Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Letter from MidLife

Dear 39-year-old Jennifer:

Has it dawned on you that you are entering your last month in your thirties, that you are about to hit the Big Four-O(h shit!), the Hump Day of life?

Oh, right. I remember now that you've been drinking lots of wine, eating too much Haagen-Dazs, studying your ass in the mirror more often than normal (Seriously. Stop that.) and practically bathing in regenerating serum and Oil of Old Lady lately. Yeah, I think you've figured it out.

This is a naturally reflective time in one's life, so the older and hopefully wiser version of you (umm, me), has taken it upon herself (umm, yourself) to write the younger you (me) a few words of wisdom. Are you (me) still with me (you)?

Pour yet another glass of vino, grab a spoonful of Haagen-Dazs and sit on that lovely, gravity-defying ass a spell. (Lovely? Gravity-defying? Sigh. I see we've already hit the wine).


Dear Almost-Three-Year-old Jennifer:

Your first real memory will be formed now, so we must be very careful about what it is. You'll be playing on your swing set in the backyard of that small, brick house on Gregory Drive with 20 screaming neighborhood kids when the swing set will suddenly flip over, hurling children in every direction. Your panicked siblings will send you toddling back into the house to fetch your parents, but their bedroom door will be closed.

Do NOT, under any circumstances, open that bedroom door. Trust me on this one. :::shudder:::


Dear Four-Year-Old Jennifer:

Geez. Where do I begin? I think four-year-old you is the reason for all this gray hair we have now. Thanks for that.

First and foremost, when your older sister tells you to stop bouncing on the bed because you're going to fall and bust your noggin open like a melon, believe her. Really, I could do without that scar on my forehead. On the bright side, the older neighborhood kids will pool together and offer you two chocolate chip cookies, 27 cents and a stuffed animal if you will remove the bandage and show them your 18 stitches. On second thought, don’t listen to your sister. Those cookies rock!

Later that year, when at the corner grocery store with your enormously pregnant mother and two other siblings, do not entertain yourself by running in-and-out, in-and-out of the automatic doors barefoot. Before your mother finishes her grocery trip, those doors will close on your little bare toes. You will scream. Your pregnant mother will see you trapped in the door and scream. A crowd will form, and they will scream. The butcher will come running out wearing a bloody apron and holding a cleaver. Your pregnant mother will scream again and lunge for the cleaver until the nice man assures her he's only going to use it to wedge the door open, not chop off your piggies. Thanks to the butcher, your This Little Piggy Went to Market and This Little Piggy Stayed Home toes will be freed eventually, but you will be rushed to the emergency room. Your father, on his way home from an afternoon of golf, will see your mother driving frantically to the hospital and think she's in labor. He will scream.

You could save everyone a lot of screaming that day if you'd just wear your sneakers, but I know you won't. You're a little girl growing up in a small town in Kentucky in the 1970s, and despite an untold number of bee stings and splinters the next few years, you'll refuse to wear shoes in summer because you relish the feel of cool green grass under your feet. Actually, I kind of dig that about you.

Last but not least, one morning before you turn five, your sweet but ancient great aunt will nod off on the couch while watching "The Price Is Right." You will have this grand idea to take off on your Big Wheel alone and surprise your parents at their downtown newspaper offices. I'm going to save those little legs of yours a lot of pedaling and tell you this now: you cannot eventually get across that busy, scary Green Street by pedaling all the way down the street for miles. Roads don't usually work that way. Thank goodness a school crossing guard picks you up and takes you and your Big Wheel home, or you would have pedaled your way to California before you figured it out.

p.s. You're still lousy with directions.


Dear Five-Year-Old Jennifer:

On Show and Tell Day in kindergarten, you will bring your imaginary friends, the Nice Monsters. You will tell the kids how the Nice Monsters, Shelly and Fred, live in your next-door neighbor's tree. You will explain that you lure them out of the tree by walking around its gnarly base of roots six times, knocking on the trunk three times, pausing, and knocking once again.

The kids will laugh and point and tell you that no one is there. You will explain that Shelly and Fred are shy but are the most wonderful, fantastic friends. Really! But Shelly and Fred will exchange awkward glances and look at the floor when you implore them to show themselves.

When you walk Shelly and Fred home that day, the Nice Monsters will climb into the tree and bid you goodbye. You will cry, but they will tell you it is time to make new, real friends, who can hold your hand and push you on the swing.

Sadly, you will turn around to go home, but you will see Jon, the boy from your class who lives behind you, quietly watching you. He doesn't laugh. He tells you he thought your Nice Monsters were neat, and he asks you if you'll show him how to get them out of the tree.

You will walk around the tree six times, knock three times, pause and knock again, but Shelly and Fred won’t answer. You'll try again, but your monster friends won't come down. Jon will shrug and ask if you want to play on his swing set. Say yes. The two of you will race up the alley toward his house, away from the tree. You will never look back.

If you glance over your shoulder, from the tippy-top branches of that big ol' tree, you might see the Nice Monsters smiling.


Dear Six-To-Twelve-Year-old Jennifer:

Yes, you and Jon will become the best of friends. The next few years, he will be the Fonzie to your Pinky Tuscadero, the Danny to your Sandy, the Bo Duke to your Daisy and the Kevin to your Winnie. But here are a few tips to help you navigate this childhood friendship:

*When Jon says, "If you show me yours, I'll show you mine," do NOT show him yours! He is lying! He will not show you his. He will laugh and run away, eventually telling all the other neighborhood kids you showed him the stuff in your knickers! I can understand you falling for it once, but three times? That's just sad.

*Jon will do anything for a cookie, including sucking his own big toe and eating his boogers, so be careful what you ask of him unless you actually want to see him do it (You think that could have helped you with the predicament mentioned above, hmmm?).

*When Jon tells you it will be fun to throw Matchbox cars at recess in school, he's right. It is fun. But what he doesn't tell you is that your Matchbox car will hit Mrs. Stribling in the head, and you will have to stand in the corner the rest of the school day. (Still, it will be totally worth it. In fact, pack two Matchbox cars that day. Maybe you can hit Mrs. Bodkin, too).

*You and Jon will watch Evel Knievel stunts religiously, resulting in The Most Stupid But Epic Bike Stunt Ever. If you have the guts, here's how it works: You will meet on bikes at one end of the neighborhood church parking lot. You will give each other the solemn nod, so you know it's serious. You'll remind each other of the one rule: no braking. You'll scream, "EVEL KNIEVEL!" at the top of your lungs, then pedal as hard and as fast as you can, the wind whipping through your hair in those ignorant, but fan-freaking-tastic days before helmets. Mindful of the no-braking rule, you'll fly down the hill at the opposite end of parking lot and, at full-speed, crash your bikes into the tin building at the bottom. Your wiry, pre-adolescent bodies will hurl through the air (the best part) and you will land with a thud on top of the tin roof. It's incredibly reckless. Your mothers will not approve. You could even die. But if you don't chicken out, it will be the most fun you've ever had, and it will cause the brain damage that leads to this very blog. You won't want to miss that.

*Jon will be the best teammate for neighborhood games of hide-and-go-seek, tag, softball, basketball and kickball. You will always want him on your team. Bribe him with cookies, if necessary. Jon's mom will let everyone in the neighborhood know it is time to end the games at night, when she stands at her back door and yells, "Jooo--oooonnnnnnn! Joo--ooooonnnnn! Jooo--ooooooonnnn!" Somehow she will make "Jon" two syllables, and she will yell it at least three times before Jon has to go inside. Her evening calls to him will become a neighborhood rite of summer, sure as the fireflies and honeysuckle.

*When you are eight, for the brief period of time your dad moves out of your house, Jon will play with you every single day for weeks. You will never talk about it, and he will never ask you to. You will just play on his swing set until it gets dark. You will wait for your father to pull into your carport, and when he doesn't, you will turn to Jon and say, "Meet me back here tomorrow?" Jon will nod as you head for home.

*A few years later, when Jon's Mom succumbs to cancer, you will play with Jon every single day for weeks. He will never talk about it, and you will never ask him to. You will just play basketball in the backyard until it gets dark. Jon will wait for his mother to call for him, and when she doesn't, he will turn to you and say, "Meet you back here tomorrow?" You will nod as Jon heads for home.

*When you are twelve, you and Jon will stand awkwardly in the gravel alley that runs from your house to his. It will be raining, and you'll look at each other like strangers, not best friends who have shared cookies and Matchbox cars and endless games of backyard H.O.R.S.E. Jon will take your hand, lean over, and very sweetly, quickly, kiss you on the lips. Your heart will pound; his face will flush. Then you'll both burst out laughing and pinkie swear to never, ever, ever - even if your lives depended on it - kiss again.

Jon will go home, and you'll run inside the house and look at yourself in the mirror for a long time to see if you've changed. You won't see it, but you did, in fact, change that evening.

The next morning, as the rain gives way to sun and you meet Jon in the alley for the walk to school, you'll both realize those carefree, playful days of tag and bikes and swing sets are gone. You'll remain friends, but it's different somehow.

Eventually, you'll grow apart, but you'll always be grateful for the neighborhood boy who begged for cookies, didn't laugh at your Nice Monsters and gave you your first kiss.

(To Be Continued.....)

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