The Adolescent Feeding Grounds

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I’m reading about the teen brain a lot lately, because much of the work I would like to is with teens.  I have worked a great deal with the preteen crowd, but working with the developing brain of a true teen, and all the excitement, passion, and reward seeking behaviors that go along with it, is so fascinating to me.

When I was a teen, I lived in another country than my parents, as did many of the kids at the boarding school I was fortunate enough to attend.  Right there, you might stop reading, or think – “oh, those first world problems, give me a break.”  But problems are problems, and a teen who is having trouble with her peers in an affluent community is just as much at risk of harmful behaviors as a teen in poverty.  Teens want friends, they are social beings.  As a kid, in one of those more affluent communities, the risks I took were (not surprisingly) with drugs, alcohol, and sex.  The drugs were higher priced than at some schools, I’m sure.  The standard clicks weren’t there, at least standard as I had seen in the movies; it wasn’t so much the jocks and the nerds, at least in my perspective (though I was kind of both), but the kids who did coke, the kids who smoked pot, and the kids who drank.

I’m sure there were some good kids who did none of these, but I never ran into them.

Behind all of these kids was an interesting segment of the population: parents who chose to have their children leave home at fourteen or fifteen years old, to have other people keep track of them.  My parents, I like to think, didn’t have much choice.  There were no English speaking high schools where we were in Saudi Arabia.  The oil company my dad worked for paid for most of my tuition and all of my plane fare.  Tough opportunity to pass up on.  And, I have to say, I do not resent them for it.  I think my life course changed significantly because of the amazing adults, who were not my parents, that I formed parentified relationships with.  And while I had caring adults all around me, ultimately, and maybe even more than for your average teen who has to report home each night, the decisions I made were mine alone.

Dan Siegel talks about this phase of life, a time when kids are pushing away from their parents, trying out what might look like independence, in his book Brainstorm (2013).  And while independence is truly a goal of this age, there is also an intense desire to create a sort of family of choice amongst one’s peers for support.  That’s exactly what I did.  I found my group, and I loved my group.  In fact, I still love them, and feel that they are something of a true family to me.  Fortunately, I had learned enough in my first fourteen years of life to find friends who loved me back, and who looked out for me.  It’s been over twenty years since I was that teenager, and yet I think so much is still the same.  I went to a party at a college when I was sixteen.

I told all the college boys I was eighteen.

Of course they fell for it.

Do you see sixteen year old girls?

Honestly, I have no idea if they are fourteen or twenty-two.  And I thought I was some kind of genius.  I started drinking great gobs of alcohol when I was fifteen.  So, after a year of such practice I felt pretty aware of how much I could consume without becoming unconscious.

Fifteen.

For one second, just pause there.  My daughter is five years away from that number.

Fifteen year olds are children.

I drank a lot that night, but when I look back on it now, I’m sure there was some kind of crazy drug in one of those drinks because I only have fragmented memories of the night that ensued.  I lived.  I don’t think I was sexually assaulted.  That’s good news.  And I have to thank the other two crazy sixteen year old girls who were with me for that.  They refused to let me leave, they refused to do anything until I was by their side.  I still managed to wake up with what looked like someone had punched me in both sides of my neck.

Hickies.

Imagine how much worse that could have been?

Friends are so important to your child’s survival.  Make sure they are choosing good friends (and not that they look like good friends, but that they are good people).  I went to another party the following year where the teens were drinking.  That was my crowd.  I tried pot, but alcohol was my drug of choice.  Coke was just too serious.  I’m not sure where I formed this opinion, but I’m happy I did.  Alcohol was not something my brain desired an addiction to, but it is for many kids.  If they have that switch, it can get turned right on.  I remember a girl friend pulling some guy off my body while I tried to sleep on the couch.  I remember another guy creeping his hand up my shirt while I slept on a pool table. (Why all this sleeping?  Well, I was drunk and couldn’t go home.)  And then he promptly ran about the party telling everyone he’d had sex with me.  Jeeze.

Imagine if Instagram had been around then.

Or Facebook.

Jeeze, even phone cameras!

And the party where I had to pull a boy off of one of my friends who had blacked out.  I mean, they are teens, they are driven to achieve rewards!  Sex is quite the reward.  But for me, sex wasn’t the goal.  Being free was the goal.  Being wild was the goal.  Challenging everyone’s perceptions of me as a good girl was the goal.  Little did I know, I didn’t have to put myself at such great risk to do that.  I could have done more of my underground writing.  I could have made feminist art.  I could have just been myself.  But, there was no one who could tell me who that was.  My parents were a once every two-week phone call away.  I saw them twice a year.  Obviously, they weren’t going to help me form this identity.  And so I formed it myself.  And fortunately for me, I discovered that I could be shy and a bit introspective, but still have power, if I wrote.

I could destroy friendships with my words (some of my not-best moments).

I could retaliate against a history teacher with discreetly planted letters in all the faculty mailboxes.

Words, these things that had always tripped me up in speaking, were flowing out of me in writing.  And let me tell you, I had some amazing English teachers.  I can never stop thanking them for teaching me to love a good story.

But, I totally digress.  Teenagers are in a phase of life that is more challenging to survive than any other.  They make weird decisions all the time.  They have a constant dialogue that sounds very self-focused.  And they are full, and I mean, brimming, overflowing, exploding with good ideas, desires and passion!  For those of you who keep your teenagers close, by choice or because we can’t all afford to send our teens to boarding school, try to remember your own teenage years.  It’s confusing to push away, while still needing some advice.  You’ve heard the idea of picking your battles.  This is the time!  Who cares if they want blue hair?  Is it going to kill them?  Or are you just embarrassed of how others will judge you as the parent of the blue-haired kid?  Nose piercings?  Maybe not your favorite.  And it’s so much better than having sex with that older guy they met at the coffee shop.  I’m not saying nose rings will prevent teen pregnancy, but I do believe that allowing some freedom might just save the day.  And while that freedom is being dished out, remind them of how awesome they are.  Celebrate their achievements!

I was never EVER told that my body was sacred.

I was never told that I was funny and smart without alcohol.

I didn’t know that I could be a writer or an artist, or both.

I was never told that falling in love could be so completely mind-blowing.  I didn’t realize that when it was taken away a broken heart could hurt in a way that made my insides turn to ice and my ears crave heavy metal music, and I would never want to get out of my pathetic dorm bed again.

Being a teenager is hard work, and the best work.  If given the chance, this is when the brain develops into the adult they will one day become.

Feed it, nourish it, and remember it.

And, forgive it as it makes mistakes over and over and over again.  If you don’t love them and their developing teen brain, there’s a bunch of on-line predators who will.

(oooh, that was a little dark there at the end, but you get my drift)

Chopper Mom

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You can hear the chopper blades over head.  The spot light in shining on the ground below.  It must be the police tracking a criminal.  There must be an accident and Flight For Life is en route.

Or maybe it’s me, checking up on my kid.

Let me introduce myself: I am a mom.  I had my daughter when I was 31.  I love her intensely, even when she runs over to me and farts on my lap.  My husband: a police officer, a veteran, an “man’s man” with a sensitive side.  As our child grew, we didn’t have a lot of money, so we worked opposite shifts in order to not pay for childcare.  We might appear to be overprotective right there, the fact that our daughter had a handful of babysitters in her life due to finances and family who weren’t capable or maybe didn’t want to help (or, horror of horrors, I didn’t know how to ask).  Are we overprotective because one of us was always with her?  I don’t think so.  We were practical.  And she was quite used to always having one parent around.

I never even heard the term “helicopter parent” until my daughter was in first grade.  “What is that?” I asked.  “A parent who can’t cut the ties.”  It was first identified as an acceptable term in the 1960s.  The 1960s.  That’s quite a while back. I wasn’t even born then.  My, things have changed, haven’t they?  In many families now, both parents work.  Dad is not necessarily the bread-winner.  We had an era following the 60s, my youthful time of the 80s that went much the opposite direction as we went home to a key hidden under a rock, had a healthy sugar based snack, pretended to get some homework done, but really spent time singing with our radios and our mirrors, perfecting that rock star sneer.  We were “latch-key kids.”  I even got myself up and to school alone in the morning.  It was a different time, and that wasn’t considered neglect or anything, it was typical.  Children can raise themselves.  Well, I did, and at times it’s a miracle I survived.  It did give me street smarts (after a few close encounters) and by the time I went to college I had mastered binge drinking, lying about my age to men, experimenting with any drug my friends would allow me (note: MY FRIENDS were dictating my choices) and flying across the world by myself (as my hometown was in the middle east, my high school and college were in the states).  Now here I am, in 2014, raising a daughter and attempting to find balance.  I don’t want her to be alone all of the time.  I don’t want her to be babysat all of the time.  I wanted to have her, and I tried really hard to get pregnant.  She was no accident.  If I wanted her so badly, why wouldn’t I want to spend time with her?  And is it her fault her parents have to work?  Is it her fault her dad sees the darkest versions of parenting every single day?  Is it her fault her mom feels guilty going to graduate school and having to call her on the phone to say goodnight?  It’s not her fault, so please don’t judge her, and don’t judge us.  We are who we are, and we are doing the best we can.

Behind every helicopter parent, there lies a story.  Instead of berating, be curious.  Stop judging and start wondering, because there are fascinating people out there, trying to do the best they can by their kids.

Life went along pretty merrily until the summer before my daughter entered first grade.  In three months we lost my husband’s best friend to cancer (a person she saw weekly and who interacted with her a ton), our cat, a neighbor’s baby died in our house, and my daughter’s aunt was hit by a car while biking and nearly died.  It was not an easy summer.  And yet she seemed pretty good.  I did everything I could to make fun happen, with the swimming pool, play dates, “normal” activities.

Death was at our door a lot, and it was hard not to think about how easy life can slip away.

I did begin to hover.

When she started second grade, I started graduate school and suddenly her mom who was always at her side, volunteering and taking her to and from school, was gone.  Daddy took over, and became soccer dad, volunteer dad, and chief chauffeur.  And each year started getting harder.  The start of third grade, my husband and I were the only parents lining up with our daughter before school started.  She was crying and clutching me like the kindergarteners around the other side of the building.  I had the nerve to be embarrassed by my child.  That makes me a pretty horrible parent, in my book.  In talking to a professional therapist who works with children and grief, I later discovered that around the time the parent’s grief begins to lessen (on average, about two years) the children’s grief will kick in.  So, really, she was totally text book normal.  But I didn’t know that, and I became fearful of having a “clingy” or a “needy” child.  These are very stupid words, by the way, now that I have spent so much time studying psychology.  So, do everyone a favor and eliminate them from your vocabulary, especially if describing yourself.  People are “in need of” secure attachments.

My daughter was seeing safety disappear all around her.

Halfway through third grade a school-mate died.  She was the music teacher’s daughter.  She was our neighbor.  She was a kid, and without obvious reason of any kind, she died in her sleep.  That’s when I started sleeping with my daughter more.  I felt that on those nights when I was in her room, I could protect her from somehow randomly dying.  I could keep her safe.

We ended third grade with an unfortunate experience: eye surgery to correct strabismus.  If I could have seen how perfectly fine she was, that for her to need her mom was not a flaw, that for her to be fearful and overwhelmed by the chaos of school was not bizarre, that for her, falling asleep could be dangerous.  If I could have seen that, I would have insisted on better pre-op nurses.  I would have insisted on an anesthesiologist who gave a shit about the before and after fears of surgery.  Instead, my daughter went into surgery terrified.  She felt her body go numb.  She tried to fight.  It tore my heart out to see her struggle like that.  And when she awoke, she was in the exact same state (which I have since read about, and it is quite common).  She woke up TERRIFIED and stayed that way for twelve hours.  I mean, terrified.  Every three minutes (while she refused to open her eyes) she would doze off and wake up screaming, “Mommy?  Am I awake?  I don’t know if I’m awake!”  I laid on the floor for the entire day, while she was on the couch next to me squeezing the hell out of my hand.  I promised her I would sleep in her bed for the next two weeks, because now she also equated falling asleep with not just death, but anesthesia – which in her head was worse than death.  And then her dad got sick.  I know, it doesn’t seem like anything else could go wrong.  But this is life, and ours is not the most or the least challenging.  It just is.

He became ill the summer before she entered fourth grade.  He was feverish in the beginning, and was tested for West Nile Virus, which had been found in Colorado.  The test came back negative, as did every other test they thought to run. He was sick for three months before his doctor finally scheduled an MRI.  It took two weeks to get the results.  They came in the morning I was planning on taking my daughter to Dinosaur Ridge.  It was a hot day in August.  I was starting my graduate school internship in a week.  My third year of grad school would begin in two weeks.  And the doctor called to tell us my husband had lesions on his brain.  When you see your big strong husband felled by health news like that, wow.  Let me tell you that was a hard day.

One note, in case you are going through this stuff, we did not share what was happening with my daughter.  I mean, she knew her dad was sick.  But she didn’t know how worried we were, because we tried to keep things so friggin’ normal!  I actually took her to Dinosaur Ridge anyway, and took my husband in for his emergency high contrast MRI that afternoon.  Oh crazy crazy people.  If I could do it over, with all I’ve learned about the brain and parenting and child psychology, I would have told my daughter a little bit more, because she knew things were bad.  But when the parents don’t give words for those feelings, the emotions get very confusing.

My husband lived, I’ll give you that right away because this is an article about helicopter parenting, not about his sickness.  It turned out to be encephalitis, which if you don’t know about – you should google because it happens and most doctors don’t recognize the symptoms.  It is a brain infection, possible after a virus like West Nile, but they couldn’t prove that’s what he’d had.  It took a good 6 months for his brain to get a bit more normal, although the lesions are dead brain matter, so, well, dead is dead.

So, now here we are at fifth grade.

My daughter can not handle sleep overs because she gets too anxious.  In fact, sleep is a daily challenge in our house.  The fifth grade has a three day field trip in the mountains every year.  And so, we drove her up each day, and we drove her down to her own bed each night.  And on the first day, while waiting for her to finish an activity, a fifth grade teacher said, “Some parents just can’t let their kids go.  They’re always fine up here.  They have so much fun.”  Yeah.  I can’t let her go.  OR, maybe there’s a story here.  Maybe you should wonder why this can be so hard for some parents and some kids.  Maybe this is not a choice.  It just is.

My point in writing this is we never know the story.  Start asking people what their story is.  If they are in the midst of some family illness or some traumatic event, they might totally blow you off, or they might seriously appreciate the opportunity for authentic connection.

They might need someone not to judge them.  

The seed is planted…

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I did it.  I found an office.  I planted a seed and signed a lease!  My new business, my art and play therapy practice, will be opening in October!  This is huge, and as someone who has no trust fund, forgot to marry a sugar daddy, and has traditionally made so little money each year the IRS actually laughs at me, I am creating my own kind of grant.  The number of available grants has really not significantly increased since about 1990.  To start a small business, as a woman, a mother, a person who fantasizes about a good night sleep and a planet where people can listen to their children instead of being constantly annoyed by them, is a giant leap of faith.  

And that’s what I’m doing!  

Like my labrador used to do as a pup (before she was a senior) I am going to run toward that lake and jump off into the water, not even worried that I could sink.  I’m not going to.  I’m going to swim.  

And I could totally use some help.  

So, I am swallowing the very small amount of pride I actually have, and asking for help.  Please consider reading my story, and if you enjoy it, or want to share it, I would SOOOOO appreciate it.  I also have a Facebook page called Big Dog Little Dog Art Therapy and if you like it, you will hear all about my business progress!  

Thank you in advance.  The first ten people to donate $100 will get art!  How about them apples?  

Farts Equal Love

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I’ve been working through my third year of grad school (holy crap, that means I’m almost forty-one and not only have a mortgage, but almost $100K in student loan debt!  Awesome.) at a play therapy site.  This means I am working toward having most of the letters of the alphabet after my name.  Special.

So, I do therapy with kids, which is – of course – super amazing.  I just watched the Lego Movie and I want to say “awesome” to describe everything!  It is super awesome.  Everything is awesome.

Except the farts.  Well, in fact, they are awesome too, but I don’t have any air freshener in that tiny room.  And the heating unit sucks.  Yesterday I was being farted on in a seventy-seven degree room.  I think that’s actually a form of torture.

I made the mistake early on with a four year old.  He farted.  I laughed.  Dammit.  I know better!  I’m a parent!  As soon as they break you with laughter, it becomes a form of entertainment.

And so he farts, at least once a session.

What is interesting to me is not only how often I have been farted on in my life (as a massage therapist, a mommy, and now a kiddo therapist) but the “WHY?”

Why do people enjoy farting on me?  Is it because I remind them of worn out underwear?  Is it a new kind of doormat syndrome?  Toilet face syndrome?  Do I smell too good?  Am I secretly made of beans?

Well, in writing my thesis I have been learning a lot about the brain.  I would learn a lot more if I could retain any sort of fact at this point in my life, so I guess I should say – I’m READING a lot about the brain.  Some of it sticks.  Most of it doesn’t.  The brain is cool.  I’ve got that part down.  And it tells us when we’re safe.  Our nervous system relaxes when we feel safe.  We can fart when we feel safe.  Chances are, if you are running from a bear, you probably aren’t farting.  Until you get to a safe place, then you’ll likely shit your pants.

I am that place.  These kids are often coming in because of trauma or neglect.  Being comfortable and safe feeling enough to fart is a huge compliment.  They aren’t running from the bears, they are relaxing their wee nervous systems.

In my face.

And their wee nervous systems are stinky.

Farts equal acceptance.

I wanted to say, Farts Equal Love, because it is Valentine’s Day, but that might be a stretch.  Though it would mean my husband loves me very very much.

Buckets of Houses

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Kids make you laugh.
They also stress you out and turn your hair colors and make your face become wrinkled and saggy before its time. I might also be able to blame my impressive stomach girth on her too, but after eight years, “pregnancy weight” seems a bit far fetched.
Nonetheless, they make you laugh. This morning my daughter asked me how much a house we were driving past cost. It was a beautiful home in an area where suddenly everyone wants to live. I said, “I don’t know. A lot. Like a million bucks!”
She chewed on that for a few seconds.
Then dreamily, from the back seat I hear, “Too bad it’s not a million buckets. I could find a million buckets.”
Indeed.

Warning: Grumpy Buddhists May Bite

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It felt like 7th grade.  What was I going to wear?  I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard, but I also didn’t want to look like a frumpy mom, which I hated to admit, I had totally become.  Actually, it didn’t really bother me to admit that at all (to people in my age bracket).  I sleep in the same thing I wear all day, unless it’s jeans.  I shower at the gym, which means I typically forget my brush, my razor, sometimes my underwear.  I embraced the frump.  “Yoga pants” had become my mainstay; when I brushed my hair and put on non-yoga-pants, my husband would ask me why I was so dressed up.  My frump was fine by me.  Until I went back to school.  All of the sudden I was going to be a 38-year-old graduate student.  I would finish school at age 41, if I finished at all.  Was grad school ready for the frump?

The night before my first class I looked online at the maps of the campus.  The school chose names like “Paramita” and “Nalanda” for their buildings and the classrooms were worse.  My mouth was confused.  How the hell do I say these words and not sound like an asshole?  So, I decided I would not say them until year two.  One step at a time.  I packed a lunch (like a mom would do), I drank some coffee.  My first class was meditation, so I opted to wear yoga pants, just this once.  A class on meditation, how hard could that be?  I’ll sit there and space out.  Groovy man.  I hadn’t had time to do that since I since I’d had a baby six years before.

I entered the foreign named class room.  The floor was covered with back jacks, which are chairs made for young people and the chronically flexible.  I had done this before.  I had been in this same building, this very same room, fifteen years ago.  At that time it was a massage school.  I remembered these chairs.  What I didn’t remember was how hard it was to get out of them, off the floor.  Hello age.  When I’m on the floor, I want to be either licking chocolate off of it or laying down.

My classmates were pretty much what I expected: mid 20’s for the most part, Caucasian for the most part, women for the most part, beautiful for the most part, unwrinkled bodies dressed in stylish clothes, with nice hair.  If there were any slobs, the slob look appeared intentional.  Uh oh.  So, I sat down in my evil back jack (which I keep calling a “flap jack”), feeling like an obvious impostor while trying my best to look relaxed and confident, smiling easily, hoping my butt wasn’t sweating through the yoga pants, questioning my decision to stop wearing deodorant a couple of years ago.  Sure, I am white and female, so that part was easy to blend in with.  But the wrinkles were not going anywhere.

After learning how to mindfully drink from my water bottle and to sit without complaining about my back hurting, I headed to my next class.  I had this all figured out.  It was on another campus, and I would be 5 minutes late because of the drive.  Oh well, I guess that was just the way it works at this school.  In college no one cared if I was late, let alone if I ever showed up.  I raced into the classroom, kind of winded, kind of sweaty, bright-eyed and ready for class.  Everyone was there.  In a circle.  All eyes on the frumpy, wrinkled mama person who does not seem to fit this grad student mold.  The teacher looked at me tragically.  I kid you not.  It was like I had interrupted a funeral.  I started speaking far too fast (especially considering just minutes before I was slowing down, mindfully drinking from my reusable water bottle), explaining my weird schedule, how it wasn’t possible for me to get there on time, etc.  She looked at me with such disappointment in her expression and said, “Well, I just don’t know what you’re going to do.  This isn’t going to work.  You can’t be an hour late for class every week.  This IS graduate school.”  AN HOUR?  What the fuck?  The people in the circle were looking at me, pity on their faces, which I read to say, “Aw.  Look at the poor older student.  She is trying to be a mom and a student.  She can’t even handle her schedule.”  The teacher said we could discuss it later and continued whatever sacred activity had been taking place before my rude arrival.  I left.  I went to the bathroom and cried.  My first day of grad school was only half way over.

I returned to class a bit red-faced and cranky, already hating the teacher for something completely not her fault.  I didn’t like anyone.  I had no one to relate to.  Why was I doing this at all?  I had a job.  I had a life.  Things were going along quite copacetically.  I wanted to be back in my comfort zone.  After class I went to talk to the person in charge of scheduling.

She was all business, which struck me as odd at this Buddhist school of love and peace and mediation and raw diets.  I told her my predicament.  She said, “Well, you can’t take that meditation class, it doesn’t work with your schedule.”  (Duh)  “You’ll have to take this other one.”  I told her that would mean I would have to drive to campus five days a week and get child care and I don’t live in town.  She looked at me sternly and said, “You know, this IS graduate school.”  Really?  I had no idea?  Is that what the first year of $30,000 in student loans is for?  I thought it was day camp.  I thought it was a mindfulness retreat.  I thought it was a wine tasting.  Jesus.  Instead of saying any of those brilliant comebacks, I went to my car, called my sister and cried again.  I sobbed.  It had been 5 hours.  Day one.  I never wanted to come back to this.  I told my sister all of my insecurities, I told her how mean the Buddhists seemed to be, and she calmly talked me down from the fence, convincing me to give it a week at least.  It’s been two years.  Hopefully this is because things have improved and I’m mindfully drinking my water, but maybe it’s just because I’m a glutton for punishment.

How Not To Be a Princess, or The Elephant and the Brown Girl.

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We have a great park next to our house. I never knew this was a perk until I had a kid. I thought, “oooh, a park. That’s nice. Not a garbage dump. Not a brothel. Not a dog food factory. That’s a good sign.” But I didn’t realize just how much time I would spend there with a baby melting down, digging through the filthy sand to find a tiny plastic cat toy (in vain, I might add), sliding with her past the 8th grade graffiti (Shit, Fuck, Best Summer Ever, T.C. and A. S.), going barefoot when it was 30F degrees outside, dodging dog turds in the grass. When she was four we were there on an oddly warm winter day. There were some other kids too. After they left, my daughter asked me if she “would be brown” someday, like them.

“Brown?” I asked my rather pasty white skinned daughter.
“Yes. I think when I’m married I’ll be brown.”

Some little girls dream of their wedding days their entire lives. They picture a ridiculous day of opulence and sparkles, a kind of dreamy Disney-based vomit. My daughter imagines herself brown. In my mind this is a wonderful stage of her development because she noticed skin color for the first time, and found it so beautiful she wanted it to be a wedding day possibility. I’m going to have to keep her far away from those evil tanning beds.
I never imagined my wedding day.

I never dressed up and pretended to walk down the isle (unless I blocked it out). I never really did that forward-thinking thing, which is a good way to live “in the now” and a great way to be vastly unprepared for shit. When my high school graduation happened, my friends were hugging me and crying, “we’ll never see each other again.” I was confused. “We won’t?” This was a boarding school. Everyone was returning to their countries of origin, or their new college location. No one was staying there.

Two weeks later I began to cry. TWO WEEKS! I had not projected into the future, I had not visualized life after the raging graduation party where I got locked in the port-a-pot. When I graduated from college, much in the same fashion, I suddenly realized I had earned a degree that would not help me land a job. I was a studio art major. I had never imagined myself beyond college.

And so, with my own wedding, I had never pictured it. Well, that’s not entirely true. I had imagined Simon Le Bon surviving his capsized boat incident and, with new clarity about the brevity of life, discovering me on the awaiting shore and falling forever in love, writing me massively sensitive pop songs, having me star in his videos to make his fans envious. Oh, and even if I didn’t love Bruce Springsteen at the time (I was busy after all, rocking out to WHAM?) I really really really believed I would see him in concert and he would pull me up on stage (a la Courtney Cox) in my hot pink stirrup pants and I would know exactly how to dance before millions. Then we’d probably have some sort of rock star wedding. Anyway, even with my own boyfriend of two years, I never actually imagined us getting married.

He proposed.

I knew it was coming, though I didn’t imagine it. Sure, I wanted him to. But there’s a funny difference between knowing it will happen (and repeatedly blasting his efforts at being innovative by guessing every idea that popped into his head) and pining away for it. So, there we were. At our favorite restaurant, Jax Fish House. We ordered the crab cake appetizers.

His lips got big.
Like botched botox big.
His voice raspy like a 60 year old smoker.
He was allergic to crab.

Once the anaphalactic reaction settled down (he’d only had one bite), and he sent back his main entree of crab, and I ran through all the tracheotomies I had seen on television performed with only a straw (said straw was currently in my alcoholic beverage, so it should be sterile, if not sugary) we finished our pre-engagment dinner.

Then he drove me up a mountain.

Flagstaff Mountain (kind of a mini-mountain for Colorado). There was a thunderstorm taking hold. I’ve heard that being outside, say, on the top of a mountain, can be rather dangerous in a lightening storm. We parked. He got out of the car. I stayed in the car. He was waving for me to come out. We were in that early phase of love and life, where living without one another seems impossible and dramatic. We had a pact that if such a terrible thing were to happen, the surviving member of the couple would try heroin for the first time and probably just remain in a perpetual state of drug induced euphoria until their untimely death, alone. Sad. Fifteen years later, I find this rather impractical.

So, he convinced me to come out into the lightening with him. It was that or the heroin death. I went for it.

He crouched down on one knee. In the mud. In probably his only pair of decent pants (which are probably still his only pair of decent pants) and proposed. What did I say? At this age, I would have said, “Let’s get out of the lightening and talk about this a bit.” But being 22, I said “YES!” and we kissed and Walt Disney himself barfed in his mouth a little at the romanticness of it all.

And then came the wedding. Which I must save for another post. For now, suffice it to say, I was not brown. I mean, a little more tanned than I usually am in December, but I wouldn’t say brown. And no, I had no idea what it would look like. My parents may not be perfect, but at least they managed to encouraged other more realistic adventures aside from weddings… such as, the barn I was planning on building to house my elephant on which I would ride to school. I did plan ahead for that. And I saved every dime I came across. I never bought that elephant, or the barn, but I did use the money to put a down payment on my first house.

Not nearly as awesome as an elephant.