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A Universal Thank You

I love my hairstylist. Love him. And it’s not just because he’s good at what he does, or because he’s tall and broad-shouldered with a sexy, baritone voice.

He’s just cool.

Gay and raised in a strict Mormon household, he’s endured pain, reflection and therapy to be confident with who he is. So in addition to being attentive, handsome and practically exotic in my Stepford town, he also has a soulful perspective.

Last time I went, he was  telling me he’d recently been getting a lot of signs from “the universe.”  He believes that we send out our requests to the universe and the universe will respond.

“Isn’t that the same concept of prayer and God?” I asked.

“You could say that” he said. “But the point is to listen and pay attention. There are always signs, clues, nudges – you have to be aware.”

So two weeks ago, the freelance project I’d been working on was starting to suck. The client was stressed and angry about all sorts of things, and her frustration was directed at everyone, including me. And since pleasing sadly defines me, I felt wounded. Maybe I can’t do this, I thought. Maybe ten years at home has made me ineffective at anything beyond nuking nuggets and making beds.

So I limped to my laptop and posted on my blog, the blog I’ve been ignoring. And then by some strange stroke of luck, the post is featured on Freshly Pressed. I learned this at lunch when my email was besieged with amazing comments from people I didn’t know. And it didn’t stop – for two days. Hour by hour, strangers telling me they liked what I’d written or that they agreed with me. People sharing their own stories with me, from places like South Africa.

I tried to respond to every comment, I’m so grateful — but with my job and it being the first two weeks of school, I am still working on it. Every comment has meant something.

So I’ve shoved into some bootstraps and am getting on happily because of the encouragement that came to me in not-so-random droves.

Thank you.

The Final Stretch of Summer

It’s the final stretch of summer: August, the month in which boredom crescendos and humidity settles into the corners of my house, exposing odors that are decades old.

Last week we woke up to a bat in the corner of our bedroom. He’d been circling our sleeping heads until our cats woke us up chasing him. Now I wake up at night whenever the cats make a noise. My sleep is sweaty and fragmented. I crave coffee all day.

Also last week, I was officially hired to freelance on a marketing project. I’m pulsing with neediness to exceed expectations. The project outcome relies on research that has yet be conducted, which makes things dicey and unknown. I’m pacing, in my damp house, giving myself little pep talks and instruction.

I haven’t been blogging because I’ve been directing my energy at my kids and working and the return of bat. But lately, occasional lessons have poked through. I feel like I should sit down and write about them, but I’m self-conscious. My fingers have lost their ability to translate. My brain is sluggish and critical.

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Several weeks ago we went blueberry picking. It was sunny and beautiful out, so I pulled my daughters off their summer drug of “Toddlers and Tiaras” and threw them into the Honda. With windows open, we drove to a berry farm near a lake. It’s called “Sandy Bottom Farm,” a name that conjures up gritty bathing suits and sunburned cheeks.

As we walked with buckets into the rows of blueberry bushes, I delighted in the summer scenery: blue skies, humming cicadas and every so often, a cool breeze calming our skin. We started the pulling at berries and dropping them into buckets, but despite the lazy day, I felt an urgent need to finish. I would grab one or two handfuls off one tree and then move on to find a better tree. Rather than stand quietly and pick, I kept wandering in search of a better bush.

Off in the distance I could hear other people yelling out things like, “Hey, guys, I found the best bush,” and I’d feel myself getting competitive and anxious — was there a better bush that I was missing? My youngest daughter ran off to investigate, unable to stick with one bush for more than three or four berries. I started to sweat. I swatted at bees, growing annoyed. I needed to find the best bush.

Then I came across my eldest daughter. She was still standing in the shade of her first bush, calmly picking it clean. She was practically humming. Her fingers were blue. Her bucket was full.

Okay, yes — the metaphor is obvious, but I give myself credit for noting it. I can’t keep flailing around, imagining better bushes. I need to relish this time, standing still and filling my bucket with what’s in front of me.

So with that: cheers to this last week of summer vacation — to lazy mornings, ice cream, good books, long naps, sunburned shoulders and sandy bottoms.

Ten years later…

Okay, so I wrote this post on my job huntin’ site. It’s about the stuff I’ve learned by living amongst stay-at-home moms rather than through analyzing them in research reports, a task that was ironically, a big part of my former job.

The post idea was spurred by all this reflecting on what-in-the-heck has happened to me over the last 10 years. I swear, I used to feel so foreign in my suburban surroundings. I didn’t know how to be a mom, give my days structure, make friends, cook, or have a hobby. Nothing felt right or familiar or as I expected.

Now ten years later, I’ve gotten used to being at home. I’ve ushered my kids off to school successfully (enough), made great friends, cultivated some interests and adjusted to the pace. Dare I say, I enjoy it.

I remember how I used to love going to work, carrying my latte and tote bag. I loved the big windows in my office and the cold bottles of Evian in the conference room down the hall. I felt at-home in a black suit. I thought nothing of giving a presentation. I could draft a Powerpoint “deck” in a single afternoon. I had business cards, a title and an assistant.

Now I sit in reception areas waiting for interviews, and I feel completely ridiculous. I don’t like the smell of offices. The fake, piped-in air seems toxic. I see stress on faces that race past the waiting room, and my stomach hurts. I’m tortured with my inability (or desire) to button-up myself up into a business persona. I’ve spent the last ten years speaking frankly and cracking self-effacing jokes. I’ve forgotten how to wear a poker face or use terms like “circle the wagons” without laughing.

So I ring my hands and force myself to keep trying. Maybe this adjustment can be different. Maybe it will take less than ten years, two nervous breakdowns and 92 desperate blog posts.

Yeah, so…got any advice for me? Anyone? Bueller?

Meh.

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, even longer since I’ve posted regularly. Job hunting, it seems, has taken over my life — especially the online version. How can I possibly whine, express fear, doubt myself or question my motivation if a potential hirer can see it?

It’s yet another reflection of the rabid narcissism fueled by my social mediast view that people care about what I post, what I tweet, what I’m thinking about. Other than a kind few, I know it’s not the case.

But what if I’m wrong? What if some HR person has a fancy, IT friend who can invade my semi-anonymous space?  I shudder to think about what they’d find.

So with that, life in Jcrewville putters on. There’s a new crop of pretty, divorced moms that popped up with the warm weather. They’re out-and-about losing weight, drinking martinis in their skinny jeans and nail polish. The bloated, tired and overwhelmed moms in town (okay, me) are getting angry. Or maybe jealous. Not of the divorce, of course — that’s hideous — but of watching them breeze in-and-out of happy hours laughing and smelling of pefume. I can only imagine them going home on a childless evening and grabbing takeout, downloading a movie and sleeping in — all done with fresh highlights and a pedicure. Or maybe they’re being courted with compliments, witty conversation, and flowers.   

Yeah, I know I’ve got other beautiful, fulfilling, deeper parts of a life for which I’m grateful. But with all this April rain, non-stop school stuff and children begging for EVERYTHiNG, I find my mind drifting to greener grass.   

Gross. See what I mean ? Would you hire me?

Nothing doing, doing nothing.

Another day, and I’m once again — job hunting: slow-going, confusing, overwhelming and confidence-slashing.

This morning I started off with productive intentions. I searched news sites and Twitter feeds for articles pertinent to my fanciful job ideas. Then I treated myself to just a peek at Facebook where I saw a local Jcrewville mother posting about moving her blog to a new host site. I barely know her, even though we’re technically friends (and I mean that literally). So I got right to stalking.

After getting 404′ed multiple times, I did find her Twitter feed, which led me to contemplate following her, which led me to re-visiting my own profile, which led me to re-designing it, which led me to losing two hours of  job hunting in lieu of a slightly prettier profile background. And because I’m so research-inclined, I went back to her tweets, comparing them to my tweets (or lack thereof) in order to discern her social media prowess versus mine.

Wondering who won? Please, I don’t gossip. 

Three hours later, I was no closer to drafting one (just one!) cover letter than I was yesterday.

But then yesterday, my daughter was puking, so I gave myself the day off to wipe puke off the walls, wash five hundred loads of laundry, and scrub doorknobs, remote controls, phones and faucet heads until my hands were raw. Somewhere around 4pm, I think I brushed my teeth (can’t confirm that 100%).

The whole time I kept asking myself, do I feel sick? Am I getting sick? So to ease my suspected illness, rattled nerves and enormous dose of self-pity, I ate everything white in the house: white bread, cold pasta, crackers, toasted bagels with cream cheese and vanilla ice cream.

Now today, I’m not only behind on things, I’m bloated. My black stirrup jeans (yes, you heard that right) are tighter than appropriate –if stirrup jeans were ever meant to be appropriate after 1985. 

This afternoon I forced myself to go the library where computer time is limited to 60 minutes. It’s quiet here and there’s no fridge to taunt me with cold, simple carbohydrates. 

I am finding the folks around me highly distracting, however. I think the guy next to me has a tick. He keeps gesturing at the screen every (and I’m counting here) 20- seconds as though jabbing an imaginary friend with a “what the hell?” Oh, and he’s scribbling non-sensical (and I’m glancing here) tally marks on a napkin in between gesturing and typing. He’s wasting my time, and after much effort to ignore him, I only have 10 minutes…

…and three hours to come up with today’s answer to my husband’s daily question (which he still does, despite my pretending I didn’t hear him): “Soooo, what did you do today?” 

And that’s the sad truth here. Meanwhile, what did you do today?

My Marriage, My Burka.

“Hey, your hair looks GREAT,” he said.

My face flashed hot as I fumbled for a response.

“Um, thanks? It’s ah, I er, wha…it does?”

I saw fear in his eyes.

“Didn’t you just get it done?” he said.

Suddenly my daughter and his daughter appeared behind me. We’d been standing in the doorway, waiting for his daughter to gather her things, and that’s when I got it. When my daughter called to invite his daughter over, I made sure everyone knew I was running late from an appointment. For my daughter, “appointment” means “highlights,” and she must have told them I was getting my hair done.

“Ohhh, no,” I said. “I wasn’t getting my hair done. I was at the doctor’s. But thanks for noticing my great hair,” I said, giving it an exaggerated Betty Rubble pat.

He laughed and went on to say that his wife (who happens to be one of the most gorgeous women I know) comments that he never notices her haircuts, so now he always compliments a woman who’s had her hair done.

“You are well-trained, my friend…and I mean that in a good way.” I said laughing and waving good-bye.

I shut the door and thought: well now, that was awkward.

It was silly. I was almost relieved by his benign intentions and yet, a teensy crestfallen that they’d been such a mistake. I realized it was the first time in near decades a (cute) man other than my husband had made a comment on — or even seemed to notice — my appearance. And for a nano-second, it was kinda nice.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any desire to be a MILF. MILFs eat salads. I prefer burgers. They wear lipstick, hoop earrings and bracelets. My biggest Saturday-night effort involves Burt’s Bee chapstick and the same fake gold studs from Kohl’s. Bracelets I pull out for Christmas and weddings only.

No, I don’t want to be leered at by the other dads at Family Fun Nite. That’s gah-ross. Further, if I overheard my husband telling some other woman how great her hair looked, I’d feel a bit sick.

But the exchange did give me pause. Once we get married, we are off the market –but does that mean we’re not to be noticed? Is married status the modern, suburban equivalent of wearing a Burka?

I don’t aspire to get compliments from other men, but over time, does that somehow contribute to a feeling of invisibility? Even though we strive for achievement in areas beyond our looks, when we go decades without a non-spousal compliment on our appearance, how does that impact our feelings of femininity?

Maybe that’s why we give our girlfriends so much feedback. “You look so skinny in that,” we say. “What a cute sweater!”

I don’t know what it all means. I’m not losing any beauty sleep over it. But with Valentine’s Day around the corner let me just say this — to all you great, funny, talented, intelligent, thoughtful, ambitious, compassionate, creative women out there: You are beautiful, and your hair looks great.

Every day I park myself at Starbucks to get some job-seeking work done. I find I’m most productive if I leave the house. Yesterday I made the beds, cleaned the kitchen, worked out and showered before I headed out.

Today I threw on a fleece, brushed my teeth (I think?) and left the house — a mess. That’s okay, because today I planned on getting a lot done by getting there early.

So I wander in feeling blurry-eyed and dirty, and take a table in the back by an outlet.

But next to me sit two men having coffee. A discreet-ish glance puts their ages at mid-50. They are having a LOUD, but friendly chat about politics. When I sat down it was about healthcare and though making great effort to ignore them, I caught pieces on homeland security. When the conversation moved to the divide between liberalism and conservatism, and how that divide is remarkably thinner here versus in other places, I couldn’t help myself.

I’ve decided to give up on working. There’s just too much to their conversation that I don’t want to miss. So I’m pretending to do something by typing this post, but really, I’m eavesdropping.

The guy with his back to me sounds exactly like Dustin Hoffman. He’s speaking with authority using phrases like, “Tell me this, Mister” and “that’s the kind of paralysis that…”

Meanwhile his friend is stretching out his words for emphasis, “Myyy price is entirely different,” and “their price is the saaaaame.”

What’s particularly distracting is how chewy and sparky their chat is — chockfull of names, dates, examples, and other places. Each one takes his turn with a thoughtfully articulate presentation of opinion. I’m struck by how substantive their time together is. I want to join them. I want to stretch my debate skills, form sentences with thought, reference things that I’ve read in the news (and/or pretend I even read the news).

I wish my friends and I chatted more often about things of cultural significance. I wish I got outside myself more often, and without such conscious effort. I wish, I wish, I wish…me…me…me.

I really do love that women are emotional creatures of detail and observation, and that we take such deep interest in the people around us that it’s often exhausting. But it’s refreshing to hear two goods friends talk about the world with passion and intellect.

I mean, is it just me in Jcrewville, or do other women have lengthy debates about legislative impact and cultural influences? Tell me, what do other women talk about?  

Damn, they’re leaving.

Me, too.

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