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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Only Thing to Fear is . . . Everything

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

            This week, Merryland Girl asked us to talk about a time you were fearless.

            A time I was fearless?  That would be never.  I’ve never been fearless.  Never.  Not once.  Not ever.

            The definition of “fearless” of course suggests the absence of fear.  I’ve never existed in such a state.  Wired to be anxious, I live in a perpetual state of fear.  The fear ranges from the smallest thoughts of, “Will I be late?” up to the largest nagging doubt of, “Will I fail miserably?” 

            I’ve acted in ways that seem fearless, but while doing so, fear roiled under my surface.  Moving to Los Angeles in my early twenties knowing exactly two people and having no real source of income?  People thought me courageous, but they couldn’t see the fear behind my mascara-caked eyes.  Starting law school at one of the best law schools in the nation, with a husband and a two-year-old in tow?  I put on a brave face, but my hands shook when I signed those loan papers (and let’s not even discuss the amount of Mylanta consumed in the weeks leading up to the bar exam).  Taking my middle daughter for autism testing?  I asked intelligent questions and did not shed a tear, but inside, terror pulsed through my veins. 

            To me, I guess, there’s a difference between being fearless and acting fearless.  But maybe there isn’t.  Maybe I’m merely flirting with semantics.  Maybe to be fearless means to feel fear but to act anyway.  If that’s the case, then I have, indeed, been fearless.  I’ve written about a few of those moments:  walking into a room to say goodbye to a hospice patient who’d already passed; up and moving across the country – now for the third time.  But I’ve never said much about the fear I felt – and continue to feel – regarding my daughter’s autism. 

            Maybe I’ve just been too afraid.

            The (as of today!) Eleven’s path to an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis was indirect, jagged, and long.  Although I had a high-risk pregnancy (my age and a missing blood vessel in our shared umbilical cord), my delivery was great – easiest of the three, in fact.  She hit all of her developmental milestones except crawling, choosing instead to invent a modified “butt scoot.”  And as she grew, she seemed not only “normal” (the polite word is “neurotypical”) but also gifted.  I saw in her behaviors I saw in her older sister, who’d been deemed gifted after a first-grade IQ test.  She liked to line up her toys.  She used big words.  She had an amazing ability to re-create pages out of the Crate and Barrel catalog using her own stuff – at the age of three.  We really had no clue.  Even when she struggled in pre-school (refusing to sit in the circle, wandering off to do her own thing, only engaging when doing tactile activities), we didn’t think anything was really wrong (and neither did her teachers).

            Weeks before her sixth birthday, we moved from Chicago to suburban Evanston.  The Then-Almost-Six ended up with a fantastic teacher, and she stayed with her for Kindergarten and First Grade.  Any concerns we’d had in the past about in-school behavior vanished; she thrived in every relevant area . . . except one:  peer relationships.  We didn’t think much of it then, or for the next year.  After all, we’d just moved, and we were all still settling in and meeting people and forming relationships.  It took time, for all of us.  And so we wrote off her struggles to general life tumult.

            But soon we couldn’t ignore the frustration connected with her inability to form and maintain friendships.  She’d grow irate, sometimes outright angry.  We didn’t know how to help.  We debated taking her to see “someone,” but I struggled with that, not because I am opposed to psychologists, but because I didn’t know how to explain what exactly we thought was wrong.  And then, one summer day, I watched my daughter struggle to break into a group conversation at the park near our house.  She tried, but she didn’t have the tools.  The other girls were discussing dogs; when the Then-Eight walked up, she started talking about baseball.  The other girls couldn’t understand why – and my daughter couldn’t understand why they didn’t get it.  And so we found a psychologist near our house and brought her in for some help.

            The doctor spent part of spring and an entire summer working with our daughter and, even though we met with him each week, he’d never mentioned what he thought was going on.  So, of course, I asked.  And, it’s funny, because I don’t know what I thought he would say, but I know for sure I never, ever, ever thought he’d use the word “autism.”

            He tried to downplay it, say he thought she was “mildly autistic,” having either Asperger’s Syndrome (she does) or high-functioning autism (which is similar).  He gave his reasons:  her poor eye contact, her preference to play near but with him, the slightly odd manner in which she speaks.  Floored, I instantly filled with fear.  Autism had long terrified me – the little I knew.  It didn’t take long before the fear grew and blossomed.  What would this mean for my child?  Could she handle it?  Could I?

            Months and months of testing followed, each visit, each meeting enlarging my fear.  We began with a large, urban autism center in Chicago, one containing a waiting room filled with autistic kids ranging the spectrum.  I regularly watched nonverbal children flap and scream and stare.  One particularly frightening evening, I watched a ‘tween boy have a total meltdown (look it up – it has meaning to an ASD kid, and it isn’t fun) as his mother and therapist attempted to hold him down and calm him.  In those moments, I lived fear.  It surrounded me.  It filled me.  Some days, I swore I could taste it.  I didn’t want to be in that room, in any waiting room, talking to any doctor, filling out any questionnaire.  I wanted my daughter to be neurotypical.  And I feared what it might mean knowing she wasn’t.

            Most of all, I feared the future.  In those moments, I tried not to think about what my daughter’s life might look like as she grew.  The more I knew, the more I wondered:  Would she be able to live alone?  Hold down a job?  Drive a car?  No doctor could answer those questions – when I had the courage to ask.

            I still wonder about those things.  My daughter wants those things, and I want them for her.  But the question remains whether she will have them.  And I still fear she won’t.

            But the Eleven doesn’t know of my fear.   And she never will.  Because my job – as her mother, as her advocate – is to at least appear fearless.  It is my duty to take her to those doctor’s appointments, to that testing.  As much as I hate them, I need to put on the professional “Look at me I’m not worried it’s all good” face when I walk into school IEP meetings or chat with her social skills group leader.  No matter the fear I harbor inside, I can’t show it.  I must appear fearless.

            And, in doing so, I suppose I am being fearless.

            I’ve learned many, many lessons as I’ve shared my daughter’s ASD journey.  I’ve even taught myself a few tricks.  One is a game I play where I look at someone random – in a store, in a restaurant, in a waiting room – and I try to imagine what I can’t see.  What don’t I know about his or her life?  What fear is s/he hiding?  Can that person look at me and see the fear that lingers just below the surface all the time?

            I like to think I’ve got a good game face, and maybe I do.  I don’t know.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.  Maybe all that matters is that, regardless of how afraid I feel, I step up and do what needs to be done, even if my pulse pounds and my palms sweat.  Even if, inside, I am anything but fearless.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We've Only Just Begun

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Moma Rock chose this week’s topic:  Tell us about your first homecoming/prom/formal . . . and don’t forget the photos!  If you didn’t go to any high school dances, why not?  What did you end up doing instead?  Here’s my take:

I’ll be honest:  I don’t much remember my first formal dance.  I know I went to several (including my Junior Ring Dance and my Senior Prom), but it was a long time ago (I am the OLDEST member of my blogging group, ahem) and, frankly, the memories just weren’t that special.  I know somewhere – in a box in my garage back in Evanston, in a box in the closet of my old bedroom at my parents’ house – sits a stack of photos of me and my high school boyfriend, Mark, shiny faced and bad-hairdoed and overdressed, corsages hanging from our chests, cheesy smiles plastered to our sweaty faces.  But I haven’t looked at those in years.  And I likely won’t look at them for many years more.

I wasn’t a big fan of high school.  I usually say I hated high school, but hate is a strong word.  It’s more that I “greatly disliked” it.  High school held few redeeming qualities, mostly centered around the handful of good friendships I made and have been lucky enough to keep to this day, or around my two years writing for and editing the school newspaper.  And, really, other than a couple of good teachers (including Mr. Busch, who called us “a lovely lot of ladies” and told us the story of ripping his “trousers” when he locked his keys in his car, and Mr. Mazzulla, who was known to toss chalkboard erasers at girls who weren’t paying attention), that’s about it. 

I can’t really explain my dislike of high school.  I usually blame it on the fact it was “all-girls” and “Catholic” and “uniformed,” but I doubt it’s that simple.  Nothing ever is.  I’m sure the addition of boys at the least would have made high school more interesting – but it also would have required me to give a damn about how I looked every morning (when the only males are the History teachers and the guy who cleans the Caf, perfectly applied makeup suddenly seems low priority).

Even though I was surrounded by hundreds of other girls on a daily basis, I managed to scrounge up a boyfriend, my go-to date for formals.  I met Mark when I worked as a candy girl at the movie theater near my house.  Mark was an usher at the theater, and he attended my school’s “brother school,” Gordon Tech, which was “all-boys” and “Catholic” and probably just as uneventful as mine (but full of a lot more testosterone).  Mark and I dated for a few years.  He was a good first boyfriend:  nice, attentive, generous, and patient.  We did the high school boyfriend/girlfriend things, including exchanging class rings (he wore mine around his neck; I layered yarn around the back of his so it would fit on my finger). 

All of this made for a “normal” high school experience (at least in my neighborhood) but none of it made for a particularly interesting or memorable time in my life.

When I think about prom and the other formals as Moma Rock asked, I generally feel uncomfortable.  And that’s because I wasn’t very comfortable in my own skin back then.  I loathed looking for a dress.  I was fat.  Nothing pretty fit me.  I held no clue how to apply makeup or do my hair, and so my photos feature the classic ‘80s blue eye shadow (and mascara and nail polish) and permed, Aqua-netted hair.  My eyebrows were reminiscent of my ungroomed Eastern European relatives – both female and male.  I didn’t look good, and I didn’t feel good, either.  Pouring myself into a frilly dress and dyed-to-match high heels equated with putting lipstick on a pig, at least to me.

So it’s no wonder I don’t think often about prom or the Christmas Dance or the Junior Ring Dance.  I don’t want to.  I don’t want to remember. 

A few years ago, my eldest daughter went to her prom.  Her experience was everything mine was not.  She made it look so, so easy.  And she?  Looked absolutely beautiful.  She ordered her dress online WITHOUT TRYING ON FIFTY DRESSES THAT ALL MADE HER LOOK FAT, and when it arrived, it merely needed to be pressed.  It fit her like a glove, a beautiful royal blue glove.  A generous friend opened her home to a bunch of the girls, and together they did their own hair and makeup in front of the huge house’s huge bathroom mirror before taking photos in the house’s huge Italianate backyard.  (In her pictures, my daughter looks to have “prommed” somewhere off the Amalfi Coast.)  And then my child and her friends slid into a pair of limos and drove to downtown Chicago, where her tuxeodoed boyfriend met them and they spent the evening having the time of their young lives.

I don’t know whether my daughter will look back fondly on her prom, but I know I will.  I will cherish those photos, and I’ve shown them off as I once did her baby pictures.  And I know the beauty in those pictures lies not only in my child’s ridiculously high cheek bones, or in her gorgeous blue eyes, or in her long, wavy horses mane of chestnut hair, or in the dress that looks like it was made just for her, but also in her confidence, her assuredness that she looks good and feels good and that she will have a good time.  I hope someday she will understand my memory of that night, the night I truly saw her as the beautiful adult she’d since become, the night she replaced the blurry, time-faded images in my mind with a crisp memory I pray I won’t ever forget. 


Thursday, September 11, 2014

You Want Ketchup With That?

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

            This week, I asked the other bloggers to write about 3-5 things that you used to love, enjoy doing, etc., in the past but now you don’t like.  Or, write about stuff you used to not like but have grown to enjoy.  And feel free to throw in one thing you’ve always loved and always will.  Here’s my take:

Stuff I Used To Dislike But Now Kinda Like:

(1)  The Beatles:  For most of my life, I’ve not been too crazy about Beatles’ music.  I never understood why people went absolutely ga-ga over their songs.  Sure, there were a couple of catchy ones, but I usually turned the radio dial when a Beatles’ song came on.  I really didn’t get how they “changed the world”; to me, Elvis was just as gutsy and perhaps even more groundbreaking around the same time.  I preferred The Monkees, as they were cute and fun and had an awesome television series.  (And Davy Jones.)

When I was in my early 20s, I spent a few years living in L.A.  I used to hang out at the long-hair clubs dotting Hollywood Boulevard and the Sunset Strip, listening to band after band playing mostly original music.  One night, one of my fav bands played Hey Jude – and the place went wild.  Imagine the sound of 100 long hairs nah nah nah NAH NAH NAH NAHing in unison, over and over again.  The moment has stayed with me over the years, and even though the moment holds much meaning, it didn’t convert me.  I’d leave Hey Jude on if it came on the radio, but I’d still switch the station for the other songs.

But for some reason, lately, I’ve started to listen.  I’ve started to appreciate.  I really don’t know why.  If a Beatles song comes on the radio, I won’t lunge for the tuner.  I’ll sit.  And I’ll enjoy.  I’ll even sing along.

I’ll never be a crazed Beatlemaniac, and I’ll still always prefer the Peter Frampton/Bee Gees cover of Golden Slumber/Carry That Weight (thank you cheesy Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band movie!).  But now I can honestly say, yeah, the Beatles are okay.

(2)  Tomatoes:  I grew up in a Polish/Italian family where the Polish kind of fell to the side.  In my childhood home, our traditions – and most especially our food – came from the Italian side. 

And, so, of course, tomatoes were plentiful.  We ate pots of “gravy” made from canned tomatoes and tomato sauce.  My parents grew (and continue to grow) them in their tiny patch of a garden in their tiny patch of a backyard.  Chunks of tomato dotted every salad (which accompanied every dinner).  In the height of the tomato season, plates full of juicy sliced tomatoes were passed.  And I?  Passed.  I had no interest.  I didn’t like the taste or the texture.  They seemed pointless, just another vegetable I didn’t care to taste.  (Exception:  sugary sweet processed ketchup.  I’d dunk anything in ketchup.  Anything.  Maybe even a tomato.)

Today, I love tomatoes.  Love love love them.  I look forward to trips to the farmer’s market to pick up fresh tomatoes.  I will eat them sliced with a little salt, or alongside some fresh mozzarella in a Caprese salad.  I cut them up and add them to pizza as a topping and mix them into homemade omelets.  And is there anything better than a grilled cheese with slices of tomato tucked inside?  Yum! 

I regret my years of tomato abstinence.  I think of the hundreds of opportunities I had to pick a fresh tomato from my parents’ garden and slice it into a sandwich.  But at least I finally came to my senses and I hope I have many years of tomato-filled goodness ahead.

Something I Used to Like But Now Really Don’t

Swimming:  When I was a kid, we had a pool in the backyard.  Nothing fancy, just a round metal three-foot above ground pool that filled almost the entirety of our yard.  Oh, how I loved that pool.  It was a magnet for the neighborhood kids, and we took full advantage.  We played hours of Marco Polo.  We walked in circles to make whirlpools (until my Mom banged on the picture window to tell us to knock it off because we were messing up the filter). 

Eventually, my Dad took down the pool (and I’ll note that he lied and said he would replace it – instead, he bought a pile of sod and replaced the yard).  I was old enough to hit the public pools, so my friends and I spent our summer afternoons and evenings at either the Jefferson Park pool, which was new and close by, or the Portage Park pool, which was older and further away but which had diving boards and cuter lifeguards.  We lived at those pools until we graduated grammar school.  For some reason, the thrill ended when high school began.

Living in L.A. afforded me my next access to a pool.  I shared an apartment with a friend in a complex called Club California, and our favorite feature was the huge pool surrounded by all the deck chairs full of long hairs.  My roomie and I had little in common, but we both loved the pool.  We went often; there was always someone to talk to . . . or look at.  I didn’t really “swim” so much as hang out and jump in to cool off.  The pool was more of a place than a thing.  But I loved it still.

On Mother’s Day 2001, I had a couple of seizures (doctors never figured out why, and I never had another).  As I recovered, my doctors told me to skip swimming unless someone watched me closely – and what fun is that?  I walked in fear of seizing again, as no one could guarantee it wouldn’t happen again, so swimming seemed especially daunting.  I didn’t want to drown, and I didn’t want to be babysat.  I chose poolside.

In the years since, I’ve lost my desire to swim.  I haven’t had a seizure in more than a decade, so that is not the reason.  No, pools kinda gross me out.  They’re big cesspools of germs.  I don’t want to immerse myself in what is nothing more than a giant bathtub with countless strangers.  You just know people pee in them.  Even if they are chlorinated to the hilt, I have no desire to stick my head in a pool of other people-tainted water.  (And, honestly, I’ve no desire to stick my head in a giant vat of chemical water, either.  It is hell on the hair.)

I’m still okay going in an ocean, but I won’t put my head under.  I’ll go into a pool up to my neck to cool off, but that’s it.  Sadly, my Marco Polo days are over.  (Though I’d still be up for a good neighborhood whirlpool.)

Something I’ve Always Loved and Always Will

I would bet money that most of you are expecting a mini-essay about . . . Bon Jovi.  And for sure, Bon Jovi would fit the bill here.  But there is something I’ve loved longer than Bon Jovi, something that touches me almost every day, something I intend to embrace until I die – and maybe after.

Blue jeans.

Oh, how I love denim.  I am at my most comfortable when wearing a comfortable, well-fitting pair of jeans.  I feel good; all feels right.  I like clothes well enough, and I own dresses and skirts and shorts and leggings, but none of those things compete with blue jeans.

I came of age in the era of Calvin Kleins and Sergio Valentes.  We wore our jeans dark and tight, with just enough room to squeeze a comb into the back pocket.  (We laid on the bed to zip those puppies.)  I owned exactly one pair of Calvins, and I cherished them.  I wore them to death.  I wish I still had them. 

As times changed and brands expanded, I branched out.  I didn’t care much about the name on the tag – I just wanted a good, comfortable, flattering fit.  These days, my favs can be found at the Gap.  And I wear them until they fall apart.  Literally.

I can’t help but think about my cousin Suzie when I think about loving jeans.  Suzi was a cousin by marriage (which in Italian families means, Suzie = cousin).  I stood up to the wedding at which Suzie married my cousin David, and Suzie wore jeans under her wedding dress!  Her mother was livid, but Suzie wouldn’t budge.  She said she was most comfortable in a pair of jeans, and she knew feeling that soft cotton against her skin under the piles of wedding dress fabric would calm her down.  It did.  (It also made for some amusing wedding photos.)

Suzie passed away very young; only 37.  I was living in L.A., so I couldn’t attend her funeral.  I’ve wondered whether she was buried in jeans.  For her sake, I hope she was.  Because now that I am older, I understand her intense love of denim pants, and I know she would have wanted to look and feel her best as she passed on to whatever waited for her. 

I’d be fine being buried in jeans, maybe with a nice top and some cute accessories.  I intend to be the 85-year-old woman still wearing jeans as she toddles around the retirement community.  No polyester for me – and no elastic waists! 

I don’t particularly like Neil Diamond (never have, probably never will), but even he wrote about the love of denim.  Too bad the Beatles couldn’t do a cover.  I’d happily listen, sitting poolside, wearing my jeans and biting into a fresh tomato.

Sounds like heaven. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014


I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

            Several weeks ago, Moma Rock asked us to write about “girl crushes.”  In my valiant attempt to catch up, here’s my take:

            Moma Rock assigned this subject to us more than a month ago.  It was during my “moving-500-miles-away-with-three-kids-and-three-cats” period, which gave me good reason not to type up a quick post, but in all honesty, it took me until now to think of any woman over whom I’ve come even remotely close to “crushing on.”

            It’s not really surprising; I’ve always struggled a bit with girls.  I’m not what you would call a “woman’s woman.”  Perhaps a result of growing up on a block with a dozen boys, I’ve always had a much easier time relating to males.  Indeed, some of my longest lasting friendships have been – and continue to be – with boys.  

            That affinity for the opposite gender has trickled into most areas of my life.  There are very, very few female singers whose voices I actually like (Pat Benetar back in the day; more recently, Pink).  I can’t think of many female comedians I like (Joan Rivers was decent, but I much preferred Jake Johansen).  I’ve never really thought of female professional sports as “sports” (sorry, athletic female friends!), and my favorite sport, baseball, doesn’t allow women to play.  Even my favorite chefs are male (the best meal I’ve ever eaten was at Nola, Emeril Lagasse’s New Orleans restaurant; to the contrary, the sound of Rachael Ray’s voice makes me feel stabby).  I’m drawn to men – not just sexually, but across the board. 

            And so perhaps it’s not so surprising that the woman I’d call my “girl crush” has often been compared to men.  She’s known as (sorry) a ball buster, a toughie, a hard ass. 

            Yup, you guessed it:  my “girl crush” is on Martha Stewart.

            I heart Martha, and I always have.  She is uber-talented and super smart.  She’s also pretty – did you know she used to model when she was a student at Barnard?  She lives the life I’d love to live:  multiple gorgeous houses, which she carefully renovates and meticulously decorates; exotic trips; yards full of animals and gorgeous gardens, being her own boss.  She writes books and edits magazine articles.  She regularly visits with David Letterman – and she gives as good as she gets.

            I’d totally date her if I was a guy.  (A much older guy.  But still.)

            Martha catches a lot of flack.  She’s a bitch, people say.  She’s mean, they opine.  She steps on people to get what she wants.  Funny thing:  she behaves no differently than hundreds of male CEOs, but she is singled out . . . because she is a woman.  That kinda makes me like her even more.  Martha worked her way up from a lower-class childhood in Nutley, New Jersey, to becoming the head of her eponymous billion-dollar corporation.  Did she break a few eggs on the way up?  Oh, I’m sure she did.  Did she whip those farm-fresh Araucana blue eggs into the fluffiest omelet you’ve ever seen?  You bet your handmade apron.

            My “girl crush” may, in actuality, be rooted more in aspiration than in true attraction.  Martha embodies perfection in almost every area of life.  She’s a successful businesswoman.  But maybe more importantly, she’s become the poster child, the mentor, for how to create and run a beautiful and well-appointed home.  There is value in that.  Sometimes, it really is the small stuff that makes a house a home:  a slab of homemade soap; a slice of warm, homemade bread.  Hell, years ago, I watched an episode of Martha’s show wherein musician John Legend made his grandmother’s macaroni and cheese recipe.  I copied it – and it’s become a family favorite, repeatedly requested at parties and gatherings.  I’m no Suzy Homemaker, but I have to admit it feels good to watch someone take a bite and smile. 

            I’ve got Martha to thank for that.  (And John Legend’s grandmother . . . but I’m not crushing on her.)

            Martha has never really been known for her physical beauty; during her early domestic goddess years, she modeled the preppy Connecticut mom look, which made her seem dowdy.  (A velvet dress and a headband, Martha?  Really?)  But for 73 years old, she looks pretty damn good.  

            I know there are many Martha haters.  I say, let the haters hate.  I’m used to the noise that comes with adoring the unpopular – you can’t be a lifelong Cubs fan (or Bon Jovi fan!) without catching a great deal of flack.  I will continue undeterred to read Martha’s magazines and cook her recipes and imagine life at Turkey Hill and Skylands.  I’ll think of Martha whenever I see a piece of Jade-Ite (a rare and expensive find, given she snatched it all up) or whenever I use my Martha Stewart pots and pans (damn fine products, I might add). 

            And I’ll wonder whether Martha would like me, too.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Don't Ask Me (I Don't Know)

I’m super excited to have been invited to join a blog group alongside three talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.   

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

            This week, Froggie chose the topic, and she said:  “Those who get it will understand.”  Here’s my take:

            I hate to say it, but I have to:  I?  Don’t get it.

            I truly have no idea what Froggie’s topic means, or is supposed to mean, or what it’s supposed to trigger in my head.  Actually, my first thought was, “Isn’t that from a beer commercial?”  I even Googled it.  I got nothing. 

            What’s funny is how, when Froggie sent the topic to us, my co-bloggers Moma Rock and Merryland Girl were all, “Great topic!” and “Thought provoking!”  And I was all, “The hell?!

            This isn’t the first time I haven’t understood something, of course (and it by no means will be the last).  But for a long time, I struggled to admit when I didn’t get it.  During a murky conversation or amidst an inside joke for which I hovered around the outside, I’d simply play along, nodding my head, smiling, laughing, whatever seemed appropriate but all the while thinking, “I’ve no idea what the hell anyone is talking about,” and silently praying they’d change the subject.

            It’s an uncomfortable feeling, of course.  No one likes to feel like an outsider, like they don’t understand.  And fewer people like to admit it.  So I suppose it’s a sign of growth that I can say, “I have no clue whatsoever what that means,” and not really feel bad about it.  It sounds like an oxymoron, but it takes self-confidence to admit cluelessness, to call attention to one’s self to point out that this thing everyone else gets, you . . . don’t.

            Instead, I’ve spent a good many years cultivated a sort of a “fake it to you make it” mentality.  I must say, I’ve gotten quite good.  I can bluff with the best of them (or so I’d like to think).

            The discomfort of not knowing something was exacerbated when I practiced law.  Someone would throw out a case name – a sort of oft-used lawyerly shorthand – and I’d tense, thinking, “Crap, which one was that?” (I’m terrible with names).  I’d silently remind myself of the advice of my Torts instructor, Professor Saul Levmore, who told us in our first year of law school to speak as if we knew what we were talking about even when we had no clue what we were talking about.  He embraced a “never let them see you sweat” approach, one that apparently had served him well.  Later, I’d see his advice in action.  Between my 2nd and 3rd years of law school (known as one’s 2L and 3L years), I “summered” at a large Chicago law firm in a sort of fancy intern program.  One of the litigation partners invited a pack of us to watch him do an oral argument in front of the Illinois Appellate Court, and I tagged along.  A former U.S. Attorney, this partner was good.  He owned that room.  He was unflappable, even when one of the judges asked him if he’d heard of a certain case and he admitted he had not.  He didn’t even skip a beat when the judge responded and said, “Well, counselor, you cite it in your brief.”  The partner paused, and then he burst out laughing – what else could he do?  And then he continued his argument with the same force and strength and confidence he’d displayed before his gaffe.  The partner wouldn’t let his brief lapse in memory minimize his thunder.  That memory stayed with me, partly because of the humor, but mostly because I envied his refusal to be rattled.  I longed for that poise and confidence – particularly a few years later when I stood in that same spot to argue a different case in front of that same court.  Inside, I was trembling, but I did my best to own that room, much like the partner I remembered.  (I know I came nowhere close, but my non-attorney husband said I sounded really good, and I didn’t faint, so I’ll take it.)

            Even years into practicing, I couldn’t shake that feeling that I didn’t know what I was doing, but that I had to act as if I did.  Regardless of what I felt inside, I had to project confidence and self-assuredness on the outside.  Over time, I met others who confided how they felt the same, even practiced attorneys who had many more years under their belts.  I realized why they called it the “practice” of law.  I realized you had to fake it until you could make it.  Eventually, competence – and confidence – would grow.  But I knew it was a long road, so I mastered painting on the face of fake poise and carrying on.

            I’m realizing that same “practice” applies in every day life, and often we are placed in positions where we just have to wing it, to act as if we know what we are doing even though we really don’t.  But I’m also realizing it’s sometimes ok to say, simply, “You know what?  I don’t know,” and to go from there.

            And so as to Froggie’s topic, I guess I’m not one of those who understand, because I don’t get it.  I have no idea what Froggie is talking about.  I didn’t share Moma Rock and Merryland Girl’s enthusiasm for the subject, because it felt as if Froggie asked me to write in Latin.  And I couldn’t even find a way to get Google to help me.  But it’s ok.  I faked it. 

            And here we are . . . [Insert awkward silence here.]