Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Minor Annoyances

For the past few weeks I have been doing a number of things...none of them especially interesting...but all of them either fun or something that I've just had to do.  I've returned items, thought about life, had lunch with friends, checked out the world of cyberspace, and fought a serious ragweed allergy.   I've done those little routine things in life that we all do every day and hardly think about as we do them.  We just live our lives day in and day out...week in and week out...decade in and decade out.

And then something happens that reminds us that time has truly moved along.  The little girls your son started kindergarten with are pledging sororities in college...and HE'S a college freshman too.  Someone you've worked with for years just moves on to something different...and you're happy for the person but realize that it has been a very long time since you've heard of anyone changing jobs since everyone has been so grateful just to be employed.  Maybe it is an empty nest...or you're planning to help one of your kids figure out what they want to do after college graduation.

College graduation...for one of your KIDS.  (How. Is. That. Possible? on one hand and on the other hand...WHOO HOO!! almost off the payroll!)

Yes.  Time marches on.

But instead of feeling down about it...I've tried not to worry and just appreciate the good things that are happening.  If only the "good things" would cooperate with me just a little.

See, this week has been more than a little bit of a pain in the behind.  Some weeks are like that.  Of course, I am not battling serious illness, trauma, or even serious drama.  I just seem to be living on the corner of Aggravation Avenue and What the Heck? Boulevard.

This week has had the following "fun" so far:

My haircut from Greg the Miracle Worker has me looking a little bit like Tommy Shaw.
 
Tommy's the one in the upper left hand corner.  Former member of the band Styx and Damn Yankees.  Okay, Tommy was born in Montgomery, AL and has far better hair than I do, but whatever.  Actually, again using Tommy as a model...this is what my hair is SUPPOSED to look like, but alas, no.

Okay, maybe not so much curl on the sides...but yeah, he definitely has a better haircut than I do right now.

Anyway, Dixie is in "season" and Rebel has exhausted himself following her around and being on alert for any male dogs who might dare to come into our yard.  He is currently passed out on the floor beside me snoring.  I think today was the first day he has eaten all week.  Apparently, the moment has passed or he just doesn't care anymore.  Probably the former. 

Dixie's preferred status (because everyone is hesitant to let her out of the house because in spite of the invisible fence...she might just bust out of here and find a rogue rottweiler or something) has meant that I've spent the past 72 hours cleaning up "gifts" that she has left in the living room.  I have to believe that this is some kind of protest...but I'm too tired to ponder why she has turned a "sit-in" into a ...well, never mind.

The 95 degree weather has coincided with my "personal summers" which have decided to make a comeback this week for some inexplicable reason.  They've meshed beautifully with the ragweed allergy that has had me in bed by 9:00 every day this week (until, obviously, tonight.)

I'm 48 and I feel like I need Clearasil because of said hormonal activity, my sensitive skin, or just because the moon is in Leo.  I know not.  What I do know is that this totally does not rock.

I started eating really healthy again this week.  That means that I get to listen to my son whine about things like whole wheat pasta and a lack of butter in the house.  I'll get over that soon enough.

On the bright side, I am styling in a rented Impala right now with 26,000 miles on it.  The last time I drove a car with 26,000 miles on it was the last time I rented a car.  The last car I owned with 26,000 miles on it was in 2001.  I'm not kidding.

College football starts this weekend, and I'm assuming that sometime in the next three months, I'll walk outside and won't feel like I'm about to pass out or be a victim of spontaneous combustion. 

Those three months will go by quickly...and before I know it, I'll be wrapping Christmas gifts, scraping frost off the car windows and taunting Alabama Power with my lower than they expected power usage.

I hope so anyway.

You know...life is a beautiful thing.  We tend to hop from big rock to big rock when it is the sparkling stones of the everyday things we do in the pond of life that make it so much more interesting.  I believe that it was John Lennon who said, "Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans."  I'm not 100% sure of that, but it sounds like something he would say.  To me, it makes perfect sense.  And it is very, very true.

Think back three years and try to recall what you were doing at that time.  Me?  I was dealing with my first child out of the nest.  Today, she's a senior.  Three years from now (Lord willing) her brother will be a senior, and she will probably be employed and probably thinking about getting married at some point in time. 

I don't know about you, but there are days that I want to hold in my hands and never let go and other days that I'm perfectly happy to let slide on by.  But every moment that we are drawing breath is precious...whether we are celebrating something phenomenal, or we are dealing with something that we hope will be over soon.  For me, right now, that something I could do without is this blasted heat and ragweed season.  And not necessarily in that order.

Tomorrow is a new day...and if we wake up and the world is as it should be...then we need to remember to say "thank you" to the one who is giving us the opportunity to do something worthwhile or participate in a miracle.  When we are grumbling (as I have been doing tonight)...we aren't saying "thank you" now are we?

We never really know the full effect of those whose lives we touch.  Sometimes we just feel invisible or overwhelmed.  That's okay.  Just assume that you are an integral part of the future big picture...because if you are still here...you are.  That's what I tell myself anyway.

And I do believe it's true.  Even when I'm cleaning up "gifts" in the living room.  (I can only hope that this is not my only purpose for being here!)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rebel - Future Guest Blogger

My friend Andrea suggested that a blogpost needed to be written from the perspective of Rebel, my 7 year old shih tzu/yorkie mix.  Rebel is brown, gold and black and very cute.  I'm sure that he would have appreciated a nice name like "Buddy" - but he was named after my high school football team.  I mean, come on, people, I live in Alabama, and about every 10th person names their dogs Rebel and Dixie.  I am no different.

Rebel is very cute, but don't let those innocent "Precious Moments" looking eyes fool you.  He is a sweet dog and loves to sit on your lap...but he is also frequently described as being...well...a bit psycho.   He has his "ways" and some of them are truly bizarre.  I'm pretty sure that if Rebel existed in human form...he would sport a mullet.  Yes, in 2011.  And why yes, I DO believe he looks a little bit like Billy Ray Cyrus back in the day.



Rebel is the father of 12 puppies...Bo and Luke (named after the Duke brothers) and ten puppies named after country music singers.  Although many (okay...MOST) of the people changed their names as soon as humanly possible, a few of them still have their original names.  Hank, Willie (now Buddy), Toby (still Toby), Billy Ray (now Billy), Reba, Patsy, Dolly (now Abby), Shania (now Maggie Shania), Merle (now Buddy), and Brad (now Rebel) are living all over the southeast. 

I figured with parents named Rebel and Dixie...what else was I supposed to name the offspring?  After race car drivers?  Southern war generals?   

His "wife" is our other dog, Dixie, a white shih tzu that is the daughter of my folks' dog, Bradley.  Bradley's other daughter (from another litter) is the folks' other dog, Daisy...who just happens to be Rebel's sister on the mother's side. 

I know, I know.  This is Alabama...not West Virginia. 

Most people don't really care...but I personally think it is cool that their dog Daisy is related to both of my dogs as well as their other dog.  Unfortunately, we have pretty much determined that some of Rebel's craziness is indeed hereditary.  His sister (from another litter...since Rebel's father was an ancient yorkie who was obviously NOT past his prime as was common belief) is a little bit nuts herself.

Sweet...but nuts.

Anyway, I thought before you received any blogpost written from Rebel's perspective, you ought to at least be somewhat familiar with who he is as a person er...dog.  He is very smart...and knows how to do tricks.  Don't believe me?  Well, check out this cheesy video.

video

Rebel has a thing about the red rug in this video.  I replace them at Target frequently...but they have to be red and they have to be there or he gets despondent.  He obviously has a "thing" about the red carpet, don't you think?  After viewing this...I think I need to get right on replacing these.  Looking a little ratty, I must say. 

Rebel also has some issues with the current Travelers' Insurance commercial.  I filmed him "responding" to it, but I don't have six hours for my computer to upload that little gem. 

So, let's see if Rebel will be a good guest blogger.  It may only happen if I can get him to quit guarding the dish of Alpo that he clearly doesn't want...but isn't about to move in case Dixie thinks she is going to swoop in there and relieve him of that problem. 

Super guard dog.  Red carpet lover.  Possibly a little touched.  That's my Rebel.  Stay tuned...

Monday, August 22, 2011

On Roommates

For the past week or so, I've seen a lot of mothers who are letting little ones...excuse me..."young men and women"...take off into the great beyond...otherwise known as college.  There is always that little wistful feeling of knowing that they are truly on their own and may no longer need our intervention as often.

Oh, please.  If only. 

They have absolutely no problem driving home with a sackful (or car trunk) of laundry because they've been so stressed that they just need to unwind at home.  What that really means is that they want a break from being all grown up...which hey, I'd kind of like myself every now and then.

Okay...every day that I draw breath.  I'd like someone to worry about my bills, make my dental appointments, insure that I have enough contacts and medication, and be concerned that I am doing okay. In all fairness, my mother does check to see if I'm okay...and if I'm still wearing sunglasses, getting mammograms and having my roots tended to.  So, there's that.

While they are off on their own they learn about things like ice cube trays (who knew?) and how to properly put a trash bag in the trash can so that all manner of nastiness doesn't get piled on top of a bag that has crumpled into the bottom of the can.  They learn that they can buy socks and underwear at WalMart and get through an entire semester, and that it is possible to eat nothing but pizza and ramen noodles for a week and survive.  Seriously.

They figure out a lot of things like money management, getting along with roommates, and time management.  Some of what worked for them in high school will continue to work...and some of it will be an abject failure.  Like thinking that the professors give a rat's behind if one shows up for class or not.  They don't.  But my thoughts are...if I'm paying for it...you'd better have your posterior in that seat.

I know that one of the trickiest parts of the whole living independent "thing" is dealing with roommates.  Now, I have to give a disclaimer here...because I know that sometimes my daughter or her friends read this...and I don't want there to be ANY misunderstanding.  See, Jill got VERY lucky with her roommate experiences...and the worst she ever had to deal with was the occasional irritation of something scary left in the refrigerator or someone's "stuff" in the living room.  On a scale of 1 to 10...with one being no issues and ten being huge drama...Jill's scale never got past a 2 at any given time...except for one two week period when she and a roommate were on the "outs."  She was one of the really, really lucky ones.

So, as I talk about this subject...be clear that I am NOT talking about my daughter.  Not at all.  I actually love her roommates...and she's had six over her four years of college.  One two years, two one year, and three another year.  She is still speaking to all of her former roommates...and to her present ones.  Life is good.

Others are not so lucky.  Believe me...I've heard the horror stories.  In fact, I've lived a few either myself...or been on the listening end of hours of extreme whining through the years.  Sad thing is...most if not all of the whining was justified.

I think that most girls in college break down into one of four basic groups: serious and studious, spirited and social, homebodies, or unleashed.  And each of these groups has its challenges when they have to live with someone who is not exactly like them.  Which is, of course, generally always.  Guys tend to fall along these same lines...but the edges are a little more blurred and they don't tend to want to kill each other over something like failure to replace the toilet paper roll or using up the last of the Reynolds wrap.

The studious girls do not appreciate parties being thrown in their apartments while they are trying to study for a test or make 1,000 note cards for their next test.  Granted, they are more often than not at the library, but there are those times when they just want a quiet corner to do what they need to do.  They also tend to be a little bit more organized...so living with someone who is a little less studious can be "interesting"...in a not so good way.  These are the rule followers, the high achievers, and the neatniks.  They also generally care about their "stuff" and about keeping things done on a schedule.  After all, they invest a lot of time studying...and don't have a lot of spare time to clean up after everybody.

The social girls generally believe that every gathering is a party and they rarely meet a stranger.  They have friends in every group on campus, and they are constantly in motion.  This generally means that they are a whirlwind of activity and they can be a bit forgetful about doing the routine chores like cleaning the bathroom, returning clothes they've borrowed, or leaving a rent check at the office on time.  They also have people looking for them at all hours and they are constantly trying to get you to abandon whatever you are doing to do something fun.  This is fine...unless what you were doing was studying. 

The homebodies tend to have a smaller circle of friends, and they like being in their own space.  This is fine if they are living with someone studious, but can be a hassle to folks who like to have the place to themselves from time to time.  Homebodies are generally always home.  Always home.  They are the kind that don't really care what is going on "out there" as long as they can do what they need to do and live in relative peace. 

The unleashed are always a handle for most people...they have no rules...so they find it difficult to follow any standard rules of common courtesy.  They tend to bring people around at all hours and usually don't pull their load.  They also tend to flunk out the fastest.  The unleashed are often folks that were held to very strict standards at home...and they have absolutely no idea what to do with this much freedom.  If a girl had to ask permission to leave the house to go to the mailbox...I can almost guarantee you that she will be dancing on a table at a bar and it will end up on YouTube.

I had two lives in college...one at Wesleyan and one at Troy.  I will tell you that I spent my time at Troy in the studious camp.  I was the nerd who used to "hush" people in the chapter room.  My first two years were totally different.  Which means I didn't study a lot and went out too much. 

I learned a lot from living with people who were a whole lot different than I was...and I like to think that it made me a decent roommate to the girls I lived with at Troy.  I only came unglued once at Troy during my junior year...when my roommate had been wearing my clothes all weekend and I came home to find them all over the floor of the room.  It wasn't as if she'd asked to borrow anything either. This totally did not rock. 

At Wesleyan, I had roommates that were in the unleased category...who left their junk everywhere and had very little consideration for the fact that I also had to live there.  With one, I had a piece of paper that was supposed to tell me where my roommate really was was if someone called...and all of the different stories I was expected to relay depending on who it was that was calling.  I quit answering the phone.

I had another roommate who went absolutely nuts and went from being a scholarship student to flunking out. 

I even know of one instance of roommates locking one girl in the bathroom because she was too busy to bother to clean it although it was her turn.  They didn't let her out until she did. 

I also know of roommates who stole from friends, who ate everyone's food and denied it, and who did stuff that was so bizarre that they are still wondering exactly what her problem was.  They'd just prefer to never talk to her again to find out.  Never ever.

I know of instances of best friends striking out to live together and finding out that some friendships require a little bit of space to keep them.  Or a whole lot of space.

There are also some people who decide to be roommates but there is a misunderstanding.  Actually, one of the roommates will never be there because the place is actually a back up residence.  The majority of time is spent at another friend or even a boyfriend's house.  This is annoying if someone thinks it is going to be one way...and then it turns out being something entirely different.  You never know when they are coming around...and it makes it really difficult to share chores with someone who pops in and out randomly. 

There's no end to the examples...or to the drama.

I suppose the best advice I can give people who are choosing to be roommates is to live with someone that you like...and that is somewhat like you.  It is hard for a studious girl to live with someone social, and an unleashed girl to live with a homebody.  It is just far too easy for one party to take advantage of the other party...and it normally isn't going to end well.  Opposites attract in most relationships...but not in the case of roommates. 

But sometimes people change.  You think all will be well...and then it isn't. 

That's when you have to set the ground rules.  Actually, you should probably set the ground rules before you move in...but it is never too late to go back to basics.  After all, it is better to start now instead of being miserable for the remainder of the lease.

Here are a few good guidelines:

No male overnight guests (or female guests if you have males) unless it is a blood relative or there is unanimous consent from all parties involved. 

The common areas are to remain clean.  If you mess it up...you clean it up.  For general cleaning...rotate the weeks to unload the dishwasher, clean the bathroom, etc.

You don't get to sleep in the living room because your room is too messy for you to sleep in.  Your room is your room.  The common area is not your room.

Eat your own food.  But if you park it in the refrigerator and forget about it...you haven't relinquished your ownership rights.  If you lift the lid and something in there winks at you...well, it is still your responsibility to get it out of there.

Personal items like underwear, or even REALLY personal items need to stay in your room.  I mean...come on.  There are some things that other people really don't need to know about you.  Even if they live with you.

I guess the bottom line is this: be considerate.

Because if you aren't...your roommates are within their rights to make your life as difficult as they are perceiving that you are making theirs.  Possibly even more so.  And seriously?  Haven't we seen enough creepy roommate movies already?  Don't give anyone any ideas. 

Maybe part of growing up is learning that you are always accountable to someone.  Unless you choose to live on a mountaintop or in a cabin in the deep woods...there is always going to be someone to whom you owe some consideration.  You may not be living with your parents...but you are still accountable to your roommates...your professors...your group on a project...or perhaps your sorority/fraternity.  Above all, though, you are accountable to God to conduct yourself in a manner that doesn't trash your parents' faith in you and doesn't make your roommates want to smother you with a pillow while you sleep.

Or worse.

The college years are meant to be fun and carefree...but with all of this freedom comes responsibility.  If you are living with someone else...you need to consider their feelings before you make decisions that are going to affect them.  And if push comes to shove...I'm a big fan of calling in the big guns - the parents - whose names are more than likely on the lease.  As I tell my kids...if I'm paying for it...I have a say in it.  That goes for an apartment situation too.

So, if you are out there living with someone, conduct yourself in a manner that wouldn't shame you if that person's parents walked in for a surprise visit.  Because if you think that THAT doesn't happen...you obviously haven't lived away from home for very long.  It totally does. 

Like a mother who walked into her son's apartment on a female friend who had stayed the night had to take the "walk of shame" out of his apartment in front of his mother.  Or the mother who came in and roused everyone to clean up the pig sty of an apartment that she was paying for while she threw a giant fit in the living room.  Her son was embarrassed...but that apartment got cleaned.

And if you are one of the lucky ones like my daughter...consider yourself blessed.  Very blessed indeed. 



Monday, August 15, 2011

On The Empty Nest

For the past two weeks, I've been hearing from a lot of people who are suffering from a wee bit of the "empty nest" syndrome.  They are looking in the mirror and asking themselves where all of the years went.  How all of those platitudes of "it goes so fast..." were not only correct but are so difficult to really fathom....until you've driven one off to college and dropped him (or her) off.

You get the news one day that a little one is on the way and you count down every day and week until the big day.  You imagine to yourself what he or she will look like and you memorize the ultrasound photograph that you show to anyone and everyone who will look.  You plan and dream and prepare.  You touch the little outfits that sweet friends and family shower you with and you read books like "What To Expect When You're Expecting" and the "Baby Name Book" so much that you know that all of the horror stories that everyone insists on telling you are just a little bit exaggerated and you even consider naming your child something random like Zora.

Or not. 

One day, they put your little one in your arms, and you are content.  Granted, there is jaundice, breastfeeding, colic and teething to live through...but you do.  Likewise with toilet training, biting, and artistic expression on the walls.  Maybe you get a break on the sleeping...or perhaps you have a good eater...but somewhere along the way...you'll get something that makes you question the sanity of whoever it was that approved your motherhood application...not to mention your own.

Perhaps your child was adopted after dealing with infertility or you just had a strong calling to love a child who didn't grow beneath your heart...but in it.  You may have had to travel overseas to bring your little one home...praying diligently that all of the paperwork was in order.  Other mothers had a nine month gestation period to prepare.  You may have been afforded one week.

A friend of mine had a week to prepare for her twins.  One of the twins had some potentially serious developmental issues.  She said "yes" anyway.  True story.  (With a happy ending.)

They grow up...learn their ABCs..."Jesus Loves Me" and decorate your refrigerator with pictures of dragons and butterflies and flowers.  They start school and lose those teeth that you suffered through getting in along with them. You are still the center of their universe.  This is really wonderful...but you may be too sleep deprived to actually appreciate it at the time.

Time passes...with hours on the bleachers and on various projects like constructing tabernacles out of popsicle sticks and Science Olympiad projects for which they win ribbons...and hopefully learn something.  They go through the awkward stages...braces...and then look forward to finishing up junior high.

Four years of high school fly by with us trying to teach them as much as we can as well as we can...because we know how high the stakes are in this game of life.  We want their faith to be real and be their own...and want their hearts guarded and unbroken.  They learn about disappointment and achievement, about perseverance and when to walk away.  They hug us less...but seem to listen to us at those times when it really, really matters.  The rest of the time we realize how close they are to the edge of the nest...and how strong those wings are becoming.

And one day they fly.  One minute they are walking across the stage with a cap and gown, and the next...they have packed all of their earthly belongings into a vehicle and are ready to move into their own space.  Even if that space is smaller than their room at home...and they are sharing that space with someone else.

We know it is coming...but it doesn't make it any easier.  We've given them the roots they need and have done everything we can to make it possible for them to soar as high as their God given abilities, talents, and determination can take them.  We stay involved...but understand that we cannot control every aspect of their lives anymore.  We will see them make mistakes...and we will have times when we are exasperated at how incredibly self-centered they really are at this age.  Actually, that's okay, you know.  They have to figure out who they are and how they are going to live in this world before they can take on the responsibilities that are going to be on their shoulders in four (or five...possibly six...) more years.

This is the last stop on the way to growing up.

There's a part of us that doesn't want them to grow up.  We want our little angels that thought we hung the moon.  We want to feel needed...and we don't realize fully just how much of who we are is wrapped up with our children.  But just as it took time for us to develop these patterns in the early, sleep deprived years...it takes time to unwind them on the other end.  But it does eventually get easier.  One day, you'll actually think it is a bit of a relief when they head back to school so you can get back to your routine.

Trust me.

Just when you get used to them not being here...they come home and want to keep the same hours that they do at school.  You'll love that...

Or the telephone call that informs you that they've gotten yet another parking ticket on campus to the tune of $75...because it was raining. 

Perhaps it will be a speeding ticket on Highway 82 on the way back to Tuscaloosa.  Or two...in the same day (another true story.)

They'll come home dressed in a baggy tee shirt, shorts, leggings and Ugg boots...and you'll be fairly convinced that they've lost their minds.  (Just so you know "Ugg" is short for "ugly" but is also apparently Australian for "comfortable and expensive.")

Or they'll overdraw their checking account to the tune of $35 because they had to have a $5 meal from Taco Bell...at midnight.

They'll tell you stories that will make you want to say something parental...but you don't...because you'd rather know than not know what is going on.  Naturally, these stories are always about somebody else.

You'll go to Sorority Bid Day or any given home football game and see a bunch of kids "fratting it up" at 10:00 a.m. and you'll be a bit mortified. 

They'll fight with their roommates and call you to complain that someone has taken something out of the refrigerator/closet/car and ate it/trashed it/lost it.  Or they will live with someone who refuses to wash the dishes, clean up, or take out the garbage.  The best way to change a "messy" kid is to let him live with someone worse than he is.  He'll either become a neat freak, or you'll have to call an exterminator when it is time to move out.

The boys will find that there is a lot of low hanging fruit and the girls will learn that the boys couldn't care less about a serious relationship.  For a while, anyway...

And through all of this...you will survive.  And they will grow up. 

You'll be proud of how they begin to handle their own business.  How they learn to appreciate all that you have sacrificed to give them the freedom to learn and grow at a place of their choosing.  And how much more intelligent you have suddenly grown while they've been away from home. 

It is an amazing transformation.

But now...you are afraid to open the door to their room because you want to tell yourself that they are away at church camp or at a friend's house.  You don't know exactly what to do with yourself because this is virgin territory for you.  It is painful...and awkward...and awful.  Yet it is all mixed up with pride in their accomplishments and the joy that you are sharing with them at this point in time in their lives.  After all...they seem so happy, don't they?

And they are.  For now. 

In about six weeks, some of the blush will be off the rose.  They'll be exhausted from all of that freedom and all of that time in class.  They'll realize that they are in a big pond, relatively speaking.  They'll want your cooking...for you to do their laundry...and for the comfort of their own bed at home...under your roof.

Then once they've recovered...they'll pack up, get in the car, and head back into the fray...

It has been a wonderful ride, hasn't it?

Enjoy those football weekends and those pop-in visits that they'll make from time to time.  But above all...know that all of those seeds you've planted are turning into a beautiful harvest.  There will probably be a few weeds you'll have to eradicate...but you already know that they aren't perfect.  After all...you know their parents REALLY well.

So enjoy this time.  Breathe.  Rejoice.  Carry on.  And just know that it won't be long before they'll be beginning their senior year. 

As they always say..."it goes so fast..."

And it does.  It really does.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sorority Rush (a reprint)

Don't worry...I'm not going to talk about any great secrets of the universe...it's just that it is 'tis the season for all things Rush...and it is on my mind today. For those of you who did not go the sorority route, you may not really understand what the big deal is, and why all of the stress. Well, let's see if I can put it in perspective.


Sorority Rush is now known as "Recruitment." Whatever. It is a weeklong journey of meeting an untold number of people, choosing and being chosen, and ending up with a group of girls that are instantly labeled your "sisters." Much like your family of origin, you will find that you will relate to a number of them, will have distinct and fun memories with the majority of them, and will have a few that will get on your last nerve. Possibly one or two that will make you wonder how in the world they got into the family.

Just a little microcosm of real life.

At the big universities, there are over a thousand girls that go through. There are generally less than twenty sororities. So, do the math. You have less than a week to get from the starting number to the final number. But, it somehow happens. Year in...and year out.

The fact that there is no way to form a meaningful relationship with anyone in 45 minutes means that there is an awful lot that goes on prior to anyone ever opening the first door at the first house. Letters of recommendation are sent, Facebook is checked, and girls and fraternity guys from each respective hometown are consulted.

What they are looking for varies from group to group, but what they are mostly in search of is like minded girls with sterling reputations, the ability to meet the dues without having to be nagged or threatened, a high likelihood that they will be there for four years (and thus have a high retention rate so that the bills of the group get paid), and have some capacity for attracting future members.

Does that mean that any given group misses out on some really great girls? Absolutely. Again, it is impossible to really get to know someone in such a short period of time. The obvious indicators are checked...grades, activities, looks, personality, and character. Not necessarily in that order.

Today's participants in recruitment come from far flung places where it is sometimes impossible to discover any shenanigans that they got into in high school. It is equally difficult to predict how they will perform in college without their Mama there to get them up, tell them who to date, and to stay away from the beer funnel. But there is a huge vetting process, and it is my personal belief that it all shakes down exactly as it should. It is hard to convince girls of this, though, when their first choice drops them for no particular reason or when the girls who were so nice the day before didn't want them to come back the following day. Chances are...it was just because the girls felt that she was headed in another direction, and they needed to focus on those girls that they thought were headed theirs.

Back in the day, being a "legacy" to a sorority meant that you had an above average chance of getting in. Now, that isn't necessarily the case. Girls often have multiple legacies...Mama was in this sorority, Grandma was in that one, and Big Sister was something entirely different. It gets confusing. The "feel" of a sorority differs from campus to campus...so what worked for one family member might not work for others. The sorority wants to fairly look at each of its legacies because nothing makes an alum more fired up (and unlikely to donate to the sorority throughout her life) than having her baby girl dropped from her sorority at Rush. By the same token, there are now generally more legacies than spots in a pledge class...so something's gotta give. The best advice I've heard for girls who have a legacy that they don't necessarily want...is for them to go ahead and drop that sorority when they have a chance. That act will remove all doubt for the rest of the sororities. It's risky...but I've seen it work.

It's a real balancing act. All the way around.

But as for the mothers who are watching their daughters go through the process, it is particularly brutal. Mama wants her to have what is labeled a "good rush". A "good rush" is where she gets to go to the maximum number of parties allotted, and ends up where she wants to be. Sometimes it works out that way...and sometimes it doesn't.

I've seen instances of great girls who were cut from here or there because everyone thought that they wanted this group or that one. Why waste your time trying to pledge a girl who is set on being somewhere else? I've also seen girls who were so quiet that they somehow got lost in the shuffle or had an extraordinary number of girls coming out of their high school that they somehow got overlooked.

I've also heard of girls who start the process and realize as they go through that it is totally not for them. Others who made a mistake somewhere along the way that was public enough for the girls in the house to know about it may not want to take a chance that it will repeat itself.

And then there's the personality conflicts.  There's a member that for whatever reason would prefer to let a girl go another direction because they didn't get along in high school.  Maybe a girl dated someone's boyfriend or was mean to a younger sibling.  Who knows?  Who cares.

The bottom line is...how it all happens...and works out...is one of the great mysteries of life. Because it usually does work out. The majority of the girls are thrilled on Bid Day.

Not everyone, though. You can see it in their faces. Those who are happy versus those who are walking behind their pledge class on the cell phone with their jersey over their shoulder instead of on...looking lost. I feel for these girls, but I also know that if they put the phone away, pull on their jerseys and catch up to their new sisters that they will find that it really is okay.

When I was in college, Bid Day was referred to as "Squeal Day." This was a more apt description...because there is an awful lot of squealing going on. There still is.

For the Mamas who are going through this on the other end of a phone line, it is torturous. They want to ask questions...but shouldn't. They want to understand why Precious got dropped from this house or that one, but there really IS no explanation that will suffice. They want to call and figure out what it all means...but to do so would tip their hand. And the one thing that a Mama with a girl going through Rush has to do is play her cards close to the vest. With competition for spots that fierce...it is best that she not indicate which way her daughter is leaning. There's time to confess all of this after the fact. The sororities will figure it all out on their own...for better or worse.

The girls in the houses are exhausted because they've not only had Rush Week to contend with...but the week before as well. Rush Workshop is a time of preparation. Kind of like battening down the hatches. But seriously, when you get all of that estrogen in one place for two weeks, you'll end up with a couple of girls seriously running for the title of "Rush-zilla". It happens. During Rush, the sorority girls have several more parties than the rushees, and at the end of the day, they have smiled so much and made so much conversation, that they just long to be alone. Oh, but no. There's at least four hours of discussions left to go.

Or longer. Ah, the joy of Rush.

After all of the parties have been attended - each with fewer girls, longer, and more serious in nature - Bid Day comes.

Frankly, it doesn't come soon enough to suit most everyone.

Just the night before, the girls have made their final selections, and the sororities have done the same. Everyone is trying to figure out who did what, but nobody really knows until...

The cards are opened, the cheer goes up, and the girls are lined up. Then, they run to their new houses in their jerseys, and the fun begins.

Sorority rush is an important rite of passage if a girl chooses to go that way. Not everyone does...and that's fine. But for those who do...there's nothing quite like it. The work that goes into planning for the next pledge class is nothing short of amazing, and quite honestly begins the day after Bid Day. 

But looking at the bid list after the fact shows that most of them end up exactly where they should.

And all is well...until next year.

Friday, August 5, 2011

On Setbacks

I don't know if you'll agree with me or not, but I believe in every one of us...there is a part of us that simply refuses to grow up.  Sometimes it is a habit, other times it is an attraction to a specific kind of music, comfort food or experience, or it may be a situation that you just cannot seem to move past no matter how much you try. 

Sometimes those associations are harmless.  You might hear a song on the radio and you can almost swear that you are singing along with your best high school friends on your way back from Perk's Pool or are in a dorm room dancing around with the girls on the hall.  For me, the smell of beer mingled with Coppertone reminds me of the stairwell of the hotel we stayed in Daytona Beach after high school graduation.  I also smell gardenias and immediately think of my grandmother or catch the scent of my daughter's hair as she passes and remember how blessed I am to be her mother.

I try corn fritters every time I see them on the menu in hopes that they will taste like the ones that my stepmother, Irlyn's mother used to make, and I make a soup that was my grandmother's recipe that tastes pretty close to her version.  I generally find something I like at a restaurant and then order it every time I go in from that point forward because I want to enjoy something in the present as much as I did in the past.

When I see my mother on stage...it reminds me of being a child in the audience and watching the beautiful creature that is my mother be so believable in her role that at times I forget who she is.  When I see the "Welcome to Florida" sign...I can almost smell the salt in the air...and when we actually get to the beach house that we have visited for the past 38 years...I still remember the much younger me.

Sometimes this is actually a good thing.  The remembering... 

I suppose we're all like that.  We're wired so that we can process the wonderful memories and the fun times so that we can bring them out and enjoy them...especially at those times when we are feeling a little insecure or convinced that nobody really cares if we're drawing breath or not. We can lose physical possessions...but our memories are ours. 

We remember the times when something really wonderful happened to us...and also when tragedy strikes.  Most people remember - if they were at least old enough to remember - where they were when President Kennedy was shot, Richard Nixon resigned, when the Challenger disaster occurred, and September 11, 2001 happened.  We can transport ourselves there in a minute...and even remember the feelings that we were having at the time. 

The good times...the births of our children, our wedding day, or the day we moved into our new home...tend to stick with us.  We also remember those times when things worked out in our favor...prayers were answered...or we actually came out far better than we expected...or deserved.

Knowing all of this...why is it that we expect we will have the ability to throw off years of pain, feelings of inadequacy, and other issues when we are placed in a situation that brings those feelings rolling back?  Because we're mature?  Because we should be healed by now?

Honestly, I don't know.  I just know that every once in a while...it is just impossible to be anything but who and what you are.

A few days ago I had a meltdown.  I acted from a place that was much younger than my chronological age.  I won't go into the specifics...because it really isn't all that important.  The bottom line...is that to most of us...perception is reality.  If we have been let down repeatedly, we tend to rely on our own understanding.  Sometimes that understanding gets frozen in time at a point that makes no sense to anyone else.  Or even to us for that matter.  It just is what it is.

I know that at age 48 I should be mature enough to be able to hold things in and get through a difficult patch.  I also know that I've forgiven every situation of perceived "wrongs" and have - for the most part - moved on.  But much like memory...it is easy to fly back to the scene of the crime and rehash everything internally again and again.  It is easy to misconstrue other peoples' intentions and assume the worst - because that's pretty much the "default" for just about everything.  It is for me anyway. 

So, while everything is building inside...everyone is oblivious to your struggles.  They notice that you are getting quiet and assume that you are pouting.  What you are really trying to do...is deal with the situation without being a problem.  Just for the record...if you are actively trying to not be a problem...it's already too late.  You're already parked on Dysfunctional Avenue.

I think that there are those of us who have tried for years to get past a few issues and just can't.  We pray about it, turn the situation over to God, and we do really well for a period of time.  But it is like trying to put "new wine in an old wineskin."  You're trying to forgive...to move on...to feel like everything is okay.   But then someone rips the scab off...and that ugly, gaping wound is out there...raw and painful.

Maybe tonight you are reading this and thinking that you have absolutely no idea what I am talking about.  Perhaps your growing up years were carefree and simple.  Maybe your struggles haven't been as dramatic as those of some of the people you know.  It is possible that you have been spared the drama that others of us live through and with.  If this is true of you...consider yourself blessed.

Maybe you are like me.  You've moved on, but some of the baggage that you've been carrying seems to be just going around the carousel at the airport...unclaimed.  You can walk away and leave it there...but it doesn't change the fact that it still exists.  If you leave it there long enough...eventually someone is just going to deposit it on your doorstop when you aren't paying attention.  You can unpack it in therapy, give the bag away, and even set fire to the contents, but somehow it still stays with you like a dead skunk smell stays with the neighborhood for a week or so after one wanders into the path of an oncoming car.   You can even will yourself to move on...but sometimes the issues will still bubble to the surface despite best efforts and your denial.

If you're lucky, the people in your life will understand and will support you regardless of what happens.  But most often...people just tire of the constant returning to the scene of the crime to go over and over and over the issue.  In extreme cases...they try to snap you out of it by just being extremely direct as if you are making life difficult by choice.

Trust me.  It is not always a choice. 

We want to be whole...but we're not.  We want to be good ambassadors for Christ...but we fail.  We want to be the person that we are under normal circumstances...but we aren't strong enough sometimes.  We're hormonal.  We're exhausted.  In other words...we aren't perfect.

Not even close.

When I was little, I used to be fascinated by the Aladdin story and the genie and the three wishes.  I used to think about what I'd wish for so that I'd be prepared...just in case.  Other than wishing for three more wishes...I thought I'd like to have enough money to handle my needs and the wants of my family, my health (including a normal weight) and that I could erase the pain that I carry around from time to time.  That's all.  I know that pain erasure is really the only one of the three wishes that has a strong chance of actually happening.  I just have to keep working on it...and turning it over.

As a Christian, I have turned everything over to Him for healing.  And a lot has been healed.  But every so often I find myself in a place that I don't expect...and I revert back to the point of the pain...and I respond from that place.  It's quite disconcerting.

On the other hand, this simply represents the flip side of memory.  For everything wonderful that happens to us, for every song that transports us to a happier time, and for everything that brings us joy...sometimes we have to endure these occasional trips back to a place we thought we had long moved past.

The problem is that there are relationships involved. 

And relationships are messy.

Now that I think about it...so was the stairwell at the hotel at Daytona.

I still hope that one day the wisdom of the years will make the scarred places disappear.  That happy memories will outweigh any disappointments and that I will be only able to remember the very best of times.

In the meantime...I'm still trying to take those two steps forward even after I've just taken a giant one back.  I don't want to overanalyze anything.  I don't want to try to manufacture excuses, or even try to understand the trigger that sent everything into motion.  I doubt I could replicate the exact sequence events anyway...or even make another person possibly understand.

One day, there won't be the opportunity to make things right.  People will move out of my life or will eventually tire of trying to make it all work.  Scary, but true.  I just have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I prefer to think of the positive memories that take me back to the places where laughter was king.  Where life isn't complicated or difficult or painful.  It is just...life.

Because life is good.  Even if people are crazy. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Upcoming Reunion

A friend and classmate of mine is now actively planning our high school reunion.  She has gathered up some helpers, chosen a date, and is actively in the throes of getting people to commit to being there by attempting to convince them to go ahead and send a check in.  I'll admit that I am one of the laggards...partly because I have to check my calendar to make absolutely sure that I can participate...and I have yet to ask Big Dave if he wants to go.  Right now, I am planning for both of us to be there.

Bless his heart...it is likely that he wouldn't know what hit him if he went.  Big Dave is five years older than I am, is from Greenville, Alabama, and his normal bedtime is about 9:00 p.m.  He is friendly, but he honestly wouldn't know a soul other than me...and I don't let him dance in public.

It is the Class of 1981's 30th reunion this year.  The funny thing is...we all still think we're eighteen.  Well, other than the various aches and pains, thoughts of retirement, and the fact that many of us have kids older than eighteen.  I suppose in our heads...we still are.  That's one of the dirty secrets of life...you may age on the outside...but on the inside...not so much.

I do wish I had the good sense then that I like to think that I have now because I would have done things a lot differently.  I would have participated in every club, would have actually gone into the Smithsonian Institute when the band went to Washington D.C. when I was in the 9th grade (instead of sitting outside avoiding Moonies), and I wouldn't have let Mr. Baskin make me feel like a total doofus in Algebra II.  I would have actually read the books we were assigned instead of doing it at age 28 when I felt I needed closure (and WalMart had classics for fifty cents apiece), and I would have been nicer to everybody.  Oh, there's more that I'd change...but I've forgiven myself for being stupid a long time ago.

I've been blessed to have had the chance to reconnect with several of the girls from the class at a dinner and a weekend at Warm Springs.  After catching up on Facebook...we thought it would be really cool to do it in person.  So we went to dinner a couple of times and then planned our girls weekend. We hung out together, did karaoke at Stubby's Pub (under the name "Hen Party"), and caught up on what has transpired over the past quarter of a century or so.

Oh.  My.  Gosh.  A quarter of a century.  Plus five years. 

Funny thing, though...it didn't seem like it has been that long.  Everyone still looks the same to me when I see them although my brain may register that things are different.  I see them as my heart knows them...and every one of them is beautiful and special to me.   But I've also found that I really like everyone so much better than I ever knew I did in high school.  Wish I'd known that then.  But it is so difficult for girls in high school...it takes decades for us realize that we can actually be friends with people who aren't exactly like us...and be the better for it.

We spent a little bit of time with the annual trying to locate news of everyone in our class.  Since then, we've found a lot of people on Facebook, and we stay fairly caught up with what is going on with everyone as a result. 

We've lost some classmates...and that is always sad.  It makes you realize how short life is and how precious.

I've been surprised at what some folks have ended up doing as adults.  Most everyone grew up to be responsible, productive citizens.  Our class is full of lawyers, professionals, administrators, teachers and hard workers.

I mean, I half-expected the incarceration rate to be higher than it was.

After all, this was the class that purchased a car and drove around the track at the football field at games.  The occupants were dressed like the Blues Brothers and the theme from "Peter Gunn" was blaring out of the windows.   Our class song was "Back in Black" by AC/DC.  I still smile when I hear it. 


Okay, okay...I actually dance.  And yes, it probably looks scary.

This is the class that was wide-open, unique, and somewhat "in-your-face" about most everything.  People were pretty much "what you see is what you get." 

I feel for the planners of this reunion, though.  Herding cats is truly an understatement as a descriptor.  But when the day actually comes...and we get over being embarrassed that we look different...or maybe that's just me...it is such an amazing experience to be in the company of people who knew you when you were young...and are still speaking to you anyway. 

When I have gone to the 10th and 20th reunions I felt a little awkward at first.  I mean...I am a totally different person than I was when I lived in Thomaston.  Sometimes I forget that everyone else is too.  I mean...life intervenes.  Sometimes life is like a kiss, and sometimes it is a slap in the face.  We've all had time to dig into our bags of fate and drag out some stuff we'd wish we hadn't...and a whole lot of stuff that we are grateful beyond measure that we did.

Some of us married our high school sweethearts...and others of us met our spouses in a  parking lot in Fort Deposit, Alabama or while we were waitressing at the Golden Corral.  Some went to college...and some went to the house to raise kids and build a life.  Some of us still have kids at home...and some of us have grandchildren.  Some may have never married...or we have a life that we certainly didn't imagine thirty years ago.

Many of us left town...and we look back at Thomaston with a mixture of warm memories and regrets.  We might go back now and not see anyone that we recognize.  Our high school is no longer a school...and our band director is now conducting in the hereafter. 

We may have moved on and swore we were better off somewhere else...but there is still a part of us that wants to just check in with those classmates who - in the great lottery of life - wound up sharing those growing up years in a small town in west central Georgia and comprised the R.E. Lee Class of 1981.

As for me, I'm looking forward to seeing everyone, but am also actively trying to lose weight so that I at least somewhat resemble the girl they remember.  When the hair started coming in a little grayer than I like...I chose "blonde" as the default color.  I doubt I'm alone.

There is a quiet desperation to living in a small town when you don't realize at the time that you are just a temporary citizen.  It is just like trying to put a square peg in a round hole.  You struggle with trying to figure out what it is that you are supposed to do...and you don't find it until you see the Upson County sign in your rearview mirror.  I knew I was home when the people in Alabama pronounced my name "care-in" instead of "kay-run."  I've been here for the past 28 years.

I hope that many of my classmates will be there and that they will be as pleasantly surprised at how great everyone is.  I know that has been the most gratifying thing on the occasions when the "girls" have gotten together over the past year or so. 

So, if you are from Thomaston, Georgia in the class of 1981 and are reading this...send in your money.  Plan to be there. 

Hopefully, I'll see you there...