Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Big-girl boots

It’s raining today so it’s time for me to tell this story.

Four days into the new year, I got an email from my son with a link to a laptop backpack he wanted on Amazon.

I rolled my eyes to the heavens. The idea of spending any more money that soon after Christmas was the last thing I wanted to do. His big gift was me going in on a laptop with him.

I started a tirade in my mind: This kid has a lot of nerve asking for this at this time! Doesn’t he realize how much money I just spent and how much work it is for me to put on Christmas? Because I didn’t see anyone else putting ornaments on the tree or even helping me get decorations out! Never mind all the shopping, planning, wrapping, and so on. It must be nice sleeping in on Christmas morning and waking up to cinnamon rolls, coffee, and a fun treasure hunt to find your gifts. No way am I buying another thing until I figure out how to pay off the holidays! I traveled down the dark path of indignance for a minute or two.

Then I thought, Okay, calm down. Take the emotion out and just stick to the facts. I’ll just explain to him that he can either buy it himself or wait for another occasion like his birthday or graduation. He had a perfectly decent backpack. He just wanted one that he could carry his new laptop in, in case he ever brought it to school, which I don’t think he has.

Later, when I was doing dishes at the kitchen sink, he brought up the email.

I said, “About that, honey…I didn’t click through the link yet. Now is not a good time for me to be spending…”

“No, no, no,” he cut me off. “I’ll pay you back.”

I was glad I’d had time to rationalize a calm response. I didn’t have anything to apologize for.

“Hon, that’s why we just set you up with a checking account – so you can use your debit card.”

“Well, you have Amazon Prime – I thought you could get it faster.”

“Not anymore, Prime was a gift last year and I didn’t renew it.”


So, he ordered the backpack himself, with his own trial of Amazon Prime. I suggested he set a reminder for himself to cancel it if he didn’t want to pay for the service. He may or may not have done so. It’s his bank account and his business and his lesson to learn if he forgets.

I remember when I was a kid, maybe 9 or 10 years old, and I needed a new pair of rain boots. There was a considerable amount more walking and being outside when I was a kid than there is today. Plus, we actually dressed for the weather, unlike today how kids wear shorts and sneakers three seasons out of the year and never wear a winter coat (maybe okay in Florida, but we live in New England).

I didn’t want yellow galoshes. Those were for babies. Instead, I wanted some “big-girl boots” with low heels. They were still waterproof rubber boots, but they were made to look like leather. So grown up, I thought, and stood up as straight as I could after I’d slipped my feet into them, even taller with the little heels.

My mother said no. We couldn’t afford them. “Get those off right now. Who do you think you are!?

I deflated. 

"You’re going to get the yellow boots, same as your brother!” She shut me right up and down.

Tears welled up in my eyes and my shoulders slumped. I couldn’t look the sales clerk in the eye when she was ringing us up. I thought bitterly, Of course I should have the big-girl boots. Why would they come in my size if they weren’t made for girls like me?

On the way home I leaned against the car door and looked out the window, watching the raindrops slide down. A tear trickled down my cheek in unison.

My mother must have snuck a glance in the rear-view mirror because she started justifying her mandate about the yellow boots. 

"Blah blah blah," was all I heard.

“I won’t wear them," I stated blandly. "I’m too grown up for yellow rain boots.” It wasn’t even defiance as much as a simple fact, with which my mother must have secretly agreed, because,

“Fine!” she hissed. “I’ll exchange them for the other boots.”

I don’t think we got them that day. I don’t really remember.

All I do remember is that I felt so ashamed and selfish for wanting the big-girl boots that I never wore them, either. Every time it rained, my feet were wet and cold all day at school (or wherever I was), and I was forced to think about what a selfish person I was who surely wasn’t as grown up as she thought she was and didn’t deserve the big-girl boots but had them anyway, at the great expense and sacrifice of the family. The guilt was such that I couldn’t even look at the boots and they remained in the back of my closet.

As an adult, I know what it feels like not to be able to afford things for my kids, but I tried never to say “We can’t afford it.” Instead, “It’s not in our budget right now,” or “We can afford x if we forego y.” Children don’t need to be aware of adult problems.

For example, the food pantry was a fun place to go because I called it “The Special Food Place,” and you never knew what kind of “treats” you might get. Some people might have donated Lucky Charms cereal. Or there might have been almost-out-of-date-code bakery items from the local supermarket. There was usually a movie for kids on in the waiting room, and later when the pantry was moved to a bigger location, there was a play area and a room for clothes shopping. It was very special indeed.

It was only when my kids got older and we participated in the Good Friday Walk for Hunger that I explained to them that it was to benefit The Special Food Place, and they learned that the food pantry was for people who didn’t have enough to eat and needed other support services. I doubt they ever felt the crippling insecurity I felt as a child, who never had a lot of confidence that things were going to be okay.

As an adult, I understand that my mom did the best she could.

At the same time, I cannot continue to justify that behavior because it invalidates the feelings I had as a child. Sometimes a parent’s best IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

What if my mom had said any of these things?

  • “I really wish I could give you those boots."
  • "I’d love you to have them. You’re getting so grown up."
  • "It’s not in our budget this week (or month), but we can get them next week (or month).”

Something I’ve done with my boys when they want the high-end athletic shoes is: “I’ll pay x amount, and you can pay the difference,” which is a great deal because it also teaches them about the difference between needs and wants, as well as empowers them to participate in the decision-making process.

I imagine if I had heard those messages as a child, I would not be thinking about this particular incident at the shoe store in Middleton, R.I., decades later.

To my inner child: it’s okay to want – and have – nice things. 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Girl power

Yesterday I was at the doctor's office with my youngest. He has been sick-ish for a week now and it turns out he has the flu.

He didn't want to talk because it hurts, so he was looking at his phone. I picked up this book from the end table next to the row of chairs where we were sitting.

It was really cool to look at pictures and quotes from girls who were doing all sorts of awesome and
physical things... From sports to making mud pies, to overcoming adversity (showing their scars or posing with a prosthesis or in a wheelchair).

I used to be like those girls until I reached about age 10.

I had wild hair and when my mom cut it off people in our new neighborhood thought I was a boy until I showed up at the bus stop with a dress on for picture day.

I remember when kids saying to me, "I thought you was a boy!" (I was 8 years old and more horrified by his grammar than the fact that he would think I was a boy.)

The 5th-grade spelling bee is my first memory of acquiescing to a boy. He misspelled the word "assassin." I should have easily spelled that word, and I remember fumbling with it, being embarrassed to say "a-s-s, a-s-s"... I don't think I was ready to step into the spotlight, or feared success, perhaps. Or didn't want the boy to be mad at me?

My next word was "battalion," and I had no idea what that was and couldn't spell it, but the boy could, so he won the spelling bee and I got second place. It is the first of many times I remember putting myself in the shadow of a boy.

(Funny, I have been wanting to write more memoir-type stories for a long time, but debated whether I really wanted to dance with skeletons from my past. I have bought domains and let them expire and started blogs and then deleted them. One of my deleted blogs was called "Out of the Shadows.")

I won a $25 savings bond at that spelling bee, which I have never cashed in. I wanted to cash it in immediately when I was 10 years old because I knew it would be worth about $17.50, and for a 10-year-old in the '70s, that was a heck of a lot of money-- a lot more than $25 would be to a 20-year-old.

The font of financial wisdom my mother was (not -- she was horrible with money), she said no.

Living in the shadow of other people can be a dark place to be. For me, it means people pleasing, being afraid to say no, going along with things that I don't really want to do ... just so someone -- often a man -- won't be mad at me, or I wouldn't stand out. This also happened in Camp Fire girls when I suggested the name "Wizards" for our group, and none of the other girls wanted anything other than "butterfly or flower-type" names. I didn't even vote for the name I suggested and went along with one of the other names.

Where did I learn to do that? I am guessing it had to do with seeking approval from parents who I felt wouldn't accept and love me just for being me; that I needed to do something specific in order to be worthy.

(Often, I have felt like a human doing, rather than a human being.)

What would Mr. Rogers say?

"It's you I like."

I remember a 9-year-old me with leaves and twigs stuck in her growing out hair from playing in the "fort" under the giant willow tree in front of the post office in Newport, RI, arms and legs strong and tan from spending so much time outside.

I want to be her again.

Girl power! ⚡

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The trapped bird

I wondered what the heck the dogs were barking about and went to let them in off the screened porch. I don’t like them outside barking too much because I don’t want to be the annoying neighbor.

That’s when I saw the bird, frantically flying against the screens and pecking intermittently. Occasionally it made peeping noises.
It had flown in flew in through the door that I leave open for the dogs to go in and out, but couldn’t figure out how to get back out.

I opened the slider and put the dogs inside. Before I closed the door, I let the curtain down so it covered the glass slider and they couldn’t see me or the bird.

I tried to coax the bird towards the door. “C’mon little bird, don’t be afraid, just go that way…”
I’m not sure the bird was going to be comforted by a human voice, but certainly my voice isn’t as scary as three dogs barking at it?

Every time I got it close to the door, it would get stuck behind the door, or go back the other way.
A couple of times it tucked itself up under the frame around the top corners of the screens.

I decided to give the bird a break and see if it would figure out what to do if no one was around. I didn’t want it to have a heart attack or crash so hard into something it broke its neck (which sadly happened to another bird on our porch on a different occasion).

I peeked out a few times and it was still flapping desperately against the screens.

I figured maybe it would tire itself out and then I could get it to step onto a small branch, so I could carry it out the way I had helped a hummingbird off our porch once.

It didn’t like the branch. It didn’t like me talking to it. It wouldn’t stop beating its little self against the screens. I could hear its bird friends in the trees calling to it. (I imagine they were friends, but I don’t really know. Maybe they were also stressed out by this bird’s flailing and chirping.)

Eventually, our girl dog had to go potty and asked to be let out.

I opened the door and herded her straight off the porch and went down to the yard with her.

When I came back, the bird was standing on top of the dog crate, all puffed up, with its head hidden beneath its wing.

“I am so sorry, little bird. This must be so hard for you! The door is right over there but you’re so freaked out you can’t figure out how to get out there.”

I knew I was going to have to put a towel over it and carry it outside. I have done that with bats that have found their way into our family room a time or two (I have no idea how the bats get in, unless it’s through the attic and they can squeeze through tiny cracks under doors like mice?)

I went in to get a dish towel and returned to the porch.

I hesitated, and told the bird, “This is going to be awful for a little while but you are going to have to trust me and please don’t flap around. I don’t want to hurt you. It’s going to be dark, and then I am going to pick you up and carry you outside and you will be free.”

Then I placed the towel over the bird quickly. It struggled a little bit, and I tucked the towel under it as I scooped it up.

The back yard was alive with bird sounds. I imagined the little bird’s friends were cheering it on. Beyond the electronic fence zone, I set the bird and towel down on the ground next to a large branch that had fallen during a winter storm, and gently tugged at the top of the towel to remove it from the bird.

“Voila, little bird!”

Apparently, it was stunned because it just stood there. I retreated to the porch and watched it for a little while until it began to peck at the ground.

The next time I looked out, it was gone.

There have been times when I have been that little bird.

There are times I have felt trapped, and beat my head against the wall (figuratively) trying to find a solution to a problem. There are times I have felt so defeated I give up and want to hide. I can’t really hide, so I might immerse myself in work, take a nap, procrastinate, or eat foods I know I shouldn’t…whatever it takes to avoid the problem I can’t solve.

Sometimes the problem is solved by a power greater than myself: the coworker I don’t get along with gets a new job, for example. Other times, if I get over my fear or whatever is holding me back from figuring things out, and face it head on, I am able to work through it.

I’d like to think that if I shared my problem with my friends, they would cheer me on, but I’m not often a problem sharer. Not asking for help is one of my weaknesses.

Little bird, don’t be afraid to ask for, and accept, help.

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