I’m an ASH

My name is Jennifer and I’m an ASH: awkward social hugger.

I’m guessing a few of you out there are ASHes too. We’re pretty good at spotting each other in a crowd, often giving poorly timed high fives and age-inappropriate fist bumps; our own little band of outsiders avoiding hugs in an overly touchy world.

Don’t get me wrong. I love hugs. But you need to fall into one of two general categories before I give up the goods. Either 1) I gave birth to you, am married to you or we’re somehow related, or 2) you’re a close friend who is celebrating something wonderful, mourning something awful or is departing somewhere far-flung.

In most other instances, I’m pretty sure “hi” or “bye” coupled with a casual wave will suffice. And yet, people insist on squeezing me, uncomfortably mushing our squishy parts together and stepping on my toes. I can’t tell you how many enthusiastic folks I’ve accidentally punched in the stomach by offering a handshake at the exact moment they’re coming in for a bear hug. Total ASH move.

As I see it, I have two choices. I can continue avoiding hugs by using barely plausible excuses such as, “better keep your distance, I think I’m coming down with something,” or I can learn to embrace the embrace.

The best way out is always through, says sage Robert Frost. So this month, instead of hanging back and debating if I’m in a situation that warrants a hug, I’m just going for it. Every single time. Like I’m notorious hugger Richard Simmons working the crowd at a Sweatin’ to the Oldies convention. Side note: will someone please buy me this for Christmas?

But I’m only devoting the month of November to operation ASH-no-more. We’ll see how it goes and then re-evaluate. That gives you 26 days to come at me, arms outstretched. I might cringe, but I’ll be ready for you.

Let It Go

I didn’t snap until May, which is damn impressive considering the movie and its earworm of a soundtrack had been out for six months.  Despite the fact that my own kids weren’t that enamored with Frozen, the rest of the country was, and so we suffered.  All of us.  Until inspiration struck during a car ride on Mother’s Day.

We weren’t even listening to the Disney Channel or KidzBop or any other station that panders to pint-sized tyrants with horrible taste in music.  And yet, the familiar opening notes of Let It Go started to fill the car.  I groaned.  And then impulsively blurted out:

“Hey kids, here’s a fun fact.  Did you know that this song is really about farting?”

They looked at me, horrified yet curious.  “Just listen,” I told them.

The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in, heaven knows I tried!

I heard giggles from the back seat.

Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know!

 Bigger laughs fill the car.  By the time we got to the chorus, they were roaring.

 Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door!

The song finished, cementing another bond within our family: a juvenile, gross inside joke.  I made them promise not to repeat it and made my son pinky swear to keep it together when his teacher plays the Frozen soundtrack during free choice time at school.  They agreed, and considering that I didn’t receive any phone calls from the teachers, I think they kept their word.

I frequently lament the fact that time with my kids has passed way too quickly.  I miss the details about life with little ones: footie pajamas, counting to “eleventeen,” the smell of baby shampoo.  Predictably, I’ve turned into the weird lady at Target who grins way too enthusiastically at anyone under the age of two.

But as much as I miss the baby stage, big kids have their advantages.  Aside from the obvious stuff like not pooping on themselves and knowing how to start the coffee maker for me in the morning, it’s also been fun to give them a glimpse of me as a person, not just me as a mom.

They’re old enough to be able to handle (and perhaps even appreciate) that I have a dry sense of humor and a fondness for the occasional, well-placed curse word.  It’s time for them to understand that I cry shamelessly at all happy, sad and sappy occasions. Especially the sappy occasions.  And they need to know that I will never, ever be a morning person.

It’s kind of a relief to outgrow my role of angelic caretaker and become more of a camp counselor – still in charge but also able to bend the rules occasionally.  I don’t think I’ll ever get over longing for the baby days, but when I’m feeling nostalgic I’ll try and remember that toddlers never would have laughed with me about poor flatulent Elsa encouraging little girls everywhere to just let it go.

Roxanne

photo

If you’re reading this story, it means I’ve mustered up enough courage to hit the “publish” button.  It also means that if you’ve ever suspected  I’m a big awkward dork, you’re about to learn you’re an excellent judge of character.

OK, here’s the first odd thing: I have a culinary bucket list.  Some people want to travel the world or skydive before they die, I want to learn how to make chocolate croissants and roast a whole fish.

This bucket list is why I found myself in the kitchen on a sunny afternoon, attempting to make pretzels and subsequently cross one more item off my list.  Things were going smoothly — the dough had risen and it was time to twist the pretzels.

Shaping pretzel after pretzel is kind of Zen but there’s only so much quiet reflection a girl can handle.  To help quell the monotony, I pulled up my favorite Pandora channel, hit play and settled back into my groove, quietly humming along with Michael Hutchence.

After a few more minutes, I did what any emotionally healthy, totally sane person would do: I picked a fight with myself.

Oh my God, could you be any more uptight?  You’re home alone.  Humming.  Nobody hums when they’re alone.  And nobody hums INXS.  Ever.  Live a little.

Damn, I sure told me.  Shamed into action, I start to sing along.

The next song brought about some toe tapping and head bobbing, followed by hip swaying and even louder singing.

By the fifth song, I was feeling it — music cranked as loud as it would go, I belted out Roxanne as if I was the one painfully in love with the beguiling streetwalker.  Sting tried to sing along with me but I told him to sit down and relax with the rest of The Police, ‘cuz I totally got this:

Roxanne (Put on the red light)
Roxanne (Put on the red light)

I was going for the awesome finish with an air drum solo when a flash of movement caught my eye.  I look up, expecting to see a squirrel on my deck.  Sadly, it was not a squirrel.  It was so not a squirrel.

It was a man I’d never seen before standing in my backyard, looking horrified.

I had forgotten that I made an appointment to get an estimate for a few home repairs.  I quickly weighed my options and realized that I couldn’t drop to the floor and crawl away, so I dusted the flour off my hands, turned down the music and stepped outside for what will go down as one of the most awkward conversations of my life.

“I, uh, rang the doorbell several times but I think your music was too loud.”

“Oh, ha ha.  Yeah.  I’m making pretzels.”

As if that explained everything.

Somehow Baby can get away with, “I carried a watermelon,” but “I’m making pretzels” just doesn’t cut it.

We stumbled through a conversation, he gave me a price quote and I sent him on his way, probably scarred for life.  Neither of us spoke of Roxanne.

★★★

I may have been crushed, but the pretzels were pretty awesome.  Here’s the recipe if you’d like to make them.  It’s not hard to do and it’s even kind of fun — just be sure to keep the music at a respectable volume.

Roxanne’s Soft Pretzels
A modified recipe from the King Arthur Flour web site.

pretzel dough
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
7/8 to 1 cup warm water*

pretzel bath
6 cups boiling water mixed with
2 tablespoons baking soda

Place all of the dough ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat until well-combined. Knead the dough (by hand or with a dough hook) for about 5 minutes, until it’s soft and smooth.

Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly coated with olive oil, cover with a clean kitchen towel  and allow it to rest for 30 minutes

Preheat oven to 475°F. Line a baking sheet with a silpat mat.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and divide it into eight equal pieces.

Allow the pieces to rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.  Bring 6 cups of water to boil and add 2 tablespoons baking soda.  Stand back, the mix will bubble big time.  Leave the mix simmering on the stove.

Roll each piece of dough into a long, thin rope (about 28″ to 30″ long), and twist each rope into a pretzel shape.

Working with 4 pretzels at a time, place them in the pan with the simmering baking soda/water mix, spooning the water over their tops.  Cook for 1 minute, then place pretzels on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle pretzels with coarse kosher salt.

Bake the pretzels for 8 to 9 minutes, or until they’re a deep golden brown color.

Drama Momma

TINY A**HOLE: A SCREENPLAY BY CONNIE PALTROW

FADE IN: Afternoon in a suburban house, tastefully decorated and impeccably clean.

DAUGHTER and SON are standing on a stairway cluttered with the detritus of the school day: a cello, two sweatshirts, six books and a pair of dirty socks.  MOM is off camera, presumably in the kitchen doing dishes.  The kids start to bicker, then:

SON
Hey Mom, Daughter called me an asshole.

ENTER MOM, breathtakingly beautiful.  Although weary from the day, she has Connie Britton hair and a Gwyneth Paltrow body.  Without thinking, Mom casually blurts

MOM
Well, are you being an asshole?

Daughter and Son are shocked to hear their sweet mother use the a-word so brazenly

DAUGHTER and SON (in unison)
Mommmmm, you said –

Mom, sensing this is very very wrong, goes with it anyway

MOM
Don’t blame me.  We have a declaration of asshole.  I’m just the asshole investigator.  Now tell me what happened.

DAUGHTER
We are both going upstairs and I need to take all my stuff up to my room.  Son isn’t carrying anything so I asked him to help me with my stuff.

MOM
Son, is this true?

Son nods defiantly.

MOM
Well Son, I can’t force you to help your sister, but it does make you a tiny asshole if you don’t.  Not a huge one.  But you really should think about helping your sister.  Also, don’t say that word.  It’s vulgar.

EXIT MOM.  Kids continue to bicker in hushed tones.  The only decipherable word repeated throughout the conversation is “asshole.”

ENTER MOM.

MOM
Alright, we’re done with this.  The next person to say “asshole” is grounded.

SON and DAUGHTER (in unison, laughing)
Mom!  You said it!

MOM
Aw, geez.  You’re right.  I did.  Guess I’m grounded.

EXIT MOM with a smug smile on her face, presumably headed to her bedroom.  Sound of door closing.  Kids stare at each other, bewildered.

DAUGHTER
Um, what just happened?

SON
I have no idea.  Here, let me help you get this stuff upstairs.

Fade Out.

THE END

The Adventures of Roller Girl and not-Giselle

We were quite a duo as we hiked the hills behind our kids’ elementary school.  My friend, fresh from her visit to a phlebotomist, was accessorizing her running shorts with knee-high white surgical stockings.  Resembling a sexy roller girl from the 70’s, she wore her ugly socks with pride.

After a few sweaty miles, I started suffering from an itchy heat rash across my middle.  “Fuck it,” I said as I folded my shirt into a micro crop top in a desperate attempt to get some fresh air on my misbehaving skin.  I’m 100% certain that the only human on the planet who should legally be allowed to wear a micro crop top is Giselle — and I’m not convinced she’s entirely human.  I looked ridiculous, and sadly couldn’t even muster a redeeming roller girl vibe.

So there we were, Roller Girl and not-Giselle, trudging up the mountain, talking, laughing and reveling in the fact that we’ve reached the age where we truly didn’t care that we looked like we escaped from a facility harboring the criminally unfashionable.  We were women of substance.  (Yeah!)  We were fearless.  (Hell, yeah!) We were standing right in front of a huge gopher snake.  (Oh, shit!)

Admittedly, the thing looked comatose as it stretched across the trail soaking up the sun.  But it was big and it was close and, well, a snake is a snake.

Shrieking, I started doing the jumping, flailing, I-just-almost-stepped-on-a-snake dance.  Believe me when I say not even Giselle could pull off that dance while wearing a homemade crop top.  Roller Girl stopped pointing and laughing just long enough to put an arm around me and walk us waaaay around the snake before we both doubled over, roaring with laughter at the absurdity of it all: the knee socks, the crop top and the jiggly snake dance.

Once I wiped the tears from my cheeks and caught my breath, I commented that between the goofy clothing and uncontrollable laughter, we were not that much different from our daughters – and that made me so happy.

Our daughters are close friends, bonded over a shared love of tether ball, adventure novels and a complete disinterest in the drama that we know is just around the corner in the ‘tween years.  They have fun together, look out for each other and laugh hysterically – just like their moms do when they’re together.  Ages ten and forty turn out to be uncannily similar, with all four of us at the same place of carefree self-assuredness.  The daughters haven’t yet descended into the abyss of self-doubt and mean girls, while their moms have comfortably made it through to the other side.

We continued our hike, talking about our kids and how we wished we could bottle up their plucky attitude for future use.  Keep it behind glass with a “break in case of teenage angst emergency” sign plastered next to it.  But we also know that our girls must navigate the journey on their own and that the heavy lifting of adolescence builds muscle for adulthood – a form of strength training for the soul.  Truth be told, we know these girls will be just fine, eventually reaching the point where they find themselves happily hiking through life’s hills, protecting friends from snakes and confident in their roles of Roller Girl and not-Giselle.

Riggins and ‘Ritas

Three friends living in three different parts of the country decided that too much time had passed since they last got together and laughed themselves incontinent.  It took only one conference call (masterfully scheduled between school drop offs and naptime) for these friends to track down cheap flights, a hotel deal and a plan.  The unsuspecting folks in Dallas had no idea what was coming.

There was a pool.  And a pool boy.  There were gossip magazines, spa treatments, midday naps and late night gab fests that ended in drunken hugs and misty-eyed declarations of BFF love.  There were three separate hotel rooms because everyone wanted the chance to stretch out — blissfully alone in a king-sized bed — and sleep past 6 a.m.

If margaritas are the lifeblood of a girls’ weekend, these three friends were well nourished.  After one particularly margarita-y evening, the friends tumbled into a cab to head back to the hotel.  “Where to, ladies?” asked the driver.

“Can you take us to Dillon, Texas?   I need to get me some Tim Riggins!” declared one of the friends.

Ok, it was me.

Unfortunately, the driver was not a Friday Night Lights fan and did not find the outburst nearly as amusing as I did.   But it did feel good to give a shout out to Riggins and his little football show that never got the attention it deserved.

I’m telling this story for two reasons: first, the three friends need another weekend away and this will hopefully get the ball rolling; and second, now that you know about my fascination with Tim Riggins, I’m hoping you can answer a question for me.

It’s about this shirt.  As soon as I saw it, I knew I needed to have it.  The problem is that it breaks one of my ironclad fashion rules.  Much like flouncy sundresses and short shorts, novelty T-shirts have been retired from my wardrobe for quite some time.  “I heart cupcakes” is fine on my daughter’s shirt, but not on someone who is thisclose to 40.  My chest is no longer a billboard for hipster graphic designs, team logos or snarky social observations.

But it’s Riggins.  And I love him.  So can I wear this shirt out of the house?  It’s kind of loose and slouchy and looks pretty good with just the front part barely tucked into jeans (like Jennifer Aniston does to prove she’s not prego when the paparazzi are out).  So what do you think?

On Being a Rookie in a Town of Experts…

I live in a town where swimming is kind of a big deal, the same way high school football in Texas is kind of a big deal.  It seems like everyone around here is a swimmer: you can’t snap a pool towel without hitting at least one Olympian, probably three.

I, on the other hand, am decidedly not a swimmer.  Sure, I can get across the pool but I’m not a swimmer swimmer — the kind of person who has an effortless butterfly stroke and can execute a flip turn all while managing to somehow not look goofy in a swim cap.  Yet despite being a rookie in a town of experts, I recently joined a masters swim team.

After my first practice, I attempted to describe my complete lack of skills to my mom, who — always the mom, always the optimist, (moptomist?) — said, “I’m sure you’re great.”  No.  Objectively, I’m awful.  If I manage not to crash into anyone while doing backstroke, it’s only because I’m tangled in the lane line like a dolphin in a tuna net.  While the rest of the swimmers cut gracefully through the water, I flail for an hour until practice is over and then drag myself out of the pool; nauseous from all the water I accidentally swallowed, wobbly with exhaustion and happy.  Very, very happy.

Happy because I can’t remember the last time I learned a new skill.  Happy because my brain is lit up with all the new things to think about.  Happy because for the first time in quite a while, I’m able to check my ego at the door and not care about how ridiculous I look while attempting something new.

I’m reading an insightful book by Brené Brown called Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.  She reminds us we can’t wait until we’re perfect or bulletproof before finally putting ourselves out there.  I’ve missed a lot of opportunities while waiting for my ducks to get into a neat little row.  Inevitably, there’s one stubborn duck not willing to line up.  I’ll never be perfect.  I’ll never be bulletproof.  Meanwhile, life, and the opportunities it offers, marches on. Swimmers are swimming.  Writers are writing.  It’s better to join them and see what happens instead of watching from a safe but boring distance.

So I walk around in a bathing suit without the security of a cover up.  I squeeze into a swim cap that makes me look, oddly enough, like a penis. I put on goggles that make my eyes bug out, changing my look to a surprised penis.  And then I swim.  It’s not pretty, but I’m out there, splashing around with my one stubborn unaligned duck, happy in the effort of daring greatly.