Friday, October 24, 2014

Barbie & Skipper: Lessons About Ken(s) and the Dream House That Requires More Than Just Assembly

My parents went above and beyond the call of duty in raising me. I'm sure they were presented with more than enough opportunities to "accidentally" leave me in a grocery store or shopping mall and just "forget" to come back and retrieve me. I commend them for their patience. I apologize for the therapy bills I know they are currently paying.

But what my parents never did was bless me with a little sister. A little brother? Yes. A Lego-leaving-Nerf-gun-shooting-booby-trap-setting-matchbox-car-throwing-brother. This "little" brother grew to be an entire foot taller than me. He's now married with a mortgage and a steady job. He doesn't look to me for advice, help or instruction. To put it simply, "he's all done." My work, although mostly comprised of dodging his weapons, laboring through the pain of stepping on hundreds of Legos and enduring the embarrassment of his presence while entertaining a boy, is through.

I always wanted a little sister though. Laura Ingalls Wilder had Carrie and Grace. The entire Babysitter's Club consisted of girls with little sisters. And the bond between Barbie and Skipper was something that I envied. Please note that I do have an older sister of course. The one who got the cool clothes that were eventually handed down to me. The one who could drive, date, pierce and tattoo long before I could. (Let's be honest-I'm not saying that boys were lining up around the block to have a chance date with Kristen but if they were they had to wait until I was a senior or Jonathan Taylor Thomas returned my love letters with a "no.")

So how lucky was I when at the age of 22 I was introduced to an 8th grade girl who was looking for a "big sister" role model. Someone to tell her about boys. About parties. About the cool things in life of which I knew nothing about because I was NOT that kid growing up. But for some reason she stuck around listening to me tell her what company she should keep. What classes she should take. How to talk to her parents when she thought she should keep her mouth shut. I got her through high school. I saw her go off to college. And now that she has graduated, I am seeing her through the first part of her "oh-my-God-I'm-an-adult" phase. I've been there through braces and break-ups. School dances and college applications. Parties and parents. I've watched her grow up into an adult all the while looking to ME for advice and guidance.

Looking to me? That's like a blind person teaching a person with 20/20 vision the color spectrum.

Every time the phone rings and I see her face there on the screen I hit the "answer" button and buckle up for what will only be a conversation that will test my navigational prowess. How do I use all of my relationship disasters, friendship roller coasters, emotional "come aparts" and complete lack of having my life together at the age of 30 to guide a 22 year old? How do I make sure that as a "Big Sister" I tell her what she needs to know in order to make the right decisions? She can always go to her parents or friends but for some reason she keeps coming back to me. And she comes back with two questions every time: "What should I do?" and "What would you do?" Those two questions have more conflict than relations in the Middle East.

I'm sure you're wondering why this isn't like parenting? Why I shouldn't feel like I could tell her "when I was your age we walked up hill both way to school and made our own shoes fashioned out of the burlap sacks we stored our potatoes in" (Irish family... Never fails). There's a difference between a parent and a sister. And I have learned that. It is easier to call a sister when you've found yourself at a party where everyone is drinking and you don't have a sober ride. It's easier to call her because while she knows she wasn't supposed to be at that party in the first place that sister will come out in the middle of the night, get you, bring you water and ibuprofen, and tell you she's been there too. It's not my place to discipline and set boundaries. It's my place to tell her: this is what I went through. This is what I experienced. And if you can piece together ANY helpful hints and tips for putting together a semi-normal and functional life for yourself: I commend you.

The other night this sweet girl asked me a question that didn't have to do with boys and break-ups or dresses and drama. She asked me: "But what will people think of me now?" And I teared up. Because that's exactly the question I have been asking myself for months. And I realized that the answer that I was about to give her as a Big Sister was the answer I needed to hear all along.

She had an opportunity to travel across the world for a job. She told everyone she knew. She was more than thrilled. It was a dream come true. She was finally going to be doing what she dreamed of doing her whole life and it was going to be on a level she never imagined. And after yelling it from the rooftops... it fell through. And she was scared, embarrassed and so concerned as to what other people were going to think of her because her plans changed. If you held a mirror in front of my face you would have seen a person who wondered what people thought of her: spending her whole life trying to get to Nashville, finally getting there, planting roots, trying to make something of herself, and eventually packing up and driving away from it all. I wondered too: Will people think I failed? Will people think that I wasn't able to set out and do what I said I was going to do? What are people thinking of me?

So I told her what I wished I had told myself every night I have sat in this apartment wondering what people were thinking about the girl who dreamed of living in Music City and then left. The only person who's opinion matters when it comes to your life is your own. Life happens. You can't determine the path that you are going to take or what is going to be on the next page in your life story. There are shake-ups and let-downs. But letting the perceptions of others have such an impact on the perception you have of yourself? That's unfair. Failure is when you didn't try. Failure is when you stood on the edge of change and didn't jump because of fear. Failure is not when life has other plans. Failure is when you make other plans to appease the opinions of others.

So I told her. And in telling her I told myself. A Big Sister and a Little Sister learned something together at the same time. And her response, upon hearing my great "words of wisdom" was: "Thank you. You always know the right thing to say! I needed that."

Little did she know... So did I. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

40 men in 60 days (Don't even think it...)

For three years my workplace consisted of two people: Me and my female boss. I rarely interacted with other humans. At times, I would long for company that I would deliberately choose to meander to the copy machine when I heard voices downstairs. Although extremely embarrassing the day that I super-glued myself to the desk, it meant that a maintenance man was on his way to visit me with paint thinner. And every Wednesday, like clockwork, the Bug Guy came to spray the office. I cherished our "How is your day going? Good. See you next week." That brief encounter made me feel less like Rapunzel up in the lonely tower (long hair down to my rear-end helps with that scenario). This environment kids is no longer the workplace I go to 6 days a week. I have entered one end of the extreme on the spectrum to the other: I work with an average of 40 men on a daily basis. And besides the dry hands I have developed due to my overuse of Purell, I have learned more in the past two months about the opposite sex than I have in all my 30 years on this planet. And it's more complicated then I ever imagined. I am still in awe that National Geographic has not produced a documentary on this phenomenon.

I've had my fair share of "boy encounters." There was preschool where I hit a bully over the head with a frying pan (who puts real frying pans in a kiddie kitchen? Oh the 80s!) after he made fun of my friend with an eye patch and glasses. I punched the kid, Timothy Patchowski, who put gum in my beautiful hair behind me in 2nd grade. I have dated half the city of Nashville (which horrors comprise most of this blog). And I have been in enough weddings as a bridesmaid that I have the behavior and personalities of groomsmen down to an exact science. But my new job is like entering a foreign land where you feel compelled to write post cards to your friends back home telling them of all you've seen and moments you've shared. "Greetings from my front office desk!"

It's not only the face to face interaction that I have with the male species it's also the interaction among the male species as either pairs or packs that fascinates me. I want to take notes. I want to document it like Darwin. I want to share it with others so perhaps we can all learn something from the knowledge I have garnered in such a short period of time.

1) Tinder: 

For those of you kids reading this that have no idea what "Tinder" is it is an app on your mobile device that is used to find someone of the opposite sex. You upload a photo of yourself and thousands of others do the same in your area. You are presented a photo, one at a time, and you either swipe to the left to ignore that person or you swipe the photo to the right to accept that person. If the person in the photo swipes to the right on your photo as you did theirs, you will be matched and can begin communicating. But the split second decision you have to make on swiping this photo is based on one thing and one thing only: appearance. I am simply fascinated but mostly frustrated with this app when it comes to observing the swiping of the males around me. It seems that their favorite photos to swipe are the women who are making duck faces, standing in front of a mirror and obviously lacking financial stability because they can't afford enough clothing to cover their bodies. These are the women they choose. These are the women, who have lowered themselves to a sad level of cleavage showing-Tammy Faye Bakker make-up wearing state. While I feel sorry for these ladies the boys are immediately attracted. So I did what every strong, opinionated and self-respecting female would do: I commandeered a phone in the name of the Women's Rights Movement. I looked at the photos and chose the women who had a smile instead of Daisy Duck on their face and were dressed less like Daisy Duke and more like Tammy Faye. I chose someone you would be proud to bring home to your parents. A girl who showed self respect and confidence. A girl who was comfortable with being herself and not using the power of sex to attract men.

Upon returning the phone I feared for my life as his reaction was similar to the Hulk's. I had messed up his system and now he may be matched with a decent woman. I told him he should thank me but in reality I think he was planning my impending death. I tried to have him explain to me why those photos were his top choice (and why those around him cheering him on agreed with such judgement) and upon hearing his reason I felt the pride in the progress we have made as women since we won the right to vote disintegrate before my own eyes. I couldn't argue anymore. It would fall upon deaf ears as the swiping started again and I saw classy women tossed to the left without the blink of an eye.

2) Mothers: 

Simply put, no matter what the age of the male, when the species is put together in either a pair or a pack one of the male's mothers will be insulted. It's inevitable and rather reminiscent of the early 1990s when "your mama" jokes filled the air of the school bus. It is a behavior that the species never grows out of and finds humor in after all these years on the planet. Seriously, every day the same line and the same belly-aching laughing reaction. I won't try to understand it. I will just observe from my stationary position 3 feet away.

3) Expectations: 

When you text a woman "what are you wearing" and she texts you back "use your imagination" let me help you: she is sitting on the couch Netflix binging in a faded college sweatshirt and gym pants, her hair up in a bun, Proactive mask on her face and if she's like me, most likely has her glasses on and retainer in. That image may be horrifying but it's true. And if I am over generalizing the mass population of women out there then I truly apologize. But for men to think that every woman after work is dolled up and somehow in her apartment wearing stilettos and lingerie you're sorely mistaken. Maybe I used myself as an example in what women truly look like when no one else is around but from my research and observation of the male species these past couple of months I have noticed that "use your imagination" doesn't include Proactive dots on her face.

4) Pigtails and Pitching: 

I have observed and taken note of in my mind (because I lose sticky notes far too often) this complicated yet simple behavior. It is common knowledge to most of the Free World that I am obsessed with baseball. I eat it. I drink it. I sleep it. I breathe it. And the Yankees are my obsession. The combination of a professional female addicted to professional sports is hard for this sample of 40 men to truly comprehend. Yes, I will steal your Sports Illustrated magazine from the break room. Yes, I will cheer when the game is on the televisions throughout the building. And yes I will know the stats of the players, the standings of the teams and the schedule for the season. I will get excited when there's a base hit or double play. I will throw the nearest object to the ground when there is a bad call by the umpire. For some reason though this confuses those around me. In turn, whether they have an allegiance to the team or not, the coping mechanism when a girl knows more about the game on then he does is to make fun of my team and the players on it. It is the grown-up version of pulling on a girl's pigtails in math class to annoy her. I don't know if pride is hurt or it's just ingrained in the DNA to poke the girl who corrected them on a game. So I called out the 1-6-4-3 play to end the inning... pull the pigtails all you want.

Please note that these observations are based solely on my sample size of 40 men in a two month period. A disclaimer is necessary because in order to understand the entire male species I would have to have a larger sample size, a stronger hypothesis, a more diverse population, and more time. I am not attempting to put the entire male species into one category because there is a margin of error. Exceptions to the rule. Scientific outliers and phenomena. Standard deviations and complete contradictions. I'm not Darwin dang it. And no subjects were injured in this study except for the occasional pen to the back of the head for an inappropriate comment... or two.   

But at the end of two months of study, observation and scientific reasoning I have garnered knowledge I thought could only be found in hand written monk scrolls hidden deep within ancient tombs: I now know why "the guy" never called back.   

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Will You Watch My Cupcake?

I've been in Texas now for 17 days. I'm down to just one box left that's aptly labeled "stuff" and sits in the "office." The books are shelved (and shoved into oven drawers)... the pictures are hung... the  frames filled with my favorite people... the internet is connected... and the cats have finally stopped singing the song of their people at 3am. My appreciation for technology has increased ten-fold thanks to the advent of FaceTime, texts, and social media. Without it, I would probably have driven back "home" to see those favorite people. I started a new job to help pay the bills and I've been doing my best to get myself into a normal routine (As normal as someone like me can attempt to be).

But since this is me and I don't lie... Yeah, I'm homesick. And the funny thing is the realization that I don't express being homesick like most people would. Yesterday afternoon I completed all 120+ episodes of The Wonder Years. I started the series when I had my surgery and made it through the late 1960s and early 1970s up until yesterday morning. Any normal person would have watched the final episode... the infamous 4th of July episode... and said, "well that was a good show." Me? No. I didn't take that route. I screamed at the television "What the hell Kevin and Winnie?!? You're supposed to be together forever! F-O-R-E-V-E-R!!" I cried for almost 30 minutes to at which point I questioned my sanity. Why was I so worked up over the end of a television storyline? Why was I having a complete come-apart over, essentially, nothing? (You have to give me credit though- she cheated on Kevin. That will melt even the iciest of hearts). 

In the pursuit of questioning my sanity I realized I was crying because it was one valid reason I could give myself to just "let it all out." I used the tumultuous relationship of Arnold v. Cooper to pour my own emotions into. They were my "homesick scapegoat." Tears shed over the lost baby ducklings video on Facebook? Scapegoats. Weeping while singing "Hero" by Mariah Carey? Unfortunate scapegoat. The sniffles over the consecutive Yankees losses? Legitimate tears. (I'm emotionally invested in baseball to unnatural levels.) What I couldn't put my finger on was why I was homesick. My parents, brother and sister-in-law live here. How can I be homesick when I have my family here with me (2 towns over... let's not get too crazy)? The reason: I don't know things/people and they don't know me.

I don't know my way around these streets. I don't know where the aisles in the grocery store are to find my staple foods and make a run for it. I don't know where the good restaurants are. I don't know what the bumper stickers mean on the back of cars that cut me off on the interstate because people drive like maniacs down here. I don't know the radio stations. I don't know my neighbors (that's not an exaggeration either). And today I realized one huge thing: people don't know me. I have been focusing on " I don't know" and "I need to know" but I left out a key counterpoint to that fact. And it came about in the most random way possible today.

A man at work asked me to watch his cupcake.

Who in their right mind is going to ask ME to watch a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting and little white edible pearls on top? Who honestly thinks that upon their return an hour later (or, a minute or two later) that their delectable treat will still be there and they won't just find me licking the empty wrapper? The only person naïve enough to ask such a question and to take such a risk is one who doesn't know me. They don't know that I would eat my own arm if it was covered in frosting. They don't know that I can't be trusted with baked goods- ever. Especially when I'm living in a glass case of emotion as I have been for almost 3 weeks now. The life of his cupcake was in grave danger. He stood no chance in getting it back. But then I had to think to myself... He doesn't know. And now is your chance to "introduce yourself" to people in a manner that will really highlight your personality. And unfortunately your lack of trustworthiness around sweets.

After building a small fort of legal pads around his cupcake and turning my back on it in my swivel chair, I resigned to the fact that I was not going to eat it. That I would not taint the one chance I had to turn to this guy and say, "Hey. I didn't eat your cupcake and that's kind of a big deal for me. So you're welcome. I'm Kristen by the way. I'm a sugar addict going on about 28 years now."

Unfortunately, he came back a couple of hours later and I said, quite proudly might I add, "Hey! I'm Kristen in case I forgot to introduce myself. And your cupcake is under the yellow paper fort over there. You can check. Not a bit of it missing." I knew he was going to be so thankful. I knew that he would appreciate the hard work and self-restraint I went through to "play nice with others" and "treat others how I would want to be treated" since he didn't know me. He looked at me with shock in his face (here it comes, I know what he's about to say!!) "Oh. I forgot about it. You could have had it I guess. Um, thanks." He took the cupcake and walked away.

I physically lifted my jaw back up.

I misjudged that scenario in every which way I could have possibly misjudged something. Didn't the look of pride on my face say anything as a testament to the loyalty I had just shown to someone who entrusted a stranger with one of the beautiful wonders of the world? Had he no mercy? Had he no shame? And I never got his name. Obviously, every time I see him from now on I will think of him as the man that willingly deprived me of a free cupcake. And I will simply be the girl who "watched his cupcake" for him. He didn't want to know anything about me. What happened to that stupid song we sang as kids about gold, silver, making friends, and a couple of shapes thrown in for a verse or two? I really felt defeated. There was a golden opportunity to make a friend in someone and I was not only denied an introduction... but also a cupcake.

Perhaps it was my sad face as I watched this guy just walk away from my desk. Perhaps it was the puddle of drool that had accumulated below. Or maybe rumors had spread about the cupcake fort I built to which I occasionally whispered:"I'm stronger than you." Whatever the reason, someone came up to my desk and said, "Hey. There are no more cupcakes but they just brought out hot dogs and burgers into the break-room if you want to head back with me."

Would you look at that? Someone picking up where another person left off (in an epic fail fashion). Someone reaching out to me, "the new girl," and offering me some food and trying to make small talk. I'm not going to sugarcoat (every pun intended) my feelings about it. I was excited. I thanked him so much and told him I appreciated the heads up. I looked forward to getting to know him a bit better. And for him to get to know me better too.

Because I don't eat meat.

There's a lot of things I have to get used to down here. The introductions and the indifferences. The weird street designs and the water towers. The neighbors that never come of out their apartments and the guys at work that offer you a burger. The ache I have while missing "home" and trying to find my way "home" without navigational assistance every day. Remember that I didn't give up on a dream when I left Nashville, I just brought the dream west. And while people may not know me, I know myself well enough to know:

It will all get better... with the help of cupcakes.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

XXX... (Think More Caesar & Less Censor)

The First Time I Knew True Happiness
I can continue to watch the clock but I am not going to stop those little hands from going around and around quickly turning each minute into a new hour and eventually, hitting the inevitable: midnight. Because at the stroke of midnight the name of this blog will of course have to be changed to something along the lines of "30 and Definitely Insane." I started this thing back when I was 26 and never thought I would be writing it until the day I had to change the digits. It's kind of like the eve of Y2K... we didn't know what was going to happen but we stared at the clock all the same.

I'm not going to say that turning 30 means I am old. But what 30 means to me is the ending of one huge chunk of my life and start of a new one. We waste a majority of our childhood waiting to turn 16 so that we can get behind the wheel. And then 18 so we can run away from home. And then 21 so we can have that first taste of alcohol.. legally. We grow up in using increments of time juxtaposed with a specific age. In my mind when I was 25 I was going to be married and starting a family. And while I adore my friends that are married and have children, I'm really glad that that's not who I am right now. Because frankly my life, just a couple of hours before turning 30, is nothing like I planned. And that's the way it should be.

My little brother is 25 years old, married, has steady job and owns a house. He has always had his nose down and on a driven path he never truly took off course. He's always known what he wanted and went above and beyond the call of duty to achieve those goals. Growing up that's how I thought I was going to be but it turns out life had other plans for me. It turns out that I didn't truly know myself well enough to know that I am a dreamer. I am consistently inconsistent. I am indecisive and easily distracted. I'm not ready to settle- for a job... for a home... for a boy... for anything less than fabulous. And I think that my inability to divert from this path is why I am where I am today: job searching... home searching and on the 14th sequel of the "Never Ending Story: Relationship Edition."

I told myself such behavior was acceptable though in your twenties. Those are the years you're supposed to find yourself. The years you're supposed to spread those proverbial wings and take flight. The years that you're supposed to see just how far you're supposed to push yourself until you fall on your face. And the years you see what you have inside of you that's enough to stand you back up. That experimental phase of your life is supposed to end when you enter your thirties or so I have been told.

But I'm not listening.

I have made more than my share of mistakes in the past decade. From failed relationships and horrible haircuts to failed careers and awful outfits. If you're supposed to spend your twenties making mistakes and learning from them then I spent my twenties exactly the way you are supposed to just with some added sugar and a little more Kelly Clarkson music than most. On the eve of the big transition into a new decade though, I'm surrounded by boxes... boxes that I have been packing for days now as I prepare to start over in a new state that will be filled with new challenges, new jobs... and a whole lot more mistakes.

The first digit in my age is going to change but for me that's all I am going to allow to change. I'm not done screwing up. I'm not done falling flat on my face. I'm not done making excuses for why I can't go to the gym. I'm not done sleeping in on the weekends. I'm not done eating frosting out of the container while watching Boy Meets World upside down off the couch. I'm not done having my head in the clouds looking for that perfect job and that perfect home and that perfect man (and still holding out for Jeter). Simply put, the conclusion I have come to is: I'm not done. I'm not going to have people tell me that with the dawn of my thirties comes the dusk of my youth. I'm not ready to be done.

I've learned plenty of lessons in my twenties that are more than remembering one glass of water and two ibuprofen before falling asleep. I've learned that you don't stay in a job that you know is not right for you. That you don't stay with a boy just because you fear being alone. That you don't stay on the safe side because you fear the unknown. I've learned that hearts mend, tears dry, rivers recede and wounds heal. That friends are made... and they're lost. That falling in love is not for the faint of heart and falling out of  love is for the strong ones. I've learned that home isn't always where you've planted your roots but rather where you hang up your wings.

I'm just a crazy and sarcastic person with a big mouth and a huge smile. I didn't know what I was setting out to accomplish when I drove away from home years ago but I know all that I have accomplished since I took off down that road. I have left a piece of my heart in a tiny house in New York... a piece on a farm in Vermont... and a piece in this great city where I made all my mistakes and recovered from all (most) my falls. I've planted the roots. But at the age of 30 I'm putting the wings back on to try my hand at some more mistakes.

Because tonight, at midnight, when I turn 30 I'm no longer going to look at them as "mistakes that I make" because I'm a certain age. I'm going to just look at them as Life. My life. My never-a-dull-moment, joy-filled, inconveniently blessed, uncoordinated, forgetful and Fabulous Life.

And there's a cake.

Monday, June 23, 2014

What Should Really Be on Your Grocery List.... (No coupons necessary)

When I set out to write this blog my intent was to bring to light issues and situations that I am going through that perhaps other people are experiencing at the same time. Or they are situations that people may encounter one day and they will have my words of sarcastic and hopefully insightful wisdom to guide them through it. I also made a promise that I would be 100% honest because frankly how can someone attempt to inspire others or assist others if they themselves haven't experienced it. So I can assure you with all my heart that I have witnessed, experienced, drudged through, lived through, laughed through and subjected my self to all of the events, thoughts, and situations that I've shared with you. Some have been pretty. Some have been ugly (I'm still trying to understand what was wrong with "No Toppings Guy" and look for him on "Most Wanted" posters). Perhaps I have inspired a few of you to make changes or helped you through a difficult situation with with a laugh. Perhaps I've opened your eyes to something you didn't understand before or even changed your perspective. Or at the end of the day perhaps I've just become that crazy lady with cats and a sarcastic attitude who talks too much. Either way, whatever keeps you coming back to read these posts are why I write them.

To be honest with others you must be honest with yourself. This sounds easy because there are things that are easy to share about me that are completely true: yes, I'm horrified of being made into a skin suit and leave letters/DNA samples/photos before all first/second/sixth dates. Yes, I give 1950's female names to my tumors. Yes, I think frosting solves most problems. And yes, I do believe that a treadmill is an instrument of torture and my personal demise. 

And yes... I'm not perfect. Not because I have the skin of a teenager (God bless you Proactive) or the grace of a drunken sailor. But because I suffer from anxiety. And the reason that I bring this up is perhaps someone reading this does too. Perhaps the experience I'm about to tell will change your point of view and give you support or perhaps it will make you delete the bookmark you have for the page. But I will be honest despite the ramifications that come with it. 

You'd never guess someone as outgoing and vocal as me suffers from anxiety but I do. I have for many years now. And it's not just "will the Yankees win" or "skin suit" anxiety... it's a fear that's inside of me. It's a fear that has forced me to change some of my behaviors and routines. One of these anxieties? Grocery shopping. It's not because I hate to spend money (which I despise doing!!) but because I have this fear that people will look in my cart, see what I am purchasing and think: "She's fat." It's a fear I've battled for a long time... and here's the bombshell: It's a fear that stems from an eating disorder I started experiencing my senior year of high school. Yes kids, I was the plus-sized girl in an eating disorder support group. I would stand up and say, "Hi my name is Kristen. I have a fear of eating food. I'm the biggest girl in this group but I still need help." My behavior is controlled until I'm put into a situation where I'm not in control. Break-ups are one of the most prominent triggers. Those who know me best and know about this "secret" (which is no more) understand that the first thing they need to do, after threatening to kill the guy who broke my heart... is to make sure I eat. 

So you can imagine the heartbreak I had today as I walked the aisles of the grocery store and heard a mother say to her daughter: "We are not buying those. If you eat those you will be fat. And I swear to you I will not have a fat daughter." My eyes filled up with tears because the girl could not have been more than 10 years old. And she was beautiful. Skinned up knees, braces and glasses. She went from having a smile on her face just a couple of aisles over when I first saw her to a look of complete defeat as she held her head down. "A fat daughter"... Who says that? My heart ached for this girl knowing that with the "support" of that kind of mom she was destined to perhaps travel down the same path I traveled. Now please, do not for ONE second, think my Mom had anything to do with the path I went down. My mom is hands down wonderful and has done everything she can to support me even if it meant making sure I had someone watching me eat at the college dining hall that I knew nothing about. (That woman from the Bronx can be so sneaky). I wanted to take that girl's hand and just hug her, tell her she was beautiful, and slap her mom... but I know that would end in my arrest (and I am not made for jail... at all). 

Through years of talking with my "inner-Kristen" who is more stubborn than the Kristen you guys know and love (perhaps?) I have found solace in many realities. I will never be a size zero. I will always have children ask why my legs are so jiggly and my belly so smooshy when they poke it. I will always be told I "have a pretty face" because it's better than saying "I hope you don't lift your arms up in a strong breeze because with those bat wings you're going to take flight." I've learned that I need to go to the grocery store at times when few people will be shopping. I don't own a scale. And it wasn't until I recently that I purchased a full length mirror.

Your anxiety and inner struggles don't go away as you get older. They are always there and you are constantly having to overcome them. But I know that I have a weakness for frosting and baked goods and nothing can stop me from having them because loving myself must be stronger than the fear I have of others judging me and viewing me as "fat."

I don't know that little girl's name. I don't know what the future holds for her. I don't know if she will ever have to sit in one of those support groups or fear grocery shopping. But I pray that she learns to love herself. And I pray that one day, like me, she buys a two-piece bathing suit and says to herself in that full length mirror: "Your legs may be jiggly. Your tummy may be smooshy. But you're fabulous." Loving yourself and having confidence in who you are and what you look like results in a smile. And that's the most beautiful thing you can wear because frankly, it goes with everything... Didn't some kids at an orphanage sing that? 

"You're never fully dressed without a smile"... No matter what size you are. A smile is a sign of beauty. It's a symbol of strength. Don't hide behind it. Wear one because when you do you tell those looking at you with eyes that may be ready to judge: "Don't even think about it... I'm fabulous." 

I hope that little girl in the cookie aisle never chooses the path I took. But perhaps the path I took was part of a greater plan to help others who need to be reminded that their beauty isn't measured by a number on a scale. It's measured by how you love... how you treat others... how you treat yourself... how you smile. 

Go look in the mirror and say "I'm Fabulous." Because you are.

(And I'm the middle child so I'm always right.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

From Bubble Gum to, well, Bubble Wrap...

It's a tale as old as time. A song as old as rhyme. While it's the greatest Disney movie ever made, I am not referring to Beauty and the Beast. It's the other timeless tale of a girl who fell in love and chased a crazy dream she had. It's the story of a little girl named Kristen, rockin' the 80s get-up at the tender age of just 4 years. She was riding in the car with her Dad when he put in a cassette tape (we're going real old school here guys) and she heard "Amarillo By Morning" for the very first time. In a New York accent she asked "Who is this guy?" In an even thicker New York accent her Dad told her, "George Strait." She innocently asked where this strapping man lived and her Dad replied "Probably Nashville." To which, this adorable and intelligent little brown eyed precious girl said, "That's where I will live one day then."

I hope I didn't throw you off too much with the use of the third person. Because I just want to be clear that those characters I just referenced were indeed my own Dad and the adorable "Little Kristen." It was 14 years later that "Little Kristen" was "Voting Aged Kristen" and took off to Nashville with a box of county music CD's, American Eagle clothes and pictures of her high school friends. The world was huge. The "Welcome to Nashville" sign swept her heart away... she had made it.

Now let's flash forward 11 years, 10 months and 3 days. (That's today). There are no more American Eagle clothes in my closet because if I could fit into them it would be a miracle. The pictures of her high school friends are no longer group shots at prom but at their weddings. And while there are still several CD's in her car the Discman has been replaced (sadly). "Grown-Up Kristen" has a Nashville address, a Nashville license and a Nashville plate on her car.... She made it?

This city is my home. It's where I learned how to be a grown up to the best that I can be (I still see animal shapes in the clouds, eat cereal with my fingers and chase fireflies). I've seen the sun shining bright on her (and burning me) and I've seen her submerged under water. I've seen the sun come up over the Batman Building and I've watched the sun go down over the Cumberland River. I've fallen in love... I've fallen out of love... I've been dumped... Then been dumped twice for good measure... And I'm still waiting on that guy who said "See you on Tuesday" to show up 7 years later. I've made friends that are now family. I learned how to balance a checkbook. How to recite "I'm here for JUST an oil change" over and over when getting my car worked on (I'm so gullible for blinker fluid). I became the person I am today because of everything I have been through while making Nashville my home.

Because of Nashville, I know what giving back and not wanting anything in return means. Because of  Nashville I know that Sonic does exist and they have really fabulous large drinks you can get during Happy Hour. Because of Nashville I know what it's like to shop in Kroger next to a country music singer. Because of Nashville I know what it means to really, really love someone. Because of Nashville I know what it means to really, really miss someone. Because of Nashville I know what it means to want to kill the person who you really, really loved and now really, really miss. Because of Nashville I learned how to be obnoxiously independent and stubborn. Because of Nashville... I know who I am. And more importantly, because of Nashville, I know who I want to be.

That's why I never dreamed that the girl who was voted "Most Likely to Leave" in the senior yearbook because of her obsession with the Volunteer State would ever get the feeling that something was missing. I never knew that the thought would cross my mind one day that perhaps there is something more out there. Perhaps, like I've heard so many times come out of the voice of a guy: "We need to take a break."

No one told me that dreams change. No one told me that we have to be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us. There comes a time in every girl's life when she has to take inventory of all that's around her, removing from the equation the friends and familiarity, and decide where she stands.

Well, right now I'm standing. I'm standing tall but winded. A bit exhausted from the journey that got me here to the day that I am writing this. I was so carefree and reckless when I got on that plane at 18. Now as I stare 30 in the eye, I'm more cautious and protected. I don't know at what age life stops being a game like Candy Land and more like Chutes and Ladders. But it does. I didn't get the memo and I didn't circle it in my planner. The fact is that I have a planner that I write diligently in... yet life had other plans. My health had other plans. My heart had other plans. And I never wrote any of them down or circled them in red.

So I write this in my living room tonight as I stare at just a few of the boxes I've brought home to start packing things up. Because I will be saying "goodbye" to Nashville. Goodbye to the life that I know and I've grown accustomed to. Goodbye to that crazed 18 year old girl running to her college campus that August of 2002. And hello to a new life in August of 2014. My life here has been an endless maze of turns and twists and I've decided to take one of the twists and just see what happens. The path will be paved with plenty of frosting, a lot of tissues, definitely several u-turns on wrong-way roads, and faith. But mostly sugar.

When a doctor looks you in the eye and says that you have a 75% chance of getting sick again... you hold tightly onto that 25% and make the most of it. So with that 25% I'm loading up my car and a trailer and I'm going to try something new. And finally, catch my breath. With my inhaler in my hand and my family on either side of me supporting and guiding me. And in regards to my family, my Dad was wrong.

George Strait doesn't live in Nashville. He lives in Texas. So in true Kristen fashion, it's time to get into the car and turn that steering wheel... west.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Taillights and Twizzlers (Don't ask)

I've been asked a few times why I write this blog. What purpose does it serve to just piece together a string of thoughts filled with sarcasm and wit from a twenty something year old? And I simply answer that I write about my life from my own perspective. Some times people will agree with what I have to say and other times people will shake their head and declare that I probably need therapy. But at the end of the day, when I hit the "publish" button, my simple hope is to touch just one person who may be going through the same thing that I am. Who may be at the same point in their life and they can find some kind of solace in knowing that there is a crazy sugar addict out there who is rowing the same boat and is more than happy to pick up some extra passengers (life vest required... it's all fun and games until someone falls out of the boat obviously). So when my head is filled with thoughts and confusion or happiness and positivity, I sit down at this keyboard and type.

Today just happens to be one of those days (which means it's your lucky day because you get to read all about the my current life status). In exactly one month and three days (who's counting?) I turn 30. I'm one of the last to do so in my close group of friends so I have some older and wiser folks who have already hit the big 3-0 this year to guide me into this new phase of my life. Please do not think for one second that this is going to be an "I'm sooo old" post because as a historian I know what old is. And until I am sitting in a nursing home playing Parcheesi with my roommate who doesn't know my name, I'm not old. The prospect of turning 30 doesn't scare me. What scares me are the changes that come with it and the questions I'm faced to answer as I enter a new decade of my life. 

My twenties were filled with absolutely everything imaginable. You name it, I experienced it. Accidentally moving into the projects and not knowing if the bang I just heard was a muffler or a gun so I hit the ground anyway? Been there and have my Girl Scout badge to prove it. Tornadoes, a thousand year flood, locusts and Nashville's really weak trees falling? Yup. Break-ins and a stalker? Metro police and I are on a first name basis. And we won't even talk about how many trips to the ER I have taken. The hospitals in this area just smile and wheel me back asking about my folks, cats and thesis. 

The advent of my thirties brings about a clean slate perhaps. A tabula rasa if you will (putting 7 years of Latin to good use finally). And as I look to the changes that are coming just days after the clock strikes midnight, I already know my life is entering a new chapter filled with huge changes and unprecedented decisions I will be forced to make. I'm at a crossroads where one road leads to comfort and familiarity and the other leads to the unknown and unnerving change. 

My best friend is moving. And I mean really moving. We will be 1221 miles apart. We will go from being neighbors to being in different time zones and places in our lives. She will be living with her husband and my nephew, a dog named Merle, and finally living her dream as a nurse practitioner. I will no longer be the Joey that walks over for food and company from my Monica and Chandler. Who will feed me? Who will zip up my dress when I'm stuck on the bed unable to move? Who will threaten to kill boys that break-up with me? Who will tell me that the lump on my side is "not an extra rib you grew you moron" and get me to go to a doctor where I find out I have a tumor? Who will be my rock in this crazy town always there to stop me as I lace up my sneakers to run away from a boy? How do I face this new chapter in my life without her? 

I haven't found an answer to that yet. I probably won't find an answer to that even after I wave goodbye to the moving truck, go back inside my apartment, curl up in the fetal position with frosting and watch Breakfast at Tiffany's fifty times. Perhaps the answer isn't something that can be found but something that needs to be simply experienced. We've all said goodbye to loved ones knowing that goodbye is more of a "see you when I see you" situation. That's why God made the Earth round so eventually our paths will cross again. 

But what if watching her red taillights as she drives away are really a green light for me to start a new life too. I've never been good with directions (I still use my hands to make the "L" for left) but perhaps I don't need a map right now. I think if I'm going to turn 30 it means I've learned a lot and know who I am. Perhaps I should just follow wherever that green light leads me. No matter how scary it is to take your foot off the brake... hold onto the steering wheel... and hit the gas. 

Of course wearing the seat belt that holds you grounded and safe. I like to think of that seat belt (in my analogy of course) as my family and friends. And the rear view mirror as the life experiences I can see but I'm moving away from. The decision is mine to make and the road is mine to follow. 

And obviously I'll need snacks for the road.There's no hidden meaning in that reality. I just need Twizzlers to be my drum sticks for the steering wheel. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Boys Will Be Boys and Girls Will Have to Be Boys...

Usually as a means to avoid elevating my blood pressure I have stopped watching the news. I will get the headlines that I need, the information that is pertinent but I refuse to have cable news on 24/7 which does nothing but sensationalize events. It also doesn't help people like me who hear the word "recalled" and think "My God! I may have ecoli!!" even though I haven't eaten meat in years. We're sensitive to fear mongering. And by "we're" I basically mean "me."

But today I wasn't in charge of the television in front of me and I could only read the headline on the bottom of the screen which read: "Kerry Tells Snowden to 'Man Up' and Come Home." I read it a couple of times because, in general, sight is not my forte. But I didn't misread anything. A government official in speaking out against a national security threat said "man up." Let me be straight- this has nothing to do with political affiliation. I don't care if it was a man, woman, or Muppet behind that microphone. All I hear are the words and those are enough for me to have a reaction... and that reaction doesn't include my feelings on a NSA leaker.

According to the dictionary, "to man up" means "to be brave enough or tough enough to deal with an unpleasant situation." It is considered "the phrasal verb of 'Man'." Just sit for a second and take that in... A couple more seconds... I'm not going anywhere.

Now let me throw this one at you. There is no dictionary definition for "woman up." There is an Urban Dictionary definition which I won't click on. The fact that the definition only exists on that site says more about the situation than I could.

So how's your blood pressure now?

In order to step up to the plate, take responsibility for what you have done, stop evading the inevitable, and become a brave/tough individual, whether male or female, one must "man up." And even more so, this is being used as a term in messages of national security.

I'm just going to call it right here and now: Bullshit. (Sorry mom. I'll take my soap later... Dove, if you don't mind).

The year is 2014. I think we can have a better term to use than "man up." I am not the conductor of the Politically Correct Train by any means but some phrases just rub me the wrong way. We are trying to crack down on using phrases such as "that's so gay" and "retarded" but we fail to realize what exactly "man up" really means. It means that the only way to show courage and strength is to demonstrate the characteristics of a male. And that's not fair.

While I was sick and during my current recovery I am using the phrase "fight like a girl." Because, breaking news, girls have the ability to be courageous, brave and strong. These are not traits merely possessed by the male species despite what many believe. Moira Smith, a decorated NYPD officer, selflessly gave her life saving others on the morning of September 11th. She was a hero and a woman. Malala Yousafzail, as a female teenager stood up to the Taliban in Pakistan to defend her right to an education. She showed bravery and courage in the face of death at the hands of terrorists. To be more detailed, if Malala had "manned up" she would have emulated the gender that was persecuting her in the first place. If Clara Barton had "manned up" she would have been on the battlefield dying along with the soldiers instead of putting her life on the line to save theirs.

These are just a few examples of the hundreds of women I could mention that never had to "man up" to do anything. They exuded their own courage. They demonstrated their own heroism. They were "tough enough" as women to do what they felt was the right thing to do no matter what their gender.

It is time we start changing our thought process when it comes to gender lines. And I think it would be a great stepping stone if the American government could at least refrain from using the term "man up." Women no longer want to be shown as the damsel in distress waiting in the wings for a man to rescue her. They are no longer (and never were) the victim and should not be subjected to terminology that makes them out to be one. Let's change the language and let's change it now.

Perhaps, if I were to go out on a limb here, I could simply start using the phrase "woman up" in times when someone is sick or injured. Eluding to the fact that a woman can withstand the incredible pain of childbirth means that your broken leg out there on the football field is nothing more than something you should just stop and "woman up" to. You didn't just deliver another human being with several pushes.

But I'm not going to do that because I'm not going to prolong the archaic demoralization of women as the weaker gender. We all know it's wrong. We all know it's unfair. And we all know the time has come to stop using the phrase. Who's in?

And so ends another soapbox rant that my brother feels is one of the main reasons to my current status as a single 29-year old female. Perhaps I have the inability to let my guard down and allow men to do things for me. But with all due respect, you may have opened that jar of jelly after I struggled for a good 10 minutes but I definitely loosened it beforehand. I may have to get another cat... and a housecoat. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pomp and Circumstances You Didn't See Coming (And what is "pomp"?)

It's that time of year again where schools hold their commencement ceremonies and little people run around in silky gowns and huge smiles. Many moons ago in the days of yore, I was celebrating my graduation from college. A time filled with hopes and dreams. A time filled with well-wishes and an uncomfortable cap. There were cards saying "congrats to the grad!" and there were dinners for celebrating. But as I sat in that huge auditorium, chewing on my tassel out of pure boredom, I had no idea that I was just receiving a piece of paper. Four years of exams, projects, internships, deadlines and a thesis (yes, for a Bachelors! I didn't think it was fair either)... was just the beginning of the education I was about to receive.

My parents were famous for always telling me "stop acting like a know-it-all because you truly don't young lady." Well, I was certainly hellbent (can I say that?) on making sure they knew I did know it all. In reality, I knew so little. When my parents were 20 they were married with a child. By the time they were 30 they were still married, holding down jobs and feeding 3 kids. They worked for every single penny they had. I don't know how they did it since there wasn't a lot of money in being a nurse and a police officer but we never went without (I'm almost 30, single, and my cats go without unless they remind me). Neither of them went to college. And here I was sitting at the age of 22 with a cap, gown and piece of paper telling me I was ready for the big world. That piece of paper should have come with a sticky note that read in bold: "JUST KIDDING." 

Today I went to a party celebrating the college graduation of a beautiful girl. I adopted her as my own "little sister" when she was in 8th grade and have been there as her "big sister" ever since. I know many of you are wondering why someone would look to me for guidance, boy advice and mentoring and I honestly can't give you an answer (and I judge you for wondering). But she did and I was honored to take on the role. At her party was a table filled with presents and cards. She continuously heard "Congrats to the grad!!" and the follow up question by every single person who walked up to her was: "So what are you going to do now?!?"

If you had asked me that at the age of 22 I would have said: "Work in politics. Run for office. Have 2 children. Marry a gorgeous man. Be a size 6. Save the pandas. Write a book. Solve world hunger." The reality of the situation is I have done absolutely NONE of those things since graduation. And I don't plan to either (I will NEVER be a size 6, let's be rational here kids). And the pressure of having to answer that question right after taking off your cap and gown is overwhelming. But she gracefully answered the question every time with her aspirations for the future. 

Sitting on that table of Hallmark cards was a handwritten letter to the graduate. The letter's author stated how proud she was of the graduate and how there are so many doors open to her now. But it also told her that life is now just beginning. Those 4 years spent inside the confines of a college campus merely held her hand as she left the proverbial nest. Now the real test of knowledge and wisdom came into play. The fear that comes from turning on the light switch and the light not coming on... Did I manually turn off the lamp or did the electric company win this month? The sound your voice makes when you ask the check-out boy "how do you sleep at night??" when he tells you the total of your groceries. The happy dance you do when you save 40 cents a gallon with your fuel points. The satisfaction of handing in your rent check knowing it won't bounce because you just raced to the bank, made a last minute deposit, flirted with the teller to make sure it processed that business day and raced back to hand the check in before it was deemed late. And the crack in your voice when your parents ask you "How are you doing?" and you want to tell them everything is fine and you're doing amazing on your own but really you would give anything for a piece of your mom's lasagna and have your flat tire fixed by your Dad. 

They didn't teach me how to do my taxes before they handed me that degree. They didn't teach me that showers cost money and therefore dry shampoo will become your best friend. They didn't teach me that when I have a problem I can't just walk into the Dean's office and make everything okay with a change in a schedule or an excuse note. They gave me books but I didn't learn. I didn't learn what it meant to be an adult. I learned what it meant to be "free" from my parents but I still didn't know that you should really separate your colored wash from the white wash (sorry mom). 

So somewhere on that table full of $3.99 Hallmark cards of congratulations, there was a letter of truth. A letter that I am proud to say I wrote to the graduate to let her know that the world is a really scary place. It's a really hard place. It's a trying, testing, and stubborn piece of work. But every electric bill you might miss or every microwave dinner you eat wishing it was home-cooked goodness is one "class" closer to graduating... A graduation that doesn't require a piece of paper but full knowledge in: Life. The hardest class you could ever sign up for but the most rewarding one you can ever pass. And hopefully you'll make the Dean's List. 

Really try to make it on there. It's great for your credit score. Which, again, the "Powers That Be" never tell you is more important than your silly GPA. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Life After Gladys

I don't know if the saying is worthy of a bumper sticker or not but I can honestly state that I wasn't scared because I had no idea what to expect. Perhaps that's the bright side of ignorance? How can you have fear when you haven't come to terms with whatever it is you're about to go through? And with that, when you are constantly being told how much you're loved, prayed for, and thought of, you lose track of what exactly is going on that's negative.

On the morning of April 25th at about 6:45 in the morning (obnoxious hour, believe me) I think everything came rushing to me that was about to happen. That IV in my arm was about to have something put in it to knock me out cold. That air tube was going to go over my nose and make sure I kept breathing. That finger clamp thing, well, that was just going to keep me looking like E.T. ready to make a phone call. I took a cell photo pic with my mom as they began to wheel me away into surgery and I remember them just pushing me down the halls into an operating room with a huge light over my head. There was beeping. There was the clanking of metal (and I'm assuming rather sharp) objects on a tray. I was officially scared. I was scared because I knew that within the next couple of minutes I was going to be cut open and I don't even handle splinters very well so this was not going to be pretty. I was scared because my life was in the hands of some guy who put me to sleep and I was already incredibly difficult to wake up without medicine! I was scared because I knew my mom was in the waiting room, as a nurse, knowing exactly what was going to be done to her daughter but not having a single opportunity to do anything about it. And I was scared because I was 100% out of control of everything around me. I started to count backwards from 10...9.... Sure I'll play along... 8...

And: Unconscious.

I woke up in recovery with the oxygen on and the IV dripping. A sweet nurse was trying to get me to open my eyes. I had this idea when I went in for the surgery that I would come out with a few stitches on my side and call it a day. From my inability to move, I was thinking 1) These are some good meds and 2) I think they tried to fillet me with a scalpel. So I did what any strong, independent woman would do when she woke up in a strange place, dazed, and hooked up to wires. I cried out for my mom. (Did you think I was going to say I ripped the wires off, unplugged the tubes, grabbed my coat and waddled out of there? Ha!)

I know I was awake but I'm also pretty sure I was still asleep at the same time when my mom approached. I heard her telling me that Gladys was a much larger tumor than they thought. The incision was larger than they thought. The amount of stitches were more than they originally thought. But they are confident they got everything out and there are no cells remaining. Am I right, or did they do a lot of "pre-thinking" that  was really way off base? I can understand a pitch thrown a little up and out but come on this was verging on an intentional walk, right? But I was awake and alive and that's all that mattered.

After fighting with both the nurse and my mom (believe me, that's a recurring ritual that happened the entire week my poor mom stayed with me) to let me take the oxygen tank/tubes home with me (hey, an asthmatic has got to try!) I was put in a wheel chair and sent on my merry way. Still, basically, clueless.

I was clueless to the fact that when someone tells you to do something so you don't make yourself sicker you should probably do it. I was clueless to the fact that Little Miss Independent can't do certain things and must ask for help. I was clueless to the immense outpouring of support that was coming in through phone calls, apartment visits (I was playing Weekend at Bernie's), social media messages, and prayers. I was clueless to what recovery from this surgery would entail. I was clueless as to how long "we'll get the cancer test results next week" really is in hours and minutes. And I was clueless as to how this entire adventure was going to change my life.

Gladys is gone. Now there is a large scar that marks the spot where she was permanently evicted. While it appears we've conquered Gladys, upon further appointments I've learned that the probability of me developing more tumors like her is high. And even though my mom told me to take "deep breaths no matter how much it hurts"... I didn't. And it resulted in another emergency trip to the hospital where I was told I had developed pneumonia and pleurisy. (The nurses at the ER knew me by name... Yeah, that's how I roll kids).

But I will never complain. I may whimper. I will throw my fists up in the air with anger at the abrupt ending to my bikini supermodel career (and then subsequently eat cake to help that pain). But I refuse to complain. There are too many people out there who have not been and will never be as fortunate as I am right now. And for that, I am so very grateful.

As I sit here tonight writing this I've lost my job. I'm single. I'm almost 30. The Yankees lost 12-7 in the Subway Series (I take those losses very hard, dang it!). I take a lot of medicine. And I'm living on Easy-Mac. But I'm lucky. I'm so incredibly lucky because "Life After Gladys" has taught me so many things. It has taught me that I have little pain tolerance. It has taught me that I have the greatest friends and family in the world. It has taught me that I am surrounded by so much love and strength. It has taught me that you can't take on this world as "Little Miss Independent" all the time. And it taught me that my life is just beginning a new chapter.

Frankly, I am not entirely sure where this new chapter in my life will take me. But it took losing something from inside of me to learn what I am really made of and who I am made of.... I'm made of Love. Laughter. Friends. Family. And Sugar. I intend to fill that empty hole Gladys left in my side with those same things. Losing her just made more room for: Fabulousness.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Just Take a Deep Breath... *Puff*

I find it both heartwarming and embarrassing at the same time that friends and family have noticed my disappearance from social media in the past week. The Yankees took the Red Sox for a win and I didn't say a thing... I truly had messages asking if I was alive. This is both a testament to the amazing friends that I have surrounded myself with and my obsession with social mediums of technology. So I figured that I would do what I do best in responding to all your questions regarding my absence: write about it. Would you expect anything less?

I will be the first to tell someone who is having a bad day to just "take a deep breath" and they will start to feel better. The irony of that is, "What exactly do you tell an asthmatic when they need the same advice?" And even more so, "What exactly do you tell your asthmatic self?" What if the simple solution to the problem is not a deep breath at all?

So when you're given the same advice at a time when you feel the floor beneath you just fell through and you have a sense of humor like me there is nothing left to do but just laugh. "Thanks for the advice but I can't take a deep breath without my inhaler. Believe me, it ain't easy being wheezy!" It's my asthma that brought me to this crossroads in my life today. In true Kristen fashion, to welcome in spring and the opening day of baseball I suffered an asthma attack. I like to do things big or just go home. I had a CT scan done of my lungs to make sure everything was ok and I waited for the phone call.

The phone call came the next day. Everything was just swell with my lungs (as swell as they can be for old wheezy over here) but the doctor found something that he wanted to have a specialist look at. So I waited for another phone call. And it came the next day as I sat in my office. I just remember hearing words "surgery" and "biopsy" and "tumor" and a word ending in "arcoma." I hung up the phone with a sticky note filled with scribbles that I wrote down as the doctor told me everything. I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know what to do at that moment. But I did know one ironic thing: I needed air. I went outside my office and just cried. I called my family- pulling my Dad out of his office, my brother away in the middle of a haircut, my mom away from patients and my sister out of class. I told them what the doctor had said and then I just said, "Well... It could always be worse right?"

To come to terms with everything that had just happened in a matter of what seemed like minutes I pulled myself together and got back to work. The tumor was there when I woke up and until I had surgery to get her out (I lovingly named my tumor Gladys as I have one, been watching too many episodes of Bomb Girls and two, I give names to everything I can personify) there was nothing I could do but work. I also had to mutter to myself, in my best Kindergarten Cop voice, "it is a tumor." Just because I could.

Friday morning, when I felt I started to have some kind of grip on reality the floor fell through beneath me. I lost my job. So now, in the Adventures of Me & Gladys, we are unemployed. As I drove away from a job I had had for 3 years, crying uncontrollably and wondering what else could possibly be thrown my way, I did what Kristen does best: I ran away. Having the most amazing parents in the world I called upon them to help me. They've learned to speak "Uncontrollably Crying Kristen" fluently. It's a skill that many people are working on trying to master but few can. My brother heard "The Pita is on Fire!!!" when I sobbed "Jeter is going to retire!!!" Enough said, right?

So I ran away to Texas. I hopped in my Dad's truck and we drove 12 hours west to the wide open Texas sky where I spent the weekend coming to terms with two things: 1) I lost my job. 2) I have a tumor. But I also came to terms with some other things as well. As my family sat in the living room going through hundreds of old Polaroids and Sears portraits from the past 30 years of my life I realized that I have always been a fighter. I'm the one pushing people for Easter eggs. I'm the one who had the bucked teeth, glasses, chubby cheeks and bad haircut in every single school picture yet still managed to survive school. I'm the one who moved to Nashville at the age of 18 to make something of herself. I don't give up.

So why would I give up now? Why would I throw my hands up to the sky and ask, "Why is this happening to me? Why can't I ever just get a break?" Why? Because it's not in my nature. So next week I will go into that operating room and I will say goodbye to Gladys. I will have the love and support of all of my friends and family that have never let me down. I will have that Irish temper and fighting side that I was proudly born with. And I will have an inhaler in hand so I can "take that deep breath."

When one door closes another one is supposed to open. Well, I've had a few things thrown my way this past week that are definitely slamming doors. But I won't wait for another door to open. I will find a window or even a doggy door if I have to. This isn't the time to give up. This is the time to think like a Rosie and give it my all. It's time to fight like a girl.

And if there was ever a time to sit down and eat an entire container of frosting: it's now.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Potholders and Pacifiers

105 Days... That's all that's left. That's the countdown that I have quickly ticking away until my 30th birthday. THIRTY? When did that even happen? I still wear different socks to the gym and blare Jessica Simpson with the windows rolled down (sometimes... ok, probably more than I should). I watch Boy Meets World episodes like grown-ups watch the news. I eat Easy-Mac for dinner. I don't have a 401K and the only thing I know about investing/portfolios/stock market is from the e*trade baby commercials. And every time something breaks that involves more than a turn off/back on tech support solution, I panic and call my Dad and brother (for the record, vacuums should NEVER produce that much smoke!!)

So how is it that everyone around me seems to be growing up? My mailbox is filling up with wedding invitations, save the dates, and birth announcements (mixed between final notices and death threats from Sallie Mae). I now spend my time ordering gifts through online registries and buying bridesmaid dresses instead of bidding for baseball cards on eBay. Remember, nothing says congrats on your upcoming nuptials like a wine rack and a pair of potholders. I'm starting to become an expert obstetrician as I look at the copious amounts of ultra-sound photos posted to my Facebook newsfeed. (Pretty soon, I'm going to start telling people if they're having a boy or girl whether they want to hear it or not).

As I sit and untie my sneakers after another successful run (eh, slow jog) from a fledgling relationship I catch my breath and wonder if I missed the train entirely, I'm at the wrong station, or my ticket to ride isn't for sale yet. When all of my friends heeded the "All Aboard!" call I seem to have avoided the conductor like the plague and just waved to everyone as the train left the station.

In writing these thoughts though, I realize that it is not jealousy that I am feeling. I have so many dreams and goals that I want to accomplish before I settle down. I want to write a book. I want to travel to Ireland and find out where my family comes from. I want to rescue all the stray animals and save the baby seals and pandas. I want to go to as many baseball games as I can and sing "New York, New York!" at the top of my lungs at the end of  every game (win or lose). I want to cure the common cold because I always got that tile when I played LIFE as a kid. I want to stand somewhere that no one has ever stood before. I want to see a baby pigeon for the first time (I don't believe they exist). I want to win a cake eating contest. I want to have a beer with George Strait, finally get a date with Jeter and take a selfie with the Pope. And I want to run a marathon. (Hahaha... no, that one is a joke. Let's not be too over-zealous here.)

The feeling that I have is pressure. It's a societal push to take a look at the next 105 days and realize all that I have NOT accomplished compared to others. But I know I have accomplished a lot in 29 years so far. Society may be telling me that I have shortcomings because I don't have that ring yet or that little kid running around with my eyes and sweet tooth. But with every invitation, every baby announcement, every bridesmaid dress, and every potholder I purchase I am aware of all that I have accomplished: I've surrounded myself with beautiful friends and a life filled with love. As they celebrate the next step in their life's journey, I celebrate that at the age of 29 I am blessed with friends and loved ones who want to include me in those special moments. And no matter how much pressure society places me to find my own love and birth my own offspring... I have already found unconditional love. That boy will come one day... Just not now.

So with a smile I will sarcastically write "just give me a groomsman!" in the "plus one" line of the RSVP card, put it in the mailbox, and walk back to my apartment where Mr. Feeney and Easy-Mac are waiting for me... And call my Dad about that weird horse-shoe with an exclamation mark light thingy that appears when I start my car.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Lacing the Sneakers Up...

Hearing the words "sushi" and "pottery painting class" as a date proposal can be some of the most frightening words to someone who hasn't disclosed yet she doesn't eat anything that once had eyeballs and can't even brush her teeth without wearing toothpaste. But when you're 29 and single you just bite the bullet, scrunch up your face, and say "sounds good to me" in a squeaky voice. Or at least that's what I had to do this past weekend.

When I first met up with this new boy, again having not met him prior to our date (and taking all proper security measures to ensure my safety from a skin suit beforehand), I was pleasantly surprised that he appeared completely normal. No bright yellow and black "bumble bee" mustang and 80's Christian-hair band t-shirt like the last guy. Nope. This one seemed more in tune with what I would consider "normal." Now, please don't think I'm knocking 80's Christian-hair bands or crazy colored mustangs but this is me we're talking about... George Strait and a pick-up truck are all I ask for.

We met for sushi. And by sushi I mean this guy ordered Ariel's family on rice wrapped in seaweed. I quietly asked the server if she could make mine all veggie. I reiterate the word "quietly" because there's no reason to shout in an obnoxiously loud voice "I DON'T EAT ONCE LIVING CREATURES!!" in front of a man who hunts and fishes for his food. But the server, much to my surprise because I didn't see a hearing aid, shouted "SO YOU WANT NO MEAT WHATSOEVER, RIGHT?!?" Yeah... that's exactly what I meant when I said, "um, I'm trying to be quiet about this- can I just get veggie ones?" To which she then yelled,  "Well, the crab doesn't taste like crab!! It tastes like sweet cream cheese!!" No ma'am... it doesn't. It tastes like Sebastian. And I don't ingest singing crustaceans. Don't even attempt to convince me otherwise.

When the food actually came I thought I was in the clear. He was polite and offered me a taste from his plate which contained the ensemble to "Under the Sea" but I politely declined. I then had this great idea to use the chopsticks. Do I know how to use them? I will let you guess the answer to that. First try? Dropped the thing into the ramekin of soy sauce which, as I learned in physics, sent the soy sauce all over the table and my lap. There were still 11 more pieces to go...

To my surprise though he laughed- with me. He didn't look at me in judgement. He didn't point and laugh at me. In my mind I'm thinking how is this possible that I just pulled a classic Kristen "eating food" move and he's not repulsed. Things were starting to look good. (If you're wondering, I only dropped 2 more as I was too stubborn to admit defeat with the chopsticks).

He supported my idea of blitzing the hostess behind the counter to grab the basket of fortune cookies and make a run for it. Who supports that and actually helps me plan it? Although one might ask: who thinks of that plan in the first place?

We moved next door to painting pottery. I chose a cupcake because it had about 4 inches of frosting and I naturally just drooled when I saw it. In painting that thing I lost the rights to every arts and crafts patch I ever earned in Girl Scouts. Every. Single. One. I truly believe if my troop leader had witnessed the painting of the cupcake she would have ripped them off my sash herself. Again, this boy didn't judge. He just offered me paper towels and smaller brushes (hence, making tinier messes). Subtle yet helpful. You don't get that every day.

So the night ended with soy sauce on my pants and paint on my forearms (and in my hair if you just HAD to know). And it ended without those being a factor. It ended without my usual "You're too smart" or "You're too independent" or "You're too intimidating" speeches I always seem to generate from the other gender. I have a Master's and have lived on my own for 12 years but I still require a smock not only when doing arts & crafts but pretty much at every meal. And the combination of these characteristics about me were accepted... and appreciated.

So now we enter the phase I like to call: DEF CON 1- OPERATION SNEAKERS. Basically, this means that I had a good first date. A successful one which has led to the obvious second date. It is at this time that I start to lace up my sneakers for the opportunity to run (one of the only times I actually voluntarily participate in the sport).  This is basically me...

My immediate reaction to a bad date is to wonder why it went wrong and what I could do to have made it better. My immediate reaction to a good date is, "Oh good God... what did I just do?!?" It's an incredible dichotomy I have when it comes to dating. The bad amuses me yet the good scares the all-get-out of me. What it boils down to, I can only assume, is my fear that something good may come of it. And then that means I have opened myself up to potentially being hurt all over again. Why do you want to do that time and time again? How many times can one get their heart broken before they realize it's time to hang it up and call it a day? Running away seems like the only logical way to protect yourself from harm.

But then there's that best friend who verbally threatens that if you run... "I will trip you." Which will hurt more: Taking a leap of faith at something that may be good OR being tripped head first by a feisty red-head with a temper?

I guess I'll have to just keep the shoes waiting in the corner for now as I pencil in that second date... And watch my back from the glaring eyes of girl destined to knock me down in order to wake me up.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

So Who Do I Bring on the First Date?

Just a Few to Mention

There is a huge lump on the front of my forehead from banging it against the wall... the dresser... the door... the counter (that was by accident) and whatever other hard surface I can find now that I've entered the world of dating again. Has it always been this difficult? Has it always been something that makes my eyes cross, my head spin, and my hand reach for a stiff drink? The moral of the past few dates I've been on: "I'm too much to handle." 

It seems every time I open my mouth and start talking about myself the guy starts looking for all the available exits as if he is on a plane experiencing severe turbulence (you should have paid attention at the beginning of the flight by the way). The first question always seems to be: "So tell me about yourself?" If I could just avoid that question I may make it to dessert but alas the second I start to give a rundown on who I am I start to see panic appear in his eyes. The date has just hit an iceberg in true Titanic fashion. The question I have about this inquiry is simple: How do I answer that?

I took a very scientific study of a random selection of people (i.e.- unbiased family and friends) by asking them the simple question: Define me in just ONE word. Some hesitated. Some threw it right out there. So, if we could put the ten most popular answers up on the board please, SURVEY SAYS: 

1) Brave
2) Enthusiastic
3) Quirky
4) Confident
5) Eccentric
6) Vivacious
7) Energetic (with added note: not on Saturday/Sunday mornings)
8) Intelligent
9) Remarkable
10) Independent
Honorable Mention: "Sparkly" submitted by my 3.5-year old niece. 

So I take all of these characteristics and put them together to make one Kristen. A Kristen who can be confident yet quirky. Intelligent yet eccentric. Brave and remarkable yet petrified of clowns and skin suits. Independent yet unable to kill spiders. Vivacious and energetic yet sleeps until noon on the weekends. I did not receive a single duplicate answer when asked to describe me in one word. Does that make me unique or does that just make me a handful?

I know who I am and what I want. I want to see a Yankees game... I will make that happen. I want to eat a vat of frosting... I'll hold up a bakery without question. I want to live on my own for 12 years in tiny apartments... I will survive on Easy Mac to do so. I want to save the world... I will start by volunteering in water with sand fleas. I want to find the right guy for me.... *crickets* *crickets*

I'm worried that perhaps I bring too much to the table. I'm the tomboy who will talk sports with you and definitely drink you under the table. I'm the kickboxing wannabe who winds up in the ER after her 3rd class. I'm the girl who dreams in Tiffany Blue and looks at Holly Golightly as a heroine (make point to check out call girl rates for better income status). I'm the girl who laughs out loud at herself. I'm also the girl who can watch a baseball game swearing like a sailor and then turn on Steel Magnolias and bawl my eyes out (Shelby can't run to Texas damn it but her mother can!!). Every guy I have ever been on a date with or had a relationship with was unable to find a happy balance between all of these different Kristen's. Again, too much to handle.

There is just one physical "me." You can't miss her. But the thousands of pieces that comprise me and the countless hats I wear (graduation cap, a baseball hat, a tiara) are what haven't completely fused together yet. I'm all over the spectrum. I'm an energetic crazed woman dancing in her apartment and a narcoleptic insomniac (true story) at the same time.

Is it my job to reign all of these different Kristen's in? Is it my job to choose which ones to reveal slowly but surely to a potential suitor (welcome to the 1950s)? It seems like I just throw them all out there at once and duck when the "well, you're rather intimating" or "check please!!!" is uttered in the middle of the date. I don't know who the man I'm looking for is... But perhaps he's the one who can take the tomboy, the princess, the klutz and the nerd, and tie them together. Perhaps that's what I need in life. A Breakfast Club-esque approach to dating. Basically I come to the table, lay it out there and you take it or you leave it. The person who takes it will be the one who can look me in the eye and say: I accept you for who you are no matter how many of you there may be (or how many detentions you've had- see what I did there?).

So I may not have "Don't You Forget About Me" playing as I walk away from my date... But maybe there is a Jake Ryan out there ready to mouth "yeah you" when I look at him, confused and in dismay, asking "ME?" Because he is going to want every one of the "me's" that come with this brown haired, brown eyed, fun-sized package. And I guess that's the Kristen I need to bring on the first date.

Monday, January 20, 2014

If I Don't Text You at Ten, I'm Dead...

We all know what time it is when this compilation is sitting on my counter. It's first date time. We've got the letter to the police giving a full description of myself, my whereabouts, my "date's" information, my toothbrush and hairbrush for DNA, the impression of my teeth (just in case) and a camera with photos of me right before I walked out the door. On the back of the paper is my last will and testament outlining who gets what from my amazing collection of books, electronics, baseball card collection, shoes, handbags, mismatched dishes, unused pots/pans and ownership of my two cats. Also the statement that should I be murdered, please play "New York, New York" at the funeral and bury me in my "42" jersey. Hey, we all have last requests, right?

You're looking at this picture and you're convinced that I'm a crazy person. That all my sanity has somehow escaped my mind and I'm walking this earth absolutely senile. But, my good friend, you'd be wrong. You must be proactive in your defense against being turned into a skin suit. We all have our biggest fears and mine is that the guy will bring lotion, a basket and have a little dog named Precious. There are various traits that I don't trust about a man and they lead me to believe they have skin suit potential. We all remember "no toppings guy." I got out of that situation but for the grace of God.

I met this gentleman at a restaurant to which of course I was early (never leave home without at least one book). So I sat in my car and waited. And while I waited and tried to read some book about a man who found a missing baby in 1962 I just kept thinking to myself: "I know nothing about this guy. What am I getting myself into? This could be a complete disaster! He could be boring. He could hate baseball. He could think Obamacare is a gift from above. He could order seafood. He could murder me. And the big one: he could not like frosting." These questions filled my Ford Escape and unfortunately made me keep re-reading each sentence because ADD is a horrible thing. Trying to balance my uncontrollable train of thought was more of a chore than one could imagine.

And this date comes on the heels of receiving a message from a horrendous ex-boyfriend from years ago finding me on social media and sending me a heart-felt, violin inducing message of sorrow, guilt and pain. He confirmed everything I already knew: Yes, I look fabulous. Yes, I am extremely happy. Yes, I have found true love in baseball and frosting (monogamy has never been my strong point). And yes, my life is how I want it to be right now. No, I don't believe you have changed. No, I don't think you're sorry (sorry excuse for a man but not actually sorry). But yes, I would be willing to go back in time and take you back... once I have exhausted all the air in my lungs and rigor has set in. I don't have a "save the date" card for that but I'll make sure you'll get one in the mail from the coroner.

My luck with men has been anything but positive. Pay no attention to the Irish last name because I never inherited that luck when it comes to the male species. I have horror stories that Stephen King would pay a lot of money to get the rights to. But it's been almost 8 months since the break-up and I promised friends that I would date again in 2014. So here I was, sitting in my car holding a Kindle I wasn't really reading, and thinking of two things: 1) what am I doing here again because I'm really tired of doing this and 2) Did I remember to fully charge my stun gun?

Starting over. That's what I was doing in that car. Starting over at 29 with someone that could lead to a second date and something special. Something that could possibly go somewhere and be something amazing. Something that I would look back on and say, "Remember that night I met you and all the stars aligned and everything was perfect and little bunnies starting hopping by with rainbows above us?" Or I could be saying, "I got a good look at him officer. He was standing there with various bottles of Bath & Body Works in a basket leading me to a hole in the ground!" Nevertheless, as I sat in the car one thing came to my mind: if all else fails and nothing comes of this attempt I'm not eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich tonight for dinner again. And that my friends, was worth the insane risk I was about to take when the text came on my phone that said "I'm here."