My First High School Prom ever!

High School Prom.  59 years old and I’m finally able to scratch attending a prom off the list.

Raising my children has made for a lifetime of do-overs.

The closest I came to attending a high school dance in my teens was stepping just inside the entrance doors. A younger brother asked me to go with him. Earlier, he had stashed a bottle of peppermint schnapps. I had never tasted anything so good. I told him that I’d wait for him outside the high school doors.

The best part of this prom night was before the dance at a friend’s house where the girls were having their hair done.

“Well, since you’re going to be there tonight,” one of the moms said to me, “you can take pictures.”

With excitement in her voice, a teen spoke up, “You’re going to be there? Yeah!” Another girl quickly chimed in her delight.

My date.

This surprised and pleased me. As a Police Reserve Officer, I attended all of Juan and Crystel’s middle school dances, even when they didn’t go. I thoroughly enjoyed joshing with their friends. It warmed me that I continued to be welcomed.

Up until now my involvement with this high school prom was as an observer. I witnessed the teens’ enthusiasm and angst over what they were going to wear, who they were going to go with, and what they were going to do before and after the dance. I didn’t say a word. I watched. I asked questions. I raised my eyebrows.

I arrived at the dance fifteen minutes before it opened. This time I had no peppermint schnapps or alcohol of any kind. I walked through the front door, past the registration table.

A scattering of students were milling about. This was not like the middle school dances where students packed themselves at the entrance doors impatient to get in. Tonight, there was a deliberateness in the air. Like you had to time your entrance, not be too early, not appear too eager and definitely, not appear too much like middle school.

When my date arrived, we had our picture taken under the balloon rainbow. For us there wasn’t any angst about what to wear or how our hair was done. Once the doors opened it was our job to observe and escort students who returned to their car to change into shoes that didn’t hurt. A few times my date and I circled the dance. On one of those rounds a student was being crowdsurfed.

Crystel and Juan Jose’

Later, Crystel and her group of friends walked over to where I was sitting. I was near the exit, informing students that were leaving they wouldn’t be allowed back in to the dance. I leaned into the group and whispered, “Seems to me, it was more fun before the dance than the actual dance itself.” They expressed the same opinion. Picking outfits, getting hair done, pictures, and dinner at a friend’s house was more entertaining. They soon left for a sleepover.

For me, there would be no waking up the next morning with hives from poisoning myself with peppermint schnapps and I could scratch my first prom dance off my bucket list.

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Compliment Activation (or Geeky Fun with Words)

This has been a tough week in the world, so I thought you might like a little diversion.

Sometimes I hear interesting words or phrases that pique my curiosity. These three phrases suggested meanings, but when I checked, I discovered the real meanings were very different.

Compliment activation – What I hope will happen after I get my hair cut or if I’m showing off a new pair of shoes.

When I first heard this term at a medical conference in a previous life, I was delighted. After all, I’m a writer and love expressive language. But if you spell this the scientific way —“complement activation,” you get the real meaning:

The complement system includes 20+ protein molecules that circulate in the blood. When the body senses a pathogen (the cooties that cause disease), the complement system is activated and a sequence of events occurs to fight infection. So either kind of complement activation can be good for you.

Antisense – Sounds like a good description for current events. Also might describe what the chipmunks in my yard are saying.

“Antisense” just covers so many situations. Turns out, it also has a scientific meaning: Having a sequence of nucleotides complementary to (and hence capable of binding to) a coding sequence, which may be either that of the strand of a DNA double helix that undergoes transcription, or that of a messenger RNA molecule (Dictionary.com).

Whaaaat?

After more research, I learned that the concept of antisense evolved into a therapy for genetic disorders. When a particular gene is responsible for a disease, a strand of nucleic acid can be bound to the messenger RNA of that gene and effectively switch off the disease-causing gene.

Regional expression – OK, I think I got this. A regional expression is like “pop” in the Midwest or “soda” on the East coast. Or maybe the way I say, “crick” for “creek” – an Ohio thing. Unless we’re talking about genetics.

Every gene contains a particular set of instructions that code for a specific protein. Gene expression is the process that enables DNA instructions to be converted into something useful, such as a protein. Where a gene lies in the genome (its region or neighborhood) influences the regulation of gene expression. In other words, gene behavior is influenced by where it hangs out. Hmm. Just like people.

It can’t hurt to know a bit more about genetics, but I like my definitions better!

Your Moms Are Going into The Peace Corps

I told the kids that after they graduated from high school that their moms were going into the Peace Corps. Even though it is 4 years from now, I believe in giving plenty of notice. Juan Jose’ has already told us that he isn’t leaving home. He’s going to live here forEVER. It was clear that the moms were going to have to leave to get on with their life.

I had been in the Peace Corps in my early 30’s. After 1½ years, I received a phone call that my mother was dying of cancer. I went home for a 30-day leave, returned to Tonga in the South Pacific where I was stationed, only to learn that I didn’t have the stamina to wait for a call telling me that she had died. Though our relationship was contentious, I needed to be within driving distance when she took her last breath. We never spoke of my decision.

It has always been in the back of my mind to return to the Peace Corps as a couple. I’m excited that Jody is willing. It will be an adventure we can share.

I mentioned Fiji, Tonga, and other South Pacific Islands.

Until now, Crystel had not been verbal about her plans after high school.

“I’m coming,” she said. I thought about that. Many people do have family members visit during their two-year stint.

“Yes,” I agreed. “A visit is possible. Maybe you both can even travel to New Zealand and Australia with Mama Jody and me.”

“No. I’m coming.”

“Oh, okay.” I had no answer other than that. How does one hide their 18-year-old daughter for two years in a hut? I’m not sure that the Peace Corps allows for extended stays. As her Uncle Scott mentioned, maybe they have a university she can attend.

When I was in the Peace Corps in 1990, most people went off the island to New Zealand or Australia to get their education.

Still….

“Is college important?” asked Juan Jose’.

Both Jody and I answered him in the affirmative. I wasn’t satisfied with my answer. How do you tell a ninth grader that college is important when he thinks that the stuff he is learning is useless?

I support the kids doing a gap year and traveling overseas. As a human resources manager, I learned that the most important work strength one can have is knowing how to get along with others. If you can’t get along with others you most likely won’t hold your job long and you’ll be stymied for promotions.

I thought about the foundry workers, the press and extrusion operators and other laborers at the companies where I’ve worked. All jobs which the kids are familiar with from plant tours that I’ve given them.

I explained to Juan that the people who do those jobs work much harder than me, but they make less money. “It’s another example of how the world is unfair,” I said. “The hardest working people make less money because they don’t have a college degree.”

I went on to say that if you get a college education you are more likely to be in a job you want, make more money, and do less work.

Juan was quiet. I imagined him living at home and attending a community college. “The college you go to is far less important than one would think,” I said. “It’s the 4-year degree that holds the importance.”

It never occurred to me that Crystel might do her gap year with Jody and me.

I learned that the University of the South Pacific includes Tonga. Maybe, that will have to be part of the deal if she starts packing her bags and sets them next to ours when we join the Peace Corps. The university is jointly owned by the governments of 12 island countries: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Western Samoa. All places that she wants to travel.

Jody and I have our work cut out for us. We have to start teaching Juan Jose’ how to take care of the yard, the house, and the pool. Oh, and to run the dishwasher and throw his socks down the clothes chute. We have four years.

 

Peering Past the Red Velvet Rope

While vacationing in the Hudson River Valley, my husband and I toured Kykuit, Rockefeller’s lavish summer home; Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s modest cottage; and the Hancock Shaker Community’s very plain dormitories.

Mindful of the red velvet ropes and little fences that kept us from exploring/trespassing, we craned our heads around doorways, peered into corners, and tried to imagine the lives lived there. Despite the tour guides’ colorful stories, sometimes it was hard to breathe life into those rooms. Occasionally, my mind drifted, and I entertained myself by imagining what a future tour guide would say about my home after I’ve achieved some unspecified (and as yet unattained) notoriety.

No doubt, future tourists leaning across the velvet rope blocking entrance to my office will say, “Ooooh, that’s where Ellen used to write! There’s the honey locust she used to look at while she wrote, and there’s the sad clematis on the too-big trellis—remember her blog about defensive landscaping?” 

The tour guide might add, “To preserve historical accuracy, we left the pile of mail on the loveseat. Family stories mention that she used to let it ‘age’ for up to two weeks before she dealt with it.” Visitors will chuckle and some of the more avid ones will lean in to snap photos of the mail pile.

“And over there—a see the cat bed on the radiator? Her cat, Pinky, kept her company on cold Minnesota afternoons. Maybe he was even her muse as she struggled to revise her blogs and essays.” The tourists will jostle each other to take pictures of the cat bed.

The guide will probably point out, “Some of the furniture is antique—like the Mission style oak desk. Supposedly Ellen refinished it when she first moved to Minnesota years before she moved here for good. It was the only desk she ever used.” One of the visitors will probably sigh in appreciation. “We believe that she might have been sitting in that beat-up office chair when she received the call about winning the MacArthur Genius Grant/Nobel Peace Prize/Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes.” More clicking cameras and cell phones.

“Next, we come to the music room, where Ellen’s husband composed his opus . . . .” The tourists will dutifully shuffle across the hall to oooh and ah.

Had I Prepared My Daughter?

Photo by Uncle Scott

My 14-year-old daughter was half way to Wisconsin Dells with girlfriends for a birthday party when my gut tightened.

The party was a sleepover. She’d be gone for a couple of nights.

Maybe it was the distance that was the source of the fear. Maybe it was because it would be a couple of nights. Maybe it was her age. Maybe it was how beautiful she is. Maybe it was her innocence. Maybe it was her growing independence, her getting out into the world. There would be more days away from home. There would be longer distances.

Had I prepared her for an unwelcomed glance or touch? Was she prepared if that would happen? How would she respond?

I could almost hear her nervous giggle.

What if it became an unwanted advance?

I put myself in her place. My body froze. That’s what I knew how to do.

It helped when I thought of how differently Jody and I had raised our daughter from how I was raised. Even from a very young age, she was taught that her body was hers. She was taught that she had every right to expect privacy. She was taught that it was okay to lock the bathroom door. She was taught that it was okay to lock her bedroom door. She was taught that she had every right to expect respect. She was taught to say, “No”.

This calmed me.

If my daughter wasn’t respected she would recognize that. She knew what respect was.

That’s what Jody and I had given her. Her ability to recognize a danger signal by showing her acceptable behavior in our home.

This calmed me.

I realized that Jody and I had taught her a lot of things. We taught her love, and therefore she will expect love. We taught her kindness, and empathy, and to be herself. We taught her to dream. We taught her to travel domestically and internationally and to do so safely.

We’ve also taught her that it is okay to be alone, to feel pain, and sadness.

Most importantly we’ve taught her she can always come home. We are home.

She will travel far.