Brown Butterflies

I’ve been thinking lately about the different stages of life and how it feels like they sneak up on us, but upon closer examination, we sort of knew the changes were coming long before they came. But still they blindside us on some idle Tuesday when we feel wholly unprepared to take anymore shit from that particular Tuesday. They smack us on the hand, or the head, or if we are lucky, on the rear, and they shake us into a violent spiral of self-loathing and pitiful dread. And just like that, the person we thought we were is gone, and this new person has emerged. It’s sort of scary and weird and totally, totally jacked up.

I was complaining about this aloud to my husband last night. I complain to him a lot, especially on days when I have been complaining to myself aloud and my self hasn’t been able to come up with any answers. My husband, you see, is a saint of a different kind. He is patient with me. He listens to me while he rubs my feet or my back. He doesn’t get angry at me, unless I am down on myself and then he tells me to treat myself better. He even pretends like he doesn’t hear me talking to myself in the shower, or the bathroom, or the closet, or the kitchen, least I think of myself as crazy. He just listens and tries to help.

So there I was trying to explain to him that I don’t feel like any particular kind of “me” anymore, because the last set of changes in my life really did me in and I am super scared of the next change. He looked confused. I reasoned that approximately every three years I change. I go through a complete metamorphosis, sort of like a caterpillar, but instead of turning into a beautiful butterfly who flies through the rain forest, I get stuck being a brown butterfly. Not that being a brown butterfly is bad, it’s just that brown butterflies always seem to have short, tumultuous lives inside one of those manufactured rainforests at a children’s museum. Red butterflies with yellow and purple markings sail through the humid air of Ecuador, racing each other, making children stand in awe, and women look to the skies, close their eyes, and imagine a world unlike their own. Brown butterflies end up getting sat on by an oxygen-tank-wielding grandpa who was dumped in the “rainforest” because he couldn’t keep up with the toddlers and someone said, “You know what, I bet Dad would enjoy the butterflies.”

Again, there is nothing wrong with brown butterflies, they are just “eh” and “eh” is how I have come to see this “Missy”. The one right here, right now, in this present position in life. I’m not alone, I know that. My friend just asked me this morning, in a desperate voice in search of relief, “What the hell is in retrograde right now?” Eh.

Maybe it’s the time of the year. The “winter blues” is very real. Maybe because my whole life is in this sort of holding pattern that I have never been in before, and it is forcing me to work with and against questions that I just do not have answers for. It sucks, truly, but I am also grateful for so much. This leaves me feeling, well, eh.

I’ve been really fixated on these shifts of time lately. I remember visiting a butterfly “sanctuary” when Jackson was a toddler. (I’m using quotes for sanctuary because, uh, there is no real reason to have a butterfly sanctuary, other than to breed butterflies for human viewing in an enclosed space, yeah, I’m weird about animals in captivity.) But still it was kind of neat to see that many butterflies in one place. That is also where I learned, or maybe relearned, that butterflies have an incredibly complicated life cycle, and an incredibly short life span. Adult butterflies only live for weeks.

I started thinking about the stages of the butterfly, and of course to the stages of my own life, and I became really attune to the changes that have happened every three years or so. There seems to be a pattern. Like it takes three years for me to make any real progress. Or to make any big change. Or to even deal with simple things. I’m a slow learner I suppose. But, I’ve been able to trace my changes back as far as thirteen years, and it is a weird, ugly road.

Thirteen years ago I became a fiancée. I changed from just a girlfriend to someone who needed to start planning for a life together with this man that I loved, in a very pointed and serious way. Planning for the future was a BIG change for sixteen years ago Missy, whose only real job was to have fun. I bartended on weekends, spent money like an Arabic Sheik, and occasionally danced on tables, if the bar (more importantly the music) allowed.

Three years later I became a mother to a happy, healthy baby boy. If you don’t think parenthood pulls you into a new version of yourself, think again. And while you are at it, that isn’t just the “baby blues”. Get yourself to your doctor and say yes to the Wellbutrin with the side of Xanax, then figure out whether your body can tolerate both pills and a glass of wine each night at ten p.m. while you binge watch Netflix and secretly eat candy from the floor on the side of your bed that can’t be seen from the hallway.

Becoming a mommy was the biggest wake-up call I had ever had. Until three years later, when I became a mommy to an unhealthy, dead baby girl. Whoa. Another Missy came along. This Missy was sad most of the time. She struggled to conjure up new ideas. She regretted most of the decisions that brought her to that point. She blamed herself for much more than was her fault. She worried what this new mommy was doing to this little boy, who was tottering behind her everywhere she went.

Three years later I was no longer a mommy with a little boy tottering along behind. I became a kindergarten mom. That freaked me out so much, that in the same breath I became a grad student with two part-time jobs, and a myriad of obligations just to try to deal with the horrible quiet in my house. But, I settled nicely into that routine for, you guessed it, three years. Then last year, everything changed again. I graduated, stopped working, moved to the city, had a hysterectomy (changing both my attitude toward the future and my actual body), and I started to devote more time to myself than ever before. And I know this all seems great, and trust me it is, but sometimes the lack of things, things to learn, things to do, things to accomplish, makes me feel, well, eh. Because even though Missy keeps changing, there are some things that don’t change.

Missy has always been kind, empathetic, and open-minded. But Missy has also always been reactive, anxious, and diffident. Always. Through each set of changes. Through each three-year block. And those are the sort of things that don’t just go away with time. They also make changing and growing and being at the sort of crossroads that I am in now, hard to get through.

So now here I am. In what I am calling the “Eh Stage”. The “Eh Missy”. This Missy is not the most fun to be around, I’m really sorry you guys. This Missy likes to sleep longer, likes to dawdle over what to cook for dinner or what kind of scarf to buy. This Missy loathes small talk and would rather just sit silently, in her own mind, while others jabber around her, then get caught up in the middle of it. Content to do so. This Missy thinks slower, even slower than high school Missy who was always a little, tiny bit high, and certainly never understand chemistry.

But, like most things in life, it isn’t all bad. This Missy doesn’t shy away from waxing political, or making some waves in an attempt to better things for others. This Missy is finally able to admit that she needs to “think on things” before she can add value to the conversation. This Missy listens with her whole heart when someone needs an ear, she doesn’t let her mind race frantically to all her problems and responsibilities and just nod her head along occasionally. And like usual, some days are better than others.

Maybe this “Eh” stage is something you are going through too? And maybe it is because life has taken its toll on you. Maybe you find yourself in a rusty patch. Maybe the political world makes you want to vomit. Maybe you are almost 40 and freaking out (WE ALL DO, RIGHT?!) Maybe, probably, it is just a stage. A phase of life. Maybe today you feel like a brown butterfly. But maybe tomorrow you will end up all red and yellow and purple, and soaring through the humid, lovely air of Ecuador. Because really, it’s all so very temporary.

M.

Showmars

One day a few months ago I was out and about, having a hectic day. My lunch date had cancelled, my doctor visit had not gone as planned, my husband was having a bad day at work, I was confused about some choices I had, and I had spent about two hours in Jackson’s classroom, reading and working math problems with a couple of kids who needed the extra help. It was a chaotic morning and by the time I realized I hadn’t eaten all morning, I was already hangry. I was on my way home to see what Sir Duke had destroyed in my absence, when I decided I would stop by the nearest restaurant and have lunch. It seemed like what I needed to do at that moment, so I quickly pulled into the nearest lunch spot which happened to be a Showmars in Midtown, right near the hospital.

I like Showmars. It is fast and clean, the staff is friendly and efficient, and they have a variety of choices. In fact, Jerimiah and I will often meet there for our “weekly lunch dates” when we just don’t know what the hell we want. This day I was feeling out of sorts, so I knew exactly what I wanted, comfort food, which for me means fried food. I walked up to the counter and ordered the chicken fingers. I paid, got my number and drink, and walked to a booth by the windows. It was a nice day, mid October I believe, and there were people sitting inside and outside. I sat my items down on the table, making eye contact with the woman behind me who was alone, though there were two plates on the table. I smiled at her and she reciprocated, though she looked preoccupied.

I walked into the bathroom. There were only two stalls and one was occupied at the time, so I went into the empty one. While I was in the bathroom stall, the occupied door opened and the woman went to the sink to wash her hands. I was in such a weird head space, that I didn’t pay much attention to the noises. I assume she unlocked the door, I assume her heels clicked toward the sink. I assume she pushed the soap dispenser and the water shot on. I didn’t really hear any of that though. I was so frustrated at myself for saying the wrong thing to the doctor, for sending an email out of frustration, and for not giving the kids my undivided attention, that I was berating myself as I finished up. In fact, it wasn’t until I flushed that I stopped and actually listened to what was happening.

The woman who had come out of the occupied stall was crying. At first I wasn’t sure what I had heard. I waited for the toilet to finish up its water cycle, then I tried not to move, tried not to breathe, and I put my ear to the crack at the door. That is when I heard the unmistakable sound.

If you have ever cried in public before, you know the sound. Your body, full of fear or grief or anger, is forcing this reaction on to you and you are not ready for it. Or more likely the people you are around are not ready for it, and you know this. So you try to make yourself stop. You try to look up and bat your eyelashes, you sniff hard, trying to stop your nose from giving you away. You dab paper towels at your eyes so you don’t smear your makeup. You wave your hands in front of your eyes. You close them, praying to whomever, whatever, to be rescued from these emotions. From this moment or this memory.

She was doing all of those things, I assume. I was still nervously hiding in the bathroom stall, wondering what to do. My first instinct was to open the door and take the woman into my arms. Just stand there and let her cry. But, I had recently been trying to stifle these emotional reactions with people, particularly strangers, because I don’t want people to be put off by me, and I am afraid I have put people off. So instead I stood silently, and listened. I listened as she pulled more paper from the machine, as she blew her nose, as she splashed water on her face. With each moment I grew more and more upset with myself, until I couldn’t take it anymore and I opened the door.

There, standing next to the trash can, her hands steadying her small frame on the sink, was a woman in a neat pantsuit, hair pinned back, make-up running down her face. When we made eye contact she immediately apologized. I took a couple of steps toward the sink and she stepped back to let me get closer. She grabbed more paper towels, and dabbed her eyes. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I just washed my hands and kept my face down. Then as I reached for the paper towels the words just sort of came out of my mouth.

“Are you okay?” I asked her, meeting her eyes.

“No,” she said. In that moment I didn’t want to push, so I didn’t. I dried my hands. I should have made a step toward the door, but I didn’t. Instead I put my hand on top of hers.

Her name was Mary. Her husband of 42 years had just, that morning, passed away in the hospital a couple of blocks away. Heart attack. There was nothing they could do. Her daughter was waiting for her in the restaurant. I didn’t know what to say. She didn’t look at me to say anything. In that moment, I just had to listen.

They’d met in high school.

They had three kids and a lot of grandkids.

She doesn’t know who she will talk to when she has a bad day. She doesn’t know who will tell her it will all be okay. They had plans and he didn’t uphold his end of the bargain. Her daughter is busy. Her son is gone. So many years, so many miles, so many separations.

I just nodded and gripped her hands tighter.

I told her that I didn’t understand her grief.

She told me that was good, and that she hoped I never did.

She said she had to go. She said her daughter would be worried.

I watched as she wiped her face one last time. Then she grabbed my hands, tried to smile, and she walked out the door.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how long I had been in there, but I stood there for a bit longer. I didn’t want to go out into the restaurant. I didn’t want to see her daughter again. I didn’t want to see her. I was sad. I was sad for her and I was suddenly sad for all the people in the world like her. I was afraid. I never want to be in her shoes, but it is an inevitability. Inevitably, we all lose someone.

Eventually I made my way back to my table. My chicken fingers were there, but Mary and her daughter were gone. I sat down at the table and called my husband. He answered. I wanted to burst into tears, but instead I just told him that I loved him. That his day was bound to get better and that this low spot we were in, these changes we find ourselves fighting, they would all work out. I told him it would all be okay.

Then over the next hour I sat quietly, watching people walk in and out of the restaurant. I overheard conversations about hurricanes and hydrangeas. I watched an old man flirt with a young server. I smiled as a mother struggled with a child on her hip and a newborn in a stroller. I thought about this life, and how we live it. I thought about death, and how it scares us. I wished good thoughts for Mary. I realized, maybe for the first time, that we aren’t just here for one reason, with one talent or one gift, but that we are all here for a lot of reasons, buttloads of them in fact, but rescuing each other might be the most important.

As always, be kind.

M.


Admiration

When I was in eighth grade I had this wonderful English teacher. Her name was Mrs. Barker. She was short, moderately stylish, and had thick silver hair. She wore bangles on her wrist. She said things like, “But, alas”. She mixed high art with witty Oscar Wilde quotes. She made me read “The Giver”. She made me understand the inherent battle between good and evil. In short, she had an impact. Which made it all the worse the day she ultimately disappointed me. On the last day of middle school, we were celebrating our accomplishment with a small ceremony. It was the first time I remember feeling like I truly accomplished something. Middle school is tough. But it’s even worse for a meek, chubby girl, who had braces and acne. But that day I was beaming with the many awards and accolades I had walked away from the ceremony with, including a prestigious writing award from Mrs. Barker herself. As I approached her and a small circle of my teachers I heard her say that for the first time in years, she was so happy to be getting rid of a group of kids. She went on to explain my class’ rude behaviors, our lack of common sense, even our inability to understand common themes in her classroom. I was crushed. I mean, in hindsight, I could have pinpointed the kids she was referring to, and I wasn’t one of them, but at that moment, we were all one. Having just thrown our invisible caps to the sky.

I’ve come to know that it’s simply part of the human condition that we should become ultimately disappointed by those we admire. Generally speaking, those are the people who possess a quality about them that we wish we had. Whether it is their talent, their ability to command a room, or their wicked sense of humor, we have all admired someone else in our lives and hoped for a portion of that “thing” in which they possess. The trouble comes, however, when we fail to see their flaws as well.

I think that is what is happening, for example, with our president. At the risk of making this post political, I will just say that if you think hard enough you can see why so many poor, uneducated people are drawn to him. They see in him what they wish for themselves. They see in him their American dream. Even if his policies do not benefit them, they can hold onto those seemingly tangible promises he dangles in front of them. Of course, as we know now, that sort of idolization has real world consequences. My idolation of Mrs. Barker was just a childhood crush of sorts. Luckily, she wasn’t in charge of the nuclear codes.

But it isn’t something we grow out of. I often encounter grown men and women idolizing action heroes, comic book villains, video game characters, even just regular old movie stars and the like. We all generally have those people we look up to and wish we could steal a bit of that thing, whatever it is, that makes them special; and that’s okay and pretty normal, as long as we recognize that every every single human being, has flaws. Yes, even the ones you admire. Because if you lose sight of that, there will undeniably come a day when you will be just as crushed as I was.

Mrs. Barker had flaws. For one, she spoke without regard to her surroundings (see above story), she also tended to shun away from helping the kids who may have needed her love and attention the most. She could have made a huge impact on a lot of kids that year, instead she focused her attention on the ones of us who “had it” or who “got it”. As far as teachers go, I have met much better ones since her, but I didn’t really grasp the impact this all had on me.

However, recently I discovered that admiration is an emotion that we feel for people who possess a skill or talent, while elevation is an emotion we place on those we think are morally righteous, and sometimes it is the same thing. That is to say, we often assume that because the person we admire is exceptional at something, they are also virtuous. That is what gets us into trouble.

I remember hearing stories about the famed baseball player George Brett when I was a kid. George Brett was one of the best players in the league and a true treasure to Kansas City, and he still is if you ask a lot of people. But over the years stories have surfaced about his drinking, his drug use, and more notably the way he treats his fans, even children, often times refusing an autograph a ball or take a photo with them. I’m sure it is crushing for a child to see this famous, once-talented player that they admire, refuse to shake their hand. Although he is skillful and talented, his moral compass is lacking. Yet for many years young boys (and some girls!) have tried their best to be like George Brett on the field. Their admiration of his skill has caused them to work harder, which is great. But their elevation of him as a moral compass was often times severely disappointing.

And yet, we just don’t learn. We get crushed time and again by the people we admire, but we still keep going. We keep finding new people to admire, we keep trying to better ourselves after their image. I think that is okay. I think. As long as we remember two important things: People are bound to disappoint us, and you are the only one who can make changes in your life, positive and/or negative.

It also might be a good reminder to know that, whether or not you want to be, you are probably someone’s role model. And little eyes (or big, adult eyes) are watching you. So don’t disappoint them.

M.

PS… I forgive you Mrs. Barker. You just didn’t know.

Feel That Burn?!

Listen, y’all. I started Burn Boot Camp today. I am gonna repeat that one more time, for the people in the back. I started Burn Boot Camp today. So if you don’t know what Burn Boot Camp is, just picture this. A group of tired mommies wake up super early in the morning (or get the kids to school, or get the kids to school and go to work, or get the kids to school, go to work, then get the kids home and make them dinner) then they come to this small strip mall right next to a great pizza joint. No. They don’t meet for pizza. They go next door where this crazy man named Billy is all mic’ed up and ready to roll at 5 am.

This crazy man (as far as I can tell he is their leader) this crazy man yells at them through the mic to do things, dirty, on-the-floor-type-things. No, not that kind of stuff, though to be fair a lot of the women there would do those kinds of things with Billy (but you didn’t hear that from me). Anyway, they do push-ups, and sit-ups, burpees, and some things on this bar-like thing. There are ropes and there are weird weights. They run and sprint and plank. They high-five each other and say things like, “Way to go!” and “You can do it!” Then afterwards they sometimes vomit. It is sort of surreal.

I am not 100% sure what I was doing there. You know when you make a snap decision and you feel like you have to sort of go with it or people will hate you. That is sort of the situation I got myself into when my friend Kassie texted me yesterday when I was teaching a room full of kindergartners about cloud formations. She was all, you should come to Burn tomorrow and I was all, anything is better than telling this little shit in front of me to stop touching people with his tongue one more time. So I said sure.

Now, should I have gone from my level of activity straight into Burn Boot Camp? Probably not. In fact, a better choice for me would probably have been the Senior Citizen Water Aerobics class down at the Y or maybe one of those Mommy-and-Me Yoga classes, where I use an American Girl doll as my baby. Not even the “kid” one. The damn Itty-Bitty-Baby one.

But I did it. I set my alarm for five, in the am, and I met Kassie there. Literally squealed into the lot at the exact time the class started. Now already I am feeling bad because poor Kassie is a motivator. She wants to see me succeed. She is the one who got me hooked on Weight Watchers. She is the one who sends me motivational texts and she is the one who works out like seven days a week. Seven. And I love her dearly, so I didn’t want to disappoint her. I wanted to go and do my best, but I knew as soon as I tripped getting up from a sit-up that I was probably gonna embarrass her. She just smiled and helped me up. Oh, Kassie!

About twenty minutes into the workout. Just after the second, first warm-up? I dunno, there seemed to be a lot of warm-ups and then a lot of “sets”, then there was this “Super set” which was the real shit-kicker, but I digress. About twenty minutes into the workout I wanted to die. I thought if I die then it would be easier for me to get out of going to Burn the next day. If I die they will all be like, oh wow. Poor Missy, at least she died doing something that was too strenuous for her heart. She will never get to experience all that Burn has to offer. And I would be cool with that.

But as it sits, I am alive. So I have to go back again tomorrow. Which sort of sucks and I was already wondering what would happen if I were to accidentally break my leg in a freak, driveway basketball accident. I think that might work too.

So I guess I will see y’all tomorrow.

And maybe the next day.

I mean, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I hear working out is something you are supposed to stick with. We will see how that goes. But in the meantime, if you see me around town give me an old high-five and tell me congrats on not being dead. I would appreciate it.

M.