Twinkle Toes

Confession time: I can be kind of a jerk. I don’t mean to be, but sometimes I just blurt out something stupid and then realize it was mean and that I shouldn’t have said it, and then I obsess about it for days afterwards. I wish the embarrassment I felt after the fact prevented me from saying the dumb thing in the first place, but it never does.

Summer of 2010 was a very stressful time for us. It was the third summer trying to sell our house in Ohio after we moved to Utah. Our renter had moved out, so the house sat empty and we were trying to take care of it from miles away and keep up with two house payments. We were pretty much at the end of our rope, financially and emotionally. That’s not an excuse for me being a jerk, but it does explain where my mind was almost all of the time.

I was at an event at our church and was making small talk with the other women at my table. One of my neighbors said, “Hey, if you’re interested, there’s a really great deal this month on glitter toes!” I asked her what glitter toes were and she explained it was a new kind of pedicure. Since I was already feeling emotionally frayed, I responded with a very bitey  “Oh. That is soooooo not a priority for me right now.” See? I am a total jerk.

Of course I felt terrible about it later and the more I obsessed about it, I realized the worst part wasn’t just what I said and how I said it, but it was that I seemed to think I was somehow above pedicures. As I told a friend later, I don’t have any room to judge how someone else wants to splurge. Just because glitter toes wouldn’t be my preference if I had an extra 20 bucks, that doesn’t mean that my plate of Spaghetti Factory’s Manager’s Favorite with meat sauce and browned butter and mizithra is any more noble. We all have our own little ways to treat ourselves. Mine centers around feeding my face instead of making myself look prettier. Do I really think that’s so much better than others’ choices?

I’m not really into gussying up. It seems like a whole lot of work to me, and I often delay showering because I dread having to do my hair again. I think that to say I’m low maintenance would be misleading. More like sub-maintenance or below-average maintenance. I’ve always loved Marmie’s advice in Little Women because it has given me a more elevated justification for my aversion to primping:

If you feel your value lies in being merely decorative, I fear that someday you might find yourself believing that’s all that you really are. Time erodes all such beauty, but what it cannot diminish is the wonderful workings of your mind: Your humor, your kindness, and your moral courage.

Whenever I read that, I could tell myself, “See, I’m not ponytailing it again today because I’m lazy, it’s just that I don’t want to be a shallow person.” And when I heard Julie B. Beck in her 2008 BYU Women’s Conference talk say, “…our pioneer grandmothers did not make the sacrifices they made and come across the plains for us to have better shopping malls, for us to have nicer pedicures, for us to have bigger wardrobes,” I agreed wholeheartedly. But I wonder – if she had been urging me to control my appetite or limit my BBC drama intake – in other words, if she had asked me to give up something I actually enjoyed, would I have been so quick to agree? Probably not. I could just as easily insert “…for us to have online streaming of our favorite shows, for us to have all-you-can-eat Brazilian Barbecue…”  It’s obvious that the time I don’t spend in front of the mirror doesn’t translate into time I do spend on the wonderful workings of my mind. I have plenty of my own shallow pursuits.

So this week I went to get a pedicure with my husband’s mom and aunt. It was very relaxing, and I appreciated that the woman doing the pedicure (pedicurist? pedicurate?) didn’t mock me for having gross feet (even if she was thinking it) and didn’t try to make small talk (I hate feeling pressure to chat with strangers when I get my hair cut.) It was fun to hang out with some of my favorite ladies and my feet do look and feel nicer than they did before. (We weren’t quite sure how long we were supposed to stay under these dryer things, though. We were waiting for someone to tell us we could go and I think they were waiting for us to just leave already.)

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When I was inspecting my feet afterwards, I noticed two things: 1) I just don’t have attractive feet, and no amount of polish will change that, and 2) I started thinking, “If I had nicer shoes, my feet would look even better,” so it’s a slippery slope…

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My preschooler tagged along, and afterwards he requested that I paint his toenails – but blue, you know, since he’s a boy. He had to settle for my sloppy 30-second painting skills and we didn’t even soak his grubby feet first, but he was quite pleased with the result and couldn’t wait to show everyone his sparkly toes.

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Would I get a pedicure again? Sure, if a friend wanted to go together, or if I had some very special occasion that called for pretty feet, but am I hooked? No – they’re nice, but not my weakness of choice. I could buy like seven pints of Ben & Jerry’s for what that pedicure cost me.

 

 

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Tangerine

I bought myself a bike this week (oops, I mean my children bought me a bike for Mother’s Day.) I haven’t owned a bike since I was probably 10, and I can remember exactly the last time I rode one 17 years ago. We had a family reunion in the mountains and went on a bike ride where I was stung by a bee, and then later, another bee. I remember guzzling Benadryl because I’m allergic to bee stings, and my husband remembers my stranger than usual sleep talk as a result of the Benadryl (“Bob Roberts. Rob Robertson? Bob Rob Roberts…”). I don’t blame the bike for the bee sting – I blame my sweet husband (at least for sting #1) who, in an effort to helpfully brush the bee away, actually made it so angry that it stung me. Although my pain that weekend wasn’t related to the bikes, somehow it’s all tied together in my memory and apparently the sting still lingers.

I never really missed owning a bike until my kids were old enough to have their own and wanted to go on longer rides. Every spring for the last nine years, I’ve suggested that my husband and I buy some bikes but we never have, partly because we’ve felt pressure to get a good bike, one that won’t embarrass us in front of our cyclist friends. Also, summer is the time of year when my paycheck is cut by 75%, so it’s not the best time to shell out a lot on something we’re not even sure we’ll use very often. Then there’s the whole bike trailer/child seat issue, since we had younger kids we needed to drag along with us. Plus, having to deal with tire repairs far from home, having to wear a helmet in a town where almost nobody wears helmets (or seat belts, for that matter), and worrying that while I’m on my bike, one of my children will wander into traffic…

As usual, I was overthinking things. I talked myself out of getting a bike again and again so summer after summer has gone by with us missing the chance to go on family outings and now I have this big fat item which needs to be checked off of my big fat list. Here’s why I decided to just go buy an inexpensive Huffy cruiser, conveniently summed up in those lovely flowery Facebook memes I usually just scroll past:

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“Done is better than perfect.” I remind myself of this often when I’m cleaning, weeding the garden, or trying to cram in some exercise each day. There’s no shortage of advice out there on the Right Way to do something, and sometimes I let that get in the way of me doing anything at all. But I finally decided, who cares if someone thinks my tangerine cruiser is lame? I’m not buying it to impress anyone – I just want to do stuff with my kids, and this will serve the purpose just fine.

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“Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take the moment and make it perfect.” If we had waited for just the right time, financially and career-wise, to have children, we still wouldn’t have any. Same goes for a lot of trips we’ve taken and experiences we’ve given our kids. That’s not to say we should do whatever we want whenever we want and go into debt to do it, but there’ll never be flashing neon lights giving us the go-ahead. Sometimes we have to decide to act and then just go for it. This also applies to the smaller day-to-day things. If I waited for all my other demands and priorities to part like the Red Sea and leave a clear path before I exercised each day, I’d never do it.

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Yes, wearing a helmet to ride half a block with my preschooler looks like overkill, but I want to model for him that just like we buckle up every time, we have the same expectations for helmets. Our family has seen first-hand what a head injury can do, so we’re trying to do whatever is in our power to protect our boys’ precious brains, which might possibly be their most attractive feature. I also should mention that my very stylish sister gave me her old helmet and she has excellent taste, so I probably look quite chic cruising through the neighborhood, thank you very much.

I still haven’t had time to go out for a long ride yet, but on Saturday after my middle two boys changed their inner tubes and my youngest pulled out his new birthday bike, the four of us went on a short ride. I rode slowly next to my preschooler as the other two zipped past, went around the block, then zipped past again, shouting, “This is so fun!” None of my sons told me my bike wasn’t fancy enough or that my helmet made me look like a square, and if any of my neighbors were thinking it, let’s face it – they were probably right. But the best part was that I didn’t even care.

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I’m Fascinating

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Sometimes at family gatherings, my sisters-in-law and I like to read excerpts from the 1969 book The Fascinating Girl by Helen B. Andelin. The book, along with its predecessor, Fascinating Womanhood, was a push against the feminist movement of the 1960s. Where Fascinating Womanhood is aimed at helping married women keep their husbands happy, Fascinating Girl seeks to help unmarried girls attract a mate with their femininity and childlike sauciness. We are entertained by these readings because the advice given is so ridiculous and because the “case studies” to support the advice are most often fictional examples taken from novels by Dickens, Wilde, Hugo and Thackeray. We get a good laugh.

There’s also not-so-funny counsel to accept a man at face value: “When a girl is mistreated, it would be a serious mistake for her to set out to remake the man, to teach him that she expects to be treated better. All men need the freedom to be themselves and to act as their impulses dictate at the moment, whether their impulses happen to be right or wrong, wise or foolish. Let men act themselves. Our responsibilities as women is to learn how to react.” Every time I read that, it makes my skin crawl.

Throughout the book, Andelin keeps circling back to the idea that in order to attract a man, a woman should avoid appearing too smart or capable. Women shouldn’t compete with men for honors or advancement, especially in athletics, or the more masculine fields of study (for example, it’s ok to do well in social studies or English, but not in math or the sciences.) Not only will this be a total turn-off to guys, but also “…a woman can never really fit into the man’s world. She may succeed in having an adequate job, and even receive a measure of recognition for outstanding service, but she will always be a ‘second-rate man.’”


Occasionally, we may notice men who seem to admire women who are efficient and capable. Don’t let this confuse you. Although the man may have a genuine admiration for such a woman, it does not mean he finds her attractive. He undoubtedly admires her as he would another man with appreciation of her fine ability.

My husband and I consider ourselves to be fairly progressive. When we married, I was sure that household duties and care of our children would be evenly divided. I think my husband felt the same way. But then real life happened. We thought it only fair that Dad wake up for 4 a.m. feedings, but when the time came, he was working three part time jobs and falling asleep on the living room floor after staying up to finish a big project. Waking him  just so we’d be even seemed silly. Most of the cooking and cleaning is done by me, not because he’s patriarchal and domineering, but because I have more time during the day and can get it done more easily than he can. And when he is home, I would rather spend time with him than send him away to complete a honey-do list.

That’s not to say we divide our duties according to traditional gender roles – more according to ability, availability, and interest. He deals with car maintenance and appliance repair, but he also  makes the bed and decorates all the birthday cakes. I do most of the cooking and laundry, but I also deal with the finances and do our taxes. It’s what works for us.

We have also made an effort to teach our sons that they are expected to learn to cook and clean, starting at birth by showing them one of my favorite board books, and by buying them toy brooms, vacuums and cooking supplies.

Sometimes when I ask for help opening a jar or lifting something heavy, my husband likes to tease me for being so fascinating and I think he’s funny. But as I started compiling my list of things I’ve never bothered to try, I was surprised to realize that I AM fascinating – not to appear less capable and more attractive, but just because I’m kind of lazy.

Here’s my confession: I have never mowed the lawn. I think I tried once when I was a teenager, but I claimed that it hurt my delicate pianist hands and my mom didn’t make me finish. In our married life, it never even occurred to me to mow, any more than my husband would think to finish the stack of half-done quilts I have in the basement. Even when my husband was out of town for a month one summer and my kids were too young to mow, I didn’t do it. Now that I have three sons who are proficient mowers, I don’t even need to learn how (otherwise what’s the point of having only sons, amiright?)

I thought I would give it a try, though, partly as an effort to get out of my comfort zone, but also so I could have more sympathy for my boys when they complain about having to mow. After my preschooler insisted that of course I know how to mow because I’m a grown up, I decided it was time to shed my “Feminine Dependency” and “Childlikeness” (Chapters 13 and 16 in the book) and become a capable woman.

So I did it. I mowed our average-sized front yard and our bigger than average-sized back yard. I started the mower by myself. I didn’t leave any mohawks or break any sprinkler heads. I didn’t get overheated or sprayed by flying rocks or dog poop. I didn’t even get bored. In fact, I actually enjoyed myself. It was nice to have time to myself to think and to be outside. Plus, I totally counted it as my exercise for the day. I wouldn’t mind doing it again and I’m thinking I might even offer to trade the boys jobs and let them scrub toilets and wipe down baseboards while I mow the lawn.

I’m going to let my husband still be in charge of the weed whacker, though, so I can “take every opportunity to allow him to play the part of the man.”

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I’m Flying

This week I’ve had many friends tell me how excited and inspired they are by my new adventure. While I appreciate the support, I do feel a little sheepish. If only they knew how many items on my “new experiences” list are embarrassingly shallow and not at all life-changing. So I thought I should make it clear from the get-go just what to expect. Nothing noble or elevated here – this week I decided to finally watch Titanic.

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Why I avoided it in the first place

I wasn’t interested in seeing Titanic initially because of who was cast as leads. I was (and remain) not that into Leonardo DiCaprio, and I only knew Kate Winslet as the annoying Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. (I still haven’t seen a Marianne I do like, so I think it’s just that I’m more of an Elinor kind of gal.) Also, I can’t be the only one to have thought that, at least in the trailers, Kate looked old enough to be Leo’s mother.

In 1997, I was in grad school, pregnant with my first child, teaching a gazillion piano lessons, practicing for a concerto performance, and preparing to move cross-country for my husband’s schooling. I was busy. I had also aged out of the film’s target demographic of adolescent girls, so I wasn’t in a rush to get to the theater. Then, the more popular the movie became, of course the more certain I was that I would never, ever see it.

Also, the song. THE SONG. Sure, it was overplayed on the radio, and we all lived through that, but I suffered as only a piano teacher can suffer. Do you know how many students over the years came to me clutching that sheet music? So, so many.Then, just as its popularity began to fade (after about 10 years) son #3 discovered the preset songs on our electronic keyboard, and what button did he love to push over and over, on and on?

And so I’ve gone this long without seen Titanic, but this week I decided to give it a try. I watched it. The whole thing. And here are my thoughts, which I realize are probably nothing new, but after all, I am 16 years late to this conversation.

Why I will avoid it in the future

First, it was so hard to watch. The dialogue is awkward and often downright dopey. There seem to be longer than necessary gaps between lines, and it also feels like the actors are shouting at each other, so the whole viewing experience felt like a choppy Skype session. The movie is also excruciatingly long. I pushed pause after 1:30 thinking it was almost over, only to have Netflix tell me I had another 1:45!! I’m no stranger to long movies – I have no problem sitting through all four hours of North and South or Far From the Madding Crowd, but after taking a quick break to run to the grocery store, it actually took another four days before I could work up the energy to return to Titanic.

As I watched it, I had so many questions. What’s with the dance scene, specifically the spinning? I felt like I was watching a parody. And superimposing the past and present with the floating ship fading into the sunken ship, the young eye fading into the wrinkly eye? That wasn’t supposed to be funny, was it? That was accidental, right? Also, is Jack supposed to be a good artist? I couldn’t tell from Rose’s portrait. And that song! Why must I hear it again? My husband walked in the room in time to hear the music swell and said, “I just can’t hear this song as anything other than a punchline.”

I was traumatized by the floating mannequins (which didn’t actually look like people, but somehow the effect was creepier than if they had looked realistic), and even more so by the sound of Rose detaching her live frozen hand from Jack’s dead frozen hand. The sound of someone chewing ice is worse than fingernails on a chalkboard for me, so even thinking about that scene now is sending me into spasms.

But the film is so deep! There are so many layers! Remember the part where Rose’s mother is saying, “Sure it’s unfair you have to marry Guyliner, but you’re a woman, so it sucks to be you,” and then she tightens Rose’s corset? It’s a metaphor! Rose is trapped in her life just like she is trapped in the corset, get it? Also, the use of foreshadowing is so subtle – we all thought that the scene where Jack coaches Rose on how to properly hock a loogie was just part of their playful courting ritual. Who would have thought that she would later use that skill to escape the evil Guyliner’s clutches? Genius.

Perhaps all the annoying stuff wouldn’t have bugged me so much if I cared even a little bit about the characters. Jack seemed way too perky and his folksy, “I’m just a tumbleweed blowin’ in the wind,” didn’t exactly roll off DiCaprio’s tongue. And I couldn’t tell if her situation in life was supposed to make it believable that Rose was really that brazen, or if it was just more convenient for James Cameron for her to be so forward so he could cram a whole lot of luvin’ into just a few days’ time.

And sure, Rose is only 17 (again, do they really expect us to believe that?), and teenagers make bad choices and lack foresight, but she’s a special kind of wackadoo. She has one chance to swing an ax and either free Jack from his handcuffs or chop his arm off and she closes her eyes as she does it? She has one last chance to be rescued and instead of calling out for help, she cries softly for like three minutes straight and almost misses the boat? I tried to like her, really I did. But all hope was lost in the scene where she tells Jack that she will run away with him when they reach land and she admits it’s a crazy idea: “It doesn’t make any sense. That’s why I trust it.” What the what? That may possibly be the dumbest thing anyone has ever said ever. And millions of teenage girls saw this movie and were probably just lapping it up. Super great role model you’ve got there.

There were some good moments. I have to say that it was interesting to see how many small decisions by the owner, captain, and crew members all piled up to contribute to the catastrophe, and I thought the special effects as the ship sank were pretty cool (I think I enjoyed those parts the most, but that might have been because there was no dialogue). It also got me thinking, if I were in that situation, what kind of drowner would I be? The kind to sit in the ballroom and wait to die, or the kind to fight and claw to safety only to either die a more violent death or turn into a floating mannequin later? I’m pretty sure I’d be a sitter and waiter, although I choose to believe it’s because I’m practical and at peace with my mortality, and not just because I’m a wimp.

So I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone repeats my experience. I don’t regret giving it a shot (maybe I do regret it a little) – since it holds such a place in pop culture, maybe it was good for me to see (if not understand) what all the hoopla was about. And for those of you who love Titanic, and have seen it multiple times and truly buy into the Jack and Rose love story, I apologize for so cruelly tearing it down. As a peace offering, I give you this, because, as the string quartet (you know musicians – always with their head in the clouds) who kept playing on deck instead of climbing onto a life boat would tell you, music can heal all wounds. I promise, your heart will go on.

 

 

stick-in-the-mud, n. someone who prefers to allow things of seeming enjoyment pass them by

WEEK 1: START A BLOG

May 2007: “Fine, we can move to back Utah, but if we do, I’m not starting a blog, running a 5K or wearing Pretty Woman boots.”

When did I become so boring? I’m pretty sure I didn’t used to be this lame, but now here I am, a nearly-40-year-old stick-in-the-mud. I tell myself that it’s just because I’m comfortable with who I am and what I like to do, but lately I’ve started to notice that the list of things that “just aren’t my thing” is getting really long.

I have convincing explanations for why I avoid certain experiences. But I suspect the real reasons I have become such a wet blanket are just plain sad.

1. I am a chicken. Years ago, my 5-year-old niece came running to me and said, “Those kids were climbing on that railing and they wanted me to do it too. I said to myself, ‘Is it safe? Should I do this?’ And then I did! And it was fun!”  (She was a seriously cute kid.) Ever since then, I find myself repeating that to myself, “Is it safe? Should I do this?” At first it was just as a joke, but now, not so much. I also conveniently leave off  “And then I did! And it was fun!”

I also think that the older we are, the more we’ve witnessed the consequences of bad or careless decisions, or even just the scary reality of life. My husband broke his back snow tubing when he was a teenager, so I can’t possibly allow my children to fly down a mountain with their tailbones bouncing on icy rocks. I saw the deer episode of “When Animals Attack,” so I will not walk alone through the woods at night. (I’m not crazy – deer attack humans all the time. Google it.) These are all very rational fears. I’m totally sane. Just like Meg Ryan’s character in French Kiss.

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2. I am lazy. I love to sit and sit and watch movies and sit. And eat. Doing stuff seems like too much work.

3. I avoid trends. 3rd grade: Michael Jackson, college: country line dancing, 2008-2012: the Twilight movies. I still don’t know if I really didn’t like any of them, or if my automatic response is to hate whatever everyone else loves. I used to think it was because I was just too cool to be sucked in, but my teenage son informs me I’m not cool and I never was. So maybe I’m just a grouch.

4. I don’t want to look stupid. If I stick to what I’m good at, then I’m good at everything I do! It’s perfect because then I never have to feel like a failure.

5. I am less susceptible to pressure from others. When I was younger, I cared what people thought about me and was timid about expressing myself. As a result, I experienced all sorts of new things I wouldn’t necessarily have tried on my own, just to avoid having to speak up. I’m much better now (maybe too good) at saying what I think and not caring what others think about what I think. That means when someone says, “You really have to…” I feel free to say, “No, I really don’t.”

I like my life. I snagged the very best husband when he was still too young to know he could do better. I’m good at my job and I enjoy it. My four sons are all the smartest, best looking, funniest boys I know. I am happy. But when I read this quote from Bertrand Russell’s The Conquest of Happiness,  I started to realize that I might be missing out on something (or many somethings) that could enhance and enrich my  life:

Suppose one man likes strawberries and another does not; in what respect is the latter superior? There is no abstract and impersonal proof either that strawberries are good or that they are not good. To the man who likes them they are good, to the man who dislikes them they are not. But the man who likes them has a pleasure which the other does not have; to that extent his life is more enjoyable and he is better adapted to the world in which both must live…The more things a man is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has.

I started to think, I like to be happy. Why not look for more experiences in this world that might make me even more happy? And why not start with all those things I was so quick to dismiss in the past?

So here’s my plan. Each week, I’m going to try something I had previously refused to do. I know some of these things are trivial and not even worth trying. I know it will seem silly to some that I’ve never tried them before. You’re right. It is silly, duh. That’s the whole point. I’m hoping that taking small steps away from being boring will help me open up to new experiences in the future.

No snow tubing, though. Do you think I have a death wish?