Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Does Not Rush Retirement

I have longed for early retirement for many years, and for that I blame The Golden Girls. I love that show so much that when earlier this month J sent me a text message that simply stated 'Dorothy died', I knew exactly what she was talking about. I have fond memories of staying up until 9:30 on Friday nights, watching the show in my pajamas with my family, and laughing at jokes I didn't really understand. I have similarly fond memories watching reruns on Lifetime when taking breaks from studying in college.

Those girls-- they did it right. Trips all the time. Morning tennis lessons. Afternoon tea. Stories about Sicily. These are the things that appeal to the girl in me who needs rehab.

Today we had a retirement lunch for a teacher who's been at our school for thirty seven years. Thirty. Seven. Years. At the same school, teaching special ed. Please think about that for a moment.

The lunch room was covered with cakes, cards, and flowers. People took turns talking about this woman, and words like 'quintessential' and 'epitome' were thrown about with ease. She beamed.

Then it was her turn to speak. She was so choked up she could barely get the words out.

'It's been,' she began. 'I'm so...' She stopped, nodded her head, and whispered, 'thank you.'

To the twenty-something ear, her show of emotion could have been interpreted as sadness. 'Poor woman,' I might have thought a few years ago. 'She's sad it's over. She doesn't know what to do with her life. Thank God I'm only in my twenties and retirement is a billion years away. Maybe she should watch The Golden Girls for inspiration.'

But to the trained woman in her thirties, her show of emotion was more. It was pride. Thirty. Seven. Years. It would be impossible to capture her successes, her failures, and the countless hours of time and devotion into one eloquent speech. Sure, today there might have been some sadness. I guarantee there was also some happiness. Maybe a pinch of regret, a sprinkle of nostalgia, and a smattering of relief. If we do not feel all of these things when looking at our lives already, we will by the time we hit retirement. Her only words-- 'thank you'--summed it up perfectly.

As I left, I thought to myself that a woman in her thirties does not rush that moment, no matter how tempting it may be. When it comes, it will be great. Until then she has to take the time to revel in her accomplishments, learn from her mistakes, and realize that her career, like her relationships, will be deemed successful if eventually she can look back on them and feel proud.

But that doesn't mean that I don't look forward to a retirement condo in Florida with my girlfriends. I already know who my Rose and Dorothy will be. Blanche is up for grabs. I call Sophia.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties is All Grown Up

I just returned from a weekend in Arizona to meet K's new addition. There were times over the last forty eight hours that I thought I was going to actually eat that child, that's how freaking cute she is. There's nothing like a newborn baby to waken whatever latent maternal instinct a woman in her thirties might have within.

As we sat by the pool yesterday, the conversation was decidedly different than in the last few times I've gone to visit. I learned the pros and cons of the 'pump and dump'. I saw that my new tankini is not all that much different from K's maternity swimsuit (which only made me love it more). We discussed books we're reading, and people we hadn't seen in years, and memories of a time when a 7:30am flight home would have been out of the question, no matter how cheap the ticket was.

We did this while passing Ella around and around, taking turns making her smile and trying to get her to keep that darn passy in her mouth. While trying to decide what would suit the baby's schedule better-- take out or cooking dinner at home. While not thinking, even for a split second, that there was anywhere more fun than where we were at that moment.

I think this is how a woman in her thirties knows she has grown up-- when her idea of a vacation doesn't involve strangers in bars and drunken conversations. When she can spend a whole afternoon rejoicing in her friends' happiness. When she truly enjoys the simple comfort of spending time with her girls, old and new.

And when her only wish for her friend's new baby is for a lifetime of friendships like ours.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Picks her Battles

I received two invaluable pieces of advice my first year teaching:

1. Pack good lunches

This came from a woman who has been teaching more years than I've been alive. 'There is nothing that will burn a teacher out quicker than waiting in line with her students for greasy tater tots,' she said. 'Pack a nice lunch, eat with your co-workers, and talk about anything other than school.'

I think about this advice all the time, and not just when I'm getting ready for work in the morning. I think about it when I have a choice between fast food and a local cafe, and I think about it when I see people shoving hamburgers in their mouths while waiting at stoplights.

As I finish my fifth year as a teacher, I am happy to report that my lunches remain good and packed. Today's lunch conversation involved Adam, Kris, and that hideous song that the winner of AI will have to sing tonight.

2. Pick your battles

This came from one of my teachers in the credential program. He too had been teaching for ages and said, 'You have a million battles to fight every day. Being a good teacher is knowing which battles are worth spending your energy on, and which ones simply aren't worth it.'

I think about this advice all the time as well, but the practice hasn't been so easy. I'm inherently a questioner. I'm also a hoarder of insults, passive aggressive remarks, and failing marks on exams. I stack them in my chest until I'm ready to explode with frustration. I usually do, and the catalyst can be anything from a Cheerios commercial to a missed phone call from a friend. Healthy, I know.

I have a couple of battles brewing at the moment. They sit like canker sores on the inside of my lip. I'm waiting for the handbook for how to deal with these situations, but I don't think it's getting published anytime soon. As I was thinking about it today, I realized that the advice I've held on to in teaching works for all aspects of my life:

Pack good lunches.
Pick your battles.

When facing the unknown, women in their thirties find relief in knowing that despite the chaos of their lives, they have choices. And the smart ones choose to be happy.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Shops at the Farmer's Market

I realize there are many women in their twenties, and even their teens, who shop at the weekly farmer's market. They are dazzled by the words 'local' and 'organic'. These are often the women who have hit the Martha Stewart phase of their lives and have designated places in their homes for 'crafting'. I am not one of these women. However, as I have learned to accept my hair and my intolerance for yellow curry, I have also accepted that I will probably never frequent Michael's. I will probably never hem my own pants. And that's okay.

I admit I had a prejudice against farmer's markets in my twenties for two reasons. Firstly, Saturday mornings were spent sleeping off hangovers. Even if they weren't, I would have much rather spent the last five dollars in my bank account on light beer as opposed to fresh basil. Secondly, I had a friend whose husband owned an organic farm. He assured me one night over a few too many rum and cokes that 'organic' simply meant that they use different pesticides on their produce than the non-organic farms, and different did not always mean healthier. 'Buying organic is a rip-off,' he assured me, and I believed him.

My apartment is only a few steps away from the Saturday farmer's market. It just re-opened for the summer, and I couldn't help but walk in this morning. It was more than the bustling of people, the barking of dogs, and the giggling of children that lured me in. It was the smell of morning, the promise of ninety-degree weather today, and the friendliness of the vendors. I'm going away this weekend so I didn't stock up on the grapefruit sized artichokes that were calling my name, but I couldn't leave without buying these:


As I left I thought, 'How very woman-in-her-thirties' of me!' and patted myself of the back for supporting local business. I pet a couple of dogs on the way out, sampled some jalapeno jack cheese, and reminded myself that a woman in her thirties shops so often that she can't put a price tag on an enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Asks the Right Questions

I have a dream one day of teaching a class for high school girls. I haven't decided on a name for the class, but I'm waffling between 'You Don't Need a Boyfriend 101' and 'For the Love of God, Enjoy Being Young and Single'. I'm not sure which would have a better chance at being passed by the Board of Directors.

Today a student, A, came to my classroom during the break to tell me about her new 'boyfriend'. They met online. He's eighteen. He's not in school. Stays out all night partying, but text messages A all day while she's at school. I don't think I need to go on.

A, like so many teenage girls, is struggling to find herself. She seeks attention from any place she can find it. She's sure her parents have no idea what her life is like. She gets taken advantage of by her so-called friends. She's only happy when she's got the attention of a guy. I don't think I need to go on.

'Is he a good guy?' I asked her.

'Yes,' she said.

'How do you know?'

'Huh?'

'How do you know he's a good guy?' I repeated.

This threw her. 'Umm... well, he really likes me. Like today when I told him I had to work on a science project with a bunch of guys he was like all jealous and stuff.'

I don't think I need to go on.

I told her I was going to go interview this guy to see if he was worthy of her. I wanted to see his bank statements. I wanted to know his relationship with his mother. I wanted to know his plans for school, how he was going to help encourage A pass her English class (which she is failing miserably), how he votes now that he's of age, and if understands the laws for statutory rape in this state.

'Man, Mrs. C. You're going to be a strict Mom!' another student, who had overheard our conversation, said. The girls laughed and began to walk away.

I thought back to my own high school days, when the girl I looked at in the mirror was not all that different from A. I had an incredible ability to tune out the advice of people whom I respected. I look back on my life and think about how all the bonehead decisions I made (along with some not-so-bonehead ones) made me into the woman in her thirties that I am. So I admitted that my 'Don't Waste Your Time With Losers' class for girls would be poorly received, as those lessons are only learned through heartbreak and tears of one's own.

All I could say to A before she was out of earshot was, 'Okay, maybe I won't interview him. But you should! With those same questions! Promise me?'

She said she would think about it, and that's all I could ask for. I could have gone on... but I guess I didn't need to.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Puts it in Perspective

So many women in their thirties (and twenties, and forties, and teens, and fifties, and on and on), are under quite a bit of stress. I am no exception, of course. Job. House. Money. Family. Future. I've spent a lot of the last few days fretting and distracting and fretting again, and I know I'm not the only one. To quote one my favorite books of all time, a lot of us are wearing some heavy, heavy boots.

Yesterday, in the middle of one of my classes, an announcement came over the intercom no teacher wants to hear. Ever.

'We are in a Code Red Lockdown. This is not a drill.'

Code Red was implemented after the shootings at Columbine, and involves locking doors, barricading them, and hiding under desks and tables until the armed intruder at the school is brought down by police. We have done drills for this before, as public schools always do, but this was no drill. Our lives were in danger.

I felt the blood fall to my feet as all twenty of my students and I went into action. We stacked desks against the doors. We covered the windows as best we could. We ducked under desks. We waited silently, listening for gunshots and the sound of our own heartbeats.

I think Stanley Kubrick must direct the films that go through our heads in times of crisis. Mine was not the film of the hero teacher who saves the lives of her students. I thought about L. I thought about the state of my personal files. I thought about how unfair life is.

One student sitting near me began to panic. She was breathing loudly and kept whispering, 'Oh God, oh God.'

'It's going to be okay,' I whispered back to her. 'We're safe. No one is getting in here.'

'I want my Dad,' she said, and all I could do was nod. I did, too.

About ten minutes into the lockdown, another announcement came. 'Teachers, check your email. Read the contents to your class.'

Like a soldier avoiding landmines, I tiptoed to my computer and read. There had been a shooting at a shopping center less than a block away. The suspect escaped, and he was armed. The police didn't believe he was on our campus, but they wanted us to remain in lockdown for the time being.

We breathed a collective sigh of relieve and remained on the ground. We whispered to each other about our families. One of my students taught me how to make a friendship bracelet. I called my kids my little angels and told them I would protect them. They laughed, which was the response I was hoping for.

All of this while crouched under desks; all of this in the dark. So many of us are sitting in such darkness.

An hour later, we were released. Everything was okay. The suspect had not been caught, but the school was safe. Time to go home and tell our families how much we love them.

And with that, a woman in her thirties gets a new perspective on life.

'It's going to be okay.'

It's going to be okay.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Wears Dresses

A few weekends ago, L and I went on a walk and stumbled upon one of the neighborhood parks in our area. There was a child's birthday party going on, and so we took a seat and watched the kids interact and play. If you have never done this, I highly recommend it. Sometimes there is nothing more entertaining.

There was a group of four or five-year-olds on top of the slide shouting at each other and screaming as they made their way down. One of them, a girl with a short bowl cut, had on a yellow spring dress that was obviously uncomfortable on her. She tugged and pulled and lifted her dress so many times that you would think she was trying to get rid of a bee buzzing underneath it.

'Come on!' one of the kids shouted at her from bottom of the slide. 'Come down!'

'I can't!' she cried. 'This stupid dress! I hate dresses!'

Man, I thought to myself. I hear you my little friend. I hear you.

I wouldn't call myself a tomboy (I'd have to be better at sports for that), but I am certainly not a girly-girl. I have next to no fashion sense, which I blame on ten years of Catholic school uniforms, and my taste in shoes is... well, you remember.

So yesterday morning, when it was brought to my attention that it would be nice if I wore a dress to an upcoming event, I panicked. I imagined having to wear a strapless bra, about as comfortable for me as a root canal. Then I imagined having to show the two foot white columns that technically pass for my legs. And then, the eptiome of all I am against, the very essence of what is wrong with our society's expectation of female beauty: high heels.

No! I wanted to say, just like the girl on top of the slide. I hate dresses!

Begrudgingly, I went shopping yesterday afternoon. My intent was to buy work clothes, but I ended up with a dress to wear to the event. I will have to wear a strapless bra (damn), show my legs (double damn), and high heels (triple damn). But dammit all, I'm going to do it.

So a woman in her thirties looks at that girl standing on top of the slide, fidgeting with the expectations this world has put upon her and says, 'Sometimes... some people... are worth the trouble.'

Then she teaches her how to sit on her dress, pull the hem up under her legs with both hands, and slide anyway.