Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When you're a Dork Mom

I have never been The Cool Mom, even though for years it was something I aspired to.

I always thought Cool Mom status was something you could attain through hard work--things like baking cookies and attending sporting events and loaning out your car. (Or taking an entire day off from work to create an extravaganza of a cake featuring Teddy Grahams in frosting bathing trunks and bikinis cavorting on a cookie-crumb sand beach and floating around in Gummi-Saver innertubes in a lake of blue Jello.)

But no matter how many cookies I baked, or how many soccer or field hockey or softball games I shivered through, or how often I got in my car and didn't complain about the gas gauge perpetually pointing to "E," I never quite made it onto the Cool Mom pedestal.

Maybe it was my total disregard for fashion, or my dislike of shopping. Certainly my years of carrying around one or more volumes of The Tightwad Gazette, and announcing at random moments, often when my kids' friends were present, "Did you know you can save $17.81 a year by washing out baggies?" didn't help my cause.

Maybe it was my fondness for country music, especially country oldies and stuff that even nearly-normal people who liked country music had never heard of. "My mom only listens to old guys and dead guys," one of the kids lamented, describing my CD collection, which runs heavily to Willie, Waylon, Kris, and Johnny.

Or maybe it was that time in a department store lingerie department when I waved a handful of brightly-colored bras in the air and hollered across the sales floor to Caitlin, "These look fun! Why don't you try these on?"

Whatever the reasons (and I'm sure there were many) that kept me from being the Cool Mom, I resigned myself years ago to Dork Mom status. I had plenty of company with the other Dork Moms, the ones who didn't know enough not to use pet names for their kids in public, who couldn't stop themselves from reaching out to straighten a collar, the ones who forgot to blend invisibly into the background in public places. (I have a friend who once--and I am not making this up--committed the trifecta of Dork Mom offenses when she called out to her high school senior son across a crowded dining hall at lunchtime, "Come here, Kane-O, and let Mummy fix your tie!")

When you're a Dork Mom, you come to accept your complete and utter lack of coolness. After a while you stop trying. You make peace with the fact that you'll never read the right books, listen to the right music, wear the right clothes, or eat the right foods. You stop caring that you'll never learn to behave properly in public, and that you're an embarrassment to your children. Eventually you even develop a defiant little attitude about it--a "this is who I am, so take it or leave it" kind of thing.

But then, it turns out, something peculiar happens. Your kids grow up and leave home and once in a while they call you and ask for your blueberry muffin recipe, or they want to know how to wash a sweater, or whether you can still eat leftover chicken after five days in the refrigerator. You're still a dork, but now you're also a valuable source of information.

A while later, you start to realize that your kids are asking to borrow the books you're reading. Or they go with you to a Kris Kristofferson concert and decide he's really pretty incredible. They solicit your advice about things even more important than potentially hazardous leftovers, and sometimes they even follow it.

Eventually you might notice that your book list on overlaps your kid's by 37.34%, and that your ratings for the 59 titles you have in common are 78% similar.

All of this has happened to me, but I still never dared to hope that I might have started to attain Cool Mom status...until I got a phone call the other night from Cait, who said something like this:

"Hey, Mom, I was just reading your blog and laughing my ass off, and I was thinking, you know, I read your blog, and my friend Ashley reads it, and my friend Brian who you've never even met reads it, and some of my other friends read it, and Katie and Annie and Annie's boyfriend read I was just know how Debbie was always the Cool Mom because she talked to the girls about sex and let them drink beer in the house? [Aha! So that's what it takes! No wonder I never had a prayer of becoming the Cool Mom!] And you know how you always wished you were the Cool Mom? Well, I was just thinking about it, and I realized...well, now you're kind of the Cool Mom."

You hear that? I'm the Cool Mom! Well, at least until they read this post...

Addendum: Caitlin has just read this post, and called to inform me that, although the bra-waving incident was bad, it pales by comparison to the time Donna and I met her bus in Portsmouth, a bus filled with her high school freshman peers who were all returning from a two-week trip to Hungary, waving fluorescent pink and orange posters that said, "Welcome home, Caitlin!" in both English and Hungarian. Although I think, actually, I can blame that one on Donna. (It was also Donna's idea for both of us to wear "Hartwick Mom" buttons when we visited Cait at college for Parents' Weekend, and to introduce ourselves to her friends as "Caitlin's two moms.")

Monday, March 16, 2009


My house suffers from C.H.A.O.S.—Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome. It’s not that I don’t want to live in a tidy house—really!—it’s just that I can’t figure out how to get—and stay—there.

There are a number of very good reasons for this.

First, we have a dirt driveway, which means that, especially at this time of the year, we have a mud driveway. Keeping up with the mud that comes in on our shoes is hopeless. So I don’t even try. I know people who have instituted a no-shoes-in-the-house rule and claim that it has made a remarkable difference. However, in order to institute a no-shoes-in-the-house rule, you have to a) live alone or b) live with cooperative people, neither of which is my situation.

Second, we have a big black Lab who goes to work in the woods with Tony. Remy spends his days, depending on the season, splashing in brooks, playing in mud, and rolling in everything from snow to dust to unidentifiable dead things. He spends every evening shedding at least a pound of fur, along with whatever dust, burrs, pine needles, pitch, and things-too-terrible-to-contemplate he has picked up during the day, evenly distributing this detritus through the house. (By the way, I usually think of the word detritus as “accumulated matter or debris,” as in “I’ve lost the phone bill again and am sifting through the detritus on the kitchen table to try to find it,” but I note that, according to Wikipedia, “In biology, detritus is non-living particulate organic material…It typically includes the bodies or fragments of dead organisms as well as fecal material.” Yeah, that’s it.)

Third, we have four cats. Whenever I am asked how many cats I have (and you might be surprised at how often I get asked this question. For instance, in the past week alone, I’ve been asked it twice. Once was by the cashier at the grocery story, when I was buying the supersize bag of cat crunchies, the supersize box of scoopable cat litter, and ten cans of canned cat food. Then just yesterday, when my friend Cathy came over to go for a walk with me, and it was so warm and spring-like that I had the back door open and was letting the cats think about coming out into the dog pen to roll around on the doorstep, Cathy saw all their little faces peering out the door and asked, “How many cats do you have, anyway?”)…anyway, as I was saying, whenever I get asked how many cats I have, I say something like this: “Well, I have two cats myself. But I let Caitlin adopt Manny when she was a senior in high school, and of course he still lives with us and obviously always will. Then a year later, Annie got Max, and when she moved into a no-pets apartment, he came to stay with us, and now that she has a boyfriend who’s allergic to cats, it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere, either.” I feel it’s important to explain that I’m not one of those crazy cat people, really, I’m not, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. (When I come downstairs in the morning, and they’re all in the kitchen to greet me, yowling and weaving around my legs, a sea of furry, writhing bodies, I think of Harrison Withers from Harriet the Spy and I have to tell myself over and over, like a mantra, “I am not a crazy cat person, I am not a crazy cat person…”) Well, four cats shed a lot. They create clumps of cat fur, dust bunnies of cat fur, rolling tumbleweeds of cat fur that can very quickly get out of hand.

That about takes care of the actual dirt problem. But even if I didn’t have a mud driveway, a big dirty dog, and four cats, I would still have a big clutter problem. There is clothing clutter, gadget clutter, and decorative clutter. There is office supply clutter, cooking-related clutter, and sewing clutter. But a lot of the clutter, the majority of it, in fact, seems to consist of paper—books, magazines, newspapers, important mail, junk mail, probably-junk-but-I’m-not-sure-yet mail, cards, notes, and lists.

I haven’t seen the dining room table since we ate Christmas Eve dinner on it. Shortly after that, I started working on the year-end tax stuff there, and half of the table is still buried under files and receipts and so forth. It also comes in handy for folding laundry (when I can uncover enough of the surface) and as a landing pad for things that are on their way to some other part of the house…like the bottle of shampoo that has been trying to make its way upstairs to the bathroom for about three weeks, while I continue to wash my hair with the watered-down dregs of the last bottle.

But that’s OK, because we can always eat at the kitchen table:

It’s very easy to blame all of this clutter on the fact that more stuff comes in the mail every day than any normal person could possibly keep up with, or the fact that, if any housework ever does get done around here, I’m the only one who ever does it, or the fact that houses built in the late 1800s are notoriously short on storage space.

But here’s the real problem: my priorities.

One night last week I came home from work, and here are seven things I did not do:

1) I did not wash, fold, and put away laundry.
2) I did not sweep the kitchen floor.
3) I did not finish my bookkeeping and put away the files and piles of papers on the dining room table.
4) I did not put away the dishes in the dish drainer.
5) I did not sort the recycling.
6) I did not get out the vacuum cleaner and drag it from room to room, trying to keep up with the flying fur.
7) I did not clean any toilets, sinks, or tubs.

Here are seven things I did do that night after work:

1) I talked to Donna on the phone. We have many things to talk about, and they are all very, very important.
2) I made dinner. From scratch. I don’t remember what it was, but I’m sure it was pretty good.
3) I made two lovely loaves of oatmeal bread, fresh and fragrant and yeasty.
4) I made two kinds of cupcakes—yellow and chocolate—for my coworker’s birthday, and decorated them with sunflowers.
5) I watched “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” with Will and Tony. (The ones that were on the night before; I don’t stay up late enough to watch them the first time around.)
6) I finished knitting a baby sweater.
7) I went to bed and read The Mighty Queens of Freeville for an hour before I fell asleep.

Tonight I can think of at least ten things I should probably be doing instead of posting to my blog...but I have my priorities.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My naked ears, or "Don't worry--you can't cut it too short!"

For years now, when I go to get my hair cut, I've been saying things like, "Go ahead and cut it short," and "Don't worry, you can't cut it too short for me!" Most of the time that's true. I've had lots of haircuts where the hairdresser thought she was done, only to have me ask her to take a little more off.

It wasn't always this way.

As a kid, I had a lengthy series of severely traumatizing haircuts from a large, well-muscled Italian man with a flat-top--Frank the Barber--in downtown Milford. At first, I was too young to realize that most little girls didn't get their hair cut at barbershops, where they had to wait their turn sandwiched rather snugly between Pasquale from the pizza place, still in his sauce-covered apron, and a prematurely balding young salesman with a comb-over. Even after I figured it out, when my mother told me that Frank's haircuts were much cheaper than those from the salons where my friends went, I didn't complain too much about it, although it was embarrassing to realize I was having my hair cut at the same place as some of the boys in my class. Finally, though, after a particularly bad outcome--Frank, struggling to even up my bangs, took a little off one side, then a little off the other, then a little more in the middle, and ended up cutting them so short that Kevin Roman, the meanest boy in the third-grade church choir, said, "You look just like a baby!" when he saw me--I put my foot down.

(I should note that this is the same Kevin Roman who was the only person in the whole choir mean enough to remind me--and he reminded me for years after it happened--about an unfortunate pants-wetting incident that occurred on the very first day of choir. We never went to the same school, and we didn't really even know each other, and third grade was the only year that the boys' and girls' choirs rehearsed together, but of course I saw him at church things, and every so often, maybe once a year or so, he would look right at me and say, "Hey, you're that girl who wet her pants at choir practice!" Now that I think about it, this might have only happened for a couple of years, since I don't remember ever coming face to face with him after sixth grade or so. It's even possible that Kevin Roman grew out of his dreadful 9-year-old self and became a perfectly decent person by high school, but I was not taking any chances. Any time I saw him from a distance, I managed to hide, and I'm afraid that even today, if I were walking around Milford and happened to run into him--of course, I still imagine him as a tough, stringy little boy with brown hair and freckles--I would hold my breath and try to avoid him, and I would still be expecting to hear, "Hey, aren't you that girl...?")

Anyway, after Kevin Roman told me I looked like a baby, I refused to go back to Frank's Barbershop anymore, and my mother started taking me to the place where she got her hair done, "Mr. Sam, Coiffures" on the Boston Post Road. Her own hairdresser was not Mr. Sam, but the chatty, somewhat abrasive Vi, who had ongoing problems with her teenage children and her love life, but whom my mother liked because she could trust her not to tease her hair too much after she took out the rollers.

I got my hair cut by whoever happened to be available at the salon, occasionally even Mr. Sam himself. The haircuts I got at Mr. Sam, Coiffures were not much different from Frank's, except that they probably cost three times as much, but at least I didn't have to worry about running into any boys I knew there. (For all I knew, maybe even Kevin Roman got his hair cut at Frank's, a possibility too terrible to contemplate.)

In middle school, when I finally decided to rebel, I just stopped getting my hair cut at all. Every girl I knew wore her hair long, straight, and parted in the middle, so that's how I wore mine for the next few years, too, much to my mother's dismay. For some reason, she really, really liked short hair, and she campaigned tirelessly for me to get mine cut. By high school graduation, I had caved and gotten it cut short again, but more because a few of my friends were wearing their hair short than because it pleased my mother.

I kept my hair short and sensible throughout the late 70s and 80s, mostly because I was too busy getting married, working, building a house, having kids, moving to a new house, getting divorced, getting married again, and that sort of thing to want to mess with long hair.

Then I grew it long again. I was in my thirties, and my mother continued to bring up frequently how much cuter my hair had looked when it was short, and to make veiled references to my advancing age, and the inappropriateness of long hair after one is out of one's teens. In fact, long after she had stopped sighing about my unfinished college degree and given up trying to get me to go to church, she still campaigned for short hair.

After she died, I cut my hair short again (I gave my long hair to Locks of Love, wondering if any young cancer patient really wanted graying middle-aged hair with split ends) and realized that, along with all the other things my mother was right about, short hair probably does look better on me.

Now that I'm back to short, I like it very short. I like my morning hair routine to consist of no more than a quick wash in the shower with a tiny dollop of cheap shampoo, and a quick run-through with a comb. (If it's short enough, I can skip the comb and use my fingers instead.) The shorter the better. You could say that I am not afraid of short hair.

(The only time I've ever felt anyone cut my hair too short for my liking was one summer when I was in college and Leslie came over to camp. "I saw the cutest haircut, and I think it would be perfect on you!" she said. [I think she was in cahoots with my mother.] "It was the same length all over, about half an inch long." I let her cut my hair, but a style that might have looked adorable on a tiny girl with a pixie face wasn't quite right for me; I just looked even more like a teenage boy [I already had the flat chest and pimples to complete the look].)

I got my hair cut yesterday, for the first time since November (another advantage of getting it cut really short is that I can make a haircut last a really long time, although it's usually at least a month past its expiration date by the time I get around to making an appointment) and, as usual (well, it was actually only the third time she had cut my hair, so I'm not sure "as usual" is the right choice of words, but you know what I mean), I told Kathy, "Don't worry--you can't cut it too short for me!"

I think where this haircut went wrong was in a simple miscommunication. She asked me if I wanted it "over my ears." I thought she meant, did I want "hair over my ears," as in, the top part of my ears would still be slightly obscured by hair, which is how I usually have it cut. She thought I meant, did I want it above my ears, as in, the hair on the sides of my head ends before it gets to the top of my ears.

I started to be suspicious when I heard her using a razor on the sides of my head. (I don't think I've heard the skri-i-itch of a razor next to my head since the days of Frank's Barber Shop.)

When she was done, I didn't say anything, because what was there to say? I had, after all, repeatedly assured her that the shorter it was, the better I liked it. So I said it looked fine.

And it is fine, really, it is. It's just that I've never seen quite so much of my ears before, and I'm not used to them. And it was 15 degrees this morning, with the wind whipping, and I really needed earmuffs. (Or maybe a pair of these cool Spock ears that Katy found.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My new column!

We're starting a new column at the weekly paper where I work, and I get to be in charge of it! Called "Penny-Pinching Times," it will be a combination of money-saving ideas I dig up from various websites and my personal copies of all three volumes of The Tightwad Gazette (Subtitle: Promoting Thrift as a Viable Alternative Lifestyle--when these books first came out in the early- to mid-90s, I used them to drive my children crazy), tips sent in by readers, and suggestions channeled directly from my mother, who occasionally reaches down, whacks me "upside the head," and says things like, "Do you really need all those lights on?" or "Don't throw away those perfectly good bones--make a soup!"

We're a little late to the party, since the Lewiston Sun-Journal (our "parent" paper) has been running a column called "Tough People, Smart Money" for a couple of months now (but I think we have a better title for ours, and the proof of that is that every time I go to mention the Sun-Journal's column, I have to look at the paper to remember what they call it).

Anyway, here's the first installment, which is mainly intended to introduce the column and, I hope, generate some interest:

Penny-Pinching Times

Introducing a new column with hints, tips, and creative ways to make ends meet in a challenging economy.

Born in 1920, my mother grew up during the Great Depression. She remembers her own mother taking in washing to make ends meet, as well as baking cakes for neighbors' special events. “Whenever she made a cake, she would always bake an extra cupcake, and divide it among my brothers and me,” my mother once told me. “She called it a 'try cake,' and it was our job to let her know if it was good. We thought it was such a treat!”

My mother was a new bride in the spring of 1942, when sugar became the first of many foods to be rationed during World War II. The rationing program was the government's attempt to make sure that every American got a fair share of commodities that were in short supply during the war. Rationing eventually extended to many other foods, including meat, butter, shortening, processed foods, and canned milk, as well as non-food items like gasoline and fuel oil, and even shoes and bicycles.

As their children began to arrive, my parents sat down, did some calculating, and figured out that if they both switched to drinking their coffee black, without sugar, they could save enough sugar to bake a batch of cookies once a week for the kids. By the time the rationing of sugar ended in 1947, nearly two years after the end of the war, they were the parents of three small boys, who surely appreciated their sacrifice.

The lessons she learned during the Depression and the war years served my mother well when she was a widow raising five children in the late 1950s and 1960s. My siblings and I grew up knowing how to pinch a penny, stretch a dollar, and never let anything go to waste.

I've always tried to follow my mother's example, both for environmental and financial reasons, but at times when I've had a little disposable income, it's been easy to forget the importance of conservation. In the challenging economic times with which we're faced today, I've found myself turning more and more to the tips and tricks she taught me, as well as coming up with a few of my own.

This column will offer suggestions for creative ways to stretch your resources. For those who survived the Great Depression, rationing during World War II, and other tough times in America's history, it will be a chance to share your hard-earned wisdom with the next generation. For younger penny-pinchers, it will offer a chance to tell us new ways you've discovered to make ends meet while attending school or raising a young family. With suggestions for saving money on food, clothing, utilities, and entertainment, it should help show all of us ways to be thrifty without feeling deprived.

My mother washed out baggies, composted food scraps, and re-used wrapping paper. She was not only a tightwad, but an environmentalist – although an accidental one – before we ever even heard of the word. (And she never went back to putting sugar in her coffee.)

Here's one of my mom's favorite inexpensive recipes. It goes without saying that she always bought store-brand beans!

Gramma Wight's Three-Bean Salad

1 can each of green beans, yellow wax beans, and kidney beans, drained

¼ cup each of celery, onion, and green pepper, finely diced

½ cup cider vinegar

½ cup sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

Mix together beans, celery, onion, and green pepper. Mix vinegar, sugar, and oil till sugar dissolves and pour over vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill at least two hours for best flavor.

Please send your tips for saving money to, mail them to The Rumford Falls Times, 69 Congress St., Rumford, ME 04276, or drop them off at the office. Be sure to include your name and the town where you live (we won't print your name if you'd prefer to be anonymous).

Another office birthday

Sunflower cupcakes for Eileen's birthday (she's a gardener). Trying hard to think spring today as the sleet comes down outside...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

It's good to be Queen!

As I think I may have mentioned a time or ten, I had a major birthday last week. In keeping with a tradition that Donna came up with a few years back, I got to celebrate it with a "Birthday Week of Fun," or most of a week, anyway.

I started on Friday, three days before my actual birthday, by declaring that I couldn't cook dinner because it was my Birthday Weekend. (As the Birthday Queen, I also couldn't be the one who had to go fetch the Good Food Store sandwiches, or wash the minimal amount of dishes.)

On Saturday, we went to Donna's in Portsmouth (I shouldn't have been required to drive, of course, but since Tony had just started a new heart medication, the label of which says, "May cause dizziness" and "This drug may impair the ability to drive or operate machinery--use care until you become familiar with its effects," it seemed best that I take the wheel). Annie and Katrina took the bus up from Boston, and we all went out with Donna and Jerry for a wonderful lunch at Mama Rosa's. Then there was cake (and my favorite, Friendly's buttercrunch ice cream) back at Donna's, and lots of presents. Whoo-hoo!

On Sunday I got to spend the whole day lounging around the house in elastic-waist pants. (Is there anything better than a day spent lounging around the house in elastic-waist pants, especially if you can be reasonably sure no one is coming to the door, and if you are also consuming celebratory quantities of leftover birthday cake?)

Monday was my actual birthday and, sadly, I had to go to work. Not only did I have to go to work, but, because the town of Roxbury inconveniently decided to hold their town meeting on my birthday, and because it was my job to cover it, I had to work from 8 a.m. till 9 p.m. On my birthday. Booooooooo! wasn't all bad, because thanks to my coworkers, there was another birthday celebration that included More Cake. Yaaaaaaay!

I also got lots of emailed birthday wishes, many in response to the message Donna sent out containing a couple of classic photos:

I'm guessing the Halloween one on the left is circa 1961, and the one on the right is probably from spring of 1966 (and yes, I have a jacket full of kittens; I'm not sure what the cooler was for, but I suspect it had something to do with transporting the kittens...)

Update: Donna says the date on this photo is 1969...meaning that I was 10, not 7, but hadn't outgrown doing silly things with kittens.

When I got home at 9:30 p.m., in the cold, windy dark, there was a line strung across the kitchen, and clothespinned to it were a whole bunch of birthday cards.

I was pretty excited, because, although I wouldn't have been surprised to receive a few birthday cards (it was my 50th, after all, and I had been reminding people of that for almost a year), this was way over the top. Then I took a closer look and noticed something odd about the stamps on most of the cards--yikes!

Apparently, my brother Greg is the one responsible for turning a 1967 Christmas photo of me, proudly wearing my very first Red Sox cap (which was actually a plain navy blue cap with a red felt "B" painstakingly sewn to the front) and gripping my very first baseball bat (there was a card on the bat saying that it was from Carl Yastrzemski [by the way, how many of you can spell Yastrzemski without looking it up? I can, and I could when I was 8 years old, too] which I remember being both very excited and a little confused about, since I had asked Santa for a baseball bat, and I wasn't sure why Yaz, as much as I worshipped him, would be giving me a present). (Have you ever noticed that the computer keyboard has enough symbols--( ) [ ] { } <>--to allow even my digressions to have digressions? It's a wonderful thing. But I digress.)

Donna's card had this really cool sticker on it. Check out the Altoids box--this is the kind of thing she learned to do when she went to Computer Goddess school last fall. (I, on the other hand, am so much less than a Computer Goddess that I have no idea why the image that she sent, and I saved, shows George in his proper, brown color, but when I import it into my blog, he turns blue.)

I got cards from siblings, friends, nephews, nieces, my aunt, my uncle, and some long-lost cousins! They were full of good wishes ("I hope someone bakes you a cake!" and "How'd you get that old?") and lots of good advice ("Channel your inner imp," "It's OK to embarrass your kids," and "Don't melt the snow with hot flashes!"). Even better, because the post office decided (for no good reason, since the addresses were all correct) to reroute some of my mail through Lisbon and China (that's Lisbon, Maine, and China, Maine, although nothing would have surprised me), the birthday wishes kept on coming for a couple more days, helping me to stretch out my Birthday Week of Fun!

In fact, I'll be stretching the 50 fun out even further, since next month I'll be collecting Tony's present--a tour of Fenway Park with all the kids, or, as Tony calls it, "a pilgrimage to the family shrine." I've never had The Tour before, and I'm excited about actually getting to touch the Green Monster!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Some thoughts on turning 50 (!)

Tomorrow is my birthday. (Yes, me and Dr. Seuss.)

First, I can't begin to imagine how I got here. Not that I didn't know it was coming, because 50 is not one of those birthdays that sneaks up on you. When I was 27, or 33, or 42, I often couldn't remember exactly how old I was without stopping to do the math. That was back in the days when I could usually still remember what year we were in, and could still subtract 1959 from it in my head. (And I think everyone who has struggled with the concepts of basic subtraction and "borrowing" will agree that it's gotten a lot harder to do that in your head since the start of the new millennium. It's not just me, right?)

But 50 is not like that. The prospect of turning 50 has been hanging over me for a while now...sometimes like a happy little pink balloon that says, "Look at me; I'm 50, but I'm still playful and childlike and fun!" but more often like a black cloud, or a swarm of mosquitoes. Or maybe an anvil. Something that says, "Life is hard, and I don't see much hope for improvement," or "I thought I'd have all life's pesky details figured out by now," or perhaps "I have this sense of impending doom, like all my dreams are about to be crushed."

For months now, I've been thinking about all the things I haven't done yet that I always thought I'd have accomplished by now. I haven't written a book. I haven't become thin and fit. I've never found a job that both pays well and doesn't make me feel like the soul is being sucked out of me. I don't own matching dishes, nice underwear, or grown-up furniture. I've never learned how to keep a house clean, so the prospect of company always sends me into a frenzy of hopeless decluttering and self-flagellation.


The thought that's been hanging over me is that it's probably too late for a lot of these things, either because at 50 I feel that I'm officially an Old Dog, and some of these things feel like New Tricks--I mean, if I were ever going to turn into a great housekeeper, I think I would have done it by now--or because I'm beginning to believe they're overrated anyway. I still want to write a book (or two, or ten), and every spring I get a little burst of optimism about improving my fitness level. And God knows I still need to find a tolerable and better-paying job, since I'm probably going to be working for another 20 years. But the dishes, the underwear, the furniture? I guess I'm ready to let those go.

Even with all the feelings of impending doom, I don't feel 50. I'm not talking about physically (physically, I might feel 25 one day and 95 the next) but mentally. There are still times when I feel playful and childlike and fun, as if that pink balloon really were following me around.

Back when we were teenagers, Donna once said to me, "Have you ever noticed how some adults are adults, and some adults are just old kids?" Sometimes I feel like an old kid.

Anyway, here we go: five bad things about 50, and five good things.

First the bad:

1) Feeling like I really should be a responsible adult by now, and that maybe Peter Pan syndrome (remember, I'm not only a youngest child, but a youngest child by nearly ten years) is not so adorable anymore.
2) Insomnia--lately I've been waking up between 3 and 4 a.m. and not being able to get back to sleep, quite possibly due to...
3) ...Hot flashes and night sweats. Oh, and let's not forget chin whiskers--I always wondered why my mother kept a pair of tweezers in just about every room. Now I know.
4) Feeling irrationally angry and resentful a lot of the time. (Now, I don't want anyone reading this to start to wonder if, when I respond to your greeting with a socially appropriate remark, what I'm really thinking is, I would so like to hit you with a Nerf bat! Although that could very well be the case...)
5) Being easily overwhelmed by things I would have taken in stride a few years ago. (A few examples come to mind: college financial aid applications, dental appointments, snowstorms, grocery shopping, traveling more than 20 miles from home, holidays, deadlines, cooking get the idea.)

And now, five good things about turning 50:

1) I feel like I'm finally on my way to being a little more assertive, something I've aspired to for decades.
2) I have a better sense of what kinds of things, to me, constitute a waste of time and effort (shopping, TV, chick lit, Brazil nuts) and I'm learning to avoid them without apologizing for it.
3) I have four wonderful, beautiful, nearly perfect adult children and (as far as I can tell) not a single one of them hates me.
4) Like New Year's Day, but in an even bigger way, 50 feels like a good time for new beginnings, for making resolutions, for finally figuring some things out. Hope has been a big theme across the country lately. So I'm hopeful, too.
5) Tony--who once wrote me a poem during the first year we were married, but whose written communication with me since has been mostly limited to notes left on the kitchen table ("Took dog with me") or text messages ("Where is pizza cutter?!")--wrote me a birthday poem, and read it aloud (in front of Donna and Jerry and three of the kids). It was mushy and sweet, and I was only slightly mortified, so it was worth turning 50 just for that.