A Lady with Class(es)

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“…I learnt early and often that one doesn’t leave a place, class or culture and enter another, but rather holds the privilege and burden of many narratives simultaneously.”

- from “Poor Teeth” by Sarah Smarsh

This is an excerpt from a profoundly insightful and thought-provoking essay that I read today. The subject itself grabbed my attention because it was about how, in America, our teeth are a marker of our social status. Having suffered at the hands of many mocking brats in my youth about my own not-so-perfectly aligned teeth, it got my attention. Smarsh discusses the chronic problem of lack of dental care for the nation’s poor and it’s ripple-effect health, social and emotional consequences. This essay is impressive in its scope– ranging from the personal trauma and inherent fear of growing up in a poor family with a history of “bad teeth” to Obama Care and classism in America.

Having felt the pangs of huge dental bills that I’ve had to pay mostly out of pocket and having friends that suffer through untreated and undiagnosed dental problems, I find this essay worth the read and worth sharing.

Robert Frost reminds us that “road leads on to road” and so it happened in my reading. I came across the quote mentioned above. It’d be too much for me to explain how she got from point A to B, but I was captured by that sentence. It struck me. It made perfect sense. It is exactly as I feel. Gosh darn it, writers of the world, I love you. I truly do.

When I started this blog not too long ago, I felt that it was important to share, particularly with women, that not everyone is having an easy breezy beautiful time at being easy breezy and beautiful. I wanted to articulate that some of us feel like we are constantly playing catch up. That others know what we don’t know or have long known what we are just learning. And that it can be frustrating and funny and awkward and, well let’s just say it, a test to our self-esteem.

On my About page, I explain that I grew up not knowing just how much I didn’t know. I didn’t attend the best schools, most of my experiences with culture came from PBS (my dad gave me that priceless gift) and I didn’t have strong role models for the particular things that I wanted to accomplish in life- for the life I imagined for myself. I am proud to say that I made the most with what I had.

I spend time catching up on books that I keep hearing were required reading in school, yet I never laid eyes on them during the course of my education. I keep discovering more and more things that women do routinely to enhance/beautify themselves (although my feminist self gags at the seemingly increasing variables that constitute “maintenance”) and I try to keep my “hood side” to a minimum. And finally, I try to learn as much as I can. It’s in my nature to want to learn; I’ve always been inquisitive, and if there’s nothing to read in my immediate surroundings, I’ll read the cereal box and receipts in my wallet.

But with all of my learning, I always end up in the inevitable conversation in which everyone is discussing experiences. And it is there that I feel what Smarsh describes: “…I learnt early and often that one doesn’t leave a place, class or culture and enter another, but rather holds the privilege and burden of many narratives simultaneously.” 

See, one cannot learn experiences. One must live them. And I am always surrounded by those who seem indistinguishable from me in education and intelligence, but who surpass me in experiences. You used to go skiing with your family every winter? I thought only very rich people did that (based on movies). You’ve been out on a boat plenty of times? Wow, I thought only rich people could do that. Where’d you learn the best way to eat crab legs? Oh, your dad taught you?

Those of us who have managed some, even small, upward mobility know very well the shifting, awkward feeling of waiting for everyone else to act so that we know how a certain thing is done. We know the feeling of trying to suppress the naive wide-eyedness of constantly being the only one in the group experiencing something for the first time. And if you’re lucky, you have a close friend or mate that knows your secret; and they whisper, “Have you ever done this before?” And you whisper back, “No.” And you hold on tight and share your first together.

Then there are the small (albeit superficial) things that go right over me. A friend of mine recently threw up her hands when she noticed that the metal on the outfit she had spent a great deal of time settling on was gold and her belly ring was silver. My question to her was “Do people even notice things like that?” “I notice,” was her adamant response.

It’s not that I’d now start caring about matching my belly ring to every bikini, but it did get me thinking about how many things I must have never been thinking about that others were? How often does my class marker flash to the population without my awareness? How often have I said or done something that revealed ‘I’m not as classy as you assumed I was.’

Look, living within the shifting plates of place, class and culture is not all bad. I have many excellent life experiences, skills and perspectives that have grown out of the struggles and “deficiencies” of my youth. I learned to sew because shopping for new clothes was not always a viable option. I learned to turn an old piece of furniture into something fresh and cool on a $5 budget. I learned the value of reading in helping me to better understand the world and culture. I can understand and relate to a wider group of people and they can relate to me. I am many people and one person.

I am equal parts amused and dismayed at my lack of cultured experiences.

But what is life but learning. My lack means more opportunities to learn and more opportunities to experience new things– as an adult who can, I feel, more fully appreciate it.

Grumpy Mom

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Parents, let me ask you a question.

If your kids had to come up with a nickname to describe a negative personality trait of yours that, to your chagrin, you haven’t been able to shield them from, what would that name be?

Bossy Pants? Angry Man? Toilet Hogger? Screaming Banshee? Mr. Hypocrisy?  Endless Talker? Or perhaps, Ms. What-does-listening-mean-I’ve-never-heard-of-it?

A recent conversation with my daughter smacked me in the face with a dose of reality. We began our conversation rather unremarkably. Her older brother had just laid out a pathetic stack of excuses as to why he had not been able to accomplish any and everything from washing the dishes to locating the ketchup bottle right in front of his eyes. It’s kind of a problem.

When he walked away, my observant daughter whispered (in the not actually whispering, just talking in a lower tone of voice) that his name should be “Excuse Boy.”

Well I was just tickled to death and impressed by the accuracy of her unprompted observation. So I thought to myself, This girl’s got some wisdom going on. And because my curiosity is a moron, and my ego was kind of hungry, I asked her what my name would be.

Because she’s too cocky and confident for her own good, she didn’t even take more than a moment to decide. “Angry Mom,” she says. Angry Mom! Is she kidding me? I’m flabbergasted and furious! My ears start getting hot. “I AM NOT ANGRY MOM,” I say, IN MY HEAD, lest I prove the child right.

And now, to take on the traits of Excuse Boy, I will tell you why I’m okay with Angry Mom. I blame everything on mornings…and school…and disorganization in my blood and the blood of my children. See, I’m not so much angry as angered.

Over the summer, when I am out of work and they are out of school, why, ladies and gentlemen, I am

A pleasure and a half

A charming delight

The personification of cool.

But that morning rush to get to school does not bring out my best side. I’m dealing with one child who sleeps like a hibernating bear, complete with snoring and apparent limb paralysis. I’ve got another child who’s brain visits everywhere but planet Earth. I mean, I love a wondering mind, but at 6:35 a.m.? Come on!

Then there are those days when I’m dealing with myself and my “Let me stand staring into my closet until I figure out what to wear” logic, or on my worse days, “Let me just lay in bed while I figure out what I’m going to wear. What could possibly go wrong?”

It’s not helping my situation that I refuse to give up my take care of myself morning routine. I will not become a hag. I won’t have it!

So, in the mornings, during school season (yes, I know it’s the majority of the year) I get a little frazzled. My voice rises a few octaves when shoes are not on feet and teeth are coated with last night’s grime and we are 4th and 10. It’s possible to score (which for us is getting out of the house on time), but it’s still a high pressure situation, damn it, and I deserve some credit and a little break. I mean, flags are being thrown all over the field– personal fouls, off sides, roughing the sister…

So to make myself feel better, I made a pouty face and pathetically asked my daughter if there was a chance for a downgrade. Grumpy Mom, she decided, was acceptable as she assured me that I was still the best mom ever.

Hey, I’m not looking for perfection. I’ll take it.

We all seem to be on a “My food’s not full of shit” kick. So then, the question now is, How full of shit are we? What would your unwanted label be? And let’s not discriminate against those without children. What nickname would your friends and family give you? Let’s hear it!

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The Barnes and Noble People From Hell: A Rant

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These people show up to the cafe section with their child– and before you scoff, I’ve got two children of my own– and you know what they do upon their arrival? Proceed to disrupt the thought processes of everyone around them.

I get it. People have got to eat. And people have got to keep their kids entertained. But, tell me, what sort of self-absorbed moron searches the bookshelves for a loud Animal Sounds book to hand a two year old before heading to the cafe?!

So here we all are, me grading papers, this one studying some textbook and taking notes, that one quietly reading. And every 3 seconds comes some abrasive thought-piercing pig, cow and monkey yelping it’s guts out. What happened to teaching children about quiet time? Consideration for others? It didn’t help that the two women were speaking almost as loudly as the book was belting.

By the way, does any parent not regret buying those noisy books about an hour after purchase? The car ride home tends to be when regret sinks in. We don’t even make it to the house before we start cursing our utter lack of common sense and foresight. Back to the loonies…

In keeping with their vile lack of decorum, they left their table looking like every crumb of biscotti or whatever that had entered their mouth had promptly fallen out. I kid you not, the entire table looked as if a group of toddlers just had toast for brunch…

Now that I think of it, the child was the only thing about them that didn’t aggravate me. Poor kid.

Why, Thank You?

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On a recent trip to the gym, my friend dragged me along with her to get our BMI checked. Although not unhappy with my body, I’m not exactly where I want to be on a fitness level. I didn’t want to do it. It didn’t help that one of the trainers would be involved in this circus.

This device that one holds in their hands with both arms extended literally undresses you and reads your fitness soul.

But… seeing as my last BMI check was years ago in college– after the freshman 10 and over a year of no workouts– in which my Phys Ed teacher soured his face at my question, “Is that number good or bad?” yeah, I was admittedly more than a little curious as to what my current number would be. I mean, why fear? I work my butt off. Not literally. My butt’s still there and it’s a good thing. But I digress.

After a minute or so of this machine shooting some signal through my body that I’m certain will cause cancer, the answer is in…

It’s definitely better than the past. Much better. But it ain’t where I want it. The trainer looks at some chart (I never trust those) and tells me, “You’re in the good to excellent range for your age.” Oh, for my age. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

In my brain, I was no lady. I spit in the face of that chart and gadget and walked away with my nose in the air. For your age. That backhanded compliment goes right up there with you look great for having kids. But that’s another post, another day.

I Wanna Be a Lady… But So Many Books!

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  I wanna be a lady… but there are so many good books in the world.

          There’s my dryer full of now cement-hardened wrinkled clothes.

          There’s the shaving of my legs that must be done.

          There’s the dresser I’m supposed to paint into something fresh and new.

          There’s my new artwork I’m supposed to upload to my Etsy store.

          And always, there’s my damned eyebrows…

But, lo and behold, I picked up a classic novel that I’ve never read before– I had a strong feeling this was the right time– and hours later (I’ve lost track of how many) I was curled up in bed telling myself “Just one more chapter” of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.

I do declare that a Saturday with a great book (even a good one for that matter) and a cup of tea or glass of wine is one of life’s top pleasures.

My extensive to do list of be a:

responsible, sensible, focused, hard-working, put-together lady

crashed and burned once I decided to take a break and read.

My only regret, however, is that since I’ve been hitting up so many library books lately, I was well into chapter 9 before I remembered that this was my own book and I could have been underlining my favorite passages the whole time. There have been so many good ones. Blast! Guess I’ll have to go back and review it again some time. Hehe.

Let’s give a hip hip hurrah for when the perfect reading comes to you at the right time in your life. Serendipity. Or who knows, maybe it was always the right time and I didn’t know it. It’s a classic, after all, for a reason.

Has you read any books lately or in the past that made you want to shirk the world for half a day and just keep reading? Please share!

 

May I Ask You A Question?

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So the other weekend, I was hanging out with a good friend of mine, and I had a question that I wanted to ask her about a new relationship of hers. But, I thought it might be a sensitive subject since relationships– particularly new ones– are wont to be. So. I prefaced my query with the statement: “May I ask you something?”

Immediately I looked at her face and thought twice about it. I thought, well gosh, if I get her to think about something that she hasn’t already considered and it ends up with a negative result, or a negativity in her relationship, then I’m gonna be the one going down for that. And that’s a big burden to bear!

And yet, immediately after that thought I said aloud, “Well, I have to ask now because I’ve already put it out there.” I had to commit. I knew I was bound to the statement. And it got me to thinking…

I wonder if prefacing touchy subjects with “May I ask you something?” or “Can I say something?” is really our subconscious binding us to the spoken word. Because once we’ve said it, we’ve chained ourselves. We’ve chained ourselves to the spoken word and we cannot go back.

Unless you’re one of those jerk people. And you don’t want to be that jerk person because everyone has had that time in their life when that person just refused to proceed. They just… they didn’t feel the chain of society. The chain of morality. The chain of humanity! They didn’t feel the compulsion.

Those are the sociopaths of the world. And we don’t want to be those people.

And so I wondered, is it our subconscious that makes us say it without saying it?

A bit of a trailer, a dropped hint, yes, but it’s something more than that. It’s a cry for commitment. “I am afraid to commit but, by George! I want to commit. And this needs to come out of me. It needs to be in the world; it’s eating me up on the inside!”

And so, I don’t think any of us actually ever 100% regret the “May I ask you something?” or “Can I say something?” I don’t think any of us fully regrets it because deep down our mouths, our brains, our psyches, our emotional centers knew that it had to exist in the spoken word. And not just the words written on the heart.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/from-the-top/

The Coffee Made Me Fat

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It has come to my attention that my morning cup of joe is the cause of all my problems. ALL OF THEM. I know you think this is some slick hyperbolic statement formulated to grab your attention but hear me out….

I workout on a regular basis and I look pretty darn good if I do say so myself. I can hit the gym no problem. But what I can also hit (more fervently, zealously, passionately, lovingly) is a plate of good food. I stand by my declaration that food is one of greatest of life’s delights. It is a hard battle not to stuff my face relentlessly, regularly.

But I go through two seasons:

Season One consists of consistent hardcore working out and eating well. I wake up early and run. I weight train in the afternoons. I drink tea and limit my carbs and sugar. I feel good. I feel my muscles when I walk. I bounce with energy when I walk. I tell myself I’d be a complete moron to not be sure to always stay this healthy and feel this good. “I will never go back,” I say. I say this with absolute determination.

Season two. One day I look at my tea and say, “Hmmm I’m kind of feeling like coffee this morning. I’ll get back to tea tomorrow.” From there it’s all shot to shit.

Day two: That coffee was good yesterday. I want some more.

Day Three: You know what’ll go well with this coffee? Some thick    fluffy bread with peanut butter.

Day Four: You know what was really good yesterday? That freaking bread was so good. I want some more.

Day Ten: Everything I’ve worked for is slipping like…. a hoochie’s slip. (Wait. Do hoochie’s even wear slips? Does anyone where slips anymore? My simile sucks.)

Day Twenty-Five: You know, why can’t we just live our lives and enjoy it? Why does society have to hold me to these rigid standards? Who dictates beauty anyway?

Day Thirty-Five: I feel like shit. The stairclimber at the gym looks like Mt. Kilamanjaro. The thought of waking up early to go running sets my brain a panic. A dish without rice seems incomplete and I’m ready for bed by 9pm. I’m too lethargic to motivate myself to do what I used to do. I’m mad at myself for creating problems and and cranky at everyone else for not somehow fixing them for me!

And when I’m feeling this way, you know what makes me feel so much better about life? A hot cup of coffee with sugar and some french vanilla creamer. Yeeeeah.

What I have learned folks is that that cup of coffee you think is so innocent and lovely, warm and comforting, is a sinister brew waiting to fire your goals, roast your efforts, and brew up a steaming pot of I feel like crap and my life is going nowhere.

Hopefully, one day you’ll step away from the pot (the coffee pot) and steep some tea. You’ll see. Your whole life will fall back into place.

As for me, I’ve recently begun punishing myself with black coffee. Well… with a little creamer. Come on, I’m a human being after all.