Old Friends

I think I’ve written before about my first ever job experience. I started working at a neighborhood bakery in my high school days and stayed there until I was twenty years old. I left the bakery for a full-time position with benefits at an insurance company that was not nearly as fun as my bakery job. But the insurance company paid more and I was in no position to choose fun over money at the time, seeing as I was trying to pay my college tuition and plan a wedding at the same time.

I have great memories of my days at the bakery though. I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have at the time, but it was a good first job. I got to see first-hand how a family owned business was run. This one had been in the family for a few generations, and the owners at the time, my bosses were a married couple not too many years older than me. She was the daughter of the previous owners and he was her husband. It was a small operation in my day, a little store tucked in amongst a grocery store, a jeweler, a shoe store, some department stores, a pharmacy and a restaurant all located in an early version of the strip mall.

The bakery was a place where I learned to grow my self-confidence. I memorized the many and varied prices of different breads, pastries, cookies and donuts. I became a skilled and speedy box folder and learned to neatly arrange each customer’s selections so that they looked appealing in the bakery boxes. I grew comfortable asking customers how I might help them and learned to tactfully promote specific products to boost sales. When I’d mastered the customer service aspect, I learned how to frost donuts and cupcakes with flair, and how to write with frosting on cakes.

All of that job experience was great, and it taught me about responsibility and commitment. A major downside of bakery work was that we had to start early. The bakers started in the middle of the night to make sure all of the goods were fresh and ready for customers who would be waiting to shop at seven in the morning. We “counter girls” had to be in by six on the weekends to stock the display cases and be ready to wait on those first customers. During the holidays, we had to be in by five because the demand for both regular and specialty items would double! As you can imagine at that time in my life, going out and having fun until the wee hours of the morning took priority over being well-rested for my morning bakery shifts. Jolt Cola and No-Doz pills were frequently on hand for the counter crew!

And in spite of having to punch in early, on too little sleep, it was fun! There was always something new to learn and we took pride in the bakery’s history in our community. We got to know the regular customers, many of them in their elder years, having shopped at the bakery since its early days. We learned to move around each other gracefully during the demanding times such as Christmas Eve and the day before Easter when the store was crowded wall-to-wall with customers. There was a certain pride we took in being able to help each customer, trying to move them all through quickly, yet making sure they had a good experience in our store. We also took pride in the exhaustion we felt when one of those marathon weekend shifts finally ended. We were tired and our clothes were saturated with the aromas of the bakery, not-so-fondly referred to as “bakery grease.” If you work in a bakery long enough, that smell is no longer appealing. Yet those were signs of a successful day.

The weekday afternoon shifts tended to be slower. That’s when the bag boys from the neighboring grocery store would come in to buy a treat and we’d hang over the counter tops flirting back and forth with them. If the boys weren’t around, we might decorate the front window to match whatever season of the year it was. And I’m not saying for sure, but there might have been a contest once when we grabbed balls of bread dough from the industrial refrigerator and competed to see who could toss one the highest and get it to land on top of one of the hanging fluorescent light fixtures. Then there was the time the easy-listening radio station got switched to Top 40. Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run was blasted at a not-so-easy-listening volume, but the sing-along was hysterical! We forgot to put the station back where it belonged though. The next day, the boss asked who changed the station and why. I’m sure he totally bought our blank stares and I-dunnos.

As the counter crew tended to be high school kids, bakery life had its own life cycle. Even though many of us had become good friends during our time there, most of us moved on eventually to attend college or get a “real” job. But many of the crew from my days stayed in touch in one way or another. Faceb00k has made it even easier to reconnect and the last few years have seen a few attempts at a reunion. As is to be expected, we now live near and far and it’s been difficult to find a day and time when everyone can get together. After several failed attempts, I was recently contacted again by one of my bakery pals to see about coordinating a gathering. Once again, I issued the group invitation to meet and once again, many had conflicting job or social commitments. But those of us who were free decided to just go for it, even if it meant only a small representation of the group.

Becky and Julie were going to a “girls weekend.” Marilee never responded. Everyone seems to have lost touch with Denise and Teri. But Connie, Kendra (who I’ve been in touch with all along,) Dan (a former baker) and I were available and decided to meet last Saturday afternoon at a bar and restaurant near my house. Kendra ended up having to attend a memorial service first and let us know she’d join us later when she was free. And Connie texted fifteen minutes before our meeting time to say she couldn’t make it! Which was odd because I knew she had almost an hour’s drive to meet us, and so I was pretty sure she might have known sooner that she wasn’t coming. But who am I to judge, right?

So there was an odd fifteen minutes or so as I sat alone in the bar waiting for someone to show up. Thankfully Kacey called then and asked, “Are you busy? What are you doing?”

“Eh, just sitting all by myself at Sgt. Pepper’s.”

“That’s pretty sad,” she replied.

I explained that I was waiting for my old bakery friends to arrive and she kept me company until Dan showed up. Dan and I exchanged a hug and a bunch of those “haven’t seen you in forever, you look great” kind of pleasantries. So we had an hour or so to catch up on each other’s lives while we waited for Kendra. And being that we were in my neck of the woods, I encountered a few acquaintances of Mark’s and mine who would pass by, smile and say “hey” to me. Then each would glance at Dan, and a slightly confused look would cross their faces. Clearly they were thinking, “Well, that’s not Mark.” None of these were people I knew well enough to try to explain or introduce to Dan, so I just let it be and got a little chuckle out of it. Eventually Kendra showed up and put an end to any scandal that might have been brewing in their minds.

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The hours flew by as the three of us caught up with each other. We talked about where we were living, our spouses, kids, the aging parent thing, where anyone has traveled and such. And we quickly found that we all had the crazy-dog-lover gene in common, and so many stories were told about the adventures of sharing bed space with dogs, or the cute antics of our “babies.” We laughed a lot and had the best time. Eventually Dan had to go. Kendra and I stayed and had dinner and then came back to my house for more gabbing.

One of these days we’ll get more of the gang together, but I’m not sad that only our small group connected this time. We talked for hours and it was just the three of us! Imagine how much time we’d need to catch up with everyone! We had such a great time that we made each other promise to do it again sooner, and to not give up on pulling off a bigger reunion. Something not-so last minute might be the ticket and we’ll keep trying.

The cold and snow may have arrived a little too soon, but

… if we look closely enough, we can find reasons to smile about it.

It was really cold all this past week. Colder than it should be for November. And we got some snow, though not nearly as much as some other places around the country! I wasn’t quite ready to stop taking my lunch-time walks around the pond behind the office. Word has it that the walking path, even if cleared of the snow gets too slippery to safely walk it, so I didn’t walk last week. But so far, I haven’t succumbed to the desire to stay burrowed under the blankets when the alarm goes off, so I don’t feel too bad about missing my mid-day walks. And I keep reminding myself that some morning exercise gives me a huge energy boost for the day. Plus Florida is only 84 days away. There’s motivation right there to keep that extra layer of winter fat from appearing.

So the furnace kicks in daily. We’re wearing winter jackets and gloves and I’m making good use of my new car’s remote starter and seat heaters. Oh man, I love those seat heaters! They work fast! I can totally deal with the time it takes for the car to really warm up, as long as my butt is hot while I’m waiting!

I’ve been working hard to keep my focus lately only on that which is right in front of me. I’m so done with that tight feeling in my chest that I now realize comes from worrying every moment about what’s next, and how difficult it might possibly be. It’s amazing – truly amazing – how much calm I now feel when I refuse to disaster-fantasize about events that might (or might not) happen, or about how to deal with certain people.  I’ve done this my whole life, and now that I’m starting to know better, I’m constantly wondering why it took me so long to figure it out. I guess I can appreciate that it took me all those years and experiences to be ready to understand this concept.

I think the winter will be a good test of this new mindset. I think it’s a matter of constantly finding reasons to smile. Like when Mark looked out the window and said, “Logan’s been over here.”

After spending so much time with Logan this summer and feeling really great about how comfortable he’d become with us, we worried about seeing our little toddler-friend over the winter. We wondered if we’d lose all that ground we’d gained with this once painfully shy little guy. I wondered how Mark knew Logan had been over when we weren’t around. “Look out the window and see,” he said.

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If not for the snow, we wouldn’t have known that Logan still plays out in the front yards, even when it’s this cold. I think maybe Logan and his dog, Gracie were here. And it did make me smile.

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The me ten years ago so would have yelled at the me today for allowing this to go on. This is not good for her health, not to mention the begging it is sure to encourage. I should remind Mark that when Lucy up-chucks by the back door, it will be his responsibility to clean it up.

Of course, I try to keep Kacey in the loop with the canine antics at our house. So I sent her the video. She wasn’t pleased.

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I told her I was only trying to protect her teeth. She called me a fun-sucker. Probably was true of the me back then. The me now is most definitely not a fun-sucker. It just gets a little easier to relax when the kids are all grown up and the only one left to spoil is a four-legged cutie.

I had a birthday this week. And I liked it.

Not that it’s probably been obvious to anyone reading this blog, but I’ve been experiencing a major shift inside for the past few months. A positive one. I’ve pondered many times how to explain it, but just can’t ever seem to put it into words. I can only say that a few months ago, I seemed to reach a sort of crossroads. Things that previously might have made me feel bitter and angry … well, they no longer dig so deep. Like I said, I can’t really explain it yet. I can only say that for the longest time, I felt like I was who I was and that I could never change. And my faith, while always important to me, had grown so very stagnant. Until something shifted inside, and suddenly … maybe not suddenly … more like gradually, but steadily, there began this whole new outlook. An entirely new sense of peace and belief and positivity began to seep in that wasn’t there before. And the more I feel it, the more I want to feed it.

Like I said, not that you might have realized it just from reading this blog. I’ve mostly tried to keep things upbeat around here. And if I was writing in a positive manner, I was truly feeling it. But if I was feeling a little dark inside, well I usually wasn’t writing it. But believe me, I felt it at times, that darkness. In my entire life, there’s been a side of me that’s been steadily bitter, sarcastic or disbelieving at certain times. Things were what they were. And maybe it’s only the things I told myself …  Some things will never change. This is as good as it gets. Don’t get me wrong. I knew that my good as it gets was pretty damn good. Still, it was this feeling that there could be nothing more. That I had no power to do or be or have the things I thought were out of my reach. But there came a point where I heard from deep down inside myself, But what if there is more? And what if so much of it is just up to me?

Anyway, that’s about as much as I can do to explain it. The whole point of all that is to say today, that this change made my having a birthday this week an entirely new and great experience.

I feel pretty fortunate to have reached this age, (closer to fifty than not,) and feel as good as I do. But as I’ve grown older, I have so much preferred to celebrate birthdays quietly. I removed my birthday from my Faceb00k profile before last year’s big day, to try to keep it under wraps. It didn’t work. Someone inevitably posts a birthday wish on my timeline and my other Faceb00k friends can’t help but notice. Soon the birthday greetings are pouring in from all over. Which is great except that I’ve always felt slightly undeserving for some reason of so much affection. I’ve never been comfortable being the center of attention. Someone forgot to tell my husband. He’s thrown me two surprise birthday parties over the years!

As my birthday approached on Wednesday, I knew my coworkers would make it known. I’ve been a party to many a stealth cubicle decorating. I’ve made birthday treats for the person of honor and helped announce to the entire office that someone was turning another year older. I knew I would have to take my turn. And when I woke up Wednesday morning, I made a mental decision to embrace it all instead of shy away from it.

When I arrived at work, my suspicions were confirmed. My birthday was being celebrated. You can’t quite tell from the photos, but no one was going to miss the fact that I was having a birthday.

There was nothing so different about my birthday this year as compared to previous ones. But somehow it felt bigger. It felt as if everyone who walked by my festively decorated cubicle at work poked their head in to wish me a sincerely happy day. There were treats – cupcakes, muffins, cinnamon rolls, caramel brownies and candy. One coworker, Diane always sings the Casey Jones Happy Birthday song to anyone celebrating their big day. In the past, I’d shy away from being sung to in the middle of the office. This time, I stood before her and proudly accepted her gift of the birthday song.

It was hard to get anything done at work that day. And it was a busy week with several deadlines! I was frantically trying to put together an important presentation for Monday morning. And yet somehow I managed to finish it by Friday afternoon.

My kids worked together (… let me repeat … my kids worked together!) to secretly order birthday flowers to be delivered to my office. This was no small feat. I work for the affiliate of the main company, in a branch location which relocated almost two years ago. Apparently the interwebs haven’t been updated very well with the new physical address, making it all that much more impressive that my birthday flowers found their way to me.

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After work, Mark and I went out to dinner and celebrated quietly. My food wasn’t that great, but he enjoyed his and shared with me. And our waiter was very attentive and personable. And Mark and I talked and found things to laugh about. And it was just nice.  I’d received cards in the mail, and a birthday call from my dad. My sister left a gift bag hanging on my front door while I was out to dinner. All day long, I was made aware of how many great people I have in my life and how fortunate I am to have them.

A coworker  whose birthday is coming up next month insisted she wanted no acknowledgement of her birthday when it came time. I don’t want any more birthdays, she insisted. I know she didn’t mean it so literally, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. If we truly wish to not see another birthday, aren’t we wishing to quit living?

And I guess I’ve decided that I’m not ready to quit living. I’m tired of thinking that I’m at where I’m at and all that’s left is to ride out the remaining years as is. And I’m tired of letting negativity work its way inside of me and bring me down. I know there will be times when it will be harder to fight off than others. But I think I sometimes have a choice in this. Of course it’s so much easier for me to see today than it was thirty years ago, but life here on this earth is short. I want to be making the most of whatever time I have here. I have opportunities to keep growing and learning and being a better person than I was yesterday. I don’t have to remain stuck in the same place day after day, year after year.

The birthday goodies and celebration stretched out clear through Friday! It was fun to have visitors stop by my cubicle periodically to keep chipping away at all the sugar that had been contributed in honor of me turning another year older. People were still wishing me a happy birthday yesterday. Several times, I was asked if I did anything fun on my birthday. My response was that I’d been having fun all week-long. And it was entirely true.

Refuse to Behave as Expected Sometimes

I have occasionally heard others admit to their age and say, “… but I still feel like I’m forty.” Or thirty, or twenty five, or whatever. That’s me. Next week, I’ll take a step closer to the far side of my forties. But most days, I find it hard to believe I have so many years under my belt. I’m not really sure how all three of my kids got to be in their twenties already. I think it t helps that I’m surrounded by a few people who have taught me to refuse to sit back and allow life to pass by.

Yesterday I made a stranger laugh. She slowed down as she walked past Mark and me while I was making him take my picture in Target. She took one look at the snowman glasses I was trying on for size and said, Those are so you!

2014-11-07bKacey later feigned embarrassment that I would pull such a stunt. In front of people we may or may not know, no less.

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But I know that deep down, she appreciates my playful side, even if she labels it embarrassing, because she has as much as admitted that she knows she’s going to be like me in many respects.

2014-11-07I hate to break it to her, but a little bit of weirdness is in her genes. And someday, she’ll embrace it too, as soon as she begins to understand that weirdness is the part of her that refuses to fit inside the little box to which society might otherwise restrict her. Life is full of challenges. Have fun with it when you can!

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Maybe not the most informed voter …

2014-11-04a… but I did it anyway. Let’s be honest. If it weren’t for the prodding of my husband, by the time my workday was over, I might have been tempted to just blow it off. I’m glad he pushes me to exercise the rights that some fought so hard for me to have. Still, I think it takes a lot of effort to really know who stands for what. If all you have to go on is the ridiculous campaign ads that air on television, all you’ll really know are the shortcomings of each candidate, as perceived by their opponents. For instance, all I know about a particular Republican candidate running for congress is that he has long hair, grew up privileged and according to the television, has a nice boat and north woods cabin.

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I decided not to play roulette with my ballot and simply voted for those with whom I’m at all familiar. So that was basically the mayoral candidate who married the girl who was my neighbor across the alley when I was growing up. I babysat their oldest kid in my late teens when I actually had a paying job but wasn’t opposed to earning a little extra cash on the side. He’s been a dedicated city council member for years, and when he asked if he could post a campaign sign in our front yard, I said yes. Mark also said yes to his opponent, so we billed ourselves to the whole neighborhood as a house divided. Oh, well.

There was also the guy running for city council who owns the liquor store and who gave us a deal on beer and ice for all of our kids’ graduation parties. He’s a small business owner who knows how to build good relationships with his community. He got my vote too. Mark voted for the seventy year-old guy “with experience.” So I guess we cancelled each other out, but at least we made our voices heard.

Every election, I swear I’m going to be more informed the next time around. I know there are cheat sheets for this stuff. You know, something that says which people are running for what positions, and what issues each is for and against. Right? There’s something like this out there, isn’t there? If only it was as easily accessible as those stupid television ads.

Next time, I swear. I’ll work a little harder at this.

Changes

Until the past few days, it’s been a relatively warm fall. But this morning, as I was out driving around, I really felt the shift in seasons. I had the heat on in the car. I noticed other vehicles that obviously hadn’t spent the freezing night in a garage. Windshields bore scraper tracks and still held remnants of the overnight frost. I passed a runner in long pants and long sleeves, with gloves and a headband to cover her ears. I saw a man on a riding mower in his front yard, mulching leaves, bundled up in a heavy, red and black plaid flannel shirt, a knit hat on his head.

But it’s not just the weather that’s changed. Another of my kids’ lives has taken an unexpected turn and I’ve been worried.

Kacey spent last weekend here at home. On Sunday evening, she drove back to school while I went off to see a concert with my sister and niece. After the concert, as we were just pulling into my sister’s driveway, my phone rang. It was Kacey.

“So… guess what,” she said in a slow, sort of flat voice.

“What?” I asked, hesitantly.

“Connor and I broke up.”

No! I didn’t know what to say and I felt just awful. We’d only recently learned what it’s like to watch one of our kids suffer a broken heart, and I wasn’t ready to see it happen again. I asked her if she wanted me to come be with her, but she insisted I stay home. “I promise, I’ll be okay,” she said, sounding a little shaky.

Four years they’d been dating, since their senior year of high school. They’d come through so much together, in particular, the death of Connor’s mom. I think that brought them closer than most kids their age would otherwise have been. And maybe because of that too, Connor was like one of our own. He spent endless days hanging around at our house. A few nights too. He’s been a part of our family celebrations and vacations. He ate countless meals here and was comfortable enough to help himself to snacks and drinks. He is in bunches of our pictures. Kacey so often referred to him as her best friend. And so many times, he’d make reference to “when Kace and I get married.”

When. Not if. As young as they still are, (they’re only twenty-one,) I guess I’d sort of come to think too that it would eventually be true.

I couldn’t sleep Sunday night and didn’t do much better Monday night. I kept imagining the worst, my daughter unable to smile, crying. She didn’t seem to want to talk, so I texted her frequently in the following days just to check on her. She’d respond, but not surprisingly, her words were much fewer than usual. I asked her to come home again for the weekend and she first said she was thinking about it, then later confirmed she was definitely coming home. I planned to spoil her rotten, try to help her start healing from the hurt. I bought a couple of fun movies to watch and stocked up on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Kacey’s last class of the week is on Thursday mornings. She planned to drive back after that class and would be home when I got back from work. Thursday felt like the longest day in the world to me. I just wanted to come home and take care of my daughter. When I finally got here, she and Mark were in the kitchen, having just returned from picking up Chinese food for dinner. Kacey was talking and laughing with her dad and I experienced such an immense feeling of relief. Laughter! I hadn’t imagined she’d be capable of laughter. Still, I went straight to her and wrapped my arms around her. She hugged me back tightly, and laughed again, assuring me, “Mom! I told you I’d be okay. I’m fine, really.”

“Yeah, she’s fine,” Mark agreed absently as he unpacked the cartons of food from a plastic bag.

I looked from Mark to Kacey and asked her if it was true. “Are you? Are you really okay?”

“Yeah,” she said! “I mean, I’m gonna be a little sad for a while, but this wasn’t really a surprise to me, or anyone else.”

“It wasn’t?”

“No,” she said. “Connor and I have been in different places in our lives for a while now. Maybe  somewhere down the road when we’ve both grown up a little more, our paths will cross again. But right now, this is probably what’s best. He was the one who made the decision to break up, but I didn’t exactly fight him on it.”

Um. Okay. I hadn’t even considered my daughter would be in such a healthy place.

“So…,” I said. “You’re really okay? I mean, you sound so much better than I thought you’d be about this. So, are you going to date other people eventually?”

“Not for a while, ” she said. “But, I mean, yeah, of course.”

I felt like such a weight had been lifted! I thought my baby girl would be beyond consolation and here she was doing the best thing I could hope she would do in a situation like this. Clearly she’s got a great sense of self. She knows who she is as an individual. And her self-worth isn’t tied to her being one half of a couple.

All week long I’d been praying for her, for comfort, for strength, for healing. And now, all I could do was pray, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

We were laying on the living room floor Thursday night after dinner, she and I, watching one of the new movies. I couldn’t help but keep looking over at her and checking to be sure she really was okay. Finally, she caught on.

“What?” she laughed at me.

“I’m just so proud of you.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re being mature, and handling this with such grace.”

“Don’t get all weepy on me now, Mom,” she laughed.

“Can’t help it,” I said, wiping a tear that had escaped.

She is just everything I could ever have hoped for in one of my kids. She’s doing it all so much better than I ever did. She has an amazing ability to embrace life, have fun, know what’s important, and still not take things too seriously all the time. Sometimes I wonder where she came from. She certainly didn’t get this stuff from me – someone who has been as dysfunctional as I’ve been in the course of my life at times. I guess that’s what we all want as parents, though. To see our kids manage at least a little bit better than we did.

All I know is that I’m so very grateful – that she’s okay – and that she’s my daughter. She is such a gift to me!

And life will go on. Seems like she already knew that.