My sister has been kind enough to store some “stuff” for me for many years, and she recently encouraged me to revisit just what the heck was lurking in her crawlspace on my behalf.
Slightly over a month separates the anniversary of my dad’s death and the remembrance of his birthday. This week he would have turned 94, and I often find myself wondering what kind of “old man” he would have been. Continue reading “My Own Personal Catcher in the Rye”
On my very first day of high school, I missed the bus.
Not that big of a deal, right? But it was. That one experience fed on my anxiety and planted a seed that grew a fear of missing any public transportation. Silly, I know, but very real. No matter if I’m catching a train, plane, or bus—until I’m actually on it, I have an internal twitch of dread that I will miss it.
All because of my first day of high school.
You see, I went to a grade school that had no buses, so this wasn’t just my first school bus to high school, but my first school bus ever.
Though starting in a new school is intimidating, I was pretty sure I was properly prepared. In particular, I studied my bus instructions—where the stop was and the number I needed to know. Bus 107. I got this, I thought. (Of course, that expression hadn’t been “invented” yet, so more likely I thought to myself, “Don’t be such a spaz” or “Duh,” but the sentiment was the same.)
That morning, my dad asked, “Are you sure about the bus?”
“Dad, I know what I’m doing…” (Uh-huh, sure you do.)
“Okay, great. Just let me know if you need anything.” (Don’t go far, Dad—I’m going to need to take you up on that offer shortly.)
And off I went.
There I was, standing on the corner I was supposed to, at the time I was supposed to, and within a few minutes, a bus drove by. The bus driver slowed down and called out, “Are you going to Lake Park?”
Isn’t this setting up to be a successful little scenario? After all, Lake Park was my high school! But there was something that wasn’t right. The bus number wasn’t 107, and I was supposed to be on bus 107. My mind quickly jumped to a conclusion—our school had two different campuses—East and West, and my campus was East so this bus must be headed to West! (Not exactly an Einstein in the making since classes at West started at least a half hour earlier than East.)
“Yes, but East!” I shouted back to him. He gave me a look of knitted brows and gestured with his hand up to his ear letting me know he couldn’t quite hear over the engine, so I just waved at him to keep going…he smiled, shrugged, and off he drove.
And then I waited. And waited…And waited.
No more buses came down the street.
Time was running out, and I was risking being late to my first day of high school. I walked back home with tears welling up…How was high school going to be okay if I couldn’t even successfully catch the bus?! I felt remarkably stupid.
I walked into my house where my dad hadn’t yet left for work and was surprised to see me (since I knew what I was doing and all)—by that point I was pretty much sobbing. “Babe, what’s wrong?!”
“I missed the bus, Dad! I couldn’t even get on the bus! I don’t know what happened…some bus came by but it was the wrong num…” he cut me off with a “shhh” and a hug, reassuring me that everything was going to be all right. He’d drive me today, and we would figure out where the problem was for tomorrow.
And that’s exactly what we did. I was on time to school (thank God bus routes are long), and other than that, my high school career began without a hitch. But not without an emotional scar.
Do you want to know the answer to the bus mystery? It’s simple: I thought I was supposed to get on bus 107, but I was really scheduled for route 107. Which is exactly the route that the kind bus driver was driving when he called out to me. As a newbie, I didn’t know that the number of the actual bus meant nothing—but the route number in the window sure did.
Maybe if I would have reviewed the information with my dad when he asked, he could have caught my mistake. Maybe if I wouldn’t have been so quick to think I knew the answer when the bus driver was talking to me and instead asked for help, I would have been on my merry way. Maybe if I wasn’t so ready to show everyone that I knew what I was doing…I might have actually learned what I really needed to know.
Instead, throughout high school I had countless anxiety dreams of missing the bus, or catching the bus but seeing my backpack left behind on the curb, or running after the bus that was going too fast for me to catch, or trying to get on the bus but the bus doors wouldn’t open…you get the idea. The anxiety dragon feasts on these kinds of episodes.
I never missed the bus after that day, but it only took that one time to engrain in me the knee-jerk fear of it ever happening again. It’s a fear that stays with me still today. (Ask my husband how fun it is.)
Of course, as with all trials that come our way, it’s best to try and learn something from them. Yes, I did get a lifetime of public transportation anxiety, but I realized, too, that I shouldn’t be so quick to think I know what I’m talking about—an ever-evolving lesson for me.
Yes, I missed the bus that day in more ways than one, but you better believe it taught me to know life’s route numbers!
I’m trying to rebound from some bug I was blessed with yesterday and not feeling full of ideas to write on, so forgive me if I pick a familiar theme to dwell on today.
Well into my 40s, I am still a major work in progress—not even close to being “finished,” which I don’t think is even possible—at least before the grave. As I share on my About page, I’ve learned a bit late in the game that being broken open is better than keeping everything sealed tight. At 17, I wasn’t about to let anything get close enough to even risk a crack in my facade.
Boy did I (and do I!) have a lot to learn.
Here are some notes I would share with my 17-year-old self:
Stay away from perms. They are not your friend.
Embrace your body—it deserves more credit than you give it. In years to come, you will look back and shake your head at what you once considered “fat.”
Know that several of the friends you cherish now will still be in your life in years to come. Let them in more than you do. It won’t kill you. In fact, you’ll be glad you did. But you are stubborn, and you won’t learn this for many more years.
There are certain people in your life you will never be able to please. Stop trying so hard. It’s more than okay for your life to be a little bit about you.
Those internal battles you face? Those struggles that mess with your head? They have names. They are called anxiety and depression, and once you understand that they are truly things that you can strive to manage—and it’s not just you—the world will start making better sense.
There is such a thing as being loyal to a fault. You will wish you knew this now rather than later.
Love Dad even more…get as many hugs as you can. He will be gone in a mere four years.
You’ve got such a tight lid on things that you don’t even know the depths of this, but you are a mess—not messy, but a mess—and that’s okay. Really. It will take many years for you to realize that there is no merit in acting or thinking otherwise. And many years for you to embrace your messiness and realize that this is one of the best things that will happen to you.
You will walk many different paths in life. Each will lead you to the next right step, even though it is not obvious at the time. Please don’t feel the pressure to find that one calling in life that defines you. You are meant to live your life in chapters, and each one will have merit.
Brace yourself: you are not in control of things. You will learn this lesson (time and again) through a number of twists, turns, and crises that “you” did not plan. But it’s life. Let it happen. Give over the control you never really had. You will not understand how God works. Which is perfectly okay because if you did understand everything about God, he wouldn’t be God. Surrender to that. Surrender to him.
Let love in.
Start with yourself.
You have and are going to have some really awesome people in your life. You are blessed. Remember that when the really crappy people pull you down. Don’t let them grab hold. The Awesomes will not be defeated.
And, finally, you are a lovable knucklehead. If you could be brave now and learn to be vulnerable, life will be much different for you. Instead, you will wait until you’re a much older woman to face that challenge, and it will be harder to teach the old dog new tricks.
But you are one resilient kid. You’ll figure it out…eventually.
PS—invest in these things that are up and coming called “personal computers.” You won’t be sorry.
It was a scar that was forgotten until recently when an old friend posted a pic on Facebook for “ThrowBack Thursday.”
The distinction between being a Chicago White Sox or a Cubs fan is a strong one in my world. Those who say they are fans of both really aren’t baseball fans, in my opinion.
“Cubs or Sox?” was the second question I asked my future husband on our first date. Colors run deep (and good guys wear black). And while the current state of my life and baseball make it harder for me to really follow my team with any depth—it’s still a part of my core.
I grew up a Sox fan in a suburb of Chicago where that meant I was in a minority. I didn’t care—I wore (and wear) the distinction proudly. But in the summer of ’78, I pretended to be a Cubs fan in order to fit in better with my extended family.
I hid my Sox gear and started to watch Cubs games. I had a photo of Bill Buckner on my wall. I even got my hands on a Cubs shirt and wore it–which is what I was wearing in the Facebook photo.
I did all of this because my cousins were Cubs fans, and as we spent more time than usual with them that summer, I desperately longed to fit in.
We are social creatures. Whether introvert or extrovert, the need to connect is strong. For me, it was strong enough to betray what I knew was my truth in order to be accepted as “one of us” by others. As someone who values loyalty above so much else, it hurts to admit.
The betrayal lasted a season before I returned to my senses, and as the years went by, I buried the memory of my weakness. But the Facebook post brought back those memories and opened the door to my infidelity.
Let’s just say I’ve heard about it from a few people.
As a parent, I’ve had more than one conversation with my son (who is coincidentally the same age that I was when this story took place) about the difference between fitting in and belonging. I’ve shared with him how fitting in means altering yourself to be accepted, while belonging means being accepted for who you already are. I’ve shared how I believe this is a struggle throughout most people’s lives in one way or another, and the ultimate goal is to be yourself and then find where you truly belong, while accepting and loving others for their truths, too. (Unless they’re Cubs fans. Just kidding. Oh, shut up. Why don’t you go and think back fondly on your 1908 World Series win?)
So, yeah…our team loyalties are strong.
When my son saw the photo on Facebook he was slack jawed and confused. “Mom!?! What is that?!”
As you can see from the photo below, he has been a Sox fan from the start.
And so I had to cop to it and tell him my truth of the summer of ‘78. And it was a funny but teachable moment that reinforced the very point about desiring to belong rather than fit in, and how peer pressure to conform can lead you to compromising your values.
As I wrote in one of my Facebook comments on the photo, I just talked to my son about this—and how peer pressure can cause you to make HORRIBLE choices!!! (Choosing to masquerade as a Cubs fan is just slightly better than choosing crack cocaine!)
Yes, it is a topic that is non-threatening and (somewhat!) light-hearted, but he got the point that altering yourself from what you know is your truth in order to be accepted by others can lead you to choices that can run the gamut from embarrassment to shame and regret—and sometimes even worse.
While I am not about to fool myself into thinking that this is a “one and done” lesson where he will forever make the right choices, I do think it was a memorable example to help drive the message a little deeper. Maybe my season of betrayal had some purpose after all.
We all long to belong—to find that place where we are loved simply for who we are. Where our passions and quirks are accepted, and we are embraced—flaws and all. Where our metaphorical hair can be let down, and not only is it okay, but we have support to help us comb through the tangles.
At the very least, I believe my son knows that one of those places for him is right here with his family where, no matter what, he is loved thoroughly and unconditionally—even if one day he does come home…wearing Cubby blue.
As the mom of a ten-year-old, I am obviously not there yet. Just getting him to butter his toast without showering crumbs into the stratosphere is a challenge. But I do already see flashes of the future man he will be.
When I see his caring touch with younger kids—even as an “only” not able to experience younger siblings—I see the loving dad he one day may become.
And when I see him calculate math problems that already make my eyes cross, I see the complex problem solver evolving who one day will be able to tackle the difficult issues that come his way.
Even though he’s only ten, I already see that he is beyond me in some ways, and it is both a scary and amazingly wonderful feeling.
With the math, it’s mostly because I’m more than a little bit rusty on the work he is doing, and it never came easy to me in the first place. Thankfully, I am blessed with a math-minded spouse, so I am able to say, “Go ask your dad,” but if I needed to, I’m relatively sure that I could reawaken that part of my brain and help him out. (Right?)
But there is one part of his world that he is already clearly beyond me, and it touches my heart deeply.
I love music, but I don’t play an instrument. If you remember my history of faking the flute, you know I greatly respect musicians and wish I had the ability. So much so that I did try piano lessons as an adult, but after reaching the heights of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” I knew it was time to turn in the keys. Between needing my hands to move independently of one another and follow the music, the spaz in me just couldn’t keep up. And when my beloved piano teacher added the foot pedal, well…I think I simply combusted internally.
But my kid gets it.
He is learning both the piano and drums (talk about needing to coordinate independent movements!), and he gets it.
He’s beyond me…and I love it.
Hearing him play makes my heart smile. It’s like he knows a language that I never will, and though I wish I did know it, the fact that he does…well, it’s just beautiful. A wonderful, infinite world is open to him, and it brings me great joy.
Seeing my child surpass me in something is really what it’s all about. It is just the first of many aspects of life that he will transcend my abilities and excel as the person he is—someone who is blessed by God to have an array of gifts and talents all his own. Seeing that blossom for anyone is fascinating, but when it’s my own kid, it’s enthralling.
Though right now he is still every bit a ten-year-old boy who giggles at farts and drives me crazy with his lack of focus, when I hear him play, I know that there is so much more in store for him.
One day…I will no longer need to remind him to wipe the peanut butter off of his face.
Lord willing, I will be around to look back and recall this time with great fondness—much the way I do now when I think about his first steps or his chubby baby cheeks. I need to cherish it all because I can see that time is marching on with determination.
Some days it’s harder for me than others to remember to embrace the joys of the age while striving to equip for the future, but I am grateful for it all.
What a wonderful journey I get to be a part of. I need to keep that in mind when the crumbs are flying, the homework assignment is missing, and I am telling him for the 17th time to get into the shower.
Maybe I should just make him play a song for me. That might just do the trick.
PS–Our world would be so incomplete and sad without the beauty of the arts to enrich our lives and help us to express ourselves in ways that science alone cannot. We need to fight for all kids to learn, experience, and grow in the arts. Please support art programs in public schools!
PPS–This is the 100th post of The Juggle Struggle. Thank you for coming along with me on this journey! Whether you are a first time reader or a long-time subscriber or follower, I greatly appreciate your taking some of your precious time to read my words…it means the world to me. And I hope you find it worth sticking around for more!