Ninth Grade Dreams

I wanted to be popular. The type of girl that guys drool over and that girlfriends cling to while giggling hysterically about some life-changing event. One of those guys, preferably someone tall, dark, and not too handsome would ask me on a date. Not just any date, but a late night movie where you tremble in fear when a serial killer sneaks up on a defenseless little kid, and the boyfriend squeezes your hand to show that he’s there to support you. Or maybe he’d take me bowling. No, that’s no good as my dad just might show up and send poisoned arrows our way. Definitely not to a school dance as I have no sense of rhythm.

The guy, probably named Stan, would ask me to go steady after that first date. He’d tell me how much he liked my hazel eyes and slightly off-center smile. I’d smell the shaving lotion on his chin and nod, speechless in the classic sense. I’d wrap my arms around his muscular shoulders, nestle my tear-filled face against his neck and feel his Adam’s apple move up and down as he swallowed back his own tears. He’d pull back a bit, slip off his school ring, and offer it to me as a token of his “like.” I’d smile stupidly and admire it in the fluorescent lights of the theater lobby. Then I’d stick it in the deep pocket of my overcoat so as to not lose it.

The next day I’d beg my mom to take me to Woolworth’s. While she meandered the aisles gathering miscellaneous junk, I’d rush to the yarn section. My eyes would light up at the rainbow of colors awaiting my careful selection. Like every other girl in my school, I’d choose alpaca wool. A sky blue color, the color of his eyes. At home I’d wrap the yarn around and around the ring until it fit snuggly on my ring finger and plan how I was going to show it off at school.

Those were my dreams. There’s a song that tells you to reach for the impossible. It would take a miracle to make any of these things happen, as I was an overweight, painfully shy teenager. I had no friends and was clearly toward the bottom of the social pecking order. Unless I could be reinvented through plastic surgery, fat removal from over 90% of my body, and a hefty dose of makeup, applied liberally to disguise my puppy-dog sad face, the impossible would remain impossible.

So, what did I do? Smiled a lot and changed my hairstyle to a ratted-out bouffant. Dabbed on cheap, yet tasteful cologne and asked my mom to sew more contemporarily styled clothing. Practiced the “cool” walk and the “I-don’t-give-a –darn” egotistical look that the school’s cheerleaders displayed naturally. In a rather foolhardy moment, I submitted my name to run for Student Body Treasurer, thinking that if I plastered my posters all over the campus, that I would rise in social stature.

When you’re unpopular, you are as invisible as Glad Wrap. The odds of ever experiencing that first date decreased daily. Boys weren’t interested in the homely-looking girl who wore glasses that sported wings sparkling with fake diamonds. Or the smart girl who got the best grades in math and who spoke Latin like the ancients. And who could throw further than many of the boys who hung out at the neighborhood park.

No matter how longingly I looked at the athletes and cheerleaders, they uniformly never saw me. In the teenage world, you are who you hang out with, and what popular kid would want someone like me tagging along? Let alone as a girlfriend who hung on your muscular arm and leaned against your chest as you walked her about the campus. Wasn’t going to happen.

Geoffrey, the high school punching bag for pranks and tasteless jokes, stepped up one lunch break and asked me on a date. I put on a plastic smile and attempted to move far away, as the cheerleaders had repeatedly done to others like me. Geoffrey, however, was persistent. He pushed his thick-lensed glasses up his acne-covered nose and smiled. His favorite ratty sweatshirt, dirty slacks, and scuffed black dress shoes stunk almost as bad as his unwashed hair, but not quite.

His belly hung over his belt and his hairy wrists stuck out from his too-short sleeves. Talk about nerd. Geoffrey was beneath me on the social scale, not worthy of a platonic nod hello. The idea of going to the upcoming school dance was no more attractive than sitting in a darkened theater where his body odor would overpower the entire audience. Even so I said yes, despite the interior warning lights that blinked crimson, just to experience that first date.

What a couple we made. Me in my homemade pretend-silk, A-frame, square-necked dress that was in style five years earlier, while Geoffrey wore a black suit two sizes too big accompanied by a stiffly starched white shirt that crinkled audibly when he moved. He placed his left hand on my waist, while gripping my hand in his sweaty right. We stumbled around the dance floor, stepping on each other’s feet accompanied by loud guffaws and barely stifled snickers.

If Geoffrey had thought about asking me to go steady, he must have erased that thought from his mind after a rather emotionless and sloppy kiss while standing on my front porch. All evening I’d thought about what excuse I could offer. The best was that my dad would kill Geoffrey, a likely scenario. After drying the slobber off my lips, Geoffrey simply walked away.

So, I didn’t have to decline the going steady offer. Part of me was disappointed, as it meant that I wasn’t worthy of even his “like,” but the other part of me rejoiced.

Still without a “steady,” I solved the dilemma by purchasing a cheap man’s ring which I wrapped in blue alpaca and wore proudly.  When asked, I wove a magical story of the perfect boyfriend that I’d met while visiting my aunt in Vandalia, more than fifty miles away. My face glowed with an imitated “in love” radiance. I stood taller and blessed the popular kids with an “I’m one of you” sophisticated smirk. I invented dates, details, and dialogue.

Ninth grade turned out to not be too bad. Popularity continued to evade me, but I put on a good show of “belonging.” I experienced a first date, even though it was with the nerdiest boy in school. Best of all, I went steady with my secret self.

No Excuses

This is me. I am nobody special. Just a guy. A teenager who likes things organized. Like my room. I like my blue bedspread and matching sheets. When Mom does laundry I can’t stand going in my room until the bed is made again, just the way I like it.

And my schedule. I have to follow it. When Mom messes things up by wanting to go somewhere different it upsets me. So she has to warn me way ahead of time. I keep a calendar on my wall above my computer. On it I write my activities.

Mondays and Wednesday I go to the Adult School where I take computer classes. I am learning to write code. My teacher says I am good enough to get a job, but I keep going to class anyway because there is more I can learn. Class begins at nine and ends at noon.

Tuesdays and Thursdays I go to the same gym my mom belongs to. She goes to a Zumba class that begins at nine-forty-five. It lasts for forty-five minutes. I swim laps. I can swim half a mile and then shower and be dressed by the time she’s finished.

Fridays we go shopping. I hate the grocery stores because there are too many colors, too much stuff to choose from, too much noise, but Mom makes me go because she says it’s good training for when I live on my own. Like that’s ever going to happen.

Saturdays we go to Lake Chabot and walk the trail. Down the hill, past the parking lot and one end of the lake, then up the hill and back to the car. It takes us almost an hour.

Sundays we go to church. Mom sings in the choir which means I have to sit by myself. I don’t like that, so I sit in a pew to her right, as close as I can get without being in the choir. You would think that I don’t like the singing because it is noise, but that’s not true. Because I’ve gone to church my entire life, I know the words and sounds of every song. I find it relaxing. And comforting like my favorite blanket.

I get up every day at six, even on weekends. I don’t need an alarm clock because I have an internal clock that regulates my day. The only time I have problems is when time changes because of Daylight Savings Time. It confuses me. I don’t understand why we have to move back an hour or jump forward an hour. I understand why it was so in the beginning when our country was based on agriculture, but that isn’t so anymore. I am not a farmer and so don’t need to change my clock. Mom says that next year I can vote and if a measure is on the ballet to stop Daylight Savings Time and I mark the box. I am looking forward to having my thoughts validated.

In the afternoons I walk around our neighborhood. I leave precisely at one. Even though I no longer attend school, I still walk the ten blocks to the high school, approximately 2,000 average-sized steps for someone six foot tall like myself. I have long legs, according to my mom, so my stride is longer than most people’s.

After passing the school I continue around the block. There is a little grocery store two blocks away which is where I buy a Milky Way candy bar, a bag of popcorn and a bottle of water. I wish I could turn back and go home but Mom says I can’t. She says I need tons of exercise now that I no longer take Physical Education at school.

So I keep going. I pass four houses where dogs charge the fence snarling and barking. Even though I know they are going to do that, I still get startled when it happens. Each time I step into the street, placing myself as far from them as possible in case there is a hole in the fence and one of them gets out. I’ve never been bitten, but there is always a first time.

Some of the neighbors want to engage me in conversation. I don’t like that either. I hate talking to strangers. Mom says that the neighbors aren’t strangers because I see them every day. I think she’s wrong because I’ve never been introduced to them. I don’t know their names and they don’t know mine. One of them, an old man who sits in a lawn chair in his front lawn, waves high every time. I wave back because Mom said it was the polite thing to do and I don’t want to be rude. I’ve never been rude. At least not since I was very small.

When I was a little kid I didn’t talk to anyone. Even my mom. She took me to a specialist who measured my hearing. I can hear just fine. In fact, my hearing is sharper than most. My mom doesn’t believe that, though. She says I am more sensitive to sound than the average person. I like that explanation because I prefer to think that there is something unique about me.

I am sorry that I graduated from high school in June. I miss the rules and regulations. And the schedule. I knew what to do, where to go, and how to satisfy my teachers. The problem was that I knew everything before my teachers presented the lesson. I am not a braggart. I read voraciously about a variety of things until I feel like I am an expert on any topic.

Many times I knew more than my teachers. I discovered this whenever I asked questions. My teachers would all turn red in the face, stammer, then change the subject. Mom explained that I embarrassed them and that I shouldn’t ask complicated questions, but I really wanted to know the answers. Who was I supposed to ask?

Mom says that when I go to college in September I won’t be such a pain as my professors will be experts in their field. I think she’s wrong. She signed me up for classes in May, so I’ve already been reading textbooks that I check out from the library and journal articles published by researchers because I want to know as much as I can about each of the classes that I will be taking. If my professors aren’t well read, then they shouldn’t be teaching. After all, a student should never know more that the teacher. At least that’s what I think.

Now you know a lot about me. What you don’t know, but maybe have guessed, is that I am a unique person. When I was little Mom worried about me because I obsessed over things. Such as dinosaurs. And John Wayne movies. I knew the name of every dinosaur and could recite the dialogue from every John Wayne movie after the first time I saw it. I have an excellent memory for detail. Mom says I have a photographic memory, which means that once I’ve read something I can quote passages in entirety and tell you on which page the phrase was printed.

I am also excellent at math. I passed all the math classes offered at my high school by my sophomore year, so I took classes at the local community college. I passed all those within four semesters. I have completed all the math requirements I need to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, but I’d like to take more classes at California State University, East Bay.

I am terrible at making human connections. I have no friends. Throughout my education I participated in social skills exercises with the Speech Pathologist but nothing she told me changed the way I am. It’s not that I don’t want to have friends because I do. The problem is that no one wants to be friends with me.

I am autistic. Asperger’s Syndrome. Which means that academically I am advanced but years behind in social skills. Mom says I am like a two-year-old in that I can sit beside someone who is talking about sports while my mind is analyzing a complex mathematical problem and it doesn’t bother me that I am not talking about sports.

Why am I telling you these things? When I visited the campus I met with a counselor in the Disabled Student Services Office. Mrs. Meyers told me that to succeed in college I need to tell my professors about being autistic as soon as possible. She suggested writing a short paper that explained who I am. That’s what this is about.

I want you to know that although I am autistic there is nothing wrong with my brain. I think faster than most people, remember everything I read and hear, and desire to have excellent grades. I will complete every assignment as long as I understand what I am supposed to do. Because I am a linear thinker, I get confused when asked to formulate opinions. I don’t have opinions. I collect facts.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have any questions, Mrs. Meyers said you can talk to her.

 

Being Me

For the longest time, I really didn’t like myself. I knew, intrinsically, that somehow I was not the child that my parents wanted. That’s a hard cross to bear.

I was not pretty. I was not talented in any way. I took a long time to learn things. My memory was not the best, so I repeated the same mistakes over and over.

I was not girly. I wore dresses only because that’s what my mother gave me to wear. I wanted to wear pants and shorts and t-shirts because that’s what my brother wore.

I hated long hair. It took too much time to brush it, and then what I got older, it was difficult to style it because I had no skill in that area. I wanted short hair cut in a “boy” style. When I finally did get it sheared off at shoulder length, it angered my father so much that he called me foul names.

In terms of academics I was not my brilliant brother. He excelled in science. I excelled in nothing. No, there was one thing that I could do better than him! I could write beautiful cursive.

I was so slow to learn that I spent most lunches in a tutoring room, supervised by a strict nun who offered no support. I hated the room in the summer as it was sweltering. In the winter, however, it was shelter from the cold.

In high school I discovered that I was good at math and languages. I was still awkward. I was still not pretty. I was still not girly. I was now able to wear shorts and jeans at home, but had to wear dresses to school and church. I felt fat and dumpy. When I sat, the width of a single one of my thighs matched the width of both of anyone else’s combined.

I discovered that I had a talent for bowling and badminton, so played on my high school teams. I was not the best, but I held my own. This gave me something to crow about. I held my head higher and walked prouder.

When a young man asked me out, I felt desired. Not at first, but as he continued to date me, I accepted his amorous fumblings with positive regard. Because of him I began to understand that beauty is not defined by what you see on television or in magazines, but what others see when you walk by.

Once I was in college I realized that my skills in math and languages were appreciated by my professors. My heart swelled with pride.

When contacts came on the market, I entered a trial program on my campus to wear them. Without my glasses I didn’t feel as old-fashioned or as clumsy. I dated several men at the same time! Wow! Imagine how it felt to be popular for the first time!

I smiled when I walked about campus. I greeted casual acquaintances and sat with people I barely knew. I worked in the bookstore and found myself a valued employee. I was a good roommate and a good friend.

As my circle of friends grew, so did my self-esteem. By the time I graduated, I must have had at least fifteen friends! A record number for me.

After college I had no choice but to return home, back to the environment in which I was less-than my siblings. I was subjected to cooking lessons which I never mastered. I was forced to clean house every day, including my sibling’s rooms which I felt was grossly unfair. I was little more than a servant.

To make matters worse, I could not find employment. I applied wherever I could. I was rejected over and over because potential employers didn’t like that I was a college graduate with no office skills. I wasn’t even hired to distribute cards from store to store! What skills would that require?

The longer unemployment went on, the lower my self-esteem plummeted. At home I was that unhappy, unfeminine little girl. I was worthless because I lacked domestic skills and had no desire to learn. My activities were monitored, so I was not allowed to be social. I could only go out when my activities were chaperoned by an adult.

I was an adult! I was twenty-one. I could drive and vote and drink legally.

When I finally got hired at a now defunct furniture store, I was out of the house forty hours a week. I bought a car. I rented a studio apartment. I was free! And once again I began to like myself.

From there I slowly became who I am today. It was not an easy road. I spent hours alone, but I also went skiing, saw movies, ate out with colleagues. I saw Joan Baez in concert. I went camping in the Santa Cruz mountains. I took a class in hiking and went with the group. It was tough! My backpack was canvas on a metal frame. By the time it was packed and on my shoulders, I feel over backwards! But I went.

The rest of my story, my story of learning to like myself, was like climbing a ladder. Each rung up taught me that I could do things, that I could succeed, that I had value.

When I look back and I realize how long I struggled to overcome those early restrictive years, it’s amazing that I emerged as me. I wish I could spare all girls the struggle. What I can offer is my life as example.

No matter where you are in life, never give up on yourself. Fight against whatever forces hold you back. Find something that you do well. Anything. It doesn’t have to be academics. It doesn’t have to lead to career, but it could.

Believe in yourself. No matter how others treat you, no matter those who try to hold you back, know that in you, there is value. You have much to offer the world.

Like yourself. Be you.

 

Conquering Loneliness

When I was a little kid I didn’t feel loved at all. I was a shy, miserable child. A loner who yearned to be held, caressed, even though I didn’t yet know the meaning of the term.  I wanted to be held in the same regard as my brother, who, in my mother’s eyes, could do no wrong.

I played alone most of the time, preferring my own company to the tension-filled interactions with my family. I knew that I was often the cause of much yelling even though I don’t recall hearing my name being uttered as the cause. Little kids just know these things.

Recently I saw some old home movies that were taken when I was a child. In all the scenes in which I appeared there were two brief moments when a tiny smile creased my lips. In one I was running toward my grandpa, in the other I was in his arms.

It was a great consolation to see that there were, indeed, periods of happiness.

When I went to school I understood that I was going not because I was smart, but because I was dumb. This was reinforced daily when my mother, who learned how to drive so she could get me to a school, reminded me of what she was giving up, the sacrifices she was making to enroll me in the school.

Later on when I went to elementary school I knew my place in the hierarchy of students. I was the dumb one, the girl who never knew the answers when the teacher called on me. I was the one who never got Valentine’s Day cards and who was never invited to play dates and parties.

Granted, it was probably my fault. I was a sullen, sulky kid who wandered the playground aimlessly, interacting with no one. I remember seeing in a magazine ad how to make tornadoes in a jar. Every recess I carried my jar, twirling it, setting the miniature tornado in motion, finding limited solace in watching my creation. Imagine what the other kids thought when they saw this strange girl roaming the playground with a glass jar in her hands. No wonder I was alone.

There was one girl who became my friend in fifth grade. She was new and so didn’t know my status. One weekend she invited me to spend the night. It was a revelation to me. At the dinner table her parents conversed without yelling. There was no name calling or bickering. Everyone had smiles on their faces.

I fell in love with that family. I wanted to live with them, for them to adopt me. I cried when my mother came to take me home.

In eighth grade an odd-looking boy invited me to go roller skating. I went because it was a date, my first one, and he was a nice kid. At the rink we skated side-by-side. The music was too loud to talk, which suited us both. After a while he held my hand. His was damp but I didn’t care.

In ninth grade he invited me to my first school dance. My mom made me a powder blue dress for the occasion. He arrived in a suit, bearing a corsage.

Neither of us knew how to dance, so we spent a lot of time standing on the outskirts of the floor, leaning against walls or, if possible, sitting on folding metal chairs. I thought he was nice because he was kind.

We moved to California that summer. I brought the addresses of neighbors that I had thought were friends. I sent them letters every week. None of them wrote back. I cried.

Because I was still shy, I made no friends that first year. My Algebra teacher was the closest thing to a friend that I had only because he smiled when I got the right answers.

Across the street from us was an older young man who showed an interest in me. He looked like every glasses-wearing boy of the sixties. Black haired combed to the side, black-rimmed glasses, and button up the front plaid shirts. We went bowling, to movies and hung out at his duplex listening to music. He wanted more.

Sometimes as our date was ending he’s park in an isolated spot and we’d make out until my lips hurt. I was terrified that the police would find us, arrest us, and then I’d be in trouble with both my parents and the law. But no cruiser ever found us.

He moved his love-making to the couch in his house. He told me how much he loved me. I believed him but I never said the same to him. My parents were thrilled. The daughter that they felt was unlovable had someone declaring true love.

When I transferred to USC I joined a group of lonely looking people who sat at the same table meal after meal. They welcomed me. We spoke about a variety of things, many of them intellectual in nature. For the first time I had a group in which I felt an equal. I don’t know what they felt when they saw me, but I was always treated with respect. I dated two of the guys. They were really nice.

And then the boyfriend showed up and took me to Disneyland. We had a good time, but all the while I knew that I was going to break up with him. He loved me, but during our separation I understood that I liked him, but did not love him. He cried when I told him. I did too.

At that point in my life I realized how much I had changed. I was no longer the lonely kindergarten kid but a part of a social group that did things together. That treated each other as equals. That valued intellect over money and appearance.

We did crazy things together, like drive across town just to buy chili burgers. We went to the beach even when it was raining. We studied together in the lobby of our residence hall. We were inseparable.

I still have my lonely days but I don’t let them drag me down. I know that they are only a blip in what are normally busy times with friends and family. I have a husband who likes to be with me, who respects me and encourages me to do all the different things that I love to do.

Being lonely as a kid is a terrible thing. You see other kids running around in groups that are ever changing, but you stand alone. There is no one to help you navigate the social circles, to teach you how to fit in. But there are glimmers of hope.

For me it was the girl who invited me over to her house, the boy who took me roller skating, the young man who said he loved me and all the college friends who respected me. Because of them I entered the world of work prepared to interact with those who showed signs of openness.

For the sake of all the lonely people in the world, be open. That will help them overcome loneliness. Be kind.

 

Transformations

If you remove the normal transformations that we experience as we change from child to adult, I believe that I have been many different people.

I have always been shy. Put me in a crowd and I become a silent member of any group. However, when I am with trusted friends, I can find plenty to say. I love listening to my friends talk and then responding to whatever they bring up.

When I was a field officer for the IRS I had to knock on doors and enter businesses where I knew no one. It was terrifying. I knew that no one wanted to see me, but somehow I had to communicate how much they owed and establish a payment system. I learned a lot in that job.

First, I discovered that I had a voice. I had something important to say even if the message was not a pleasant one. This came in handy when I became a teacher. Conferences are tough. Parents show up hoping to hear that their child is a genius with hidden talents. Nice if that’s the truth, but not always the case. Imagine telling a parent that her child has a learning disability that will make reading/writing/math challenging? Imagine the looks on faces at that news. Then imagine yourself as the bearer of that news.

That’s what I did for 23 years. That’s who I was. The teacher who wanted to offer hope, to say that one day their child would wake up and the disability would be gone, but I couldn’t in good faith do that. So the person that I was at that time was the giver of negative gifts. It hurt.

Second, as a Revenue Officer I discovered that I could navigate myself around San Francisco, Walnut Creek, San Mateo, just about anywhere around the Bay Area. Not such a big deal now with all the technology we have, but it was then. I relied on a book of maps and directional instinct. This was a real confidence booster. Without my dad driving, I could get from point A to point B and then on to point C.

I used that planning skill when I began teaching. I read helpful books, but then I had to implement a curriculum that I had planned, from beginning to end. When finished, I evaluated the relative success of a lesson and then adjusted. I still got from point A to point B, but upon reflection often a divergent path was taken.

I relied on my IRS skills throughout my career, no matter the job title. While presenting at meetings still make me nervous, I knew I had the wherewithal to plan and execute.

As a wife and parent I used the same skills to run our household. Having never been much of a cook, now I was responsible for three meals a day for a growing family. Cookbooks became my new best friends. Some of those early recipes are still in use today, now prepared by my husband or kids for their families. I learned that I could follow directions and usually end up with something edible. That’s a real confidence booster.

For a while I was involved with our church’s women’s guild. At first I was an observer, but in time I was pressured to begin organizing things. At first it was Santa at a bake sale. Then it was as treasurer and eventually president. I didn’t like any of these roles, but because I knew how to plan, organize and implement, I pulled them off.

When we began traveling as a family I once again tested those skills. I created a checklist that included necessary camping gear that constantly had to be revamped when we discovered that key items had been left home. Like the time our tent poles were left in the garage or when we tailgated without the grill to the BBQ. But as organizer I learned how to make reservations, buy tickets and pay fees, all when the internet was a baby. It meant phone calls. Lots of phone calls.

All this organizational practice takes me to who I am today. I can do all kinds of things that my parents would have thought impossible. From the shy Kindergarten kid who never opened her mouth I have become a singer, a friend, a member of an extended family, a person who leads book talks and who reads stories in public. I do these things with much more grace than I did earlier in my life. I know how to ask questions that get people talking. I know how to respond with appropriate comments.

I treasure those fleeting moments when I realize how life has transformed me into the older woman I am now. Looking back, I would never have pictured me doing all the things that I now do; if I had stayed the course set all those years ago, I would be a lonely spinster with ten cats and five dogs clamoring for attention. They would have been my family, my companions.

Because I have been transformed, I am pleased with who I am.

 

Me Time

Even when I was a little kid I understood the value of time spent alone. Family life, for me, seemed confusing and chaotic. I struggled with my place in the dynamics of everyday life. I knew that I was less-than my older brother who was revered by my mother. When my sister was born, now I was less-than both of my siblings.

I loved being by myself. As a small child, it meant being out on the front porch, standing there, do nothing other than watching whatever transpired in the neighborhood. I didn’t play with dolls, probably because the only ones I had were kept stored in my parent’s closet on a high shelf.

I didn’t read yet and no one read to me. I didn’t go to school until kindergarten-age, and only then because my parents thought I was dumb. Interestingly enough, school reinforced that opinion as I was the most backward kid in the class, even through fifth grade.

The one toy that meant the most to me, that allowed me precious “me time” was my mother’s cookie tin of mismatched buttons. I played with them for hours, day after day. I sorted them by size and color, by shape and by how many holes in the center. Then I’d dump them back in the tin and start all over. I spent hours doing this, day after day, all year long.

In the winter I played on the kitchen floor while my mother napped. I the summer I took them outside and sat on the grass. It’s amazing that I am still not sorting buttons today as I found it both comforting and relaxing.

I have progressed from those early days it terms of what I enjoy doing in my free time. I love shopping. I can spend an hour easily roaming through stores, buying little to nothing. I am a great sale-shopper and almost never buy something that isn’t discounted.

I love looking at styles, brands, colors. I love trying on clothes, especially now that I have lost a significant amount of weight. I love feeling the fabrics and imaging them against my skin. I can tell by that action alone whether or not I would like something.

I love reading. I mostly read contemporary fiction, but I also branch into fantasy, Young Adult, and on rare occasions when a book is recommended by a friend, nonfiction.

What I love about reading is that it takes you into stories, into characters’ lives, into places where you have probably never gone and never will. It allows you to follow in another’s skin, seeing, feeling, tasting all the things that they experience. It’s an out-of-your world journey. I can spend hours reading.

I love exercising, especially swimming. When I am in the water swimming lap after lap, my entire body relaxes into the feet of water streaming over my body. The ritual of traversing the pool, turning, doing it again and again and again is a special time for me. It is something that I do alone. Well, not entirely as there are other swimmers in the pool, but I am unencumbered by family, by needs, by demands. It is just me.

I get the same rush from the elliptical, the stationary bike, the machines. It is me challenging myself to do more, to be stronger, to last longer. And it gives me time to think, if I want, or I can watch whatever TV program is available.

If I didn’t love writing, I wouldn’t have this blog. There is something calming about putting thoughts into the written word. It gives me an opportunity to analyze where I’ve been and where I’m going. It often gives new perspectives into my past which then form my present and future.

At times, when I am writing fiction, it brings me deep into my character’s life. I get to see what she sees, hear what she hears, feel her emotions. Her confusion as she navigates her world. Her delight when something redeeming occurs. Her perceptions of where she fits in her world. Yes, I can alter those dimensions, and often I do, but I also allow her to take charge of my fingers.

Me Time is important to me. It allows me to pause, evaluate, and reorganize myself. It gives me a sense of peace in what can be, at times, a disorderly world. It reinforces who I was, who I am, who I will become.

I cherish those moments.

I also love being with my family and with friends, but those experiences are different. There you fit into a mold, one that sometimes others have crafted for you. You play the mother, wife, friend game, participating in conversations that sometimes move past your realm of experience. This is where Me Time comes in handy, for when things are out of my control, even in a crowd, I can step back and allow my thoughts to roam free.

My trust in Me Time was formulated when I was quite small. It has sustained me ever since. It is a treasure that I hope everyone shares.

Gift Giving

From the time I was a little girl I loved giving gifts much more than getting them. This applies to all occasions, not just Christmas.

Why? I love watching the expressions on faces as they open each item. It thrills me when the person’s eyes light up and a smile graces their face. It lets me know that I have chosen wisely.

Therein lies the problem. I love the thrill of the hunt: finding just the right gift for each individual on my list. Flannel pjs for the grandkids? Perfect. New shoes for Mike? Yes.

I leave home with something in mind to search for. If I’m lucky, I’ll find it in the right size and color and at a discount! Yippee.

On the way I might find other things that tickle my fancy but had never entered my sphere of interest. That makes the trip worthwhile. Finding wonderful things to give to the people I love.

I’m not as excited about wrapping as I used to be. In the past each gift would have tied with a color-coordinated ribbon and topped with a bow. I might start out that way, but as time passes and my back begins to hurt, I give up on fancy and go with simply getting the job done.

Since all my kids and grandkids live far away, I have been spared hours of wrapping. I do online shopping and so packages are delivered in brown boxes or green plastic bags. Certainly the excitement for the recipient has been downgraded as there are no colorfully wrapped gifts from me under the tree, but the idea is still there. I have thought of them, chosen something, and had it sent to them.

I also love gifts for myself, but the act of unwrapping them in front of an audience intimidates me.   I don’t like being the center of attention, everyone focused on my eyes and lips, waiting to see if I smile.

Interesting dichotomy, right? What I enjoy most about being the giver is what I dislike the most about being the recipient.

One good thing about getting older is that there are fewer opportunities to open gifts in public. For many years now it’s been just my husband and I on Christmas Day. An audience of one.

We work hard to find appropriate gifts for each other. Mike gives hints…but mostly it’s me telling him what to buy me, where to find it, what it looks like, how much it should cost. He’s great at following suggestions. In fact, he loves it when I practically outline for him what would be nice gifts for me. But sometimes he surprises me.

For example we often pass a jewelry store on our walks about the neighborhood. One time I spotted a necklace that I liked. No price was posted so I didn’t know if the jewelers prices were reasonable or not. I never told Mike to buy it, but one time we went past and it was gone. Imagine my surprise when I unwrapped a box and found it nestled within!

When I was a kid my family had an interesting unwrapping routine. Each of us would hold a gift in our laps. At a nod from my dad, we ripped off paper, ribbons and bows altogether. The item was revealed, hopefully appreciated, then we moved on to the next box. There was little giving of thanks or admiration. It was open, open, open.

My husband’s family, however, had a different ritual which we adopted for our family and still follow today.

We each hold a gift in our laps. One person opens their gift, we appreciate it, give thanks to the giver, then move on to the next person. It is a slow process. When our kids still lived with us, opening gifts could span hours with breaks in between to eat breakfast, stoke up the fire, go to the restroom, get something to drink.

I loved it. Instead of the mad dash that I grew up with, there was now a patient revealing. It allowed me to do that which made me happiest about gift-giving: watching the faces of those I had chosen gifts for.

Today I began the wrapping of gifts. My first gifts are for an exchange tomorrow. Each time had to be Christmas-themed and under ten dollars total. Since I am a great sale-shopper, I found awesome things that stayed under the limit. I can hardly wait until tomorrow when the exchange happens.

I then wrapped the gift for the teenager from the church’s giving tree. She only asked for leggings, but she’s getting two books and a gift card as well. Each of them is wrapped and nestled into one large box. I wish I could see her face when she gets to unpackage all those things! I hope she is excited.

During this time which can be hectic, please reflect on how you feel about gift-giving. Which part excites you the most? The hunt? The wrapping? The giving or the receiving? Or maybe all of it!