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.
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.
My husband and I have been parenting boys since 2001, and between our two boys we now have a combined sixteen years of parenting experience. So, it annoys me when we make rookie parenting mistakes. After this much time you’d hope we’d have a clue about how this whole parenting thing works. But, alas, sometimes we’re no better than we were the day we brought the little buggers home from the hospital.
Today we took our boys cross-country skiing. We tried this with them last month. Joe had been on skis before and took to cross-country immediately, but it was Luke’s first time on skis and he presented us with a bit more of a challenge. Luke, god bless him, always knows what to do before he is instructed and he has no intention of letting you tell him what he already knows. So, we spent the first thirty minutes of our last ski trip plucking him up off the snow because he refused to slow down and practice before setting off to catch up to his brother. The whining was unbearable, and don’t even get me started about the noises Luke was making. But eventually, when he figured out that he wasn’t catching his brother by becoming a snowball, Luke listened to our instructions and then took off like he’d been skiing for years. The whole experience had ended so favorably that we decided to spend the money to do it again today.
The boys remembered how to get into their boots and skis, and we were sure we were going to be able to ski three miles no problem. Once we got down the first big hill, though, Luke started having trouble. He was right back to where he was when we started skiing with him the last time. He wasn’t listening. He was perpetually on the ground. He started into the complaints about how he couldn’t ski. He was defeated, and we were getting incredibly frustrated. You know things are going poorly when you have to take turns relieving the other parent of their duty because things are getting ugly. After a half an hour, we had already had changed the guard several times.
The last time hubby scooped Luke up off the ground, he noticed that Luke’s skis were marked as “skate” skis and not traditional touring skis. The difference lies in the distinct lack of any gripping sections on the bottom of a skate ski. The smooth skis are great when you are skating your way up a hill, but not so great when you are trying to stay in the traditional, grooved ski paths and climb. I suddenly felt like Gru in Despicable Me: “LIGHTBULB.”
Had we really just wasted all that time thinking the dang kid was being stubborn when, in fact, he really couldn’t get up the hill? Steve and I have both been skiing most of our lives. You think it would have occurred to us that skiing is a muscle memory activity, and once you learn a skill in skiing you generally don’t lose it. Yet, we were so certain that Luke was being his independent self that we couldn’t even hear what he was saying. Not once did we stop to size up the situation and step back far enough to see that he was indeed slipping all over the place. Rookie parenting mistakes are almost always made when you make snap judgements. We had immediately concluded that Luke was simply not listening to us without even pausing to reflect on the situation.
The whole episode got me thinking about how often we get into a routine and we stop paying attention. We coast along as if we’re in those little cars at an amusement park, the kind where the cars are attached to a rail and even though you’re steering you’re actually just along for the ride. We’re just going through the motions, cruising along under the same tired assumptions totally oblivious to what’s happening around us. It’s fairly easy to get caught up going in circles when you’re on automatic pilot all the time.
In yoga class, the instructors constantly remind us to be present and to check in with ourselves, and on a yoga mat that is easy for me. But, in day-to-day life, it’s normal for me to coast along unaware. I wonder what better place I might be in if I looked up once in a while and made sure I was reading the signs and heading in the right direction?
Happy New Year! How did you spend the first day of 2011? Taking down the Christmas tree? Nursing a hangover from New Year’s Eve? My first adventure of 2011 was doing a polar plunge. I know it’s insane. I hate to be cold. Hate it. There are insufficient words to describe how much I hate being cold. Yet, every year I’d see the footage of some nearly naked nutballs jumping into an icy cold lake and emerging looking unbelievably happy and I’d think to myself “I really have to try that someday.” Well, someday was the first day of January 2011.
I had no intention of going through this experience alone. If I was going to freeze, I was taking someone down with me. Luckily, I have some friends who are as crazy as I am and when I suggested a polar plunge they didn’t just tell me to go jump in a lake, but they agreed to join me. My dear pal Heather even suggested we dress in costume, creating for us Baywatch Babe ensembles to make it just a little more fun to run on a winter beach. In our small group we headed to Boulder Reservoir around 11 a.m. The temperature gauge on the car read an appalling 11 degrees when we arrived and noticed (with disdain) a brisk wind blowing the fresh snow around. As we approached the check-in for the event two college-age guys were leaving, still conspicuously dry, discussing what they would tell everyone about the adventure they had just decided against. I started to fear that those guys had more sense than I did.
Still, we checked in and got in line, event t-shirts in hand, and braved the cold. I had hot chocolate spiked with a bit of Captain Morgan’s to help warm me to the idea of running into a lake where a chunk of ice had been cut away for easy access. The line moved slowly, and we watched the folks in front of us run in with warrior yelps and run out screaming and swearing. We began disrobing bit by bit to try to acclimate to the frigid temps. By the time we hit the front of the line, barefoot and in nothing but swim suits, we reasoned that the water would certainly feel warmer by comparison, right?
When the event monitor gave us the go ahead, we ran down the sand into the 34 degree water. Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as painful as I had anticipated. Perspective is everything. Our total time in the water was recorded at only 19 seconds, and it felt that short. But, the trek up the beach to the hot tub seemed to take ages as I shivered and walked on feet I could not feel. I wondered how long it takes before frostbite takes hold. I had seen the emergency vehicles and I knew that if I didn’t get into the hot tub soon I might be riding in one. For a split second, though, I thought that at least that ambulance ride to the hospital would be warm.
Yet, I survived the long trek to the hot tub. I briefly soaked until I felt burning in my toes and realized sensation was coming back to them, got into dry clothes, trudged back to the car, and cranked the heat to 80 degrees. On an adrenaline high and not ready for it to end, we went with our friends for margaritas and Mexican food at the Morrison Inn to beat away the last of the chill.
After we got home, I looked at the photos our friends had captured. Sure enough, in one of them I am emerging from the frozen lake with a huge smile on my face. And, even days later, I smile when I think about it not just because it’s over but because for a few minutes there I remembered what it feels like to be truly alive and not just living. All in all, that’s not a bad reminder at the beginning of a new year. In fact, I might just do it again in 2012.