Sooo when last we talked I suggested that my failure to acknowledge the fruit of my loins was going to be a problem. See, What Have I Done? The problem was that I had recently broken one of my rules — that is — I promised myself that I would never directly deny that I had children. Well I kind of did that, and I did it in front of someone who knew better.
But I have to go back a year and a half to explain.
Although when I began this experiment and this job I was with a large group of lawyers, we were later broken up into small groups and sent to different places. I worked closely with the people in my room, but rarely talked to people at other locations –until the holiday party.
I went to the party alone because that’s what I do. Once there, the only people I recognized were a couple of women from my project who worked in different locations.
But it was a party. There was alcohol. Things happen. You understand.
So I’m making small talk with virtual strangers. These were two younger child free women. They were nice. One was drunk. I’d had maybe a half a drink. My half a drink on meds is like three for a normal person. So I felt suddenly close to these women. They were my new work party best friends.
Twin talk began because one of the women brought her twin brother. I was way too talkative and knowlegable about twin stuff. And apparently alcohol is Goddamn truth serum delivered by the morality police, and I felt sooo bad for not revealing the source of my expertise. I confessed.
“I feel like I’m lying to you guys. I have to tell you. I have kids, twins. Two sets plus a singleton.”
And then the whole story came out. I begged my new work party best friends not to tell anyone about my — experiment. They promised.
This was the Christmas before last. Almost a year and a half ago. Fun fact: The drunk one has since had a baby of her own. But God love ’em they kept my secret – easy, though, because we didn’t work in the same room.
Then we were all relocated. I found myself sharing space with a new set of attorneys, including Cheryl, the twin. The one who knew.
That was fifteen months ago. People have come and gone since then. Currently in this space it’s me, Cheryl, another woman I’ll call Sophie, and two guys. One of the guys has never mentioned a wife, girlfriend or children. Let’s call him Bill. The other is married and has one daughter who is, reportedly — repeatedly reportedly — a certified genius. Yeah, he’s that guy. We’ll call him Ross.
Ross explained to the room that he feels comfortable bragging about his daughter at work because NO ONE ELSE HERE HAS CHILDREN. Consequently, he reasoned, we can’t get jealous or feel bad because our kids do not and can not possibly measure up. Then he stood and asked the room,
“Wait, no one here has kids, right?”
Sophie is a talker. We know all about her life. No kids.
The other guy, Bill, said nothing.
I opened my mouth briefly and closed it.
In that moment my silence felt dangerously close to denying my kids — and Cheryl knew it. She murmured, “Well, not little kids.”
Guilt showed up and took a seat.
I must endure Ross brag brag bragging about his academic superstar daughter to us childless folks. Side note, child free folks don’t want to hear that shit either, not all the time. Well, except Cheryl. She encourages him. She’s in that holy trinity love bubble of just got engaged, planning a destination wedding and can’t wait to have babies!
Bless her heart.
But I have condemned myself to silence while Ross talks as if he is the only person to ever have had a child, a golden child.
Listening to Ross actually confirmed my decision. It is possible to talk about kids too much. Parents of high achieving teens are much worse than parents of adorable babies in my opinion. There are awards involved.
It is important (to me) to note that my original observation that started all this, that the guys do not talk about their kids as much as the women, still holds true. Ross doesn’t talk about her in meetings. And when he leaves early because of her he only says, “Well that’s it for me today,” as opposed to “Oh I’m on carpool duty this week because soccer started and I have to pick up the snack etc.” You know, Facebook detail. Ross shares no day to day kid stuff, he merely announces her many, many awards.
Plus, what’s the harm in my nondisclosure? It’s not like I’m dating any of these people. I have been enjoying being me without reference to kids or my ex-husband. I won’t ask Cheryl to lie, though. I figured I’d just continue to opt out of kid talk. I’ll just be cool.
But Sophie . . . Sophie was NOT at the Christmas party.
Today, Sophie was talking about some estate law issues and asked me if I had siblings with young children. Then she casually added,
“Well, you have kids.”
“Wait! What? How do you know that? Who told you that? WHO TOLD YOU????? GODDAMMIT WOMAN, WHO TOLD YOU???!!”
But I didn’t say that.
But I didn’t say that either.
I didn’t say anything. Sophie went on to discuss something else. The guys weren’t around.
I tweeted about it because I was like what the F— ??
I never ever told Sophie about my kids. It must have been Cheryl.
Then when Cheryl left for the day, she said, “Happy Mother’s Day” to me, albeit a little under her breath.
Happy MOTHER’S Day???????
I’m not entirely sure I formed any actual words in response.
Happy MOTHER’S Day?
Twice in one day. Two different people acknowledged my motherhood. Out loud.
Soooo there ya go. Cheryl must have told Sophie, the talker, and Sophie let it slip. I’m sure Cheryl was just being nice by wishing me Happy Mother’s Day. It’s just that Ross was there and it freaked me out. Thank God for earbuds. He missed it.
I don’t think either of the guys know. That’s all I have to hang on to. But Sophie, as I said, is a talker. My days are numbered.
Just Me With . . . children.
This is so silly, I know. But you must understand. First, the number of kids I have, coupled with the twin thing and my slender physique tends to be a big deal and dominate the discussion. And second, I married my high school sweetheart (and that, as you may have read, did not end well). I never got a chance to be single with no kids. Never. It’s certainly not the same now because I’m of a certain age (something else I never acknowledge) but it’s the closest I can get.
So when I leave my former hoarders house to go to work, I’m just a single girl on the train.
I once had a music teacher, a professional concert musician, who told me that her doctor was concerned that she didn’t work out, that he thought she needed some kind of physical, aerobic, activity.
Her response was, “Have you seen me play?”
“You should. You should see me perform.”
He did, and promptly retracted his statement that she was not active enough. After seeing the fervor with which she played the most complicated, extended, and beautiful music, witnessing the amount of control she exhibited to transition from flashy virtuosity causing her to angrily rise from her bench, to quiet, sweetly melodic passages Continue reading →
Somehow, while paying my bills — which takes so much longer than it would if I had more money — but I digress . . . I started thinking about debt and sexually transmitted diseases. Don’t ask me why. So, here, without further ado, is a list of how debt is like an STD.
1. You’d rather people not know about it.
Really, no one starts a date with reaching under the table to scratch and saying, “Sorry, but I really itch down there. It’s supposed to stop in a few days.”
“Can you pay if my card gets declined? I think I have enough left on this card, but if I don’t, they might confiscate it. But it’s probably cool.”
2. Both can, literally, drive you crazy.
Untreated Syphilis can lead to dementia.
Stress from debt can lead to depression, and even sometimes suicide.
Seriously, it’s not funny.
3. Both could have easily been avoided by a little self-control and pre-planning:
Don’t do it with anybody or everybody or buy anything or everything just because they are just sooo cute.
Use the available precautions, like stopping at the store to buy condoms before screwing, or checking your balance before swiping.
Ask a simple question, “How much is this?” or “What is that sore?”
4. Treatment can sometimes take a while
STDs may require a course of antibiotics, then retesting, sometimes a change in medications, and retesting, etc. Rinse, repeat.
It can takes weeks, months, or years to climb out of debt, one payment at a time. Pay, Rinse, repeat.
5. Both conditions require a period of abstinence.
Keep your pants on (and mouth closed) until further notice.
Keep your shopping cart empty and put your plastic away. Step away from the mall.
In other words, keep your ass home and offline and enjoy simple pursuits — like pain-free peeing and going to mailbox without breaking into a cold sweat.
6. You can get both from people you love.
You can make an informed decision to be intimate within a loving, monogamous, trusting relationship and SURPRISE! Your Bae has crabs!
You can, after careful consideration, co-sign on a loan with a trusted friend, lover, relative and SURPRISE your friend / lover relative never had the ability or intention to make the payments..
Bottom line: You can get screwed by your loved ones resulting in a rash or low credit score.
7. You can inherit both an STD and Debt.
Sadly, a baby can be born with an STD if the mother had one.
Sadly, a spouse can die and leave you with his or her debt.
8. STDs and Debt can force you to have uncomfortable conversations.
“Um, I tested positive for chlamydia and um, you should be tested too. Kthxbye.”
“Um, I didn’t make the payments and um, they took our car last night. I am so so sorry.”
9. I doesn’t matter how you got infected with an STD or fell into crippling debt,you have to do something about it or things could get uncomfortable, or downright ugly.
Antibiotics don’t judge. You might need them because you were a indiscriminate, stupid, dirty whore who decided that the open sores, puss, or little bugs on your lover you met in line at the clinic were cute, or, you could be a faithful husband or wife who got screwed (literally and figuratively) by your healthy looking spouse who happens to be infected with — something.
Same with debt. You might be in deep debt because you indulged a shoe fetish or like to hang out at the race track or casino, or, you could have gotten divorced, sick, fired, ripped off by a stranger or family, either way you have to do something about it to clear your record. Now.
I think that personal finance folks should back off the blame train and offer concrete ways to deal with a situation without too much talk about how you got there, because debt is like an STD, if you have it, you don’t like it, and you don’t want again. People are more likely to seek help or advice for lifestyle changes faster for personal credit card debt — or gonorrhea — if they don’t risk being reprimanded, scolded, or ridiculed for suffering from a condition they already do not enjoy. Sure, offer tips to avoid a repeat exposure, but do so with the assumption that the person doesn’t want to deal with this again.
Lesson has likely been learned once you experience that first itch or open sore in a private place, or get that first red letter in the mail.
Ignoring either problem can get ugly, trust me. Go ahead, Google Images for Syphillis, Gonorrhea, and Homelessness. I dare ya.
Just Me With . . . a debt comparison.
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
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.
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
I remember dates. It’s a gift, and a curse. It used to drive my ex-husband crazy. This, from a dude who forgot my birthday — twice — when we were still together. But me? I remember numbers for some reason, always have. I can rattle off his land line phone number from high school. I know the birthdays of people I haven’t had any contact with in years.
Recently, it was my best friend’s birthday. I’d never forget that, of course. But it also reminded me of the Other Woman (well, the original other woman was his teenaged lover before her, . . . but I digress . . .). Let’s call this Other Woman . . . Penelope Homewrecker, shall we? (I don’t really blame Penelope for wrecking my home, though. Though she certainly made choices I would not, my ex-husband did not have to honor her — requests?) Anyway, Penelope’s birthday is two days after my best friend’s. I know this because years ago, when I first discovered their affair, I did my fair share of research, as did my work colleagues at the time. I was working in a law office — enough said. Before long I had her full name, her address, her real estate records, current and prior addresses, etc. , and — her birthday.
I remember sharing the information with my best friend. She responded with one of those completely irrational comments only a true friend would say. She almost growled, “How dare she have a birthday near mine.” My friend was right, by the way:
How dare Penelope have a birthday close to my very best friend’s special day?
How dare Penelope have a birthday?
How dare Penelope even exist?
It reminds me of a scene from Sex And The City when Carrie realizes that her on and off boyfriend Big has chosen a woman named Natasha over her — and he is actually happy. Carrie tells her friends she’s ready to accept it. For a beat the women were silent, but then they gave, an irrational, nonsensical, yet incredibly supportive response.
Natasha. What a bullshit name.
I just love that — showing support in such an subtly obvious way, via a frivolous statement.
So thanks to my best friend for expressing outrage that my husband’s mistress dared to have birthday near hers.
How dare she? Indeed.
By the way, Penelope and my Ex didn’t last. (Long story, well not so long, but it’s a good one. I may blog about it at some point, maybe.)
Much later, after Penelope and the Ex broke up, my Ex announced he had a new serious girlfriend. I did the required Facebook check on her, and I noticed that Penelope and the Ex’s new girlfriend were Facebook friends. When I checked again a little later, the two women were no longer Facebook friends.
There was some kind of unfriending situation between Penelope and the new girlfriend.
Perhaps Penelope Homewrecker didn’t want to see posts by her replacement.
Heh heh heh
I wonder if later, Penelope, who had likely thought she’d become the coveted Mrs. Ex, was treated to posts about my Ex’s wedding and subsequent procreation? I’m guessing that Penelope and the new girlfriend must have had some mutual friends. Yes?
Heh heh heh
My investigation days are over. They’ve been over for a long time. Years. I never look at my Ex’s or his wife’s Facebook pages or his family’s pages. I really have no interest now. But those damn numbers stay in my head. As I said, it’s a gift, and a curse.
So, Happy Birthday Penelope Homewrecker! I literally can’t help but remember the date.
Of course, Evil Me wants to ask: What’s your Relationship Status now?
Though, Regular Me acknowledges that Penelope Homewrecker dodged a bullet and may indeed be the luckiest woman in the world.
For those who follow celebrity gossip, think of it like this: My Ex-Husband’s mistress pulled a Penelope Cruz. Let me explain. For a long time (by Hollywood standards) Tom Cruise and his wife Nicole Kidman were a golden couple.
It didn’t last. It was rumored that Tom left Nicole Kidman because of his affair with another actress, Penelope Cruz.
When Tom and Nicole divorced, Tom and Penelope went public with their relationship.
But then they broke up.
Penelope escaped becoming the wife of Tom Cruise, known to control and overshadow his wives. And at some point, Tom Cruise went a little crazy.
Crazy Tom Cruise went on to marry once perky, but later suffering Katie Holmes, while Penelope Cruz ran free! (Katie Holmes is now Ex Mrs. Tom Cruise, by the way, but they had a child together so she still has to deal with him. She’ll never be completely free.).
And Penelope Cruz? I picture her frolicking in a field somewhere.
Of course, in this scenario this would make me Tom’s jilted wife, Nicole Kidman, mother of the first kids. And I’m okay with that.
And I’d be okay with this, too:
Just Me With . . . numbers in my head. And a song in my heart, a country song, “Little Bit of Everything”
“The computer won’t wauk.”
The teen-aged girl, whom her mother affectionately refers to as “The Quirky One” among her online friends, led with this. Years of school provided speech therapy had almost eradicated her “speech impairment” — so much so that sometimes she possessed an aristocratic lilt, sounding almost British. Other times, that pesky and slightly out of reach interior “r” sound, reportedly often the last of the identified “impairments” to be corrected, makes a surprise appearance. When it does, suddenly this teen girl, a young woman in training who wears women’s size thirteen shoes, sounds just like a little girl.
The computer won’t wauk.
She simply stared at her mom, who had just returned from getting coffee and who was planning to sit and just read. The other kids were on a visit with their dad, The Quirky One had missed this visit in order to attend to her cat sitting job, for which she was paid well . The Quirky One had been misdiagnosed for years — was it depression? Was it some kind of learning disability we can’t identify? It’s not dyslexia? No? Her reading is behind yet her comprehension is very high. She’s frustrated with the books she can read easily so she started writing her own, or at least she starts to, along with short stories and poems. But something is, has been, wrong — or just — off.
Now, finally there was a diagnosis that made sense, The Quirky One is on the Autism Spectrum –sounds so pretty in the abstract — like the diagnosis should come with a colorful painting or butterflies — but it’s so, so complicated. This diagnosis explained why the girl would often announce distressing news in the same manner that another child would simply state his or her age. “She does not read social cues,” is how it is described. But to an outsider it looks like laziness or limited mental capacity or lack of empathy. It’s none of those. It’s just the way she is, Roxanne thought, but with the right therapy, thank goodness, she’s gotten so much better — and happier.
Roxanne had learned to expect these dead-pan announcements over the years. Now that she understood the cause of these and other odd behaviors, she was learning how to deal with it.
The computer won’t wauk.
Ahh, Roxanne thought. This explains why The Quirky One had perched in front of the desktop watching Anime when she returned from feeding the cats. The laptop was out of commission. The Quirky One just stared at her mother, expressionless, waiting for a response. Defeated, Roxanne forgot about her coffee and postponed her reading plans. She walked over to the laptop and turned it off. Then, after waiting the required 30 seconds, she turned it back on, practicing the well-worn ritual of the computer-repair-challenged. She was met only with a blank, black screen. She clicked random keys: Enter, Esc, Space Bar, and Enter again. Then she sighed, turned the useless device off again, closed it and walked away, without saying a word, except in her head, “I can’t deal with this now.”
The laptop was only three months old. School would resume in just over a month and a half.
Don’t get upset now. Just read your book, she told herself.
So Roxanne did what she had planned to do before The Quirky One announced that the recent $700 purchase had failed them. She would read, a novel.
Roxanne hadn’t been reading much in recent months, at least not novels, but she’d found a book that did what books are supposed to do — make her forget everything else. Previously she’d been nursing a popular comic novel that everyone else seemed to love, but she couldn’t quite finish. Then the realization, actually a reminder, “I’m not a student. I don’t have to finish it if I don’t want to.” So when buying books for the kids, Roxanne decided, not without the requisite guilt for spending $14.99 on herself, to buy a book.
It did help her forget. Wasn’t it just four days ago when one of the other kids, The Anxious One, having just been told to carry her phone in a purse or wallet at the pool, dropped said eighteen day old phone, shattering the screen?
It was four days after the return date, insurance doesn’t cover physical damage to the phone. And now . . .
The computer won’t wauk.
It still echoed in her mind. What now? A visit to the computer store? A diagnostic test that will cost $80 in order to decide what it will actually cost to fix the computer? And the phone?
Roxanne couldn’t help it, but thoughts of her ex-husband and his new family crept into her mind. His new kids are little and presumably cute and do not require computers or phones . . . yet. Oh, his time will come, if this marriage lasts. But then again if this marriage lasts he won’t be doing it alone the second time around. Then Roxanne had thoughts of her children as babies, remembering the smiles, the hysterical cries and the smiles again a few minutes later. Back then, if their toys broke, it didn’t matter. She could hide them, replace them, or distract the child with another shiny object or a song. The good old days were filled with bodily fluid control and clean up, tantrums and no sleep whatsoever. The good old days, when providing for and educating a child did not require a $700 purchase, though she knew she’d spent much more than that in diapers alone. But the diapers did what they were supposed to do, and she didn’t have to spend $700 at one time– only to have them fail. The good old days — when she could teach the alphabet by singing it, could provide a hug, a song, a breast or two, and simply hold her babies, shifting weight from one foot to the other.
Back then, Roxanne thought, I could do what they needed, and they would smile back. Though the Quirky One never smiled as much as her twin, Roxanne remembered. She often seemed like she was deep in thought. Still, she could make them all smile. She taught them things. They were so cute and everybody said so. “Oh they’re still cute now,” Roxanne thought, “but that’s frankly a little scary in a teen girl.”
“Back then, they needed me. Now, they still need me, just as much, but they also need a $700 computer they treat like a recyclable magazine and they need phones with two-year contracts that they carry like a balls when running through a parking lot. And they complain that their friends all have smart phones? I don’t think so. Not happening.”
With these thoughts running through her mind, the worries, the fears, frustration and jealousy . . . the tears almost came, right behind the bitterness.
But instead of crying, instead of attempting to fix the computer or finding someone who could, instead of interrogating The Quirky One on who and how the computer had last been used, Roxanne grabbed her book and sat down, outside. The Quirky One hates the outdoors, or more precisely, she hates bugs and sun and heat and fresh air, to name a few. Consequently, the outdoors is where Roxanne knew she could be alone. The Quirky One still had use of the desktop computer, after all.
Roxanne opened her book — an actual book that required no battery life, no “on” button, and no screen. The book would work.
So Roxanne read . . . and actually forgot everything for a little while. The book had worked. The tears retreated, the bitterness dried up.
After a bit Roxanne went inside and wrote . . .
in longhand . . .
because . . .
“The computer won’t wauk.”
Just Me With . . . a story. Not sure why I wrote this in the third person, except that I’m reading in the third person.
I’m currently reading , “Admission” by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Coincidentally, after I wrote the above, I got to a point in the book where a secondary character said the following:
When you’re a single mom, and everybody talks about how hard it must be, what they mean is the little-kid stuff. Getting up in the middle of the night all the time because there’s no one else to do it, or having to take on all the doctors’ appointments and parent-teacher conferences yourself. But I’m telling you, that was nothing. This teenager stuff is hard. This is, like, crazy hard.
Admission, Copyright 2009 by Jean Hanff Korelitz
It was also made into a movie, which I haven’t seen.
A while back I wrote a Bucket List of Men to Do. On it, I included an Too Old For Me Rich Guy saying, “At this point in life this is my only route if I want to be photographed as the pretty young thing on someone’s arm.”
This past weekend, I thought about checking that one off my list.
I had been invited to a graduation party of a former student. The student’s family is wealthy. Not surprisingly, it appeared that their friends are similarly well off. As per usual I attended alone. As per usual, it appeared as though I was the only woman attending alone, except, of course, for the widowed grandmothers. As per usual, I was the only woman of color, and as per usual I knew hardly anyone there. The point is, I kind of stuck out like a sore thumb. Well, maybe not sore, more like a bare thumb, among French manicured pinkies. But these are really good people, we go back a long way, and I was happy to have been invited. Sometimes I just tire of going solo — all the time — but I digress . . .
I got my food and took an empty seat among strangers, though the host did eventually join us. He introduced me, explaining that I was his son’s music teacher.
Well, an older gentlemen seated across from me was simply fascinated, almost smitten. Now I don’t discuss the specifics of age but considering my wealth of life experience, a man significantly older than me has got to be pretty darn — experienced. Nay, old. But this man, by his dress, demeanor and comfort level led me to assume that he had means. I seriously doubt that this dude needed to check his balance before going grocery shopping.
I didn’t catch his name. But let’s call him Jack. Jack was quite complimentary, noting that he certainly would have stuck with his music lessons if he had a teacher who looked like me. “Wow,” he said, and inquired as to whether I had any openings . . . heh heh heh. “I don’t know how the boy could learn anything with you as his teacher.”
I tell you, I almost giggled. This flirtation from an older gentlemen of means made me — me, a grown-ass woman of feminist sensibilities — positively girlish! I’m not sure, but I think I may have flipped my hair.
I took the comments in kind and did not pursue the matter, but . . .
Let the record reflect that I object to the way younger women romantically involved with older rich men are maligned, called gold diggers and such. It’s offensive.
But hey, Gold Diggers, I get it now. (Shhhhhhh)
Just Me With . . . giggles. I really wanted him to buy me something shiny. I’m just saying . . .
I had a birthday recently. I’ve always disliked birthdays, since my teen years. My parents always made my birthday special as a child, not with lavish parties and gifts, but with special birthday dinners, cake and small gifts, except for the year I got a new piano. That was the best day ever, but I digress . . .
The bad birthdays started in my teen years when came down with Scarlet Fever on my birthday. I know it sounds very Victorian, but I assure you I’m not that old.
In later years my boyfriend (later husband, now ex-husband) forgot my birthday completely, more than once. I’ve never had the party with the girlfriends kind of birthdays either, for a lot a reasons, beyond the scope of this post. And then there was the first birthday right after the wedding, the separation and some bad ones since then.
This year I decided to pretty much ignore my birthday. I couldn’t really do anything because it coincided with one of my kid’s big events . . . so I just let it go.
But the people who have come in and out of my life over the years, many of whom I have written about here, remembered.
1. My best friend and her husband stopped by with a musical card (hours of fun), a little cake, and a big gift card for me. They didn’t stay very long, but I appreciated the thought and the gifts more than they know.
See my tribute to her on “To My Best Friend on Mother’s Day”
2. One of my married male friends sent me a text, hoping he got the date right. (He didn’t, but that didn’t matter.) He wished me well and told me I don’t look my age. This guy has done things for me like shown up with an air conditioner and installed it when my house was making us melt and he repaired a pane of glass after my daughter decided to play ball in the family room. And most importantly, he checks in on me just to see how I’m doing.
He’s one of the men I was thinking of in “Friends Without Benefits — Married Men.”
3. My Admirer sent me a Happy Birthday text, and when I thanked him for remembering he replied, “You are a smart and beautiful woman whose inner beauty radiates so brightly. I won’t forget you.”
It made me smile. I haven’t seen or talked to this man in years.
4. An old friend, who defies any type of categorization, wished me Happy Birthday via voice mail; I was at my kid’s event and couldn’t answer my phone. I saved the message.
I’ve referenced him in, “We Thought You Were Dead, Mommy.”
5. I even got a birthday text from my Stalker. I did not respond.
It feels good to be remembered, thought of.
Well, the Stalker text is a little disconcerting, but still . . .
Just Me With . . . people.
And even though I’m all grown up, my parents called and sang to me (a family tradition) and my Mom gave me a card with money in it.
. . . and the quirky child gave me a card and a CD.