A Real Grown Up
Monday, September 26, 2005
When I was 12 years old, I got my haircut. I don’t remember why; maybe it was for a party or a school dance or the dreaded yearly school pictures. I have this picture in my head of my round little face smiling out at the camera with my once long hair stopping abruptly above my shoulders. I can only guess at this point that it must have been an attempt at looking older than I was. I have always been on the, hmmm, how shall I put this? The “pleasingly plump” side so it could have been that I thought I would look taller or thinner or a little more like Hayley Mills. However, rather than looking more sophisticated with the new “do”, I ended up looking like a thick lump of a girl in a neighborhood full of skinny little girls who were always running around with tan, thin legs in short shorts and flopping pigtails. I hated that haircut. I needed something on my body to be long and thin and it used to be my hair. When you are pleasingly plump you don’t want too much else to be short and chunky hanging around your body, so I started growing it longer and longer.
On it grew through high school, college and into adulthood gracing my short chunky body with long and longer, blonde hair. Well, mostly blonde, and sometimes with bangs – ugh, I never learned the bangs lesson. My role model was my maternal grandmother. I think she was the world’s first divorced single parent. She was an artist in New York City in the early 40’s and 50’s. Not the Bohemian, absinthe-sipping, hang out with DeKooning kind, but the paint-family-portraits-on-the-side while drawing for Montgomery Ward catalog kind. As the world’s first divorced single parent to my mother, she had to be Responsible. So she wound her long silver blonde hair tightly into a bun and wrapped it with a black velvet ribbon. As a child I always imagined what it would have looked like had she ever let it loose. Like Grimm’s Goose Girl, she would have had the wind chase people away so she could comb it out…it would be so silvery beautiful. Then, the unthinkable happened. Right after she turned 65 she cut it all off! I remember the photograph she had taken to commemorate the deed. It wasn’t the shortness that was so shocking because it always looked short up in that bun, anyway. What was shocking was that she had done it at all. Wow. She must be a grown up now. Which was wonderful news for me because I knew then that I had at least 45 years to go before I needed to think about cutting my hair.
So, what did I do this year, well before the 65 year mark for hair cutting and growing up? I gave in. I gave my hairstylist complete authorization to cut it all off. She said, “Do you want to cut it to your shoulders?” Images of female East German athletes suddenly bounded in front of my eyes. “NO!” (I think I screamed a little) “Take advantage of my bravery – cut!”, I replied. “Do you want to try bangs? she asked. “Don’t ask me any more questions – just do it!” I shrieked. Clearly, in my apprehension I had again forgotten the bangs lesson. Then I closed my eyes, she turned the chair away from the mirror and started cutting.
An important codicil here…my body is NOT any less short or chunky. I didn’t suddenly become a supermodel. So what in God’s name was I thinking? I suspect it was the growing up part. I can make my hair look decent as it lays in lengths below my shoulders, but I just can’t shake the idea that 40-somethings should have a “hairstyle”. Plus there is that graying thing happening. My gray hair is definitely not long or thin. It is short and annoying. It pokes up from my scalp like so many broken bed springs and the whole effect is just ridiculous. The final factor was the Internet. I found a website called Makeover-O-Matic. I uploaded a picture and straight away begin the makeover. I tried short hair, curly hair, even Beyoncé hair. With the false confidence of a virtual Before/After shot, I called and made the appointment. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Now my hair is short. Really short. And not the short that it was when I left the salon, because we all know that they have some scary magic there that only allows your hair to look that way once. No, I have the short hair of today. The one-side-goes-this-way-and-the-other-side-goes that-way short. No amount of headbands, barrettes or black velvet ribbons will help me. I made my choice and now I have to live with it. If that isn’t growing up, I don’t know what is.
ENS – Empty Nest Syndrome
Monday, September 12, 2005
So, they’re all gone now. The doors to their rooms are closed. The quilts are as flat on the beds now as they were 2 months ago after the last one left. No rumples from balled up pajamas, no dents from books or CD cases, no piles of magazines, no piles of clothes. We’ve finally run out of plastic bags owing to the infrequent trips to the grocery store. And less food – definitely less food! So this is the Empty Nest Syndrome. I’ve heard about it, of course, but here it finally is. Halleluiah!
Not that I don’t dearly love each of my darling children. I do. I am lucky to have had such wonderful human beings in my life every single blessed day for the last 24 years. Annie the eldest, went off to California mining for career-gold like an early 49er. Justine’s path took her to Arizona and grad school. Chris is my baby and is newly flown – navigating his second year away at school in Boston. How proud I am of them, how amazing they are. How nice that they are gone!
We had some indication as to how this time might look. While the girls were at school they were gone for weeks at a time – sometimes a whole summer. Chris spent a few summers in Maine with my parents to work and play. They were trial periods to experience a child-free home. They were gone, but not really, because there was still that occasional phone call or weekend home. And always those ties. And this past summer, as if to remind us of what we’d be missing – they all came home. All were here 24/7 living, parking their cars, working – sometimes, watching TV, needing special foods or just more of it. It was a large, loud chaotic familial summer camp. I was the counselor – my husband was the director. That means he stayed in the office upstairs issuing memos on appropriate behavior ( I really think we need a curfew…) while I managed the day-to-day activities. “Okay kids – time for the wienie roast!”
Then, as of September 7th, they were all gone. The first week I couldn’t go straight home from work. Brooks Drugs held an almost magnetic draw for me as I found I needed various important hair products and office supplies before turning into the now empty driveway. The crucial brain acuity I needed to mentally, almost psychically, keep track of each child’s whereabouts was no longer necessary so I became stupid. I couldn’t process the simplest bit of information without hours of concentration.
“Do you want to rent a movie tonight, Cindy?”
“Huh? Why are you tormenting me with these riddles?!”
Time had no meaning – I didn’t have to be home at any certain time to fix meals, provide transportation or just be there. I was unnecessary for anything! Maybe the cat still needed me to feed her and let her out, but she could wait…and wait….and wait.
Once a very long time ago I read a submission to the Life in these United States section of Reader’s Digest. I might have been about 12, but I’ve remembered it to this day. It went something like this: The wife and husband stand on the front porch watching their last child drive off to college. The wife turns to the husband and says wistfully, “Well, hon, you’re all I’ve got left.” The husband turns back to the wife and says, “Hon, I’m all you started with”. God knows why that stuck with me, especially since it didn’t mean anything to me at age 12, but I’ve remembered it ever since. The difference being that the husband I have now isn’t the one I started out with pre-child. In fact, one of the recently flown children is his. We met mid-child -we became a family when the girls were 16 and Chris was 11. Our empty nest is a first time experience for us. We met and negotiated and blended over 10 years ago and our relationship grew only after soccer practices, chorus, college visits and visitation schedules. Suddenly we are all we have. It was a little dicey there for a couple of weeks. To be honest – he became as stupid as I did. We had to adjust to just being with each other without all those other distractions. We both miss all three of them and we also realize how lucky we are to have such brave and smart and capable children. Anything we wanted to impart had better been imparted, and now we watch as they move forward with their own lives. And here we are…all alone in our empty nest without the ties of our children that bind us together. Did I mention Halleluiah?
Why Frye Island?
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
What does Frye Island have to do with anything? It has everything to do with everything. FI – as it is so trendily referred to on the touristy little euro stickers that are available in the little store – is the small one mile by 3 mile island on which my parents bought a “fixer-upper” cottage 20 years ago. Annie was 31/2 and Chris wasn’t born yet (although there’s a great little story about that – one I completely made up, it seems, and totally believed as fact! I’ll get to that…) and I was married to their father at the time. We had been up there for a vacation and we saw a sign while driving down the road that said, “lots on Frye Island”. We were intrigued – what island? We were on a lake! So we bit… We drove around and around on this little island looking at small cottages. Some on the water, some in the middle of a bunch of pines. Then we drove up a driveway to this funny looking place. Like two shoeboxes laid next to each other. My mom sat in the car with a look on her face that said, “I don’t think so….” Then the realtor said, “This one needs someone with real imagination”. Mom bolted out of the car and walked in the front breezeway. This cottage was indescribable. The aforementioned breezeway was one of the nicest things. As you stood there, you looked out to the lake at the foot of a decrepit stairway and out to Mt. Washington beyond. To the right were 4 sliding glass doors that held a “bedroom” behind it – which were about as wide as the door. To the left was the shower, enclosed on 3 sides by plywood walls and on the 4th by a door. Next to the shower was the main “cottage”. Right….cottage. One didn’t need a real imagination, one needed a complete departure from reality to be able to visualize what to make of this place. Enter my mom, the female St. Jude. She started looking a little more intently on the possibilities… Meanwhile my dad and I were picking our way among the rocks at the shore with Annie. We all met back at the realtor’s car and my dad said wistfully (and he’s never wistful!), “I’ve always wanted a place on the lake that overlooked Mt. Washington..” St. Jude just looked at him with one of those looks, as only a saint of hopeless causes can give.
So now our family owns a cottage on the lake. The fun made-up story about Chris, which I swear, I totally believed – until I did the math… was to explain his unequaled love of the island. He is as connected to that place as if he were born and raised there which would be impossible since it is closed 6 months of the year. But anyway, I told everyone that his connection began when he was born – since my parents literally took possession of the cottage as he was being delivered. My mom brought one of her friends up to see the place and I imagined her opening the door symbolically as Christopher made his way into the world. Here is where the math comes in…they bought the place in 1984. Christopher was born in 1986. Someone pointed that out to me recently. And it was such a good story, too – math can be so inconvenient!
But Chris’s devotion is tangible as is everyone in my family’s relationship with the island. Annie loves the place, too, but she is far away now and can’t get there, but is already planning to bring Tony – soon. My husband (not the father-husband, the love of my life-husband) loves the place as if he discovered the island on his very own. There is something about getting onto a ferry and being taken away from the mainland. You are helpless in its direction and have to disembark when the ferry stops. But before you is paradise and you point your car in the direction of the cottage – which has since enclosed the shower and added a deck and kitchen – did I mention it didn’t have a kitchen before? It’s rustic, remote and not at all like the new $300,000 “cottages” they are building on the island now. But with my back to the world and my view of the water and the mountains, I am exactly where I want to be. That’s why.
Miss New Orleans
Friday, September 02, 2005
The funniest things get to me.
~ The man who journaled all his life in Gulfport Mississippi – whose journals just blew away.
~ Wondering how the babies are getting dry diapers.
~ Wondering if, after all these years, the city still looked the same before it was washed away.
~ Is the Morning Call still there?
I don’t know how to process this disaster that is Katrina. Like in September 2001, I watch and watch the tv and the film clips and the faces and the stories until I can’t watch anymore. I want to cry, but I am afraid that if I start, I will never stop.
Those little faces. The children who are so sad and hungry and cold and wet. The parents who are helpless to care for them. The people who have been ripped from their families and wander with bloodshot, tear-filled eyes…just looking.
What can a woman in Connecticut do?
I’d like to offer warm beds, dry clothes, water by the gallons and long, long hot soapy showers and clean fresh towels. And lots of food. It’s this emotional connection I have to New Orleans that makes me want to just go down there and help, even though I haven’t been there in over 25 years.
My roommate in college, Sue, left our school in Texas to go finish school in New Orleans. She was going to be a nurse. She might have been in New Orleans still when Katrina hit and ended up helping others had she not died 25 years ago helping another. Only 22, she was out on the town with friends – fellow students – when a car pulled up beside them and grabbed her companion. Being Sue, she dove into the car after her friend and was instantly shot in the face. Fortunately, they both fell from the car to safety from the blast. Unfortunately, Sue died that very night.
A couple of years before this I met Sue in New Orleans before classes started back one January. She took me on a real native tour of the city. We stayed off of the well-traveled paths and took the ones – well – less traveled. Down alleys and around corners. Through wrought iron gates and into tiny shops with no names above the doors. In one shop, I swear she knew the proprietor because it seems as they both conspired to get me to “try some of this perfume”. Sniff! My face flushed as they both doubled over hysterical at my reaction. “What the hell…?” It was amyl nitrate….so funny….
Sue was my Miss New Orleans that day. My ambassador to adventure, the wild side I never possessed. I never went back to the city after our tour. Not even when a bunch of girls went to celebrate Mardi Gras with Sue just a month before she died. Had I known I only had a month left to see her, I might have made an effort to go. But I was newly married and I stayed home and let my single friends go party it up in the Big Easy. And then she was gone.
I gave my daughter her name and invested New Orleans with her spirit. That way, whenever I heard anything about New Orleans, I thought of Sue – she was still around. Laughing at the silliest things, taking risks and dancing…always dancing. And now…now this town that she held in the palm of her hand…is gone. Like Sue.
I miss New Orleans.