June 26, 2009

Calling writers

Here's a chance for essay writers:

Real Simple's Life Lessons Contest


When did you realize you had become a grown-up? Share your lesson and you could win. 1500 words or less.

And, hey, in that vein, how about a 100 word or less comment here on the same theme?

I'll start...

I had my own apartment, a salaried job, business cards and furniture that I had actually bought instead of inherited. Every morning I got dressed in business casual, blow-dried my hair and wore a watch. My shoes were not comfortable. I had my own liquor cabinet. But adulthood didn't hit me until I looked up one day and saw that all the pictures on my wall were framed-- not taped at the corners or hanging on for dear life from thumb tacks. Right there, childhood left me behind.

June 23, 2009

In your face

My heart pounded, my hands shook. As my fingers pressed the call button, the flip-flops in my belly turned into rolling ocean waves.

"Hello?"

I will not cry, I will not cry... "Ummm... hi? It's Megan. I just... I'm sorry to call, I was just wondering if you had to leave early today? It's just that... well, the house doesn't look... I'm not trying to be mean, it just seems like... ummm... maybe you didn't finish?"

That's right! I had a near-panic attack because (drum roll, please) I had to call and ask my cleaning lady to come finish a shoddy job. Drama! Disaster! Life-altering confrontation!

Or, if you look at it another way, totally no big deal and completely justified. I pay her, right? She's a nice lady, we get along well, but if the job's not getting done, it would seem obvious to ask her to fix the problem. It's not that the situation was monumental, it's that I had to bring it up at all.

I do not confront. I was, oh the horror, the girl at the office who cried under pressure. I don't want to cry, it's certainly not something I am proud of-- quite the opposite, actually. I always feel like the World Champion Loser whenever I fall into a case of the wimpies. But I just can't stop myself. It builds up in the back of my throat and just sort of happens.

The worst part is the apologizing. I swear, on more than one occasion (I am very clutzy), I've bumped into a piece of furniture and muttered, "OW! Sorry...". Probably that table was just sitting there, minding its own business and having a nice day of supporting magazines and then I come along and RUIN EVERYTHING.

Because it's all my fault, right? Somehow in my twisty little psyche, everything works its way around to being my fault. My fault the living room isn't clean, my fault Kurt's laundry isn't totally dry (okay, maybe that was my fault, but everyone knows it's better to air-dry jeans, right? RIGHT?), my fault the lady at the checkout rolls her eyes when I offer up a stack of coupons... gee, sorry for trying to save money legitimately in a way that is part of your job. My bad.

I'm also an expert at avoiding confrontation and then spending hours, days, afterwards thinking of totally awesome, biting and sarcastic things I could have said. If I had a chance to write a script before every run-in, I'd be famous! (Famous for being a bitch, but better that than a doormat, I suppose.)

After I stumbled out an explanation to my housekeeper, she calmly said, "No, don't apologize. I run my own business and I need to know these things to keep my customers. I'll come back this afternoon and fix things up, okay?"

Totally reasonable. That's the part that always gets me, that so many people in the face of every day confrontation are totally reasonable. It's not a big deal to them, so why do I let it be a big deal to me? It's a matter of esteem-building, I suppose. All sorts of psychological mumbo-jumbo should come into play. Stuart Smalley had it all right with his daily affirmations-- "I'm a good person and, gosh darnit, people like me!".

Really, I think the best solution for the problem is just practice. I need to confront MORE. You, over there! You just walked right in front of me and let the door close in my face as I stand here carrying two children. Didn't your mother teach you any manners? Hey, dude, thanks for delivering my Chinese food, but save your nasty look for someone else, okay? You had to drive two blocks to get here and I'm not tipping more than a buck.

And you! You, over there in your smug horizontal solidity. Stop trying to break my toes! You aren't the only table in town and I could have you on a one-way trip to Goodwill in a second. I'm NOT sorry!

Gee... I feel better already. Next time you see me, watch out! I might just be (crying and shaking) in your face.

(Next post will be about the shift from pre-confrontational anxiety to post-confrontational regret. But hey! Then I can bring "I'm sorry" back in a legitimate context, yay!)

June 15, 2009

Defiance

On the floor of our utility room, there is a maze of deadly sticky traps. In the center of this gauntlet is the largest trap, a glossy black rectangle topped with irresistible bait- a shining dollop of rich peanut butter.

And leading away from the traps... a trail of peanut butter footprints.

June 12, 2009

headache

I lost my credit card today. The total panic I felt at this moment was awe-inspiring. My mind filled with a rush of oh-my-god-someone-is-going-to-buy-a-new-cell-phone/car/flat screen-and-Kurt-will-think-it-was-me! The best part about losing your card is that the lost or stolen card number is ON THE BACK OF THE CARD. Fabulous. Then, upon finally tracking down this number, the exactly opposite of a helpline, they ask you for your card number.

"I don't have it, that's why I'm calling. I DON'T HAVE MY CARD."

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I need that number. Let me transfer you..."

Sweet God.

40 minutes later (and let's admit it, several breaks to go cry in a corner), they finally have the card cancelled. At this point all I want to do is destroy my phone, return to hand-written letters and generally tell the entire technological society to go screw itself and plant a garden. But no, there is not yet an opening for illogical hatred of all things electronic. Now I must enjoy the dreaded RECORDED MESSAGE.

Why not hang up, you ask? Because I have to confirm with a live person that I heard and understood the lawyer-ass-covering babble. If I do not then I have to start ALL OVER.

I cannot go grocery shopping today. And you know what? I'm so glad. Because if I had to face one more person asking me in a supremely fake monotone, "Hi! How is your day and what can I do for you?", I may just forgo my commitment to sanity and pull a full on case of cra-ZAZY.

I could do it, too. You think it wouldn't be that scary? That's because I like you and you've been LUCKY.

(and yes, I am AWARE of my extensive use of all caps. IT'S HOW I FEEL, OK?)

June 05, 2009

Freeze

I saw a commercial today with Brooke Shields, advertising a new medical wonder cream that makes your eyelashes grow in thicker. Following the list of potential side effects, a friendly voice chimed, "Consult your doctor to see if FluffyEyes (or whatever it was called) is right for you!".

Considering Brooke's most recent claim to fame is her book Down Came the Rain about her struggle with postpartum depression, I'd say she should probably consult, not just her doctor, but her psychiatrist. Because, honey, if you're trying to fix things by pharmaceutically plumping your eyelashes, you need to get back in that chair and have a long talk.

A nice long talk is exactly what I had, too, recently- with myself. To be honest, if things had continued on the path I was hitting, I probably would have headed back to my doctor, too.

I've hesitated to bring this out in the open, considering I made a very unsuccessful attempt at a spending freeze in the past. Money has been very much on my mind lately. While I am not immune to the current financial state of things in neighborhoods just like mine, I find that my own personal struggle with the dollar has less to do with the economy and more to do with the soothing nature of mindless excess.

A few weeks ago, I found myself wandering the aisles at Target once again--for the 4th time that day. I didn't need anything, I hadn't bothered to make up an excuse for shopping, like shoes for the girls or cheap cereal. I was just THERE. A lot. The moment culminated in a surge of personal disgust that nearly had me upchucking on the health and beauty products. I put it all down, whatever it was in my little basket, and left. By the time I got halfway past the check-out stands I was nearly running and by the time I reached my car, I was crying.

Possibly something was not right here.

I don't shop expensively, I don't shop in big gulps of shocking amounts. I whittle away: face cream here, pair of cheap shoes there, new bargain purse, drive-thru noshes instead of PB&J. The illusion of being thrifty builds up until the end of the month. Then I can't meet Kurt's eyes and my purse feels heavy from small change receipts and I swear (unsuccessfully) that next month, I'll be more aware, more careful.

I feel terrible when I shop, too, did you know that? It's not fun. I feel pressured, short of breath and time, anxious both when I buy something and when I don't. The problem is, thinking about it and going out to do it feels just as calming as actually shopping does not.

I have edged away from this topic even as it has grown larger in my view. There's nothing so fun as proudly announcing a new challenge and then failing miserably (as I did a while ago). But I am sitting here weeks away from that nauseating moment in Target and I can firmly say that I have not been back.

It's not about the money, it has never been about the money. Quite frankly, though, it should be. Otherwise I am just another stereotypical spoiled housewife with a car full of shopping bags, willfully ignorant and blatantly indulgent. I have a comfortable life, I am an intelligent person and I know better.

So here's what it comes down to, a question not of what I don't need but what I do. Obviously I'm not talking about deciding between name brand and generic- the truth is there's no doubt about whether or not what I buy is necessary, regardless of the decision I make in that moment. I'm not talking about things at all.

I need to be able to meet Kurt's eyes when he balances the family budget. I need my daughter to know that happiness does not come from a big superstore aimed straight at her integrity. My mind, though healthy now, still has a current underneath waiting to carry me off in a stream of self-disgust. To stay above that I have learned to be proactive, preventive and honest. You can imagine the irritation it's been to find myself once again sabotaging my own stability.

My focus now is not so much on a spending freeze (though you can bet that's a big part of it) but at having enough self-awareness not to try and fill up empty spaces with a pile of packaging, advertising, illusion...and FluffyEyes.