Happy Blogiversary to Me!

You might have heard me mention the boots my BFF bought me for a penny. Ask and ye shall receive: here they are!

You might have heard me mention the boots my BFF bought me for a penny. You wanted a photo. Ask and ye shall receive: here they are!

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Passwords computer programs expect us to remember:59

Chapters my writing group has critiqued in my novel: 19

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Shoot. Someone’s already done that.

Anyway, happy blogiversary to me! It’s been one year since I started posting at Writing by the Numbers, and I really appreciate everyone who has climbed aboard for the ride. Thank you for reading!

I never thought I would blog or share so many details about my life or get to know so many virtual people.

This year, I have blogged about:

how to make the best chocolate chip cookies,

how lightning struck our TV,

how my son was starting middle school,

how my daughter persuaded me to wear dresses,

how I surprised my mom when I was 5,

how I touched a strange woman’s bathing suit,

how I got all ninja on an imagined carjacker,

how ennui and pee go together,

how we should write real letters more often,

how the world could end, and

how I managed to lock myself both out of and into a variety of places.

I also turned 40, wrote a draft of a novel, started looking for a full-time job and ran many, many miles. (I should have kept a better account of that.)

I have enjoyed getting to know those of you whose blogs I visit regularly, and I appreciate the comments and support you have shown to my blog. If there is something you would like for me to write about more (or less), feel free to drop me a line.

And if you are reading this, give yourself a pat on the back. You are an awesome individual.

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When You’re 12

Middle school: It can leave scars.

Miles run today: 11

Age of my firstborn baby today: 12

Interesting people I’ve interviewed so far this week: 2

My baby boy turns 12 today. He is 5’5″, wears his father’s running shoes, and his most common question is, “Are you gonna eat the rest of that?”

I am hopeful that 12 years old will be everything wonderful for him: the year he gets braces, the year he starts earning money on small jobs in the neighborhood, the year he finally gets a cell phone so he can stop browsing cell phone websites like they’re offering a year’s supply of Cadbury’s chocolate.

For me, 12 was the year when everything died.

When I was 11, I skipped a lot. I danced to Michael Jackson’s Thriller with my best friend, and we pretended like we were in Coca-Cola commercials.

Then I turned 12.

Within two weeks, my rabbit had died; my grandmother, who had been living with us while she battled cancer, died a couple of days into the school year; and then my cat died in a freak accident.

It all felt very epic, as so many things do when you’re 12.

Coincidentally, English class was also very dark and epic, which suited my mood perfectly.

Presiding over the room was our English teacher who we christened No-Neck ____. Her hair was light and fluffy like a chick’s, and her shoulders met her head in a way that kept me fairly distracted.

No-Neck was the perfect person to teach us about Miss Havisham, because No-Neck herself felt a kinship with the dark and twisted character: at her advanced age (probably 52), she had never married, because she had had one true love, and he had died in a fiery car crash not long after they were engaged.

Her tragic past informed each of the equally dark and twisted selections we studied that year: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Raven,” “Great Expectations.”

I don’t recall being depressed that year, but the realization that death could come early and often was never far from my mind. Whether one was bricked up inside a cellar by a raving lunatic or ensconced in a house with a rotting wedding cake, death was coming for you. Get ready.

We also read a short story by O. Henry called “The Last Leaf,” and an old person who is dying says she will die when the last leaf falls off the tree outside her window, and an artist paints a masterpiece leaf that fools the old person, and I figured she probably decided to live forever at that point. I sat in my old, withering middle school English classroom with cinderblock walls and windows that pushed open at the bottom and watched the leaves blow around outside.

Death.

I felt very old and jaded as my classmates quibbled over who stole whose pen and whose friendship notebook with all of those secrets inside was read aloud in the middle of science class.

But the best part was that I didn’t die.

I kept jumping around to music and practicing cheerleading and giggling about boys. It was the year I got a black Member’s Only jacket for Christmas and went to sleepovers and thought “Back to the Future” was the greatest movie ever.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

And sometimes, I am simply glad I lived to tell about it.

Happy Birthday to my 12-year-old! I tell him that pretty much everything will be better than it is right now: it’s all sunshine and happiness after you clear middle school.

Back me up on that if he asks you for confirmation, my friends.

Perception is Reality

One of my favorite places.

Miles run today: 10

Words written in my novel so far: 45,701

Kilometers my BFF is making me run tomorrow to benefit Haiti: 5

Perception is reality.

It’s one of those old PR phrases that has stuck with me through the years. When I was a teenager, I remember reading that simply swinging your arms when you walk gives the impression of confidence, making some stranger less likely to attack you.

So when I was home from college for New Year’s Eve one year, I remember going to a party with my good friend at one of her friend’s houses. The guy worked at Gap and had a fixation about my friend being a perfect size 6 classic fit jean. But I digress.

After the party, I walked with my friend back to her apartment along dark Atlanta streets. A car would drive by, and I would say, “Quick! Swing your arms!” I’m pretty sure that’s what kept us safe that night.

Back in middle school, the Age of Awkwardness and Vulnerability, I was introduced to a mean but interesting little game at a slumber party. It was exactly the sort of game that a.) would make men cringe, and b.) no middle school girl should ever play.

Today, they probably splash things like this all over Facebook. But back in the Dark Ages of Computers, we used pen and paper.

We were down in someone’s basement listening to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” over and over again. Each girl was given a piece of paper with a roughly-sketched table (now easily created on Excel), and at the top was a list of things like Face, Body, Personality. The list was passed around the room anonymously (Is any game amongst middle-school-aged girls truly anonymous? We knew each other’s handwriting like we knew every lyric to the latest Wham! song.).

Every detail of your outward being was scrutinized and critiqued. And then you got the paper to keep forever. Once seen, you can’t unsee things, people.

Just as I suspected, the old adage my mom kept chanting, “Everyone will be too worried about themselves to worry about what you look like/what you’re doing/what you’ve said” was wrong. Complete bunkum.

They noticed.

They recorded.

They reported their findings.

As I might have said before, it’s amazing that any of us survive our preteen years.

But I clung to the positives, the parts where they said I was kind and reminded them of Great Shape Barbie.

Years later, a.) I am very glad that no one has ever asked me to play that game again, and b.) I still try to focus on the positives.

Carrie Rubin, over at The Write Transition, wrote about the one word you would use to describe yourself and others. Do you project confidence? Kindness? Are you creative? Wild? Are you the dependable one? Or the cruise director?

How well does your own one word match up to how others view you? Would your family agree with the word you’ve chosen? Would your friends or co-workers?

The Road Not Taken Because It’s Not There Anymore

The Pool. Good then, good now.

Cents I used to carry in case I needed to call home. From a pay phone: 25

Backpacks I owned before college: 0 (they were so uncool)

Letters I used to write per week. On paper. With complete sentences: 2

News flash: things change.

As I approach 40, my older child is about to start middle school, and each May is beginning to feel like the time I should make Christmas purchases because I know the holidays are about to come around (again!), I think about how things have changed and how they have stayed the same. Walk with me through the antiquated, bygone roads of my childhood:

1. Phones. Our son wants one. Really bad. Really, really bad. He may, in fact, be the only almost-sixth-grader who does not own an iPhone. And my heart aches for him.

When I started middle school, my mom and dad both worked. I stuck a quarter in my pocket and walked the three-quarters of a mile to school with my two buddies, carrying my violin case and a stack of books. It was uphill both ways. No snow, but like-Africa-hot can apply here.

If it rained on the way to school or the way back, their moms might take pity on us and drive us there. If not, tough cookies.

There weren’t any pay phones on the side of the road in our neighborhood. My mom and dad couldn’t have done anything anyway… they were in their cars, on the way to work. In retrospect, I’m not sure what the quarter was for. But it was a lot cheaper than carrying an iPhone.

I would gladly supply my son with a quarter, but he is oddly disinterested.

2. Afterschool Activities. After school, we didn’t watch TV or get driven all over Timbuktu to Ashram Yoga or Fencing or Getting in Touch with Your Inner Child or Lacrosse. We went over to whichever home had a mom who could tune us out the best and jumped around to loud music and called it dancing. This went on for two hours, at a minimum. It was the first time I realized my stomach could sweat. And I thought it was cool.

We also ate huge bowls of ice cream and mixed in: peanut butter, sprinkles, chocolate syrup, caramel, butterscotch and M&Ms. We didn’t get sick from eating such a feast, and we never put on weight. Our legs resembled those of a fawn, narrow and long and unencumbered with cellulite. Sigh.

3. Terrorism. We didn’t need to worry about Al Qaeda or terrorist attacks, because we were pretty sure the Russians were going to wipe us all out with nuclear bombs. Those of us who survived would need to know how to speak Russian, and I wasn’t great with languages.

We lived near a major Air Force base, so the coach who taught us geography said the best thing to do was to go out onto the runway and wait for the bombs to drop. Better to be close to the epicenter instead of still alive and feeling the effects of nuclear fallout.

I did not think Sting’s “I Hope the Russians Love Their Children Too” lyrics were tongue-in-cheek. I really hoped. Like, for real.

4. Video Games. I was not good at video games, but my sister was. She played “Pitfall” like a champ, passing level after level, leaping on alligator heads and not getting chomped, swinging on vines in perfect synchronization…

Later, she said, “I liked it, but it never went anywhere.” It was the same few screens, over and over.

When a fellow blogger and her two teenage sons visited us this weekend, they showed my son the app, “Temple Run.” I talked to the older boy about how video games never used to do much more after the first few screens. Guess what? They still don’t. “Temple Run” has dodging and jumping… over and over.

5. Safety. We were in middle school, and we were tough. PE teachers didn’t worry about whether we would get hurt. They let us practice things like archery and said, in a laid-back kind of way, “Now, don’t walk behind the targets while someone is shooting.” Sometimes people did, and too bad for them.

During the summer, we hung out at the pool by ourselves. If we were lucky, a mom would drive us up there. But usually, we walked through a number of backyards in our flip-flops and only left the pool during adult swim and obvious thunderclaps.

The lifeguard was a druggie, but we didn’t know and quite frankly, didn’t care. Could he save us if we started drowning? No, but he sure was cute.

Sunscreen? Why in the world would you want to remain lily-white? The Bain du Soleil lady was our idol, and we compared forearm coloration with enviable scientific intensity, never again applied to something as mundane as mousetrap cars or high school chemistry experiments.

6. TV and movies. We all watched the same TV shows. There weren’t a whole lot of choices, especially for those of us who distinctly remember getting a color TV and whose parents thought cable TV was the work of the devil. I still remember staying up late with my mom watching “Friday Night Videos,” the poor child’s version of MTV.

My friends and I were horrified at the underarm hair on the lead singer of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. “Come On Eileen” was a song best listened to on the radio; it may, in fact, have led to MTV’s eventual switch to reality TV. Some things don’t need to be seen to be appreciated.

And when we wanted to see a movie, even multiple times, it was a mom or dad who was forced to either sit through the beloved movie or cover pick-up and drop-off. I saw “Back to the Future” three times in the theater, and “Pretty in Pink” was part of a friend’s birthday party: fifteen middle-schoolers kicking the backs of seats at the new movie theater in town. Divine.

Now, my kids often say they’ll wait until it comes out on DVD. No biggie.

What do you remember about middle school? What are you glad about that’s changed, and what do you wish kids today still got to experience?

Note to My Younger Self

You're welcome.

Years I spent in middle school: 3

Years it seemed like I spent in middle school: 14

Months until my son starts middle school: 5

Note to my sister: You are welcome. I removed all evidence of your bad outfits and side ponytails and left the horrific facts about my own childhood in. Although, to be honest, you were pretty much always cute anyway.

Dear Middle School-Aged Self,

I know it seems like you will never finish the worst years of your life. But you will, I promise. Until then, enjoy your fantasies about either moving to a different town far, far away or escaping to medieval England where things were much easier.

I thought I would help you by sending a letter back in time so you can see that things worked out fine; kind of a reverse of the time capsules teachers keep making you do. I mean, look at that cute kid in the picture frame up there. You marry him. Yes, you’re welcome. Now that we’ve settled that, here are a few things that will help you see that this too, shall pass.

1. You never get cool. I know. You were hoping for good news. But it’s okay, really. You meet some truly amazing people, make lots of friends over the years and have memories you wouldn’t trade for a winning lottery ticket. And the greatest part is, the people who really matter don’t care that you’re not cool.

2. You are now the ugliest you will ever be for the rest of your life. That horrible haircut and questionable color combinations you’re wearing now? Gone. You have survived them, and since Mom and Dad have recorded them for posterity, you are providing all of us middle-aged people with lots to laugh about.

Also, a big plus about being ugly as a pre-teen is that a.) you get it over with, and b.) you still have friends. Look around you: there are people who are willing to be friends with you now who can look past the braces and bad skin and horrible haircut. I guess Mom was right about it building character.

Oh, wait. She said that about driving an ugly car–I forgot to tell you that part. You will get a huge, ugly car when you’re 16. Just look out the window in the driveway–it’s the one Dad got when you were four. Yep. That’s the one. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that plaid interior is yours, baby. And whether it’s a car or your face, having an ugly one can be a weird, cosmic character builder.

3. You really will remember your locker combination. Don’t stress.

4. The things you admire now may not be the same things you covet later on. The ankles on that girl in your homeroom? The ones you think bunchy, outfit-matching socks look so cool on? Future people actually come up with a name for those: cankles. When you grow up, you’ll be glad you have skinny ankles. Get over it and move on.

5. No one will ever proposition you to take drugs in the way you’re expecting. I am so proud of you for listening to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” advice. And I know the words are right there, ready to be spoken just in case someone tries to push some cocaine or heroin on you in between second and third period at your locker. But you can relax. Your un-cool vibe communicates your “no” message just fine in a non-verbal way. And you know what? Good job.

6. Mom was right about the popular kids. You’re not a popular kid, and shoot, you never will be. But all those times when Mom said that they had weird s*&$ going on in their lives that I couldn’t imagine, she was right. Everyone has to fight his or her own battles.

Even when you get into high school, and you see the cute cheerleader with the awesome car with painted, matching wheels, try to keep in mind that her life is not the bowl of cherries you seem to think it is. You have a mom and dad who love you, a sister you can laugh about your mom and dad with, and good friends around you. You are about 20 steps ahead of the pack, girlfriend.

7. Free time: cherish it and stop worshipping that cute boy. Yes, silly, I know he’s cute. And those boys who make you laugh in science and math class are funny. Start concentrating on yourself.

Geez. Learn some binary code and programming skills.

Keep reading as many books as you can get your hands on. Never again will you have so much time to read, play at the pool and jump around to your favorite music.

Stop thinking that you’re bored. One day, when you’re almost 40, you will wonder how you can fit everything you want to do into a 24-hour time frame. But now, time is yours. Wrap it around you, and give yourself a big hug. You’re going to need it.

Wait. I forgot to caution you: don’t select Eastern Europe as your newspaper project when you get to high school. You think that not much happens there, and it will be an easy A. But lots of stuff goes down, my friend. Truly. You know the Berlin Wall? Oh. I guess I can’t tell you. But just trust me on this one.