When I Grow Up

A Jersey Girl’s Visit to the Beach in the Off-Season

IMG_0129As a Jersey girl, I am no stranger to the beach. In college I worked the late shift at the local grocery store so that I could spend days at the shore (it was only about an hour away and back then $5 got me enough gas to get there and back, a slice of pizza and a soda, and paid to get on the beach). Since then, life took me out of New Jersey and my schedule no longer allows for impromptu beach days.

Recently, my husband and I planned to get away for a weekend and chose Cape May as our destination.  Searching for accommodations turned up a large number of hotels and inns at varying price points.  Being a fan of bed and breakfast inns, we decided to go that route and chose the Eldredge House in West Cape May. Although it was a bit far to walk to town, the room was pleasantly decorated and the bed was comfortable. Our innkeeper, Todd, created a list of suggested restaurants for us as well as some “Brisk Windy Day Activities.” Unlike most B&Bs, this one does not have breakfast on the premises but instead offers gift certificates to a number of restaurants. While it is nice to have the convenience of breakfast on site, it is also nice to have a variety of options. On this trip, breakfasts did not disappoint.

On Saturday morning, we walked across the street to the Bella Vida Café. Though I was tempted by the sound of the Chunky Monkey French Toast, I quickly changed my mind when I heard about the special and ordered a combination of crabmeat, shrimp, spinach and eggs that blended into one of the best omelets I have ever had out.  We couldn’t leave the Garden State without taking advantage of the opportunity to eat at a diner, so Sunday’s breakfast was at George’s Place. (Even better, it was a diner featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives.) Though there was a wait and we were hungry, it was worth it. The Banana French Toast, a delicious stack of three French toast slices alternated with sliced bananas sautéed in butter and brown sugar, dusted with powdered sugar and a hint of cinnamon was absolutely delicious.

While April may be considered by some to be too chilly to visit the New Jersey shore, I find the off seasons to be just as enjoyable and sometimes more so (the beach in January is beautiful). Hotels and inns are less expensive than during the summer season and the crowds are not yet out. Though some of the shops are not open, visiting in the off seasons means parking is free and more accessible. In Cape May, though the parking lots surrounding Washington Street Mall and spots along the beach near restaurants filled up at dinnertime, it was not too difficult to find a parking spot.

statue of a woman with children facing the water with a flag i teh background oin a replica ship's mast

The Fishermen’s Memorial

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remnants of a concrete ship

What’s left of the concrete ship

We arrived on a cloudy, windy Friday afternoon (as our personalized activity list would indicate) and, since it was our first visit to Cape May, drove around town to get our bearings. We stopped at the Fishermen’s Memorial, dedicated to fishermen lost at sea and drove out to the point where we could see the remains of the SS Atlantus, a concrete ship built during WWI. We went past the WWII Lookout Tower and drove out to the lighthouse. The lighthouse and tower both offer tours, but this wasn’t planned as a take-in-all-the-history weekend, but as a low key, relaxing weekend (which ended up being a try-all-the-wonderful-food weekend).

 

 

Since we didn’t stop for lunch (we snacked on the trip there), we were hungry and decided to go for an early dinner. We went with one of Todd’s recommendations, the Lobster House. We sampled local oysters and I had crabmeat au gratin, which was both delicious and filling. A small loaf of garlic-encrusted bread was a nice accompaniment to the meal. Despite the wind, after dinner we needed a walk and strolled along Washington Street Mall, a pedestrian street filled with stores and restaurants (and more ice cream shops than I have even seen in one place). We wandered in some of the shops that were open and glanced in the windows of the art galleries that had already closed.

With no real plans for our time there, we perused the booklets Todd had given us and decided to skip the wineries this trip and instead try out some local brews at the Cape May Brewing Company. We each chose four beers to sample and sat outside, enjoying the sun, our beer, and a neighboring customer’s music.  Enticed by the promise of live music at the Mad Batter for happy hour, we headed there where we had a late lunch, followed by a walk on the beach, where I stalked some seagulls and took some pictures.  We decided to get photos of the lighthouse at sunset and then chased the sun to the Point where we were rewarded with a beautiful orange and purple sky over the concrete ship. After freshening up, we went back to town for a late dinner at Delaney’s, where I thoroughly enjoyed my coconut shrimp and sweet potato fries. (As I mentioned, it wasn’t planned, but this weekend quickly became all about the food.)

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Sunday came too soon and we had to say farewell to the beach, for now. Though I enjoyed our time in Cape May, I think in season may be too busy and crowded for me. Maybe we’ll return in the fall …

 

 

 

 

 

13 of #52essays2017

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Facing Fears Big and Little

Welcome a Secret Subject Swap. This month 14 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts. Read through mine and at the bottom you’ll find links to all of today’s other Secret Subject participants.

Secret Subject Swap | www.BakingInATornado.com | #MyGraphics

My “Secret Subject” is: What is your biggest fear?  What do you do to overcome that fear? (submitted by: http://batteredhope.blogspot.com)

I am a fairly confident person. I don’t really scare easily. Over my lifetime I have had a few little completely irrational fears (such as butterflies and escalators) and have written about them. As a child, like most I feared the dark. Though I sometimes show more caution in dark spaces, darkness no longer scares me. As has been the case before with these writing challenges, this week I have been asked to step outside my comfort zone and share something most people don’t know.

Although many fears start in childhood and end up either overcome or hidden away, my biggest fear arrived after I became a parent and is actually a fear of death – more specifically, a fear of  dying before my children were grown, when they most needed me. As they got older, my fear has been transformed into a fear of outliving them.

Though I have not directly experienced anyone close to me losing their mother young, I do know a few people that have had to grow up without their mother there to guide them. (To clarify, I met these people as adults, as opposed to being part of their early lives.) I know things were more difficult for them because of this loss but I suppose I mostly got the sense of what it would be like from reading books (as a kid I always had a book nearby). Being close to my mom, I knew the reality would be difficult. I can’t imagine life without her and couldn’t stand the thought that my kids might ever have to face childhood without me there to protect them (as much as a mother could) and to cheer them on.

I suppose that this fear shaped my life decisions to some extent. For two decades, I played it safe. Though not completely risk-averse, I carefully considered some activities before deciding if they were worth the risk. Though it is an extreme example, skydiving is on my bucket list. This is not something I would have even considered actually doing when my children were small. At this point, it is simply time and financial considerations holding me back. (I want to learn how to do it properly and go solo, not just a single tandem jump. At this point, the cost/benefit ratio simply doesn’t work for me.)

While this fear did not control me, I did think about it when traveling without my kids, either with my husband or alone. On my first solo flight as a parent, I dozed off. I jolted awake when I felt the plane start to descend. I had seriously misjudged the time and assumed we were crashing.  My first thought was about my kids who were small at the time. Fortunately I realized that we were in no danger but were actually approaching our destination before my fellow passengers were aware of my thoughts (then I would have died – of embarrassment).

Now my kids have reached the point that I know they will do okay without me.  I’m still an active presence in their lives and my advice and hugs are still sought out, but I am not as essential as I once was. So now my greatest fear has transferred to the unmentionable thought of outliving them.

Parents are not supposed to bury their children. Doing so contorts the natural series of events. This pain is one I have seen firsthand. I know a family that lost a child to a tragic accident and someone close to me lost a baby late in her pregnancy. Though I did not know them personally, there also have been children in my community taken too early, through accident, violence or illness. I don’t ever want to be in the situation those parents were forced to deal with. I’m not sure where the strength comes to cope with it and move on.

This fear has caused internal conflict at times. My instinct is to protect my children. However I have to balance that with allowing them to grow, which entails a certain amount of risk. I want them to grow up and out, to establish their places in the world. And that is my dilemma. I want to ensure they have the opportunity to grow and thrive. While I feel the need to protect them from a certain amount of risk, I have to do so without holding them back.

So how have I learned to deal with this fear? Faith and prayer. Like many moms, my children are always in my prayers. (I say a few extras when they choose activities that seem riskier than usual.) I can give advice and sometimes prohibit risky behaviors (I still have the power to do that on occasion), but for the most part, I am powerless. It is really up to them and God. They have the power to make decisions, and God of course wields the most power of all. I have to have faith that all will end up as it should.

I hate feeling powerless. Prayer is my only way out of feeling this way. Though I know some scoff at the idea, I have seen the power of prayer in my life. It works. It’s the best method I have found to calm fear.

 

Here’s the list of other bloggers participating. Pop in and see what subjects they were given to write about.

 

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My Escalaphobia Was Temporary But Very Real

escalatorAlthough I didn’t know there was a name for it, apparently escalaphobia really is a thing.  As a child I was responsible for shutting down an escalator, not once, but multiple times.  For reasons unknown, my shoelaces were particularly good at getting stuck in the moving stairs, causing panic when it was time to step off them. I remember worrying that my foot was going to go with the lace, around the bottom of those slow moving steps and back up to the top. (A recent news report on a child’s injury when a plastic shoe got stuck reminded me of this and made me think that perhaps my fears were not completely unfounded.)

Understandably, this caused me to be ultra-conscious as a parent. I made sure my kids shoes were tied before getting on (made easier by the invention of Velcro-closures on shoes) and made sure their feet were not up against the sides. I am happy to say my kids never shut down an escalator.

I had finally put my childhood fears behind me and have traveled on hundreds, maybe thousands of these moving stairs. While transferring between planes at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, my fears all came back. In this instance, we were packed tightly on the “Up” escalator along with other travelers, most of us carrying suitcases and duffels. We suddenly realized that though our feet were moving up and forward, our bodies were not.  For some reason, someone at or near the top had stopped.escalator

My husband, being a quick thinker, realized what was going on and had a solution. He called out for everyone to walk backwards in order to keep us all upright. It was a brilliant idea, but we are English speakers. We know a smattering of other languages but not the words necessary to convey this idea.  Many people on the escalator spoke other languages besides English and French (which of course is not uncommon in major international airports) and did not understand. I sensed a general panic about to break out, then slowly, we started to move forward.

When we reached the top, we discovered what had happened. A woman had fallen getting off the escalator and those behind her had little room to maneuver around her. Of course some stopped to try to help and further blocked the walkway. Unfortunately, the moving walkway didn’t get the memo and kept pouring people around them.

Crisis averted, and certain that no one was hurt, we moved on to our gate and continued our journey. I was relieved and thankful that my fears were unfounded, but frustrated at how long it took to get help. Our flight was uneventful and as is often the case, it was nice to arrive home. Until we approached the escalator. Panic again set in, but here I had a choice. Alongside these escalators is a set of stairs which at this point, no matter how tired I might have been or how heavy my bags, was the only way I was willingly going to the floor below.

My escalator phobia continued for some time after this, much to the amusement and frustration of my family. It diminished gradually, first I could handle those that were mostly empty and then, with trepidation, those with people on them that were going up. Though I once again am mentally able to take the lazy route of moving stairs, I still often choose actual steps if it is an option.

 

 

12 of #52essays2017

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You’ll Go and You’ll Like It!

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Families are busy. Sometimes too much so. We get caught up in our schedules and are constantly moving from one activity to another. Those of us with more than one child sometimes find that we have to split up so each child has a parent to drive to and attend their events.

One year I decided I had enough. I learned of an event near our family’s vacation house and decreed that that weekend would be a family weekend. No other activities would be scheduled. We were going to the mountains and having some fun family time. (Note: there was no television or internet at the mountain house and it had only a landline to communicate with the outside world. We were getting AWAY.)

SCAN0264edThe local paper told us there was a winter festival nearby that included dog sled races and a snow sculpture contest. We bundled up and headed out. We signed up to participate in the snow sculpture contest and though we had no plan, we started creating. We ended up with a five foot rabbit and (since the oldest had taken charge and not everyone’s attention was completely held creating this) a number of small snowmen surrounding it. A cannon was carved out of a nearby snowbank, making it appear that the snowmen were guarding the rabbit.

Our entry complete, we walked around and were amazed at some of the other sculptures that were only in beginning stages when we arrived. We were a bit sheepish that we had the idea that we could enter such a competition at all. Out on the frozen lake was a life-sized bear, holding a fish in its mouth. Several spots away from us, a young man created a small dog, sitting happily watching passers-by. It was obvious that most of the other people had planned ahead, some brought special tools and paint to add color to their sculptures. Some, we were sure, must have been professional artists.

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We watched as the dogsled racers came in and the kids were granted permission to pet the dogs. Next up was a snowshoe race and a tubing race. Our kids had fun pulling each other over the snow on inflated tubes with the rope tied about their waist., falling laughing at the end.

At the conclusion of the day, we were very surprised to learn that our family had earned an honorable mention in the competition. We were awarded a collection of travel mugs and got our name in the local paper. After returning back to the house, the kids wanted to play out in the snow and practice for next year’s competition. Our dog, who was unable to join us at the festival, got in on the fun as well, but didn’t quite understand the concept of pulling them on the snow tube. They built snow figures and pulled each other around on the tube until they were all tired out (even the dog) and it was nearly dark.

Though the two and half-hour car ride there Friday night had a sullen teen in the backseat, the ride home on Sunday was full of excited chatter about what next year would bring.

 

 

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11 of #52essays2017

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On Wednesdays We Play

Have you ever considered what people might think if they saw what goes on behind-the-scenes at your house? Do you ever wonder what it would be like to catch a glimpse of someone else’s daily life?

Fly on the Wall is a monthly post by a group of bloggers challenged to let our readers see what it might be like to be a fly on the wall in our homes. Each post is not a single story, but a compilation of snippets, each one its own quote or event or conversation (or disaster) strung together to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into our lives.

On the same day at the same time, all the participating bloggers post their Fly on the Wall submissions and link up to each other. Here are links to the other writers’ posts.  I suggest you go see what they’ve been up to too.

Menopausal Mother
Searching for Sanity
Eileen’s Perpetually Busy
Go Mama O
Spatulas on Parade
Never Ever Give Up Hope

Bookworm in the Kitchen

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Over the last few weeks I had the pleasure of having my college kids home for spring break. Since their breaks didn’t coincide, I had time to spend with each of them individually. As it happened, on each week we had an interesting outing on Wednesday. (This was purely coincidental.) My daughter had learned about a local farm that boards and fosters pigs in need of a forever home and wanted to visit. My son loves to hike, so a day in the woods was a must for him.

I guess since these were both outdoors, the fly wasn’t really on a wall, just tagging along with us. I took a number of pictures these days and am trying something different here – more of a photo essay. I hope you enjoy it.

Our visit to Ross Mill Farm and Piggy Camp

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We found out about this farm over winter break when it came across my Facebook newsfeed. There were several entertaining videos of adorable pigs and my daughter immediately said she wanted to visit. Our schedule did not allow it then, so we made a point to go the next time she was home. We were met by a friendly cat and one pig who seemed to be waiting for an opening to get into the farmhouse. A few pigs in pens did their best to get our attention (one made quite a fuss when we looked at his neighbors), while the ones out in the yard were content to much on grass and ignore us. There was one piglets that seemed curious about us but for the most part kept a distance. Overall, there was a lot of personality on the farm.

 

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Several pigs wander freely about the farm. We were told those in fenced areas were mostly boarding.

Scenes from our 5 mile hike at Evansburg State Park

My son’s one request was to go hiking over break. Though we had talked about a park a bit further from home, we got a late start and chose this one. The distance was just right for this trip. The sun was starting to set as we got back to the car.

 

fallen hollow tree

Let’s play a game – what lives here? If you look close, you’ll see a rounded area where some critter likely spent the night.

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While I hate graffiti on trails, the eyes here made me smile. We theorized that these ruins once belonged to a mill on the creek.

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Native Americans would bend young trees to mark trails. It looks like that’s what happened here

 

creek with rocks, change in colors

I got to play with some of the special effects on the camera

a tree decorated with a white rabbit and shamrock below it and beads hanging on branches

A smile at about the midpoint. Ready for several holidays.

grassy meadow

“The Meadow!” (In my best Bambi voice.)

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Just chillin’ by the water

 

creek with bright green foilage on far bank, trees reflected in water

The green on the far bank caught my eye. I was amazed at the reflections in the water.

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Just a couple of ducks hanging out

image of the creek and description of stones from there

We learned something new. The New York Brownstones may have their origins in the Philadelphia suburbs.

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creek, man standing on bank

I can walk across here!

 

trees reflected in creek

Which end is up? (It really IS right side up.)

 

 

 

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Selling Rainbows Proved to Be About As Profitable as it Sounds

colour-1885352_1920When I was in college, I answered an ad for a sales job and was hired to sell Rainbows. Putting it like that, in hindsight, that should have been my first clue. The fantastically-named Rainbow was a home purifying system that looked an awful lot like a vacuum cleaner. All sales were done through in-home demonstration.

I went to the interview and then the sales training, which was, for the most part, sitting through the sales pitch. It was an amazing machine. So amazing in fact that although I gasped at the sticker price, I believed that I could sell it. My fellow trainee, however, dropped out once she heard the price.

The premise was that the dirt in the carpet, furniture and even the air would be sucked into the machine, then trapped in the water in a basin located below the machine. This eliminated the problem of having dirt escape and efficiently trapped that last little bit of dirt inevitably left on the floor when sweeping. Using the included attachments, one could use the Rainbow to dust surfaces as well.

I signed up and got my demo machine. There was no cost to me and a promise of commission on sales. I also joined at a fortuitous time, as there was a contest of sorts going on with a bonus of silver bars and an invitation to a party to the top seller that week.

As with most demonstration sales, I was on my own for my initial sales visits. These were carefully described to me as being “practice” and I was told I should ask my family and friends to help out. The idea was that I would be more comfortable with familiar people and would gain confidence to sell to strangers.

My first demo was to my grandmother who unbeknownst to me, had decided she was buying the machine before I even walked in the door. She very patiently sat through my presentation, oohing and aahing appropriately and seeming to be fascinated by my every word. When I finished my pitch, she said, yes she was going to buy one. Thinking I had won her over with my dazzling sales ability, I tried to protest, given the price. There was no deterring her, she was buying one.

My next stop was my parents. My mom knew my grandmother had purchased one and thought she was being overindulgent (as she had a tendency to be when it came to her grandkids). By the end of my pitch, Mom was looking at my father with eyes that obviously said she really, really wanted one of these. (My mother has been known to have a fondness for efficient vacuum cleaners.) And so I had sale number two.

Then I took the amazing machine to my mom’s aunt and uncle, where I demonstrated the machine’s ability to clean furniture cushions so well that there was a notable difference in color, so that I offered to clean them all for them. They were interested, but the cost was prohibitive. Another demo was for my cousin and his wife, who liked it well enough, but were not buying. With each demo, I was required to call the office at the completion to inform them if there was a sale. After my cousin said no, my manager insisted on talking to him and went for the hard sell, to the point where it was offensive. This is when I decided I was done with demonstrations for family members. My next call was a lead from the office.

It was policy to only do a demonstration when both members of a couple were present (to avoid losing the sale due to one person not having financial decision-making power). In this case, the husband was not home, so I followed protocol and called the office. I was told to go ahead with the demo. At the end, predictably, the woman said she could not make a purchase without talking to her husband, so that was what I had to report back to the office. A different manager answered the phone than I had spoken to and I got an earful.

That was the end to my career selling Rainbows. I refused to subject myself or anyone else to that treatment.  As it turned out, I was the top seller that period, but I never did see those silver bars or anything beyond my commission check for the two machines. The pay wasn’t bad, but the lesson was invaluable: something that seems to good to be true likely is.

 

11 of #52essays2017

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Gambling With a Hair Stylist Is a Mistake

SCAN0618It was the start of the 80s, the decade of big hair. I had been begging my mom to let me get a perm. I had long, wavy hair that didn’t do anything interesting. I got it in my head that permanent curls would be wide, flowy rings that would bounce just right. When I awoke the morning of my 15th birthday, my mom had left a note with money, telling me it was for me to go get that perm I had so coveted.

So, off to the salon I went. I had a regular stylist, who I loved, but he had casually mentioned once that one of his colleagues was good.  (We had been discussing someone else’s hair at the time.) For reasons I cannot explain, I decided to switch stylists and go to her that day for my perm and haircut.

Though I have always been particular about who cuts my hair, I had gotten complacent, knowing that “my person” knew my likes and dislikes and could be trusted 100 percent of the time. I didn’t consider that I needed to be specific in my instructions. I told her I wanted it permed, and that the end result should be all one length (I had spent years growing it out) so that I would have the desired curls.

She went to work. I patiently sat through the lengthy process, the curlers, the stinky solution, the sitting and waiting, the checking the curl, re-curling and sitting some more. Finally it was done. She took out the curlers and it was curlier than I expected, but I was warned it would relax and fall, that it always starts out overly curly.

Then came the cut. She trimmed the back, about shoulder length, then made the first cut for bangs – right between my eyes. I couldn’t get the words out fast enough to stop her, and it was done. Two inches of hair wide, just above my eyebrows. There was no point in stopping her now, the worst damage was done. There was no way to salvage it. She gave me full bangs and then they bounced. The curl made the bangs even shorter! I had spent many years trying to minimize and hide my high forehead and years growing the hair out and it was gone. With one snip of her scissors.

I should have complained. I almost cried. What I did instead was to thank her, pay her and even give her a tip! Then I went home and cried. For two days. I tried every home remedy I could find to loosen the curls, shampooing right away, soaking in salt water, nothing worked. So I became friends with ribbon and tied a bow. It was the only thing that made it even bearable.

Though I am still particular when it comes to haircuts (I currently have only one person I allow near my head with scissors), I have since learned an important lesson. No matter how bad the cut, hair grows.

 

9 of #52essays2017

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Gardening Is Good for the Body, Mind and Soul

 

 

hand holding soilMy first experience with a garden came as a child when my dad dug up a large plot of land in our yard. My parents left it to my sister and I to decide what to plant. We decided on vegetables and flowers, and the area was split roughly 50/50. It was fun to watch the carrots and radishes come up and we enjoyed having fresh salads with dinner most nights (that is, until a small green worm came along with the lettuce on my plate one meal). We also kept a pitcher of fresh flowers on the table, which was nice to see and it was exciting to know that we grew them ourselves. We repeated the process for a few years, though we scaled it back a bit to make it more manageable to maintain.

As an adult, I was excited when I finally had a yard and could plant a vegetable garden.  We grew tomatoes and peppers that were tastier than what we found at the grocery store (and a cost savings as well) and carrots and radishes that, though not very large or pretty, made a good addition to a salad, or as a snack on their own. This garden was too small for flowers, so I settled for growing them in planters on the porch where they made me smile each time I walked through the front door. Having a garden proved both economical and healthy.

It wasn’t until having a particularly unpleasant experience while volunteering for my children’s school that I realized the therapeutic effects of gardening. I was responsible for an activity at the school and there was a disagreement about how certain details should be handled. To make a long story short, the principal called me and another mom into his office to settle the dispute. (Growing up, I was a good kid. This was my first time in a principal’s office.) I am embarrassed to admit that tempers flared and there was yelling involved (until the principal raised his voice, then we were silent). His attempts at mediation solved the immediate problem (I was in the right) but not the underlying one (we were unable to work together after than point).

I went home, angry at her, upset with myself for losing my cool and embarrassed by my behavior in front of the school principal (yet thankful the kids had not witnessed it). On my to-do list that day was replanting recently purchased flowers into the stone planters on our porch. As I worked at this task, a calm came over me. The tension seemed to melt away. Something about the feel of the rich soil in my hands, the dirt sliding through my fingers, was soothing. I thought about how I had made mud pies when I was young and smiled. We would collect berries, seeds and small flowers and set them on top of mud that we had created (mixing dirt with water until the consistency was just right) either in Frisbees or plastic plates and offer our “pie” to our parents or siblings. I finished and was able to continue my day with a smile.

I suppose that the sight and fragrance of the flowers could also have contributed to my change in mood, but what I remember most is the dirt, with its pungent earthy smell. Arranging the plants in a pleasing manner also took some time and allowed a certain amount of creativity. Even the process of scrubbing my hands afterward, scraping the dirt out from under my fingernails, was calming. I made note of the reaction and vowed to do this more often.

This event was years ago, but the lesson has not been forgotten. I still plant a garden most years and look forward to the process. As the winter comes to an end, I start to plan the details while perusing catalogs full of flowers and unusual produce. Sometimes we try something new; most years we stick to the basics. We keep it on the small side, as I prefer the initial process (and of course consuming the harvest) to the tending, prompting my husband to call my gardening style Darwinian. He may have a point there.

 

8 of #52essays2017

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The Surprising Secrets No One Tells You About Beauty Pageants

essayWhen I was 15, I was a contestant in the Miss New Jersey United Teenager competition. The year prior, my best friend had participated in the pageant and I had gone to watch. Though for the most part, the contestants were kept separate from the other hotel patrons, I got to spend a little time with her over the weekend and saw that she was having a great time. On the night of the competition, she had the misfortune to find that the zipper on her evening gown had broken. In defiance of the competitive reputation of these events, she was loaned a gown by someone who had brought an extra, forever changing my opinion on the mindset of pageant contestants. In her exit paperwork, she recommended me as a contestant for the following year (yes, this is how many teen pageants work, knowing someone gets you in the door).

This revelation is likely a surprise to many who know me. Though I have always had a fondness for makeup and have certainly purchased my share of it, I rarely use much of it. I have never spent the time and money for an “up-do” and only once in my life spent any significant time on my hair, which actually meant I then spent more time un-doing what I had spent an hour working on and finally settled on a rather simple style that should have taken no more than 15 minutes. (Even for my wedding, I simply curled it and left it loose.)

Preparation for the competition included shopping for a gown. At one store, my mom was aghast at the revealing options (almost all had plunging necklines and strategically-placed cut-outs); responding to the salesgirl’s selection with, “Oh, this is a pure, all-American girl pageant.” (Love you, Mom.) Though it was a challenge, we eventually found one that was acceptable, which coincidentally was the same dress my friend had purchased the year before. (We knew to have the zipper replaced to avoid having the same bad luck she had.) I also needed a red A line skirt and white blouse. None were to be found, so off we went to the fabric store and to a seamstress who measured me and created the only custom-fit garment I have ever owned. Not knowing anything about fashion, the fabric we chose was a silky, shiny one that snagged rather easily and stood out from the more appropriate ones chosen by the other girls.

The pageant itself occurred over several days. We spent two days learning a flag routine (my friend had taught me this the year before, so I had an advantage here), being interviewed and learning where and how to stand (arms at sides, palms facing our bodies) and how to walk and turn for the evening gown portion. At scheduled times, we also had personal interviews and recited an essay we each had to write and memorize on the topic “What America Means to Me.” During a full run-through rehearsal, I was fortunate to be chosen as not only a semifinalist, but also as Miss Congeniality. (These were honors that escaped me for the actual pageant.)

We were rewarded that night for our hard work with Big Macs and fries (so much for the starving beauty contestant stereotype). We ate sitting on the floor in the hall; the chatter was lively and constant as some girls not-so-subtlety campaigned for Miss Congeniality (which was voted on by all of us) while others compared notes on hometowns, schools and activities. As wrappers gathered around us, the chaperones moved in to herd us to our rooms for the night so that we could settle in before the nightly room check and lights out.

Though the pageant results were not a repeat of rehearsal, I didn’t go home empty handed. One of the requirements for competition was to have engaged in a certain amount of community service. I had been a longtime volunteer for an animal adoption agency, and had a strong letter attesting to my dedication and time spent, so I was awarded the Volunteer Service Award, giving me my 15 seconds of fame at the pageant to accept my rather large trophy.evening gown

Though at times I would sense the pressure of competition (for some of the girls, this was their last chance before they aged out) there was also a true sense of camaraderie. We were assigned rooms and spots alphabetically, so naturally with almost 70 of us, we spent more time with those having last names that fell near our own.

I made a friend who took everything about as seriously as I did (that is to say, not very). We agreed that it would be nice to be selected, but knew that it had no impact on our worth as human beings. Since her roommate was too emotional to stay, she left immediately after the pageant and I moved into her room for the final night.  My new friend and I chatted late into the night, resulting in sleeping through our wake up call and the entire final event, the post-pageant breakfast.

Obviously, I entered into this not expecting to be crowned Miss NJ, but it was a great experience. I got a glimpse of the backstory of the beauty pageant world and one of my first early tastes of independence. There were strict rules about talking to boys (not allowed) and curfew (chaperones checked to make sure we were in our rooms).  We had a busy schedule and we were expected to show up on time.

I did note the presence of some expected stereotypes: there were a few divas, many girls wearing way too much makeup, some with eating disorders, and a few you wouldn’t want to turn your back on, but there were also plenty of all-American girls, highly intelligent young women enjoying the chance to dress up and be social. It surprised me to realize how many girls were repeat contestants and just how badly they coveted the title. Of course I knew that scholarship dollars were at stake, as well as the possibility of modeling and acting jobs, but I realized that the odds were really against us all, that the judging criteria were at least somewhat subjective and that having a bad day, or even a bad moment would end any chance of being one of the last girls onstage. Would I do it again? I think, probably yes.

 

7 of #52essays2017


When You Have Kids Young, 36 Feels Old

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When my youngest started kindergarten, I was surprised to find at Back to School Night that I was still on the younger end of the parenting scale. I was 36; the median age was closer to 40. I say that I was an “old mom” because this was my fourth; for many other parents in the grade, this child was their first. Of course I didn’t realize the age differences right away. Some parents were obviously older than I was, others I couldn’t tell (and it’s not considered polite to introduce yourself with “Hi, I’m Kim. How old are you?”)

At first I thought it was just that particular class, but quickly discovered that many people my age had their first child around the same time I had my last. This created some interesting moments. Those who knew I had older children were surprised to find out how young I was, those who didn’t know were surprised to find out how old my other children were. No one ever asked, but I saw some eyebrows raise, as if to say, “Exactly how old were you when you had your first?”

Before I knew it, I had become the “go to” person for several other moms. I had already seen some of the tricky stages (my oldest was 15) and had survived to tell the tales. I found this idea rather amusing. I grew up believing that wisdom came with age; so it seemed odd to me that those who had been adults for up to a decade longer were asking me for parenting advice. I guess this was in part because I didn’t have fellow moms to guide me through the younger years; for the most part, my husband and I muddled through it alone. Sure I had my mom and my mother-in-law, but they were both over an hour away and things change with each generation. (Just ask an older pediatrician about how feeding guidelines have changed over the past 20 years.)

All moms have moments of loneliness, but having a child at 21 was tough. While I was home, not sleeping, changing diapers and wiping spit up from my hair, others my age were out, not sleeping, drinking and dancing (and wiping other unmentionables from their hair). At the time, I was much too consumed with my own life to give too much thought to what I was missing. Since I had little in common with others my age, we quickly fell out of touch. Looking back, it would have been nice to have been more social at that age, but if I could go back and change anything, having my first, this beautiful child, would not be one of them.

As a younger mom, I was invincible. I was too naïve to even consider all the bad things that could happen. I did worry: I made sure I knew where my kids were; I met parents before letting my kids go to a friend’s house; I kept them close when we went to the store; I checked to make sure they were all buckled in before pulling out of the driveway. But I didn’t worry about things in the grand scheme. I didn’t think about all the evil out there and the world my children would inherit. The future was far off, abstract, not something to consider at that stage.

As an older (read experienced) mom, I calmed new moms. I told them to trust their instincts and to not stress so much. Many of them seemed nervous. Many of their worries seemed foreign to me. I decided it was because they were mature enough to recognize their mortality, something I refused to see when I first became Mom, but saw in abundance as I got older. I looked back and was thankful that I didn’t have that additional stress; that I was able to simply live in the present, in the cocoon I had created.

In some ways, I was a mom of a different generation. When I first had children, life was a bit simpler. Technology had not yet taken over households; my worst mom guilt was that the TV was on most of the day, even though often no one was actively watching it. Since inside had limited space, when it was nice, my children spent regular time playing outside with the other kids in the neighborhood, often going yard to yard, knowing  to stay within the boundaries where my voice would reach. (They still talk about the call: “Yavorskiiiiis, Time for dinnnnnner!”) Other times they engaged in pretend play or devoured the books that were always strewn about the house. This was much like my childhood.

Now, my kids are mostly grown and out on their own and my former classmates are just starting to have the experiences that have recently ended for me. I now have friends who are a little older than I am, those who are at the same life stage. Here I am once again, the young one. Those friends who are my age sometimes look at me and ask how it is on the other side. They are at a point where my today is still a few years off, which can look very far away. Though many said I would regret starting so young, I insisted it was a good idea, that I would have plenty of time later for fun. Given how much has changed, I am very happy to be on the other side.

 

6 of #52essays2017