Wednesday, December 9, 2015

When ESPN meets the Hallmark Channel

I will never forget when my parent’s mentioned to me that my younger brother was dating. My brother had never dated. In my mind the kid was going to graduate college, become a police officer, make detective and then finally marry someone when he was about 40. I was happy with that plan. After all he was my little brother which meant that his primary functions for the past 21 years had been to drive me crazy and play video games. So I was confident that whomever he was dating was just a fluke. I had a plan for him and that plan didn’t involve a girl.

I soon found out that I actually knew his girlfriend. That the two of us had gone to high school together but she was younger than me and I didn’t interact with her that much. I feared that this girl my brother was dating was going to make him stay in that small Northern farm town. I heard the way he talked about her and how much my family was beginning to fall in love with her… And so was he.

I was brash, loud, obnoxious and sarcastic. She was quiet, polite, the girl next door and never had her mouth washed out with soap. I was brunette, short and plus-sized. She was blonde, tall and thin. I was a Yankees fan…. She rooted for Boston (shudders).

I watched from 1200 miles away as my brother fell in love with, what I truly believed, was the girl who was going to change my family. She sat at my seat for family dinners… She cooked in the kitchen with my mom (Yes, given I didn’t cook with my mom but I knew how to stand in the kitchen and lick the spoons)… She watched tv with my Dad… She was a beautiful blonde with a wardrobe I had only seen in magazines and she was becoming a part of my family. It scared me.

After six months I got a phone call. It was my brother and he happily declared “We’re engaged!!” I immediately went into a tirade on how he was ruining his life… and he immediately took me off speaker phone. (There should be a warning when someone calls you like that by the way.) I knew I had hurt him and I knew I was out of line but I stood my ground. This was my baby brother. This was the guy I called when I was having a complete come-apart and he was the only one who could stop it. This was the guy I could talk baseball with for hours. This was the guy who I looked up to (both literally and figuratively). And now he was getting married to a girl who was going to take him away.

She asked me to be a bridesmaid and I accepted the invitation. I could see how happy she made my brother. I could see how her presence in my parent’s house made everyone light up and laugh. I knew that she was going to have our last name and that I was going to have a sister-in-law. What I didn’t know at the time though was in time I would never say “in-law” when referring to her. That was a mere technicality.

Fast forward a few years, a couple thousand miles, new zip codes, new careers and new life experiences. We went from living in separate states to living two towns apart. We went from infrequent Facebook messages to dinner dates. Two people that couldn’t be more different sharing a last name. The way I see it I’m ESPN… And she’s the Hallmark channel. How can these two polar opposites find a middle ground and have anything in common? Easy. You realize that every relationship between two people needs a little bit of each in it. 

Last week I received a frantic phone call at work from my brother and all I heard was, “Lindsay’s heading to the hospital. Straight to labor and delivery. I don’t know anything else. I’m rushing there now.” She wasn’t due for another 8 weeks. My nephew couldn’t come now and she wasn’t ready to have a baby. I knew she was alone. I knew she was scared. I knew I had to be there. So I walked away from work, got into my car and drove like a maniac to the hospital in rush hour traffic. I cursed every intersection and every red light. My grip on the steering wheel was leaving an impression in the leather. In my mind all I could think of was her by herself in the hospital. And it broke my heart. She is my brother’s best friend. She is the mother of my unborn nephew. She is my sister.

So if there was a traffic law in the book… I gladly broke it. And I made it to the hospital in one piece. I ran to the elevator and upon emerging through the doors I learned she was having tests done but she was ok. And the baby was ok. When I went into her room she was insistent on telling me, with tears in her eyes, just how upset she was that we had rushed to the hospital for nothing. And I held back tears as I said that it “was not for nothing… It was for my sister.”

They say childhood is when you learn the most. Perhaps I learned how to hold a spoon and how to walk. I learned how to read and how to act properly in public (wear pants). But it wasn't until adulthood that I realized this is the time that all the lessons are really learned. You learn what it means to have your heart broken. You learn what it means to have a dream taken from you. You learn what it takes to be a friend. You learn what you want in life and who you are as a person. And you learn that the people in your life come and go... And sometimes the ones you don't think will stay are the ones who you can't imagine life without. 

There are several cases in my life that I wish I could go back in time and say, "You were right." Whether it was a hunch on the newest "boy" I was dating or a gut feeling about a relationship I was in... I have always liked being able to say "You were right, Kristen." I was right that the new girl in my brother's life was going to take him away. I was right that my family would never be the same. And I was right that she was going to change everything.

And I look forward to the times I can sit with my nephew in my lap and tell him the story of how his Mommy and Tin-Tin were never, ever friends. God didn't want them to be friends... He wanted them to be sisters. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

From Chasing Boys to Well... Chasing Boys.

For some reason the friends I made in high school are ladies who went to college, traveled the world, entered law school and graduate school and then found themselves in a strong career. They didn't entertain the thought of marriage and children until they had accomplished these goals. To have four girls (five if you throw me into the mix) that came from a tiny town in Vermont and now span six different states 12 years after we threw our graduation caps in the air is quite remarkable in my biased opinion. If you were to read my (depressing?) diary from college it had my goal outlined as: married with 2 kids by 26, wearing a size 6, running for State Senate and living in a suburb of Nashville. Well, I'm 30, single with two cats, wearing a multiple of a size 6, working three jobs and at times I think I could live in an Airstream and be completely content. Things never happen as you plan them on paper. And that's the beauty of growing up. You wait your whole childhood to do it and yet you still wonder, "Have I actually grown up yet?" 

One of the fabulous five friends from the class of 2002 is married and has two children. This marriage came before the two children, after college and trips across the world... and her two children were planned. And by planned I mean when she told me she was pregnant my response wasn't: "Dear God, what are we going to tell your parents?!?!?" Because time and distance are cruel we went a few years without seeing each other and I unfortunately was not there to meet her children when they were born. But this past weekend I was given that opportunity thanks to a road trip and a rare weekend off. 

I hadn't seen this sweet friend in five years. She was married. She had children. She was moving across the country with her husband wherever his job took them. I was worried that I would have nothing in common with her. I actually had butterflies as I pulled into the driveway. With a throat sore from a three hour long sing-along marathon through the flat (so flat) landscape of Texas and Oklahoma I walked up to her door step and she met me there holding a baby on her hip. It was at that moment I realized two things: One, her smile had not changed after all these years and Two, she didn't look like a "grown-up." With one hug I was reminded that absolutely nothing had changed between our friendship despite the time and miles apart. But so much had changed in our lives. We didn't skip a beat in picking up where we left off but I could tell this "sleepover" like ones we had had countless times growing up would be like nothing we had experienced before. 

I watched in awe as she balanced feeding a baby and carrying on a conversation. I thought about how the actions were the same yet the premise completely different. Instead of folding notes in front of me she sat on the couch and folded laundry as we laughed. Instead of sneaking out the window of her parent's house to meet friends she was sneaking into the shower to steal just fifteen minutes of personal freedom. Instead of gossiping about what my arch nemesis, Molly S., did in homeroom we exchanged disdain for the perils of her baby girl, Molly, teething. Instead of watching the boys we had a crush on in the dining hall in a complete trance we watched her little boy run around in a cape and place spells on us as a witch. We didn't stay up all night listening to music and dreaming of escaping that little town. We went to bed early listening to see if the baby would cry and if the 3 year old would escape his bed. 

I've had countless moments since I turned 18 where I've asked myself, "Am I a grown-up yet?" And the subsequent question of, "What makes me a grown-up?" Paying rent, applying for health insurance, filing your own taxes, praying your electricity doesn't get turned off, celebrating in the produce aisle when bananas are on sale, remembering oil changes, and being a bridesmaid seven times all add up to what should constitute "being a grown-up." But I've always felt as if something was missing because I'm not married and I don't own a house and I don't have children. I have so much growing up to do. It wasn't until this weekend that I learned: We never really grow up. We are constantly growing and changing and evolving into a different person with new goals and new ideas. There is no finality on your journey to being a "grown up." I think it's a process that continues through each stage in your life. And then one day, when you're sitting on your front porch, yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off your lawn and eating dinner at 4 o'clock, you'll look back on all the years you thought you were finally a "grown up" and realize you still had so much more growing to do. And even then... You're not finished yet. 

She was the first one of my four best childhood friends, a core group that I will forever cherish, to get married. She was the first one to have children. And she was the first one that I sat next to at a breakfast table on a Sunday morning where the parents in the kitchen making the eggs and the waffles weren't our parents: THEY were the parents. It was a surreal experience. Growing up I always wanted have a bit of her personality, definitely her athletic ability, her legs and for a day or two I was envious that my crush had asked her out. Now I looked at her and all of that seems like a lifetime ago. Instead, when the time comes in my life, I want to be the kind of mother she is. I want to have little mini-Kristen's running around the backyard laughing and a husband (i.e. Derek Jeter) using the waffle maker for Sunday breakfast. 

But that chapter in my life hasn't come yet and I'm ok with that. Life moves at your own pace and each day brings you closer to the laughter and waffle makers. But each day also gives you a chance to continue "growing up." And that may mean more horrible first dates and a few more cats but the journey is mine to take and the road to it is paved with imperfections, do-overs and lessons learned. 

And some times those lessons are learned when your best friend's toddler calls you "Tin-Tin" for the first time. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Lone Star(burst) State’s “Catch and Release” Program

I’ve always divided boys into the four main groups:  “A Good Catch”… “A Skin Suit Maker”… “A Non-Skin Suit Maker”… “Wrong Team Allegiance.”  Most men fall into the “Non-Skin Suit Maker” category but I always proceed with caution because you never truly know. I completely ignore those who wear hats or jerseys I just can’t accept. I have met some boys that I am certain have women in their basement and a frequent shopper rewards card with Bath and Body Works. But the “A Good Catch” category is a rare find for me. Sometimes though, when the planets align and animals start going crazy using their sixth sense of natural phenomena, one will come around. And then it is up to me to figure out what just happened and what exactly I’m supposed to do with it.

He came out of nowhere and I’m just going to refer to him as “Mr. Texas” because he encompassed every bit of the state one could piece together into a human being. First and foremost: he gave me a Starburst. And not just any Starburst… he gave me a red one. And then a pink one. It’s like someone gave him the blueprint to my heart and he went straight to the core. If he had given me a Yankees ticket, a container of frosting, a mixed tape with Keith Whitley and a Tiffany’s box I’m sure I would have proposed to him myself. I was “caught” and I agreed to a first date.

I adhered to the rules that my best friend put together for first dates. I was one: not to drink him under the table; two: not wear my food; three: let him pay the bill. And while I dropped so much rice in my lap I am confident that he didn’t notice and if he did there was definitely no acknowledgement of the moment (or four…or five…ok, six times). I followed the advice that my brother has given me intermittently over time when he says: “If you’re ever on a date that’s probably something that I wouldn’t share with the guy” including but not limited to: my distrust of canned/frozen carrots; my cat’s participation in my home security with their catnip militia (you read that correctly); and to avoid telling him that I vacuum my fridge not for crumbs but for amoebas. While I find nothing wrong with these possible conversation killers I still refrained from sharing them at the dinner table. And the date was perfect. And I agreed to another. He was officially “A Good Catch” and I was still “caught.”

He made me laugh. He made me smile. My hesitation towards the intentions of the male species was nonexistent which should have been a warning sign to me but instead I took it as a green light. My best friend told me she was so excited to see me happy and that finally a boy was worthy of my time and attention. Every time that I would begin to doubt what was happening and why my guard was uncharacteristically down I would accept another Starburst. And Mr. Texas would smile. And I’d still be “caught.”

Fast forward one month. A day which blockbuster movies are made of: Every single fiber cable, phone line, space satellite, and cell tower stopped working. While mass chaos did not carry out into the streets I’m positive this massive technological collapse occurred. Because the text messages and calls from Mr. Texas abruptly stopped. The only logical explanation for such a drastic suspension of communication is the complete breakdown of modern technology. I picked up my phone and texted people… The texts went through and were actually replied to. Land lines had dial tones. Cell phones connected to outgoing and incoming calls. But there was still no communication from Mr. Texas. Perhaps it was just his phone, right?

Lucky for most boys I am not the kind of girl who sits by the phone and waits for a boy to call. I also don’t send out texts continuously asking for a response or prying for information. If a boy wants to talk to me then he will contact me (I’m confident that Jeter lost my number… again). So I kept myself busy. I cleaned my apartment. I did laundry. I had staring contests with my cat. I put on a pedometer on my ankle and pretended it was a Skip-It. I refused to give my phone any attention.

The last text I received from him read: "Goodnight and sweet dreams. I will talk to you tomorrow!" But 24 hours… 36 hours… 48 hours… 72 hours… “Ding.” One new message from Mr. Texas. I saw the message notification but since he waited 72 hours to send one he could wait for a response. Perhaps since 39 is the new 29 then tomorrow is the new "3 days later." So I flossed. I did some sit-ups until I realized those are not fun and so I immediately stopped. I tried to watch the ceiling fan non-stop without getting dizzy. I made Keurig cup pyramids. And when I thought a suitable amount of time had passed, I picked up the phone and read the message: “Hey sweetie.”

Really? This is your idea of informing me that you’re not dead Mr. Texas? I immediately thought of responses. What was so biting that it would have the same impact as not hearing from someone for 3 days? What could my fingers methodically type that would convey the frustration I had at the disrespect and lack of maturity that came with his behavior? What words could I muster from my years of Latin, AP English & Literature and speech writing? This boy went from texting me all the time to Marcel Marceau. Oh I was ready. So my hands picked up the phone and my fingers sent across a strong, woman-powered, direct comeback that Shakespeare himself would have envied: “Hey.”

His excuses were minimal and his behavior questionable. He questioned his ability to devote time to a new relationship and whether or not he was ready to do so. And then I read the line: “I’m not sure what I want to do.” Well, Mr. Texas. The good thing is that I am fully equipped with the ability to make decisions myself and do so knowing “what I want to do.” And so I made the decision for him. I told him that I did know what I wanted to do and it was not to wait around for him to make up his mind because I was better than that and worth more than that. He set the bait with the Starbursts. He caught me. He had me. And then in true sportsman fashion… I was released. And for the first time since I moved to the Lone Star State I realized I had liked a boy. And I had been disappointed by that boy. I let my guard down and let sugary promises guide my normally overcautious heart and mind.

They say things are bigger in Texas ranging from women’s hair to rancher’s cattle. Added to that list are now the false hopes that boys give you down here and the protective shield I will put up around me. If I could be easily persuaded to follow a boy with pink and red wrapped candy, one can only imagine what would happen with a handful of Skittles. So I take solace in knowing that I learned my lesson. That I walked away before I could be walked away from. That my pride is still intact and that my heart isn’t broken but just a bit bruised. They say “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” These folks have never met a boy from the South. I preach to you: “Beware of Texans with Candy…”

If only he had offered me a yellow one.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Pippi Found Mr. Right

I curse my father for making me a horrible liar. I truly wish I was a better liar but unfortunately since I could get away with absolutely nothing as a child(/teenager/last week) my mind has molded itself into a mass incapable of effectively lying. My stories become surreal to the point where my alibis are more like a day with Pippi Longstocking than anything plausible. So because I couldn’t be Pippi with tall tales I was lucky enough to meet… drumroll please… “Mr. Right.”

That wasn’t a typo kids. I have met “Mr. Right” and I am still in awe at the experience. I’m not sure how to come to terms with what happened or even how the events transpired all together. What I do know is the night began and ended with my failed attempts at lying weighing heavily on the situation. “Mr. Right” asked me to dinner a week ago. Given my normal day-to-day happenings I’m a very busy person. I don’t always have time for a dinner date. There are the two jobs that I work; the time spent putting my yoga pants on to work out but never actually making further than checking my mail in them; the minutes consumed with my head laying on the paper towel roll watching coffee brew as I desperately try to wake up; there’s the hour or so added to each day where I walk in and out of rooms trying to remember why I entered or exited them to begin with; there’s the dance breaks that accompany long periods of sitting; and there’s watching my cat try relentlessly to get my attention as a reminder his food bowl is in dire need of sustenance. So basically, from sunup to sundown my schedule is booked and there is little wiggle room, if any, to meet up with someone to have dinner. But when you are an awful liar it becomes increasingly difficult to keep your coherent string of excuses together. Pretty soon you’re saying you can’t get meet up because you pulled a hammy holding a horse above your head with one hand. (Thanks, Pippi)

So with my bag of excuses exhausted I took the couple of hours I did have to spare to meet for dinner.  We met at a neutral location with much lighting and ample people. That way if my skin was particularly soft there would be more than enough witnesses to prevent my abduction. Now I will say that I have been told I am a picky person- I’m a picky eater. I’m a picky dresser. I’m a picky dater. And frankly, I have tried to work with this as a way to make me a better person. Compromise but don’t settle. That’s what I tell myself. So when “Mr. Right” parked his car next to me and locked the Lexus I knew I was already playing my compromise card. A man in a Lexus is about as foreign to me as someone expecting to see me in a full face of make-up and a manicure. It’s just not a fit. But I took a deep breath and reminded myself that not every man on this planet believes that the suitable vehicle to transport them in is a pickup truck.

We weren’t very far into the evening (i.e. we had just sat down with coats still on) when “Mr. Right” started to earn his nickname. He asked one question after another: “Why did you move to Texas?” “Where did you go to college?” “What did you study?” “How big is your family?” But the problem was this: every time I opened my mouth to answer a question I was able to speak about 5 words before I heard the interjection “Right. Right. So…”  This is not an exaggeration. It was like a Twilight Zone episode.

“So Kristen, where did you go to college?”…. “Well I went to Belmont----“ … “Right, Right. So… And what did you study?” … “I studied Political Sci----“ “Right. Right. So.”

There was no stopping it. I would try to talk over the interjection but it became futile after just a handful of questions. He liked his answers better. So I was going to just let him have at it. And he loved to answer the questions I asked. The only problem was… I wasn’t too keen on the answers I was hearing.

“Mr. Right” thinks that old country music sound is awful particularly the steel guitar sound. He said he enjoyed “pop music.” Now I’m not down with what the kids listen to these days so when I heard “pop music” I asked if he meant “like NSYNC and BeyoncĂ©.” He agreed to the BeyoncĂ© portion of that duo. Compromise but don’t settle Kristen. I asked him the universal question that everyone answers correctly because I actually believe it’s illegal in Texas to disagree but when asked the Golden Question he told me George Strait was “eh.” I should have ran then. I should have grabbed my bag, my coat, some really good chips with a finger swipe of queso and got the hell out of there. But I stayed. It would be at that moment, in my life’s movie, that the audience is chanting in true horror movie fashion for me to turn around and run away. But like Jamie Lee Curtis and Mike, I stayed in the epicenter of a disaster. I just needed my own scary theme song.

We proceeded to look at the photo shoot he had on his phone of over 200 shots taken of just him with trees… leaves… a railroad sign… a railroad track… some more leaves… and a staircase. As I looked at the staircase I thought about all the times I have fallen down one. And I thought about how that would be so much more enjoyable that my current task at hand. I heard about his political philosophy which is to make every single state an individual country under a Kingdom of America. Each state would have their own militia and trading policies. When I tried to insert a joke about troop deployment during Yankee/Red Sox games my humor was lost entirely. Actually, achingly and uncomfortably. I didn’t get the joke out to the full extent though because I’m pretty sure I was cut off at “Yank---“ with “Right. Right. So.”

When he went to the bathroom I obviously did what any sane, mature, 30 year old would do who was staring at the exit signs. I frantically texted my friends and told them I was in the middle of a horrible date and I was eating my weight in food to try to ease the pain. Each of them told me to make up an excuse quickly and then run for it. But he was a guy. He would be back in a matter of seconds. I didn’t have time to formalize a rational exit strategy. I would wait until the check was placed on the table, look down at my wrist (sans watch) and say, “Oh wow, yeah, I should be going too.” And then I would make it to the parking lot, lose my phone and wallet, switch cars, change my name to Diane and move to Sheboygan. It was foolproof. The three of them made it sound so easy: “Say there’s an emergency!” Or “I just got a text from the Red Cross and I have to go.” Technically the latter could have worked but I’m on the Disaster Action Team. And the disaster was that date which I absolutely did not want to respond to. So I waited it out. I didn’t speak much (which is painful for me and it hurt the alignment of the planets). The night finally ended and I could go home. Sadly, I think he had a good time (but technically since I couldn’t talk he was on a date with himself).

Right now, in my life, ex-boyfriends are getting married or they’re having babies while I’m still having first dates. I know some will be good. And I expect many will be bad. Some will even end with me finding “Mr. Right”. But I can’t use the huge milestones in their lives as a litmus test for the lack of milestones in my own. There may be weddings and lullabies on their agendas these days but today mine was a date with “Mr. Right” and I learned something.

I learned that they can celebrate their nuptials, and babies and technically “grow up.” They can become different and new people. And I will do the same… just differently. Miss Longstocking was really good at telling tall tales and all the while being true to herself. She was independent and proud. So now I’m the daughter of a sea Captain with my own horse, monkey and house. Being like Pippi is the only way I am ever going to successfully lie. And if having an adventure or two provides me with good alibis to skip dinner with another "Mr. Right" who am I to turn one down?  

Pippi wasn’t ready to grow up and settle down… And I think she was on to something. Diddle. Diddle. Dee.