Today was my kids' first day back at school. My husband and I tried to honor this occasion and bought them school supplies and new clothes. I tried to reflect on the milestone, but couldn't force any epiphanies. They're starting 5th and 8th grades and honestly, today just doesn't feel like a milestone.
Instead, I spent the morning of their first day of school indulging insecurities. Either you will relate, which will make you feel better about being a ninny, or you won't, which will make you feel superior, which you are.
1. I had a lovely mother, but she was not perfect, and one of her imperfections was her overuse of the word "fine." I don't mean in the Hemingway sense ("he was a fine bull, very strong and very fine") I mean in the deflating way. As in, teenaged daughter is going out and has put immense effort into her outfit and asks, nervously, "Do I look okay?" Mother replies, yawning, "You look fine." Teenaged girl has first perm: "Your hair looks fine." Adult woman writes article and wants editorial commentary: "I think it's fine."
Overuse of the word fine is not one of my imperfections. I say, "You look great!" "These cookies are fantastic." "This is an incredible monster truck you just drew." I say it when asked and I say it unprompted. Perhaps this is annoying, but I learned from my mother's mistakes and think it is better to err on the side of overencouraging.
Of course, I make my own mistakes. I will describe one: This morning I put on a summery skirt I haven't worn in months. I thought I looked sharp. I said to Isabel, who takes an interest in clothes, "Hey, what do you think of this outfit?"
She assessed and replied, coolly, "You look fine. "
Asking a 13-year-old daughter to provide sartorial affirmation: MISTAKE. And one my mother never made.
2. I changed into jeans. Then I drove Owen to school and met my sister whose daughter, Stella, is starting kindergarten at the same school. (Now that's a milestone.) We all walked in together and I took a lot of pictures.
I told Stella I loved her outfit and also her backpack. See? I'm not just an encouraging mother, I'm an encouraging aunt.
We were standing in the hallway of the school and I saw a woman I know well and like a lot, but, for no particular reason, have not seen in 7 months. I know intimate details of her marriage, the insulting thing a guy at Home Depot said to her once, about her sister's problems, about her mother's death. But I could not remember her name. You have to understand, this was not like forgetting the name of someone I've met once or twice. I've never experienced a lapse of this magnitude before and it was freaky. I tried to avoid her so I wouldn't have to introduce her to my sister and betray myself.
Then, this woman and I made eye contact. I smiled warmly and she smiled warily. I kept smiling. Then the third thing happened.
3. She came up to me and said, "I'm sorry, I don't recognize you."
I said, "Jennifer! I'm Jennifer. From Mary's exercise class!"
She said, "Oh sure, Jen. I'm so sorry." We struck up a conversation, I remembered her name, and all was well. . . except, now I was beset with a new anxiety. How could she not recognize me? But instead of thinking, wow, my memory may be going but her memory is shot to hell, I thought, wow, I must look absolutely terrible. Is my face so very bloated that people no longer recognize me? It is true I have gained weight in recent months. . . or am I just not memorable? Gosh. I've always suspected I was boring.
What a basket case. I sure hope all those children starting school today are more mature and secure than I am. Kids, y'all look GREAT!