Pause the Meno

It’s like a cruel joke on the human female body. Generally, I love being a woman. I think we’re smarter, more logical, better looking, we have better clothes, and can have babies, just to name a few. But this nonsense of menopause is just a bit over the top, don’t you think?

Not to get graphic or anything, but the majority of us start with the menses at an early age. I know the reason for it. I don’t need a theological or health education refresher. I get it. But why for the love of all things sacred does menopause have to last longer than an unwrapped Hostess Twinkie?

By my unscientific calculations and some early grammar school math I will have suffered, from beginning to end, for over forty years. That is if my menopause lasts for as long as a recent study determined it can last for — fourteen years. Fourteen years. The magic number when I became a woman. How ironic.

Since November, when a blood test confirmed my current state, and since the last time I complained about it, my “symptoms” have increased exponentially. How, you ask? Oh, please allow me to do the honors…

Perfect example of menopause brain. I don’t know anyone who can drink from their eyeball, do you?
  • I trust my menopause brain about as much as I trust gas station sushi.
  • My thermostat works as well as the 1980 Fiat Strada I had when I was seventeen.
  • I not only feel like an old jalopy, I’m starting to look like one, so to speak. Just take a look at my unmaintained hair. I have more grey’s than a cloudy day.
  • I am sleeping almost as much as a bullfrog, which is zero in case you didn’t know. File this under “random things you find on the internet when you can’t sleep.”
  • God help you if my mood changes and you’re standing directly in my path. You would be safer outside during an electrical storm. On your roof. Holding a metal rod.
  • Random itching during the most inopportune times. It’s like the tooth fairy except instead of money, she’s leaving little droppings of itch dust directly on my skin. I wonder if that is the bullfrog’s problem?
  • I went from not needing to wash my hair for four days to my roots looking like they took a dip in a McDonald’s fryer after two.
  • As a typically extroverted person, I am amazed at how introverted I have become. Oh wait. That’s because we’re in a pandemic. Never mind. Phew. That was a close call.
  • I am alarmed at the amount of hair that falls out and into the drain during a shower. The good news is the one lone chin hair that has been sprouting for years has magically disappeared.
  • During a flush, my face could be used as a steam iron. Black & Decker has nothing on me.

I feel like I have been spending the last few months complaining about this, but I believe I have earned the right. So, buckle up. It’s going to be a long ride. Ten months down. Only 158 more to go.

Spanx Me

Image source: NatalieDee.com

Remember back in the day when we could go do fancy things and wear fancy clothes? Like, for a wedding or formal dinner? Ho hum, me too. I sure do miss you, any year before 2020.

Although I have to say I have grown quite accustomed to wearing yoga pants and not wearing a bra or makeup — with my hair up in what I call a messy bun, but may look more like the home of a black-billed magpie to you — I sometimes long for somewhere decent to go besides the McDonald’s drive-thru and ShopRite.

Somewhere to go where I can actually take the time to put on makeup and look presentable enough to see the Queen. Or at least her housemaid.

Unfortunately for me, the little black dress requires some extra help these days. And it comes in the form of the household name called “Spanx.”

The Spanx I do not miss. Although it does lie in wait for me — sharing a drawer with my most private undergarments — I do not look forward to shoehorning myself into those items again anytime soon.

One of the last weddings I attended was that of a nephew. This was before I lost weight (and gained it back again, as I do). I took the time to curl my hair with the same hot roller set my mother used in the ’70s, and applied my makeup with such precision anyone could have confused me with Michelangelo during the painting of the Sistine Chapel, I’m sure of it.

Everything looked good from the head up. In my opinion, anyway. Now to do something with the below-the-neck portion of myself. I couldn’t very well go to this event bodiless now, could I? No, that most likely would have stolen the bride’s thunder.

I couldn’t help myself. Photo courtesy of sites.psu.edu

My little black dress fit like a glove — you know, of the O.J. variety. If it didn’t fit, then why didn’t I quit? Because, like I said, I had something in my arsenal that I hoped would help.

Enter The Spanx, stage left.

Now, of course, like most women in my situation I have more than one to choose from. I have the high waisted brief, the bodysuit, the shaping cami, the thigh slimmer…just to name a few.

Now, to make the excruciating decision of which garment to wear, umm, under my garment. I tried on several and quickly discovered that just one pair of Spanx wasn’t going to cut it.

It was made abundantly clear there was only one way to tame the beast. And that was to double up.

In the end I decided on the bodysuit and the high waisted brief (yes, it’s as sexy as it sounds). The bodysuit OVER the high waisted brief to prevent the brief from rolling down my body like a roller shade.

Brilliant.

Except it wasn’t. You know, brilliant.

Have you ever worn armor? The kind that is made of steel? Me neither. But I imagine it must be pretty darn close to what I created for myself that day. It was total torture.

Don’t let the smile fool you. I was crying on the inside..

Once I got everything pulled on and pulled in, I thought I looked pretty good. But what I didn’t factor in was sitting down, bathroom breaks, the damage I was potentially doing to my internal organs, and umm, living.

I’m not really sure how the ladies of the 18th and 19th centuries survived this nonsense. It’s a wonder the corset survived more than a day let alone several hundreds of years.

Also, I don’t know who came up with the cliche, “beauty is pain,” but she should have her tongue cut out.

Fun fact: Can you believe a woman invented the first corset? She probably died of internal bleeding.

Not a mere few hours prior I was channeling Michelangelo. Now I was channeling a pregnant women overdue with a literal village. Bending at the waist was a near impossibility. It was not going well.

Trying to use the facilities was a whole other story. Although unintentional, I was suddenly a physical comedian. Lucille Ball had nothing on me. Unfortunately, the show was wasted on the inside of a 2’x2′ bathroom stall.

Anyway, I survived the night. Mostly because I gave up and pulled the darn things off altogether. I could hear the collective deep sigh of relief from my ovaries to my liver.

These Spanx may not have fit nicely under my little black dress, but they sure did fit nicely in my little black bag.

Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You

When I was in the throes of teenage-dom, you couldn’t pull the phone out of my hand without the assistance of a grizzly bear with a crowbar. This was during the hormone-induced-boy-crazed stage of my life where every ring of the telephone meant the difference between life and death. I’m sure I burned more calories running for that 1982 telephone than I do during HIIT class.

The rotary phone wasn’t easy to talk on either. Ours was stuck to a wall which was a challenge all on its own. The dial was what nightmares are made of, and the handset was attached to the base by a curly cord that would twist up into itself. Unless you took the time to unfurl it, the basic act of moving was a near impossibility.

But that curly, twisted-up, wired cord was my lifeline. And I was dead without it.

I got that cord so stretched out, I could practically talk in any room of our modest little home. My favorite was stretching it from the kitchen to across the hallway and into the only bathroom we had. I would lock myself in there and talk until a member of our five-person household was banging the door down.

I would talk for hours upon hours on that phone. So much so that my ear would sweat itself into hives. More often than not I would be interrupted by the sound of an operator coming onto the line with the news that my mother was trying to get through. Anything short of a natural disaster did not an emergency make.

I nearly died and went to heaven when the push button was invented. Then the party line became a thing where you could have three people on the phone at once. That right there was just short of orgasmic. To make things even better, the cordless came along and changed everything.

Of course, that was followed by the digital phone where you could actually see who was calling. I think they call it “Caller ID.” That was almost better than the invention of bread.

Obviously, the telephone has evolved over the years. Enough to want to make Alexander Graham Bell roll over in his grave.

What we didn’t see coming was the invention of the car phone. Everyone remembers their first. Mine was no lighter than a baby seal and came in an attractive case that resembled an oversized toiletry bag.

Now we have cell phones that are so small they fit in our back pocket, and are smarter than most people I know. They have the capability to contact someone without actually calling them, order dinner, book a vacation, count calories, teach CPR, and take better pictures than a Nikon camera.

These days you don’t even need a landline. The cellular phone has taken over.

Poor Alex.

Like the telephone, I too, have evolved.

I am no longer a fan of talking on the phone, unless it’s to my daughter, parents, or a friend I haven’t spoken to in a long time. And even then it’s questionable.

I’m not really sure what happened. Perhaps it’s due to my overuse of the thing when I was fifteen and the novelty just wore off. Or it could just simply be because I’m sick of talking.

It sounds like an oxymoron of sorts allowing those words, “sick of talking” to pass my lips. If there is one thing I have a gift for, it’s the gab. Although, mostly that gift is put to use during a movie, long car rides, and inopportune times that have forced people to ask me to close my trap. Can you imagine?

Anyway, these days I prefer texting to calling. It’s more convenient, faster, and not such a time suck. Sure, I run the risk of misspelling a word or using the incorrect use of “your,” but that’s a chance I’m willing to take. Even if it is blasphemy.

I guess my point is don’t call, text.

Just kidding. You can call. 

Just text first.

Generational Language

I have come to the conclusion that Generation Z can, by all accounts, bamboozle the hell out of my generation just with their own special language.

Let me give you an example:

I wrote on my private Facebook page a couple weeks ago that my daughter’s university had shut down for the remainder of the year due to the coronavirus. There was a response from her boyfriend that went like this, and I quote, “rt if u cri erytm.”

At first, I was concerned that maybe he had a stroke and thought I should call 911. But then other kids from his generation started answering, “oh you’re so funny” and “don’t encourage it.”  There were “likes” and “LOLs” in response to his comment. Clearly he was speaking their language. None of it was lost on any of them…except me.

So, I asked a simple question, “why are you speaking Latin?” To which he replied with one of those ROFL faces (“rolling on floor laughing” for those of you who don’t know — please don’t think me a traitor). I’m not sure what he thought was so funny. Personally, I thought it was a “wicked” good question.

In my day we had phrases like, “gag me with a spoon, “you hoser,” “wicked” (see above), and my personal all-time favorite, “no duh” which I still use from time to time.

What can I say? Old habits die hard.

The generation before me used lingo like, “daddio” and “far out.” Although I’m certain their parents thought it was ludicrous, they could at least somewhat decifer it. As I’m sure my parents could.

But these kids today? I feel like they have their own village. This language is so foreign to me I need a passport, in addition to a translator.

“Bae” still puzzles me even though my dear child has tried to explain it to me time and time again. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even really know herself.

And what the hell is “yeet?” Say it loud and fast, and it could be mistaken for the mating call of a wild bird from Madagascar. Upon looking up the meaning though, it appears it’s some kind of battle cry. A battle cry to go along with their village.

The one that baffles me the most is this “VSCO girl” business. At first I thought I was hearing “disco” girl and got super excited because although two thirds of The Bee Gees are long gone, I sure would love for them to make a comeback somehow. I’m not embarrassed to admit disco is one of my favorite music genres. How deep is my love? Pretty deep.

Alas, “VSCO girl” is not disco. It has something to do with the Hydro Flask. Unless there is wine in that Hyrdo Flask, I’m not interested.

Then they have acronyms like:

ilysm — Could they mean “I’ll leave you smoking, ma’am?” No, too violent.

brb — “Bring real beer?” Nah, kinda been done already.

smh — “Send my homey?” Hmm, I may be onto something.

I give up. Go ask a teenager or young adult. My brain hurts and I’m frustrated. If you need me I’ll be crying into my wine-filled hydro flask reading the latest version of “Tiger Beat.” If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right? Yolo.

COVID-19 Random Thoughts – Self-Quarantine Day 7

I thought I was done talking about this, but I’m not. I’m never done talking about anything. Just ask my family and friends. I bet it takes all the energy they have to not throw tomatoes at me during a movie. I feel the need to give commentary even when not wanted. Or needed. Is that the same thing?

Today my day started with making a smoothie and putting a wooden spoon into the running blender. A friend suggested I strain the wood-splintered smoothie, which I proceeded to do…right into the sink. How was your day?

So, here goes my Coronavirus Random Brain Dump:

  • Most restaurants and bars are shutting down across the entire country. Think about the enormity of that. People aren’t gathering anywhere (except Florida beaches but I don’t want to talk about it). It probably hasn’t been this quiet since Columbus didn’t discover America.
  • Less cars on the road equals better air quality. Less pollution. Less gas being used. Less mileage. Longer car life. Has anyone seen the pictures from Venice? Soon enough the Hudson River will be safe enough to drink from. I mean, I know Venice doesn’t have cars. Potato Potawto.
  • Toilet paper is something I will never again take for granted as long as I live. At least until September, anyway. If I run out of it, I don’t know what I’ll do. Wiping my backside with moss really doesn’t do it for me. Growing mushrooms out of there isn’t a trend I would be too keen on participating in. Mushrooms may be hard to find right now, but I’ll take my chances.
  • This event is an extrovert’s worst nightmare. I have been feeling squirrelly since day two. Please send help. Just send it in a hazmat suit.
  • I’m getting so conditioned at practicing social distancing that when I see characters on television hugging or standing close in a group, I scream at the screen, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? SIX FEET, PEOPLE! SIX FEET!!!”
  • I haven’t seen this many kids outside playing and riding their bikes since I was twelve.
  • I think I have tennis elbow by repetitively looking at Coronavirus memes on my smartphone.
  • I really hope the virus outbreaks shrink as much as my pores have from not having an opportunity to wear makeup.
  • If I don’t start shaving my legs soon, there WILL be mushrooms growing. Moss not needed.

That’s about it for today. Stay safe out there, and please don’t do what they are doing on TV. Or in Fort Lauderdale. For the love of God, practice social distancing. Thank you and have a nice day.

Friday the 13th Part XII: The Coronavirus

The shelves are empty. People are fighting over a roll of toilet paper. Schools are closing. Events are being cancelled. Businesses are locking their doors.

It almost feels like we are hunkering down for the blizzard of the century. And it’s not limited to my little part of the country. It’s everywhere and widespread. The entire world is in on this.

The…Entire…World.

Only it’s not a snowstorm. It’s a really bad “B” movie with zombies and aliens, and we can’t get away. As the wise Pat Benetar once said, “got nowhere to run, got nowhere to hide.”

You can’t trust anyone. People are feeling crazy, losing their minds. The National Guard has been called into some areas. They have shut down roads. People are quarantined — not allowed out, not allowed in. There’s mass hysteria. There are no supplies to speak of because we were fools and didn’t listen to the “Doomsdayers.” And to top things off, it all came to a head on Friday the 13th in the United States. The only thing we’re missing is Jason.

Random Jason pic and random mask pic from Google. Creds for putting them together goes to The Kid.

Except it’s not a movie. It’s real life and we’re all living it. Although there are no zombies, there are aliens. And it comes in the form of a virus.

I have washed my hands so much the skin is peeling off. I haven’t touched my face in so long that I forget what my face feels like. If I accidentally touch a door handle with so much as my pinky finger, I get completely disgusted. I run to the nearest sink or hand sanitizing station before I do anything else. Repeat ten thousand times in what seems like a ten minute period because people touched the sink. See the problem?

I’m usually not an alarmist when it comes to this stuff. I really am typically not that fearful. Hell, if I didn’t have a husband with asthma, I might take advantage of the $65 round trip flight to sunny Florida.

But I do have a husband with asthma and there are people out there who don’t have strong immune systems. We also have to worry about our elderly. Therefore, we need to act responsibly. I need to act responsibly. Even though acting responsibly is just about one of my least favorite things to do.

Although at times this all seems a bit extreme, I will order my *groceries online, make sure I have enough wine to last through an apocalypse, and remain calm.

Are you calm? I’m calm. Oh, where did I leave that damn cork screw?

*I tried to order my groceries online except there was a week-long waiting period for a delivery. Instead, I weathered “the storm” and was able to get what I needed. I had to leave the house before the sun was up and be amongst the zombis…err, other people…but I survived. Well, maybe. I won’t really know for another 14 days.




“I feel like a young man with something really wrong with him”

This was a quote from a piece I read by Anne Lamott recently and I could not have said it better.

This. This is precisely what getting older is like.

I feel like a young woman with something wrong with her. Terribly, terribly wrong.

My mind — although filled with more holes than a New York City avenue — still feels invincible at times. My mind tells me I can do things that my body is almost to the point of not being able to do.

Things like trying to accomplish the Garland pose during my yoga practice or simply lifting my leg to tie my shoe. It takes as much effort for me to lean down and pick up something I have dropped to the floor as it does trying to fly. More often than not I will attempt to channel David Blaine by staring down the item willing it through osmosis to magically levitate up to my open hand.

That doesn’t work, by the way. I haven’t quite figured out how he does it. But I suspect I better if I ever want to see these things again.

I’m a fairly active 52-year-old woman. Why can’t I do these simple activities any longer? I swore I wouldn’t allow it, but nature has other plans.

My knees are bad, my hips spend half their life screaming at me from the tops of my thigh bones, and my lower back likes to light small fires. Forget about my eyesight. Even the “arm length” trick won’t help me now.

And to add insult to injury, menopause strikes in the middle of the night like a masked bandit. Robbing you of your youthful glow and replacing it with facial hair, hot flashes, and night sweats so bad and so constant that frequent pajama and sheet changes are a necessity. Laying in something akin to a humid, tepid, salted pool is not conducive to a good sleep.

Not that I’m sleeping anyway.

The sandman no longer stops at my house. I’m like a small child waiting for Santa to arrive when in reality he just doesn’t exist. Waiting and waiting with childlike wonder. “Will he come tonight?” No. No, he will not. I don’t know what I ever did to him, but somehow I got on his “naughty” list.

And forget about the effects of alcohol. I THINK I can drink more than one glass of wine like a twenty-something and wake up the next day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to face the world. The reality is I wake up with my brain as foggy as the Los Angeles smog in August, which just makes me want to swear off the stuff for all of eternity.

Oh my beloved wine. Why has thou forsaken me?

You know what really gets me? Young people. Actual young people. The people I forget I am not demographically equal to. When I realize that I could most likely be their mother it’s like someone has sucker punched me, taking the air right out of my parachute. It’s the weirdest phenomenon.

SO, that’s about it in a nutshell. The bottom line is I think like a 22-year-old but feel like I’m 72. Seriously. I don’t believe I have matured much past 1989. Can someone please tell that to my body? Because the memo got sent to the wrong address.

Source: Anne Lamott, “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing”

A Year With Not Your Average Fitness

One year ago today, I wasn’t exercising at all, I was lazy, and a major couch potato. I was the textbook definition of that word that I hate most: Sedentary.

My flexibility was so bad I would wonder how I was going to do something as simple as push myself up from a sitting position. Time and time again I put off going to the gym in favor of going home and relaxing because I had a bad day and “deserved” it.

I drank something alcoholic every single night of my life and woke up every single morning groggy and with a bad attitude. I basically didn’t care about anything. I wasn’t depressed, but I wasn’t happy either.

I ate all kinds of bad crap. I hardly ever ate a vegetable. I suffered from high cholesterol and terrific heartburn, but I didn’t seem to care. I liked to eat and dammit I ate what I wanted with the reckless abandon of a teenage boy. My weight was the highest it had ever been and was climbing.

I fought with my closet every morning over what to wear, which inevitably made me late for work. I never packed a lunch, prepped a dinner ahead of time, and more often than not I’d go to the grocery store with a list in my head and not on paper. That never ended well and often required me to hit the store again because I forgot something.

I had no good habits. I never wrote which is something I adore. I was addicted to my phone and social media and would choose that over doing something else that I adored: Reading.

I never planned a thing in my life. I flew by the seat of my pants because that’s the kind of person I said I was. The problem is, it didn’t work for me.

A year later I exercise and stretch consistently. I wake up early to do yoga most mornings. I eat right and track my food. I have developed so many habits that not only work for me but have helped to improve the quality of my life that include simple things like packing a gym and lunch bag and picking out my clothes the night before.

I plan out my exercise and meals. I even plan out when I’m going to write and read. I go to bed early to be sure to get a good sleep and wake up before the sun comes up with no problem.

When I think back to that girl I was a year ago, I feel bad for her. I no longer think of exercise as a chore but something I actually look forward to. It’s something I do to improve my life, my flexibility, my mind, and my body. My mindset has changed from being irritated that I need to exercise to wondering how I could ever not do it.

In the past year I’ve lost weight, lowered my cholesterol, and have controlled the terrific heartburn. I have learned about self care and how important it is. Today, I almost want to say, “I don’t even know who this person is.” But I know who this person is. It’s ME. It’s who I always was. I was just bogged down with negative thinking, laziness, self doubt, and no self control.

Is it perfect all the time? No. I’m human. But the difference is now I just pick up and continue on. Instead of throwing it out the window and starting again “on Monday.” Or worse yet, “next month.”

But I did not do this alone. I joined a fitness group online. This group of amazing women, run by a badass instructor, helped me to achieve what I thought was unattainable.

You should join me in the war to combat unhealthy living. It’s really pretty awesome. I would not be here saying this if I didn’t see with my own eyes what it did for me.

You don’t have to be a mom or even have young kids still at home. It turns out, that was really just an excuse for me to not take care of myself. Being an empty nester for 3+ years didn’t change my attitude.

Until now.

I’m sharing because we all deserve to take better care of ourselves. Also, the deal is amazing. And no one loves a good deal more than I do. Also, I’m cheap as they come, just ask DH.

The next course begins on January 13, but the cart is open now.

So, who’s in? (Click the link below for more information)

https://susie-johnson.mykajabi.com/a/20946/boTVei32

The Brain Thief and Other Stories for the Middle Aged Woman

Warning: Spoiler alert ahead.

What in the love of God is this? Things have changed. Overnight. Out of nowhere. And uninvited. You know, on my body, in my body, all over my body. There was no warning either. Why wasn’t there a warning?

For starters, I feel like I’m losing my mind. If you lifted the top of my head off you will find little blips of memory from when I was twelve, thoughts of food, a squirrel, and the proverbial cobweb or two.

Then there is the loss of words. Simple words. Words I know. You see that word “proverbial” in the paragraph above? It took me exactly seven minutes to recall it. Usually I would turn to my trusty online thesaurus, but I couldn’t think of the word “thesaurus.”

I think and say really dumb things. Remember that riddle, “what color is George Washington’s white horse?” If I hadn’t already heard it a million times, I’m not confident I would answer correctly.

Then we have the hot flashes. They come unexpectedly and often. It’s like someone installed a furnace inside me and there is a tiny man shoveling coal into the thing like his life depends on it. I wish the guy would drop dead of a heart attack or something. No offense, tiny man.

My evenings are filled with three changes of pajamas, covers that end up on the floor until I start freezing again. And sweat. Pools of it. If only I could bottle and sell it. I’d make millions. You know, if sweat was trending.

And let me introduce to you the Mood Swing. It can turn on a dime. Like a Lamborghini. Maybe not as sexy, but most definitely as fast.

I don’t care who you are — except 1973 Robert Redford — if you do or say the wrong thing at the wrong time, you are crucified.

Like, get me some nails and a hammer and you are done for. You know, metaphorically speaking, of course.

I am predictably unpredictable. My family walks on egg shells. They know I’m gonna blow. They just aren’t sure when.

My mom has an uncanny ability to actually smell my hormonal shift and she lives 600 miles away. My husband usually wishes he was dead. My daughter tries to get another family to adopt her. And my co-workers look around wondering if they made a wrong turn and wound up at the circus freak show instead of the office.

Also, I have weird dreams. Case in point: This past week I dreamt William Baldwin was released from house arrest and I couldn’t wait to write a blog post about it. Imagine my disappointment when I woke up and realized I made the whole thing up.

Randomly waking up in the middle of the night and then not being able to fall back to sleep is a real thrill. Staring at the ceiling waiting for the Sand Man to pay me a visit is about as entertaining as listening to Taylor Swift stuck on repeat.

The facial and neck hair that seems to sprout like wildfire during the Santa Ana winds is super fun. Because I can’t see close up without my readers, I don’t always see it. Until someone else does.

And my all-time personal favorite? Muscle atrophy. I exercise almost every single day. If I did that when I was in my twenties, thirties — hell, even my forties — my body would look like Jane Fonda from her 1970s workout videos. Instead I look more like Gumby with boobs.

That just about covers it. I wish I could end this post on a witty note, but I can’t find the words for it.


A Lost Art?

The profile picture I use for my blog, Instagram, and Facebook page is of me when I was five years old. Although this particular outfit is not made by hand, the bows to tie my hair up in pigtails are.

My dad was always better at hair. He must have been busy that day.

She didn’t spin the wool herself, but my mom cut off foot-long pieces of yarn from a skein of red wool she had hanging around the house, and tied them using her best basic double knot.

She liked to knit. She never made anything extravagant, but we had enough afghans and winter scarves to last a lifetime. It was good to know we wouldn’t freeze to death.

She also liked to sew. But more on that in a minute.

When I was growing up, my parents didn’t have a lot of money. It wasn’t like we were an anomaly. This is the way it was for everyone we knew. We were an Army family. We hung out with other Army families. We lived amongst Army families.

In retrospect, the signs were clear. Typically, Santa’s toys don’t smell like bleach. And our weekly jaunts picking up other people’s discarded items along the curb on garbage day most likely wasn’t just an “adventure.”

Then there were the handmade clothes.

I can still remember going into the local fabric store and purchasing patterns with my mom. I remember the tan colored paper McCall’s patterns laid out across the kitchen table. The shears that were meant for nothing but fabric. And the straight pins that would inevitably stab us if we moved too much while being fitted for the perfect polyester red and blue plaid bell bottoms that we were all going to be forced to wear.

My mom actually made me that little number on the left. This was during what I like to lovingly refer to as my “Mary Ingalls” phase

After my dad retired from the Army, we moved to a small town about an hour north of New York City. As if being the new kid at school wasn’t bad enough, wearing “Mom’s Special” was the icing on the cake. For me it was a pair of stiff denim gauchos — made stiffer with a can of extra crisp Niagara starch spray, or so it seemed — and a checkered shirt that came equipped with its own elastic neckline. You know, so I could hang myself with it if it got bad.

On my first day of school, Mr. Levi called my name to stand at the head of the class. I must have looked like a dark blue Acute Triangle to my fellow students. These were followed up by a pair of white knee socks and black and white saddle shoes which, unbelievably, did not catch on. Apparently, saddle shoes should have been left behind in 1956. Trying to bring them into 1979 just wasn’t going to happen.

A trend setter I was not.

Although I don’t have an actual photograph, I can still close my eyes and see myself standing there. With barrettes to hold back my long blonde hair, and a wide-toothed half smile that I’m sure said “please don’t throw anything larger than a whiffle ball at me” all over it.

I must have been a sight. I’m certain I was the only kid in my class to don clothes that were stitched by her own mother’s hands.

And you know what? I didn’t realize it until years later, but I was also the luckiest kid. Because my mother took the time to make clothes for me. Who needed Jordache jeans anyway? Well actually, I did. But I don’t want to talk about it.

I don’t know if I ever wore that outfit again. Even though I adored those gauchos. Peer pressure gets the better of you even at the tender age of twelve. My mother made them with love and I will forever be grateful for that.

But an elastic neckline, mom? Just so you know, there’s the crew neck, the boat neck, the scoop neck, the V-neck…shall I go on?