School bullies

A friend of mine told me recently that her daughter is starting to have problems with girls picking on her in school. My empathy immediately went out to this young girl because I too was the subject of many-a-bully’s brutal aggression growing up. It started in about third grade and pretty much never let up until I was lucky enough to graduate and get the hell out of the city in which I was raised. In fact, the bullying got worse from middle through high school to the point where I was seeking shelter in the guidance office in lieu of one of my classes because the girls would shove my books off my desk and threaten me with bodily harm the entire time I was in the class. The teacher, beaten by the system into a state of dull despondence, would occasionally look up and say, “Stop it” before he continued his lecture that no one was listening to.

Fortunately, I had good grades and the guidance counselor took pity on me, allowing me refuge in his office so long as I kept up with my homework and tests. This was my junior year in high school and I really don’t know how I got through it. The guidance counselor also offered me a solution for my senior year that saved my life as well: post-secondary option which allowed me to leave school after third period to take one class at Baldwin-Wallace College per quarter. Being exposed to a college class gave me hope for a future in which I would be seen as an equal and left alone by those who didn’t like me. Plus, it gave me a head start on college!

My mom said that she thought I would popular in school. I was a talkative and outgoing child–not very shy at all. On my first day of kindergarten, I didn’t cry or complain when my mom dropped me off; I simply sat down and started talking to another little girl named Mary. My mom thought for sure the road ahead of me in school would be fine. Tuns out, I was the leader that no one followed, as my mom always says.

I majored in Elementary Ed in college with the sole mission of being the teacher to remove all bullying from the school system. My grandmother, a teacher, always implemented a golden rule in her classroom: No put-downs. She refused to let students cut each other down in her classroom. I wanted to be like her. Unfortunately, years of being picked on in school had damaged my self-esteem and, at that time in my life, it was very hard to assert myself as an authority figure. When it came time for my field experiences, I crumpled under the pressure of controlling the classroom and constantly worrying about the students liking me. To top it off, I had the world’s bitchiest control-freak lady as my monitoring teacher. I crumpled under the ridicule of her chastising words, “Your professor says you are one of the best students in your class. I don’t see that here.”

It wasn’t just this bitchy teacher from my field experience that brought me down; it was also the sudden understanding that I couldn’t–no matter how hard I tried–stop all the kids from getting picked on all the time. Some things were just beyond my control. I couldn’t be everywhere at once, witnessing everything to intercede as I wanted to. The fact that there was evidence of kids being hurt emotionally and physically by other kids just made a pin cushion of my heart. I was too close emotionally to the problem. I was not the right person to be fighting it because the very knowledge of its existence hurt me too much.

This is what I fear with my own kids. I’ve gone over it and over it in my head and I’ve tried to figure ways to help them avoid having to go through what I went through. I’ve thought of home-schooling and private schools. I have this running theory that if I instill enough confidence in my child, mere bullying won’t knock them down the way it did with me. If they could do what I couldn’t–just let these remarks roll off–then I could create a child impervious to the emotional bruising inflicted by other children.

I know I’m fooling myself with this theory. When you’re a kid, your whole world is confined to your neighborhood and your school. If you have no or few friends within this sphere, you’re lost because there’s nowhere else to go. Your status amongst your age mates is far more important than it is as an adult. As an adult, your sphere is bigger and you know that for every one person who doesn’t like you, there are five who do. Someone not liking you is less detrimental to your ego. When you’re a kid, the eighteen years until adulthood–until you can leave your limited sphere–is a long, long time to wait to find your place. I know this because I counted the days until I was out of high school and could begin my own life.

The whole personal religion of my younger years was focused on getting the hell out of my home town and starting my life anew. I put so much energy in tomorrow that I focused little on the moment. I used to tell myself that now was the moment of suffering; once I got through the suffering, I would be rewarded with a much better life as an adult. A part of me longed for vengeance, to come back to my home town one day, handsome man on my arm and an impressive career, just so that I could tell everyone how much better my life was than theirs. The universe owed me this much, I thought.

Many people who were of the nerdier ilk do not lament the things they missed in high school because they didn’t find them interesting. The thing is, I wanted to be popular the whole time I was not. I wanted to have lots of friends and get invited to dances and go to parties. I remember one horrible time in ninth grade where I was so upset that no guy had asked me to the homecoming dance that I seriously contemplated suicide. It’s embarrassing to admit that to myself now because it sounds so trivial–and it was. That moment in my life was the absolute epitome of what I’d become: a completely unpopular girl, outside of the social structure of the school, completely alone. I didn’t want to kill myself because I’d not been asked to the dance–that event alone was merely another stone cast against me in the social circles of high school. I wanted to die because at that moment I could think of no other way out of the constant despair I felt each day of my life by that point.

I sometimes feel that I have a responsibility not to have kids so that I won’t bring into the world another being who has to suffer the way I felt I suffered in those early years. There’s no promise that I’d have a popular kid and there’s no promise that I’d spawn another nerd. The only thing I can promise by not having kids is that I won’t have to know the outcome either way. The truth is, I could not stand to watch my child suffer, or anyone I love for that matter. And if my child suffered the way I suffered in school, I’d feel somehow responsible. As it was when I attempted to become a teacher, I’d be powerless to do anything about that suffering for my kid, just as my mom could do nothing to stop the taunts or my pained reaction to it. If someone else’s kid being bullied brings me discomfort, I know that my own kid’s suffering would be just as bad as when I endured it myself.

At the same time, I know that what I went through in my primary years shaped me into the empathetic adult I am today. To this day, I find myself siding with the underdog, trying to help a person out when they are down and out. I know that most things in life come with a fight, perseverance, and a lot of hard work. Maybe that is where I got my survivor mentality–that part of me that pushes hard past exhaustion until I am numb because I know it’s the only way I’ll get my due. I think people who had things handed to them easily, who never had to work for what they got, whose life was without the bumps do not know how to handle themselves when the going gets tough. Or sometimes people learn the lessons later that I learned young. Either way, the individual that came out of that social fight has a sincere soul who values friends as a precious commodity.

Even knowing how my younger years shaped me, I still have the urge to want to shelter my children from what I went through. I would like to find some way to teach them to be good people without walking through the fires I had to walk through. I suppose that’s a wish all parents have for their children and because of that wish, they needlessly shelter–consciously or unconsciously–their children. Which is the complete opposite of what I’d want to do. Whenever my mom tried to prevent me from doing things she knew to be unsafe, I wanted to do it all the more. I always thought that I needed to try it for myself to know why I shouldn’t do it.

A parent always wants to provide a child with better opportunities than he or she had. In doing this, do we automatically swing the pendulum the complete opposite direction, thus counterbalancing parenthood in a different way? It’s so confusing. I think most parents mean well; they’re just trying to get it right.

I don’t like working with problems that don’t have a right or wrong answers. Parenthood scares the crap out of me. My friend’s revelation about her daughter reminded me all too well of the emotional hardships of being a parent at just the time when I’ve been starting to look at children with a mind more open than it’s ever been. My biggest fears are confirmed. Being a unique individual, I can’t help but feel as though I’d create unique individuals. And then what? The pain of watching them walk through the fire. I think the first day of school for my child would send my anxiety soaring. It would be the first time I’d let my kid go into the world, praying he/she would make it better than I did. Sink or swim. Or simply floating.

Happiness is a BLT

So on the way home from work today, I picked up some low fat bacon. After a nice 16 mile bike ride, I cooked up said bacon, toasted some bread, grabbed some lettace, and then cut another huge piece of my tomato to create a lovely dinner treat! I haven’t had a BLT in years. And this one was ever so sweet due to the fact that the tomato was home grown.

Okay. I know what you regular gardeners are thinking: What’s the big deal, Heidi? I mean, geesh. You’re making a big deal out of one frakking tomato. The rest of us have been eating the stuff we’ve grown ourselves for years.

But, see, this is the first time I’ve done it. And I’m quite pleased with myself. I have a little bit of tomato left over for my salad for lunch tomorrow. Savor every moment… I’m really going to have to grow tomatoes next year…

Tomatoes, bonfires, miscellaneous meanderings

I finally harvested a big huge tomato from my two tomato plants. My mom tells me I’ve got some kind of variety called “hamburger tomato.” She wasn’t sure what she’d given me until we plucked this sucker off the vine.

After removing this baby from the vine, I half-jokingly lifted into the air like a Catholic priest with the Host and exclaimed thanks be to God. It smelled of the vine. How does one define that smell but as “tomato”? It is currently the only tomato I got off the plant since we planted them too late so I spent the night contemplating just how I would eat this tomato. My mom suggested BLTs, but I have no bacon (I rarely keep it around because it’s so fattening… love the stuff, but I try to stay away from it).

I contemplated buying some bacon just to make a sandwich of this blessed delight. Instead, I ended up breaking down tonight at dinner when I cooked hamburgers left over from my party yesterday. I cut the heel of the tomato and ate it at once… delightful! Even better than I imagined. At last, the taste I’ve been longing for from a tomato, which I never get from store tomatoes. I put a thick slice of the tomato on my hamburger along with onion, pickles, and stadium mustard. Let me just say that this was the best damn hamburger I’ve had in a long, long time and it was all thanks to that ripe, juicy tomato. Michael laughed at my over-exuberant delight; he’s not a huge fan of tomatoes–SACRILEGE! But he thought, belatedly, that he should have taken a picture of me with my mouth around the burger, the tomato juice dripping onto my fingers, so that I could post it here.

Well, now the tomato has been cut, so I must finish it off ASAP. I will chop parts of it up to put on my salad for lunch tomorrow. I might just pack the rest of it to eat with my lunch. Because I waited months for a tomato to ripen on that plant, and it may be the only one I get this year, I will appreciate every inch of its flesh. Next year, I resolve to plant more tomato plants and early. I want to be rolling in tomatoes. Now that I’ve tasted the fruit, I’m hooked.

Last night, I had a fall party with friends. I barbecued some burgers and asked my friends to bring desserts, sides, and beverages. It worked out very nice. I lit a fire in my fire pit and we sat around catching up and relaxing. A different crowd than in past years. All of my friends who just had babies bowed out. A lot of the people I’d invited from my cycling club showed up, outnumbering the usual crowd of friends. A few long time friends–Diane, Buddha, Penitz, Carrie, Matt–were there. My parents, too. It was a nice time. Yeah, I seemed to have missed the crowd that used to be regular, but I guess good things don’t last forever. It’s a good thing that I’m always picking up new friends.

It’s time for me to stop mourning the lost magic of a group of people who have moved onto other phases of their lives. It’s a weird period of my life to be in. I’m caught in some hyperspace between young and experienced, single and married, carefree and responsible. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll be in my stasis for awhile. It’s hard sometimes to watch everyone else zipping by you at warp speed while you’re basically standing still. Sometimes I get a little jealous. Overall, I understand why people can’t be there like they used to be. I don’t dwell on it, but I do become melancholy.

There was a time when a certain group of us got together every minor holiday–Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, someone’s birthday, any time we had a day off work. We’d sit around and drink, play board games or cards, watch stupid movies like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. I lived for those days. And not for the drinking. It was the laughter and the fun. We knew each other well then.

When I look back at it, it seems as if the bond started to crumble when Mike died.

No, the whole world did not revolve around Mike. This particular group of friends and I–the original core–were established long before Mike. Back then, most of us were all single, except one couple who I never knew as anything other than a couple. Through the years, people kept getting dragged into our group. Naturally, those we dated came and went. The core was always there.

I’m not even sure how some of the later people got added to that group. When I think back on it, some of the other people came in with Mike and others came in through my cousin Gary; or maybe it was my cousin Gary who brought all these other people, including Mike. Regardless, for awhile, it seemed as though a certain number of us spent a lot of time together. We used to play co-ed soccer together and then we’d go out for drinks afterwards. Mike died the next morning after one of these evenings.

It must have been hard for some people who had seen him the night before to find out the next day that he’d died. I don’t know how deeply this event affected each of them individually–we rarely talk about it and I don’t dare bring it up. Everyone needs to deal with their pain in their own way and I wouldn’t force it out of them. I forget sometimes, in my own grief, how it must have been for them.

Maybe it started to unravel when I moved away to Colorado and came back. Upon my return, I tried to slip back into the life I’d left only to realize my friends had moved beyond me for the most part. I’ve since learned that you can never go home again once you leave… you can come back physically, but “home” is a moment locked in time. I had a home in childhood, then at Hiram, and then with Mike. I struggled to find home in Colorado. I’ve been trying to make a home since I’ve returned. I’ve got half a home, but it’s still not completely there. I’m not sure what’s missing.

Regardless of the catalyst to the unraveling of my once core group of friends, it’s not what it was anymore. At least, it’s not what it is was with me. I think some of them now get together on their own because their lives have more commonality than mine. And maybe on some level, some of my old friends still don’t know how to treat me. I wonder if I’m a sore reminder of tragedy as sometimes they are a painful reminder to me of what I had and lost. Maybe I make too much out of it–maybe everyone’s just too busy right now. Part of it could be my fault, too. It’s not like I’m trying very hard to reach out. I guess I just figure that I don’t want to force myself on anyone.

I have these parties to try to bring everyone together again–both the old friends and the new I’ve made in the year. I don’t expect everyone that I invite to show up. I’ve got plenty of people who do come that make it festive.

It’s weird, but as a host, I always spend the day following one of my parties in a slight state of depression. Instead of praising those who did show up, I lament the absence of those who didn’t. I obsess over the details of the night, worrying that I wasn’t good enough host. Should I have reached out more to one person? Did I spend enough time talking to another? My desire to please everyone mixes with my low self-esteem and I give myself crap about all the things I could have done, should have done, would have done, didn’t do. One would wonder why I’d throw a party if it makes me so nutty. Believe it or not, I have fun hosting.

I think I find home in that single moment when I throw a party and get enough people together. Sitting around the fire in my yard, looking at the light removing shadows over the faces of my friends, I find peace. Maybe we’re all on our separate voyages through life and our ships don’t pass each other often anymore. But that moment when we all dock at the same port, share some food and brew, we reconnect with each other. I get so caught up in the warmth of those moments that I never want them to end. A little piece of my heart is tugged as people take back to their helms and return to sea.

I remind myself of my brother. When he was a kid, my brother would never want to stop playing a game. He would throw a fit, even if you’d been playing something for hours, and I always dreaded the moment when I had to tell him I was done playing. I think I’m sometimes like that– the last to leave a party or gathering because I don’t want that comfortable feeling of home to disappear. I find home in people; others find home in solitude.

Anyway, it was a good weekend overall. Now I just feel deflated. Another big event has come to pass. Warm days are beginning to give way to chillier nights as the trees start to turn gold, red, and orange. Michael and I took the tandem out this afternoon and made another rest stop at Szalay’s–perhaps the last one of the year–and had the required lemonade and corn-on-the-cob dipped in butter. The clouds of the morning evaporated into a beautiful evening. We took our time and ventured up a road out of the valley we’d never tried–Northampton. It wasn’t nearly as hard as we thought it would be. After the initial difficult part (which didn’t last too long), it was rolling with little traffic and tree-lined scenery. I don’t know why the club never uses this road on Thursday nights. We’ve taken Steel’s Corners, which is too trafficky and not very scenic or interesting.

Church was inspiring this morning. I’m not sure what it was, but I was definitely “feeling the spirit.” The choir sang a tune called There’s Honey in the Rock that once again gave me goosebumps. Someone leaving our congregation to move to Boston for the love of his life–whom he met through the larger UU congregation–lit the chalice and gave a heartfelt speech about how the church shaped him into a better person. It was very touching and I’d only seen this guy in passing. It made me think about my own purpose for joining the church and I wondered if in a few years I’d feel the same sort of elation (which I’ve already felt on some level when I joined). I felt like I wanted to hug the entire congregation. I’m getting damn sappy in my middle years.

The season of pumpkins

I know fall is here when Blue Moon’s Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale becomes available in stores. This is Mars Girl’s favorite beer. Coors (the brewer of Blue Moon) is not the only beer company to come out with a pumpkin ale. Oh, no; the beer section of the local grocery store is filled with all sorts of pumpkin ales and Oktoberfests. Yummy delights for someone who loves pumpkin flavored everything and beer. I usually don’t go for those flavored, fruity beers. There’s just something about Blue Moon’s pumpkin ale. Maybe pumpkin doesn’t offend and contrast with beer the way a fruit like strawberry does. I dunno. But I happily bought a twelve pack of Harvest Moon and I’m drinking my first right now with my dinner… Ymmmm…. Sweet anticipation. I guess it helps that they only bring it out once a year for a limited time–increases the longing.

Besides beer, I love just about anything to do with the flavor of pumpkin: pumpkin spice coffee, pumpkin rolls, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheese cake… oh, folks, the list of savory pumpkin delicacies just goes on and on for me. It all starts with my undying love for pumpkin pie. I would select pumpkin pie over any other dessert offered. Yes, even ice cream (unless, of course, it was pumpkin flavored).

I found my love for pumpkin pie as child. My grandma E would bake it as one of the many pies she made every Thanksgiving. Forget the apple pie, I fell in love with pumpkin pie the very first time that mushy goodness was set on my tongue. I don’t even remember when that moment was. When I was a kid, and therefore not concerned about my weight, I would eat half the pie, which ultimately resulted in my grandma making an extra pie and designating it as mine each year. As a teenager, I just didn’t appreciate this wonderful act of love. I was on Slim Fast diets, trying desperately to lose weight, and I wouldn’t allow myself to touch the pumpkin pie, much to my grandma’s chagrin. She always sent it home with me and I made my other family members eat it. Damn. If only Grandma E was around now. Yeah, I’m still obsessed with my weight, but I could not refuse one of her pumpkin pies if I tried.

Nowadays, I let myself have a few pieces of pumpkin pie each season. You only live once. I sure hope there’s lots of pumpkin pie in heaven.

Nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cinnamon–these are the best of the sweet spices. I sing the praises of these spices in my Chai lattes and eggnog. Give me gingersnap cookies and spice cake. Yum. Pure ecstasy. I curse God for inventing taste buds that lure me to the dark side of food, that place where all the food that makes you fat and unhealthy lives. I’d be much skinnier if it weren’t for pumpkin pie and fries and ice cream and tasty spices that flavor food oh so nicely.

Maybe I need to make a pumpkin pie for myself this year. Though, I don’t know. I failed miserably at my last attempt at Sarah’s pumpkin bread. Of course, I didn’t have a bread pan so I had to improvise and I learned that brownie pans don’t work too well. I did finally buy a stone bread pan from Pampered Chef, though. So I could attempted it again.

Hmmm… I just found a pumpkin pie recipe online that involved using cream cheese…. Aaaahhh…ohhhh…. sexy….!!!

Religious jewelry

I bought my first piece of jewelry (left) representing my religion and it came in the mail yesterday. I was pretty excited because I’ve been eying this piece for a few months before I finally found the courage to purchase it. It’s been a long time since I’ve bought anything to symbolize my faith, let alone jewelry. Unless you count the evolve fish I used to put on my car to loudly proclaim my steady faith in evolution.

I really like this necklace. Not only does it have the UU flaming chalice in the center, but a recognizable symbol for each of the major world religions–Christianity, Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism–forms a circle around the chalice. I feel this emblem best symbolizes my liberal belief that all religions are attempting to answer the same enduring questions of humankind, the why, where, how, when of existence. My faith believes in finding your own spiritual path through all of the collective wisdom of humanity and it is this part of my faith that I hold dear because it does not limit me to the strict interpretations of a single dogma, but allows me to appreciate the treasures found within all of the religions. I admit that I have a special affinity to eastern mysticism, particularly Buddhism, Taoism, and Gnostic Christianity. My spirituality tends more towards finding God within yourself rather than externally.

I was like an excited child on Christmas last night, wearing the new necklace on around my neck as I went about my evening duties of making dinner and cleaning up around the house. I felt a little empowered to have some way to express my new faith in a subtle but meaningful way. It’s not that I’m probably going to go about wearing this necklace everywhere as most people do their crosses. More likely, I’ll just wear it to church sometimes and some other assorted UU events I attend. (In fact, I can’t really wear necklaces all the time due to my active lifestyle… they tend to get grimy and disintegrate rather quickly as a result.) I’m just excited, though, that I finally have something of my own to wear in my faith… I’ve watched my friends wear symbols of their faiths for the last several years and I admit I felt a bit empty because I had no faith that I could wholeheartedly accept. To me, the necklace represents letting go and allowing myself to open my mind again, and coming home, finally, to a faith that fits me.

As an ironic side note, I could not help but overlook the fact that the pendant on the necklace was made in China. Which seemed a little ironic to me, since UUism is always fighting for human rights. I would have thought the makers of this jewelry would have stuck to the homeland to prove a point instead of supporting a country that does not protect its workers with fair wages, compensation, and a safe work environment. I’m not worked up about it as some of my UU friends might be; it simply made me realize that we’re all human. We make mistakes and we don’t always follow through with our philosophies. Even I’ve almost broken down on occasion and bought something at Wal-Mart despite my strict boycott. Not in a long, long time, though.

Even UUs aren’t perfect.

Work day meditation

It’s a beautiful day outside. Feels like summer rather than fall, and since my workload at this moment is sparse (and also my coworker gives me subtle pressure against my usual habit of working through lunch), I decided to eat lunch outside. Unfortunately, this rather tree-filled and private business park contains no picnic tables. A month or so ago, while taking what I call a “non-cigarette smoker’s cigarette break,” I had scoped out a little nook set back from the parking lot that I could use for this very purpose. It was a nice spot next to a ditch that actually, in this setting, looks like a little creek if you don’t look to the one side where the pipe going under the parking lot is.

Today I finally decided to brave social stigma and embarrassment to actually try my lunch spot. At noon, I quietly gathered my lunch, keys (so that I could get back into the building), the new book I started, and my blanket, and I left the office to try out my little spot. I was slightly embarrassed because the CEO had walked out ahead of me with his lunch and I wondered if he too was going to take a spot somewhere on the campus to sit (and hopefully not my spot). But he ended up getting in his car and driving off somewhere (some people, I think, like to go to the Brecksville Reservation to have lunch on a picnic table there since it’s only five minutes down the road).

As soon as I had spread my picnic blanket on the ground and sat, slipping my sandals off, I knew I’d made the right choice. The little ditch-creek provided background music as I read my book in the light of the sun streaming through the tree limbs. The world of the little business park slipped away and it was almost as though I were in the Cuyahoga Valley meditating, as I did quite a bit after Mike’s death. I felt really content; it was as though I’d cheated the work day and snuck out somehow to play hooky. It wasn’t the same feeling I have when I leave the office to have lunch with coworkers or friends. In that case, you never really “leave” your environment, per se; you still feel trapped by the busy world and confined by time. In this little nook just feet from the parking lot, I’d felt as though I’d escaped. A few leaves fell onto my lap from the looming trees and little critters scurried through the carpet of dead leaves already on the ground. The warm but slightly crisp air smelled great and I felt my mind clear as I concentrated on my reading.

There’s something about the feeling of the sun’s warmth on my skin that revives me. It’s like love, really–like that all-encompassing feeling of being held in your lover’s arms. I could be aching of loneliness or writhing in emotional pain; when I sit in the sunlight, I feel as though everything broken within me is being mended. On a day when I’m already feeling pretty good, I only feel more alive in the caressing warmth. I find inspiration on a clear, sunny day. And on the precipice of fall, everything seems all the more inspirational in the anticipation of the beauty that awaits in the coming weeks as the leaves slowly begin to change in their eternal life cycle.

The moments outside made me realize how I really need to slow down more often and take to the woods to wander. In lieu of cycling on Sunday, Michael and I chose to go hiking along one of my favorite trails in the Cuyahoga Valley (and I won’t tell you which one lest it would become a more populated place for people to go, which would take something away from my personal enjoyment of it). The weather was great on Sunday and only when I saw cyclists on our way back did I feel slightly guilty about skipping a good day to cycle for hiking. But it was only a momentary guilt because the day was just so perfect for being outside in any way. I found the feelings of centering I only get from hiking when I have more time to notice my surroundings. Not that I don’t enjoy the sights on my bike. It’s just that you can experience different details about your surroundings from each of these modes for enjoying the day and I think I realized I was slightly imbalanced. I’d forgotten how much I like to hike.

I guess I choose cycling often in lieu of hiking because I’m a cardio junkie, meaning that I don’t feel as though I’ve gotten enough exercise unless I’ve been sweating hard and my heart has been pounding. Walking, to me, just does not provide the benefit of feeling as though you had a good workout and, therefore, I feel like I’ve enjoyed myself but gotten no healthy benefit. Then, I spend the rest of the day thinking I’m fat since I have a “no pain, no gain” philosophy to my health (and I’m constantly deriding myself for the fat roll on my abdomen). In my quest for bodily perfection, I have forgotten the spiritual benefits to hiking–the release I feel when I reconnect with nature and take the time to observe my surroundings. Feeling better mentally is just as important as feeling better physically. I know I’ve been out of balance with my emotional health quite a bit lately.

And, yes, I know that walking does provide a physical benefit. It’s just that I don’t see people lose enormous amounts of wait from simply walking. To lose weight and remain in good physical condition, unfortunately, does require some un-fun (to some people) and challenging pain. Plain and simple, you gotta do something you don’t enjoy to gain long term benefits and weight loss. That’s why it’s called a “work out.”

But not everything is about physically challenging myself. Sometimes it’s just nice to get out there on a beautiful day and forget that the rest of the world exists. In my little lunch hideaway spot, I felt I was able to get away from the office while remaining close and not having to lose some of my relaxation time to drive time. I came back into the office feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the tiny bit of work I have to do today. I can see how this little escape plan might work greatly in times when I’m really busy and stressed. Even when I have a lot of work to do, I shouldn’t feel guilty about leaving my desk for my lunch hour and reading a book. I’ve not done this in a long time because I always feel as though I’m not working hard enough. But the mind needs respite and re-centering. You only make more mistakes if you don’t take a breather every now and then.

What would have been

If my husband were alive, today he would be turning 40. He was born September 22, 1968. He was exactly six years and six months older than me (my birthday is March 22, 1975). I always thought it was neat that our birthdays were both on the 22nd of the month.

It’s too bad he missed the last seven years. It’s too bad he never got to live to see 40 and have me pick on him.

Most people celebrate this monumental birthday with gag gifts from friends about being old. But he was really still too young.

Mike on our first (and only) anniversary (Aug. 28, 2000).
We were on the Jet Express on our way to Put-in-Bay.

Battling my inner social demons

Today after church there was a committee fair where we usually hold our post-service coffee hour. Every committee had a table set up, like a science fair with boards exhibiting the committee’s many activities as well as papers stating the committee’s important functions within the church. Now, I have to say that many committees have already made furious attempts to recruit me–they are looking for new blood and I’m one of the newer members of the church. I’ve been standing around biding my time because I am looking for that one committee that calls to me and can make good use of talents I have because I learned in a leadership seminar I attended with the UUA this past summer that you should really only volunteer for things you feel passionate about and are interested in because that will push you through the difficulties of leadership as well as make volunteering something you enjoy rather than something you have to force yourself to do.

I learned this lesson well as the treasurer for my professional organization, the STC, a few years back. While I am very good at managing money, it is not something I enjoy doing; in fact, with my own finances, the necessary boring thing I must do at the end of each week is pay bills and balance my checking accounts. So, of course, when it came time, at the end of the week, to also work on my STC bills in addition to my personal bills, it was a tremendous burden on my time, patience, and overall sanity. Also, as the treasurer, you had to account for your balancing of the checkbook to the national organization or you were were subject to audit. I learned that I prefer not to be accountable for anyone’s money but my own (which, I admit, is probably suspect and subject to audit at any time by the IRS as well, for TurboTax has taught me of new and exciting items I can claim on my taxes, thus allowing me to get bigger returns…)

So, today, I walked aimlessly around all the committee tables, dodging in and out at a distance, too shy to ask questions, afraid I’d get pressured into something I didn’t want to do. I have a lot of trouble saying no. If you’re a kid selling stuff or asking for donations, you should know that knocking on my door will get you a donation or a sold candy bar, because I’ll buy something simply so that I don’t have to deal with the social pressure of saying no. You see, I’m totally empathetic to the person who is the asker–the one needing a service–and think too much about all the times I sold Girl Scout cookies and had to walk door to door because my parents refused to guilt their co-workers into buying this stuff so that I could get the “sold most stuff” patch (every year, in fact, I was the lowest earning Girl Scout, which left me to much humiliation).

In fact, they had a sheet which you were supposed to collect at the beginning of all the tables and as you went to each table, you were supposed to get a signature proving that you stood and listened to the particular table’s spiel. Then, if your sheet was completed, you would be entered into a raffle drawing for some UU prize of great importance. I didn’t play this game. I simply followed my friend L’s husband J all around and let him do all the talking and signature gathering while I gleaned the information I needed from his conversation with the committee chairs. Clever, eh? Cowardly, yes!

I curse myself often for my lack of social skills. The littlest things make me nervous. Put me in a room full of my peers–friends, friends of friends, people I trust–and I flutter wildly like a social butterfly. I’m all the things I want to be–funny, interesting, exciting. But put me in a room full of strangers I don’t even know and I tuck myself into a little ball and rock meekly in a corner. It drives me absolutely nuts! How can I glow like a lightening bug in one situation and then fade into the wall in others? Why can’t I be the confident person I want to exude in ALL situations?

The worst part of my inability to deal with social settings in which I don’t know my audience is that I look and act like a completely nervous freak. I am sure my minister thinks I’m inward and quiet. I believe some people in my church think I’m dorky because I can’t talk without stuttering or sweating or not making eye contact. In fact, one of my dear friends recently confided to me on the phone that when she first met me, she thought I was stand-offish for the very reason that I totally avoided eye contact! She said that she couldn’t believe how warm I’d become.

I hate when I can’t act comfortable, like the person I know I am in certain settings. I want to be the same person in front of a group of strangers that I am in a group of familiars. I want to be that exciting, interesting, and funny person all the time. I just can’t hack it when I’m not comfortable. Unfortunately, the geek comes out.

So here I was, shadowing J, feeling meek and mild. I realized my entire back was drenched with sweat from the few conversations I tried act comfortable having. The room was not particularly hot, yet I was dripping. At the same time, there’s an urgency nagging me that I had to chose a committee to volunteer for because I love this church and I want to help. I wanted everyone to talk to me and give me a summary of their committee and why I should be on it. Which, really, was the point of walking around to each table and collecting signatures–the very activity I timidly avoided taking part in.

One of the music committee chairs bombarded me with their rap sheet; he’s been trying to get me to join them for the last three months and I keep putting them off. I love the music in the church and would love to take part in the decision making process over what gets played during each service, but not being a music expert, I haven’t quite felt that that committee was quite my calling. I politely put him off with a discussion about hiking and climbing and cycling. He guilt-tripped me about not joining the church on their fall Walden experience (a weekend trip for celebration and worship and togetherness in the UU way) next weekend. I told him I was having my annual bash that Saturday.

The room emptied out because the second service was beginning. J and L were still there so I timidly circulated all the tables again. People manning the tables looked at me expectantly, but I lowered my eyes quickly, removing the invitation to talk. I scurried away like a–no pun intended–church mouse. Finally, J had circulated around the entire room and came back to chat with me. I told him I was looking for the Social Activities Committee–they’d placed an ad in our church bulletin, the Thread from the Web, just a few months ago and I know the chair was still looking for reliable people to help her. Social Activities seemed to be calling me then, and it was calling me again now. I had a lot of ideas for activities that would bring people together for fun on a non-church day. I like to plan stuff. It would work great.

Except for my apparent latent fear of talking to people. But I decided months ago that I was going to work on making myself overcome my social fears and just get out there. I don’t like having traits that prevent me from doing those things I really want to do. I am considering a career working as a grief therapist–I need to be more comfortable in my own skin and not so often afraid of what other people are thinking of me. I need to make myself do things that frighten me in order to get beyond this irrational and elementary school old lack of self confidence. I will never be an effective leader unless I learn to take my interactions with people for what they are–good and bad–and accept that I can’t make everyone happy, to let go of my constant need to please everyone.

I feel like I have two hands that can help in my community, but I’m too afraid and ruled by my fears to help. At each of the tables, I saw needs that perhaps I could fill. Another table I spent a lot of time loitering around, but never standing still enough to speak to anyone, was the Communications Committee, which would require me to write articles in various publications (church and the wider district) promoting Unitarian Universalism and the activities of our church positively. I wanted to do this, but I had a fear about my writing; the pressure of proving myself or having to write on a deadline always seems like a huge time commitment to me and one I’m always afraid to pursue. I had the opportunity to do really nice writing projects for the hospice, but I passed it up in fear of my incompetency and criticism. I’m too sensitive about my writing to do anything, even on a volunteer basis, with it.

J pointed out the table where he’d seen the Social Activities Committee sign-up sheet and I completed it. Mission accomplished! That should get me started, at least. I just hope I don’t wimp out when I’m actually asked to do something, as has been my bashful pattern with all my would-be volunteer activities this year so far.

I’m voting Republican…

…because I believe church and state should not be separated. This is fun. I could play this “I’m voting Republican because” game all day!

Relax, my Republican friends, this is a joke. Sort of. I kind of like the sarcasm. I can’t help it. Sorry. Please don’t yell at me. I mean well. It’s just the pressure is building and the elections are near and… well, you know… if you can’t beat the flow, you mine as well join it…

Props to Bonnie for forwarding me this video.

In search of the Liberated Man…

It’s the year 2008. Most girls go to college. Some girls grow up to be physicists, lawyers, doctors, politicians. Some girls want careers; others want to be moms; some want both. This period in the history of western civilization has been one of the best for a woman to live in, given all of the choices she has that were, just mere decades ago, not even open to her. Equality can only get better. The march moves onward.

Yet, despite all the changes in gender equality, one thing remains always the same: the male ego.I came to this conclusion after an email discussion with a liberal guy friend of mine. I mention that he’s liberal because I usually give liberal men the benefit of the doubt. I mean, many of the issues the liberals support are truly feminist causes–pro-choice, equal wages, gender equality. Many liberals are also atheist or agnostic, not pinned into gender roles specified in the Bible. So, I guess, I just assume all liberal men have had the Neanderthal loved out of them by important women in their lives who have raised them to be more than the “manly man.” (As opposed to my stereotype of the Bible-thumping, country-loving, traditionalist conservative.)

Well, I learned once again what happens when one ASSumes. My liberal guy friend, in a discussion about the types of qualities we look for in a potential mate, explained to me that he wanted a “professional” woman but not someone who made more money than him. He said he had “traditional values” and that some part of him felt it was right that the man be the breadwinner of the marriage. Now, this is a guy who does not want children. So why the heck, I ask you, should it matter if the woman makes more money than he does? And, look at the duality of his request: he wants a professional woman–which he later defined as a career-minded woman who had a better job than, say, working at a pagoda in the mall–and yet, at the same time, she can’t make more money than him.

Um. Hello?

Good luck, dude, in finding that nice balance between a career-minded woman with the lower salary. I mean, heaven forbid she actually rise in rank as she works her way through the male-dominated business world and, during the course of your relationship, ends up pulling in a higher salary. Then, what? Are you going to have to elevate your skills, climb the corporate ladder yourself, to ensure you always stay one step ahead of her? How mature!

I just don’t get where these ideas come from. I mean, geesh. Is there some deep seeded need in a man to take care of a woman? Even when she doesn’t need to be taken care of? It makes me sick to my stomach to consider this entire cycle of logic. It makes me wonder how many guys out there with whom I interact on a daily basis have a Neanderthal living just beneath the surface of their skin… Do they think less of me because I have boobs and a vagina? Is that all I’m good for to them, a pretty little sex toy to be bought and shown off to impress the other Neanderthals?

I totally reject and disdain the “manly man.” It is utterly ridiculous to me, in this day and age when people are getting married much later in life and, thus after establishing themselves, for a guy to assume this age-old protector role in a relationship. Haven’t we gotten past this cave man mentality yet? If I was perfectly fine in my life–safe and all–before I got involved in the relationship, I sure don’t need a man to keep me safe in his cave while he brings the food and the money for the household. I’m independent, I can hunter-gather all on my own.

A good relationship is based on a 50/50 share of responsibilities. It’s like the yin and the yang of Zen Buddhism: you are weak where he is strong, you are strong where he is weak, and the two of you use your applied skills to battle the downs and sail the ups of life together. It shouldn’t matter who makes more money in the relationship because all the money is going to the same place. The woman should be proud if her husband makes a good living; likewise, the man should be proud if his wife is the one bringing in the higher income. It’s a team effort here, not a competition.

Any man who derives his identity and sense of self-worth from his ability to bring home the prize bacon in his household is, to me, pathetic. This is the new millennium. Men can also hold their heads high in choosing to be house husbands. I praise any man who gives up his career to raise the children, as I would any woman who would make such a choice. I, too, am a traditionalist in that I think someone should stay home to raise the kids full time, at least in their crucial first years. This society has suffered greatly from the lack of input from the father in child-rearing (which fortunately was not the case in my upbringing). Do we really want to continue the traditional role where the father remains aloof in the child-rearing process–the “Cat’s in the Cradle” mentality that turns out children who as adults yearn for a relationship with their father?

It irks me endlessly that men have no problem taking part in the process to make a baby, but then, when it comes to child rearing, they like to back off with their hands in the air, saying, “Well, you women are better at nurturing than we are.”

Bull pucky! The reason men are not innately better at nurturing is because society has supported this “manly man” image and the “manly man” image dictates that showing too much affection for a child is not manly. A man is just as capable as a woman in providing care for a child and the child will still turn out “normal.” Any suggestion otherwise is strictly environment over chemical wiring. I think society’s voice is louder than any chemical/genetic wiring as far as the gender roles are concerned.

It must be really hard to be a man. Men seem constantly ready to produce proof against other men that suggests that they are less manly. To live up to this “manly man” ideal against all your male peers and family members must be a tremendous burden. I can at least be thankful that women do not seem to carry so much of an image burden, except perhaps, when we have to deal with the “too butchy” versus “high maintenance” contradictions. In my experience, I’ve felt pressure to balance myself between being down to earth enough that I enjoy getting my hands dirty with the guys, but still having to be feminine enough to look pretty and presentable in society. Some guys call this “being a lady.”

For the most part in my life, I’ve avoided allowing myself to be defined either way. I am admittedly a tomboy, certainly a feminist, and I do like to get my hands dirty. In fact, I’m more comfortable drinking beer around the campfire than I am attending some formal event in a gown and makeup. I do don makeup once in awhile and I enjoy wearing nice clothes to work or other events, but on an every day basis I prefer to not wear makeup (and I mostly don’t because I will end up rubbing it off, even at my desk job, because I have a habit of rubbing my eyes and face when I’m thinking). I used to try to look nice to impress, but now I generally think, “This is how I am, like it or leave it, because I will not change myself to please anyone else.”

So when I come up against the male ego and all of its required goading, I just get annoyed. Why can’t the male ego adjust itself to this brave new world? What is it about the male ego that demands so much power over everything else? Why do men feel this need to protect and covet their lovers like a possession? And, lastly, why do men buckle when it is suggested by another man that something they are doing is not manly? Why can’t they just say, “Hey. I know my wife makes more money than me and I’m damned proud of her accomplishments.” Why would anything any other man says to you affect how you choose to live your life?I like a man who doesn’t need to prove himself or his sexuality because he knows who and what he is. My husband and I used to call this new creature the Liberated Man. (Maybe that’s why I assumed all liberals were not Neanderthals.)