So . . I was awakened by words no homeowner wants to hear,
“Mom, the refrigerator’s not working.”
Yes, sometime during the night my refrigerator just stopped. Slipped away quietly in our sleep. Peaceful, really. We should all go like that, except for that pesky spoiled food, two days after I’d gone grocery shopping for actual perishable food.
Oh there’s a chance of revival, of resurrection. But it will come at a cost. Possibly a deal with the devil, financed by American Express, or MasterCard, with a ridiculously high APR.
Now, I’ve made it clear how I feel about Open Floor Plans. And I don’t have one anymore, don’t want one. In my most popular post to date I only listed some of the reasons I don’t want one. There are more. And in many of my comments readers have pointed them out. But the reason that affects me right now is that because of HGTV and the Open Floor Plan we have all been conditioned — brainwashed — to desire and require fancy, shiny, state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances. Indeed, The Open Floor Plan, Granite Counter-Tops and Stainless Steel Appliances are the Holy Trinity of home improvement.
(I’ll wait for the moment of silence and for those religious folks to make the sign of the cross.)
But I just need a working refrigerator. The purpose of refrigerators is to keep some foods chilled and others frozen. That’s it. Now I know many refrigerators also serve as dispensers for water and ice. Okay, that’s cool (no pun intended). But other than that . . . we really just need them to keep food cold. The magic happens when the food comes out of these beasts and the chef, host, or hostess then does his or her thing.
Is it because so many of our kitchens and the ones showcased on TV are open for all to see that now we feel we must have costly granite counter-tops and state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances? And even worse, have we been conditioned to buy more than we need or spend more than we have even if we don’t have an open floor plan?
Now, it seems, we are supposed to want to show off our refrigerators, not just serve good food and make our guests feel welcome. We want to be the envy of our family and friends who should salivate over our appliances, not our dinner.
I get that some of the fancy refrigerators have neat features — don’t get me wrong — like keeping your drinks at a different temperature than your fruits or vegetables, or if there is easy access to the most used items . . . etc. But really? Those are amenities that happen inside a refrigerator.To show them off you have to have someone come into your kitchen –which happens automatically because the kitchen is now in the family, living, and dining room – open the refrigerator door and show off all the many ways that you can chill your stuff.
These days when someone walks in your home you don’t just offer them a comfortable seat and a beverage, you usher them to the appliance that chills the drink as if to say,
“Look at me, I’m getting your drink out of this beautiful thing. Pay no attention to my decor, artwork, hell my spouse or children. And for the love of all resale value do not sit down! Come here. Watch me get your drink. Only then will we perch on stools at the granite countertop island and later you can watch me put the bottle back in the stainless steel refrigerator! This thing cost me two thousand dollars so please show some respect. How is your juice?“
And then you close your refrigerator doors and immediately buff your thumbprint off the stainless steel shine of the thing while reading the digital display that gives you further information about how your refrigerator is doing its job — information that you, apparently, must have.
I mean, if you are a gourmet cook, having a six burner gas stove and two ovens, etc. those would be functions that directly lead to a desired result — a great meal. But a refrigerator? Its job is to keep the food cool so that when when take it out to cook, prepare, or serve it, it does not kill you. The refrigerator is a middle man.
It all seems a throw back doesn’t it — from a time before my time, when housewives of the 50’s would invite ladies over to show off their new washer dryer and yes, their Frigidaire?
Plus, gone is the Refrigerator Art of days long past — the report cards or prom pictures or “Things To Do” List that had traditionally been affixed to the refrigerator to give you a smile or a reminder. I wonder — Are kids these days getting dumbed down because no one would dare to put magnetic letters of the alphabet on a stainless steel appliance? Are little feelings hurt because Mommy no longer hangs a school drawing on the refrigerator?
It seems that the refrigerator itself, not the food that comes out of it, not the “Number One Best Mom” card your kid made you, not the latest picture of your new niece or nephew, is what is showcased. And let me tell you, the show does not come cheap. I have a (currently non-working) fancy, three door stainless steel refrigerator. I didn’t pick it out. I didn’t really pay for it. How I got it is a story for another post, but it’s legal, I assure you. Suffice it to say I had no idea how much this thing costs on the open market.
And guess what, these digital stainless steel refrigerators are quite expensive to repair, I’ve since found out, sadly. Hell, tragically. Something about a mother board. (I ask you, did I need a motherboard to keep my milk cold?) But . . . I digress . . .
The repair guy said that these high end refrigerators often break down and the repairs are neither cheap nor guaranteed. If I can live without the look and features of the current refrigerator, he suggested, I could buy a brand new one for only a little bit more than the cost of the repairs.
My first response in my head was — I don’t need another high end refrigerator. I don’t need to show it off – I don’t even have an open floor plan. The water dispenser hasn’t worked in a year anyway. I rarely consult the digital display.
But why, I ask, does it seem like a step down to purchase a large, white, two door refrigerator? The large, white, no frills, freezer on top models (which seem to hold more food) are now considered garage refrigerators suitable only to chill your beer. They are not to be seen by the general public, not ready for prime time, as they say. Maybe you’d have one at a beach house, or rental unit. But they are not presentable enough to chill any respectable homeowner’s milk, butter, and eggs. They are that cousin that gets seated way –WAY — in back at family weddings.
Right now, my beautiful large digital stainless steel refrigerator is useless, empty. Truth be told, it’s not even that pretty. It has two dents from two incidents with a bass drum (don’t ask). Dented Stainless Steel is like a pregnant prom queen– unfortunate, because there had been so much potential.
Also, my stainless steel is not even completely visible. I felt as though my children and I were not doing enough accidental or subliminal reading of things important to us, meaning important to me. Visually, we only see what is fed to us on TV and social media, we don’t hang up enough calendars or maps or pictures or words with which we should be familiar. Why can my teens spell Toshiba and Netflix? Because they see those words all the time. But they don’t see the months of the year or school announcements or reminders from me and reading a map is — unthinkable. They see what’s new on Netflix as soon as they turn on the TV, but when they went to the fridge to get a cheese stick they were met only with their distorted reflection. Oh, don’t get me started. Long story not really short, I defiled the gleam of my dented stainless steel and hung pictures and stuck word magnets on my refrigerator. One side English; the other side French. I mean it can’t hurt, right? And it made my kitchen feel like a family kitchen, the heart of the home like at my Mom’s house — where she has photos of all her grandchildren to enjoy on her refrigerator. It gives me the warm fuzzies to be able to look at vintage baby pictures of my kids as they scowl at me in real time. My kitchen was no longer a showroom of gleaming appliances.
(Oh, the HGTV people would have my head on a spike, a stainless steel spike).
Bottom line: I just don’t see spending my limited funds on a fancy refrigerator. It’s an appliance. It’s supposed to work for me. I’m not supposed to work for it. It should give me features that make my food maintenance and preparation easier. It does not define me; nor do I expect it to be beautiful, just functional.
We’re not going to hang out in it. We don’t sit on it. It doesn’t entertain us.
But . . . still . . .
It seems like such a step down, in defeat. Did I drink the HGTV Kool-Aid, the properly chilled inside a stainless steel appliance HGTV Kool-Aid? I wondered (well my Mom pointed out) — What about resale value of my home? Will people not buy my house if the refrigerator isn’t stainless steel? Will they walk away from my home — not because it only has one bathroom, or because it’s on a busy street, or because there are sofas on the side of the road — will the deal breaker be that the kitchen is not open and does not show off matching state-of-the-art stainless steel digital appliances?
These are questions I asked myself, as I ate canned soup for dinner, because my top-of-the-line stainless steel refrigerator stopped doing its job, making my job as head of this household much, much harder. You just don’t realize how few meals you can prepare without milk, butter, and eggs until you have nowhere to chill your milk butter and eggs.
But one to three grand to keep my milk butter and eggs cool in the matter to which I — we — Americans — HGTV –have become accustomed?
As my teens would say, “Can we just . . . not?”
Just Me With . . . warm bottles of Gatorade.
Postscript: During the preparation of this overly long post, my refrigerator was partially repaired. It keeps food cold now, but the digital display and the interior are dark. The controls do not work. I’m told the front board needs replacement. There are no small repairs on these types of appliances. While he was there I had the repairman look at my stainless steel top-of-the-line two drawer dishwasher because it hasn’t been feeling well. My dishes came out dirty, crusty and the inside of the thing is corroding. (But on the outside, it looks good.)
I received bad news and will have to replace that appliance. The repair would cost more than a new one. My fancy HGTV approved appliances (that I did not pick out) are turning on me, one by one.
The microwave, stove, and oven are still working like champs, though. (Knock wood. Actual wood.)
I’ve been in my former hoarders fixer house for a while now. And, as was always the plan, I will sell it — if the universe and my credit score allow– upon or just prior to or just after my youngest kids’ graduation from high school. I have a couple of years, but I’m thinking ahead. I probably won’t see a dime in return on investment for all the improvements I’ve made to my little hoarders home. There are a lot of reasons. But for this post I’ll focus here on my neighbors’ damn sofas sitting on the side of the road because that’s what’s bothering me today, every day.
Sofas, couches, easy chairs. Whatever you call them. Indoor furniture that is banished outside to publicly decompose for all to see — it’s the worst lawn decor ever.
It’s the modern day real estate equivalent to the head on a stick.
It’s crap like this that will lower my property value and keep it low — which is good for the contractors who want to buy low and rent or flip high — but bad for me. There are plenty of regular folks looking for an affordable houses in a nice neighborhood in a good school district, but because of the ever present sofas on the side of the road, it makes my neighborhood seem, well, not so nice.
Have you ever wondered why people put sofas outside which stay there for weeks, months, even years?
I have my theories.
1. They got a new couch. So they put the old one outside.
2. The old couch had something nasty happen to it — of the urine or vomit variety –that they just couldn’t get out.
3. The old couch had something smokey happen to it — the old cigarette in the cushions . . .
This only explains why the couch leaves the house, not why it stays outside.
Here are my theories on why they stay outside.
1. There is no (free) bulk trash pickup in the neighborhood.
2. Bulk trash pick-up is costly and low income (poor) people can’t or won’t allocate their money to pay for it.
Paying extra for trash removal can be a hard pill to swallow if you are having trouble paying regular bills (Query: How much money was shelled out on the new sofa? Perhaps the $25 bulk trash fee should be built into the cost of getting the new couch?) But regardless, there’s a solution. If you are able bodied you can save the $25 by breaking up the couch and putting it in the regular trash. I’ve done this. I’ve seen other people do this. It’s actually kind of fun it you want to get out some aggression. And another option is, if the sofa is old but not ruined, put it on Craigslist for free. Someone will take it. Craigslist people won’t pay a dollar for something, but if you say it’s free? They’ll take it. They’ll even take it from your house. If you don’t want strangers in your house, just plan to put the couch out on a sunny weekend, post the ad, and it will go away — for free. I’ve done this. More than once. If it’s truly trashed, this isn’t an option, but it’s worth a try.
3. I’m waiting for bulk trash pick-up.
But dude, how long are you going to wait?
Once a year, our Township provides dumpsters for people in my neighborhood to use free of charge for whatever they need to get rid of. But it’s once a year. In the Summer, I believe. It’s Winter now. Will the sofas sit here until July?
A variation on this excuse is: I put it out and wanted to see if the trash guys would take it. Okay, I get that. Because sometimes they might actually take it, or somebody might. This only justifies having an outdoor sofa for a week, though, tops. After a week has gone by of the regular trash people not picking up the sofa, it ain’t going nowhere.
4. Another reason proffered by well-meaning people is that the residents must not be physically able to get rid of the couch.
Well, I call bullshit on that one. If a person had the means and muscle to get the couch out of his or her house, they have the means and muscle to put it somewhere where it might get picked up. Obviously there are elderly or disabled (mentally or physically) who cannot maintain their property. I get that. But I’ve seen grown, strong, working men coming and going from these houses with the lawn couches. I call bullshit on them. I know people may have ailments that are not readily visible. I withdraw my calling of bullshit if that is the case. But if not, just putting indoor furniture in your yard and leaving it out in the rain, sleet, and snow until starts to stink, disintegrate, become the nesting ground for vermin and bugs, and just look plain old tacky — I just don’t get that.
Right now there are two couches I see every day. Every day.
Every damn day.
Couch Number One. It’s in a back yard, which backs onto my alley and my back yard. I see it from my kitchen window, as I said. Every day. As do at least four other houses and all cars that drive along this back alley. Lovely. This placement is curious to me, because their trash gets collected from their front yard. Why put the couch out back, inside their fence, on its side, cushions and all? Why? It won’t get picked up there by anyone. Maybe they are planning to have bulk trash pickup or somebody with a truck come later — but it’s been about a month now. And why leave the cushions? They could certainly go in the regular trash or recycling and this would cut down on the bulk of the sofa in the yard and also make it less inviting for bugs and rats. But no, the couch is outside.
Couch Number Two. This one is on the edge of a front yard of a house on the side of the road. Now this house has always had a messy porch. I don’t know the people, personally, but I’ve seen them come and go. Not elderly or infirm. Driving, working, healthy looking people. It appears as though they are doing some sort of home clean out now because there is more junk outside than usual. Again, having gone through extensive clean outs and renovations I understand that while work is in process, there will be debris, because — it’s a work in progress. But, the couch and cushions have been out there for again, about a month. I don’t see any evidence of home repairs or renovations going on. It appears as though someone decided to get some crap out of the house so — they just put it outside. Other large trash items have joined the sofa. These other items could have been put out in the regular trash. But, for some reason, the residents are just piling it up on and around the couch.
There’s a school bus stop nearby. Lovely.
These abandoned sofas are like announcements to people, whether they are passing through or coming home. It gives the appearance of,
“You have crossed over into a bad part of town.”
When people come to see me, or drop off my kids, they have to pass by one or both of the sofas. It’s far from inviting. It actually repels. And it seems that as soon as a rotting sofa is finally removed, another appears. I remember when we were still in the marital home when it was on the market, as we drove by what is now my neighborhood, my kid said,”I’m not moving over there.” She didn’t know that I had already purchased my little hoarders home. I told myself at the time, “I’ll make it nice.”
And I did.
I worked my butt off making our home as nice as I could, but I can’t do anything about the neighbors who allow upholstered furniture to rot outside their homes.
I think there’s a psychological reason why people do this. There are some people who are — interior. Most of their relaxation time is spent indoors. They only think of their yard, their porch, and front door as something to pass through to get inside. I guess then it becomes easy to make whatever changes you are making inside the house, and put the debris outside. After all, you’ve gotten it out of the house. It’s kind of like how an apartment dweller can throw things in a dumpster and go back inside, oblivious as to whether the dumpster is ever emptied.
But still . . .
These couches make me sad. It feels like people have just given up and don’t care. And what’s worse? It’s contagious. I would never do the couch thing, and I maintain my yard, but I’ve lost the will to garden or create an outdoor space for entertaining. I mean, why bother? I don’t want to sit outside and look at a rotting sofa while roasting marshmallows. I plan to garden and landscape more this year, to enhance curb appeal, but my heart’s not in it. I confess.
Just Me With . . . plenty of outdoor seating . . . on rotting couches . . . on the side of the road.
It just irks me. And it may cost me.
Related: Piss, Puke, and Porn — My Hoarder’s House
That Hoarder’s Smell — How to Get Rid of It
The sign is about to go up. The sign for the this year’s high school musical. This is significant to me, because, as I’ve written before — I remember things, so many things. It’s a gift — and a curse.
The local high school here has a very well-respected music and theater department. Going to see a play at the high school isn’t something that only a parent of a performer would put oneself through. It isn’t a painful two hours required by some familial connection to some pimply faced kid. No, it’s kind of like going to a “real” show. It is actually enjoyable, yet since it is still just a school production, the tickets are cheap. When my kids were little, I would take them to these shows and to other local high schools if they had a decent theater department. It’s a night out, and a way to introduce live theater to children without having to take out a second mortgage.
My kids’ high school usually alternates between a classic musical or one of the lesser known newer ones and they “recycle” ones they’ve done before when enough time has passed.
This brings me to the personal significance of the sign going up. Apparently, enough time has passed that the school has decided to repeat its production of the musical they did when my marriage ended. Let’s say it was The King and I — it wasn’t — but that’s the one I’m going with for purposes of this post.
Over the years I’ve only danced around the actual happenings surrounding my husband’s departure, dealing more with the fallout after he left than the painful process of his leaving. I tell myself I’m saving it for my memoir, but really — I’m extremely uncomfortable talking about it — still. For me, I guess, not enough time has passed for a revival.
Sometimes, though, you just have to raise the curtain — a little.
So here it is. It was about three weeks after he’d told me, “I have to go.” Those three weeks consisted largely of me begging him not to leave me, until one Friday night I finally said to him — “I guess I can’t force you to stay.”
That’s all he needed to hear.
By the next day, Saturday, he had booked a hotel room, and planned to sleep there that night. (Say what now?) That joker wasted no time. The plan was to tell the children on Sunday (aka the worst day of my life). After, he would officially move out.
So Saturday night? Separation Eve?
We went to see a play.
Our family was too big to get seats in one row. Musicals are a hot ticket in town. So I sat behind my husband, we each were flanked with kids. I remember thinking it was a mistake to sit behind him, because I’d have to see him, the back of his head, if I looked up at the play. And I didn’t want to cry. I remember trying very hard not to cry during the show, though there was comfort when the lights went down that my tears wouldn’t be noticed. Too bad it wasn’t really The King and I, I always cry at the end of The King and I. No matter, I had tissues to cover any escaping signs of my emotional turmoil. I always carried tissues with me from that time on. Trying not to cry or be seen crying in public became almost my vocation in the next year.
I remember during the play reaching out in front of me and caressing my husband’s shoulder. I just needed to touch him. I needed him to know I was there. Still. There. Hurting. I remember him acknowledging my touch without looking at me, as if he were saying, “Oh bless her heart.” I remember the awkward Intermission, when small talk with my soon to be ex-everything seemed so wrong and eye contact deemed so dangerous, as it might trigger the tears. I talked with someone I knew in the pit orchestra instead, I recall.
And I remember the play, “The King and I.” I remember thinking this would really be good, except for, you know, my life falling apart.
I was in a fog, a fog of shock, denial and accommodation. I’ve since had some clarity on the subject. And I don’t love him anymore. Haven’t for years. Still, I remember things.
The kids were oblivious. They enjoyed the play, having no idea that their world was going to be completely turned upside down — in a matter of hours.
When the show was over, we all went home and put the kids to bed.
Then my husband left our home to stay at a hotel. I knew that when he returned the next day it would be so that we could tell the kids he’d be moving out and he would, indeed, move out.
But that was then . . .
And enough time has passed (apparently) that it’s okay for the high school to put on the same musical. My kids aren’t little anymore. One is in college. The rest now go to this same high school, which means that I will see that sign every day, multiple times a day, until the show is over.
I used to hope that my kids would get involved in theater at the high school. None did. But, I think, this might be a blessing.
Because I don’t have to go to this show. Because if I did go to this particular production, I couldn’t help but relive that night, the beginning of the hardest days of my life and the long journey since.
If I had a kid performing in the 2015 production of The King and I ?
I don’t think I would handle that well. I remember things. It’s a gift and — oh hell — it’s a curse.
So, the sign will go up soon. Enough time has passed for a revival.
But no one asked me.
It will take all the restraint I have left in my being not to run the damn sign over.
Just Me With . . . a night at the theater. Too bad it isn’t Chicago, about famous murderesses . . . and their men — who had it comin.’
And I’m glad it wasn’t really The King and I, because that is a beautiful show and I would hate for it to be ruined.
Postscript: The damn sign is up now.
My Daddy Moved Out — What one kid said about it at school.
Happy Birthday to My Ex-Husband’s Ex-Girlfriend — Because I remember everything.
Worst Super Bowl, Remembered — Again, because I remember everything
My Cheating Husband was Packing Viagra — I helped him pack.
Six Days of Separation — I was a mess the next week.
I Don’t Love Him — self-explanatory.
When I Needed A Helping Hand — To move his stuff.
I recently had a vacation with the extended family. We rented a big house during the off-season at a resort area — so cheap. My family took pity on me because I had been unwell lately and because I currently live in a home with only one bathroom that I share with my five kids, though one is away at school.
So even though I don’t have a “Master,” per se (gag me), they let me have one of the master bedrooms. This meant I had my very own bathroom.
My very own bathroom. It was a thing of beauty. It had a jacuzzi tub and a separate shower, a private water closet and — space! I could dance in my bathroom. I briefly considered holding some sort of meeting there. It had more floor space than my current family room has. Plus, I didn’t have to make an announcement before I showered in case others had to use the bathroom first and I didn’t have to use the bathroom quickly before someone else took a shower. For a week, I didn’t have to wade my way through acne products on the sink and teen clothes left on the floor.
My glorious bathroom also had double sinks. I’ve discussed the double sink thing before, at Double Sinks in the Master Bath –Must We Have them, Really? One of the problematic issues about them being standard in new construction is the fact that not everyone is coupled up. The sinks are kind of a throw-back to the assumption that the heads of the households — the ones who deserve the best rooms — are always a couple.
Now, I loved having my own bathroom for a week. I am not complaining. It was an indulgence I’m sure many have on a daily basis, but for me? I was living like a queen, albeit temporarily. Still, I felt slightly silly in this bathroom. It may have been the double sinks. This was a bathroom built for two. Every time I went to wash my hands or brush my teeth or wash my face, it reminded me, ever so subtly, that I am single, occupying this space meant for a couple. The suite also had a king sized bed, and I have to admit that, after all these years, I’m still sleeping on “my side of the bed.”
I took turns using first one sink and then the other so that neither one would feel left out. (That’s my throw-back to having twins. Keep it equal as much as I can, in an effort to keep them out of therapy.) Inexplicably, I also locked the door to the water closet when I was in there. I guess I didn’t want my non-existent ghost husband to walk in on me when nature called as he breezed in to shave over “his” sink.
Oh wait, no one was going to use that other sink.
I was the master of my bathroom domain.
Oh well. I loved having this huge bathroom all to myself for a vacation, but if I had actually purchased a home with double sinks that I’d have to look at day in and out? That would kind of piss me off. Contractors, realtors, HGTV — take note.
The master bath also came with two sets of towels — I guess for my invisible ghost man.
I used those, too.
Just Me With . . . one shower, one bathtub, one toilet, TWO sinks and a bunch of towels — Just For Me.
I have written about this guy three times before.
1. The Landscaper Guy — Not Digging Him — I meet a man.
2. The Landscaper Guy and the Female Chandler Bing — I give him a shot. (I shouldn’t have.)
3. The Landscaper Guy and A Phone Smarter Than Me — I shoot him down, and miss. I have to take better aim and shoot again.
Well, I ran into him today. Again. Seems he has a vehicle now, a vehicle that needed gas, as did mine.
He was, again, wearing white but topped it with a blue jacket. No head scarf this time.
I said a passing hello like I would to a stranger, a stranger who looked somewhat familiar. He said “Hi” back with a look that said, You don’t have anything else to say?
I smiled at him, being polite, but not starting any kind of conversation. It was, after all, 7:45am.
He followed up with a “Hellooo” drawing the word out, raising his eyebrows at me. It was that kind of ‘Hello’ that wasn’t a greeting but rather a complaint of some sort. It said, You got nothing else to say to me?
I gave the ‘I’m just being polite‘ smile and thought, “Shoot, I’m supposed to know this guy. I have no idea who he is.”
He said, reading my mind– or my face, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
“I’m sorry, no, I don’t. Are you a neighbor?”
“Yeah,” he humphed (Is that a word? Because that’s what he did. He humphed.). Then he said, “Yeah, a few houses down. You live on Maple Street, right?”
“Yes.” I was starting to remember, but not his name. “Um . . . Oh yes, we talked a couple of times.”
“What’s wrong with dinner? You didn’t want to go to dinner?”
“Um . . . ”
“You still feel that way?”
“Yes.” What the hell?
“Why?” WHY DOES THIS GUY ASK WHY? WHY WHY WHY????
“I’m just not going out much lately.” This was the response that had failed me previously. It was all I had at 7:45am.
“But dinner? What’s wrong with that?” And he let out a humph again, “Just you and your dog . . .” (I ask you — Why’d he have to bring my dog into this? Oh, my dog was in the car, looking at him, probably judging him, I hope. Woman’s best friend and all . . . )
“I mean, you’re single, right? ”
“Yes.” I refused to lie, and he refused to STFU. As discussed in Where Did I Put My Fake Boyfriend there are some aggressive men who only accept the reported presence of another guy as an acceptable reason to decline a date.
“Well, I don’t get it. What’s wrong with dinner? I’m not talking about a relationship or anything. Dinner,” and he wasn’t done.
He added, incredibly, “I mean a woman like you shouldn’t be alone — for years — like this.”
WTF? I cannot believe he said that to me.
“I’ll be alright,” I replied and offered a purposely fake smile, one that I hope really conveyed, ‘You, sir, are an asshole.‘
He laughed. “Well.”
“Well. You have a nice day, now,” I said. This is the way Northern US women say the Southern US women’s ‘Bless your heart‘ which really means, ‘I’m done talking to you. Kiss my ass.’
“Alright,” he replied, shaking his head, which probably meant, ‘Bitch’ and truthfully, I don’t give a shit.
Just Me With . . . a full tank of gas, next to an ass.
For other run-ins with the men in my neighborhood, see:
I came at my son with a yellow legal pad a week before he was scheduled to go away to college.
I didn’t want to wait until the day before or burden him while he was imprisoned in the car with me for the long ride. I needed to do my duty, read him his rights, duties, and responsibilities. I needed to know that he knows stuff — because he heard it from me.
One of the many topics I addressed was the issue of college campus sexual assaults on women. Fun, huh?
I started with saying that I have no reason to think that he would do any of this stuff I was about to talk about, but that
I have to have said it, and
He has to listen.
The boy shook his head, gave the kind of chuckle that told he knew he didn’t have a choice, and I talked. This is what I said, and I hope, I so hope, that he really heard me:
1. If she’s too drunk to say no, then she’s too drunk to say yes. If anyone does anything to a woman while she is incapable of consenting, it’s rape.
2. If she appears to be consenting, but also appears to be inebriated (or drugged) to the extent that her spoken consent, even her requests or begging for physical attention, are not made wisely, then walk away. Guys can say no, too. It’s not passing up on the only opportunity. Some situations are just not right and absolutely not worth it. “Nope, you’re too drunk.” Wise words.
3. Consent can be withdrawn, at any time. And it can have limits. A person can consent to one thing, but not another. She can consent to one guy, but not another. If there’s ever a no, everything stops.
4. No matter what a women wears, or what she has done in the past, or how she dances, or even if she flashes, or offers to put on a show for the guys, no one has the right to touch her in any way unless she gives consent, real consent, anew, each time.
5. Be a hero. “You think you’re a superhero anyway, so be a hero,” is what I said.
If you see other guys violating these rules , do not walk away.
Women usually travel in packs. If a girl is in trouble or heading that way, find one of her girlfriends and tell her. It can be as simple as,
“Go get your girl, she needs to get out of here.”
Her true friends will take her back to her dorm. If there’s no time for that, you can, I told him, directly stop the guy or guys from crossing the line. It doesn’t have to be a big scene or physical, just a,
“Dude, she’s too drunk, she said no, let her go,” should suffice.
And, get her out of there.
Now, as an attorney mother of a boy, I must say that I’m not entirely comfortable with him being the one last seen leaving alone with a woman — drunk or sober — who was about to be or has been assaulted. The real perpetrators or their buddies might try to redirect the blame to my son, the one who was actually the hero, as the man last seen with a victim of assault.
“She was fine when she was here, but she left with him,”
— is not something I want my superhero son to have to defend or discredit. There is safety in numbers — and witnesses.
So I advised him to go ahead and remove a woman from harm — publicly — then find girlfriends and if necessary call someone with authority — a Resident Advisor, Campus Police, or Security, or actual police. Do the right thing, be a hero, but do it safely for her and for yourself.
I told him that it’s just not okay to allow, ignore, or leave someone in danger. Remaining silent is morally wrong, encouraging it can be criminal.
Yes, I re-watched The Accused over the Summer. Thanks, Netflix. I think.
I want my son to learn and have fun in college, and be respectful, mindful, helpful, do the right thing, and be a hero if necessary. That’s not so much to ask.
Just Me With . . . words of advice for my son.
This was only one part of the multi-page outline I approached him with, poor kid.
I pray he never has to use this advice, but if a bad situation presents itself, I hope he remembers what his mama taught him, and also what Shawn Spencer said in one of his favorite shows, Psych:
You know that’s right.
I finally got my oldest child off to college. He lives hours away from home now. It’s been a process. Depending on how you I calculate it the process began 18 years ago when I started talking to my growing belly, taking prenatal vitamins and playing music for my unborn child, reading and talking incessantly to him as a baby, or the process can be measured in the last year of making college visits, college choices, buying dormitory bedding or the untold joy of filling out financial aid forms. My particular journey was salted by the sudden yet not completely unexpected visual appearance of my ex-husband — just in time for the graduation celebration and going off to college festivities. See The Unspoken Pain of Sharing Celebrations. Despite the extra anxiety, the kid is safely enrolled on a residential college campus. He won’t be home until Thanksgiving. Going Away To School — And Staying There.
Now that he’s gone I am often asked, “Don’t you miss him?”
And sometimes, I say, “Oh yes, yes, I do.” But I’m faking it.
Really, I’m thinking, “Oh crap. Wait! I’m supposed to miss him? Already?”
He’s only been gone a couple of weeks. I’ve been so focused on getting him ready for college and out of our suffocating suburb and the stupid visitation schedule — I had not counted on the expectation that I should miss him — so soon. I mean I cried the traditional tears when I said goodbye and left my boy to live elsewhere, with people I don’t know. I’m sure I sported the vacant, almost Zombie-like look that the freshman parents had wandering around campus and in the bookstore having been separated from their precious babies. I did all of that.
But then I came home
— and rearranged his room.
Apparently many other parents and loved ones are really grieving about the absence of their college freshman. People are asking me how I’m holding up. And how the siblings are doing. And I am reminded of the episode of Sex and The City when Miranda, who is pregnant, finds out the gender of the baby and everyone expects her show excitement at the fact that she now knows she’s having a boy. After a while she just feigns a show of excitement to satisfy the general public. “I faked a sonogram,” she admits. Sex and the City, Season Four, Episode 15 “Change of a Dress”
And then there’s me. I love my son. I am so ridiculously proud of him. And his absence is felt, that is true. It was kind of weird on the first day of school when there was one less child I had to beg to allow me to take a picture of. But I admit, I am not the face of mother grieving over temporary absence of her son, though I sometimes play the part.
My son, who I sometimes refer to as The Arrogant One, has always been fiercely independent, while simultaneously relying on me to support his endeavors, get things taken care of, and sit in the audience and bleachers and watch him do what he does. He’s been away from home before — going on an annual week-long vacation with a friend’s family and traveling to Europe for eleven days. I remember preparing for the Europe trip, going to a meeting where many parents were asking how they would be able to contact their children while they were away. Other than in the event of an emergency, I hadn’t considered needing to talk to my son during his eleven day trip. It was only eleven days! But back then I started to panic — Was I supposed to be in contact with my kid all the time? Was I missing some sort of mom gene? I’d help raise the money so he could go. Now weren’t we supposed to let them go and have fun without us? Why did I never even consider needing to call him while he was out of the country for less two weeks?
I figured that I’d hear about it when he got home. Turns out I was wrong about that . . . but I digress.
Me: “How was the trip?”
Him: “Good, really good.”
And that was that. Oh I probed him for some additional details, but . . . it was his experience, not mine.
I’ve been feeling that same kind of panic lately when people ask me how I’m “holding up” since my son’s departure. (Wait, I’m supposed to be falling apart?) And when my daughter, the one I refer to as The Quirky One, the one who is very sensitive — almost a Star Trek level Empath, burst into tears saying she missed her brother, I was taken off guard. I consoled her. I told her I knew it was weird not having him here and that it’s okay to miss him and he’ll be home before we know it, but I thought to myself — “He’s really not that nice to you, he told you that you were worthless. Why are you crying for him?” He’s not very nice to his sisters. That’s a fact, and an issue I’ve tried to address. So to the people who feel sorry for him for being the only boy, well, I’m not feeling that. He has stated out loud that he’s more important and smarter and a better person than his sisters, who, in his mind, do not deserve any attention. ) And sometimes, him being a teen person, he wasn’t very nice to me either. (I’m the safe parent, you see, the one who gets the crap because the child is comfortable that I’ll be here regardless. Sigh.) So there are things — like his assertions of superiority — that I definitely will not miss. Now he’s dealing the fish/pond thing — everyone on his campus is a high achiever like him and he won’t have his little sisters to belittle to make himself seem more important. And I think it’ll be good for him. Necessary for him.
And my failure to pine after my college dwelling son might also be a big family thing — one less kid to feed, or who needs to be picked up or dropped off somewhere, or requires some sort of supplies, etc. One less kid to start an argument with the remaining kids. And to me, someone who is the only adult living in a little house full of teens, having one less home means having one less person to ridicule and ignore me, and one less person who has no problem vocalizing the assumption that I know absolutely nothing.
So, do I miss him?
I know I’m supposed to say, “Yes, God yes.” I know I’m supposed to well up and tell you exactly how many days it will be until I see him, and the last time I talked to him, but . . . as my own mother used to say when we went away,
“Yeah, I miss them, but it’s a good miss.”
The last thing I said to my son when I left him on campus, when I said goodbye to my baby through tearing eyes was, “I am so so proud of you. I love you. And you know I’ll always have your back. Have fun and learn.”
And, upon my return, one of my daughters asked the definitively more important question,
“Do we still have to wear pants now that the boy is gone?”
“Yes, yes, you do,” I answered. But it’s not because of him. It’s not about him anymore.
In Sex and The City Miranda did have a quiet moment when she first felt her unborn son move — it brought her to her knees, and that was her first moment of connection. Quiet, and unexpected and not when people thought she should have it. I assume at some point there will be something that triggers me — something that makes it painfully clear to me that my first-born will never really live under my roof in the same way again — if things go well. Then I’ll acknowledge the reality — that this first step into pseudo-adulthood is actually a natural progression to full adulthood, that one day I’ll end up being the mom to call from time to time with news, for advice, and someone to visit on the holidays — maybe someday with his own family. And I suspect, that like with Miranda, it’ll be a private moment of reflection when I’ll truly feel my son’s — move.
But in the meantime, as I sit in his room writing behind what used to be his closed door –with my pants on while relishing in the fact that in my now all girl household we could go pants-less any time we damn well please —
Do I miss him?
Not yet, but . . . it’s early. Give it time.
Just Me With . . . One less child under my roof — until Thanksgiving, anyway.
My son’s graduation is over. It was the first big celebration that I had to share with my Ex-Husband. See The Unspoken Pain of Sharing Celebrations. I made it through. And by that I mean I stayed off the six o’clock news. In the weeks before the graduation, during the graduation and after the graduation some bad things happened, and some very good things happened. I’m too close to it right now to write about it. But in the midst of all the brouhaha, of the visiting relatives, of the planning and anxiety, the tears (some mine, some not), something quite unexpected happened . . .
I got rid of my wedding gown.
My sister was staying at our parents’ home. When she left she cleaned the old bedroom — her old bedroom. She dusted, organized, threw things out, removed bedding and vacuumed — even under the bed. To clean under the bed, she pulled out everything stored there, including an airline cardboard garment box. The box had the logo of the airline, along with my maiden name handwritten on it in black marker.
It was my wedding dress.
Now, I’ve written before about how I have dealt with the mementos of my lengthy but ultimately failed marriage. Wedding Leftovers — What To Do With The Dress and The Wedding Album — Time to Reduce it, Perhaps by Fire. And the gist was that I sold my rings, reduced the number and manner of presentation of my wedding photos, but I kept the wedding gown in a box under a bed at my parents’ house — untouched.
And I’ve also written before about how I moved into a hoarders home and had to clean it, see That Hoarders Smell, and that I’m also trying to clean out my parents’ home, which is too full of stuff. See Goodbye Hoarders. I’m a big believer in getting rid of things. It’s my free therapy. See Craigslist Angel’s. It truly is contrary to my belief system to store something I would never use. So when my sister pulled out my wedding gown to clean under the bed, it suddenly felt kind of stupid to put it back.
I’m supposed to be cleaning out my parents’ house. I shouldn’t be keeping any of my stuff there, I thought.
Rule One of de-cluttering is to get rid of stuff that doesn’t belong to you. My parents shouldn’t be keeping a big box of white dress for me, taking up valuable real estate under the bed.
When I first married I really wanted to keep my dress. My parents, who are still married, had a big church wedding back in the day. My mother looked beautiful.
I like tradition, antiques, old houses, etc. and I totally would have worn my mother’s wedding gown when I got married. But my mother didn’t properly preserve it, it yellowed and she eventually just threw it away. My young self chastised her for this over the years and I swore I would always keep my wedding gown just in case future daughters unknown to me at the time might want to wear it. So after my wedding, I carefully packed away my gown, according to the instructions from a professional. And I left it at my parent’s house. I’ve moved many times over the years but the dress stayed at my parents’ house.
I did have daughters. See Fertile Myrtle. Technically this meant that there was a possibility that one of them might want to wear my dress. But the dress is woefully out of style. I got married when women were still allowed to have straps and sleeves. Still, any dress can be altered, and there is plenty of material to work with. But none of my daughters have any interest right now in vintage clothing, except for Halloween or dress up days at school. Even if they did, call me silly, call me superstitious, but it seems like bad Mojo to marry in a used wedding gown, even heavily altered, from a wedding where the marriage did not last. I’d gotten a lot of suggestions from my earlier post on possible other uses for the gown — dye it black and use it for Halloween, donate it to particular groups that collect gowns, theater groups, etc. But as I looked at the big box with my birth name on it, I was sure of two things:
(1) I need to get it out of my parents’ house; and
(2) I sure as hell didn’t want it in my house.
I also didn’t want to take the time to find a proper home for the dress. I didn’t much care whether or how it was used again. And I was also quite sure that I didn’t want to touch it. I was almost afraid of the damn thing.
It was freaking me out.
So I put it in my car — my beloved car, where I spend way too much time. It is my refuge. See My Very Own Personal Olympic Games. But since my car is my refuge, I didn’t want to leave the gown in there either. Bad Mojo. I didn’t want it to infect the only space I have for me. Then I started to have visions that I would get into a car accident and they would find my bloodied wedding gown in the wreckage — and think I had some connection to it — that I had kept it for sentimental reasons –that I was purposely driving around with my wedding gown because I must still be in love with my Ex-husband and — and NO!
I’ll say it again. The gown was freaking me out.
I’d been doing some Spring cleaning in my own house (free therapy after an emotional time) and had a couple of things I wanted to drop by Goodwill. Goodwill, if you don’t know, is a charitable organization benefiting the disabled which is funded largely by Thrift Stores. (Yeah, I looked it up.) During my move from the marital home I spent a lot of time at Goodwill, giving away many of my possessions. I’ve shopped there, too, finding good buys, especially with furniture and wall decor. So I stopped by my house and grabbed the few other items that I planned to donate and took myself to Goodwill, making a special trip. Had it not been for the gown I would have waited until I had more stuff to drop off, but this had suddenly become quite urgent.
Still, I had some doubts. Consequently, I had a little conversation with myself on the ten minute ride:
Should I take the dress out of the wrapping?
(Why should I? I don’t want to see it.)
But what if I’d hidden money or something valuable or embarrassing in the box?
(But I didn’t. Those pesky photos of my husband and a stripper were never stored there. My boudoir photos I made for my husband during happier times have long since been destroyed.)
What if the wedding dress had yellowed or gotten otherwise ruined?
(Well, then the kind folks at Goodwill will dispose of it for me.)
Shouldn’t I let my daughters see it one time? Maybe try it on?
No. They’ll want to keep it, because they are hoarders-in-training. I can’t even let them know that it was in the car, because they’d have what I would deem as a morbid interest in it. And, it’s my dress, my memories. My kids did not exist when I got married. They have no right to keepsakes of my memories that predate them. I still have some of the wedding photos, that’s enough. If I abided by the reasoning that I must not destroy things related to my relationship with my kids’ father, then it follows that I should have kept the boudoir photos for my kids too, right? Wrong — and ick. Plus, if I saw any of my girls try the gown on, even just for fun, I think I’d have a panic attack and start screaming to the visual representation of my younger self standing in front of me — Run! Run! RUN! See Almost a Runaway Bride. No, I could not handle it. No, no. Did I say no? No.
Plus, when you think about it, my husband wore a rented tuxedo when he married me. He didn’t even keep his wedding attire for more than a day. Why do I have to keep this — thing — forever?
So, without any ceremony or further ado, I pulled around to the back of the Goodwill thrift store and left the box that contained my wedding gown on the concrete slab.
And that, as they say, was that.
And you know? I feel really good about it.
One less thing in my parents’ house, one less item from my marriage that I have to think about or make room for.
I have lightened my load. The dress wasn’t even my house yet it still haunted me. Just being in close proximity to the box that contained it led to irrational thoughts. It needed to go. I’m sure at one point one of my kids will ask where my gown is. I’ll simply say that I got rid of it, just like my mother had. If my girls marry, they can choose their own dresses, without resurrecting my vintage error in judgment.
As my oldest child is moving on to his next stage in life, preparing to leave the nest, it seemed like a good time clean up some of my old stuff. It was time to grow up and stop storing items I can’t even look at under a twin bed at my parents’ house.
So I’m good with it. So good.
Just Me With . . . no wedding gown, not anymore.
I can’t help but wonder how much it’ll go for in the store, it sure cost me plenty, in more ways than one.
*This is a long metaphor or twisted analogy. It may not work, bear with me. You’ve been warned.*
Imagine you were in a horrible car wreck, broadsided by a drunk driver. You were seriously injured. You lost mobility, time, and a sense of hope. You gained scars, fears, and pity.
Imagine you rally, survive, and for some reason, want to punch fate in the throat by training for a marathon, something you had never considering doing before, having usually enjoyed team sports, or the arts.
Imagine you train, battling old injuries from the car wreck, acquiring new injuries from the training,. You run to the soundtrack of self-doubt announced from the voices in your head and repeated on loud speaker when you get home by the real people closest to you:
“You don’t have to do this. You can’t do this. It’s too much. Just being able to walk is good enough. Why run?“
Imagine you also battle financially because of lost time, work, and pain and limitations from the injuries, and a lawsuit that finally settles for minimal damages, because your pain and suffering are not visible or quantifiable. You have, reportedly, recovered from your injuries. The drunk driver was not injured. He was not prosecuted and retained his license to drive and does so without restrictions.
Imagine you sign up for the marathon anyway. It’s the big kind of marathon, similar to the Olympics where runners start and end in a stadium full of people. Most of the real work takes place on a journey through lonely, winding roads, though, with very few spectators.
And imagine running, without a partner, not part of a pack, and certainly without an endorsement deal. No one really gets why you’re doing it at all. You do get encouragement, however, from unlikely sources – complete strangers you pass on the road. They clap, they call out to you,
“You can do it. Way to go. Looking good!”
Imagine thinking that they are wrong, you can’t make it, that no one really expects you to make it, that it is ridiculous to even try and that your time would be better spent on more traditional endeavors for people like you.
Imagine wondering if stopping halfway might be good enough. Imagine knowing that no one would blame you for simply walking it, “It’s the finishing that counts, you don’t have to finish like the real runners,” the voices say. Imagine a cramp, then another, imagine feet on fire, imagine pain in joints that had never been there before.
Imagine continuing to run, regardless.
Imagine entering the stadium after over 26 miles and starting the last lap around the track to reach the finish line.
Imagine feeling suddenly and surprisingly overcome with emotions as the crowd cheers, because some people there know that in the recent past you couldn’t get out of bed — let alone run or race. You also know that some of the cheers are coming from people who don’t know a thing about you, but they recognize a woman fighting not only to finish, but finish in objectively solid time regardless of any personal struggles.
Imagine the emotions taking hold so suddenly and with such intensity that it causes you to stumble as you take your last steps. You stop dead for a moment and put your hands on your knees, trying to catch your breath and blink away sweat and tears.
Imagine seeing out of the corner of your eye, a flash of color? Another runner trying to pass? Is your mind playing tricks on you? Are the cheers for the other runner? You raise your head, wipe your eyes and try to sprint, hoping that your pumping arms will convince your legs to rise from the dead, but you have so little left. Still, you begin to run, the end is in sight and the crowd, pardon the overuse – is going wild.
Imagine right before you cross the finish line being wrapped in a blanket — covered by the flash of color that had come alongside of you. The flash of color from the driver, the same drunk driver who had broadsided you and put you in the hospital.
Imagine looking up to see his fist raised in the air and his smile as you are reluctantly led across the finish line by him, being robbed of the opportunity to cross on your own — which you would have done, which you could have done, had you been permitted. Had you not been intercepted. Had you not been broadsided, again.
Imagine seeing your unwanted escort in running clothes, but without a bead of sweat. He did not run 26.2 miles. He was just one of the thousands in the crowd, and, from the smell of it, he had recently eaten a hot dog.
Imagine the crowd on its feet, those who know the story — cheering you not for finishing the race despite the odds, but for your obvious show of public forgiveness by allowing the embrace of the drunk driver who had taken so much from you and caused you so much pain.
Imagine the front page newspaper story, showing a photograph of you in visual defeat, being assisted across the finish line by the man who inflicted the injuries you fought so hard to overcome. Imagine looking at yourself as you’ve now been memorialized to others, as a woman lost without his assistance, a woman who could not have finished on her own. Your mouth is open, seemingly in a cry of gratitude, but you know that is was a cry of despair that no one heard above the roar of the crowd,
“No! Let me finish. I can do it. He didn’t run. He wasn’t there. I did this. I did this!“
Imagine the newspaper headline:
They did it! They did it! They did it together!
* * *
Imagine my son’s graduation from high school, with honors, and six college acceptances later, headed to a very selective college — accepted there because of his grades, test scores, challenging course load, essay, and leadership in many extra-curricular activities in both the arts and athletics. His accomplishments, not mine. But such accomplishments were not achieved in a vacuum, or even from a partnership, but achieved in a home atmosphere of encouragement, physical, psychological, emotional, and visual support created by me (and my supporters), coupled with a belief that we are just as good as everybody else. No excuses. I wore myself out making it possible for him to have opportunity and yes, the expectation, to achieve.
But now that it’s time to celebrate, imagine being hijacked at the finish line by the guy who, on one snowy night long, long ago said to me, his long time wife and mother of his five children, simply, “I have to go.”
Imagine sharing the podium with a runner who didn’t run — and who, previously, had broken both your legs.
It’s not uncommon for distance runners to vomit after a big race.
Just saying . . .
Just Me With . . . graduation festivities around the corner.
Could somebody get me a bucket?
Related: Misplaced Praise of a Father
I confess. I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” but I get the gist. I did view her successful Ted Talk that inspired her to write the book. In that talk she made a point of saying to women, “Don’t leave until you leave,” suggesting that women pull back from workplace opportunities long before they have children, simply because they plan to have a family — some day. That’s a valid point. No use preparing to leave the workplace for your family years before you even have one. But I’m taking it even farther back. I’m taking it to school. I’m suggesting that women and girls should not let others do all the talking and just freaking raise their hands in class . . . and say something. It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure if you ever want to run a Fortune 500 company or even whether you like the class. If you’re in school, raise your freaking hand. The corporate world is tough. In many ways it is not an even playing field. In some professions you’re not even allowed to speak if there is someone more senior in the room. So while you’re in school? Before you get out there in the real world? Dang it — if you’ve paid your tuition and you’re going to sit your butt down at the desk for the next two hours, you might as well say something.
As a child I remember accidentally seeing the movie The Paper Chase on television. The Paper Chase is a 70’s flick about a first year student at Harvard Law School. I was a kid. I had no dreams of going to law school. I’d never met a lawyer, to my knowledge. I guess in my ultimate laziness I didn’t feel like changing the channel, so I watched the movie. It stuck with me. In the film, the main character noticed that everyday in class only a few students raised their hands, only a few volunteered answers to questions posed by the imposing professor. Of course, the professor called on unwilling participants via the Socratic method, but only a few dared volunteer. They were the Upper Echelon.
At this point, I think it’s important to note that law school exams in the first year are usually anonymous and not given until the end of the semester. There are no extra points for prior class participation.
So why bother speaking in class, then?
First, because it helps to learn and analyze the material.
Second, it establishes the student as being in the Upper Echelon, and
Third, it makes the student think of herself in the Upper Echelon.
Fourth, being in the Upper Echelon might get a student noticed, and some perks.
In The Paper Chase, the main character made a conscious decision to “jump in” and raise his hand, to join Upper Echelon. Once he did, he was viewed — and viewed himself, differently. Other students sought him out for assistance during the study period for finals. He eventually got an “A” in the course, if I recall.
I’m not sure why seeing this movie about Harvard Law students had such an impact on me whilst I was in the 6th or 7th grade or so, but it did. There was something about the guy deciding to jump in with the other students who had the bravura to do it from day one.
Fast forward a decade and then some. I found myself in Law School (not Harvard).
Like the main character in The Paper Chase, I noticed that there were only a few people who volunteered answers in class. And it was always the same people. The Upper Echelon. Most of Upper Echelon were men. I think there was one woman. She, no surprise, was not well liked.
The second tier was comprised of those students who spoke when called on and would speak voluntarily on occasion — on very rare occasions. These students were sitting ducks, waiting to get called on. If the professor was not teaching the Socratic method they were quiet, relaxed ducks, passively letting the material wash over them. (Well, wash over us. I was with them, with my highlighters and colored pencils and markers.)
And then there were The Quiet Ones — the ones who never volunteered to speak, and would even “pass” when called upon.
In law school, there was a saying, “Beware of The Quiet Ones” as they were often the ones who, when grades came out, seemed to have pulled a 4.0 out of their asses. With that 4.0 they could get on Law Review, and continue to collect academic credentials that would yield many, many opportunities in the legal profession or other any chosen professional career. When grades came out, suddenly The Quiet Ones were the cream of the crop, yet no one had ever heard them speak or even noticed they were there. In my years at my school, The Quiet Ones were women. Reluctant geniuses. Secret weapons, possessed of powers unknown to man (literally). Statistically, however, there are only a couple of those kinds of Quiet Ones. Most silent students were left crying or shaking their heads when grades come out. The straight-A Quiet Ones were an enigma. There’s only one Batman . . . but I digress . . .
I’m not really talking about grades, anyway, I’m talking about perception and learning and opportunities. We learn by engaging. We are perceived to be knowledgeable by engaging. We show what we’ve learned and how we think — by engaging.
So I decided. I would jump in. I would raise my hand. I would talk. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a conscious decision. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a decision that would take me out of my comfort zone. The thing about it was, I was there anyway. I was doing the reading anyway. We were all students. No one had any grades yet. Might as well jump in. If those guys (and one woman) could throw themselves into the Upper Echelon from day one, why not me? I would be just like that guy in that movie I saw when I was an impressionable youth.
I admit, in the night before I decided to jump in I was a little more attentive to my reading. My array of notes was a colorful masterpiece. (It was the markers and colored pencils, you see.) I didn’t know in what direction the professor would be taking the discussion, so I simply vowed to say something about . . . something.
And, the next day, just like in the movie — I raised my hand. I don’t believe I had ever spoken voluntarily in class before.
Heads turned. I was no longer invisible.
After I spoke that first time, I raised my hand again. I argued. I answered. I wasn’t always right, and since it was law school, there wasn’t always a right answer, but my words were heard, my point of view considered, and even when I had no real point of view, I practiced taking a side anyway. I became one of the Upper Echelon, just like in The Paper Chase. I’m guessing that I also joined the ranks of students other students disliked, but whatevs. I walked a little taller.
One day after class a Professor asked to see me. Admittedly, this dude scared the crap out of me. He was not the Professor I had a crush on. See Another Embarrassingly Moment, Another Crush. No, this professor was a classic unapproachable (or so I thought) academic whose pearls of wisdom often seemed to float out of reach above my head. This was the professor who made me nervous, and though I spoke in his class with an unsteady voice, I was always convinced that what I said — or what anyone said, for that matter, was just — not quite right. I didn’t know why this professor wanted to see me, but I dutifully went to his office.
To my surprise (utter shock, actually), the professor asked me to be his research assistant.
Not one of the original Upper Echelon members.
Little old me.
The music student who was really just acting out a scene in a movie she’d seen by accident as a kid.
I accepted his offer, and my research (for which I got paid work-study money) contributed to his book, in which he gave me credit by name when the book was published. He also became a mentor and a professional reference, and my work with this professor, who was a former clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, certainly didn’t hurt me in securing my own Federal Clerkship, a position coveted by many.
All because I raised my hand. All because I decided to raise my hand.
If I hadn’t starting talking in class, he wouldn’t have known who the hell I was, and the research position, along with the opportunities and experience that flowed from it, would have gone to someone else.
But it didn’t. It went to me, because I raised my freaking hand.
I’ve tried to explain all of this to my kids, especially my girls, but they don’t get it.
I’m all, “Did you raise your hand?” And they’re all, “No way, I don’t talk in class.”
And I want to kill myself.
Time to break out the old movies, methinks. One of my daughters has seen The Paper Chase (thanks, Netflix), but I don’t think she got it. I must try again — on her — and the other kids.
One of these days somebody will listen to me.
Just Me With . . . my hands in the air, waving like I just don’t care . . .
I just had a horrifying thought. Much of this was triggered because I happened to see the movie The Paper Chase on television when I was a kid.
Think of the things kids “happen” to see on TV these days. I shudder at the thought.
Related: Tales From The Bar Exam