Because I was blessed with a beautiful but uncommon first name, I’ve spent my life answering to nicknames. Most of them are derivatives of my given name (Jus, Justy, Jae, and Tina, for example). One friend nicknamed me Scooter because I walk so fast. One called me Roni because my given middle name was Veronica. I’ve also been Pam and Panama, although I’m not exactly sure how that happened. My cousin’s husband decided when he met me that I look like a Mitzi, so that is what he has always called me and I now go by Cousin Mitzi. Then there were the times when folks couldn’t figure out that the “e” at the end of my name meant that it rhymes with Kristine and not Kristin and then called me Justin instead. Still, I answered to that because I knew they were talking to me, and it wasn’t worth the effort to explain it. Turns out I will answer to anything.
During my junior year of college, my then boyfriend’s roommate took to calling me Polly Purebred after Underdog’s girlfriend. I assume this name came about for two reasons: 1) I resemble an anthropomorphic dog with bobbed blonde hair and 2) at the time I was an innocent, naive, sweet young woman. You could add that I am also third-generation, 100% Polish-American, which technically makes me a purebred and a standout in this melting pot nation. So, perhaps the name fit on a number of levels and that’s why it stuck.
The nickname Polly Purebred (or just plain Polly) to which I responded never bothered me. So I was named after a dog. She was still a pretty cute dog, and she was a reporter which at least gave her above average doggy intelligence. I could live with that, right? There were millions of nicknames given to other women at college that were far more offensive and derogatory than Polly. I counted myself fortunate.
But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that despite appearances and my purebred status, I’ve never really fit into the Polly Purebred mold. Although I am certain that the originator of the nickname meant no disrespect to me, I realize now that I’ve spent the past twenty years working to negate that sweet Polly Purebred image. Polly consistently needed to be rescued by Underdog from Simon Bar Sinister or myriad other villains. If I seem sweet, innocent, and helpless to you, then you’re a poor judge of character.
This past summer I was at the end of a quick 15-mile ride, coming up a hill at a fair pace but not really pushing myself. A gentleman in his 50s rode up beside me and asked if I needed help. Wholly confused by this statement, since I was ably pedaling my bicycle (not even breathing hard) and wasn’t standing on the side of the road fixing a flat or anything, I responded hesitantly with an “I don’t think so,” and he cruised on up the hill without me. As his butt was fading into the distance, I realized that he had been offering to let me draft behind him so I could get up the hill more easily. There aren’t words enough to describe how angry that made me. I hadn’t been struggling on that incline, but he mistook my slower pace to mean I was tired and might need his help. Funny, but I bet that if I had been a 225 pound, sweaty male and not a small, blonde female with pigtails poking out from under my bike helmet that gentleman would not have offered help. I fumed all the way home, my legs fueled by fervent indignation.
I’m not above asking for help if I need it, but I hate when the assumption is made that I need it. Yes. I can carry a 40 pound bag of dog food without your help. I’ll replace that GCFI outlet by myself. I will climb out on our roof to wash the windows on our home. I have calmly extracted a young rattlesnake from our basement and set it free outside. I may be small, but I am intelligent and capable and I don’t need your help unless I ask for it. My husband once remarked that he is glad I have a hearty dislike for large spiders, otherwise I might not need him around at all. You see, I may look like Polly Purebred, but I’m not innocent and I don’t need Underdog to rescue me.
I got this quote in an email from a fellow MIA member yesterday morning, and I haven’t been able to pry it from my brain: “I bargained with life for a penny…only to learn dismayed, that any wage I would have asked of life, life would have paid.” The author, Jessie Belle Rittenhouse (1869-1948), was a poet, literary critic, and compiler of anthologies. She was also the only female founding member of the Poetry Society of America, and she worked on the editorial staff of the New York Times for ten years in the early 1900s, as well.
I know it sounds crazy, but I feel immense pride when I think about women who were writing, publishing, and professionally employed in journalism before my grandmother was born. I know that Jessie Rittenhouse was a pioneer. She got her degree, went to work, and became well-respected in a male-dominated, intellectual field in a time when what she was doing was the exception rather than the rule. I am impressed by her gumption and wonder what might have made her choose such a non-traditional life for herself. After all, she didn’t bother getting married until she was 55, and she never had children.
I have a feeling that perhaps she did not so much intentionally choose that path as her talent and drive chose it for her and along the way she merely continued to raise the bar for herself. I examine the excerpt from her poem and I think that she clearly understood that she was the architect of her destiny. Her successes, taken within the context of the time period in which they were accomplished, were a direct result of her asking more of her life than her contemporaries were likely asking of theirs. While her college classmates were keeping house, she was hanging out with Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot and reviewing their poetry.
I think the reason that I am so affected by Ms. Rittenhouse’s poetic words, however, is because they embody the entire reason I started this Moms Into Adventure group. I realized it was time for me to ask more from life. I started down a different path than I originally had mapped out for myself and for a while I felt lost, but then I realized that my slight shift in direction didn’t have to mean that I had necessarily sacrificed all my dreams for myself. I still had those dreams. I still wanted those things. I was just traveling a back road to reach them.
When I think about what I want out of my life before it’s all said and done, it goes beyond having family. I know. I know. Having my beautiful and precious family should be enough for me; our culture indoctrinates us early with this idea, and I feel a tad bit uncomfortable knowing that I need more. I’ve always been a bit on the greedy side, though. I have perpetually asked life for more than a penny’s worth and now can say in all honesty that I am happy with who I am. When I ask more from myself, I rise to the occasion. When I want something, I find a means to get it because I am nothing but absolutely determined to have my way. When I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, I somehow find a way to pull myself out of the chasm. I refuse to believe that I can’t have what I want. It might take me longer than anticipated to get it, but I will get there. I know it. When it comes to my dreams and goals, I have patience and perseverance.
You can gain none of life’s prizes without being brave and perhaps ruffling some feathers along the way. You know Ms. Rittenhouse’s mother was constantly railing on her: “You’re an old maid. Why don’t you settle down? Get married and give me some grandchildren already.” But her determination to walk her own path and ask for more than a penny’s worth made her powerful. Asking life for what we want is always a worthwhile venture, even if it means we encounter some opposition. I’ve long said my greatest fear is getting to the end of my life and realizing I’ve lived someone else’s. So, I’m going to continue asking for the things I want from life. I’m betting I’ll get them, so I’m going to be bold, up the ante, and enjoy taking home the whole pot.
Today is the day. After months of hibernation, like Punxatawney Phil I poke my head out and announce summer is on its way. With Valentine’s Day gone and all the legitimate excuses to eat candy, cookies, and cupcakes behind me (at least until Easter), it’s time to shed my winter fat stores and get back into training. That MS 150 ride I mentioned? It’s four months away and, while summer may feel like a lifetime from today, swimsuit season will be here before I know it. I need to kick it into gear both figuratively and literally and place my couch-softened tush back onto my rock-hard bike seat.
After months of sitting on our couch or huddling under covers in bed trying to escape the cold, I have to admit I have let myself go. (I hate to be cold. Have I mentioned that yet?) I escape the cold of winter by hunkering down, sitting on my butt, and enjoying glasses of wine and ridiculous amounts of sugar. This behavior creates an inevitable weight gain that then fosters a total antipathy toward exercise because, well, why bother? I am comfy, cozy, and warm, and that is all that matters. I reason that the extra fat is insulation keeping me warm like whale blubber.
Then, one day it hits me…usually on a warm February day when I’m not disguised by seventeen layers of clothing. While preparing to shower, I catch a glimpse of myself au naturel in the mirror and officially freak out. I take a good, long look at what I have been hiding under the sweatpants and baggy sweaters. When I think I can’t stand it a minute more, I make myself look for one minute more. Later, just to be sure I have the message, I photograph my muffin top so I can refer to it the next time I think I want some ice cream. Then, I vow to stop being a sloth and get back to the gym or ride my bike.
Once dressed for the day, like a woman possessed, I earnestly tear apart the kitchen. I throw out chips, cookies, leftover restaurant take out, cans of frosting, and yes…even candy. Anything that might become a temptation must go. With a quick and decisive vengeance, I purge the cupboards, fridge, and pantry. I save a few things (for my kids’ sake), but I make a promise to myself not to ingest anything with sugar and to reduce greatly my white flour intake. And, true to my word, I don’t put so much as one lone goldfish cracker or one seemingly innocuous M&M into my mouth. The damage has been done and now it’s time to recover. Then, I go exercise. No excuses.
I don’t think it would be so easy for me to do this if years ago I hadn’t discovered Power Jus mode. I was in my mid 20’s and depressed. I was a college graduate living in a garden level apartment, working two jobs to pay my bills and still barely making ends meet. I had a pet hamster to keep me company. That should tell you how bad things had gotten in my life. Pa-the-tic. Then, one day I hit rock bottom; I decided I couldn’t stand myself anymore. Who WAS this woman? Whoever she was, she wasn’t me. At least she wasn’t the me I had dreamed I would become. It was time to change. From that point on, I would run my life rather than letting life run over me. With an invisible but indelible manifesto etched into my brain, within four month’s time I had secured a higher paying, more fulfilling job, moved away from the guy who was holding me back, and started exercising again. Power Jus mode whipped my life back into shape.
Ever since then, I’ve had Power Jus on reserve. Each time I activate her, it becomes easier to get back to my old self more quickly. Of course, none of this is to say that I am giving up wine completely or that I’ll not be sitting in bed with my laptop even once more through the rest of wretched winter. I’m just not going to do either of those things until after I’ve clipped into my bike pedals and done my time on the trainer. Like my own personal Jillian Michaels, Power Jus doesn’t tolerate excuses; and, trust me, she will kick my ass. After all, that bike ride gets closer each day, and it brings with it swimsuit season. It’s time to hit the road.
**Postscript: My very sweet friend informed me that my muffin top is actually more of a mini-muffin, so upon her request I hereby acknowledge that “muffin top” is a subjective term. I know others feel their muffin tops are more substantial than mine, but I can only speak to my own experience and this is muffin top to me.**
Last week my friend Heather and I met up for Thai food and a sold out, weeknight concert. Now that I’m a mom, it always seems like a decadent treat to get to go out on a weeknight and stay up way past my normal bedtime. And, yes…I pay for it when I am running on 5 hours of sleep the next day, but it’s still completely worth it.
We drove downtown, procured parking across the street from the Ogden theater in what I like to call the “old people lot” (because it’s close and expensive and the young kids never park there), giddily showed our IDs at the door, and went inside to get some drinks. We’d lingered too long at dinner, and the place was already packed. With vodka drinks in hand, we walked around for a while trying to determine the best place to insinuate ourselves to see The Decemberists play.
We finally settled at the back of the theater on the raised platform near the bar. Seemed like a logical location for us. When the concert started, the band asked us to introduce ourselves to the people around us. In my 27 years of regular concert attendance, that request was a first. Still, we obliged and met our “neighbors.” The guy standing directly in front of us was named Chase (we renamed him “Chaz”). The guy standing to the left of me was John.
There’s an odd thing about concerts, something I’ve always kind of enjoyed. When you look around, you see tons of people relishing the same music that you do, but despite your similar taste in music (at least in this one band) you might never socialize with them if you met them outside the concert. There is often an interesting mix of people, not all of whom look exactly like you. It makes for great people watching, and it serves as a good reminder that despite our differences we can usually find something in common with someone if we try hard enough.
Well, as the concert progressed, Heather and I noticed that someone nearby must have enjoyed a hearty meal of Mexican food before showing up to the concert. Yes. That’s right. There was a gaseous odor seeping from someone near us. Was it John? Was it Chaz? We couldn’t be sure. Whoever it was, though, certainly was in some fair amount of intestinal distress.
Must admit that Heather and I were acting a bit childishly (I blame it on the vodka). We giggled, made obnoxious remarks, and tried desperately to determine the source. We joked about finding the perpetrator and offering him (or possibly her) a cork, but in a concert environment it’s nearly impossible to locate the source of flatulence; it’s just too loud and too crowded. Besides, even if we were able to pass along a cork, the person was standing so nearby and sharing such foulness that one of us would probably just have our eye put out when a gaseous eruption forced it to launch from the offending orifice.
So, our new friend’s scent wafted around our noses the entire show, a constant reminder that we’re all human (although some of us try a bit harder to disguise that fact in public). As bad as it was that Mr. Farty Pants couldn’t keep his odiferous problem under tighter containment, it probably wasn’t much better that Heather and I were carrying on about it like fourth graders. I guess sometimes, though, it’s just better to let loose, as our fellow concert-goer was doing. Why keep it bottled up?
Sometimes the best way to deal with something unpleasant is just to have a good laugh about it. And, acting your shoe size and not your age truly is cathartic once in a while. Parents don’t need to act maturely all the time. Occasionally and in the right company, sometimes it’s fun to enjoy a cackle or two about bodily functions. I like to prove my mettle with my boys by letting out a good belch or two at home occasionally. I’m just keeping it real and letting them know I can run with the big dogs, right? Is it decent and decorous behavior? Probably not. But, I like to imagine that I’m teaching them that even when you’re a grown up, you still have a bit of kid in you.
Valentine’s Day. The mere mention of this Hallmark holiday brings ice to my heart. On February 14th, while many women are dreaming of romance, I am trying to suppress the bile that is rising from my churning stomach. Oh, fine. Maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic. However, I am a true unromantic, an anomaly in the female population and, not unlike the albino alligator, a freak of nature.
It probably stems from the fact that I never once had that Valentine’s Day that women fantasize about. And, knowing me as I do, that’s probably a good thing. I’m fairly certain that if some guy started serenading me with a love song he had written for me I would probably have to work to avoid an exaggerated eye roll and to stifle a hearty laugh. I have never been the type of gal who appreciates that sappy, cinematic version of romance. (I loathed Pretty Woman. And, don’t even get me started on Dirty Dancing.) Now that I’m married with children, I consider it romantic if my husband cleans the bathroom without prompting.
I’m sure some of my disdain for this pseudo-holiday is a result of the years I spent working in retail, watching men rush into the store at 6 p.m. looking desperately for something, anything, to bring home to the girlfriend/fiancee/wife who expected something magical because the calendar happened to read February 14th. I saw the looks of confusion, panic, and fear on their faces, and I felt sorry for them. Worse, though, were the guys who were completely apathetic and just grabbed something quickly, paid for it, and flew out of the store without a second thought. Those guys depressed me. I vowed never to become that woman who put so many expectations out there for Valentine’s Day romance that not even Prince Charming himself could come through appropriately.
Men have tried to make my Valentine’s Day one for the memory books, and they have succeeded. There is the guy who told me he’d be picking me up at 6 for a surprise and then took me to a 7 o’clock play. I hadn’t eaten because it was Valentine’s Day and I had expected dinner would be on a schedule that began at 6 p.m. I spent the entire two-hour play trying to disguise the fact that my stomach was growling more than a junkyard dog, and then I was just plain cranky because my blood sugar was so low. On another Valentine’s Day, I wore some new lingerie for my boyfriend because he had told me how much he liked it when his ex-girlfriend wore something similar; apparently he didn’t like it on me, though, and told me that it didn’t “suit” me. Nice. The one time I actually received a dozen, perfect red roses at my house on Valentine’s Day, it turned out to be just a fluke; I found out later that they had been ordered more or less to secure certain sexual favors, presumably as some type of reimbursement for the flowers themselves. Ugh. And people wonder why I am so cynical about Valentine’s Day.
But what really bothers me about this day, I suppose, is the expectation: the expectation that for one day a year a guy who is wholly unromantic will suddenly become a debonair mind reader and create a flawless night of romance, perfection made to order for the love of his life. Seriously? What kind of crack are we women on? If your darling husband can’t seem to find the hamper so he can properly dispose of his boxer shorts at the end of the day, what makes you think he’s going to know how to pull off a perfect Valentine’s Day? Why do we expect this? And, the guys are no better. Let’s face it. They have expectations too and by the time they disappoint us with their Valentine’s Day gestures, we’re not in the right frame of mind to make their Valentine’s Day wishes come true. It’s a lose-lose set up from the get go.
My mother taught me that “expectation is the mother of disappointment,” and I repeat that phrase constantly to myself because it is so incredibly true…at least in terms of what happens when I place my expectations on others. I have learned that no one is clairvoyant and that if I want something I need to ask for it. So hubby, if you’re reading this, my perfect Valentine’s Day this year includes a not-so peaceful dinner at home followed by movie night with you and the kids because you three mean the world to me. And let’s face it, the most romantic thing I ever did was take a chance on marriage and parenthood. So far, so good, though.
Coming home with the kids the other day, I noticed a lone Canada goose in a neighbor’s yard. It’s not unusual to see Canada geese in our neighborhood. There are non-migratory flocks of them that reside here. In the spring, they nest down by the ponds; and we watch as their fuzzy brown and yellow offspring emerge. In the summer, they seem to idle away their time by pooping all over the t-ball and soccer fields. In the fall, they float lazily on the pond water before it freezes. And then, in the winter, they walk the streets looking for grass springing up from beneath the snow. They are ubiquitous.
But, a lone Canada goose is a rare sight. Geese are very social creatures and are almost always in the company of other geese. I first noted the goose up the street a few houses away. Yesterday, I saw it wandering in the neighbor’s yard, finding grass across the street on the sunny side. This morning, I was sitting in bed reading (oh, okay…I was playing Angry Birds…ironic, no?) and I watched it fly onto the open space behind our house, walk out a bit, and then curl up to nap.
I’m obnoxiously curious by nature, so my brain has been troubled for days with questions about what this goose is doing on its own. I know it’s wrong to anthropomorphize, but it looks so depressed. I told hubby this morning that I thought it needed a hug. Its lone wanderings have been vexing me, so today I finally broke down and did some research as to why a Canada goose would be off on its own like this. Here’s what I found on a site called http://www.canadageese.org in response to a question someone else posed about a lone goose:
“There are three common explanations for your observation. The first possibility only applies in the spring during nesting season. Many people report seeing a lone goose hanging around a particular area. Typically the bird is a gander (the male) standing guard with a well-concealed mate on a nest nearby — he only appears to be alone. The second possible explanation is that the goose you observed has lost his or her mate. Geese are known to mourn by staying by themselves for a while. Possible explanation 3: He was injured shortly before arriving on the scene and his internal injuries brought him down. If this goose appears to be healthy (and appears to be finding food and eating), then there is nothing to worry about and no need to do anything.”
Our goose appears to be healthy. It is eating. It can fly. It’s not nesting season and, even if it was, our house is nowhere near the ponds where these birds usually nest. All this leads me to the conclusion that our lone bird isn’t just alone but is indeed lonely.
A few years ago, I was about to merge onto the highway when I saw a car ahead of me hit a Canada goose. It was ugly. I will never forget watching the other birds react as the dying bird flailed about. As I slowed to drive around the geese, I heard excessive honking and saw one bird standing close by the injured bird as it suffered. Later, I drove by again and saw one lone goose standing over the now dead bird. It stayed behind when the flock left to mourn its loss.
Normally, I find these birds a complete nuisance. They cross the street in droves, and I complain unendingly as I wait for them to meander out of my way. Knowing what I now know, however, I am looking at them in a slightly different light and I am starting to wonder if I should approach all things in my life with a bit more softness. Perhaps when I see something unusual I should take time to investigate rather than immediately making assumptions as I am wont to do. Maybe some of those really grumpy people I run into are dealing with things I don’t understand. Maybe, like that solitary goose, they are coping with a painful loss. I suppose it wouldn’t kill me to give people the same compassion I am giving to the goose who is right now resting in the snow across the street in our neighbor’s yard.
We’ve gotten a lot of snow the past week here in Denver, so instead of going to yoga today as planned I could not pass up the opportunity to get out and enjoy the fresh powder snow. If the perfectly clear, beautiful blue winter sky wasn’t reason enough to get out, I noticed that no one had yet taken their snowshoes or skis out onto the open space field behind our house, which meant I was going to get to break a fresh trail. I have always loved making my mark in the snow and, since I was born a penis-less female, using snowshoes is the closest I come to peeing in the snow and marking my territory.
It was a balmy 6 degrees when the hyper border collie and I headed out. The thing I have always appreciated about snowshoeing is that it’s such a good workout that I am rarely cold for long. And, sure enough, it wasn’t but a few minutes until I was huffing and puffing and already unzipping layers of Smartwool. I planned to do the 4-mile loop the dog and I usually hike. It seemed like a reasonable and attainable goal. I snowshoe fairly often, but I usually head out on paths that have already been trodden down somewhat. In fact, I had completely forgotten how much work it is snowshoeing in fresh snow. I was stopping far more frequently than I had planned, just to catch my breath. The dog, completely unaccustomed to my taking breaks, enjoyed every last second by flying off in different directions with total freedom.
On one of my oh-too-many stops to catch my breath, I started thinking about my desire to blaze a trail today and how I’ve come a long way from my high school days when I was a truly devoted follower. My best friend was the leader, and I was happy being in her shadow (which was considerable since she is 6 feet tall in bare feet). In high school, I wanted to be able to camouflage myself, to fade into my surroundings. There’s a photo of me in the yearbook that comes to mind. The camera was pointed right at me, and I ducked my head and stared at my schoolwork as if I could disappear into it. I remember that girl as hesitant, reticent, and fearful. Definitely not a trailblazer.
Now that I am older and have more miles in my own skin, I’m a bit less concerned about whether or not I blend in. It’s not that I want to stand out necessarily. I just don’t care if I do or not. Other peoples’ opinions of me matter so much less than they used to. And, that makes it easier for me to be my own woman, to do what I want, and to move forward in my life unabashed. I may not be a true female pioneer like Amelia Earheart, but I’m closer to that adventurer now than I’ve ever been before. It’s not always easy. In fact, just like breaking a fresh trail in snowshoeing, sometimes making my own way is much more work than I imagined it would be. But, at least the path I create is uniquely mine, and that has to be worth more than just running with the pack. There’s something about breaking out on your own. Each step is a new beginning and the possibilities are limitless. It takes your breath away.