Monday, August 20, 2012

The Laundry Basket

In honor of my friends who have sent/are sending kids off to college this year for the first time, I thought I'd re-post this little reminiscence...

It sat there in the corner of the bedroom I shared with my sister, looking innocent enough. It was just a bright yellow plastic laundry basket. The cut-outs that provided ventilation were shaped like tulips. It was empty at the beginning of the summer, but as the weeks progressed, items were added a few at a time until it was overflowing.

I’d be heading to college in the fall and that basket was collecting the things I’d need to live outside of my parents’ house for the first time in my life. There were towels -- MY towels. There was bedding --MY bedding. There was a bucket to transport my toiletries from my dorm room to the communal showers. That was rapidly filling, too. A filled bucket within a filled basket.

I spent that summer recklessly. I had a boyfriend of sorts, but it was casual. We both knew it was finite.  I went to parties and hung out with my girlfriends. We were all headed to different schools in the fall and – even while we were promising each other that it would be like this forever, we knew it wasn’t so.

That laundry basket was there to remind me.

I had a job that summer. I’d had a job since I was just shy of my sixteenth birthday. I saved a little, but most of what I earned went to clothes and albums and movies and concerts. I worked to support my habits, not to support myself.

I didn’t help much around the house. It wasn’t so much that I was lazy (although I was), it was just that not much was required of me. My mother was an excellent housekeeper and she took a great deal of pride in her home. I didn’t execute any of the household chores in a manner which was satisfactory to her, which caused both of us a great deal of frustration. By this summer – my last as a permanent resident of that house – we had both pretty much given up on me, at least in the domestic realm.

Our mutual long term hopes and plans for me were more in the academic realm.

My personal short term hopes and plans were more in the social realm.

So Mom cleaned the house and cooked the meals and did the laundry while I partied and played and worked just enough to finance it. I knew it wasn’t going to be this way forever. It wasn’t even going to be this way for long.

That laundry basket was there to remind me.

It was there to remind me that college wasn’t going to only be all about mixers and sororities and boys.  It wasn’t even going to be all about classes and studying and grades. It was going to be about being accountable. If I did well, that was on me. If I screwed up, well, that was on me, too.

As an incoming freshman, I was scheduled to have a meal plan, so someone was still going to cook for me. But no-one was going to clean for me. No-one was going to tell me when it was time to study. No-one was going to tell me that partying on a Wednesday night before an 8:00 am Thursday class was a bad idea.

No-one was going to do my laundry.

That laundry basket was there to remind me.

The summer wound to a close, more quickly than I ever could’ve imagined. It had been a wonderful summer and I’d lived it to the fullest. Sincere promises were made to keep in touch, amid hugs and tears. In most cases, those promises would be broken in less than a year.

The laundry basket moved from the corner of the bedroom to the trunk of my parents’ car.

It was a quiet ride. No-one had anything to say that hadn’t been said before. I understood what I needed to do to live independently, even if I was a little unclear as to how, specifically, I was going to actually do it.

The laundry basket moved from the trunk of my parents’ car to my dorm room. It was plopped rather unceremoniously onto the little dorm bed, along with a suitcase and a couple armloads of clothing. I’d brought an orange crate full of albums, but my roommate was bringing the stereo. She hadn’t arrived yet.

My parents, who I hadn’t had much time for the past summer, kissed me good bye, slipped me a couple bucks, and left.

I sat on a little corner of the bed and cried for a moment. That was a surprise! I’d been so excited about the prospect of not living in my parents’ house anymore. And now I didn’t. Right this minute, I didn’t. It was a lot scarier than I thought it would be. I pulled myself together and began to unpack and move in.

I hung the clothes in the closet and unpacked my suitcase. My roommate arrived and we set up her stereo and organized our albums.

I was left with the laundry basket.

I made my bed with the new bedding and hung my new towels neatly over the towel rack. I found a spot in my closet for the shower bucket.

There was a mixer that night to welcome incoming freshmen as part of our orientation. I decided to shower and change clothes for the occasion. I threw my dirty clothes in the laundry basket.

Who was going to wash them?

I was, that’s who.

That realization scared me. It terrified me. It made me ridiculously proud. That laundry basket was my responsibility. My life was my responsibility.

I was ready to handle it.

I was a grown-up.

That laundry basket was there to remind me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Too Magical to Touch

Soft fuzzy sweaters, too magical to touch...
~J. Geils Band

Those sweaters were, without a doubt, angora.

I had an angora sweater once. It was a pale aqua which wasn't, perhaps, the most flattering hue to complement my coloring, but it was soft as a cloud and made me feel sweet and sexy and powerful all at the same time. I just got a little shiver thinking about it.

I decided, with this milestone birthday looming large in front of me, and a decent discount available to me at the yarn shop, I'd like to treat myself to some angora. Not a sweater's worth - it's a good discount, but not THAT good - I decided on 50 grams. It seemed like an appropriate amount of indulgence. I needed to narrow it down though. We sell angora that's good. We sell angora that's REALLY good for a few bucks more. For twice that? We sell angora that's - well - how do you spell the sounds one makes when one is rolling on the floor dying of joy and bliss and overwhelming sexy soft? Yeah. That good.

When presented with the options, my family overwhelmingly encouraged the purchase of the latter. It's a treat, for Pete's sake, nothing I'm going to make a habit of. And it's only 50 grams. One gram for every trip 'round the sun. 


What to make?

Lately Tom has been musing about Woody Allen. I bring it up for a reason, I promise. While Tom is neither slight of frame nor Jewish, he is indeed brilliant, funny, dry, self-deprecating, lacking awareness of his own genius - note to self: do not adopt children... anyway. It got me to thinking about the kind of woman who is attracted to The Woody Allen Type. You can't ride a thought train like that and not land on Diane Keaton for a little while. Diane Keaton wears gloves. Like Barbara Bush wears pearls. She wears them, I think I read once, like all the time now. I think that is ridiculously cool and more than a little kooky. Affectations are so great when they're done well.

Maybe I'll make gloves.

But it's hard to get a lot of things accomplished while wearing angora gloves. Diane Keaton may not have to get her hands dirty, but I, occasionally, do. Nope, gloves, lovely as they would undoubtedly be, will not work.

Maybe I'll make a scarf.

A scarf would be nice. Not a long or generously sized one with that small amount, but something to wrap 'round my neck. I'd feel the softness next to my face which would be swell. One problem - the internal thermostat tends to - um - run a little on the warm side. A scarf would start out looking and feeling wonderful, but in no time at all I'd be clawing at it screaming "Get it offa me!" Nope, a scarf is not a good idea.

Maybe I'll make a hat.

I look good in hats.

I wear hats whenever I can.

Maybe my affectation can be a fluffy angora tam.

And my NAME is Tam.

Oh, kids.

I think I'm on to something.

Fifty is going to be GREAT.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Do I Look Good in Green?

I'd always heard about the phenomenon of mothers becoming jealous or even resentful of their daughters as they come of age. I sort of thought it was bullshit. I understand that it's their turn - their turn to be beautiful, vital, relevant. Sometimes there's a little twinge - I wish I could wear their cute clothes or that I had their soft skin - but those feelings are fleeting. In all, no jealousy.  I look at the  grown women who get caught up in all of that as vain and silly.

Today, though...

Today I sort of related to those women.

We took Lea on her first college visit today.

And I was excited for her.

As we walked from building to building, hearing the stories and traditions of the institution, I felt so much anticipatory joy for her.

But I wanted it to be for me.

I wanted to be anticipating those years instead of looking back on them fondly.

I really, really wanted it.

Now don't go telling me about the opportunities available to non-traditional students.

I know all about that.

That wasn't what I wanted.

But you knew that.

I wanted the whole - thing.

I wanted it bad.

There was talk of classes and dorms and social clubs and service clubs and academic teas - Oh. My. God, ya'll. Academic Teas. I almost squeed right out loud. I never attended an academic tea. It's hard to picture my girls attending one. But it's nice to know they exist, in all their leather elbow-patched glory. No, they'll probably never attend a tea. Oh, but what they will do...

I had it, though. I had my turn. I lived those years without regrets - happy, happy years. They are not, however, years one can extend or relive. It's a snapshot. I can pull it out and look at it and remember it fondly, but I can't have it back.

And that's as it should be, of course.

It's almost my girls' turn.

I'll relive it as a mom.

It won't be the same.

Despite what I'm told is a striking resemblance, neither of them is me.

It won't be the same.

But it will be good.

I'll try to keep the jealousy under control.

And if I fail from time to time, well, I always did look good in green...

Friday, August 3, 2012

The World in a Paper Cup

Love the girl who holds the world in a paper cup.
Drink it up.
Love her and she'll bring you luck.
 ~ Loggins and Messina

When I was young, my parents would often take us camping in New England towards the end of summer. I have vague memories of the rocky shores and lovely villages, but one thing I remember clearly - on a much more visceral level - is picking wild blueberries then taking them back to the camper where Mom would wash them off (all of us maintaining the facade that we HADN'T been eating them the whole time we were picking them) and put them in a paper cup with a little bit of sugar and some milk.

It was divine.

As I got older, when blueberries would start showing up on the shelves I would often indulge in that very same treat.  The sweetener changed - sugar to Sweet 'n Low to Equal to Blue Agave to Stevia - but always blueberries and always milk (the higher the fat content, the better) and always - ALWAYS - a paper cup.

This week I've been having mixed berries as my fruit with my breakfast every day.  This morning there were no more strawberries or raspberries.  When I looked at those blueberries, all alone in my bowl - well - you know what I did.

And it was good.

Really good.

But something was missing.

In an attempt to be as environmentally conscious as possible, we pretty much never have paper plates or cups around.  Now I love the environment and the world and all that - but for a couple weeks here - while blueberries taste amazing - there will be paper cups in the house.

And breakfast will taste like youth and summer and freedom.

I love the taste of youthful abandon in the morning. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Two Rules

So the doc says to me, he says:  One meal. Every 7-10 days. Anything my little heart desires. Two rules.

Rule #1:  Never have this free meal for breakfast. His reasoning was that eating something not-so-good-for-you first thing in the morning will make you feel like crap all day. Later in the day it will effect you for the same amount of hours, but you'll be sleeping for most of them.

Now I feel compelled to share a story at this time. I told you that in the past two months I could count the amount of times I'd - for lack of a better word, although I sort of hate using this one in relation to food - cheated - on one hand.  Out of those times, only two of them involved sugar - and I felt crummy afterwards.  Like - REALLY crummy.  Curl-up-in-a-ball-make-the-world-go-away crummy.  I says to Tom, I says, "So there really is something to this. This food makes me feel awful."

"But you've been eating like that your whole life and it never made you feel awful before."

"I was pretty accustomed to feeling awful. I just accepted it. Awful was the old normal. Now I know what it feels like to feel - not awful. I prefer not awful."


Never for breakfast. 

Not a terribly invasive rule.

No law against pancakes for dinner. It wouldn't even be unprecedented.

I got this one.

Rule #2:  Never booze. Not even on free-for-all day. Never. He said my body does awful things with it and instead of screwing me up for hours it screws me up for days. It is the one and only thing that he said is off-limits, never okay ever.

This poses a bit more of a problem.

I have always been a social drinker. That's the box I check. I drink socially. I meet people for a cocktail. I join people for a beer. I celebrate with champagne. I relax with wine. I never do these things alone, but they are things I really, really enjoy doing socially. Actually, I find it hard to imagine being social without it. Living without it? Sure. I can do that. I don't - like - wake up and crack a beer before breakfast or anything. On a day to day basis it will not really be all that difficult. But how in the world am I expected to be social? I do not particularly want the life of the permanent designated driver.

Rule #2 blows.


My birthday is in a month. The big 5-0. I've been practicing saying it for two years. "I'm pushing fifty." "I'm almost fifty." Saying it out loud. Getting accustomed to it. Making it fit.  Making it normal. I guess I need to start practicing "I don't drink." "I'm a non-drinker." 

Oh, man.

That doesn't feel right at ALL.

I have to do it, though.

I don't want feeling awful to feel normal ever again.

I love how I feel now.

But nothing good comes without sacrifice.

No thanks, I don't drink.

I can say good-bye to booze. It could be worse. Karen Carpenter said good-bye to love. 

Patty Smyth said good-bye to you. 

Rhonda Weiss said good-bye to saccharine. 

I can say good-bye to booze.

I can.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When it Counts

This past Christmas a beloved cousin who I don't see very often pulled me aside and said, "Are you okay? You look -- tired." In case it is unclear, she is a very nice lady who would not say "You look like shit" to a person on Christmas, but that's what she meant. And she was not incorrect. I decided, in the spirit of the holiday, to continue the conversation using her word.

"I AM -- tired."

"What's up?"


I began the litany. She'd asked for it. And then - when it didn't send her screaming - I decided to confess, "I went off my meds right after Dad died. My prescriptions ran out and I just never bothered to fill them."

My meds, for what it's worth, control my rather extreme hypothyroid issues.

Her eyes widened. That was a long time to go without meds. "Do you feel better on them?"

"Of course I do."

She put an arm around me and nodded, seeming to grok the entire situation. And then she summed it up. "You don't want to feel better."

Dagnabbit, she was right. It had been such an awful year and I felt so BAD and feeling better seemed almost wrong. I WANTED to feel bad.

Eventually I decided that I didn't want to feel bad anymore. I wanted to get back to the world of the living. But how could I go to my doctor and ask him to refill my prescriptions after all that time? How could I face him - the man who had always tried to help me through this - puffy of face, dragging of ass, and lacking of thyroid hormones? I was afraid. But I pulled myself together and made the appointment and when I told him why I'd done such a stupid thing he didn't yell at me - he hugged me. "Ready to get back on track?" I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. I'd cried in doctors offices before and always felt ridiculously stupid afterwards. I didn't want to cry. Crying time was over. It was time to feel better.

He refilled my prescriptions then told me to come back in 2 months for blood work. I felt a lot better in a couple weeks. Before the 2 months were up I was back at the gym and JUST before the 2 months were up I'd started working with a trainer. I felt great.

Until he read me the results of that blood work. He hadn't yelled at me when he found out I'd been off my meds for 6 months, but he yelled at me but good when he went over those results. A lot was going on, but the most concerning issue was triglyceride levels that were through the roof. He said, "It looks like all you eat is carbs!" Of course this was not true, and I tried to protest, but he stopped me, "You need to cut them out - your body does horrible things with them."

"Cut out - like - fruits and carrots - and stuff?"

"Cut out - like - breads and pizza and rice and pasta - and stuff."

"I'd rather cut out carrots."

"Cut it out - and come see me in 2 months."

So I did. Mostly.  I can count the amount of times I failed to stay within his parameters in that 2 month period on one hand. I lost weight, as I mentioned in the last post. I feel that it might have been unfair for me to mention that, though. To folks fighting with a vanity 4-7 pounds or something it probably sounded like a huge accomplishment - but I wasn't kidding when I said that it really isn't even noticeable to the casual observer.

It wasn't about the weight.

I wanted to get those levels under control.

He called me yesterday. Perfect. That was his word. Perfect. My triglycerides are perfect. My cholesterol is perfect. My blood work was perfect. I am healthy.

I may not lose another ounce or another size or another inch, but if I can remain healthy, I will consider what I'm doing a success.

I have met my goal. Now the hard part - maintaining it.

As I was leaving his office, he said, "Every 7-10 days I want you to have one meal - not one day - one meal - where you eat anything you want."

"No rules?"

"Two rules..."

I was never much of a fan of cliff hangers, but I'm going to have to complete that thought in another post...