A birthday letter

I turn 33 today. Double 3s.

It makes me think back to turning 22—where I was. Who I was.

What would I tell myself during my senior year at Wofford College, if I could write a letter to me?

Here are 10 Things.

1. You will never drink peppermint schnapps again.

2. You think you know what love is.

Engaged at 21! You crazy kid, ya. You’ve never even lived in the same zip code.

You’re two odd socks. He’s numbers. You’re words. This won’t be a Disney movie marriage because he doesn’t dance or sing (two of his three only flaws).

Right now, you don’t know that love, sometimes, is taking out someone else’s trash. Learning to sleep without a radio, but with a fan. Counting coins to finance a washing machine and giggling all the way. Listening to understand, not to answer. Giving. Giving in. Giving in to silly. It’s unconditional, unlimited and unimaginably easy.

Right now, you just know that you’re smitten with the freckle under his left eye, the way his one palm spans the small of your back, the brush of him that sends you to shivers. You don’t even have a job yet when you say yes to forever. But you know this man will nonstop love you, encourage you, inspire you. You know he will make you laugh and make you whole.

And you’re right.

Now, in 10 years, one of Jeff’s co-workers will ask him: so, do you and your wife go home and talk about unicorns and rainbows? (No clue how he could possibly leave pixie dust off the list). You two think it’s funny that so many people ask you if you ever fight, if you ever raise your voices, if you ever feel anger.

Ha. Ha.

anniversary

3. You think you’re smart.

Between the two of you, you have a few degrees from important places with squeaky GPAs and a string of accolades. You’re going to do well, you two. A big, brick southern two story house with an open-arm driveway and jasmine vines crawling every which way.

Well, no. There’s no jasmine, no view, no outdoor entertaining, no “Oh, here, let me take your coat and hang it in our mudroom.”

But, minus the cruddy dishwasher and the cream-colored couch (girl—don’t buy that cream-colored couch), you’ll be surprised how much this won’t bother you.

4. You think things will never change.

And some things won’t. You’re an ENFP for life. Sensitive. And blessed beyond freakin belief.  But you will lose touch and perspective and weight. You’ll gain it all back. In time, you’ll lick the chapped nostalgia from your lips. You’ll realize that life isn’t always simple, but there’s always a corner of magic somewhere.

magic
Disney Digression

5. You think you’ll have girls.

Your doctor told you a while ago that you’re going to have a hard time having babies. You may not be able to at all. So you and Jeff have had lots of grown-up talks and you’ve settled on adoption. And your future as a parent hasn’t gone much further than consideration and a few daydreams about dance recitals and fairy tales.

Spoiler alert: there will be no tutus.

feet

And this parenting gig? That’s another letter. I wish I could write you a book, really. Good gracious. Maybe a book for each stage, with instructions, diagrams, pictograms and the perfect calm response to every shock that pops up. Or a little tip-off so you know that you will no longer possess your own heart. I’ll just say this. You think you love your parents now? Psssh. Wait til you become them. Wait until your firstborn has surgery and you’re holding him as he comes out of a post-anesthesia stupor. His eyes beg you for an explanation and, though you know exactly why he needed this procedure, he can’t understand it. And you get the tiniest taste of how your heavenly Father might feel when you’re hurting and you don’t understand.

6. You think you’re busy.

Homework every night, hours and hours of reading, pages and pages of paper-typing. Cheer practice, sorority meetings, newspaper deadlines, weekend drives over the mountains to see Jeff. There’s never enough time.

Just you wait until you’re working full time. You work all day, race home, help the kids with homework, make dinner, give baths, referee, mend a heart, bandaid a booboo, read stories, tuck them in, work some more. Add the kids’ birthday parties and baseball practices and play dates—in between all the dishes and dinners. Then you’re in 3 cities in 3 days and you still have to make sure that all 4 people in your house have clean underwater options at all times.

7. You think you’re fat.

Oh, you’re cute. No. Really.

Hush.

8. You think life is super cute.

A bubble that floats you from one fun thing to the next.

But diagnoses and disease and death smear in. I wish I could warn you.

Soon after your mom is diagnosed with breast cancer, you’ll be at an appointment with her when the doctor, appropriately stoic, prescribes her fate. His voice will be free of swells and dips as he runs through the chemo and radiation schedule. “And you will,” he will say, as if he’s saying oh, by the by, “You will lose your hair.”

You can’t see the mass poisoning her body or feel the weight of worry in her infected chest. So you don’t cry for the cancer. You cry for her hair.

And you try to heal with diversion. Glossy bridal magazines, appointments with florists, photographers. Unmessy things. Things lacy and rosy and new.

You think death politely taps someone on the shoulder and, with manners in his mouth, tells that someone that it’s time to go. You take your time for goodbyes. I’ll wait here, death says with a nod and a bow.

You think that until death grabs someone by the neck and rips them from their bedroom. And you get a phone call from your husband and he tells you that his mom just died. Just. And you’re driving over a bridge to pick him up and you’re screaming at God and crying and calling out “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” over and over and over. And you think if you scream loud enough and fast enough, everything you say may reach her ears before she crosses to the other side.

I’m sorry that I didn’t call enough. Or ever. I’m sorry that I moved your son, your only child, hundreds of miles away. I’m sorry that the DJ played the wrong version of the mother/son dance at our wedding.

After a whirlwind flight, you’re walking through her front door. You have to step through first because Jeff can’t. She’s gone, but nothing else is. It still smells like her house, a familiar, sweet, suffocating smell.

You walk through her room and there’s a brand new pair of shiny white Keds, still in their box, because she was planning on so many more steps. And on her bathroom counter, jewelry for the week is rationed out in a re-purposed pill box. Earrings for Tuesday, a ring for Thursday.

In that moment, you swear that you’ll never take another day for granted. But you will. You’ll get lost in the busy and you’ll forget how precious and glorious and miraculous each new day is.

9. Oh. You think you’re so fancy, huh?

Look at you. You’re the editor of the college newspaper, the co-captain of the cheerleading squad, VP of your sorority, member of a dozen clubs, groups, societies. You lead, you do, you like need to shine.

And you just fell down the rabbit hole into advertising, an intern in an Atlanta agency. It’s a pretty sweet shop, but you don’t know that. To you, “shop” is a class with a band saw and safety goggles. But you’re taken by the energy of the place—it runs on the same urgent pace as the newsrooms you’ve worked in. But the agency’s hip edge left you tingly and tipsy. You came up with a print ad for Toyota, someone told you it was pretty good and that’s all you needed to hear. You must be made for this, of course. (p.s. Today, I hardly recognize your bloated self-confidence and I wonder how and when and why it deflated).

And—you’re hired! Good girl. But you start with just a few toes in the door, a place you’ve never been. So, you’ll spend the better part of a decade studdering, trudging, fighting to be sure of yourself. Until, finally, finally, you’re content to just be yourself.

10. Strike that. Forget everything I just said. I don’t want to tell you a thing. Because a predictable path won’t lead you to poetry. You won’t find life in sonnet-like structure. It’s the unruly, unexpected bits of this human experience that jump start your heart. The moments that don’t go according to your own plan are the faithful ones that remind you that you’re a thread in a much bigger one. And you’ll just have to wait.

Wait. I will tell you just one little thing. Buckle up, sister. Buckle up. Throw your hands up and keep your eyes wide open and upward.

The smell of love

Do you have a favorite lotion?

Mine comes from the Hotel on Rivington. It’s fun-sized in its squat little sample container, clear, so you can see the baby-pink goodness inside. It’s the perfect weight for lotion lovers, velvety thick, and my skin drinks it quick like.

But the best part is its fragrance. It’s not too flowery, musky or sweet. It’s made from Indian fig extract. I’ve never met an Indian fig, but I love the way it smells—a full, exotic, jammy bloom.

The lotion is called LOVE. And I kind of love that. Because it does smell like what love can feel like. You know when it’s fresh and new and wakes you up to life? But the scent and softness linger, too, like a familiar comfort.

And it made me think. What does love smell like?

It smells like my mom’s from-scratch sketti sauce—the legit business that starts with minced onion and buttery garlic cloves, sautéing in gold oil. Ingredients are stirred in as it simmers on. And, like most things, the hours improve it.

Love’s smell is Vanilla Oatmeal suds in fine, blonde hair. The boys’ shampoo is one of my favorite smells. But when they’re in my lap, we’re reading a book and their brains are whirring, I swear that thoughts heat their heads and intensify that scent.

Or, in the early morning, when I sneak in to wake them up. Their warm heads, sweet-sweaty with sleep, smell like everything I feel.

It’s also my sissy’s car—years later, it’s still some parts new-car smell, some parts lawyerly, orderly and fun. It’s a best-buds road trip, a miles-of-music box.

It’s the musty (and is it chlorine?) smell of the Tampa airport after a late-night flight. I know. Ew. It’s not a great smell, but it’s distinct. It means I’m home.

Of course, it’s the warm whoosh of just-baked waffle cones that wafts onto Main Street USA from the Ice Cream Parlour. There have been reports of trickery—that they use smell-a-vents, pushing out a puff of heaven to lure you in. But I have  intel that promises those valves have been closed for years. ‘Cause the real deal can call you to the mothership all on its own.

Disney Digression
Disney Digression

But love, my love, smells like the pillow on Jeff’s side of the bed. It’s not his cologne or deodorant. He’s been through a lot of flavors in the last 13 years. It’s the smell of his person, his skin. I inhale a chemical reaction. The smell of him calms my core.

What do you think? Am I wacko or does love have a smell?

Finding beautiful

I am not beautiful.

My sister is a beauty—small-boned, porcelain-complected, silk-haired. Then my sister and I joke that it’s my brother who got all the pretty. He’s taller and has that spark. The three of us do come from two fetching people.

I am not beautiful. (And don’t tell me I am—my dimples and lack of height get me by.)

I am not old, either, but lately age pops up—with no soft grace. It’s a single rod of steely gray in a sea of my brown (it’s still brown!) hair, a new spot, a tweaking hip.

Disney Digression: which way will I gray?
Disney Digression: which way will I gray?

Fairy Godmother

Age defies gravity, time and all the products that promise “firmer, younger, better.” Sometimes it’s alarming. Sometimes it’s sneaky. This week, it was clear and black and white.

Tucker was drawing and asked me to pose for him. “Look up and smile,” he said.

pirate artiste

And he drew my face, with an unforgiving black marker. If it were a tube of mascara, it would be the  “very black” black. He gave me big eyes, an even bigger nose and really great hair. He even got the flippant pieces that fly every which way just right. And then his honest hand drew three thick, parallel lines across my forehead. Crap, I thought.

“Whoa,” I said.

“What?” he said.

“Those lines are that big, huh?”

“Yeah.”

He felt guilty and launched into other try. This time, my forehead was line-free, but he drew in two deep lines from the outside of my nose down to the edge of my mouth. My hand went to that spot and traced the reality.

“Let me do another one,” he said, feeling awful.

“I love what you drew,” I lied. “You drew it right. Mommy earned those lines.”

I have. Emotion is physical. I feel with my face. I listen with my forehead. I think with my bottom lip in my teeth. I rub worry into my cheeks.

They say the eyes are the soul’s port of entry, but I say story is in the skin.

I didn’t use sunscreen as a sun-worshipping teen. I went too long without glasses. I go to bed late and wake up early. I frown a little and laugh a lot. I have proof.

I also have Case.

Case tells me every single day, sometimes several times a day, that I’m beautiful. Sometimes he’ll tell me in the morning, when I’m still in my pajamas, without a stitch on my face. Sometimes he’ll tell me when I’m fussing over a skillet and he’s scooching his stool into the kitchen to help me with dinner. Sometimes he’ll tell me when we’re singing or arguing in the car and we meet eyes in the mirror. He always tells me when I need to hear it. It’s another way he says “I love you.”

And I’m realizing that being beautiful is nothing about being beautiful.

It does not mean that I’ll quit clipping coupons for anti-aging serums or stop obsessing about my eyebrows. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be trying to squash dessert calories with push-ups or skimp on eating the super fruits that promise mini miracles.

It just means that this skin I’m in, the one I’ve never loved and occasionally regretted, is more lovely than ever. This same skin with age spots and history and purpose. Because it’s beautiful to someone.

Silly Stuff

I’m just popping in for a moment today to share one quick thought.

Silliness is underrated.

Can you remember the last time you laughed so hard that you lost physical control? In my family, we call this fabulous phenomenon “pitching a silly.” It consumes me a lot less often than I’d like. But when I pitch a silly, I cry, I snort, I sound a lot like a barking cat. Wrap your head around that for a second.

I’ve laughed more in the last 24 hours than I have in months.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this.

green

And this.

subtract

And that led to this.

fireworks

I pitched such an awesome silly last night–in public–that I literally almost tinkled a little.

When the day is saturated in seriousness, the one thing we may need is pure, old-fashioned silliness.

What does your silly look like?

Disney Digression Parade:

Stitch

Thumper

Jimminy

King Louie