Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pain is only temporary

One of my mom’s favorite sayings is “Pain is only temporary.” Whenever she came out with this line, I, like any good daughter, rolled my eyes. But even as I was scoffing as only a teenager can and coming up with all sorts of scenarios in which pain is not, in fact, only temporary, I knew that for the situations I faced, she was right.

Now I sometimes repeat this line to myself and yesterday I sure needed it. I was cranky—very cranky. My kids have brought a terrible cold home from school and have kindly shared it with me. Although I would love nothing more than to crawl into bed with a hot cup of tea and a good book, I’m feeling very pressured by my work and can’t bring myself to take time off. Yes, I know the world won’t fall apart if I go to bed for a day, but I grew up in a house where, for reasons too complicated to go into, being sick was not a good thing, and I’ve never really developed the ability to stop what I’m doing when I’m not feeling well.

I could feel my crankiness developing into a good case of martyrdom, so I was looking forward to taking my son to choir practice as a chance to rest. We try to minimize the number of car trips we make, and unless I have an errand to run close by, I wait for my kids while they’re at their activities. I look forward to choir practice. Although the choir isn’t a religious one, they rehearse in a local church and parents are welcome to stay inside. It doesn’t seem right to sit in a pew with my laptop, so for an hour every week I relax in this peaceful place, knitting or reading or writing to a friend as I listen to the choir.

But not last night. First, I was really tense; as I worked on the purple art gallery scarf, my shoulders kept creeping up to hover around my ears. I forced them down and they crept up again. Just when I was starting to relax, my phone—which I’d forgotten to switch to silent mode—rang. Loudly! In a church! During choir practice! In my haste to dig it out of my purse and turn it off, I threw down my knitting, which, of course, caused some stitches to fall off the needle. Because it’s a drop stitch pattern in a fuzzy yarn and, I’m sure, because my head feels like it’s stuffed with newspaper and my brain is working at half-speed, it took me most of the remaining time and several rows of ripping back to set it straight. So much for peace and relaxation; my shoulders remained firmly at ear level during the entire process.

Accepting the fact that it was just one of those days, I didn’t bring my knitting to my daughter’s soccer practice later in the evening. There I wait in the car and, even when I’m at my best, knitting by the map light often results in dropped stitches and regression rather than progress. Instead, I wrote some postcards and listened to the radio and, except for spilling tea all down the front of my coat, passed the hour without mishap.

Later that night, it occurred to me how far I’ve come. Years ago, if I’d had so much trouble with a craft project, I would have thrown the whole thing across the room, swearing a blue streak, and then berated myself for messing up. I don’t do that anymore—even when I’m not in a church. And years ago, I could easily go from being sick, cranky, and martyrish to falling into a black hole of depression, where I would be stuck for days. I’m far from perfectly calm now and I still overreact sometimes, but over the years I’ve developed better coping skills. While I know that I’ve done this, the fact that I have and that they continue to improve still surprises me.

Yesterday, instead of getting mad or falling into the old black hole, I reminded myself that the things I was facing were temporary. This cold will go away. I am trying very hard to figure out new ways of scheduling my clients’ work so that I don’t feel like my to-do list is constantly following me around—and I will succeed at this, damn it, no matter how many tries it takes. I fixed my knitting. The tea didn’t stain my coat (or if it did, it doesn’t show). And I refused to take my crankiness too seriously because I knew it was due to these temporary things, not to some major problem or character flaw.

This pain is only temporary. My mom was right. But don’t tell her I said that.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wordless Wednesday #1

[Last week I posted my first Wordless Wednesday photo on my creative blog. I managed to take a lot of photos over the past week, so I thought I might as well start it here too.]

For another one of my Wordless Wednesday photos, see my other blog. For other people's see the blog roll at

Monday, February 25, 2008

Improg word: Hip

When Hayley first came up with the improg idea, she told me to send her an envelope with 30 words on slips of paper—10 verbs, 10 nouns, and 10 adjectives—and she would do the same for me. Today I pulled out hip. Hayley, not being quite the word-dork that I am, didn’t include parts of speech on her slips—which, apparently, I did on some of mine, according to one of her improg posts—so I’ve been pondering whether I should write about hip (n.) or hip (adj.) (yes, I really do think about parts of speech).

When I was little, the adjective dominated over the noun, primarily because it was the late 1960s/early 1970s, so it was easy to be hip (adj.), and because I was a scrawny kid and didn’t develop hips (n., pl.) until I was 12, when I hit puberty the same year we moved across town and I drowned my hormone fluctuations and loneliness in two bowls of ice cream every day after school. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I wasn’t an elementary-school fashion maven, but I did have groovy go-go boots, striped pants, a faux-patchwork skirt, and more than one poncho (and buck teeth, but that’s another story).

By a weird twist of circumstance, I ended up going to high school in a very affluent community, and there I was decidedly unhip. We just couldn’t afford for me to be hip (adj.). So I adopted the grungy stoners-hanging-out-behind-the-school look: tattered jean jacket decorated with a pin made from a Molson’s beer-bottle cap (classy, I know), holey jeans, and enough eye-liner to make a raccoon proud. Maybe it wasn’t pretty or feminine, but it was cheap and suitable for the type of parties I went to, and it met my two highest priorities when it came to teenage fashion: (1) it was comfortable and (2) my mom hated it.

Even when I was working full time and could afford to buy clothes, I didn’t care much about being hip (adj.). At work I wore waitress uniforms that were about as unhip as it was possible to be, even considering the fact that this was the 1980s. The worst, with its huge puffy sleeves, made me feel like Snow White dressed in polyester upholstery fabric. The rest of my time I spent sanding my boyfriend’s boat, trying not to throw up on my boyfriend’s boat, and partying. My jeans-and-t-shirts look suited my life just fine.

It continued to suit my life just fine through all my years in university. If I happened to like (and could afford) something that was in fashion, fine—thank goodness I was pregnant during the leggings and big t-shirts phase of the 1990s—but I didn’t think about being hip (adj.) and I was in an environment where most everybody thought the same way.

Once I became a mom, my hips (n., pl.)—or, more precisely, the things I carried on them, like babies and the laundry basket—were much more of a priority than being hip (adj.). Besides, shopping for my children was much more fun than shopping for myself, especially given the change in the size of those hips (n., pl.). But now I faced the issue of how hip (adj.) my kids were. Did they have the latest toys? Did they wear the right brands? Well, no, unless I could get the right toys and the right brands at a good price at the second-hand store.

When I returned to Vancouver, I was hit with the phenomenon of the hip (adj.) mommy. Living in the town next-door to the affluent one I went to high school in, I see these yummy mummies almost every day. They wear the latest fitness fashions made from the latest cotton-and-seaweed fabrics to the latest fitness classes. They drive the latest model SUVs and have the latest highlights in their hair. When they bend over their four-wheel-drive strollers, you can see the latest thongs showing over the waistbands of the latest how-low-can-you-go jeans. At my niece’s elementary school (in that affluent community), there was talk of instituting a dress code for the kids. My sister-in-law commented that one was also needed for the moms, who dress much more provocatively than their almost-teenage daughters.

Frankly, I don’t have time to worry about being hip (adj.). and the only way I could win a competition based on being the latest in anything would be if it involved how many weeks after Child Two’s birthday I finally organize her party. These days, I’m much more concerned with hips (n., pl.). I worry that my pencil-thin mother will fall and break one of hers. I search for pants that will stay up on my son’s hipless body. And in my belly dance class I wonder if mine will ever be able to do what the instructor’s do.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Living in Fairyland

I remember, many years ago—long before I had kids and all the things they somehow bring with them when they leave the womb—getting the urge to throw away everything I owned and start over. My husband and I, both students, were living in an apartment and didn’t have very much, especially in comparison to what we have now, but even then it seemed like too much.

I still get this urge—often. And it doesn’t apply only to the tangible clutter. Sometimes I sigh and wonder how much more smoothly my life would run if I could just get a fresh start. I’m not talking about regrets, about getting a giant do-over, although if I ever did figure out how to build a time machine in my backyard there are some major decisions that I might handle differently, knowing what I know now.

I’m talking about the things I’m always trying to catch up on, that hang over my head and cause me stress—the work projects that go on forever, the jobs not done around the house, the letters I owe, the promises to my kids I haven’t kept. I imagine what it would be like if they all miraculously got done overnight.

Maybe the fairies that Child Two is convinced live in the forest in our backyard (I’m not talking about the weeds—although we have lots of those, we really do have a forest in our backyard) would finish the landscaping and all the half-done outdoor projects, while a band of elves would paint and organize and decorate the entire house. And maybe some editing gnomes would wield their little red pencils and finish my never-ending work projects.

A clean slate—it sounds like heaven. If these roving miracle workers came and set my life straight, I would be so together, so organized—the model of a perfect mother, homemaker, and businessperson. I would have a manageable work schedule filled only with interesting projects. I would send my children to school with freshly baked cookies in their lunches every day. I would churn out lovely craft projects. Better Homes and Gardens would ask if they could use my garden paradise for a photo shoot. I would be able to find any object anywhere in my home in two minutes flat without swearing or throwing anything. I would never forget anything, I would never be late or frazzled, and I would have the time to do the things I want to do.

I would be calm, happy, productive, and fulfilled. And this slice of heaven would stay in a perfect state because all the things I need to catch up on wouldn’t be holding me back, sapping my energy, and stressing me out. Right?

Wrong, of course. First of all, nobody—no person or adorable woodland creature—is going to take care of all this stuff for me. There are people who might help me if I asked, but, as my beloved sister-in-law would say, if I want some damn blueberries, it’s up to me to get them.

Second, even if those fairies and elves and gnomes did come out of the forest and fight their way through the weeds to help me out, I know that within a week I’d be losing my glasses and saying yes to too many clients with new projects. Within two weeks, my kids would be finding store-bought cookies in their lunches and I would owe several people letters. Within a month the weeds would be back, I would have several unfinished projects cluttering up the house, and there would be amazing things growing in the back of my fridge.

When I tell myself that my life is the way it is because of things external to me, I know that I’m lying. It’s not the particular circumstances I’m dealing with right now that are holding me back. As soon as I take care of these ones, new situations will come up. I’m holding myself back. I’m the one who takes on too much at once. I’m the one who sets my priorities. If I don’t change how I go about things, then there will always be too much and I won’t ever get those damn blueberries.

Instead of being disheartening, this realization fills me with hope. Yes, events will happen to me that I can’t control and—depending on their severity—they may hold me back for a while. But most of the clutter in my life—tangible and otherwise—is a sign that my approach isn’t working so well right now. And that’s a good thing, because I can change that.

I can’t just chuck everything and start over. I have to deal with the things that are hanging over me. But if, as I do that, I also work on learning to say no and changing my priorities, then I won’t need a clean slate. I will never live in a perfect fairyland, but that’s okay. I don’t think I really want to.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Improg word: Daily

I used to be a person of routine. I grew up in a home that was both rigid and chaotic, and I learned to use routines to my advantage. I knew exactly how long I could spend watching Speed Racer or roller skating and still have time to get through my daily routine of requisite chores before my mother got home. And because home was often a chaotic mess of emotions, I found comfort and stability in the routines of school; I think the fact that I did well in school had as much to do with this than with anything going on between my ears.

Somehow over the years, though, I’ve lost my talent for routines. I could blame this on my husband, who is a very laid-back person. But I know it’s not his fault (darn!). I could blame it on the fact that I spent so many years in university, which can be a very unstructured way of life. But I know that’s not it, either. Even after years of my husband’s influence and of being in school, I still had many routines—and some of them were even fun ones.

Having kids put me over the edge (yes, blame it on the kids!). Before they came along, my days were fairly predictable. It’s not that my life was boring—my courses changed, my assignments changed, there was always something new to learn and do—but I could plan my time with some certainty. Then Child One was born, and then Child Two, and we moved a few times and I started my business and volunteered too much and my mother started needing me more—and now, as I’ve written before, my days are full of interruptions. Instead of following well-thought-out routines, I sprint from one situation to the next.

I’ve tried to build new routines, but so far I haven’t been very successful. In part, I’m resisting my own efforts. I think I’m worried that routines will turn my life into a daily grind of chores, that I’ll always be looking at the clock to see how many more minutes of Speed Racer I’m allowed, that I’ll turn into a rigid person who is so focused on her routines that she has no room for spontaneity.

But, as I realized recently in what Hayley calls “a moment of clarity,” that’s not the whole story. As long as I take on too much, as long as I fail to build boundaries between my work and home life, as long as I lack enough self-respect to take care of myself, every routine I come up with is going to get waylaid by something that pops up.

For example, my weekly routine of writing a blog entry has, today, been interrupted by the arrival of the dishwasher repairman, a phone call, picking up my kids from school, reading school notices, taking my daughter’s temperature and discussing whether she should go to dance class with a cold, helping her with her homework, reading and responding to several emails about an upcoming soccer tournament, worrying about how I’m going to get my part of the book proposal Hayley and I are working on done today, and dealing with an email from a client, which involved a “quick” (hour-long) internet search for the source of a quote. Some of these interruptions were unavoidable—someone had to let the dishwasher guy in and the cats can’t reach the doorknob, nor can they pick the kids up, and of course I’ll drop what I’m doing if one of my children doesn’t feel well. But some of them definitely could have waited. How different would my day have felt if I had a regular writing time and a routine for answering email?

My life as I live it now is a daily grind. And it’s full of routines, but of the wrong type—they include running around looking for my keys and glasses, rushing to the store when I find out that one of my children needs a new protractor for school tomorrow, and looking at the clock and the calendar in a panic, wondering how I will fit everything in. I’m the one who allows my life to become this chaotic and I need to make a daily commitment to no longer do this.

There’s been a lot in the news recently about how daily stress affects your health; the most recent studies show a link between high levels of everyday stress and cervical cancer. This concerns me. My life is so stressful now that spending an hour in the dentist’s chair with a rubber dam stuck in my mouth feels like a vacation. No phone! No clients! No interruptions! Is this how I really want to live?

One of my major goals for my Year of Living Differently is to reduce my stress level. One of the most important ways to approach this is to establish some positive routines—not just for work and housework, but also for myself—and then to make sticking to them a priority.

I’m confident that having daily routines that help me get the basics of my life taken care of regularly and efficiently will not turn me into an uptight, rigid shrew who rules her day by clock and calendar. Just the opposite, in fact—it will give me more time and energy for the things I want to do and when an unexpected opportunity comes up, I’ll be more likely to be free for it if I’m not buried in a two-foot high stack of unfiled papers looking for a receipt or running to the grocery store because we’re out of milk again.

I’ve made a start. But given my track record, I know that it’s going to take a more fundamental change than starting a routine or two in order to break the habits that have led to my current state of disorganization. On a daily basis I need to recommit to myself and my priorities.

I find it kind of funny that, in the Year of Living Differently, I am not only finding new ways of doing things, but I’m realizing that in some cases I need to go back (way back) and rediscover what used to work for me.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Improg word: Sprint

The improg word of the week is sprint. As soon as I pulled this word out of Hayley’s envelope, I knew what I would write about. No looking in the dictionary for inspiration or coming up with far-fetched connections this time.

I spend my days sprinting. In fact, I’ve done little else but sprint for over a decade. Not literally, of course. I’m not too fond of running for running’s sake, due in large part to enforced jogging up and down our mountainous roads during high-school PE classes. But figuratively speaking, I’ve spent the last twelve years or so sprinting from one thing to another with little time to rest or recover.

Even my long-term projects are done in 100-metre dashes. How I would love to have just a couple of things on the go at once—to finish one, to stand back and admire it and pat myself on the back, and then to move on to the next one. Instead, pieces of big projects are done in hurried bursts as I juggle deadlines, clients’ demands, my kids’ schedules, and my mom’s needs. What I do at any particular time is determined by who’s calling the loudest or what has to be dealt with immediately—or else.

Like a sprinter, I expend a huge amount of energy but don’t go very far. Instead of moving forward along the path of life, I’m sprinting along the same short piece of track over and over, dealing with this crisis and that deadline, with the laundry and school forms, always in a hurry. As a result, I finish very little and I’m in constant state of guilt about what’s not getting done. So I sprint faster.

But, as we all learned in high-school PE class, you can’t sprint indefinitely. I’ve collapsed physically only a couple of times, but even then I couldn’t stop trying to run. When I got pneumonia two years ago, I spent exactly one day flat on my back before I was out buying ballet shoes for Child Two (“She needs them tomorrow!”) and working in a fever-induced haze for clients who still wanted their deadlines met (“I’m sorry to hear you’re so sick. But you can work in bed, right?”).

Mentally and emotionally, I feel the effects every day. I can no longer lose myself in a book. I’ve lost the amazing ability to focus that Child Two inherited from me. I feel scattered and disorganized all the time, like I’m sprinting on the edge of cliff, about to fall into an abyss full of unfinished housework, incomplete projects, unmet deadlines, unfulfilled promises.

I could blame it all on my kids. After all, much of the running around I do is related to them. Before I had them, I did my share of sprinting—especially when assignments were due—but I also had time for walks, hobbies, and leisurely evenings with friends. I could blame it on my clients, who make the most astounding demands and have no sense of the boundary between work life and personal life, calling me during dinner or at 7:00 in the morning as I’m getting my kids ready for school, emailing me on Sunday nights, faxing me at 2:00 a.m. (“Sorry, I forgot that people on the other side of the world were in a different time zone”). I could blame it on my mother or on anyone who asks me to do anything. And, at one time or another, I have blamed all these people.

But I know that this is really my own doing. Wanting to be everything to everybody and unable to say no, I get myself into impossible situations. Knowing I should be taking care of myself, I try to spend time on my own interests, but abandon them when someone else needs me, leaving behind a trail of half-finished projects.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I spend my time. I know that living in a constant fight-or-flight state is not good for my health. By watching my mother, I’ve seen how difficult it is, after you’ve been sprinting all your life, to cope with having time to do whatever you want. And I sometimes suspect that part of the reason I dash around doing the mundane is that it gives me an excuse not to deal with more difficult things.

“Sorry, I don’t have time to face that challenge right now. I’ve got the grocery shopping to do and then I have to take Child One here and Child Two there, and then I have to work on a project for Client X, and then . . .”

So last year, when I came up with my GMST project, I knew that finding a way to live my life in a more organized and efficient way was a priority. So was learning to say no and building the boundaries I need to separate my personal life from my work life. This year, my Year of Living Differently, it’s time to stop thinking about all this and time to start doing it.

But not in a sprint. It’s time to rediscover my ability to enjoy the long walks in life—and to face up to all the things I’ve been running past. I’m sure I’ll find rough patches and some bears in the bushes along this trail, but I’ll also find time to explore, to appreciate what’s around me, and, most importantly, to breathe.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Adventures in self-photography

I learned today that photographing a hip scarf on your own hips is almost as hard as photographing a hat on your own head. I bought a new one at my belly dancing class last night because I’ve shimmied so many coins right off my other ones, and I wanted to post a picture of it for Hayley. Why? Because we do things like that.

The logical thing would have been to get someone else to take the picture, but the people who would be willing to do that live 1200 miles away from me, and if I lived near them, I wouldn’t have to send a picture, would I? I could just show Hayley the scarf in person. And even shimmy in it for her. And then go out for ice cream.

I knew that if I asked my husband to take a picture of my butt so I could post it on the internet, he’d probably give me That Look. You know, the one that says “What harebrained thing are you doing now?” And it didn’t seem right to ask my kids.

“Yes, Child One, I know I warned you about people who post pictures of their bottoms on the internet. This isn’t the same at all. Really. Just take the picture.”

The only other person I’ve seen today is my mother. Besides her inability to take a photo that actually contains the intended subject—I would have ended up with a nice picture of the floor or my feet or maybe even the ceiling—I didn’t think the effort it would have taken to explain why I was doing this was worth it.

Now, I know that I could have just spread it out on the couch and taken a picture, and I did do that, but a flat hip scarf lacks the oomph of one that someone’s wearing. My next idea was to look for a model. My mother, of course, was not a candidate. Neither were the kids nor my husband. That left the cats.

Jamie, while he looks like a studly guy, is scared of hip scarves (and many other things). Besides, at his check-up earlier this week, the vet told him he has a cute bum, and he’s been impossible to live with since. Little Bit is called Little Bit for a reason. Although my new scarf isn’t a big one, I could wrap her in it like a mummy. Dottie is actually almost big enough for the job, but—like in the hat photo shoot—she was unwilling to be a model. And she was very busy doing important cat things.
Being a DIY kind of girl, I decided to give self-photography another try. I recently got a camera with a viewing screen that can flip out and around in all sorts of directions. The first challenge was to figure out just which series of flips would let me look at the picture right side up while pointing the camera at my hips (the manual, surprisingly, doesn’t cover this). While I was working this out, I gave myself a horrible fright when I accidentally aimed the camera at my face.

“What is that thing on the screen? Oh, it’s my face. Upside down. From below. With two chins and undereye bags big enough for the grocery shopping.”

Once I got over that, I realized that there’s only so far away from yourself that you can hold a camera. And when you’re holding it at the end of one outstretched arm, there is no way you can reach the button with the other hand. Not to mention that it’s almost impossible to see the screen you spent so much time flipping this way and that.

Finally I started shooting. First I tried the blind point-the-camera-from-behind-yourself-and-hope-for-the-best approach, but that resulted in pictures worthy of my mom’s photo skills. Next I tried the hip-shot: camera set on close-up, arm stretched as far as it would go, upper body contorted to see the screen, trying to hold the camera steady in one hand while pushing the button. It worked, kind of. Isn’t it pretty?
Given that we’ve had a week and a half of snow, rain, wind, snow, sleet, hail, and more snow (and three minutes of sunshine) and that I’ve spent much of that time risking my life on the slippery Sidewalk of Broken Bones, trudging through ankle-deep slush in my dreaded winter boots, and driving at 10 km/hour down skating-rink roads, buying this hip scarf was worthwhile retail therapy. And the photo shoot was just what I needed to lighten up a stressful week. The cats and I laughed ourselves silly. Well, I did anyway.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Improg word: Boot

Be warned. If Hayley ever says to you, “I’ve got a great idea for a project. We’ll send each other slips of paper with words on them and we’ll blog about them. It’ll be so much fun. C’mon, c’mon!” be warned that she is not nice. She doesn’t pick easy words, words that, when you pull them out of the envelope, cause the ideas to just flow. Case in point: today’s word is boot.

I was tempted to pretend I hadn’t seen this word at all. I told myself that I could just slip it back into the envelope or accidentally drop it into the recycling box and pull out another one. After all, there’s no one here to see me and I know for a fact that Hayley has no recollection of which words she sent, so she wouldn’t notice if I never wrote about it. Hayley may be a mean improg partner, but I’m sneaky.

But no, I can’t do that. Part of my Year of Living Differently is keeping the promises I make to myself and following through on my own projects. So boot it is.

I’m not all that fond of shoes, much less boots. I’d go barefoot all year if I could, but since I live in a place where that might involve frostbite and amputation of my toes—or, at the very least, having soggy feet an average of 154.5 days a year—I don’t. And I wear boots in the winter because snow is not my natural element and walking in it is sometimes a challenge, although not the green-beans-up-the-nose challenge it used to be.

I was 14 when I moved to Vancouver the first time. I came from California and I’d spent my entire life in Keds, flip-flops (which were still called “thongs” then), and roller skates. The only boots I remember owning were two pairs of very shiny vinyl go-go boots—one black and one white—that I had when I was around 8. They looked oh so groovy but were a real pain because the long zippers always stuck. Plus they were hard to jump rope in, which was more important to me than looking groovy.

I don’t remember ever wearing rubber boots, although I may have (I have to admit my memories of those days are spotty). My big brother was sent to school in rubber boots on rainy days, but he changed into his regular shoes as soon as he got around the corner, so maybe my mom had given up on rubber boots by my time.

Anyway, when we moved to Vancouver, I needed boots. It doesn’t snow a lot here, but snow it does and we lived in a very steep area. When I say “very steep,” I don’t mean get-a-little-huffy-and-puffy-walking-up-a-hill steep. We lived on the side of a mountain. When my mom was younger, before the highway was put in, she could ski (downhill, not cross country) from the ski lodge right down to her parents’ back door.

We lived with my grandparents for the first few months, on the same steep road that my mom had skied down, and when I got to the top of the first hill on my first walk to school, I thought my 14-year-old lungs would burst. I really did think I was going to die. I had grown up in a town with bad bus service, so I was used to walking or skating or riding my bike wherever I had to go, but this was unbelievable. First it had rained in August—something I’d never seen before—and now I was having to climb a mountain to get to school. What next?

Well, snow of course, and the need for winter boots. Because we had very little money, I was limited to the selection at Sears. I had no idea what was considered cool in boots, but even I could tell that Sears did not have happenin’ boots. I chose the least horrible ones—fake leather with rubber heels. They were ugly but also very plain, so I hoped that they would fit in. What was I thinking? This was high school, after all, and it was the kind of place where kids got cars on their 16th birthdays and where you definitely didn’t want to be the daughter of a divorced secretary, living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment.

On the first snowy day it became completely clear to me that I could never wear those boots to school again. Everyone else had Moon Boots or Daytons or whatever the latest in winter footwear was, and I had faux-leather, rubber-soled Sears specials. So I took a lesson from my brother and changed them as soon as I was safely out of sight of home, balancing on one foot at a time in the snow and stuffing the boots into my backpack until I could hide them in the back of my locker.

This worked fine until one day I had to go to my grandparents’ after school. Remember that road? Well, it’s so steep that when it snows the kids use it as an extreme toboggan run. As I took my first steps downhill that afternoon in my regular shoes, just as I passed one of the cutest guys in the school—the star basketball player, of course—I lost my footing and slid half a block on my butt. As I struggled to get up, he said something extremely witty like “It works better with a sled, you know.” Oh, the teenage mortification!

But I never did wear those boots to school again. The occasional humiliation of falling in public or of arriving at school with a snow-wet butt was a fair price to pay to avoid the embarrassment of wearing those boots.