Not One Prairie Dress

Not one prairie dress.

Last week, our teenage daughter had her final high school Homecoming dance. When she was a freshman, it was quite the ordeal. All the girls in her grade were so excited to finally be attending a high school dance, and the boys were on the deal. They started asking early, and the girls started shopping early.

Oh, it was quite the ordeal. There is nothing like dress shopping with a 14-year-old girl. We ended up purchasing lot of dresses and returning most of them. We kept three. We had one altered…the one she really wanted to wear. I don’t even remember what it looked like, because on the day of the dance, she decided to wear a different one. The one she opted to wear was a dress I had purchased on a whim. She didn’t like it on the hanger, but apparently, when she put it on the night of the dance, she loved it. The problem? She was getting dressed with her friends at a friend’s house, and the dress had not been altered to fit. Her friend’s mother ended up pinning the dress to fit her. I think I still owe that mom for that. It was a cute, light blue, tiered dress…age appropriate and not just like everyone else’s.

Her sophomore year, they had a Homecoming dance, and I did not approve the dress she picked. I’ve never been one for gratuitous cutouts in dresses, and the one she picked without my input had cutouts at the waist. No offense to the folks who love cutouts in dresses. I just don’t. But her sophomore year, she wore a fitted red dress with cutouts. Usually I think cutouts look cheap, but I have to admit she did not look cheap in the dress. I was looking at it with a mother’s eye, and it passed the test. It fit her perfectly, and I thought she looked really pretty.

Her junior year…no Homecoming…thanks, COVID.

And this year, her senior year, I had absolutely no input. She works at a boutique in town, so she does all her own shopping. About two weeks before the dance, she said to me, “I’m going to wear a leather dress.” Ugh. That did not sound appealing to me, but I didn’t argue with her, because some battles just aren’t worth it. When she came home with the dress, she called me upstairs to zip it up, and I was shocked! I loved it! It fit her like a glove, and even though a leather dress sounds like she should be carrying a whip, it didn’t look that way at all. She didn’t look like a dominatrix. It was absolutely appropriate. I should have known it would be tasteful. It was a chocolatey brown “pleather” dress with ruching in front and thin straps. And I thought she looked beautiful.

In fact, there were lots of fitted dresses in her Homecoming dinner group. Remember the Little House on the Prairie dress trend from last year? I wrote about it here. It was a trend that drove me crazy. Why was everyone dressing like Laura Ingalls and Nellie Oleson?!? It was not a good look then, and it will never be a good look. Unless you’re wearing those dresses for religious reasons, you should bypass that “style.” I wore it in the 80s, and I have lived to regret it. There wasn’t one person who looked like she had purchased her dress in the Oleson’s Mercantile store. There wasn’t one girl who looked like she had stepped out of a Holly Hobbie book or DVD. Remember Holly Hobbie? Not a good look for the modern girl.

I’m certainly not saying it’s a good thing they didn’t have Homecoming my daughter’s junior year, but I’m glad I didn’t have to see them in those awful prairie dresses for a school dance. Maybe they wouldn’t have worn them. Maybe they would have ignored that style. I feel sure my own daughter would not have worn a prairie dress, since she turns her nose up at them every time she sees them, but would other girls have worn them? The world may never know.

I’m just glad I didn’t see any this year…not one prairie dress.

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights…Not an original title, obviously. Chances are, you know I’m talking about high school football. More specifically…high school football in Charlotte, North Carolina. Not exactly what I consider a hot bed of football. North Carolina is more of a basketball state. But we sure had fun at a high school football game in North Carolina last night.

It was the first home football game of the season. Growing up in Alabama, I always loved the first home football game of the season at our high school. Total excitement and anticipation. I vividly remember the big win our high school team had in the first game of my senior year. I was a cheerleader, and we had cheered through two miserable seasons in the previous years, but that first big win of my senior year was foreshadowing of a great season to come. Our team ended up playing well into the playoffs…up to the semifinals…before losing to the eventual state champion team. Last night, it felt much the same at our daughter’s high school. After last year, when fans were not allowed to attend the few games we had, this was a welcome change! It was a fun excuse to get out on a lovely Friday night and celebrate something together…namely, a big win for our high school team. I like to think we were celebrating the win, but we were also celebrating the opportunity to be together. Whole families came out to the stadium for some good, old-fashioned fun on a Friday night, and it was electric!

Our daughter is a senior at an independent school. She started school there when she was four years old, entering at transitional kindergarten, a kindergarten readiness program. She has grown up there. And this year, her senior year, is the first year she has been a cheerleader for football. She played varsity field hockey for the first three years of high school, but opted for a change this fall. She has been a basketball cheerleader for two years, so she wanted to try cheering for football…this is her first experience cheering for football…and she is loving every minute of it. The team started the season with two away games, so the girls were looking forward to the opportunity to lead a home crowd in cheering for the team. And last night, they did a great job.

The football team did a great job, ultimately winning by a large margin. I’d be lying if I said I knew the exact score, but I know we won by a lot. There were some exciting plays for both teams…long passes, big tackles, turnovers, big runs. I love football in almost any form, and our team did not disappoint. The concession stand crew was working hard, just like they used to do pre-COVID. The pep band showed up in full force. The dance team put on a heck of a halftime show. And we all cheered our team on to victory. The elementary-aged students were happy to be together in the stands. The families were thrilled to catch up. It was exciting to hear the familiar voice of our announcer on the loudspeaker. It was awesome to feel “normal” again.

Many of the students in the crowd and on the field have grown up with our daughter. I was talking with her transitional kindergarten teacher in the stands, and we reminisced about the time…way back in 2009…when a little boy in the class broke his shoulder blade at the end-of-year class party. At 6 feet tall, that little boy is no longer a little boy. The broken shoulder blade healed quickly, and he is a now a handsome young man on the varsity football team. Many of those TK students are still at the school…graduating with my daughter in May. The two other senior cheerleaders started in kindergarten with our daughter in 2009. Almost all the senior football players have been at the school since kindergarten…all except one, a young man who entered the school in ninth grade and quickly endeared himself to his classmates. He’s a superstar on the field and in the classroom.

As it turns out, Friday Night Lights can be fun no matter where you are…Alabama, Western Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia, or even North Carolina. FNL looks much the same in Charlotte in 2021 as it did in Alabama in 1985. I’m just glad it doesn’t look like it looked in 2020!

Retreat

Retreat. It’s a word I never want to hear unless someone is telling me to run from a bear, as in, “Retreat! There’s a bear!” Chances are I will never hear that, since I never put myself in a place where bears are…but that’s a story for another day. Today, I’m talking about retreats.

Years ago, a friend invited me to join her on a “ladies retreat.” I’m sure I asked her to repeat the question, because I couldn’t have heard her correctly. I was thinking, “Clearly, she doesn’t know me well. If she did, she would know I think the very idea of a ladies retreat sounds like Hell on earth.” No joke. Very little sounds worse to me than women going up to some little camp in the mountains, sitting around talking about their feelings. Yuck. I don’t mean to be offensive. I know some people love that stuff. I’m just not one of them. The last thing I want to do is be holed up somewhere with a random bunch of women. Don’t get me wrong. I love my friends, but I’m picky about how I spend my time. My time is valuable, y’all, so I’m choosy about who I spend it with. The older I get, the pickier I am. I barely have enough time to spend with my real friends. I’d much rather pick some fun stuff to do with them than go on some “ladies retreat.” It’s just who I am. No excuses.

For years, I’ve believed “retreat” is just another word for “mandatory, forced fun,” which doesn’t sound like fun at all. I hear about people going on work retreats, church retreats (***those were actually fun when I was a teenager and they were co-ed***), ladies retreats, and my personal favorite…a retreat for students at school. Nothing says “mandatory, forced fun” more than a school retreat.

Our daughter is starting her senior year in high school. She has endured more than a few school retreats. And when I say “endured,” I mean it. I’m not talking bad about the school. I’m just saying she has her mama’s genes…she hates the idea of “retreats,” too. We also hate the word “mandatory,” and it seems that’s always attached to a school retreat. I wish I could remember which grade was which retreat. One year, they went to a YMCA camp. Maybe 5th grade? I don’t remember, but I do remember that I volunteered to chaperone overnight, which meant I got to sleep on one of those horrible plastic-wrapped, thin, noisy camp mattresses in a cabin with a bunch of girls. It was not fun. It was fun spending time with the girls, but the sleep quality was nothing short of miserable. One girl in the bunk next to mine tossed and turned and tossed and turned, and because of the awful plastic mattress, I heard every toss and every turn. Eventually, I whispered, “Is there a problem?” No answer, but the tossing and turning stopped. Soon thereafter, I fell asleep, but every time someone moved, I awoke in a panic, because I thought someone was falling out of a top bunk. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. But one night was enough for me. It was enough for my daughter too. The next morning, she begged me to take her home with me, but she had to stay for more activities. Poor kid. I felt terrible for her, because I wouldn’t have wanted to be there either.

Because I went on that trip, I never had to do another one. I was off the hook, but our daughter wasn’t. She’s like me…she loves not camping. And that’s OK! Give me a nice hotel with room service any day of the week, but please don’t ever ask me to sleep in a cabin, a tent, or an RV. We simply aren’t those people. The next year, when the “retreat” rolled around, she was begging me not to make her go. We were sitting in her bed two nights before. She was already dreading it. I was explaining that she had to go. You know…”it might be fun!” I knew she didn’t want to sleep in a cabin. And while we were talking, I noticed a nasty-looking bump/wound on her knee. When I said, “That looks like a staph infection to me! You might not have to go if it’s a staph infection,” she couldn’t believe her good luck! I circled it with a Sharpie, to see if the redness grew overnight. I’m sure she prayed for it to be a staph infection that night. The next morning, the redness had expanded outside the Sharpie circle, so I took her to the doctor, and the doctor confirmed it: staph infection. She prescribed an oral antibiotic and ordered her to stay home from the retreat. Success! Who knew she’d be so happy to have a staph infection?!?

There was another retreat the next year, and maybe the next year. I have trouble keeping up with all the mandatory, forced fun. And then today, she had her senior mandatory, forced fun…a day trip (in the rain) to a local camp, where they had a book talk about their mandatory (ugh) summer reading (for over an hour!) before having lunch (she ate Oreos) and swimming in a “lake.” I should also note here that we don’t do warm, brown water, as in lake water. On the rare occasion, I have had to get in a warm lake, but generally speaking, it’s not my thing. I don’t mind it up north, where the lakes are cold, but in the south, the brown water just feels like it’s teeming with bacteria and snakes…lots of snakes. No, thank you. (No offense to the lake lovers of the world. It’s just not my thing.) As I’ve heard before, “I’m outdoorsy in that I like having cocktails on the patio.” That’s a joke, of course; I like outdoor activities…just not in warm brown water.

Today, she rode the bus to and from the “retreat” with her classmates and tolerated the mandatory, forced fun. They rode home on a hot bus filled with seniors. I did the math. Statistically, at least a few of them must have COVID. There were 140 kids on buses. (Yes, the plural of “bus” is “buses.” “Busses” would be kisses. If you doubt me, click here.) Praying there isn’t a giant outbreak from the mandatory, forced fun.

The good news? The “retreat” is over. Thank you, Lord. And now we proceed with her final year of high school.

So, if you ever plan a “ladies retreat,” please don’t invite me. It won’t hurt my feelings.

The High School “Lasts” Have Begun

The high school “lasts” have begun.

Our daughter is finishing up her junior year in high school. As any mother knows, life with kids is full of “firsts” and “lasts.” It starts with first smiles, first teeth, first words and goes on to first time riding a bike, first day of school…on and on.

At some point, though, we start having “lasts.” Often, we don’t even realize we have had a “last” till well after the fact. There’s the last time you had to actually feed your child, the last time you tied their shoes, the last time you helped them bathe, the last time you brushed their hair, the last time you read a book aloud together…the list continues to grow. A big one for me is the last time I actually carried my child. Fortunately, when our daughter was five or six, I had a friend who told me she always picked up or carried her daughter if she asked (same age), because one day she wouldn’t want her to. Based on that, I carried our daughter or picked her up any time she asked. Eleven years old and she wants me to carry her on my back through an amusement park? You bet! Unfortunately, I didn’t realize when the last time I carried her was actually the last time, but because I had always gladly carried her, it wasn’t painful when I realized she didn’t ask anymore. Honestly, if she asked me to carry her on my back today, I would…and she is 17.

My friend, Linda, told me years ago, when her son was in high school, that she totally didn’t realize it was the last time she would drive her son to school when it was the last time. He got his driver’s license one day, and he was off to school alone the next morning. She said to her husband, “But wait! I didn’t realize that was the last time I would drive him!” It really bothered her. She is long past it now. Her son is in graduate school in Scotland, so she has had lots of “lasts” that were bigger than that.

The “lasts” add up over time: the last day of preschool/elementary/middle school, the last time I actually drove her to school, the last time I actually had to drive her anywhere, and more.

I’m thinking about this, because today, I paid tuition to her independent school for the last time…for her senior year of high school, which will start in August. I’ve been paying yearly tuition since 2008. As soon as I hit the “send” button on the bank draft, I sat back and thought, “that was the last time I’ll do that.” Sure, I will be paying tuition of a different kind, for college, soon enough, but I just paid tuition for my daughter’s 14th year at her present school (she started with transitional kindergarten before kindergarten), and it felt weird to know I will never do it again.

My husband and I talk about “lasts” often, since our daughter is entering her senior year in fall and will be off to college before we can blink. There will be last sports games, last volunteer opportunities at school, and there will even be some people we will likely never encounter again after she graduates.

We sit on the patio with cocktails some evenings talking about how different it’s going to be when she departs for college in just over a year. And we try to enjoy the moments we have with her. Often when she gets home from sporting events or hanging with friends, she will come sit outside with us…it’s valuable, meaningful time for us…and one day there will be a “last” for that too. I hope we will recognize the “lasts” as they occur, like I recognized the last tuition payment today, but I’m sure there will be some that just pass right by without my realizing it. I won’t be able to get a photo to save as a memory of every “last,” but I hope I will remember to get some. I’ll try to get a photo of her last first day of school at her present school. I’ll try to get photos of her last sports games, last time she drives to high school…anything I can think of.

She’ll be flying the coop before we know it. While we are excited for what lies ahead of her (and us), we want to make sure we remember these days. We want her to get out and spread her wings wherever she chooses to go to college (tuition payments to a different place) and live her best life. We just want to enjoy every moment she shares with us.

Now that I’m feeling sentimental, I wonder if I should get a screenshot of that last tuition payment?!

I’m Proud of You, Mom

“I’m proud of you, Mom.”

Recently, I finished a big volunteer project…you know, I was working for free for weeks on end (months) when I could have been eating bonbons in the pool. It was a big project, no doubt…an athletic awards show for my teenage daughter’s school. I’m not complaining, of course. I worked with some awesome people and made some new friends. It was definitely a group effort, as lots of other parents and school staff pitched in. There were a few times I’m sure I was quite snippy with my family, because of the stress I was feeling, but we made it through!

Our daughter is finishing up her junior year at her much-loved independent school in Charlotte. She started there in transitional kindergarten, and now, we are entering the summer before her senior year. It’s hard to believe she’s going to be a senior. My husband and I are just enjoying the ride. We have loved every age as our daughter has grown. It hasn’t always been easy, but big picture…life with her is definitely an adventure. She is an only child, so she doesn’t get away with much. We don’t have any other kids distracting us. And I’ve always warned her that I’m likely to have done anything she tries to get away with. I’m likely to realize when she’s up to something. As I’ve always said, “You can’t bull***t a bullsh***er.” Forgive the language, but nothing seems to get the point across as well as that does. Has she always been perfect? No, but neither have we. All the little mistakes we make along the way (as teens and as parents) are part of who we are. I have a great relationship with my daughter. We talk. We hang out. We respect each other. Of course, there are times I embarrass her, but isn’t that just part of it?

Over the years, I have embarrassed her at least a million times. I’ve even written a piece before about the countless ways I embarrassed her on a trip to Boston a few years ago. I’ve grown accustomed to her sighs and groans when I do something that embarrasses her. Greet people we encounter? She’s embarrassed. Ask too many questions? She’s embarrassed. Wear something she doesn’t like? She’s embarrassed. Seriously, it’s not difficult to embarrass a teenager.

Last Tuesday, my big athletic awards show project finally ended. In normal times, the show is live in the auditorium at the school. Seniors and state championship teams are honored. Parents are in attendance. All those folks are shoved into the auditorium, shoulder-to-shoulder, but this year, we couldn’t do it that way. In fact, we had to come up with a “hybrid” plan to present to the administration. In the end, we pre-recorded the show and had a “screening party” for the seniors on the football field…with a gigantic, inflatable screen…drive-in movie style. Only seniors, coaches, and the parents of seniors were allowed to attend. Sadly, I think some people were upset they couldn’t go, but we couldn’t do more than was approved by the administrative team. However, anyone else who wanted to watch could simultaneously watch the “broadcast” from home online.

I was at the field for hours the day of the show…getting things ready beforehand, staying for the show, making sure everyone picked up their awards and got photos afterward, cleaning up. l didn’t even look at my phone for hours, but at 11pm, when I got into my car, I checked my phone and saw a text message from my daughter. Apparently, she had been watching the show at home. The text message, which she had sent at 9:38pm, said, “This is really good. I’m proud of you, Mom.” I was exhausted, but that message made it all worth it. Tears welled up in my eyes as I started the car, and before I drove away, I texted her back, “Sweetest message ever. Thank you.”

Who knows when I’ll hear/read those words from her again, but if I never hear/read them again, I will always remember that moment when I saw her text. I had complained and fretted about the preparation for that show, but those words in that text from my teenage daughter made it all worth it.

Be a Good Memory

Be a good memory.

Our daughter had her junior prom last weekend. Yep, even in the pandemic, her school found a way to pull it off. It was outside on one of the athletic fields, but in the pictures, it appears to have been beautiful. Lights were strung tent-style across the field, and a live band played in an area overlooking the field. The prom-goers all wore sneakers, and from what I’ve heard, everyone was pretty happy to be together at a real event.

If you have a teenager, you know they do things a little differently than we did back in the 1980s. Now, the girls gather at one place to get dressed together. And then they gather with their dates at a photo location…sometimes a park, country club, or someone’s really beautiful yard. Parents gather to take photos, and then the prom-goers go to dinner somewhere before going to the actual prom. In truth, the actual prom seems to be the least exciting part of the evening. That’s not a slam on our school. I hear it from kids everywhere…all over the country. They say the prom is the reason for getting dressed up, but the fun part is the before and after.

Because, yes…there’s an “after.”

This year, some of our daughter’s friends and their dates came to our house after prom to hang out in the game room together. When I told my husband we would be hosting, he was not a happy man. He is a man who likes his routine, and that includes going to bed before midnight. He actually said to me, “They’ll be gone before midnight, right?” Ummm…no. I had to explain to him that, no, on prom night, all bets are off on curfew. Again, he was not happy. Clearly, he doesn’t remember his youth as well as I remember mine. I suggested he go to a hotel, and he looked at me like I had fourteen eyes.

Lucky for me, later that day, we saw one of our neighbors, a mother of four. She has three grown children (all out of college, and two of them are married) and a fourteen-yr-old. She has seen it all. And for years, teenagers were in and out of her house at all hours of the day and night. My husband was standing there when I told the neighbor about his apprehension about the party, and she had the perfect response. She said, “We used to host those parties when our kids were in high school, and now I love it when I’m at weddings and baby showers for their friends, and the friends say to me, ‘My best memories from high school were at your house.'” I turned to my husband and said, “See? We want to be a good memory for these kids!”

What could he say to that? It was at that moment that he agreed it was OK to have them over after prom. After some prodding by me, he also decided it would be a good idea for him to check into a local hotel for the night. If he had stayed home, he would have been “in my ear” the whole time, trying to get me to go check on the kids every half hour. I was not going to do that…no way, no how.

Prom night came, and our daughter went over to a friend’s house to get dressed with friends. Later, I rode to the friend’s house with another mom to take pictures of all the prom couples. After getting some pics, we all left, and they had dinner before going to prom. By the time they arrived at our house after prom at around 11pm, I had pizzas, cheesy bread sticks, and desserts waiting for them in the game room. All went well. I cooked breakfast for them in the wee hours of the morning, and I finally got to bed around 4am…but I was happy.

The next day, after everyone left, my husband returned home from the hotel, asking how the night had gone. I told him all about it, and I thanked him for letting the kids come to our house. I thanked him for letting our house “be a good memory” for these kids.

I hope that one day, when I’m attending the weddings and baby showers of these same kids, they will turn to me and say, “Some of our best memories from high school are from your house.”

Thank You, High School Sports

Thank you, high school sports.

I know all schools in this country still haven’t returned after the health crisis we have endured over the past year. Yes, the virus is still alive, but more and more people are being vaccinated. And more schools are opening.

Our daughter is a junior in high school and has been fortunate to be back in school since August. Last March, at about this time, they left a day early for spring break and never returned for in-person learning for the rest of the school year. They did have online classes, but everything else was canceled. But this year, they returned on a “hybrid” schedule in August, meaning they go for in-person learning every other day and learn online on alternating days. It has worked pretty well. At least they are seeing half their classmates every other day, but they are missing the sense of community…their friends…and real school.

Sports even started back up in the fall, with caveats. They had to wear masks, and there were no fans in the stands. Parents could watch games on livestream, but it wasn’t the same. Eventually, just before the end of the fall season, two adults per player were allowed in the stands…but not students. The same thing happened with winter sports, but now, with spring sports, parents and students are allowed to attend, with masks of course. We have become so accustomed to masks now that I don’t think anyone really cares. We are just happy to be able to watch sports in person again!

Our daughter plays lacrosse on her high school team. She has played varsity for her independent school since she was a freshman. Her freshman year, they won the state championship…the first time the school had ever won the girls lacrosse championship! But last year, the season was cut short. Her freshman year, even though they won the championship, they lost to a large, nearby public school that is not in their conference. It has more students in grades 9-12 than our school has in K-12. They also have a tough team with an outstanding record.

Last night, I was working the livestream on top of the press box at the stadium with my friend, so we had a bird’s eye view of the field. It’s fun to be in the stands, but last night, it was particularly fun to be able to see everything. This particular team we were playing has always been tough, so I know our girls were nervous. And they should have been. It was a close game. We scored first, but the other team quickly went ahead. The other team soon had two injuries to key players, unfortunately, and the parents of those players were angry. I get it. I get mad when my daughter gets hurt too. But the tension in the stands was palpable.

After the half, our varsity girls soccer team finished their practice and came over to watch and cheer on their team. There were a few boys there watching and cheering already, but as our crowd of spectators grew, the momentum seemed to go our way. Our students were cheering and stomping and having a great time cheering on their classmates. It felt the way a game is supposed to feel. It wasn’t quiet. It wasn’t gloomy. It was electric and exciting! As a spectator, I could feel the excitement, so I can only imagine how much energy the girls on the field got from the crowd. For thirty minutes or so, life seemed relatively “normal.”

And when the buzzer sounded at the end of the game, our girls won by two points. Because we had not beaten this particular school in several years, the girls were especially excited. And I have to admit, the students in the stands and the parents were especially excited too. We were excited about the win, but we were excited life felt normal for a little while. We were excited to be cheering together for our team…our daughters or classmates.

I sure hope the momentum of our country people the virus continues just as the momentum for our girls continued last night. Feeling normal is a good thing.

Thank you, high school sports, for making life feel normal again.

Old School Fundraisers (You’ll Recognize a Few)

Old school fundraisers.

Back in the day, public schools, like the ones I attended, were all about fundraisers. PTOs, PTAs, marching bands, sports teams, and cheerleaders all raised money for one thing or another. And back then, there were lots of different things you could sell to raise funds.

The earliest fundraisers I remember were in Brewton, Alabama, where I lived till I was seven. I remember two different fundraisers, mostly because I remember the items my mother purchased from band members or athletes who lived in our neighborhood. One of my favorites was a birthday calendar. I hope someone else will remember these, because over the years, I’ve asked people if they remember them, and no one else can recall them. Back in the early 1970s, some part of our local school…I’m guessing the band or an athletic team…sold birthday calendars. They were wall calendars, but I don’t even remember what the pictures were. I just remember that on each date, it listed local people’s birthdays. I don’t know how it worked, but I guess you got to submit your family birthdays if you purchased a calendar. I loved it. As a kid, I was obsessed with little facts like birthdays, addresses, and phone numbers…weird, I know, but these fundraiser calendars made me very happy…especially when I saw my own name on my birthday. In fact, to this day, I still remember the birthdays of some of my childhood friends, simply because I flipped through that calendar all the time. I could also tell you some of their phone numbers, but that might be weird.

Something else my mother purchased through a fundraiser at TR Miller High School in Brewton? Red and white pleather (plastic leather) duffel bags. They were emblazoned with “TR Miller Tigers” and a graphic of the tiger mascot on one side, and it seems there were ads for local businesses on the other side. If I remember correctly, the bags were red with white lettering and white piping and a white plastic handle. I could be a little off with some of the details, but that’s how I remember it. Unfortunately, my family moved several times when I was growing up, and that duffel bag (or gym bag) got lost in the shuffle somewhere along the line. I sure wish I had it now. Apparently, they were popular at the time, because you can look on eBay for “high school duffel bag” and see quite a few of them (like the ones below)…from lots of different high schools across the country. Heck, I might purchase one from a different school just for the nostalgia!

Later, when we lived in Spanish Fort, Alabama, we sold chocolate bars to raise funds for the PTA at Spanish Fort School…our local elementary school. I think the brand was World’s Finest. I was probably in third grade, and I was all excited to sell some candy bars out of a cardboard box with a handle on it, but my mother was not keen on it. What I remember most? Each candy bar wrapper had a “buy one get, get one free” Whopper at Burger King. That sounded awesome to me! Nevermind that the nearest Burger King was across the bay in Mobile. In fact, the only one I remember at the time was way out toward the airport, but there might have been one closer to town. Either way, it was at least 30 minutes from our house, and we never went to Burger King. Also, I’d never had a Burger King Whopper at the time, so I had no idea that there was no way I would eat a burger with all those veggies at the time.

We moved another time, and my new elementary school, Wetumpka Elementary (or Bobby’s Brain Factory, as my parents called it, because the principal’s name was Bobby, and we all loved him) which I attended in fifth and sixth grades, was on a perpetual quest for air conditioning. I’m sure I participated in fundraisers for that…or maybe I should say my parents just bought all the candy bars I brought home…only to move on to middle school before the air conditioners were installed. I then went to a middle school that didn’t have air conditioning…in Alabama. In fact, I never went to a school that had any kind of air conditioning till I was in ninth grade…in Alabama. And then, it was just window units…in Alabama. Do I need to mention how hot it is in Alabama? We were tough, though. Seriously, I know I sound like an old person, but can you imagine today’s wimpy kids going to school without air conditioning? In Alabama?!?! Folks make fun of southerners for not being able to handle a little snow, but I remember reading about some schools in New Hampshire canceling classes a couple of years ago because of a “heat wave.” I think the temps were in the 90s. Haha! It was in the 90s from April or May through September (and maybe even into October sometimes) in Alabama, and we didn’t miss a day of school because of it!

In high school, in the 1980s, we had more fundraisers, and I have some fond memories of them. When I was a cheerleader, we sold lots of things…ice cream from a freezer in our advisor’s classroom, suntan lotion (because we called it suntan lotion instead of sunscreen then), spirit towels, and my all-time favorite: booster badges! I don’t know if other high schools had booster badges, but they were all the rage at mine. As cheerleaders, we were given a stack of booster badges on Thursday afternoon to sell every Friday during football season. I think they were fifty cents each, and we each had to sell $50 worth each week. I would get to school early Friday morning with a shoe box full of booster badges to work the parking lot. It worked out that each cheerleader ended up having loyal customers. In fact, I remember who my loyal customers were to this day! If you’re not familiar with booster badges, they looked like the photos below. But ours weren’t all positive like the signs kids are expected to make today. Our said things like “Mutilate the Mustangs,” “Pulverize the Panthers,” and “Butcher the Bulldogs.” As soon as we had sold all our allotted booster badges for the week, we would take our boxes to our advisor who would take the money, and we stored our shoe boxes in her room till the next week, when we picked up more booster badges.

I remember our marching band selling Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (I think they were $2.50 a dozen), candy bars, and boxes of M&Ms. One reason I remember is that I often had those M&Ms for lunch. If I arrived in the school cafeteria and found they were serving something I didn’t want to eat, I would search out a friend who was selling M&Ms and have Peanut M&Ms for lunch. I probably washed them down with a Coke or Dr. Pepper from one of the school vending machines, but that’s a story for another day. I also remember one person in the band who had a car accident and woke up to find herself at the bottom of a ravine, alone. One thing she remembered about waking up? She had M&Ms in her hair from the fundraiser. She was fine…no injuries.

Things are a lot different now. My child has never come home from school with stuff to sell for a fundraiser, and her school doesn’t have vending machines with sodas or snacks for students. The food in her “dining hall” is prepared from scratch by a chef and skilled staff, and the food is fantastic…and there are lots of choices! While I know my parents thought some of those fundraisers were just a scam to get them to send in money, I feel like my daughter has missed out on some special memories. I’m going to eBay now to order a duffel bag.

All My Rowdy Friends…

All my rowdy friends have settled down.

Yes, that’s a quote from a Hank Williams Jr. song. I used it for two reasons: 1. I love me some Bocephus (Hank’s nickname). 2. All my rowdy friends really have settled down. When I say they have “settled down,” I don’t mean they’re not fun. I mean they have “settled down” into who they are. They are comfortable in their own skin. They’re still a lot of fun…maybe even more so. They’re in their 50s.

Today, another friend turns 50. I have been in my fifties long enough that I feel sorry for all those folks in their 30s and 40s who still take themselves so seriously. No, really…I feel sorry for them. Lots of them are still worrying about what other people think. Lots of them still think they need to make the hamster wheel spin faster. They still think more expensive = better. Lots of them still think they have to keep up with the Joneses. Bahahaha! Yes, I feel sorry for them.

Interestingly, my friend, Jennifer, who is turning 50 today has been an old soul for as long as I’ve known her, but she’s also the most fun person I’ve ever known. We met about 15 or 16 years ago through another friend, when they both lived in Charlotte. The birthday girl moved to Columbus, Ohio, years ago, and the friend who introduced us moved to the Chicago area years ago. We were all supposed to go to Lollapalooza together in Chicago this year, but COVID messed that up.

When I say Jennifer has been an “old soul,” I don’t mean she has some sort of Yoda-like wisdom. She’s wise, but she’s no Dalai Lama. She has a different kind of wisdom. She can smile through almost any situation. Nothing seems to get her down. I like to think of myself as a pretty positive person, but she has had to talk me off the ledge more than once. I’ve seen her in situations where she should have been on the ledge, and she wasn’t. She kept smiling and kept moving forward. She also doesn’t worry about what other people think of her. As an example, she went back to work a couple of years ago, so I’m sure she “dresses” for work, but before that? T-shirts and shorts with sneakers or Birkenstocks every day. Chilly outside? She’ll throw on a sweatshirt or hoodie. During winter, I’m sure she wears long pants, but I’m guessing she still wear sweatshirts or hoodies every day. Handbags and shoes? She has a few designer bags, but like I said…I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her in anything but sneakers and Birkenstocks. Well, I saw her in hiking boots when we did a rock scramble with sprained ankles years ago. Yes, we both had sprained ankles.

As for the hamster wheel. Yes, she works again, but it’s not her whole life. She doesn’t “live to work.” She works to live. Her work doesn’t define her. She knows the hamster wheel is just a means to an end.

And she really is the happiest person I know. Nothing phases her. When she was looking for a job after not having worked for 15 years, she called me and told me when her first interview was coming up. I said, “You’re going to get this job.” She laughed, as she often does, and said, “I haven’t worked in 15 years! Why would they hire me?” I said, “Well, you’re confident. You’re clearly smart…you went to graduate school at Vanderbilt. Most of all, you’ll be good for morale in an office setting. You’re Miss Merry Freaking Sunshine!” Guess what? I was right. She was offered the first job she interviewed for in fifteen years, and she has been working there since.

Did I mention Jennifer has always been a lot of fun? She had a lot of fun in high school and college…and beyond. Oh, the stories she tells. She has a different kind of fun now, but frankly, she makes everything fun. She’s always up for the next adventure…and we have had many: rock scrambles in upstate New York, cold lake swimming in upstate New York, climbing a waterfall in Puerto Rico, swimming in the pitch black bioluminescent bay, ziplining in a rainforest, shopping with street vendors in NYC, riding bikes through a state park in Florida, all kinds of crazy fun in California. She lives life. And she encourages others (like me) to live our lives.

Am I worried Jennifer is going to get down about turning 50? Not one bit. She will approach her 50s just like she approaches everything else…with a big smile on her face and a sense of adventure.

She’s Miss Merry Freaking Sunshine!

Happy 50th to Jennifer!

College for Your Teen

College for your teen…

Where do you want your teen to go to college?

Someone asked me that question recently. It didn’t take me long to answer, because I know exactly where I want her to go.

I have always thought she would love a big state university. I went to a big state university and loved every minute, so I have always thought she might like the “full college experience,” just like I did.

And then sometimes, she will tell me about some smaller schools that interest her…different ones all over the country. It’s then that I think, “Maybe one of those will be best for her.” Maybe she would like being on a small campus in a cute little town somewhere.

There are so many colleges and universities all over the country to choose from. Almost anyone who wants to go to college can likely find a place that work for them. Interested in big time sports? Check out state universities. Interested in the arts? Check out liberal arts schools near you. Interested in a smaller school setting? Looking for a school that has a high commuter population? You want a school that doesn’t have a high commuter population? You can likely find something that works.

But with so many options, the decision can be difficult. I peruse brochures that come in the mail. I take virtual tours online of different campuses. I talk to friends about where they went to college and listen to their college stories. And honestly, if you talk to the right person, almost every college experience sounds great. I always encourage my daughter to talk to people about their experiences.

It can be difficult to choose.

But here’s the thing: the decision isn’t mine to make. It’s my daughter’s.

My husband and I decided a long time ago that we want her to go to the college of her choice. We want her to find her people. We want her to go into the college experience knowing she picked exactly what she wanted. We want her to be excited. When she has tough days adjusting to college life, we don’t want her to think, “If my parents had let me go where I wanted to go, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Sure, I can listen to her and help her make the decision, but she will make the decision. This is a teenager who, as a toddler, wanted to make her own decisions. She’s got this.

We have made “unofficial” visits to colleges all over the country, just so she could get a feel for the campuses. She has narrowed it down to five or six that she likes. But she’s just entering her junior year of high school. She could find new places of interest over the next two years. She will likely learn about colleges she doesn’t even know exist, and it’s possible some of them could look interesting to her.

So when someone asks me where I want her to go to college, I will give them the same answer I gave my friend a few days ago:

I want her to go where she wants to go.

For the next two years, I will be an innocent bystander in the college search process…simply a facilitator. I will make sure she has access to information about lots of different types of schools. If there is a college she wants to visit, we will do it. If there’s a college she wants to mark off the list…by all means, mark it off the list. Because, when it comes right down to it, it’s her life. She gets to live it. She is quickly approaching adulthood, and she needs to know how to make decisions. I firmly believe a child/teen who isn’t ever allowed to make decisions will become an adult who doesn’t know how to make decisions. I’m going to trust that my daughter will make the right decision for herself, and I’m excited for her to do it.

She has two years to decide.

Let’s get this party started!