Halloween–why you gotta be so mean?

Halloween has an identity crisis.

If I go uptown to my local Trunk or Treat event tonight, I’ll see cute little pirates and princesses all lined up with their pumpkin-shaped candy buckets. Parents will have infants and toddlers decked out as baby animals or pint-sized superheroes. It’ll be a-freaking-dorable.

Then on my way home, I’ll pass the home whose front yard is littered with severed body parts–a bloody torso here, gory limbs there. It looks like a bomb went off.

I don’t get it.

What is the fascination with the gore of Halloween? Okay, I’ll admit, scary is not my thing. Never has been, never will. I hate clowns, can’t do horror movies and even a Jack-in-the-box makes me jump out of my skin. But I get that other people enjoy the thrill of being scared, and Halloween is their opportunity to shine.

But I don’t get the gore. I can’t imagine shopping for fake blood and pondering which of the ripped-off arms in the store looks more realistic. It’s not really scary–it’s just gross. And disturbing. I just can’t understand how an otherwise unassuming person who bakes cookies for their neighbors and helps with food drives suddenly thinks nothing of posting a decapitated head on a stake on their porch.

Why can’t we just keep the Great Pumpkin and lose the cannibal-themed haunted houses? Do we really need to be horrified? The real world is full of horrific events and people. I’m not sure we need to pretend that we’re adding more.

You may be wondering where I draw the line. Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot about this, myself. (Obviously since I came out of my writing hiatus to post this rant.)

Ghosts? They’re fine because they aren’t real (well, aren’t proven to be real), and they’re usually not physically revolting to look at. 

Skeletons? I’ll allow them, as long as they aren’t part flesh and part skeleton. I don’t want to see any rotting flesh, thank you. 

Vampires? Of course. Not real.

Werewolves? Ditto.

Zombies? This one’s tough. Although they aren’t real, they ARE gory. They usually involve some degree of rotting, oozing flesh, which ranks high on the gross-out factor. I guess what I’m saying is if you want to just half-ass a zombie, that’s probably acceptable, but if you must go full-out gore with it, forget it.

In fact, maybe everyone should just take Halloween down a notch. If we all just half-assed it instead of trying so damn hard to one-up our neighbor on the gore factor, we wouldn’t have to put up our hand to shield our eyes when we drive by Body Parts Yard, and we might not find ourselves wondering if we’re going to someday watch a documentary on that person down the street who took Halloween a little too seriously and was later found out to be a prolific serial killer.

Go ahead– think of me as the Grinch of Halloween, but I think so much of it is completely unnecessary. Carve your pumpkins–I’m all for it. Even roast the pumpkin seeds, too. Come up with a costume at the last minute by digging through the tub of dress-up clothes. Take the kids trick-or-treating at the local nursing home, or drive around some friendly neighborhoods. Steal some of their candy after they go to bed–I’ve got your back. But just chill out with the blood and gore. There’s enough real horror in the world as it is. Call me crazy, but I’d rather see miniature Baby Sharks roaming the streets than witness what looks like the aftermath of a shark attack.


Peaks (and valleys)

I have been under the suspicion for some time now that I peaked in my 30’s. However, lately it’s become more and more evident, and soon I’m no longer going to be able to plead ignorance about it.

It’s hard to argue that my 30’s didn’t fare better than my 40’s have in the looks department. First of all, I didn’t have to yet cover the gray hairs. Secondly, my pants size was a single digit instead of the current double-digit number. And I didn’t find those random hairs on my face just sprouting out of wherever the hell they please! I love it now when I run my hand over my chin to discover some rogue 5-inch-long whisker that somehow I hadn’t noticed when I put makeup on every morning. Do those things just grow that long overnight, or is my eyesight just going too? (I think that’s a question I really don’t want an answer for.)

I’m pretty sure I was a better mom in my 30’s. My 40’s-Mom-Self is either just too tired or perhaps just doesn’t give as much of a shit anymore. Would my 30’s-Mom-Self have allowed Boy #3 to stay in his room, in his underwear THE ENTIRE DAY yesterday, only to emerge to rustle up some food, which he then took BACK TO HIS ROOM to eat? The thought did occur to me that a Good Mom would make him clean his room, or even suggest we play a board game together. Then my 40’s-Mom-Self just hit “Play Next Episode” on Amazon Prime’s “Jack Ryan” and enjoyed the solitude.

I was definitely better at keeping up with the housework in my 30’s. Last time Husband ventured to the laundry room to find a pair of underwear, he announced that he had just come back from the bowels of hell. And he was not really exaggerating. I’m not sure I should use God to find a pair of matching socks, but I find myself saying a silent prayer each morning as I wade through the mounds of clean laundry in search of mates. Or even a pair that looks remotely compatible.

But what it’s become abundantly evident that I was better at in my 30’s is cooking and baking. I honestly wonder if something happened to me, like some yet-to-be-discovered disease or neurological disorder that caused me to gradually lose all ability in the kitchen. I used to be a halfway-decent cook. I used to make meals and be able to follow recipes successfully. But now even the simplest of tasks I find daunting, and consequently I seem to fail miserably.

Husband, on the other hand, is getting better as he ages, as most men seem to do with most things (the bastards). He can look at our near-bare cupboards and somehow whip up something flavorful like magic. He also has mastered the knife skills, dicing and mincing like a pro, while I always feel like a preschooler using safety scissors for the first time whenever I prep vegetables for him. How do I hold the knife again? Were the onion pieces supposed to be such a wide range of sizes? And whoops–do we have any Band-Aids? 

Last night, however, my self-esteem was lowered even more as I managed to fail at making a batch of cookies. And before you give me the benefit of the doubt and think, “Well, sometimes I forget how much flour to put in” or “I once forgot the baking soda (powder??)” I must tell you that these cookies were from a mix. In a bag. Literally, I had to add a stick of butter and one egg. That’s it.

And I failed.

I really don’t know what happened. At first, I tried to blame it on the mix, thinking maybe it had expired. Nope. Not until May 2019. It wasn’t the pan, the eggs were new, the butter was softened. I baked them at the right temperature for the suggested amount of time.

And yet, I failed.

I was trying to bake cookies to sell at a concession stand fundraiser. My mom, being the Good Mom she is, made 3 dozen cookies that looked like this.

Here are what mine looked like.

Which would you rather buy?

What you might not be able to tell from the picture is that some of them were about the size of a quarter, if that. Maybe even a dime. And yes, they were near-burnt and just plain weird.

I sent Boy #1 a photo of my cookies to see what he thought.

He thought it was fried chicken.

The sad thing is if I tried to make fried chicken, it probably wouldn’t look like fried chicken.

Hopefully I’m just in a little valley and am not going to continue on this downward slope. Otherwise, I’ll probably end up alone, wearing two different socks and a full-on beard, eating a bread-and-butter sandwich, one of the only meals left I can’t screw up, by the time I’m 55.

Photo by Norwood Themes

Time keeps on slipping (into the future)

Damn you, Time. You’ve done it again.

Slipped away when I wasn’t paying attention — AGAIN. (If you hadn’t already figure this out, I’m not very good at paying attention because this seems to happen to me a lot.)

I just read an article which discusses how physics is to blame for the feeling that time is moving more quickly the older you get. Something to do with mental-image processing time and some other things that kind of made my head explode, like the difference between “clock time” and “mind time” and how the brain processes visual information when the eyes fixate in between unconscious, jerk-like eye movements called saccadic eye movements that occur a few times a second. But the point is, at least I can use this as evidence to back up my claim that I cannot believe it’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted on my blog.

A whole. Freaking. Year.

360 days to be exact. (A shout-out to Google for not making me do the simple math myself.)

Last time you heard from me, Boy #1 was turning 20. Well, guess what, friends? (Cue the drum roll…) He’s now turning 21! And if that isn’t a real “adult” in every sense of the word, I don’t know what is. He was already able to buy cigarettes or even vape if he wanted (which fortunately he doesn’t). But now he can legally drink or bet it all on a craps table here in Iowa. Heck, he can even buy some recreational marijuana when he travels to Colorado or California.

Fortunately, it seems that despite all our flaws and failures, Husband and I have turned out one pretty awesome adult. He is responsible, caring, dedicated and passionate. He’s a much better almost-21-year-old than I was, for sure!

What you may not realize is that besides having a 21-year-old in a few short days, I will also have a 17-year-old four days later — a boy in the second half of his junior year of high school. What the heck, Time? Why you gotta be so cruel?

It seems, my friends, that not only does ONE of your children grow up faster than you could ever imagine, but they ALL do. AND each child seems to grow up faster than the last. Case in point: Next year at this time, my “baby” will be halfway through his first year of HIGH SCHOOL.

Maybe it’s because I’m older and just not paying as close attention as I used to. Maybe it’s just science. Either way, it sucks.

Which is why I’m trying to soak up the “now” more. If anything is able to whip my anxiety up to a frenzy, it’s Time. For someone who feels like life is out of control, Time is the ever-present adversary. So I have been trying to do more noticing of the here and now. Noticing sounds, colors, smells. Cataloging details about the present and then tucking them away for when they become my memories in the hopes that even though I can’t slow down time, at least I can maybe look back on the past with clearer details instead of just as a nondescript blur of happenings that I was too busy to really take in when they occurred.

John Green said, “One day, you’re 17 and you’re planning for someday. And then quietly, without you ever really noticing, someday is today. And then someday is yesterday. And this is your life.”

I believe this is so true. My hope for you all in this new year we’ve been given is that you’ll enjoy the moments of “now,” and even if you can’t enjoy all the moments (like discovering 7 dirty plates and half a loaf of moldy bread under your son’s bed), that you’ll at least appreciate their fleetingness and find what charm in them you can. Knowing that with each passing year, time goes faster and faster, sooner rather than later we’ll be longing for just one more chance to open that door and see a messy teenager’s clothes strewn about instead of a neatly made-up guest bed.

Photo by Noah Silliman

“A mom of a man”

Baby picture Friends, for five months I have been able to say that I am a mom of all teenagers, but now I find myself on the eve of yet another milestone.

Tomorrow, at exactly 6:20 p.m. to be precise, I will no longer have three teenagers. And just like that — poof! — I will turn into a mom of a man.

Ok, technically, I could probably have said that when Boy #1 turned 18 or maybe even 19 when he moved away to college. But for some reason, taking the “teen” part out of his age makes it seem like a way bigger deal. Like I can no longer pretend that he’s still a kid. No longer can I squint my eyes when I look at him and for a split second think I’m looking at that dimple-cheeked 4-year-old or even that tween with the skater bangs and Heelys.  Instead, now when I look at him through squinty eyes, like I used to look at things I was scared of when I was little (and still do, if truth be told), I see a grown man who will all too soon be looking at his own children through squinty eyes, never wanting to forget even one little detail about how they looked when they were little.

Just what exactly does this mean for me–being “the mom of a man”? I’m really not sure. Do you ever see your son as truly “a man” instead of your “little boy”? I really don’t think, even if I am lucky enough to still be around when he is 60, that I will see him any differently than I have for the past 20 years. Every man is still some mom’s boy, no matter how many years he’s been so.

Even though part of me is sad, and maybe even a little bit mad, that those two decades went by so fast, another part of me is proud to watch this person that I made go out and be a man in the world. It’s truly a privilege to see his life unfold.

But if I’m being honest, I have to admit that I’m also relieved that I have a few more years to still be a “mom of boys,” too.

 

Teens, You Can Trick-or-Treat at My House

Teen dressed up for HalloweenIt seems that every Halloween, the debate over “how old is too old to go trick-or-treating” resurfaces, and people start taking sides, engaging in online discussions about what will happen if we let middle school and high school students dress up and ask for candy on Beggar’s Nights.

This discussion has been fueled this year by the passing of a law in a small town in Canada banning kids over the age of 16 from trick-or-treating and instituting a 8 p.m. curfew for all trick-or-treaters. Those found in violation of this law could be fined $200. Now, this new law actually relaxed a previous law which banned kids over 14 from trick-or-treating and set the curfew at 7 p.m., but it still maintains the steep fine for those kids who don’t comply.

My response to this? Ridiculous.

Unbeknownst to the lawmakers in Bathurst, once you become a teenager, you do not automatically become a criminal, or even just a mischief-maker. The Bathurst city spokesman said that the “older residents” were concerned about “troublemakers.” How stereotypical is that, on both ends of the spectrum. Teenagers aren’t scary, or at least they shouldn’t be seen as so! These adolescents are trapped between wanting to stay a little kid and wanting to skip right to adult. It’s a tough road to navigate, if you don’t remember actually being a teenager yourself. It’s filled with confusion, doubt, friendships, heartache, anticipation and insecurity. But here’s the deal: When we make laws like this, we are sending the message that we don’t want them to still be able to act like kids once in a while. They should just go straight to being adults–but not the kind of adults who can be trusted not to smash pumpkins or take candy from babies.

Will older-looking 12-year-olds be forced to carry identification with them to prove that they are “of age” if stopped on the street by a cop or over-zealous resident looking for the chance to make a citizen’s arrest? Will kids’ trick-or-treating routines now include showing door answerers a birth certificate before reciting “Why didn’t the skeleton go trick-or-treating?” (Because he had no guts, if you were wondering.) Way to suck all the fun out of Halloween, Bathurst.

I work with teenagers, and I have three teenage boys of my own. Teenagers are not inherently bad. They are not going to automatically take a mile if you give them an inch. They aren’t all plotting how they can scare small children and terrorize adults. Most would not go egg a house even if you supplied the carton of eggs and a getaway driver. They care about people. They want people to care about them. They will amaze you in so many ways if you just give them the opportunity to show you who they really are, beneath that “scary black hoodie” or behind that SnapChat profile.

Now will some teenagers take advantage of opportunities, like trick-or-treating? Will some use it as a chance to grab two handfuls of candy instead of just taking one piece? Will some see Halloween as the excuse to use bad judgment and partake in some genuine “mischief”? Absolutely. But it’s no different with adults. Given the opportunity, will some adults take advantage of a situation or use terrible judgment when making decisions? You bet. Most teenagers will opt to either stay home and help hand out candy to little kids who come to their door, get together at a friend’s house to watch a scary movie on Netflix or maybe embrace that inner 8-year-old and dress up like a zombie or walk around the block in that unicorn onesie they got for their birthday.

And I know this may be a controversial statement, but I truly believe it: Teenagers will be who you show them they are. If you show them you think they are responsible kids, with mostly good intentions, the majority will rise to the occasion. But if you show them that they aren’t to be trusted and must be kept in line by force of law, many will do what they can to prove you right. It’s a generalization, I know, and there are definitely exceptions, but in my experience this has been the case. Do teenagers need boundaries? Definitely. They are still learning about the relationship between actions and consequences. They need guidance from those who have been where they are. But there’s a difference between setting boundaries and enforcing punishment based on things that are out of their control, like when they were born.

So, teens, if you’re listening, you can come trick-or-treat at my house. In fact, PLEASE come trick-or-treat at my house! At least I will know that you’re not out drinking somewhere or driving too fast on the way back from a haunted attraction an hour away. I would love to see what creative costume you come up with, or, even if you don’t want to go the costume route, you can still come knock on my door and ask for candy. I’ll gladly give it to you. It’s okay to be a kid once in a while, and Halloween gives you the perfect excuse to forget about all those stresses that come with being a teenager and just have fun.

And to the teens in Bathurst, I know it’s quite a drive, but if you’re in the neighborhood, you’re invited, too. And I promise, even if you ring my doorbell at 8:02, I won’t call the cops on you.

The Accidental Octogenarian

I’m officially 80 years old.

I must be. There’s no other explanation for what happened this week.

There I was, walking down the hall before school, like any other day, innocently heading to the teacher’s lounge to score me some of that gourmet Folgers or Yuban community coffee (whatever was on sale at Fareway this week) when I saw a co-worker who I thought looked especially nice. So I decided to pay her a compliment.

Here’s where things got weird.

I opened my mouth, and what I heard myself say was:

“I like your blouse!”

She accepted my compliment with a smile and I continued on my walk down the hall, but by now full-on confusion had set in.

Did I just use the word blouse?

I hit rewind in my mind and replayed the conversation. Yep, yep, there it was, sneaking into my vocabulary when it didn’t think I was paying attention. Which, apparently, I wasn’t.

Blouse? I literally cannot think of one time I have ever used the word blouse to describe someone’s shirt. Perhaps I have used the word top on occasion, when I’d been around my mom a little too long, but blouse?

This is what I picture when I hear the word blouse.

(Look at these sassy women, thinking they’re all that because they’re on the cover of a Vogue pattern unlike all those sorry Butterick or McCall’s pattern models.)

This is clearly not what type of shirt my coworker was wearing. There were no puffy sleeves or neck bow, and there definitely wasn’t a pleat in the front. So why in the world did this word escape from my subconscious?

Now I’m paranoid, afraid to open my mouth for fear that other 80-year-old-woman words will follow. Among my fears are the following phrases:

Your davenport is very comfortable!

Those slacks really flatter your figure.

These trousers are made from the finest polyester.

Could you go to the icebox and get me a bottle of milk?

Where might one purchase a new pocketbook around here?

Don’t be such a square.

Look at that young whippersnapper, fiddling with his mobile phone.

I’m going to ask Blanche if she will tape my stories for me since I will be visiting my grandchildren.

Now that my vocabulary has betrayed me, I’m afraid at what might be coming next. So if you see me trade in my iPhone for a “less complicated” flip phone (Sorry, Mom!) or staring a little too long at the rain bonnets at Walmart, or if I suddenly smell like Werther’s Originals and prune juice, you’ll know that the 80-year-old woman inside me has officially taken control.

Friends, you’d better start hiding your knee-high stockings and crocheted cat pillows…

 

 

photo by:


Ethan Prater

The Stress of Going Back to School

So that’s it. Gone are the days of elementary school conferences and cookie dough fundraisers. I’m officially the mom of a middle school, a high school and a college student. Boy #3 turned 13 a few weeks ago, so I’m a full-fledged mom of teens — until January when I then graduate to “mom of a-20-year-old” status. (When in the heck did THIS happen, by the way?)

Back-to-school time is always crazy busy for our family. Having two teachers in the family means double-whammy beginning-of-the-year stress, and even though you’ll probably find this incredibly hard to believe, I don’t handle stress so well. This is evidenced by my “back-to-school acne” that has arrived, right on cue. Because nothing makes a 45-year-old woman feel better about herself than a mutinous bout of cystic acne.

And you know what has not helped my stress level this year? My newest teenager. I love the kid, but if I’m being honest (And when aren’t I?), he’s making me a little bit crazy right now. (And when I say “a little bit crazy,” what I really mean is “total batshit crazy.”) And we’ve only had five days of school.

Last year, he rode the bus to school and, being in 6th grade, was able to get himself out the door and to the bus stop on his own so I could head to school early, about 7 a.m., to get some things done before the halls filled up with Axe Body Spray and teenage angst. This year, however, he is riding to school with me, which means that even though I get up at the same time and am ready to head out the door at the same time, I am a full 20-30 minutes later getting to school.

Why is this, you may ask? Is it because Boy #3 and I are bonding over a home-cooked breakfast before we start our day? That’s a big “nope.” I’m not that good of a mom. It’s because no matter how much I prod and push, he cannot seem to run in any gear but slower-than-molasses, or sometimes even reverse. It LITERALLY takes him 10 minutes to put on his socks and shoes. And that’s when he can even find both of his shoes. He also never manages to remember to tell me anything that needs to be done until I have one foot out the door. Let’s take this morning for example. I had loaded myself up with my computer bag, purse and lunch and was walking past the kitchen table when I spotted his football mouthguard — still in the plastic bag. “Do you need this?” I asked naively, to which he spewed in panic, “I HAVE TO HAVE THIS MOLDED FOR MY TEETH THIS AFTERNOON OR I CAN’T PRACTICE!” Now, if you haven’t had the pleasure of helping a child, or a stranger for that matter, mold a mouthguard, please realize that in order to do this, you have to put it in boiling water. And the saying “A watched pot never boils” could NOT be more true. I had to put down my bags, put water in a pot on the stove and wait for it to boil before going to school. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Great life lesson here! He forgot to do it, so he doesn’t get to practice. Natural consequences, baby!” And don’t get me wrong, you’re absolutely right, but here’s the deal: Sometimes I’m just too tired to be a good mom and stand my ground, and unfortunately this morning was one of those sometimes.

But clearly, I’m going to have to nip this irresponsibility in the bud. For heaven’s sake, by last Friday night we had had three days of school, two of which were early outs, and he had already lost his bag and cleats TWICE. On the first day of school, he apparently left it outside on the front lawn of the school before the doors opened in the morning. Luckily, someone turned it in to the office and he got it the next day, so we didn’t have to buy him new shoes and he learned a lesson about holding on to his stuff. Bet he won’t do that again, right? Wrong. After the football game Friday night, another middle school teacher found his backpack, with his cleats inside, under the bleachers. Fortunately, the teacher had seen my son with the bag, so he knew whose it was because we hadn’t actually gotten around to ever putting his name on it anywhere. That would make too much sense.

So for those of you who are keeping track, he lost his bag and cleats twice so far, and this morning he forgot to boil his mouthguard until we were walking out the door. However, that wasn’t all the day had in store… Late morning I received an email from his band teacher saying that she had found his red folder he had lost, and of course she found it shoved way back in someone else’s cubby, which he had mistakenly used. Who’d a guessed that? But the fun didn’t stop there. Oh no. At the end of the school day, he informed me that he’d forgotten his football pants at home and that he needed them for practice an hour later. At this point, my backbone had grown back, and I told him he would have to walk home to get his pants because I had meetings I couldn’t miss. He replied that he wouldn’t be able to get home and back in time, to which I replied that it’s only one mile away, and that he could get there in 10 minutes. Obviously, I forgot how slowly my son does everything, along with the fact that I could barely do a 10-minute-mile when I was training for a half-marathon. Lucky for him my husband had gotten home from work by the time Boy #3 got there and was able to bring him back to the school. Instead of the 10 minutes that I projected, it actually took him 25 minutes to walk there. Whoops! “Bet you won’t forget your pants again!” I said when he tried to get mad at ME for the whole situation.

This picture kind of sums up our school year so far. Why is it that last week on Facebook my feed was full of photos of happy, smiling children, holding beautiful Etsy signs announcing “Back to School 2nd Grade,” and when I tried to get a “first day of school” photo, this is what I got?

Yep, it’s pretty much a mug shot.

So yeah, my routine back-to-school stress this year is complemented by my I-have-a-7th-grade-boy stress, with just a pinch of my-sophomore-in-college-waited-until-the-last-minute-to-figure-out-his-student-loans stress and my-sophomore-in-high-school-waited-until-the-last-two-days-of-summer-to-read-his-assigned-summer-English-novel stress. Oh, and my sophomore in high school also got a concussion last week in football practice and missed his first two days of school. There’s that, too.

And although it probably seems a little bit (or “a lot bit”) like I’m complaining, please know that I’m really not. Because with the brain farts (and the actual farts), the stinky football pads and the “Oh my gosh, Mom, you’re so melodramatic” attitude comes the unexpected hugs, the deep conversations over which Shark Tank investor we want to fund our hypothetical business and the “I forgot to tell you I love you” texts.

Back to school means back to stress. And probably the onset of The Great Acne War. That’s just the way it is. It’s how we choose to handle that stress, however, that determines who we really are. We can let it take over, or we can acknowledge its presence and then move on. In the process, we may not only manage to get through this thing called life (nod to Prince), but we may even learn to appreciate the messiness we encounter along the way because it means we are really living.

—–

P.S. After writing this last night, Boy #3 has managed to once again lose his shoes and had to go to school wearing his dad’s tennis shoes.

—-

P.P.S. After school today I got a phone call from Boy #3 telling me he had left his football pants in my classroom (even though he managed to remember to grab his shoulder pads, jersey and helmet) and would I please come bring them to the practice field? I can’t make this stuff up.

photo by:


Mark Bonica

Awkward Phase — The Sequel

I think I’m going through an awkward phase.

Most people attribute the “awkward phase” to something that happens to kids teetering on the verge of puberty, and I most certainly experienced the awkward phase back then. For me, it was 6th grade. While most of the other girls were experimenting with either makeup or making out, I, on the other hand, chose to bring my Cabbage Patch Kid to school for the day. Why not? I thought. Daycare is costing me a fortune! All kidding aside, I really did bring my Cabbage Patch Kid to school. And I didn’t think this was weird.

In fact, I remember being quite proud as I smelled my little Pammy’s head at recess. (Cabbage Patch Kids all had that same smell like baby powder mixed with rubber, which was like catnip for kids–and apparently tweens.)

What else did I bring to school you may wonder? My 6-inch-thick file folder full of the adoption papers of my imaginary friends. Yes, I had imaginary friends. In fact, my best friend and I created a whole imaginary friend community. They all had backstories and we mapped out their relationships in elaborate family trees. They weren’t actually people, though, they were creatures we created–most of them in some way fluffy–as well as some animals thrown in there for good measure. At recess my friend and I would discuss what was happening with our imaginary friends like we were discussing the plot of some bizarre soap opera or reality TV show. All of this, of course, with my Cabbage Patch Kid looking on, dotingly.

My 6th grade school picture really seems to capture the essence of my awkwardness. I had apparently tried to feather my hair (It was 1983), but hadn’t blow dried it or anything, so I didn’t really pull it off. Instead, my hair was parted down the middle, with my cowlick, or “rooster tail” as my mom called it, taking center stage, and the rest was a half-wavy, half-straight mess. I wore, in the photo, a pink polo, and of course had intended to pop the collar like all the cool kids, but since instead of it being an Izod with an alligator on the chest, it was the Sears Catalog-brand knock-off with a dragon on the chest, the collar didn’t have the stiffness it was supposed to and only part of it would actually stay up. And of course I wore no makeup, which is fine except for the dark circles under my eyes that looked like eye black like football players wear. It is a sight to behold.

So when one of the boys came up to me before school and said, “Brian Reece wants to know if you’ll go with him,” (which is what we called being boyfriend/girlfriend even though we never “went” anywhere) and knowing Brian was one of the “cool kids,” I probably should’ve realized that something was amiss. And yet when Brian came up to me later in the day and told me his friend had just said it as a joke, I was heartbroken, like we had broken up after seven years of living together or something. To this day, Brian defends himself by saying that he was being a gentleman by telling me the truth, but I just tell him that he’s lucky I said yes when he asked me to marry him 10 years later.

So back to my present-day awkward phase. It’s this whole 45 thing. I know some people say the 40s is when you feel like you’ve really hit your stride, but I just feel like instead of striding along confidently, I’m doing this half-walking half-galloping thing, not really sure what I’m doing.

I feel very unsure of how I’m supposed to feel at 45. Am I young? Am I old? What exactly is “middle-aged” supposed to look like? I don’t want to be one of those women who’s 65 and wearing a tight babydoll t-shirt that says “Bae.” I don’t want younger women to look at me and think, “Who does she think she is,” and I don’t want older women to look at me and think, “Who does she think she is.” I mean, at what point do I realize my shorts are too short or my style is too Forever 21? At what point do I start wearing culottes and sensible shoes? Will I know when it’s time for me to head straight for the Alfred Dunner section when I walk into Younkers?

And then there’s the hair. So many women cut their hair short when they get older, and this terrifies me. I’ve tried it several different times in my life, and each time, no matter the style, I looked utterly ridiculous. I envy the women who have the face to pull off short hair. This face, however, cannot. But someday soon am I going to wake up and find that I’ve let a well-meaning stylist cut it all off? Or will the opposite happen, and I’ll be 60, refusing to let anyone near my Crystal Gayle-length locks, trying way too hard to look young, which ironically, just ends up making you look old?

I know, 45 is not old. But it’s not exactly young either. It’s funny that when some of my students first find out I’m 45, they don’t believe me. “You don’t look that old!” they say, which at first feels like a real compliment, but then it hits me — Wait, but I really AM that old. And I just hope that I “don’t look that old” in the “I’m-not-trying-to-look-young-it’s-my-genetics” way and not the “creepy-old-woman-wearing-Daisy-Dukes-and-pigtails” way.

I want to look young, but I don’t want to look desperate to look young. And I’m really unsure where that fine line is.

This 45 business is also confusing when thinking about how to act. I don’t really fit in with the younger crowd. This becomes obvious to me when I’m with a group in their 20s and 30s, and they’re all relaxed, maybe having a drink or two, and I’m thinking about the laundry I really should be doing and trying to calculate in my head the latest time I can go to bed without feeling like I’ve been run over by a party bus for the next three days. (And usually that time is well before midnight.) The other day one of my younger friends mentioned how she’d been up partying until 4 a.m. a few nights prior and my body nearly went into shock for her. I had to consciously make myself shut my gaping mouth because I didn’t want to make her feel bad or let on that I’m a total wet blanket. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about how nonchalant she was about it. 4 a.m.??? Usually I am awake by 4:15 after having to get up for my third time to pee. What is wrong with me that my palms were sweating and I had to do a little discreet Lamaze breathing just to calm myself down from just imagining partying until 4 a.m.? And then after the shock wore off, the curiosity set in: How in the hell did she not fall asleep? I drink half a Blue Moon and I can barely keep my eyes open, no matter if it’s 2 in the afternoon or 8 at night. I found myself studying her, wondering what her secret was — and then I realized her secret was that she is at least 15 years younger than I am.

Being a parent of a 12-year-old at age 45 isn’t any less awkward. Sitting at ball games and band concerts, I look around and realize that some of these parents are barely 30, which means I am much closer to those children’s grandparents’ age than their parents’. Sometimes I wonder if I am supposed to look like the expert, this wise old parent who has lived through it all and can share her tips on how to raise kids. But then I look around again and realize that most of these younger parents have got it together way more than I do and I really should be taking notes from them, or at least tracing back my steps to see where I went wrong. One thing I do know is that these parents have way more energy than I do, and I feel like I really owe my youngest son an apology. “Sorry that Mommy used to really care and actually made meals for the family, which were eaten at the kitchen table. Now if Daddy doesn’t cook it’s every boy for himself to scrounge around in the refrigerator and cupboards and then eat in the living room in front of the TV. Or, if we’re keeping it real here, in your room in front of the XBOX. Mommy’s just too old and worn out to argue.”

Caught somewhere in between the age where bar-hopping every weekend makes you the “fun friend” and not the “friend who someone really needs to have a talk with,” and where scheduling colonoscopies for both you and your husband on your wedding anniversary sounds like a sensible way to celebrate, I’m stuck here in Awkward Land, where I’m just not sure what’s a good idea and a really, really bad idea anymore. Much like my deteriorating vision, everything seems just a bit on the fuzzy side. But the weird thing is, I don’t think my husband, who is only 10 days younger than me, seems to be in the same awkward phase. He’s much more confident in his 45-ness than I am and doesn’t seem plagued by the same concerns. Is this because men take longer to mature than women, so my 45 is really equivalent to his 40, or because I am just neurotic? Perhaps a little of both.

I was having a conversation the other night with some friends who are the same age and all of a sudden I blurted out, “Oh, God, on our next birthdays we’ll be 46!” Yep, just call me Captain Obvious. Perhaps at 12:01 a.m. on February 24, the person I feel like will magically be the person I’m supposed to be at my age. Perhaps I’ll experience a rush of confidence and will finally feel comfortable in my own skin. Maybe, just maybe, this awkward phase will have run its course.

But until then, every time I pass a mirror, I’ll see that girl with the half-feathered hair and half-popped collar, trading scratch-and-sniff stickers one minute and sneaking peeks in Danielle Steel romance novels the next. I may be a few years older, but I’m no more sure of myself and definitely no less awkward.