The Cool Kid Store

Sometimes when I’m really bored I like to find an Abercrombie & Fitch store and pick out a dozen or so pairs of jeans, all in a size two. Then I ask for a fitting room. There is nothing better than the look of utter bewilderment and confusion on the sales clerk’s face as she glances from me to the jeans then back again. I smile demurely as I walk into the fitting room, then I ask casually, “These jeans stretch, don’t they?”

How was I supposed to know that woman was going to faint? Luckily she fell onto a display of tiny little hoodies, so she was perfectly fine.

I actually I have long history with Abercrombie & Fitch. It was almost ten years ago when I first stumbled across one of their stores. I was walking through the beautiful new outdoor mall in my city when I came across this place blasting music and reeking of cheap cologne with huge pictures of half-naked, oiled up men and women on the walls outside. I surmised immediately that this new mall had one heck of a nightclub and I wondered what the cover charge was.

Later that week, my husband (he was still my boyfriend back then) and I had dinner and a few drinks at one of the restaurants in the new mall. I told him about the nightclub at the mall and we stumbled over to it. It was just like the day I found it: music up so loud you could barely hear your own thoughts and cheap perfume seeping from every pore of the place. We walked in and found that there was no cover charge. This club was about to become our new favorite.

A guy approached us, so we tried to order some drinks.

“I’ll have a Long Island Iced Tea,” I said.

“What do you have on tap?” my husband inquired.

“Er, well, I don’t think we have that but jeans are ten percent off this week and we got a new shipment of tees today,” he said and looked like he might cry at any moment.

“This is a club, isn’t it?” I yelled above the keyboard solo that was accosting my ears.

“A club? No, this is Abercrombie & Fitch!” he yelled back with all the teenage angst he carried in his 110lb, 6 foot frame.

My husband and I left, disgraced and a bit shocked.

I dragged my husband back there the next day under the pretense of buying him a shirt. He protested.

“This is a cool kid store. I’ve had the same haircut since I was three; I’m not cool enough for this store,” he explained.

“I know, but I can’t buy something here because it will compromise my values as a woman because this store represents everything that is wrong with society today; this store is packaging and selling low self-esteem!” I said fervently.

“Really?” he asked.
“I don’t know; I read that on the cover of Good Housekeeping when I was in line at the grocery store the other day. The point is, I don’t need another hoodie, I just want to see what’s in that store,” I admitted.

We got about three feet into the store when the guy from the previous night recognized us and we were asked to leave.

Oh well, it wasn’t the first retail establishment I’ve been asked to leave and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

After Dark

I don’t get out much. I used to, but now most of the contact I have with the outside world happens within a simple loop from the elementary school to the grocery store to the cleaners. On any given day, the most exotic place I go is my backyard and the most interesting person I talk to is myself (but I’m pretty sure I make up most of the really interesting stuff I tell myself; once I told myself a very dramatic story about my time in Asia taming tigers and collecting rubies but I had to call bologna on myself because I know for a fact that I have never even been to Asia).

I don’t really remember when I stopped venturing out. When I was younger, I was always going places—I even used to go out at night (now, the mere of thought of going out after dark is quite unsettling, not so much because I’m afraid of the dark but because I would miss House Hunters). Before marriage and a child, I didn’t even get ready to go out until 9:00pm and my friends and I never left a club until closing time. These days, I’m pretty much useless after 7:30pm although last Christmas my family and I did go to a party that lasted until it was dark. I couldn’t help but marvel at how beautiful the world looked when it was all lit up.

“Wow, look at that!” I said with my face pushed up against the car window to get a better look at the illuminated glory before me.

“That’s just McDonald’s, honey,” my husband said in the condescending way of a man who never leaves work until after dark and gets to see these amazing lights everyday.

“Yes, but have you ever seen those Golden Arches look more magnificent!” I said, my enthusiasm undaunted by his cavalier attitude.

I have been looking for opportunities to go out after dark ever since the McDonald’s sighting last Christmas and yesterday I received an invitation to one of those parties where a woman cooks some fabulous meal all while demonstrating the latest in esoteric kitchen gadgets. I was about to ink this little soirée onto my calendar because nobody appreciates the majesty of kitchen wizardry like me, when I saw what time the party started—8:00pm. Eight o’clock at night? My mind reeled. What are these women, vampires?

I sat down and tried to figure out the logistics of how I could get to this kitchen utensil extravaganza and still maintain my scheduled bedtime. I’ve been known to start dozing off around 8:15pm, but the excitement of fancy new measuring cups and slotted spoons might be enough to keep me coherent. Certainly the hostess won’t mind if I show up in my pajamas and I’m sure all the other party-goers will be bringing their toothbrushes as well.

The night of the party arrived. I was in my pajamas by 7:30pm and ready to go, but apparently I fell asleep. I woke up around 8:15pm and I could have still made it to the party in time for the bonanza of bowls demonstration, but House Hunters International was from Kathmandu and that’s really about as much excitement as I can take these days.

Hallmark Cards

I went to Hallmark today in search of a very specific kind of card. I perused shelf after shelf of cards, but I just couldn’t find the sentiment I needed. Finally, a kindly sales lady came over.

“Can I help you find something, dear?” she said.

“Yes, I’m looking for a card for someone who has suffered recent weight-gain,” I told her.

“Oh! You’re looking for a congratulatory card for someone who is pregnant!” she said with delight in her eyes.

“No, not that kind of weight-gain; the kind that comes from a good, old-fashioned love of cheese and baked goods. You know, a card that says something like: Sorry you’re fat and your pants don’t fit anymore. Maybe one of those cards that plays music. Music makes everything better, and it might help to ease the blow of being told you’re fat.”

“That sounds like a pretty awful card; who are you planning on giving this to?” she asked with trepidation.

“It’s for me,” I explained. “I keep gaining and losing weight and I’m currently on the upswing, if you know what I mean. I need some motivation and some reassurance. And who is better at motivation and reassurance than Hallmark? I mean, Hallmark cards only contain truth. If I get a card that says Happy Mother’s Day, I know it’s Mother’s Day; if I get a card that says Merry Christmas, it’s Christmas; and if I send myself a card that says I’m fat, well then, I’ll know I’m fat.”

The sales lady gave me that all too familiar you-might-need-a-psychiatric-evaluation look but I saw a glimmer of sympathy in her eyes as well as she patted my shoulder and walked away.

Deep down I knew the answer I was looking for wasn’t at the Hallmark store, the same way I know the answer isn’t at the bottom of a half gallon of ice cream either. I guess what I am really looking for is balance. I want to be healthy and active and make choices that support those goals. I want to wear jeans with a size that has just one number. I want to wave to people and not have my arm jiggle. But I also want to relax and enjoy a glass of wine and a piece of pie every now and then. I don’t want to worry about every single bite of food I put in my mouth. But I do. Every single bite. Should I be eating this? I earned this! This is healthy and that means I’m a good person. Oh well, I already messed up this morning with that donut, so the whole day is messed up, might as well eat my body weight in Cheetos. It should be simple, but for me it’s always been a roller coaster.

I know a lot of it is tied to my body image too. All it takes is a quick glance at the cover of Cosmo and I feel like I’m a failure. And now there are so many ad campaigns about “being real” that show women who don’t wear a size four but that just seems to beg the question: what is real and how can I be real? I want to be real and fit into my old jeans and eat cheesecake! Is that too much to ask?! But I can’t blame the media for my weight gain; I’m the one eating cheeseburgers like they might go extinct at any moment.

I guess the card I really need to send to myself should go something like this:

You’re beautiful no matter what your jean size. Don’t worry about anyone else but yourself. Eating a piece of cheesecake isn’t going to destroy your life, but neither will a good workout. Embrace the fact that you’re going to mess up, probably often, but kicking yourself when you’re down isn’t getting you anywhere.

Love,
Me

I bet there’s a few of us out there who need this card.

 

 

Armpits and Five Dollar Bills

I have been cursed with a bizarre kind of photographic memory. My memory is useless when it comes to things like the periodical table of elements, algebraic equations, and the Magna Carta, which is precisely why I wrote all those things on my hands during tests when I was in high school. But my memory is impeccable when it comes to lyrics from any song written in the 80s, dreams where my husband does something questionable, and ridiculously silly conversations I have with my daughter. The following is an exact transcript of the conversation I had with my daughter as we waited in the school drop-off line the week before school ended.

“We are here so early, the school isn’t even open yet,” I said.

“That’s good because you have been dropping me off late all year and I have always wanted to be early,” my daughter said.

“School doesn’t start until 9:00am; I drop you off at 8:45am,” I said with just a hint of exasperation.

“Exactly. It’s too late,” she said.

“What? You don’t even finish your breakfast until 8:35am,” I said and looked at my daughter.

“I think we both know whose fault that is,” my daughter said with a toothless smirk.

I started counting slowly to ten because I read somewhere that it calms you down; before I got to four, my daughter had already switched gears.

“I need a five dollar bill.”

“Why do you need a five dollar bill?” I asked.

“I just want to do something nice for my teacher,” she said with a smile.

“And a five dollar bill is the nicest gift you can think of? What about some flowers or drawing her a beautiful picture,” I said sagely.

“A picture is a good idea, Mommy,” she said happily.

“What are you going to draw for her?” I asked, glad the conversation was finally going in a positive direction.

“I’m going to draw her a five dollar bill!” she exclaimed. “I still need you to give me a five dollar bill so I can draw it.”

I craned my neck to the front of the drop-off line in a vain attempt to will the school doors open, but had no luck. Just then my daughter noticed the boy in the car behind us.

“Mommy, that’s the boy that sits next to me! The one who always lies!” she yelled like a crazy woman.

“What does he lie about?” I asked.

“He says he has a brother but I don’t think he does,” she said like she just uncovered a conspiracy theory that could rival JFK’s assassination.

“What makes you think he’s lying?”

“It’s his eyes, Mommy. Remember when I told you I climbed George Washington’s nose when you weren’t looking that time at Mount Rushmore? And you said you knew I was fibbing because of my eyes? That’s how I know he’s lying,” she said intensely.

“Well, your eyes weren’t the only clue on that one,” I said and smiled.

“And he also wears tank tops to school and when he raises his hand I can see his armpit,” she said with utter disgust.

“Yes, that clearly marks him as a miscreant,” I laughed.

“And now I can’t wear a tank top because then he will see my armpit when I raise my hand,” she said with such an impassioned tone I almost felt bad for her armpits.

“I never knew kindergarten was such a rough place,” I said with amusement.

“It is,” my daughter agreed. “Mommy, the doors are open now! I can go in!” she yelled excitedly.

“Give this to your teacher,” I said as I handed her a twenty dollar bill.

“Why?” she asked while tentatively taking the twenty.

“Your teacher has been in a classroom with you since August; hopefully she can find a nice happy hour after school today,” I said.

“What’s happy hour?” my daughter asked as she climbed out of the car.

“It’s where teachers go to relax after a long school year,” I said.

Maybe I’ll join her, I thought to myself.

Never Cower

The world is a funny place—literally. I love to laugh and I love making people laugh. Humor is cathartic for me and I try to find humor in most situations. I laugh at myself everyday, multiple times a day. So when I find something I can’t laugh at, I know there’s a problem.

The other day my daughter was playing with a friend in our backyard; I was sitting on the patio reading a book and enjoying the sunshine. I was just settling into a chapter when I noticed the tone of my daughter’s voice had changed so I looked up. My daughter’s friend was reprimanding my daughter the way a dysfunctional mother reprimands a child. Stunned, I listened intently.

“You didn’t let me throw your teddy bear into the mud; I’m the guest here and can do what I want. Do you think that is very nice of you? Do you?!” the girl said in the ugliest voice I have ever heard come from a child.

My daughter cowered and suddenly seemed a good three inches shorter than she had previously been as she shook her head sadly.

“No, it’s not nice! You better apologize to me, right now!” the girl demanded.

“I’m sorry,” my daughter was barely audible.

“For what?!” the girl roared at my daughter, a grin picking up the corners of her mouth as she watched my daughter’s shoulders slump and her head fall to her chest. My stomach turned as I realized this little girl was actually obtaining joy from being cruel.

“For whatever I did, I mean for not letting you put my teddy bear in the mud,” my daughter sputtered.

I froze; something deep within me shattered into a million tiny pieces; I’m pretty sure it was my heart. I knew I should step in and say something but while my heart was crumbling, my mind was busy transporting me back in time…

I was probably about seven-years-old, or maybe eight, but it doesn’t really matter because it was the same thing for most of my childhood. I grew up with a kid who took every opportunity to rob me of my self-confidence and self-respect. I endured years of being called horrific names that eventually became my identity. This kid hit me everyday of my life, so much that I developed the habit of flinching each time he passed by me; which only angered him more. But more than the hitting and name calling, was the fact that this kid derived pleasure from making my life miserable. Even as a kid, I could see that my anguish was making him happy. In my mind I was screaming, “Stop it!” but my voice was never strong enough to be heard so I was always left cowering. That kid took everything from me, until there was nothing left.

I believed the names he called me were true and I became unable to look people in the eyes, because I knew I wasn’t worthy. I ended up traveling down some dark paths to even darker places. Then one day when I was in college, a thought occurred to me, I have a neck for a reason and it’s to hold my head up; and I have a voice for a reason and it’s to be heard. I was suddenly able to lift my shoulders and raise my head; I left that class and looked everyone in the eyes as I passed by. I still have no idea why I became so aware right at that exact moment, but I was a new person that day. And no one has ever made me cower since.

I shook the cobwebs from that involuntary flashback and heard my daughter crying as her friend held her favorite teddy bear over a mud puddle and smiled with delight as she said, “I’m going to drop it right in the mud and it will be ruined!”

“No one is dropping anything,” I said without raising my voice. “Let’s go get your things because it’s time for you to leave,” I told the little girl.

After the girl’s mother picked her up, I sat down with my daughter and we had what I know is just the first in a long series of talks about people. I told her that she is a caring little girl and that I know she never likes to hurt anyone, but standing up for herself is not going to hurt anyone. I told her that she knows what is right and what is wrong; she told me she feels it in her heart and in her tummy. I told her that she must tell her friends, or anyone else, when she doesn’t like something. And then I taught her about finding her strong voice. A strong voice doesn’t have to be loud or mean, it simply needs to say, I am worth so much and no, you may not treat me this way.

I know there will be girls much worse than this one that my daughter will have to contend with in her lifetime. It makes me sad, but I also know it is simply part of life. I don’t want to live my daughter’s life for her nor do I think I can protect her from every hurt in this world, but I can arm her with knowledge and give her the tools she needs to navigate this world. I want her to always know her worth and understand that no one gets to take that away from her. I want her to know that her worth doesn’t suddenly diminish based on who she is friends with that day. Her worth is beyond measure, her worth is constant, her worth is not in someone else’s hands, her worth is not dependent upon someone’s else’s opinion, and her worth should never, ever be compromised.