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15 Minutes

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A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away…I was 14 years old.  It was an unusually warm, October day during my Freshman year in High School.  I was a cheerleader and we were practicing on the football field.  I distinctly remember being hot wearing the white, short-sleeve, wool sweater with the big blue “R” on it.  It was snug, and scratchy – being wool – and fairly uncomfortable.  We had been warned by our coach not to wash the sweaters or skirts, or to get them soaking wet, ever, or they would shrink to a Barbie doll size and we’d have to pay for them.  They could only be dry-cleaned.  They were cute, old-school uniforms…complete with pleated white and blue upper-thigh-high skirts and yes…saddle shoes.  Boy, how I hated those clown shoes.

I only lived about five blocks from the school, and three blocks from the football field.  Practice that day was right after school and it was still fairly light outside when it ended.  I should have been home within a few minutes, but I had forgotten one of my books in my locker.  I ran back to the school, got my book, and walked out.  It had been a really beautiful day.  It was one of those Fall afternoons when the nearly setting sun glowed enormous and orange, and the warmth made the scent of the season’s change hang potently in the air.  It was my favorite season.

But in the ten minutes it took for me to run back to school, retrieve my book and walk out again – thick, dark, puffy clouds had gathered low in the sky.  I had no coat, no umbrella and the raindrops were beginning to fall.  Huge, round, cold raindrops.

Before I even reached the street it began to pour.  A hard, steady fall of cartoonishly-splashy drops.  I started to run.  And panic.  I was carrying my math book, and even though the very word “math” made my muscles tighten in tandem with heart-palpitating dread, I didn’t want my book to be ruined.

However, the real panic was reserved for my cheerleading uniform.

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My coach, well she was an…odd woman.  She was also my English teacher.  I didn’t much care for her, and she didn’t much care for me.  She was hard on me both in class and in practices.  She made “examples” of me in class, and not in a good way.  The most recent talking-down from her had come in class when she made me stand up and display my hands in order to show everyone that nail polish should never be chipped and old-looking like mine was.  Another was when she read one of my journal entries to the class as an example of “how not to write”.  She made us write in those things every, damn day.  The horror.  And one day she asked us to write about what animal we’d most like to be and why.

I felt like she was sitting at home drunk and thinking up crazy shit for us to write about and it annoyed me.  I’d been a “writer” literally my whole life, so I wrote what I thought was a brilliant thesis on how I’d be a “seal”, and explained why.  It was ridiculous, albeit I felt very well-supported and elaborated upon.

She knew I was writing it as a joke, and a joke on her at that.  Still, she couldn’t prove it.  What animal would you be…puh-leeze…so juvenile. Regardless of my convictions as to her lack of teaching skills, she then had me read it in front of the class.  Everyone laughed at the flowery language I used to describe how much I’d enjoy having warm blubber, eating live fish and swimming simultaneously, being able to dive to great depths with a single breath and how I felt in a past-life I might have been one.  She told the class it was disingenuous, it hadn’t come from the heart.  What did she know?  Maybe I really LOVED seals.  Eh…she rightly called me out.  I rolled my eyes and couldn’t have cared less.  I liked making people laugh so it was a win-win for me:  they laughed and she couldn’t embarrass me.  So…we had that kind of relationship.

Still, I was a good girl, and my uniform couldn’t get soaking wet.  Or she’d have my ass.

**************************

I crossed the campus and reached the street.  My heart was beating wildly, I was panicking.  I could feel the uniform clinging to me with its scratchy wooliness.  I couldn’t see any cars or people on the street at all.  It was like everyone had advance notice of the torrential downpour but me.  I ran and ran, thinking to myself that the less soaking wet it got the better.  I ran through puddles I tried in vain to avoid, then slipped and almost killed myself trying to jump over one up onto a curb.  My meticulously permed and then blow-dried-to-perfection hair was now just long, wet curls.  I was whining aloud periodically…”Shit!…oh come on…Shit!”.

I ran two blocks that way.  So scared of what would happen to my uniform, my book, that I’d get in trouble, that my parents would have to pay for new ones.  When I got to the beginning of the third block…I stopped at the park which still exists at the end of the street I grew up on, close to the football field.

I just stood there.  Breathing heavily.  Book held loosely in my right hand down at my side.  I brushed the drenched hair from my forehead, put my left hand on my hip and leaned on my right leg.  I remember it all so clearly.  Then I shook my head, leaned forward and yelled out “HAH!”  I think it was to the Gods.

Then…I let go.  I just had to let it go…the stress and panic of ruining my book and my uniform.  There was nothing I could do about it.  I had no control.  I simply had to let it go.  And when I did I felt so, incredibly…happy.

The rain was cold but I wasn’t.  I felt warm and I felt liberated.  I was alone on the street, possibly in all the world; just me and the rain and everything else that ever was.

I ran some more, toward nothing really.  Not toward home or school or shelter of any kind.  I walked in circles.  It suddenly felt so good to be drenched and free of my immediate worries.  I felt strong.  I began jumping around.  I jumped with both feet into a puddle sending mud and muck up my legs, inside of my hideous shoes.  I laughed out loud.  I yelled aloud at no one, and no one could hear me.  I felt powerful.  I wiped the rain away from my eyes and realized I was breathless from laughter.

I stood in front of the park and looked down my street with its big orange-leaved maples hanging over on either side touching at their tops to create a beautiful tunnel.  And then I walked…straight down the middle of the pavement.  No people, no one.  I felt free.  I carried my book close to my chest with my right hand and I swear to you I could not stop giggling.  I zig-zagged back and forth between each side of the street, up onto the sidewalk and back to the middle of the street.  No one was watching me.  No one could hear me.  I was alone, and I loved it.  I walked back to the park and then started to run again.

Mid-way down the first of two blocks toward my home I stopped and leaned over with hands on my knees, book under my right armpit, to catch my breath.  Water was running off of my face and the back of my neck in a torrent.  The pelting water from above was loud…I couldn’t hear anything but its pounding on the ground and parked cars on the street around me.  It felt like minutes, but in probably only a few seconds I lifted my head and looked up, still breathing hard.

There was a familiar car right in front of me.  I hadn’t heard it approach at all.  It had stopped and not hit me, which was nice.  I didn’t flinch.  I didn’t stand up.  I squinted through the sheet of water and insanely fast-moving windshield-wipers to see if I could determine who was driving it.  It was my Mom.  She beeped and held her hands up as if to say “Get in the car!”

I knew she or my Dad would come looking for me.  Still, I didn’t want anyone poking through this bubble I was floating in.  I walked to the passenger side window and she leaned over and slowly rolled it down.

“Hi!”  I exclaimed, smiling.

“Oh my God, get in the car!” she yelled.

“No…please…please.  Let me just run home.  It’s okay.  I want to.” I pleaded.

My Mom sighed, irritated that water was pouring into the car.

“What?  No, you’ll get soaked…and sick!”

I shrugged and said “Too late.”

I expected my mother, usually very forceful when it came to protecting my health, to protest and demand that I get inside.  But she didn’t.

She paused and said, “You’re crazy.  But okay.”

I love her so much for that.

I smiled and walked past her car as she slowly drove the opposite way.  I turned and watched her round the corner and drive out of sight.

Then I ran again.  I kept going until I got to the grade school across the street from my house.  I walked up onto the black-top of the school yard and looked West.  As torrential downpours are wont to do, they come on hard and fast…and abruptly end.  The rain was slowing and it was clear with an orange glow on the horizon.  It made me feel sad.  I didn’t want it to stop.  I didn’t want the moment to end.

I turned and looked at my yellow-bricked house with the crab apple tree in front.  I tilted my head.  It looked a little different to me somehow.  Smaller.  Suddenly…impermanent.  As the rain subsided to a drizzle, I crossed the street and went inside.

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All told, from leaving my school to walking through my front door, it was about fifteen minutes of my life.

But it was the first time I remember having the feeling of surrendering to a higher power, of having no choice but to let go of expectations and fear and consequences.  It was the first time I remember truly feeling free, and feeling alone in the world.  It was the first time I remember feeling peaceful and joyous amidst “chaos”.

There have been countless, much more important and life-changing fifteen minutes I’ve lived through.

But of all the fifteen minutes in all of my life, I remember very few with such clarity.

It was fifteen minutes of nothing.  But it meant everything.

What I wouldn’t give right now, nearly 29 years later, to be able to achieve that letting-go moment once again.

I’ve thought of that afternoon many times during the course of my life.  It’s stayed with me.  In some small way, it began to change how I viewed my life and my place in the world from that point forward.  I felt bigger, less afraid.  More…grown-up.  And it reinforces for me to this day that sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference.

I will always encourage my children to experience those kinds of moments, but I know you cannot manufacture an indelible memory.  They simply…happen.  They spring forth from nothingness into somethingness.

I’m betting my mother remembers very little, or nothing, of that afternoon.  Other than me possibly recounting it to her at some point, she’d have no reason to remember it.

I can tell you that I look very forward to the day when each of my children asks me, “Mom, do you remember that afternoon…you know, when I……?”  I’ll think back and try to remember, shake my head and say sweetly, “Nope”.

But I’ll smile, my heart will swell, and I’ll hope they had their fifteen minutes running in the rain.

******************************

Then again…maybe my mother smiled to herself as she watched me in the rear-view mirror.

Fate vs Destiny

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Fate:  the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do – Merriam-Webster

Destiny:  a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency  – Merriam-Webster

They sound so similar.  Instinctively though, most people feel very differently about them.  “Google” them and you will find that overall, people feel this about these two things:

Fate:  Passive.  No control over the inevitable outcome.  Per one website with a discussion on the differences:  the course your life will take in spite of your actions.

Destiny:  Dynamic.  A degree of control as to how you will reach the inevitable outcome.  Per the same website: predetermined events within your life that you take an active course in shaping.

In general, “fate” seems to have negative connotations to it while “destiny” is used in a much more positive context.

“It was his fate to be the first soldier to step foot on the shores of Normandy.”

“It was her destiny to go to the bar that night and meet the love of her life.”

How differently would we feel about these two sentences if the words were inter-changed?:

“It was his destiny to be the first soldier to step foot on the shores of Normandy.”

“It was her fate to go to the bar that night and meet the love of her life.”

Very.

If we say it was his or her fate, even though the outcome is preordained, it makes us feel as if it all happened without their choices as the driving influence.  If we say it was his or her destiny, for me at least, it automatically makes me feel as if they made choices or came to some sort of peace about the end results…whether or not the end results were something everyone would consider positive.

Words and how they are perceived matter.  A whole lot.

As a woman nearing the age of 43, I am naturally thinking about – my life.  I am looking back, reflecting on what has transpired to date… the place those events either of my choosing or thrust upon me have led me to thus far…and where the place I’m in now tells me about where I’m going.  I’m not alone in this.

I suppose some might call this the beginnings of a “mid-life crisis”.  As a younger person, say in my 20′s, I would have agreed with them.   But “mid-life crisis” has the same type of negative connotations that “fate” has.

In your 20′s it’s very difficult to conceive of a life lived long and hard enough to reflect upon, and society has all but assigned, with impunity, the “mid-life crisis” to men in their 40′s buying Ferrari’s they cannot afford and women of 40+ hooking themselves up to a Botox-drip to regain any infinitesimally small vestige of the care-free youth they are now old enough to realize is gone forever.   I assume that’s because of the word “crisis”…which instantly implies something negative to be dealt with.  An emergency situation.

I’m trying very hard not to see it that way.

I believe it’s only natural and human to reach what you hope is the mid-stage point in your life and feel the need to take serious stock in what has happened to you, what you have created for yourself and how that will affect what is left of life you will lead.  You no longer have your “whole before you”…you have, maybe, half – or less – of your life before you.  And therein lies the problem.  Once you’ve been lucky enough to live your life to a point where you know you’ve lived more already than you are likely to live in the future…a slow, boiling fear sets into your gut.

What have I done?

What have I accomplished?

Have I lived up to my potential?

Have I loved enough?  Cared enough?  Given enough?……….

When I die, will I feel the power of the love I made and gave given back to me?  Will it envelop me and carry me forward?

It’s very difficult to imagine living the final moments of your life and not being able to answer “yes” to those questions.  And if you can’t answer “yes” to those questions when you ask them of yourself, which can really only be asked when you’ve lived long enough to assess the answers realistically, there is an overwhelming desire to not let another minute of your life go by….not another single minute….. in which you don’t at least attempt to fulfill…your destiny.

I am a mother.  I have three wonderful, beautiful children.  The majority of my personal energy, strength and love is channeled into guiding them toward living strong, healthy, happy lives.  And that’s how it should be.  My parents are wonderful…they did the same for me.  The appreciation I have for them with regards to what they gave to me, and gave up for me, is limitless.  But at the same time I hope so much that they were able to secure some piece of what they believe their personal destiny is along the way, despite having given so much of their lives to their children.

We all have dreams and ambitions and goals for ourselves that seem achievable.  Before you hit, oh…about my age, it seems that you can say to yourself so easily….”There’s still time.”  Staring down the barrel of 43 I can realistically say to myself,  “Self, there might not be that much more time.”

And then I hear Morgan Freeman whisper to me, “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”

I’ve achieved some of the goals in my life and am so eternally grateful for them.  But ohhhhh…..I have thus far fallen woefully short of the smile I hope graces my face at the end of my life when I ask myself “the questions”.

I wonder what am I waiting for. (Something to make it all easier?)

I ask myself what’s holding me back. (Fear?)

I worry about whether my happiness and personal fulfillment can exist in tandem with what I owe to my children and the other people in my life whom I love. (I don’t know the answer to this.  I’m not sure I ever will.  All I can do is my very best to make sure… it can.)

I don’t want a Ferrari or Botox.  Well, I don’t know.  Maybe.  Wait…no.  I’m getting sidetracked here.

I don’t want a Ferrari or Botox.

I want – need -  to start actively taking the steps which will move me closer to my destiny.

We all end the same way.  But how do we get there?

Whether on the beach or at the bar, and despite the “crisis” apparently inherent in reaching this point, I don’t want to be fated…to anything.

I just don’t.

Snips-and-Snails-and…Oh, COME ON!!!

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In general I’ve never really been a “girlie-girl”.  When I was young I didn’t really like to play with Barbies very much.  I didn’t really like to play “house”, although I remember playing it fairly often.  I used to like to play “office”.  Yeah, I don’t know…kind of strange, but whatever.   I don’t particularly remember liking dressing up in flowery clothes much, although I know I certainly did at times.

The “stand-out” toy I got as a kid was not a doll or dress-up clothes, it was “Electronic Battleship”, baby – still the coolest game ever.  I collected Star Wars cards.  As a teenager I wore very little makeup and still don’t wear much.  Never liked the color pink.  I always hated spending time on my hair.  To this day I kind of dread going to get my hair cut as I don’t much like the whole “salon” experience; it seems like a waste of time and the minute I sit down I can’t wait to get out of there.  I dislike immensely the process of shopping for clothes – and while I definitely appreciate flattering, feminine clothing – I simply don’t want to go through the process of acquiring it.

My sister, younger than me by 2 1/2 years, was and still is, basically the opposite….pretty “girlie”…loves to shop, loves cute clothes, likes pink…the whole-nine.

Hmmm… I realize I’m sounding pretty “butch” here, but I don’t feeeeel that way and I don’t think I come across that way to people (pipe-down, peanut gallery…).  I’ve just rarely bought into the whole “this is how you should be a girl/woman” thing.  In high school I remember saying to myself  “If guys don’t think I’m pretty in a flannel, skin-tight Jordache jeans and a massively huge, low-maintenance perm – screw ‘em”.

My point is, I’m no princess. Which is inherently a very good thing as I am the mother to three boys; ages 6, 4 and 3.

My sister, well she ended up with three girls.

Perfect!

Destiny would deal the perfect cards for each of us; the gendered children who would best suit our personalities and strengths.

Or DID it??

So the other day I’m sitting at the table with the boys eating pizza, (literally the only food-group all three of them will eat simultaneously).  Here is the conversation that followed:

THE PLAYERS:  Mom (me), Boogs (6 yrs old), Bubs (4 yrs old) and Boo (3 yrs old):

BOO:  Hey Boogs…do you like DIARRHEA on your pizza?

ME:  WHOA!  Whoa…disgusting.  Stop.  We don’t say that, especially at the table.  And you better never say that out in public.

BOO:  Sorry Mommy.  (giggles by all three as I glare).

BUBS:  ME!  I like poo pizza!

ME:  Hey!  I said knock it off!  (silence).

BOOGS:  Did you guys just hear that fart? (Boys belly-laugh….there was no gaseous emission from anyone within a 100 yard radius).

ME:  You know what, that’s IT!  (I stand up menacingly)…Are you trying to make me sick?  We do NOT talk like that in this house.  That’s it, do you UNDERSTAND?!   Tell me OUT LOUD that you understand!

ALL:  (mutterings of yeah, sure, ok).

ME:  (I walk to the sink to rinse my dish).  Just gross.

BOOGS:  Mom, you should have seen Bubs’ poop today, it was HUGE!  (They all laugh).

ME:  (My back is to them and I am now laughing, but am hiding it).  Wha…what???  First of all, why the hell are you even looking at his poo?  I don’t understand, that’s just weird.  Stop doing that.   That’s number one.  Number two…yeah, ok, while we’re at it…from now on going pee is “No. 1″, and going poop is “No. 2″.  That’s what we should say because you’re all clearly obsessed with poo.  Now stop it.  (I shake my head.  There is silence).

BOO:  “No. 2″ is poop, Mommy? (asked in the angelic, high-pitched voice that betrays his true intentions).

ME:  (Exasperated).  Yes…Boo.

BOO:  Oh, I want two pieces of pizza cuz then it would be poo-pizza!

ALL BOYS:  (Uproarious laughter.  In the time it took me to walk from the sink to the table in order for me to become menacing again, I heard the words:  Poo, fart, burp and diarrhea).

ME:  You’re all done.  Get outta here!  Goodbye, leave the table.  Go to the naughty-spot. No more pizza, ever.

ALL BOYS:  (Moans and groans….general “sorry’s”).

ME:  (As they run away wrestling each other…)  Why are you LIKE THIS??  (shaking my head to myself and muttering)…GOD…why….Poo pizza…what the……WHY are you so GROSS all the time?  Come ON!!!! 

And they ARE.  Despite my Herculean best efforts, more often than not they say gross things, make gross noises imitating gross things, laugh at almost exclusively gross sounds and discussion, interject gross words into almost every sentence they utter, and in general…are just – the lovers of all words and sounds that have anything to do with gross bodily fluids or emissions.

It’s not like their father or I use these words, really, ever.  I’m not saying we have never used them, but almost never…and almost certainly never in the context in which they use them.

It’s like they were born with this defective micro-chip in their brains that dictates the words and noises that fly out of their mouths must have something to do with burps or butts.

Now I’m not saying that girls don’t have their fair-share of fun at the expense of flatulence and related things.  They do, we do.  But it’s usually not so BRAZEN.  Girls say and do those things, but they tend to laugh about it in more “hushed” tones, among themselves.  My boys will burp and shout over to our sweet, elderly woman neighbor, “Hey, did you hear THAT!?”  They’re proud of it.  It’s like a badge of honor for them.  It’s like a scarlet letter on my chest for me…”B”…for “Bad Mommy”.

I’ll be honest, I don’t get it.  When I was a kid if I made some noise out of one end or the other in front of anyone, I might have laughed uncomfortably, but only because what the hell else could I do…I couldn’t crawl under a rock of shame like I really wanted to.  It happens, we’re human beings – “machines” – and we inadvertently release…exhaust.  I get that.

But for fuck’s sake.  COME ON!!!!

Until I had my three boys I never knew how different boys and girls really were.

Look, overall I much prefer playing outside with my boys and pretending I’m Darth Vader chasing them around the swing-set than sitting around “playing house”. But today I was at Boogs’ baseball game talking to two other mothers.   Each of them had a sweet little girl.  The little girls were sitting quietly and talking about their pretty dresses and sandals, while my two younger boys were picking up their little lawn chairs and thrusting them at each other with “Hi-YAH!”-quasi-kung-fu voices.  Then Boo, my three-year old, said gleefully and loudly through a smile, “I burped Mommy!”.

I shook my head, rolled my eyes and shrugged my shoulders and said to one mother through gritted teeth, “Arggghhh…I just want to take them home and put cute little pink dresses on them for a few hours and have a tea party.  Would that be bad???”

One mother said in all seriousness with a loud whisper, “No.  Uh-uh, it wouldn’t be bad.  They won’t even remember it.  Just do it.”

I kind of stared off into the distance with a dreamy look on my face and said in an I’m-considering-it sort of way…”Huh…”

That or I could simply wait for them to outgrow the gross-boy stuff.

……………sigh…………..

That’s never going to happen, is it.  IS IT?!?

They’ll all be home at lunch time and it will all begin again after I innocently squirt detergent into the dishwasher or squeeze the ketchup bottle or slide a chair on the floor or I utter the words “one” or “two”….and one of them will say:  “Hey Mommy, did you hear that (insert your preferred emission here)”.

Cue uproarious laughter from the boys.  Cue high-blood pressure for me.

Perhaps I should have worn more pink as a kid.

Perhaps THEY should.  Yessssssss…(just for a couple of hours).

Shhh…they’ll never remember it.  Right?

Ohhhh…(whining)……COME ON???


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