Being the New Kid on the Block

Let me tell you a little story about being the new kid on the block: it stinks.  We were all the new one at some point.  Our first day of kindergarten or first day at a new job.  Those first hours are exhilarating as you face the unknown.  You sport  a new outfit, maybe even a new hairdo.  The doors to a whole new world open up to you, presenting  unfamiliar faces: potential allies and friends.  The past is a train that has long since departed.  No one knows you.  You can pave the path to becoming a whole different person.  “I am adventurous” or “I am upbeat”.  No one can stop you – but you.

There’s that ‘but’.  That dreaded ‘but’ always gets in the way of an easy life.  With a field of possibilities, what creates this ‘but’?  To explain I have to step back in time.  I was raised in a split world: half of me grew up surrounded by my maternal family – a steady un-altering ground.  The other half lived the military brat lifestyle: most of my school years were spent on military bases and my friends and I moved all the time.  Whoever was my best friend one year could potentially live on the other side of the world the next year.  The advantage to this situation is that now I have friends on literally every single continent.  The disadvantage is that I have friends on every single continent – and our friendships have spread so thin over the years.  But jump ahead a decade or two, and here I am now living in Mississippi and it looks permanent (how did that ever happen…)

I have the innate ability to make friends easily, and the ones I have made here make me a happy person.  Certain thoughts and realizations, however, put salt on an open wound, and that brings me to today.  I am days away from turning thirty years old.  (Sigh.)  Yet once again, I am back in college.  I am working on a second degree since my first has flopped tragically.  Thankfully the years have fared well on my face and, besides the hidden stretchmarks of motherhood, I still look reasonably young.  None the less, there are small details that set me apart from the young college crowd:  my wedding band, the drawings my boys have taped onto my day planner, and the over-sized bag I carry with half my house in tow.  As I write this I am sitting in The Commons, cruel irony considering I feel no commonality with anyone in the room.  One hipster has a laptop covered with propaganda stickers.  A brunette (who, may I add, is fishing way out of her league) is hovering over him flicking her hair to the side as she flirts with the Ron Paul fan.  At another table another couple is bent over a nursing book exchanging notes.  All I can do is ask myself, “What are you doing here?  This is no place for you!  You don’t belong!” Ah! There it is! The “you don’t belong” fear!

We have an option on that first day of whatever it is we are encountering: we can be the wallflower who’s eyes dart quickly from people’s glances, or we can peel ourselves out of that shell of shyness and become known.  Anyone that knows me will say that I have never been, nor will I ever be a wallflower.  I have mastered the skill of becoming the newcomer everyone knows.  I have mastered the ability to make friends with the most difficult people (BE, that would be you!), or those who are even more of a newcomer than I am (OV), or neighbors (SB).  As I unravel my persona – the new one I create for each new friend or the old one that just sneaks out over time, I am still left wondering if I will ever actually belong anywhere with anyone.  Will they ever think “Back in the day with Nicole…”?

Until then, however, I will just be…adventurous; no, upbeat; no, just me…

welcome

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The saying goes, “everything happens for a reason”, but I haven’t always been a fan of that belief.   Mostly, I believe things happen by chance or by force but nothing happens that can’t be dealt with.  None the less, sometimes I have to question my own beliefs.  Just yesterday I wrote about the beginnings of life and the wonders of growth.  I thought, as I was writing, to make my post about the entire circle of life: birth, growth, and the eventual death, but I chose to stick to the former half of the equation because I felt joyful holding Baby W.  I wanted to focus on the happy.  But life’s not always peachy.  And maybe I didn’t write about the entirety of the circle of life because “everything happens for a reason”.

 

No one close to me has passed: let me clear that fact immediately.  In fact, just today I witnessed the baptism of my godson!  There’s no better example of life than that!  But today I also received some troubling news about a family member and that encouraged the wheels in my mind to start spinning.

 

Early this morning I found out my aunt, ZA, has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  We don’t know yet what stage she is in, we don’t know yet what her treatment plan or prognosis is.  We know only that it is malignant, that at 40-something she is still young, and mostly, that she is the mother to a sweet young girl.  My first gut reaction was fear.  Fear of the unknown, of death.  In this very moment no one can tell how things will turn out for my ZA and we all remain hopeful and positive, but the situation awakened a small drumbeat in my head, pounding louder and louder reminding me that the wonders of life come full circle for everyone.  Are we prepared?

 

Two days ago a popular radio host passed: Kidd Kraddick.  No one saw it coming.  News of his passing has been plastered on the walls of social media.  I listened to his show when I rode to school in the mornings, but I was not a particularly avid follower.  I know that he was a great humanitarian and philanthropist, but I am also confident he was a great son, brother, cousin, nephew, friend.  He was a normal person after all.  But tomorrow morning when I turn on the radio, his voice, which is the only association I have with him, will no longer be there.  He is truly gone.

 

And that is what scares me.  One day we are here talking, laughing, loving, hating, eating, seeing – and the next day we are gone.  The next day someone will wake up expecting to hear our voice and will find a deafening silence.  Death is a topic we often choose to ignore because it is scary and dark, but eventually we all have to deal with it.  I know I am not at ease thinking that one day – any day – it will happen to me and everyone else I know and love.  So how do we prepare ourselves for the inevitable?  Is preparation even possible?

 

I’ve already mentioned the saying, “everything happens for a reason”, but we have so many more sayings out there, overused yet under-thought that I truly believe can aid us in being better prepared for that eventuality we wish not to speak of.  Here, then, is my impromptu preparation list:

 

1)      Wake up and smell the coffee:  starting off straight to the point, face reality as it is.  Don’t pretend that you live in a world that isn’t true, which brings me to…

 

2)      Life isn’t always perfect, but just smile:  things are not always great, but a smile can brighten anyone’s day.  I am a firm believer in smiling when on the phone with someone: they can’t see you, but they can sense your temperament  through the smile.

 

3)      Always stand up for yourself, others, and what you believe in:  there is nothing worse than regret, so always do what you believe is right, including…

 

4)      Love a whole whopping lot: don’t fear loving others.  I love kisses and hugs and I love you’s.  Never-ever let fear of rejection stop you from loving others or expressing your love for others.

 

5)      Make lifelong friends:  you will never be alone so long as you have one friend by your side, so know no stranger because everyone out there is a potential friend.

 

6)      Go the extra mile: help a stranger, bend backwards for someone in need.  The satisfaction of helping someone brightens your soul and theirs.

 

7)      Remember the sky is the limit: always try harder for something better, bigger and greater; not to be mistaken with obtaining worldly possessions, but rather for achieving self satisfaction and self pride.

 

8)      Savor every bite and every sip:  we were blessed with over 10,000 taste buds in our mouths – what a shame to not use each and every one of them to fully enjoy a glass of rich red wine or a cold ice cream.

 

9)      Teach: share your knowledge with the world, whether it is teaching a child to ride a bike or sharing a recipe with an old friend; your knowledge will be wasted if it never leaves your mind. And lastly,

 

10)   Always remember Rome wasn’t built in a day:  a great life will not happen overnight and no single action will make a person forever grand, but a life well lived, day by day, can become a fortress of history and grandeur that will never be forgotten.

 

These sayings are not new to any of us, but taking a moment to truly analyze each one will show us how we can live a more fulfilling life, so when the time comes, whether suddenly or painfully slowly, we can depart this world knowing we left a positive legacy in our shadows.

 

Kidd Kraddick will be missed by his fans, colleagues, family and friends, but he was able to leave a footprint so deep in many people’s lives that his voice rings on – even if we can’t hear it.  And my ZA, though our hopes are that she will fight like a warrior and overcome this grave hiccup in life, is now offering us a reminder that it is never too late to stop and think of those ten guidelines of life.  How do we want to leave this world?  What impression and memory do we want people to have of us?

 

Live life to love and you will never have to fear the unknown again.  I should make that number 11 on my impromptu preparation list.  Then again, it should be number one on all our lists.

 

Finding the reason for it all

My little cell

It has been nearly two months since my last blog – the dust has collected thick on this keyboard, but the time has slipped by me for a good reason: I have finally welcomed into the world Baby W.  Baby W arrived a full day late, and quite unwillingly at that!  None the less, he arrived healthy, strong, and beautiful.  After a nearly 7 year gap, I felt like a first time mother again (just without the pure fright of a first timer).  Still – when the good doctor placed the little baby on my chest for the first time, I looked down and my jaw dropped.  I remember feeling the same way 7 years ago, and even more so 9 years ago (accompanied by that aforementioned fright): it’s a feeling of amazement of life.

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The idea of creating a life is what mesmerizes me the most.  Everything starts out really small.  And I mean cellularly small: Baby M, Baby D, Baby G and even you and I, started out as a smear: a small, invisible to the naked eye cell.  Then somehow with meiosis and mitosis and whatever-osis, that cell turns into a little tadpole that floats around in the mommy causing a morning and afternoon and night sickness that puts Taco Bell to shame.  Then that tadpole morphs into an alien resembling creature until finally reaching the distinct figure of a baby.  And that, my dear friend, is when the real magic begins: a baby is born.  Such a small cell can now let out a wail and kick his arms and legs.  Such a small cell now has big blue eyes and a full head of hair.  What an amazing start to a life!

Skip ahead just one month and you see changes to that baby already.  Now Baby W coos for my attention when I look away.  He smiles when I blow raspberries on his belly.  He struggles to keep his small head steady on his neck as he takes in all the sights of this new world he was born into.  I can see from his expression that he recognizes me both by my scent as by sight.  I see he recognizes his dad and his brothers.  He has even grown used to the dog’s daily lick on the head.  And all this stemmed from just a simple cell.

I have the benefit of having older children so I have a preview of what is to come for Baby W.  Baby D, who is now just shy of turning 7 shows me the independence of a little boy who’s struggling to be a big boy.  He can lug a heavy bag of trash to the dumpster, he can set the table, and he can carry his baby brother.  He wants to prove he is old enough to have sleepovers and to ride his bike alone down the street.  Sometimes I take for granted all that he is capable of – but when I see him holding his little brother, I realize how big he actually is.  His once toddler-pudgy body has been replaced by a leaner body with little muscles ready for sports.

Just when I think I have caught my mind up with reality: that my baby is now a big boy, I am rudely awakened by the sight of Baby G, who at 9 years is also struggling.  Baby G wishes to no longer be viewed as a big boy, but a little man.  So here I have my first born son, the one who taught me so many motherly lessons (always, always, always have a diaper ready to go when changing a soiled diaper because once that fresh air touches his skin, it’s shower time…) and he most certainly is no longer a small cell, or a baby, or a toddler, or a little boy.  He is wearing deodorant, styling his hair, and beyond picky about the clothes he wears.  His sleepovers involve camping out, building forts, climbing trees.  With his friends they scoff at girls, read magazines and books on aliens and try building robots out of kitchen utensils.  I can send him into the store to buy milk and cat food – and trust that he will not only pick the right milk, but also give me back the right change.  He is becoming a responsible little man.

So what’s next?  When they become teenagers and I have to deal with little girls coming around the house, what will that be like?  Will I still remember how it felt that moment when they were first placed on my chest?  Or will I eventually forget that their father and I created them?  They grow daily, but I think it’s vital to remember that at some point they were just a small little cell.  So if need be, I will let the dust collect on the keyboard, because the cooing of a newborn is not only priceless, but it passes quickly and I do not want to miss a thing this little cell does!

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When did we grow up?

Today, my little brother and I decided to take the pillows from our bedroom and use them as impromptu sleds.  We slipped into the pillowcases and placed ourselves at the top of our staircase.  We didn’t see stairs, however.  We saw a tall, steep mountain covered in snow.  With one small push we started gliding down the mountain, over every bump we held tight to our sled.

Also today, my little brother and I decided to put on a show.  We wrote a script, made sock puppets and a backdrop for our set.  We even drew up invitations: “You are cordially invited to the Baileys’ Spectacular Presentation at 6 pm in the Play Room”.

And also today, while reading “The Orphan and the Doll” by Tracy Friedman, I held tight to my own dolls hoping one of them would come to life and talk to me like the doll in the book did with the little orphaned girl (sure, I was not an orphan but still…)  But as I lay in my room reading and fantasizing how bad my life could actually be, I heard a most terrible and saddening meow coming from outside my window.  I peaked out to see a litter of kittens stranded in my neighbor’s back yard surrounded by a rafter of turkeys!  Surely about to face imminent death by pecking, the kittens had to be saved!  I jumped out of my bed and fantasy world, and ran to the rescue.  A few jumps over low walls and fences and I was looking at my bedroom window from the turkey’s side.  Armed with a stick in hand, I swatted at the feathered giants while collecting all the kittens.  I ran back into my yard, angry at these villainous neighbors for nearly allowing such a massacre.

But, let’s let the truth be told: none of this happened today.  In fact, it all happened such a long time ago.  I am now nearly at my first anniversary of my 29th birthday, and my little brother is now bigger than me by half a foot (ok, maybe even more- I don’t understand where my short genes came from).  My question is, when did we grow up?  One day we really are playing and fantasizing, and then next thing you know, you cringe because the electric bill shows up in the mail again (didn’t we just pay them??)

Sometimes I don’t realize that I am a grown up, though.  Example: when I am out shopping and I see teenagers, I just assume they see a teenager too.  Then when they almost bump into me and say, “I’m sorry, ma’am” I realize a most dreadful truth: I am antique.  These are the moments I like to step back and really look at my life.  When I get home, I click my garage door opener and pull my SUV into the garage filled with bikes and footballs and tools.  I get the dreaded electric bill out of the mailbox and I even find the newspaper from this morning.  Neither are for my dad.  They are both for me.  I kindly pass the bill on to my husband (how nice it is to have him deal with the bill paying portion of life).  The newspaper is for me, however.  I want to know if there is any progress on that bridge being built down town, because that’s a lot of tax payers time and money being spent – yikes! Did I just say that?  How antique of me! 

Once in the house, I realize there is so much to do:  dishes need to be washed, laundry needs to be done, dinner needs to be cooked, pets want attention, kids need some serious tending to.  The worst part of all this is that no one is paying me to do jack!  This isn’t a babysitting gig, or a set of chores laid out by my mom.  This is my life.  I am the one that creates the chore list for the boys who glare at me when I tap my finger on the invisible watch on my wrist.

So let me ask this again, when did we grow up?  When did I stop sliding down the stairs, stop putting on puppet shows, and stop reading books about heroic dolls that brought out the hero in me too?  When did I accept a life of responsibilities and become my own mother and father rolled into one?

What about you?  When did you grow up?

I think today I will resort to being a child again.  I am going to the park, I am playing with my cats, and I will send my little brother a script that we will act out.  I might even make invitations.  I will do all this today, but only after I do all my antique, grown up things, after all, the cable bill came in today.

The wall I jumped to rescue the kittens (our house was the "newer" one)

The wall I jumped to rescue the kittens (our house was the “newer” one)

Me and my brother in the days of pillow sleds and puppet shows

 

My little brother and I, more recently

My little brother and I, more recently