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.