What We Make Up

My daughter just attended her first prom. On a scale of 1 to oh-my-god, she handled it with very little emotional drama. First up was deciding whether she really wanted to go or not. Second was finding a dress which required only two shop visits and three dresses tried on. Shoes were not an issue as she is forbidden from high heels because of a stress fracture so little flat black sandals were it. Jewelry was also easy. Because her dress was full of drama, the jewelry was light.

But what really captured her, once she had the dress, was her make-up.

My daughter loves makeup. She has so much makeup. But the thing is, she doesn’t wear it every day. Some days it’s a long process of creating, other days it’s a cover-up of tired dark circles, and most days it’s I’m-not-going-to-make-time-for-this.

Which brings us to prom because for her, it was all about the makeup. It was more than a dark smoky eye. It was long (fake)eyelashes, black, grey, and white blended and applied just so. There were touches of literal sparkle. Her skin was lightly tinted and the lips were dark. It was a look that matched the dress.

She kept her hair pretty simple except for the color she’d been longing for and was an early birthday present.

Her dad did not like it.

“She’s so beautiful. She doesn’t need all that. Why is she hiding?”

I can’t say I thought she was hiding. In fact, I thought she was bold. I thought she was saying, “I love this dress and I am creating a look to match and I am not scared of what anyone will think, even my dad. Here I am.”  I’ll admit I had my own thing with makeup. But it was the eighties and sky blue eye shadow afflicted every female I knew. But this was definitely bigger, bolder, and required much more skill. I would never have attempted such a look because I was never that interested. Did I get it? Not really, but did I mind? No.

But it did get me thinking beyond the makeup to how we see people. She and I chatted about this. I tried to sort of tiptoe into the conversation without bringing in judgements. It is surprisingly hard. Parenting really is so much more difficult than people let on. I’ve wanted to so badly to have no judgements about appearance, about their choices regarding fashion, looks, etc. I think kids and young adults are meant to explore, take in the information regarding how they feel as the world around them responds and how they see themselves in that context. Clothes and makeup are all a part of it and the world sends out such mixed-up messages. A man, say one like our current president, wears a top-of-the-line suit and tie in conservative colors every day. His character is tattered and full of holes. Making critical judgements based on appearances seems pretty difficult to defend. But the world is complicated and full of double-standards for women so the topic, when broached, is done so thoughtfully.

And so, this look. The thick makeup was about a creating a statement and she’d actually thought carefully about what she wanted. It wasn’t an act of rebellion or hiding. It was, for her, fun and a way to express herself. She’s introverted and tight-lipped in the arena of sharing her emotions. She releases them when dancing and through her makeup.

To his credit, dad said nothing except to me.

The short take is that her date seemed pretty enamored, and my girl! How she glowed from something more than makeup. She was shining in the fullness of what she made so.

I saw so many young men and women who looked uncomfortable. And there were others who’d clearly chosen what was perfect for who they were which is what made what they wore “work.” Another bold girl I noticed wore no makeup and her hair was in the same style she wore every single day. Her dress was simple and the color was perfect for her. She glowed as much as my daughter did. She was revealing who she was which is exactly the point- when we let them be who they are in the moment they are in, they shine.

It’s hard being a dad watching his baby express something he doesn’t understand. It’s hard being a teen girl in a world that bombards with you with messages about how to think, act, look. It’s hard being a mother trying to navigate and honor both of these people at once.

I don’t know how she will feel when she looks back to this day, but I know how I will feel. The same as I do now. Proud of the woman who is following her heart’s desire. Doing what she wants despite reservations she may sense from those she cares about. It might seem silly to devote my writing to diving into this concept of makeup. To those who are not women, to those who have no inkling about teen girls I know better. This step leads to the next. Trust your heart, your desires, make them happen. How the world responds doesn’t matter, but how you do is everything. Show up as YOU want, on YOUR terms. She was happy because she was who she wanted to be.

I am learning from her, which is the gift of parenting if I let it be. Inside the struggles and uncertainty, I can dig in and learn a bit more about who I am and even shift a bit in how I view the world.

Perhaps my daughter is a magician. In creating the eyes that were perfect for her, she has given me a new way to see as well.

Postscript: This post was vetted and approved by my daughter and her dad.

49+3: Finding A New Path

I went home this past weekend to see my Iowa family. After a long winter, a trip down Story Avenue, the gravel road we live on, is bumpy. The maintainers have not yet made it past my parent's home so it means you have to drive carefully. The path is the same as always, but the ruts are deeper.

My oldest brother, Kelley, was home. He turns 53 tomorrow. One of the things I noticed was that he was drinking coffee. I asked him about this as he's been a Mountain Dew guy for quite some time. He switched to diet Mountain Dew awhile back, but I'd never seen him drink coffee. It stood out after years of seeing him chug out of those green plastic bottles.

"You drink coffee?"

"Well, I go to alotta meetings, you know. A pop is $1.00. If I go to six or seven meetings, that adds up. They always  got coffee an' it's free!"

Kelley is a recovering alcoholic. Eight years ago, my parents forced him out of their home and he landed in treatment and then a halfway house. It took a mountain of effort to get clean and a mountain of paperwork to find somewhere to live, but he eventually landed in a subsidized apartment. His earnings and his budget are lean.

Kelley walks everywhere in the city he's in. He picks up pop cans and in warmer months, he'll find scrap metal that he will salvage. He watches the sales closely in the various grocery fliers and he does things like drink the free coffee and buy the pop when it's on super sale. He doesn't ask for much. The littlest of things make his day--like giving him a dozen eggs or taking him to Golden Corral on his birthday. That is the plan. The last I heard, Mom was making him a blueberry dessert, his favorite, and he was going to the Golden Corral.

I have to be honest. Kelley is not all that easy to talk with. His voice booms all the time. I think it's because of the years he's spent trying to make himself heard to our dad, who is hard of hearing. Though we try to suggest an adjustment in tone, it doesn't usually stick and so the conversation barrels on at it's usual volume. Kelley can get stuck in a particular train of thought. If something eats at him, it's really hard to re-route his thought pattern. I think this trait might not be unusual for those who struggle with addictions. I share these same genes, and I certainly know the pain of well-worn brain paths.

On this particular weekend Kelley was rightly proud that he would soon be getting his eight year chip from AA.

"It's no joke," he said. "I just went to a funeral of a meetin' buddy. He's been to treatment six times and it didn't stick. He stopped goin'. So I go. I go a lot. I don't want to die."

Staying sober is Kelley's full time job. It was clear it weighs on him. He talked of the drug problems that seem to follow many of his alcoholic buddies and all the people who've failed at treatment. He hasn't slipped yet in these eight years, but it's not without cost. Kelley is anxious, he can be hard to relate to, and his world is centered around his sobriety.

But the thing is, he's doing it.

As we talked, he kept circling back to the number of meetings he went to. He kept referring to those whose failure resulted in death. He kept talking about the money he saves by drinking the coffee. He is saved by the meetings.

I am proud of him because he is proud of himself. I could hear it as he talked. And maybe proud isn't the right word. He clearly understands for him, the way to stay above ground is to keep doing the work. To keep showing up for the free coffee one hour, one meeting, one day at a time.

Kelley and I were not close growing up. He struggled to make sense of who he was as the genetics of his future were working themselves out. I was an observant and sensitive teen who didn’t understand the anger and brash behaviors that were revealing themselves. I kept my distance. But as time does it’s thing and my own story has unfolded, I can see that perhaps we aren't so different.  My depression may not look like his alcoholism, but the way to work it seems the same. Find a new route, show up, do the work, save yourself, repeat.

When I am at my lowest I have to do what works. I show up and I write. I examine my story. I tilt it this way and that to make sense of where it is I have been and where I wish to go. Every time I sit my butt in the chair and begin the tapping that takes me inside, I am finding a new path and it's true, I am saved.

Writing is my free coffee.


It's Kelley's birthday. He is above ground and 53. For that, I am grateful.

49+2: Walking Beans

February 28th, 2018

I spent every summer from the time I could walk until I graduated from high school “walking beans”. Simply put, we’d walk row after row of our bean fields pulling out every weed we could to make room for the crop to grow. We’d start down the dewy rows early in the morning, often before six a.m. Just maybe there would be a bit of a chill but only until the sun rose high enough to burn away the mist and dry the leaves. It was not fun work. Before chemicals allowed us to carry spray bottles that we’d direct a stream of killer to the unwanted plants, there were only knives to dig out the roots of the largest weeds. Sometimes the most stubborn weed was cut low to the ground when the digging failed. It was always a bummer to leave a stump of something behind that I knew would grow again. My gloved hands pulled the rest. Some weeds, such as button weeds, came out easily with a satisfying “pop". While I can’t say I looked forward to any of it, a little patch of those button weeds could be annihilated in two minutes to the tune of pop!pop!pop! and it always made this unforgiving job seem possible.

I’ve been thinking about this year like the bean fields of my teenage years. Is there something in my life that needs to be pulled out by the root? And what makes the unforgiving parts, the parts I cannot remove, seem bearable? And weeds or not, things still grow, right?
I live with depression. It waxes and wanes with the seasons and my hormones. Sometimes outside events can trigger a bout. I haven’t yet detected a true rhyme or reason despite my efforts to observe. I know what to do and how to manage it. I have a playbook that involves talking and writing and silence and walking and friends and reclusion and cat videos. I used to take medicines and now I don’t because, for the most part, I feel decent about how I manage it. I am also smart enough to know that there may be a time when it doesn't pass or I may get a bit too dark and then I will re-evaluate.
I think perhaps the single biggest part of my “success” in living with depression is simply allowing that it is. It might seem silly to someone not familiar with depression, but I’d wager that there are other people besides me who like to ignore what is really going on inside. And this year, I have been working hard at taking note of those things and naming them and letting them just be.

I’m learning about mindfulness and meditation and I admit, I don’t really see how paying attention to these things makes me feel better, but ignoring them is not the answer either. In either case, it’s there and I can name it or not. And because I like words, I use the word- depression. I am not making it the primary part of who I am. It is not the star of my story. But I can’t lie and pretend it’s not a part of me.
My depression is a stubborn weed that I cannot take out by its roots. It will not detach with a satisfying pop, but I can cut it low enough to the ground by admitting that it’s part of my life. It will either wither in the hot sun or find a way to bloom until I find my way towards cutting it back again.
It's funny how much I hated walking beans. I was always longing to be somewhere else. But those hours wore on me and it was only when I surrendered to the reality of bending and pulling and walking that I could ease into life as it was and that gave my brain a place to daydream and wonder and plan.
As I head towards 50 I can’t say I am making friends with my depression, but I am making peace with what is rather than longing to be someone else. I left the bean fields long ago, but the what remains has helped me to see that weeds or not, I can still find ways to grow.