Ever So Glad

          I attended my 20th high school reunion last weekend.  Gulp.  When I was in high school I couldn’t imagine ever being old enough to have a 20th reunion.  I still can’t actually.  I was describing a woman to a friend recently and said she was “old, like in her 40s,” to which my friend replied with a laugh “Uh, you’re almost 40.”  Oh yeah; I forget that sometimes.  Because I don’t feel that old.  Because 18 seems like yesterday.  Until I take a few moments to really remember myself at that age.  So insecure, so uncomfortable in my own body.  Looking ahead to the next stage when I would go to college, get married, have kids, start my grown-up life.  And here I am fully engulfed in adulthood and a world away from that unsure young woman.
          I can’t think of one thing I miss from being in high school.  Zits?  My mom being sick?  Short-term, immature boyfriends?  Drinking til I puked?  Never having the most popular clothes?  Always feeling dumb compared to my uber-smart friends?  Pegged pant legs?  Nope, nothing.  I kind of came alive in college, as many people do, and even more after I graduated, got married, moved away, had babies and felt the fulfillment of my maternal longings.  That’s what really did it.  Being pregnant, giving birth and raising kids.  It made me feel like a woman instead of a girl.  Made my relationship with my body about more than the way it looked – it could make people, which was amazing.  And empowering.  My child-bearing hips didn’t just make jeans shopping suck.  They were, in fact, made for a purpose.  So, I discovered, they were beautiful.
          I walked into the reunion with the familiar butterflies of 20 years ago, wondering if I would recognize anyone, if they would recognize me, if anyone would care.  I went with my best friend, which helped – two women, nearly 40 but annoyingly submerged in our 18-year-old insecurity, leaning on one another for support.  Soon, though, I saw old friends, people whose very faces brought a smile to mine, people I hadn’t thought of for years but was happy to remember.  There were some I didn’t recognize at all, and many of the people I’d hoped to catch up with were absent.  But I didn’t have any zits, no one made me feel dumb, I had a sweet husband at home with the kids instead of a short-term boyfriend, and I wasn’t anywhere near puking, so all was well.  I quickly left behind my 18 year-old self and welcomed back the current Me, just fine with who I am and what life looks like these days.
          When I was fifteen I got a perm.  Oh yes.  A perm.  I’d had very long hair since I was little, with body but no curls since my two-year-old ringlets, and when I entered high school I decided I needed a change.  I chopped it off and permed it in one fell swoop which, in retrospect, was probably a little drastic.  I cried all the way home, and I never really warmed to my new look.  Not the best way to begin sophomore year.  And from then on it was curly.  A freak chemical reaction with my pubescent hair follicles?  The natural consequence of cutting off so much weight?  I’ll never know, but my hair remained curly from that day on, to my chagrin.  I still straighten it – you always want what you don’t have.  But seeing that perm in photos instantly takes me back to the way I felt when I got it, and every day of my high school career: ill at ease in my own skin.  Oh the blessedness of growing up.
          I left the reunion rejoicing in my life.  Glad for my family and friends, my health, my faith, the experiences I’ve had, the very block I live on.  The whole 38-year-old package.  I much prefer being nearly 40 to being 18.  My knees feel their age at times, and I can’t say I am excited about wrinkles, but I’m happy to have traded my young body for a more secure one.  As most do, I wasted that smooth skin and super stretchy cartilage on unfounded fears and worries.  I cared too much what people (as human as myself) thought of me.  I’m trying to help my kids see what’s great about them, even if no one else notices, but they are human too and will struggle to find their place in the world, just as I did.  As we all do.  I hope they will be able to avoid some of the drama – surround themselves with encouraging voices and ignore the negative ones.  I’m sure all parents hope for this.  I wish I could transport them to the self-assuredness of nearly 40, but I’ll just have to wait and see.  Pray lots, be an encouraging voice myself, and remember what it was like to figure Me out.  And be ever so glad I’m not in high school anymore.
20 Years Later
20 Years Later

 

Here’s the Deal

          Ok wonderful readers, here’s the deal: writing an essay every week is hard.  With three kids, one three-hour chunk of time a week to compose, and a love of hanging out with my family on these long summer days, a full-blown essay just ain’t that easy to come by.  These darn things take time to create – something I lack in this stage of life.  So I’ve decided to change things up a bit.  I will still post regularly on Mondays, but the form of the writing will be a grab bag – sometimes an essay, but sometimes a shorter, less-constructed piece.  Hopefully by now you’re interested enough to follow wherever my brain and my three hours take us.  It’s either that or I wake up in the wee hours to write, to which I sleepily respond “I don’t think so.”  I love you all for reading what I write and hope you keep it up!
          Happy summer, lovely readers!

For Your Health

          Laughing is one of my favorite things to do.  More than eating good food, buying a sweet new outfit, making lists (yes, I like that), laughing til your face hurts is medicine to the soul.  And a good ab workout.  The best sounds in the morning are my children’s giggles, even if I am in a sour mood.  Or hearing my two-year-old say hello to her belly-button as she sits in her crib.  Wiping the sleep away with a chuckle is a cure for the worst wrong-side-of-the-bed attitude.  All day long, finding the humor in the mundane or unpleasant makes it less so.  It can even make it fun.
          Singing in opera voices while you make breakfast, poking little buns while they climb the stairs, speaking in a ridiculous French accent as you drive home from preschool – these add levity to the usual doings of the day, and make you smile, which is good exercise.  A study done recently by some fellow Kansans showed that smiling, even faking it, helps boost your mood and those of the people around you.  (See article about the study here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerdooley/2013/02/26/fake-smile/).  And frowns do the opposite.  Bad moods promote more bad moods, like a disease easily spread.  It’s amazing how simple it is to fix the problem, though.  I always feel silly when my yoga instructor tells us to smile in the middle of Pigeon or Warrior One, but it does make me feel better, no matter how dumb I look in the mirror.  I bet the endorphins would really kick in if I let loose and laughed.
          I totaled our blue Oldsmobile when I was sixteen – a hefty bump into the car ahead of me – and when I rattled home with the front smushed and one headlight illuminating the trees above, my sweet dad said “Well…I guess if you’re going to wreck a car, you did a good job!”  He has always been a master of seeing the humor in the mishaps of life.  I had to drive that embarrassing wreck around for a while, which was punishment enough, but his joke about it made the trauma bearable.  I knew he still loved me.  And it taught me that even really bad things are funny sometimes.  Dad put our pizza on the top of the car while we piled in the Olds to drive home.  And as we pulled away, as if putting an exclamation point on the evening, we watched the leftovers from our large pepperoni fly off into the night.  We all laughed at that one.
          When my own family was vacationing in exotic Missouri, we had spent an entire day at Silver Dollar City and were returning to our hotel late at night.  We’d been driving through Branson traffic for an hour (this would be a good form of torture for members of the Taliban), we were all exhausted and sweaty, and Lily (4) was wearing a Mae (6 months)-sized diaper because that’s all we had left, and nothing else.  Let’s just say that the Havener family fit in well in the Ozark mountains that night.  I thought our room was on the fourth floor, Marc thought the eighth, and as we wandered the halls with our bedraggled-looking kids pulling their own suitcases, wondering aloud where the heck our room was, an elderly couple walked by.  You could see the horror on their faces at the fact that we were allowed to be parents.  I cannot be certain the police weren’t notified.  Humiliating, yes.  And absolutely hilarious, even at the time. It will remain a favorite family story for years.
          Because laughter is so important to me I love stand-up comedy.  I think it’s an art and a gift to the world when done well.  We saw Jim Gaffigan live for my birthday a few years back, before my husband knew who he was.  Marc wasn’t sure he would like it, but we laughed from the moment he spoke a word til the last hot pocket joke – until it hurt more than I knew my face muscles could.  I love that kind of pain.  For Valentine’s Day one year Marc downloaded a stand-up show as a present to me.  We sat there watching Mike Berbiglia on the laptop, eating chocolate mousse cake, lowering our stress levels and boosting our immune systems at the same time.  It was the best Valentine’s gift ever.
          Marc’s sense of humor was high on my list of reasons for marrying him.  I knew I needed to laugh every day of my life, and that man is funny.  I grew up with levity as an essential part of existence – provided by my dad – and I couldn’t imagine leaving that behind.  Marc cracks up his kids, and will eventually embarrass them as my dad did me, because he is silly.  I need silly.  I need to feel a little less “grown-up” sometimes.  A little bit more like a ten-year-old.  When a poopy diaper smell takes over the whole house, I need a guy who raps about it.  When all three kids are crying on a road-trip at the same time, I need a friend to laugh with because that’s all that can be done.  I need comic relief when the drama of the day has me down.  He is my comic relief.  I smile a lot more with him in my life, so I guess he’s good for my health.  So is Jim Gaffigan, and Mike Berbiglia, and grinning in yoga, and being around my dad when something bad happens, and hearing my kids giggle.  Thank goodness for funny things.  I don’t think I’d survive without them.

 

Soundtrack

          Every road trip I’ve taken has had a soundtrack of sorts – a certain album or  mix of songs that forever reminds me of a specific place.  As a kid it was Huey Lewis and the News and DeBarge (no joke) in Virginia, and John Cougar Mellencamp in Indiana.  Last year Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto played while we drove around Florida, and this year it was Paul Simon’s So Beautiful or So What.  Somehow I had never heard it, and the moment I did I fell in love.  So well-written, so intricate, so beautiful.  My favorite lines from the whole album are from the song Love and Hard Times.  
The bedroom breathes in clicks and clacks.
Uneven heartbeat.  Can’t relax.
But then I feel your hand in mine.
Thank God I found you in time.
Thank God I found you.
Thank God I found you.
          It’s a short story in six lines.  Amazing.  When I hear it I immediately feel the mood, picture the scene, empathize with the restless heart calmed by the hand of his love.  I’ve been there.  I’m there often, actually.  My husband’s handhold can calm me after a nightmare, make a heart palpitation from worry settle down, allow me to start the day with the warmth of my best friend’s touch.
          Marc and I had our 14th anniversary a few weeks ago.  Sadly, I was getting over a stomach bug so we celebrated with Gatorade and a rented movie.  Not exactly ideal.  But beyond the way we marked the occasion, we both agreed with complete sincerity that we love each other more today than when we promised to.  We have not lived happily ever after – an impossibility if you’re being real in your marriage – but we’ve made it through the ups and downs of these years and found ourselves as deeper, better, more understanding friends and lovers.
          When we were dating Marc and I would make each other mix tapes – yes, that’s how old I am – which is an art in and of itself.  The right combination of songs, in the right order, expressing the exact feelings you have or the mood you want to create.  We found a tape case full of them the other night and he asked which ones I’d like to save.  “All of them, thank you,” I said.   Because they mark a specific time in my life, just as the trip soundtracks do.  And the ones from Marc remind me how it felt when he first liked me, when we missed each other til it hurt, when he promised to stick with me no matter what.  Yes, I’m keeping those out-of-date relics.  Until death, or basement mold, do us part.
         In the grand scheme of things, 14 years is a smidge.  My parents have been married for forty-one years, my grandparents for sixty-six.  That’s truly an achievement.  I can’t imagine the like-the-back-of-my-hand feeling we’ll have about one another if Marc and I get to be together that long.  There will be days when I want to clock him, yes.  Days when we get mad and say things we later have to retract.  But so many years down the road, when I reach over to grab my husband’s hand, I hope I feel the same way I do today.
Thank God I found you in time
Thank God I found you
Thank God I found you.