women? And who are their dogs? I can promise you, they are not pugs. Because that involves snorting, snotting, sneezing, incessant licking, itching, snoring, and slurping throughout every. single. night. This woman does not sleep better with her dog in her bed…

Yet, I can say she probably doesn’t wake me up and keep me up at night. That’s my own racing mind, riddled with worries, fears, doubts, and ideas, doing that to myself. In fact, when I’m lying there wide awake, CiCi is usually snoozing somewhat peacefully. It’s at that point when I reach out to her, usually only inches away, and give her a few pats or strokes of her silky “fawn” coat. She usually doesn’t budge, but sometimes she will roll over onto her back and expose her “Chunk of Cheese” belly to me, the ultimate sign of trust from a dog to her Master. Obligingly, I will rub her belly and she snorts in approval, and I feel safer and I experience a rush of her unconditional love. In those middle of the night moments, I appreciate her most. She’s a protector. She’s a loyalist. She’s a mess. And she’s ours. Every night, I thank God for her and the piggy, silly, ridiculous creature she is. She’s been here for us for almost 7 years. This year on Cinco De Mayo, my oldest daughter has requested a Taco Party in her honor. It seems CiCi deserves that. Maybe even a Peanut Butter Taco.

Mistake #6 – I have purchased another puppy, this time on Facebook. Honestly, what? My poor judgement has led me to believe that two daughters should translate to two dogs. This time we’re bringing home a pup of British descent with Southern roots – a Welsh Corgi born in Kentucky. It will be my youngest daughter’s surprise 10th birthday gift this Spring. Surely it’s a decision I will regret when I face the same challenges described above – potty training, discipline, vet bills, and overcrowding in my bed. You all will certainly hear about this experience as Part 2 to this story, so stay tuned.

Pets represent our quirkiest family members. Another article I’ve read somewhere, sometime stated that losing a pet is often worse emotionally than losing a relative close to us. I’m not sure that’s true for me, but I can say I still miss my Chuckie, all these years later after losing him. I sometimes look at CiCi and dread the day she will leave us. So we will continue to overlook her character flaws – all the Mistakes I have described above — because she is like all of us. We are hopelessly flawed. We have bad habits. We lack discipline. We are slow to learn sometimes. We throw fits. We eat what we shouldn’t. We snore. If we can forgive these weaknesses in ourselves as humans, I can certainly let my dog off the hook.

Pugs Not Drugs,
Meesh

 

Conversations from the Top of My Heart

The other night in the car, my girls and I were talking about friendship. I explained how I love my Best Friends for different reasons and in different ways. They asked for examples.

“Well, I love Ms. R. because she is fun and funny to be around; Ms. L#1 because I trust her like crazy; and Ms. L#2 because of all the special times we shared when she lived next door and since. Oh, and Ms. K because she’s always honest with me and gives the best advice!”

Talking about this topic gave me a rush of giddiness. Thankfully, I have groups of friends from several areas and times of my life. Besides the local besties I have lovingly described, I have my middle school/high school and college connections plus my coworkers, whom I see the most of any friends. I’m even spending this Valentine’s Day with a trio from the latter group. We’re going out for a five-course beer dinner. Cheers to all my Galentines!

However you feel about Valentine’s Day, you must admit it does get you thinking about love and what it looks like for you. Oh, and candy. How can you avoid noticing, craving, and scarfing down candy at this time of year?

This question brings me to the news of Conversation Hearts. I’m sure you’ve heard by now, they aren’t a thing this year. If you bought a bag, I hate to tell you they’re from last year’s batch. The company that makes them went out of business. Yes, sad. But word has it they will be back next year in full force, thanks to a new manufacturer.

In honor of Conversation Hearts – a favorite from my childhood – I have created my own make-believe handful of them to represent different types of love that I’ve either experienced myself or have witnessed closely. Picture with me for a few minutes these tiny chalky candies, imprinted with the sayings and in the signature colors I mention, as sweet symbols of the deepest emotion possible…

“YOU ROCK” – Pink: Friend Love
Reliable and strong and endlessly fun. I’ll start here since I spoke about this love above. Life is sweetened by these people in our lives. They know us best, yet still want to hang around with us. By the time we’re middle-aged, we’ve known many of them for decades. If we’re lucky, we’ve met and made newer ones in our adult lives more recently. That old Girl Scout tune tells us friends represent silver and gold, not sugar candy. If the song were true, imagine your friends as valuable metal coins, clanking around in your pockets, a treasure trove of support always within your reach. My heart feels the reassuring pull of full pockets, every day. #blessed

“YOU’RE MINE” – Orange: Family Love
Pure and true and natural. It’s the love that’s gifted to us from Day One. Yet even with a choice, I’d pick mine again and again. At two years old, my parents divorced so I grew up in two loving families, including a big brother and a little sister. Plus three stepsisters. As a young adult, I gained two more brothers and another sister through my marriage. My multiple siblings have spouses and kids of their own, which means I get to enjoy the fun-filled, no pressure role of “Auntie.” In this seat at the family table, it’s a blast to watch the newer parents growing and learning through the joys, rewards, challenges, and – yep, you guessed it – the boundless love they have with their beautiful children, my nieces and nephews.

Deepest in my heart, of course, will always be The Precious Pair, my daughters. Our bond amazes and surprises me daily with its strength, understanding, and grace. I can be my truest self, both my best and not my best, with these two lovely humans.

“YOU’RE COOL” – White: New Love 
Fresh and crisp and squeaky clean. That’s New Love. When you start at square one with someone, there are so many unknowns, and that’s the electric energy that fuels it! I enjoy watching New Love in motion among the middle schoolers in my life. You can sense it from several rooms away, when a small group of teens huddles in your house. Contagious giggling, texting bells going off left and right — you can hear New Love more than the other types. And it’s chaotic, distracting, and exciting, no matter what age you are when you find it.

“ONLY YOU” – Yellow: Enduring Love 
Grounded and trusting and becoming more rare. These are the couples who have been good, patient, and loyal to one another over the long term. They are the ones who inspire the rest of us. If I’m speaking of you, sit back and be recognized for your commitment. My dad and stepmom qualify in this prestigious category of endurance, celebrating 43 years of marriage in 2019. To all who identify with this type of love, congratulations on both your history and your future together.

“SOUL MATE” – Green: Rekindled Love
A lot like New Love while also familiar and comfortable. You may feel as if you’re home again, but in a mysterious space you don’t know yet. It’s a fondness that lives on from another chapter in your life. Somehow things didn’t come together the first time around; most likely due to bad timing. Then Destiny will do something ridiculous and bring it right back to you. It’s Life’s Best Class Reunion, with only two of you there. It’s a dormant sprout in your heart that explodes into a patch of wildflowers overnight. Unruly and unexpected, yet as the seasons intended.

My mom and stepdad were high school sweethearts who married when I was ten (and are still married 35 years later!), so they reunited long before social media. Today, it’s the Facebook re-connections we all hear about. They are special stories, for sure.

“BFF” – Blue: Self Love
It’s the hardest kind to achieve, yet essential to all the other types. There are many ways to show care and respect for yourself. It could be changing your circumstances or forgiving yourself for mistakes or simply doing more of what makes you happy. For me recently, it’s massages, pedicures, facials, naps, reading, lots of music, road trips, time with friends and family, and this blog project. If you’re not feeling love for yourself, then focus on finding it. Don’t quit until you find it. Take a few cues from Friend Love. And if you need a boost in the right direction, think about the final type of candy in my dish…

“FOREVER” – Purple: God’s Love
It’s by far the most personal type of love and impossible for me to define. I don’t  know how you will see it, hear it, or feel it. I don’t always recognize it for myself, and I don’t pause to honor it often enough. Yet I do know this Love reigns.

To leave you with a love-induced laugh, I’ll tell you about last Sunday when the oldest daughter and I were sitting on the couch, listening to music. As Stevie Wonder serenaded us, she sparked a conversation I’ll never forget about the phrase “from the bottom of your heart.”

“Why do we say that anyway? I mean, isn’t it crusty down there, like you’re scraping the bottom of a dish? I’m going to start saying ‘from the top of my heart’ – it’s fresh up there.”

I only wish I could claim that material as my own!

I hope you all are feeling much love in your lives right now, across the candy heart spectrum. Whatever you do, be sure to speak your love often to your sources, right from the top of your heart and not only when the calendar tells you it’s time.

XOXOXO,
Meesh

Tales from the 4th Grade Science Fair

“Can I do the science fair?”

I’ve heard this question annually for as long as I’ve had a child in grade school. Some years they’ve forgotten about it as soon as they’ve asked, or they’ve changed their minds  before we turn in the form. But several of these years they’ve proceeded with a project. That was the case this time around with the youngest child. As The Hopeless Creative, I don’t really vibe with science, yet I supported the decision.

She promptly recruited a dear friend as a partner, and they became immersed in the biggest decision of the process – The Topic. In the past, we’ve grown grass with Sprite, kept ice frozen in tiny coats of foil and felt, and tested which dog treat is best with all the neighborhood canines. That last one was my favorite, titled “Barkalicious,” and the dogs voted for the peanut butter treat. Smart puppies. PB is a gift to us all, human or beast.

This year it seemed we had used up all the best ideas, until “Just Rust!” evolved from a science experiment book. “Yes, we want to make our own rust,” they said.

Partner, Check!
Topic, Check!

Those major steps led to the scientific process, but not before a trip to Hobby Lobby for the essential display board and materials. I’m not exaggerating when I say we spent 30 minutes in the sticker aisle alone. After all, it was a tough challenge — how do you visually and creatively represent the process of purposefully making your own rust? They explored several concepts. They wanted a mascot.

A raccoon? A tool box? A robot? Yes, a robot would be the perfect spokesperson. And he should have a name. Probably Rusty. Yet, out of 1 million choices, there were no robot stickers?!? Not a problem. They would craft Rusty the Robot from shiny foil paper instead – a truly original character.

Back at home, the project came to life. The girls soaked nails in 3 variables: sand, water, and tangy rice vinegar (the type had nothing to do with the science; it was the only kind I had.)

Hypothesis: We believe the vinegar will rust the nails the most, because vinegar has acid and eats away at things.

That seemed like a perfectly reasonable guess to me, so the girls monitored the soaking nails for a week’s time and noted several observations:

The Sand – nothing happened. The nails just sat there undisturbed, much like toes stuck in the beach. No rust.

The Vinegar – it turned a bit gooey as it ate away at the coating of the nails. No rust.

The Water – they noticed the red tinge within hours. Rust! Almost instantly, it seemed.

The Partners panicked briefly over the results since their hypothesis did not pan out, until I explained… “That’s the entire point of an experiment, guys — to test your best guess and get to an answer, even if it’s not what you expected to begin with…” This reassurance generated smiles and sighs of relief.

Woah. I even surprised myself with that advice. The Hopeless Creative was vibing with science!

Regardless of the topic or the stickers on the board, the grade school science fair serves up many priceless lessons. Questioning. Estimating. Testing. Observing. Admitting and Accepting if you were Right or Wrong. All are precious life skills.

I took away some observations of my own from the girls’ simple yet fascinating test. Like those nails, we as people sit and soak in different circumstances, whether we’re lying around peacefully in the sand or we’re in a situation that eats away at us like vinegar or we’re simply underwater.

I’m experiencing all three sensations right now. I’m resting in a season of radical self-care; I’m often sleepless, which is wearing away at my peace; and during many recent days, I’m submerged in demands and decisions, and I start to seep — stress, doubt, exhaustion, all kinds of colors. Like those nails.

When life’s challenges engulf us, we should sit back and observe what’s truly happening, just as intently, enthusiastically, and curiously as 4th grade scientists. We certainly shouldn’t ignore, deny, or feel shame about what’s shaping us, and we must take personal responsibility for what’s breaking us down. Think about those nails in the water specifically. They allowed a natural process to take place within them, and they released the inevitable signs of their experience. They didn’t hide or fight their change. They accepted it and wore it like a red coat of honor. They just rusted, and they endured. So will I. So will you.

The girls did not win the science fair, an outcome that comes with even more life lessons. Despite the letdown, they gained and bonded from the event. Meanwhile, I walked away with a newfound appreciation for the science fair to replace my former dread. We will see if I’m still appreciating it by this time next year or if I’m back to hiding the flyer in the recycling bin. (I only did that once.)