The Blog

There’s something oddly reassuring about pain you’ve suffered from before. The pain of saying goodbye to someone you love, knowing the absence will indeed make your hearts grow fonder. The pain of a great workout that leaves you feeling alert and mellow. The pain of making a mistake because you were stretching yourself metaphorically, too.

It hurts, but you know you’ll survive.

What about pain you’ve never felt before? What if you’re making a leap so scary you wonder if you'll make it?

I find that oddly reassuring, too.

If you’re going somewhere you’ve never been, how can you expect to know in advance how getting there will feel?

flowers 640x480When Katie was eleven I won a Minnesota Book Award. From the moment we found out I was in the running -- I’ll never forget that moment! -- the focus was on finding the perfect dress for the party.

Not my dress. Katie’s.

And we did. We found it. It was perfect.

If you’re of a certain gender you know the importance of the dress. It’s almost as if you can’t look forward to the occasion until you find it. When you do? Now you can get excited.

Katie and I powdered our noses before the big ceremony and that’s when my editor showed up. He was talking with Darrell in the lobby and I hugged him before he saw Katie. When he did he paused for another moment I’ll never forget. “Well,” he said. “Look at you.”

I didn’t realize just how much fun the evening would be at this point. I didn’t know about the trip to the stage or the extra ribbon I’d get for being a winner as opposed to just a finalist or how difficult it would be to sleep that night from all the excitement.

Those memories, sweet as they are, can’t compare with watching Katie work the room at the party.

She was resplendent.

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson

When I was little I stumbled on one of my mother’s report cards. It was unbelievable. Not the straight A’s -- that much I could believe -- but the fact she’d ever been something other than my mom.

“My mom is…a person!” I suddenly realized. She’d had dreams that didn’t involve me. She’d worked hard at things that didn’t have anything to do with me.

I forgive the little kid whose brain found this difficult to process.

But I don’t want to be the person who -- as a grownup -- thinks of people only in terms of their relationship to me. “They’re people,” a career consultant once pointed out, “not functions.”

We have assigned roles in each other’s lives, granted. I can’t be the hero of anyone’s story but mine. But I hope whatever supporting role I play in your story is making you feel more like the hero you are.

On our way to take our daughters to an annual kid festival in Fargo several years ago my friend was amused by the reason I stopped at the bank first. I was cashing a rebate check.

“I’ve never met someone who actually goes to the trouble of filling out that paperwork,” she said.

So I did what any self-respecting newlywed would do. I told her how thankful I was Darrell attended to the details of being in business.

Seriously.

He doesn’t mind reading the fine print. He relishes it, actually. There’s nothing that energizes him more than contesting some stupid fee and getting it removed from a bill.

As hobbies go this one is difficult to poke holes in, eh?

The day we left for New York this summer the water heater stopped working again. We’d all taken our showers, so I didn’t worry about it. We scheduled a repair for the day after we got home.

A part had gone bad, the same one that had gone out the year before and the year before that. Said appliance ran fine for eight years. When the part went bad a second time we wrote it off as a coincidence. The third? It didn’t seem likely.

The explanation the gal in the office gave us was worded so closely to the repairman’s it felt like a ruse. It wasn’t the part, she told us. It was the age of the appliance.

Huh?

That didn’t make sense, but what were we going to do -- whip out a mechanical engineering textbook and point to a paragraph that said she was full of it?

Instead we asked about the labor. It had taken the same amount of time each year -- less than an hour -- to swap the bad part with a new one. This year we were billed for ninety minutes.

“That’s because we include the travel time from the shop to your house and back,” she said. But that hadn’t changed. We hadn’t moved, and neither had they. She offered to knock off the appropriate amount from our bill, but you could tell she wasn’t happy about it.

Were we good to go, then?

I nodded. Darrell just looked at me.

What?

“I didn’t want her to think I was happy, either,” he told me later. But we couldn’t disprove what she’d said, and for an uncomfortable minute or so we just sort of stood there.

I’ve felt funky about the exchange ever since. I wish I would’ve asked Darrell, before we talked to the gal, what success would’ve looked like to him. When we got that, we could’ve given the woman her afternoon back.

We were overcharged, no doubt -- but no one likes to be caught in a mistake. Standing there looking unhappy, after she gave us the only thing we could prove we had coming, felt like a mistake.

On the other hand and thanks to Darrell we recovered forty dollars. Which by itself doesn’t amount to much. But over time? I’ll sing one of hubby’s praises in the next post.

When I was little I read a story about someone who got cancer. The traditional treatments hadn’t worked. Enter alternative medicine. Which, if memory serves, included a diet that was radical at the time but more mainstream now. Green smoothies for breakfast, green smoothies for lunch, that sort of thing.

I was so little the thought of giving up sweetened cereal for breakfast was scarier than cancer. Scarier yet, I decided, was not having a choice.

I decided right then and there someday I’d eat well. I wanted to do it long before someone told me I had to do it. Beating the doctor to his orders would feel like I was still in charge of my life.

Funny thing about doing the right thing. If it’s your idea, you don’t bristle.

Why not do the right thing more often? Why not acknowledge what isn’t working, and stop doing that? Quitting something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a quitter, after all. It might just mean you’re learning.

You’re allowed to do that, you know. You’re allowed to change your mind.

Why do we crave guarantees from a job or a relationship? Especially when we know, for example, a story engages us to the extent we don’t know how it ends?

I’m not above wanting reassurance I’m doing the right thing with my life. But I’m also trying to get better at remembering it’s the not knowing that makes it fun.

Parents often say, on the one hand, they want their children to be happy -- as they insert themselves into the lives of those children in an attempt to spare them pain.

Let’s say you could remove uncertainty and pain from the equation. What would you have left? A boring story. And a bored child, as any parent knows, is an unhappy child.

If you have nothing better to do than try to remove obstacles from the lives of those you love, perhaps you’re bored by your own story. Face that first. Find that courage, and you might just trust your children to do the same.

It’s terrifying and freeing at once.

Can you feel brain cells dying now that you’re no longer in school? Maybe that’s because you’re not being thrown into different classes of people. Grownups often spend much of their day in the same office with the same cast of characters. It’s easy to get stale.

Thanks to the online world, each of us has a chance to assemble an ever-changing cast of characters who offer guidance and giggles.

When I was in school I loved people who were constantly cracking jokes. That’s why the first site I look at in the morning -- besides my own, to check for typos -- is The Onion.

You might find it hilarious, too. A quick scan of the headlines and you’ll probably be set for silly.