Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties is Twenty Five Things

This list is going around Facebook, but since I approach Facebook as though I am in the witness protection program and could be found out at any minute, I will post here:

1. What other women find in shoes, I find in books.
2. I am not the hopeless romantic I pretend to be.
3. I have a horrible memory, but luckily I have good friends who remind me of all the stupid things I've done. Constantly.
4. I love Dr. Phil. There's something about a man so full of himself that sends my heart a-thumping.
5. I think I have OCD. Not the washing-your-hands and touching-the-doorknob kind, but the baby-needs-her-schedule-or-else-she-throws-a-tantrum kind.
6. I have lots of regrets in life, but I don't see that as a bad thing.
7. As Popeye loves spinach, so do I.
8. I tend to let situations get the better of me.
9. I don't enjoy competition. I'm very kumbaya about sharing, playing fair, and making sure everyone gets a prize.
10. I think that any doctor who would give fertility drugs to a woman with six children should have his or her license revoked.
11. I have no desire to go back where I came from, both literally and metaphorically.
12. I will never outgrow my love for gas station nachos. Extra cheese, extra jalapenos.
13. I avoid walking around the school at lunchtime because it breaks my heart to see students eating alone.
14. I have a real problem with the concept of living in the moment.
15. I love slapstick comedy, and make no apologies for having the entire movie Airplane! memorized.
16. My favorite movie of all time is Big Fish. Incidentally, the book was rubbish. Go figure.
17. I have a teeny tiny crush on Jon Stewart.
18. I am a very judgemental person, but I'm trying to work on this.
19. I can say "You have bunnies in your pants" in three languages. It is equally funny in all three.
20. I think most things are overrated, Sprinkles being one of them (sorry H).
21. I think Angelina Jolie is a homewrecker, but damn she's hot.
22. Target makes the best tee shirts around. Suck it, Banana Republic.
23. I know all I know about pop culture from Perez Hilton. I am ashamed of this, unless of course you also read Perez and then I can't wait to talk to you about it.
24. I don't enjoy drinking half as much as I enjoy and hangover-less weekend.
25. I truly, honestly, completely love being thirty. When it comes birthday time this year, I'm thinking I'll just skip.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties is a Giver of Actual Gifts

I did the craziest thing today. It is a suspense-filled tale of mystery and adventure, so do your best to keep up.

It's H's birthday tomorrow, and a group of us are going out to dinner Saturday (a la 'woman her thirties, by the way). So tonight I went to the store to buy her a gift. I went. To the store. To buy a gift. It was so strange. I forgot stores existed anywhere except within the confines of Firefox.

I walked into the building and looked at items I thought she might like. I touched things. And then I selected the thing I thought she would like best. I picked it up with my hands, carried it to the counter, and purchased it. With real money, not a credit card.

Wait-- it gets better. When the woman at the counter asked if I wanted a box for it, I said no. Why? Because I am going to wrap it in its original box. I am going to go to another store, choose paper with which to wrap the gift, and do it myself.

As if this isn't enough, I actually have chosen a birthday card to include with the gift. In the card I'm going to write a greeting in my actual handwriting.

I honestly cannot remember the last time I purchased a present for someone that was not from a registry or in gift card form, but I think it might have been the My Little Pony I got for Jennie for her twelfth birthday slumber party. E-cards have been my stand by for all holidays in the last few years, and while I was living overseas this might have been considered an acceptable alternative to the real thing, there is something that is just insincere about e-mail, something akin to having your secretary send flowers to your mom on Mother's Day.

This woman in her thirties is going to make a resolution to stop with the e-madness, at least when it comes to the people in my life that count. Birthdays, from now on, are events that require a card, an envelope, and a stamp. And, if you're good, I just might include a wrapped token of my appreciation for all you do in my life. And if you're really good, I just might include a gift receipt.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties is Change We Can Believe In

I was working in hi-tech in my early twenties, right about the period in every woman's life when all her friends are getting married. I wasn't. In fact, I had just gone through a break up of epic and soul-crushing proportions. I was not in any mood to discuss font options for stationary, and yet every day my cubicle was filled with color swatches and the sound of giggling young women on the phone with the florist during their lunch break.

One day I got into a conversation with J, a middle-aged man who worked on the same account I was on. He let it slip that his girlfriend was moving in with him that weekend, and the sarcasm practically burst from my lips.

'Don't tell me. You're going to cover the bed in rose petals and when she comes into the room you'll be down on one knee.' He shook his head. 'Wait, I know. You're going to make dinner for her and slip the ring into her champagne glass. Really. Tell me all about it.' He laughed.

'I'm not going to marry her,' he said. 'I've been married once before, and I won't do it again.' He didn't say it in that my-life-experience-is-much-more-significant-than-yours kind of way, he said it genuinely. When I asked him why he said simply, 'Because people change.'

'Yeah,' I thought. So true. People do change.

Recently K and I were discovered online by an old... acquaintance from high school. She sent us both email messages that easily could have been written when we were still sixteen. The only difference in her drama was the height of her bangs and the age of her children.

'She hasn't changed a bit,' K and I remarked. 'She is exactly the same.'

'Yeah,' I thought. So true. People never change.

This weekend at K's baby shower, I found myself reflecting on this very conundrum. As she opened gifts including something called a 'nipple brush' (scary), I found myself going back to when things were different. It's amazing how quickly the mind can make a movie of your relationship with a person, replaying each event in a way that makes it feel like it was both yesterday and three thousand years ago. It's hard not to look at your life as pictures of a scrapbook rather than steps on a journey. But I think that's what it is.

As far and wide as our journeys have taken us, a woman in her thirties is comforted by the fact that things change. Douchy boyfriends get kicked to the curb (eventually), people grow out of the need to impress people using a beer bong, expectations of life become more realistic and less self-serving.

Yet, as far and wide as our journeys have taken us, a woman in her thirties is comforted by the fact that things don't change. I know with whom I can share my secrets. I have an immovable home base, no matter where I go. And, while I have thrown a retirement party for light beer in a can, some of my girls will remain faithful. We can have our separate drinks and toast to the same changing future.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Cherishes her Alone Time

For the first eighteen years of my life I shared a room with my sister, S. Two more dissimilar people have not shared such close quarters, and for so long. I have vivid memories of placing duct tape on the hard wood floor to keep her off my side of the room, throwing her clothes at her face with the intent to inflict harm, and 'shh-ing' her for what seemed like hours on end when I was trying to read a book in bed. I remember watching episodes of Family Ties and bubbling with jealousy because even though the Keatons had a big family too, Jennifer and Mallory got their own rooms. No fair.

I think this, along with the ten-person suite that served as my dorm experience, prepared me for a life in which I appreciate my solidarity. When I know I am going to be alone on a Saturday afternoon, I might plan to go to Target and shop without judgement. When it's a Tuesday or Wednesday night, I might rent an independant film and make a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. If it's a Friday night, I usually cuddle up with Ann Curry and Dateline NBC. Any time I feel like I am missing out on what is often referred to as 'real life', I think back to my days creating forts under my Dad's piano to get some privacy and thank God for the peace and quiet.

L and I have been together for over six years now, and he has traveled extensively during that time. When we were overseas, my appreciation of being alone came in handy. If it wasn't for my alone time, I would not have made some of the friends that I did. I would not have gotten a qi pao made. Sure, I might have avoided that trip to the zoo that scarred me for life, but in the end it was the experience, seperate from L, that made me feel like the adventure was not just his and not just ours-- it was mine.

With our economy swirling down a giant toilet bowl of despair, L has not traveled at all in the last few months. And while the dutiful new wife in me feels like my line should be 'and I'm so happy to have him with me, every minute, so we can gaze into each other's eyes and burst into spontaneous love songs,' the woman in her thirties in me knows that is not the reality. Nor would I want it to be. The truth is that while it's great to have L to snuggle with every night and kiss goodbye every morning, the independant woman (yeah, woman) that I am has missed being able to watch Antiques Roadshow, uninterrupted.

When L left last Saturday for his first business trip in four months, I made a mental list: 1. Make that new Real Simple mac and cheese recipe on the cover of this month's issue. 2. Work out every day. 3. Clean out the coat closet. 4. Buy roses 5. Spend at least one afternoon in the library. 6. Eat at least one package of chili cheese Fritos.

I have done none of these things. But, of course, it's not the items on my list that are important. It's the list itself; the idea that a woman in her thirties makes a place in her life for prioritizations all her own. Tonight, my last night of 'alone time' before L comes back, I feel the responsiblities of my job and the uncertainty of the future weighing on me. I think the best thing I can do with my freedom is close my eyes, crawl under the piano, and listen to the silence.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Poses for Naked Photos

The legend goes something like this: My Grandfather, known equally for his thick accent, flirtatious personality, and mandolin skills, went out dancing one night at a bar in San Francisco. This was many years before I was born, but I like to picture him twirling two ladies at the same time, laughing and wiping sweat from his brow while Astaire plays in the background. One moment he is singing along with the music, and the next he is on the floor. He died instantly of a heart attack.

'That's how I want to go', I always have told myself. Dancing, singing, reading, I don't care. Doing anything other than thinking about how I'm about to die would be good enough for me.

You can imagine my shock when, on a three hour car ride from Beijing to Donglu (more on that later), my mother began talking about how her father died of cancer.

'Wait,' I said, confused. 'I thought he died of a heart attack on the dance floor.'

'Oh,' my Mom said. 'He did. But he'd been diagnosed with skin cancer months before. The doctors had only given him about six months to live. He was going to die anyway.'

I took this as a personal affront for two reasons. One, I don't like being lied to. Okay, this was more of a 'withholding the truth' lie, I don't like anything that makes me have to go back and reconstruct stories of my family's past. And two, I had gone my whole life believing that while I struggled with math, I wasn't so great at cooking, and I tend to have a real impatience for the elderly, I still had one skill I could hold on to: my ability to tan. With this new knowledge, my moles and freckles were less badges of merit and more badges of stupidity.

During my last physical, my doctor told me a woman in her thirties with my family history must see a dermatologist. 'You've done a lot of damage here,' she said while looking at my Dalmatian-like back. Not exactly the words of encouragement I was looking for.

I went to the dermatologist on Friday, a woman who looked me over in my birthday suit and said, 'Well, nothing is jumping out at me.' I laughed as though it was the funniest thing I'd ever heard-- anything to draw the attention away from my bare ass. 'But I'm going to recommend you see our photographer so he can document your skin so I can check next year to see if there are any changes.'

Two words bothered me: '"Document?" I asked. "As in, take pictures?"' My doctor nodded. "'He'? I croaked. "As in, 'he'?"

With that, I was whisked away to my photo shoot. The photographer was very professional, pointing out the poses (yes, poses) I would need to... well, strike. 'First you will stand like this, then I will get a close up of this, and then in the last photo you will straddle this chair so I can get the bottoms of your feet.'

I got that he needed to get pictures of me head to toe, but did he have to use the word 'straddle'?

A nurse came in to chaperon, which was awesome because really, when you are naked in front of a photographer, what could make the situation any more uncomfortable? Invite in a nurse, of course! She stood there and dutifully laughed at my jokes about my future career posing for Penthouse while I lifted my arms, lifted my legs, bent over, and prayed to God in heaven that it would be over soon.

When I got home, I told L what happened. His first words were, 'Well, at least you're hot,' and it took me a moment to realize that his initial sympathies were not with the photgraphee (me) but with the photographer who must have to 'document' a lot of nasty looking people all the time. Men.

And so, with a blush and a twenty dollar copay, my first naked photography session is complete. Now that it's over, I realize that there is something to be said for sunscreen. But I can't shake the feeling that my Grandfather is looking down on me right now, laughing and shaking his head.

'You're missing the point,' I can hear him saying. 'It's not about how I died. You should have seen how I lived!'

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Mourns the Return of the Bodysuit

I was informed today that a woman in her thirties does not (read: is forbidden to) wear jeans to a baby shower. Apparently my jeans, which are far more expensive than my ten dollar Old Navy slacks, are not worthy of Nicoise salad and Diaper Genies. So with the twenty or so seconds I had free this afternoon, I stopped by a patchouli-smelling clothing shop to try to find something a woman in her thirties might wear.

And there it was. Hanging there as if it had every right to exist alongside the cashmere cardigans and sweater dresses.

The bodysuit.

Anyone who knows me will concur: I am no Heidi Klum when it comes to fashion. I haven't owned a belt in... well let's just say the last time I owned a belt was when I had a coordinating scrunchie. The only people who have the same interest in shoes as me are nuns, nurses, and geriatrics. But I can say this with certainty: nothing screams 'yeast infection' quite like the bodysuit.

I was removed from this whole fashion business for the last three years when fitting in to my community involved more language lessons and less time at the mall. But come on. What could have gone so wrong in our culture that the bodysuit is back? Have we un-learned how to tuck in our shirts? Has there some sort of porn craze involving wedgies, tiny elastic wastbands, and triple-snaps that I don't know about? I really don't get it.

I guess with fashion, as with so many things, the choices we make seem right at the time. I assume now a woman in her thirties must assume a more motherly role at the clothing store, one in which we coax other girls who might become transfixed with the seemingly logical design of the contraption, and be tempted to go astray.

'Not this one, sweetie,' I hear myself saying to the strange teenager next to me in the store, mentally assembling her skinny jeans and matching body suit for her date that night. I'll put my arm around her and in my best woman-in-her-thirties voice whisper, 'You'll thank me later.'

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Can't Resist This Weather

My to do list this morning read as follows:

1. Call credit card company and ask, for the thousandth time, 'Why are you so incompetent?'
2. Create introduction activity involving iambic pentameter
3. Create three quizzes for my Lord of the Flies unit that students will actually pass
4. Search online for a new hairstyle because what I've got going ain't pretty
5. Throw in a load of laundry
6. Change out of Naturalizers and into boots for foo-foo dinner planned with L and his co-workers
7. Create new seating charts for new classes next semester
8. Call Mommy

I had every intention of completing my list, but after watching Matt Lauer on the Today Show this morning I realized I needed to make a drastic change of plans. It's 70 degrees out, and it's well below zero in other parts of the country. I just moved back from an area of the world that I will describe in one word: dirty. And I paid attention the other day on the elliptical when Doctor Oz said that women in their thirties don't get enough Vitamin D.

So, I'm off for a walk. A woman in her thirties reminds herself that her list will be there tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Backs Off

It's been over six months living this 'woman in her thirties' business and I've got lots and lots of ammo. My catch phrase is now my way of gauging the legitimacy of any activity. 'What Would Jesus Do?' has morphed into 'What Would a Woman in her Thirties Do?' I hope Jesus isn't mad.

The girls are getting together this weekend, and I counted about twenty five emails that went back and forth today over where to meet for dinner Saturday night. The first choice was a budget restaurant that prides itself in the sloppiest enchiladas and the drippiest, most fluorescent margaritas. When we were in our twenties this place was our Friday night hangout and never ceased to get us good and buzzed before whatever party or bar we were going to later.

When this place was suggested, I immediately checked my 'woman in her thirties' meter. No, I said quickly, a woman in her thirties does NOT go to diarrhea-enhancing Mexican food, especially if it's a place that is linked to her college experience. When someone suggested tapas, I jumped. Tapas sounds posh. Legitimate. Very 'woman in her thirties'.

As the emails went back and forth, I was reminded of easier times. Times before loan payments and husbands, times before our jobs were called careers. We took turns jabbing each other, just like the old days, and it was decided that the most pregnant of the group would decide. How diplomatic of us.

I have a feeling I know her pick, and it's going to involve salt-rimmed glasses, salsa that is too mild for my liking, and tears of laughter streaming down our faces as we think, in the back of our minds of course, that it used to be great when we lived close and did this kind of thing all time.

And it's going to involve Immodium. Lots of it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Joins a Nicer Gym

For many years, I was a member of gym I'll call "Always Open for Exercise". "Always Open" lived up to its namesake and stayed open all the time, but of course the only time I (and most other normal people) went to the gym was right after work and on a few ambitious Saturdays.

On days that I would go to the gym for a class, say kickboxing, I would have to show up at least twenty minutes early for fear that there wouldn't be enough room for me in the class. If there was, I shared the room with what any fire marshall would call "maximum occupancy", and spent the next hour both working out and trying to swat away appendages coming at me in equal measure.

On days that I would intend on spending an hour on the treadmill, I would wave through a sea of smelly, drooling men (and women), who spent more time fixing their hair in the mirror than doing any sort of exercise. Many of these people would spend hours on end chatting up the lonely housewife on the bicycles, the high school students signing people in, and anyone else who would be willing to hear their own embellished story of physical fitness. All this while waiting impatiently for the person on the eliptical to hurry and get off the machine; all this while trying to breathe through my mouth to avoid the stench of BO.

A woman in her thirties pays a little more (okay, a lot more) for a gym membership, but the returns are great. No lines for machines, no sweaty forty-somethings eyeing me doing squats, no sweat falling in tiny streams from behind the treadmill belt. It's a great feeling to get to a gym, walk in, and tune into Oprah in high-def on the flatscreen, and get to work. And when it's done, the only thing I have to complain about is the stunning inferiority I feel after working out next to people who could easily be mistaken for models.