Not My Best Day

Let’s talk more about not belonging.

I can’t think of a single community in which I belong right now. RR asked me what I was good at the other day and I thought hmmm (yes, that’s how I get started thinking) I’m not sure I’m really good at anything. At least, nothing marketable. I mean, I’m pretty good at video games but also I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find a new employer who wants to hire a 45 yr old queer woman with no coding skills and no real desire to learn. Not that I’m looking for a job. It was a fake interview question (no time like the present) and one that I had asked her moments before. She’s good at drawing (established) and that’s a pretty good answer. Rambling, yes

So even the things I’m good at, I don’t feel like I belong in. To wit:

  1. Using fancy words like to wit – I would not be good at RenFest sorts of things, mainly because those dresses are hot, I can’t get into the names, and I don’t sew or joust. Also, no.
  2. Aforementioned video games – puzzles, platforms, archery, I’m on it. But I’m also a girl who doesn’t care for first person shooters, who doesn’t have time for castle raids with strangers or grinding to build skills. 
  3. Writing – I can’t seem to find time to write anywhere other than here. I love to put words together but I don’t particularly care if I have readers (though I very, very, much appreciate this community) and I don’t especially want to critique or be critiqued so no writers’ groups for me.
  4. Cooking – hobby. I’m never going to write about it and I almost always fail to read some sort of step. Like the angel biscuits we were going to have but couldn’t because they actually took 12 hours and not 1. 
  5. Comics – but not really the superhero kind. And I can’t converse about this Spiderman vs that one or the darkness of Batman or even Marvel v. DC. There’s a women’s comic club that meets downtown but my anxiety isn’t down with going and besides, see previous sentence.
  6. Reading – I am the world’s worst homework doer. Going to a book club, reading a prescribed book, and then talking about it might be torture. Also, I don’t drink wine.
  7. Gardening – I considered doing all the steps to become a master gardener or naturalist but  I can’t be relied upon to remember which plants are lilies and which are irises in my own yard and the various kinds of mulch perplex me. Having a conversation about which plants don’t like wet feet is terrifying.
  8. Herbalism – see above. Also imposter syndrome.
  9. Playing board games – I suspect my friends don’t want to play with me, not because I suck necessarily, but because I don’t want the game to take three hours while we chat. This makes me suck and so we can check this one off the list. 
  10. Reading tea leaves – I’m actually quite good at this but somewhat out of practice and probably just a really, really good guessitmator. There is not a local community of legit tea readers.
  11. Being a librarian – I am bad at this and they pay me for it. 
  12. Being a teacher – I’m good at this, they pay me for it, but I don’t fit in with the other librarian teachers. I’m not radical enough, I don’t present enough, I don’t write enough, I’m not anyone, if you know what I mean. It’s the one place where I should fit in and yet I look at my colleagues and I could disappear and they probably wouldn’t notice. 
  13. Telling bedtime stories – first rate however they don’t go anywhere and besides, see 2.

You know what I am good at? Noticing that this is probably imposter syndrome at work and knowing that I could probably make it happen. You know what else I’m good at? Letting my anxiety get the better of me. These are not making it better. And so I bring you this video about anxiety as the third person in relationships:

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The 80s Called

For the first time, there are kids in the neighborhood RR’s age. I’m delighted by this and more delighted that at least one of the families is relaxed enough to let their kid ride down to our house. Of course, this means that my child rides back with her to her house since our house is decidedly Not Fun.

And since my child rides back with her it means she’s alone out in the world on a street with no way to call home. Or, she’s having fun in the neighborhood, potato potahto. Between D and I, one of us is decidedly more anxious about the entire thing. Will she come back? What if something happens? What if she gets hurt? How will we find her if she’s missing?

Of course, some of these things are also true when she’s home alone when we go to the grocery store. There are equally dangerous things in the house but for some reason it feels like there’s less to worry about. We know the statistics about kidnapping. My sister was part of a failed stranger danger child snatching when she was six so I’m not really excited about those particular statistics.

RR does not have a phone (yet) but she’s equipped with a device to buzz when it’s time to come home. I just KNOW she will leave a phone behind unless we make her take a backpack with her everywhere. Maybe we’ll give her a fanny pack to go with it when we do cave. Teeny tiny fanny pack.

We’ve definitely gotten less worried the more she does it but does the nagging what if she doesn’t come back ever go away?

Vietnamese Coffee and Getting Old

When I was 24, I had a fancy job working for the Department of State. I moved to Washington, DC with exactly seven cardboard boxes, one suitcase, and a bike. I left the last odds and ends of college in a box for goodwill. I was thrilled to be in a new city (my brief hiatus in Tucson, AZ had included providing childcare for the local YMCA camp and seeking house-sitting jobs in between being desperately heartbroken over having to leave San Francisco) and I was more thrilled to be starting a Grown-up Job which I had worked very hard to get. I moved into a furnished apartment at 10pm that night and tried to ignore the fact that it looked like someone had slept in the bed and the apartment manager was asleep (or dead, it was all the same at that point).

This particular job involved learning a new language, how to destroy the company china upon a coup, and the fine knack of signing a contract without over-committing the United States government. It took a year to do all that. The language took the longest and the china nearly so, contracts, schmontracts. In that year, I ate cuisine I hadn’t imagined existed and went to fancy dress parties with my classmates who spoke Arabic and Hebrew without blinking and had all studied at lofty institutions. They came from Boston and New York and a few had been in DC all along with their more than seven boxes and cats and comfort.

To say I felt out of place is an understatement.

But I had the slight advantage of an undiagnosed bit of crazy and so threw myself into blind dating, spin classes, soccer teams, and an unstoppable drive to make up for all the missing bits and pieces. I did not do my language homework (you can imagine how far that got me). I joined friends at restaurants and threw on my most extroverted exterior. This self I have now, the one that fights anxiety everyday, was sat on, pushed down and drowned under heaping amounts of Thai iced tea, Afghan cuisine, baba ganoush, Ethiopian injera, and tzatziki. And then I had one of the most important memories I’ve had yet.

One mosquito-free summer night I was invited to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant not too far from my apartment. I walked there and met two of the most cultured members of my training class. They had invited me. I didn’t speak much during the meal except to laugh appropriately, eat my food appropriately, and contribute a small bit of humor here and there. They laughed at my jokes. The lights dimmed and twinkly lights glowed to life. The dinner lasted well into the evening, long after the utilitarian consumption of food (this luxury, I was learning, was a thing amongst adults). It culminated with Vietnamese coffee suggested by one of my companions.

I hadn’t had coffee before but I was not about to share that humiliating bit of information. The server brought tiny tin pots of espresso to place on top of mug of sweetened condensed milk. We turned the tiny dial on the bottom of the tin cup and the espresso dripped slowly into the milk, melting it as it drained, leaving behind a cup of sophistication I had never experienced. It was delicious, much like the warm humid air, the good company, and the sense of belonging I was feeling for the first time in months.

I’ve felt that feeling since, but never so intensely. It was years before I understood the joys and camaraderie of coffee. And now here I am, 21 years from that moment, sitting in a cafe, drinking Vietnamese coffee, and wondering if I should cut back my coffee consumption in order to make the unexpected hot flashes less startling. I can only assume these are the heralding bells of peri menopause. I refuse to read any more about it since the symptoms and their timeline are so depressing. So let’s think about the beautiful things, like the last drops in the cup beside me, the mosquito-free spring morning, and the comfortable buzz of strangers.

The Man Is More Interesting

As someone who is about to give the IRS all of her money for therapy, I’m delighted couples’ counseling has gone so well. Couples’, isn’t it? Even though we are a singular couple? So many people have told me that it’s helpful, that everyone should have it, that it would help, and I’m relieved they were right.

PS – I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now and the man across from me is quite obviously listening to a phone call on speaker wherein a bank is talking to a customer about his need for a loan. The man is not the customer. The loan is not his. Is this what it means when it says “this call may be recorded for training purposes”? It’s actually a man in a Panera listening in to make sure customer service is what it should be?

Anyway, it seems as though we might be winding counseling down. We’re certainly communicating better and the missing pieces are beginning to resolve. I’m worried that in time we’ll slip back into old habits. I’m worried that the things that were broken are only patched over but, as the therapist would say, whose to say they aren’t healing up instead of patched? She’s probably right, she often is.

PPS – I have just now coughed loudly, thanks allergies, and the man looked alarmed. Considering he has had speaker phone on in this busy, noisy place, the bank probably can’t hear me so perhaps the man is worried for my health. He doesn’t seem worried about the lack of income of the person requesting the loan.

So we will taper the therapy til it’s gone and see if we can get past the visit with my mother and make sure the patches are scars and the kind that make you more interesting – not bandaids on wounds that needed stitching.

PPPS – I think you should know that the bank lady just said “there’s a lot of static on this line” and the man is referring to a lot of paperwork he has spread in the chairs around him. I wonder if the man is legally listening in on this conversation. This is clearly a heist in action.

Besides, I love my wife and I think it’s likely we’re recovering. You’ve been hanging in there with us, for some of you ten years (or more). I thought you’d welcome a happy update.

PPPPS – The man ran out and left his laptop. I assume he’ll be back, richer, but we’ll never know.

Holidays With

Since at least 1973, there’s a place in town that has been serving two grilled doughnuts with a scoop of ice cream called a Grills With. I have a love/hate relationship with insider language like this. The dish itself sounds amazing – I have not had it – but it implies so much. What is grilled? What comes with? Can you order it without? Then is it just called a Grills? But it’s historical, you say, and of course the menu tells you! And there are other hidden features like bacon! And chocolate sauce if only you ask! You clearly do not experience restaurant ordering anxiety but I don’t hold it against you.

The winter holidays are the Grills With of my life and maybe yours, too. There’s the basic units, in our case, me, my wife, and RR and the holiday events themselves which evolve and change over time but which have been core ingredients. They are loaded with insider knowledge, for instance, there’s no way for you to know that my family always had tamales on the Eves, on New Year’s Eve we ate pizza rolls and watched 1959’s House on Haunted Hill, cinnamon rolls dethroned overnight french toast on Christmas morning in 1986, and 11pm church services were non-negotiable for everyone. There’s also no way to know that Debra and I ban family and friends prior to 10am on Christmas morning (if not longer), that I get to hang the six tiny glass ornaments, and that we do all of our shopping for each other on Christmas Eve.

That’s the Grills With for us. Then there’s all the other things you can have with it, family, new traditions, travel, weather, etc. For the last several years, my family has been adding random ingredients into our recipe. Barring the Christmas my parents lived with us, we managed to keep Christmas morning to ourselves. But, they brought with them a load of other add-ons, some of which were their Grills With, no doubt. It made for a complicated set of holidays trimmed with anxiety over unspoken requirements and unknowable “givens”. This year, my dad is gone, my mom has moved away, my sisters aren’t traveling, many of our friends are out of town, and it looks like we will be back to basics again.

Perhaps my Grills With analogy is hard to follow, but it sticks in my head as the thing that is so simple but so complicated to actually have, much like the holidays. There are many assumptions and a coded language. There’s anxiety but also enjoyment if you can just manage it. And so, happiest of holidays to you. Enjoys your own Grills With and don’t try to explain it, just dig in and savor it. I will be.

Remember The Nanny?

You might want to start here. In 2012. Basically, nothing is different now. 

But you’re still reading, I guess, and so I should probably clarify again that there are no actual nannies. None. No nannies. Pity. Why aren’t there nannies?

Well, I am the nanny*. This week, anyway. Debra is away living her musician dreams and RR and I are spending the week together and trying not to catch the house on fire. I was actually prepared to not be the nanny this time. Who cares if she plays games on the iPad on a school night? So we eat McDonald’s for dinner, whatever. Bedtime? What’s that? She’s not going to suffer long-term because I’m only up to so-so parenting for five days. 

Apparently though, I’m not actually capable of dialing it back. During yesterday’s snow day we read books, practiced math, and made a gingerbread house from scratch. She had chicken, homemade buttermilk biscuits, and spinach for supper (which was delivered on time and arranged in a pleasingly fun face), wrote a sweet note to mail to her grandmother, and went to bed early after a story and lullabies. I did have one point of failure. Rather than going out to build a snowman with her, I just helped her make the face and then, when she came in cold and rosy-cheeked, gave her hot cocoa that I mixed up from a delicious recipe.

This morning I walked her to school, after using Debra’s guidelines to pack her the world’s most perfect lunch. I have no idea what this evening will hold but I’m willing to bet the nanny will have everything under control. Kidding, I’m not so crazy that I refer to myself in the third person. Yet.

I’m pretty sure we can blame this one on my mom so there’s something. When she mothered, she was over-the top wonderful. It always came with an equally over-the-top crash at the end and, as I got older and less cute, stopped happening at all. I was relieved, actually. The hills and valleys were exhausting. I don’t think she ever pretended to be the nanny so I’m not sure I’m on the side of right here. But RR is happy and I’m amazing, even if I am maybe, a little, pretending to be something I’m not. 

*For those that don’t click links: Since RR has been alive, during lengthy times of being the sole caregiver, I’ve pretended I was the nanny. Nannies get paid to be awesome and patient and perfect and I’m a much better mother when I pretend I get to go home at the end of the night. I swear I’m not as crazy as this makes me sound. Go read the post. 

Bad Habits, I Guess?

I’ve been informed that I’m doing it all wrong. I know, right? That is a heavy burden to carry. Yes, friends. I am proceeding through life as only the oblivious can do. Wrongly wronging with abandon. 

A more than occasional theme of late is that I’m accommodating. That I am particularly aware of how my actions/inaction will impact the people around me. That I am overly concerned with smoothing the way. This theme is accompanied by a stream of well-meaning scolding. I mean, honestly, I’d have ignored it if it hadn’t become such a thing. Apparently, my inclination to do this or that in order to minimize potential confusion or frustration is a hazard, not a perk.

Well, fuck. 

I suppose being accommodating can be seen as being too concerned with others’ feelings. I see it as pretty self-serving. I’m made more comfortable by having as few bumps in the road as possible. If I can proactively do or say something that will make our interaction better, I absolutely will. It’s not a tendency to avoid conflict either, because in the fight or flight equation, I’m full on fight. I also don’t go very far out of my way to smooth yours. Not everything can be perfect, of course, but it doesn’t mean I’m not trying.

These sound like excuses though. And as much as I don’t think it’s a big deal, everyone else seems to, which is in direct opposition to being accommodating. Here’s an example that I suspect will make you nod and agree with my wife:

I’m sitting in a coffee shop across from a man who has his backpack on the chair next to him. It’s a busy day and a small shop. I have also noticed that our table is the wheelchair accessible table which has filled me with low level angst the whole time I’ve been here. Several people have eyed this chair as they walked past, a mother and child, a lady with a mean cell phone voice, and a befuddled man with a cup of coffee who has circled the table three times. He looks like he’d like to ask for the seat but hasn’t for whatever reason. He also doesn’t look like he’s used to contending with fancy people, like backpack man, for space. While I don’t want to ask the man to move his bag myself, it tripled the anxiety I was feeling about working at the shop at all and being at the accessible table in the first place.

Not my backpack. I’m not taking up too much space. I’ve only been here 20 minutes. This is a common work location. Just because I have the skills to deal with a fancy backpack man doesn’t mean befuddled guy didn’t. This is not my concern. Still though. 

Another example. I’m having, again, dreadful problems at work. I go out of my way to get as much management training as possible, I practice what I learn, and I get rave reviews about my communication and support for my team. However, it turns out that I’ve been trying too hard to cushion the more difficult issues and, as a result, there hasn’t been as much suffering as there could be. Or something like that. Rather, I’m the one doing all the suffering. Even I’m aware that less hand-holding is required. This smoothing the way habit has definitely backfired. 

Obviously, that’s vague and doesn’t make for great reading. Suffice to say, now it’s not just my wife and sister telling me I’m too accommodating, it’s work, too. Which apparently pushes me over the edge. Fun. I can’t even effectively blame my mom for this since it has definitely gotten worse in the last several years. There’s no conclusion to this and I wish I’d remembered to warn you about that so you wouldn’t waste your time but there it is. 

And there it is. Literally. Right above us. I clearly have work to do.