Saturday, January 17, 2015

My Trader Joe's Moment

To be fair, this day was a long time in the making. I just happened to be at Trader Joe's when lightning struck, so to speak.

I stood in their checkout line on a bustling Friday. Ahead of me, the Crew Member chatted up two young women, all yoga pants and fleece, in their casually pretty way. As he finished their purchase, he switched into high gear about their long hair and how he'd love to re-shape it if they made appointments with him because he was really a stylist.

I waited.

He went on and on about the salon and his talents. And their gorgeous blonde hair. They giggled.

I waited.

He swept his hands through the air, leaned in close and whispered more compliments. He handed them his card.

I waited.

The woman now behind me waited. We muttered to each other about the other long lines, realizing we could do no better to the left or right.

STILL, he talked. As they scooped up their bags to leave, he stopped them, desperate to extract a promise that they'd schedule an appointment. They were coy but encouraging. "I'm so excited!" he said. "You're beautiful!"

Then he turned to me and asked how I was on this fine day.

"Better, now that you have time for my groceries," I said drily.

He waltzed my cart forward, grinned, and said, "We give all our customers the personal attention they deserve." His hands did not float around my graying curls. He did not lean in to murmur coiffure confidences. He did not grace me with his personal card.

What a snake oil salesman, I thought.

"I'm sure you appreciate that, too," he said.

"Not quite as much as you might think," I said pointedly. The woman behind me hooted.

Realizing he'd just engaged two of the witches from Macbeth, he changed the subject to the wonderful sparkling pink lemonade I purchased for my daughter. I did not go on to add that she, too, was young and looked ravishing in her size 0 clothes and had gorgeous long hair.

I was silent. I paid and walked, fuming, toward the door.

Then I decided not to let him get away with it.

Perhaps you think I was overcome with jealousy, but the young women are blameless. The problem was his conduct, trolling for hair clients in a grocery store while inconveniencing other customers. And then he assumed his charming wink would smooth my ruffled, elderly feathers. When you get to be my age, you've finally had your fill of dismissive male behavior.

I remembered the sixth-grade boy who was furious whenever my grade was higher than his. When I scored 99% on the Greeks and Romans test to his A-, he sought revenge at recess, bouncing a ball off the brick wall beside me as I walked along. He landed it inches from me, nothing that would get him in trouble, but pounding his rage at me with each smash.

Then there was my score on a college history test, accompanied by praise from the professor as he put it on my desk. The boy beside me spat, "I bet a girl like you never leaves the library."

Nor have I forgotten my first job and the morning when several men introduced themselves and began telling demeaning jokes about women. When I didn't laugh, one said, "Well, I can see you don't have a sense of humor."

So I stopped at the service desk and lodged my complaint, asking: "Is Trader Joe's opening a spa? Is a marketing campaign underway?" She assured me it was not and that she'd talk to him. Then the other woman of a certain age who'd stood in line behind me stopped and said, "Good. I see you told her what happened." I encouraged her to add her own "double-double-toil-and-trouble" two cents.

In a perfect world, the manager would have asked for our receipts and reimbursed us. Or she would have given us gift certificates. Or she would have offered an apology at the very least. But she seemed to want the moment over as quickly as possible and us out of there.

That didn't surprise a girl like me.

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

What My Daughter Learned on the Mayflower

The Chinese are credited with a valuable tenet about learning.

Maggie's kindergarten teacher Ms. Spry practiced it perfectly. In her capable hands, education was an art form that proved the lasting worth of this quotation.

In November, to help them experience the Pilgrims' Mayflower journey, each child was assigned to be a real person from the ship's role. Ms. Spry helped them research their biographies.

Maggie was Rose Standish.

On the day of the sail, the children climbed into the classroom loft that served as the boat. Maggie told us they pretended sleeping. They pretended cooking. She was young, so the details of what all they pretended to do were sketchy. I seem to remember there was pretended fishing over the loft railing.

But that morning before she left for school, she asked me for band-aids. She stuffed all of them into her pockets, explaining that Rose Standish helped the sick Pilgrims. In Maggie's kindergarten mind, a nurse would have band-aids. I think she actually applied them to the sick and dying because they didn't come back home at the end of the day. She helped how she could.

She told us the Pilgrims who died onboard were buried at sea. In reality, they climbed down and were taken away to another room by the teaching assistant. Maggie saw how it got less crowded on the Mayflower. She saw how food and drinking water decreased. She felt how sad it was when one of her friends didn't survive and vanished.

Try as she might, band-aids didn't always work.

For several Thanksgivings, she told us the harrowing story of the brave Pilgrims and how she had a husband named Myles. She closed with: "Rose Standish tried her very best, but she got sick and died, too. It was sad." We even bought her a Mayflower plate for her annual turkey dinner because the journey was so real to her. She knew their story because she "lived" it.

Now in high school, she told me last week that she had turned a zippered case into an emergency supply kit filled with candy. I assumed it was for her "emergencies," but she said she kept it for other kids who were having a bad day. She has always been a sympathetic listener, gently holding the heartbreaks and worries of others who seek her out for advice and understanding. She's discovered the offer of chocolate works wonders.

Who wouldn't appreciate sweet foil-wrapped kindness on a bad day?

I'm sure those sick Pilgrims loved their neon band-aids, too.

Once Rose Standish, always Rose Standish.

Not because she heard a lecture or took a test or wrote a report on her life, but because she was her.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

2015: Dear Karen, Stop. Now. Love, Your Brain

I'm always searching for signs. When I can string together enough curiosities to see a pattern, I announce I've found a truth. When I looked back on the past year, I finally saw it. Inside my own head, I found a curious pattern, and, like it or not, I have to accept its truth.

Twice I experienced Transient Global Amnesia (TGA).

The first episode happened while I was cleaning up the garden. I carried leaf bags to the alley, turned around to step through the garage door into the backyard, and nothing made sense.

I was Alice falling down the rabbit hole into a nonsensical world.

I didn't understand why the clippers were on the sidewalk in front of me. I didn't know why I was outside. Cliff was raking in the front yard and said I came out the porch door and announced, "I don't know what I'm doing."

He and Maggie put me in the car. As we sat in the ER, I kept asking, "Why are we at the hospital?" They explained. I asked the same question again. A series of tests determined my brain was normal, and in three hours, my memory returned. Doctors said a shut-down of short-term memory was extremely rare and would probably never happen again.

It did.

Although the second episode was different, the sensation was identical. I raced through my brain for information, opening one drawer after another. Valuable files were empty; papers were scattered everywhere. Nothing had labels. Lost inside my own head, I couldn't connect the dots on anything because I couldn't remember what I was looking for. When short-term memory shuts down, nothing sticks. The brain becomes a sieve. In three hours, I was fine again.

The neurologist said there was only a 3% chance that it would happen a third time. Science has no explanation for TGA. It might be a side effect of statin medication to lower cholesterol. I've stopped taking it. It might be caused by strenuous exercise. That would not be me. It might be the result of stress. At one point during my first hospital visit, a doctor asked me to describe my life. When I was finished, she said, "Wow. No wonder your brain shut down." Bingo.

Before each event, my mind had spun on a hamster wheel of worry--crazy worry that raced from anxiety to panic. I've always been a master juggler of stress, but I'm now over sixty, the average age for TGA to strike. My brain is no longer nimble. Both times it picked up an item that eluded my catching ability. Three apples were juggle-able, but the added fourth, a pineapple, was the tipping point. My brain collapsed. Fruit rolled everywhere.

Or something like that.

So for 2015, I'm sorting and sweeping and stopping. I can't do everything. I can't control everything. My brain, realizing its cautionary whispers weren't getting through to me, flipped the switch and turned out the light. My brain needed darkness for a nap. Temporary amnesia was its only ticket.

A brain has only so many choices.

In 2015, I'm looking for reasons to stay calm. Sort, sweep, stop. I need to simplify my stressors, not multiply them. I smiled when I found this apt quotation:

                                      I've got 99 problems and 86 of them are completely 
                                      made up scenarios in my head that I'm stressing about 
                                      for absolutely no logical reason.

My sign. My truth.

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