These are not typical times in Seattle, Washington. The typical lineup of flavors at Seattle’s Bluebird Creamery includes Theo Chocolate Chunk (local chocolate), CB’s Peanut Butter (local peanut butter), Elysian Stout (local beer), and of course a few tasty vegan options. Today, add Beastmode to that list. Beastmode is a flavor concocted by melting a vat of Skittles. This flavor is in honor of Skittle-loving Seahawks running back, Marshawn Lynch.
After 10 minutes of Googling, I still don’t know where Skittles are made, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing local about them. I did, however, learn that there’s a raging debate about whether or not Skittles are vegan.
I feel sorry for the Bluebird employees and the annoying questions they’re likely fielding about this flavor. I imagine a customer saying, “Can I see an ingredient list for Beastmode?” then grimacing at the sight of Red #40 and asking, “Do you know if titanium dioxide is gluten free? How about carnauba wax; is that sourced in the United States?”
Then again, maybe no one is asking those questions. Our football team is going to the Super Bowl for crying out loud. This is an opportunity to return to our base instincts; to throw conscientiousness and over-thinking out the window and just feed our beast selves.
In case you weren’t paying attention, on Sunday the Seahawks played the 49ers in some championship game that determines who goes to the Super Bowl and the Seahawks won. On that day Seattle said to herself, “Save polite and reserved for approaching 4-way stops. This is a time when Paul Allen, your patron saint of computer nerds is raising a flag with your favorite number on it, and Macklemore, your favorite hipster is somewhere in the stadium, and you are being monitored for loudness, so just go nuts, ok?”
Even those who have previously just eaten nuts can feel the freedom to go nuts about this year’s Seahawks. There are of course people who have been going nuts all along–true, devout Seahawks fans (I know at least three of them), but there’s plenty of the other kind of fan too. As a stranger in head-to-toe REI Anniversary Sale booty once said into her earbud cord, “I’ve never been a mainstream sports fan. If anything, I’ve been a vocal detester of sports, but now…wow.”
In the past, you may have been someone who regularly paid several dollars for a triple shot, venti Americano with a splash of soy, but now, you spring for a 12-cent cup of Starbucks drip in exchange for wearing Seahawks blue and green. Wow. These are indeed wild times.
The afterglow of Sunday’s win landed on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Normally on this day my Seattle network of friends would fill up my Facebook newsfeed with inspirational Dr. King quotes, photos of acts of community service, and links to opinion pieces about the ongoing battle for civil rights. This year, we used the Internet and our day off to passionately discuss what a 23-second interview revealed about the true character of Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.
So, what’s my point? There’s not much of a point other than this is a really fun time to live in Seattle. Sunday night, people in my little Greenwood neighborhood went through the trouble of setting their TV up outside so they could yell at it from a lawn chair beside a bonfire. I watched the game in a friend’s basement with people I love, and for perhaps the first time ever I paid attention to an entire football game. Together we ate processed meat wrapped in biscuit dough from a tube, and we enjoyed every bite. I skipped Downton Abbey in favor of a joyous scene of backyard fireworks, and jersey wearing people exiting a neighborhood bar, whooping and hollering at strangers exiting a different bar across the street and wearing the same blue and green.
The Seahawks may be the most despised, dirty playing team in the NFL, but Seattle doesn’t care; they’ll claim them no matter what. Well, at least for the next nine days. We’re going to the Super Bowl, baby. And we are carefree!
One night last week, Silas and I were hunched over plates of stir-fry, engaged in a typical dinnertime rehashing of the mundane events of our days, when out of nowhere Silas said to me, “I wish I could have your brain. Just for one day; it would be so…fascinating.”
“Why? What would be so interesting about it?”
“You’re just so different from me.”
“How? How am I so different?” (Sometimes I ask “Why?” and “How?” more relentlessly than a 3-year-old.)
He fumbled for an answer, “I don’t know. Lot’s of ways. You get embarrassed so easily. You’re always embarrassed. I’m never embarrassed.”
Normally this is the point in the conversation when I say, “Whoa, there. Easy on the absolutes. ‘Always?’ ‘Never?’ but I don’t remember what either of us said next because I was thinking about whether it was true.
It is true. I protect myself from embarrassment and am frequently embarrassed on behalf of others. For example, I look for a place to hide whenever Silas dances with his fists alternately pumping the air like a senior citizen raising one pound dumbbells. He calls it his “victory dance,” and since everything is a competition for him, there’s potential for busting a move anywhere and at any time. Silas thinks doing embarrassing things is cool, and I admire that. I like that he doesn’t apologize about taking the last piece of cake or about spouting liberal ideas to audiences that think he’s full of total nonsense.
There have been periods of my life when I experimented with being more like Silas, a little more free. In grade school, I made a fashion statement by wearing bowling shoes as my actual shoes, and my favorite clothing item was a vintage t-shirt I found at my grandma’s house that said, “Individualists of the World Unite.”
During my era of uniting individualists, I was the only girl in my small Christian school’s 3rd grade class. The boys discovered that if they told me deer hunting stories in enough graphic detail, I would well up with tears and tell them I was thinking about becoming a vegetarian. I was a wonderful actress, so immersed in my role that I used both sides of recycled paper that flaked like dry skin when I erased. I hardly ever sharpened my pencil, and when the boys asked me why, I told them I wanted to save the trees. Everyone thought the tree hugger identity experiment was hilarious.
At home, I was the quiet one. So quiet that on family road trips I was accidentally forgotten at rest stops. At school, I was the exotic one, and I gorged myself on the ensuing feast of attention.
Back then, I would have said I didn’t care what anyone thought of me, but I was as guarded as ever. In a game of Truth or Dare, I always chose truth. To the question, “Truth: what has been your most embarrassing moment?” I’d coolly answer, “Don’t have one.” It was sort of true because I was careful enough not to get caught doing anything stupid.
My tree hugger year was the year I started wearing deodorant—when I remembered. I’d be at my desk, suddenly alarmed by a whiff of what Taco John’s would smell like if it were also a hockey locker room. I’d pretend to itch my nose with the collar of my Individualist t-shirt to confirm that yes, it was definitely me who wreaked. The next step was to nonchalantly excuse myself to the bathroom where I’d lather my pits with hand soap and a little water and then carefully dab the moisture with a paper towel. If I knew anyone had smelled me, or if anyone had caught me taking a sponge bath in the women’s restroom, that would have been embarrassing.
That year, when I came home from school on April 12th, I went to the downstairs bathroom, pulled down my LA Blues, black stretch jeans, and found that my Barbie underwear were ruined. I staggered out of the bathroom, and with a shaky voice and the beginnings of tears I said, “Mom. I think I got my period.” She squeezed me with the excitement and tears of someone moving on to the next round of American Idol. It was her birthday and she said this would be a year she’d always remember as very special. After I’d changed my clothes, I stood looking at my mom seated on my bed and waited for her to tell me what to do next about this special birthday present that felt more like a disability. She explained that my body stored up extra blood to make a nourishing home for a baby in my tummy, but since I didn’t have a baby in there, I didn’t need the extra blood, so my body would get rid of it through my vagina. She looked at me like she’d just said something astounding, like we’d just watched a butterfly emerge from a cocoon or poured vinegar over baking soda. I was not impressed. I couldn’t think of a stupider act of nature than getting my period. Didn’t God know I was only nine years old?
For a couple years after that, I’d be with the neighbor girls, playing something like Saved by the Bell, and between deciding which plot to act out and bullying me into being Lisa instead of Jessie for the hundredth time, one girl would say, “I’m so scared to get my period, aren’t you?” And I’d be like, “Yeah. It’s going to be so scary…” as blood dripped into a diaper sized maxi pad like old news. If I would have told the truth, that would have been so embarrassing.
This week marks Epiphany, a holiday to remember the day that the Magi finally showed up to Christmas and gave sweet baby Jesus his presents. It’s a beautiful holiday, but mostly it’s depressing because although there’s the brilliant star and the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, in the next breath of scripture, before there’s even time to mention stuffing the wrapping paper into a garbage sack, the nativity scene is broken up and Mary, Joseph, and Jesus scramble to Egypt to escape crazy King Herod’s genocide of toddler and baby boys.
On Epiphany, we remember that tragedy of old while removing ornaments and lights from our Christmas tree with about as much joy as plucking gray hairs. When the tree is bare, Silas drags it down the front steps and sets it next to the dumpster as if it has something in common with moldy leftovers and dog poop. The tree is now just a memory of light and cheer. All that’s left to do is wave a vacuum hose at a frenzy of pine needles for a half-hour and then anticipate about 5 more months of cold, damp darkness.
Up until 5-years ago, the closest I’d come to this level of dismal was reading the last page of a good book. Christmas trees were not a part of my childhood. I knew this was abnormal, but I never wanted one and never questioned why we didn’t have one. For my mom, I guessed the reason had something to do with the tale I’ve heard her tell many times of her child self sneaking down to the Christmas tree in the middle of the night to carefully unwrap all her presents and wrap them back up again. She tells this story without a glint of humor and with no conclusion, just a confession of the facts that she keeps confessing and no one ever tells her she’s forgiven. For my dad, I suspect not having a Christmas tree has something to do with him being an ascetic who carefully scrutinizes what’s popular. I guess he never found a good reason to subscribe to the pagan tradition of putting a tree in your house.
This year, I had intentions of making Epiphany feel less sad, like a true feast day. I intended to take down the Christmas tree accompanied by a playlist so thoughtful and full of pomp that listening to it would make frowning impossible, but due to not budgeting time in accordance with the garbage pick-up schedule, we only had time to turn on the Remember the Titans soundtrack.
I intended to observe the end of Christmas by taking a picture of the yard on 81st Street that is roughly 100 square feet crammed with roughly 100 light up and inflatable decorations. Normally the gang’s all there: Frosty, Rudolf, Charlie Brown, Yeti, a robotic mailbox…you name it, they’ve got it. But when I showed up with my camera, all that was left was a strand of icicle lights and a Mrs. Clause doll waving in the window.
I intended to go downtown to Bavarian Meats and pick up makings for a proper Reuben sandwich. I imagined this could be our traditional Epiphany meal. I even stepped way out of my league and delved into researching the underground fermentation movement and DIY sauerkraut. Did you know drinking the sauerkraut juices is considered by Sandor Ellis Katz to be a rare delicacy and also an unparalleled digestive tonic? It’s true. Mother Linda and all the Wild Fermentation disciples agree. In the end I just got lazy and observed the holiday by writing this post instead. Maybe next year.
6-months after our New York City vacation in sweltering, sewer-smelly July, I can still hear the recorded voice in the subway station imploring, “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” The voice may not have left the same impression on my husband Silas who frequently ignored the plea. Our first morning of the trip, we were headed to a farmer’s market, walking around at our usual different paces, like a Wiener dog following a giraffe. Silas Giraffe galloped down the subway station steps with my Weiner Dog self trailing several feet behind. He caught the train just in time, slipping through a narrow opening in the door. I watched from the platform as he glided off into the big, bad unknown city, and gave him my best, “What were you thinking?!” face. In what seemed like choreographed unison, all those observing from the benches inside the train threw their heads back in laughter.
I got on the next train, realized it was headed to Queens and that I did not want to go to Queens, got off the train, got on a different train, got off that train, and walked to Washington Square Park, where the night before, Silas had pointed and said, “Oh, I think that’s where that market is.” At some point, Silas became privy to the market actually being at Union Square, but forgot to clue me in. The only event I found at Washington Square was a diverse group of friends with Broadway quality charisma popping out from behind the arch to surprise and toss fake red rose petals at two men who had just gotten engaged. I sat on a bench and watched them all proceed to lay out a buffet of snacks fit for Martha Stewart and raise mimosa glasses, “To Duchess, who is finally legitimate, no longer a bastard doggy…”
When Silas eventually found me at the park, I being the person who typically gets lost in the Costco parking lot was too thrilled with how well I’d just navigated the city to be truly mad at him, but I could muster fake-mad enough to make some rules: 1. Don’t ever, ever get on a train without your wife. 2. If you do, get above ground ASAP and call her.
We should have known narrow rules like that are not good enough. When a Giraffe and a Wiener Dog get married, they need more than rules, they need principles.
It took leaving the country for the principle, which I am now naming the “Lydia Shall Lead” principle, to be implemented. The EPA thought Silas should go to Switzerland and talk to people about air pollution for 15 minutes, and thanks to this, I finally got a stamp in my passport, 10 days in Europe, and that wonderful post-travel detest of America and feeling of superiority at now topping my coffee with whipped cream and using a nasal voice to call it café mélange.
The primary Swiss tourist activities include hiking and riding cable cars. Hiking isn’t really my thing and I am afraid of heights, but in the spirit of once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity, we boarded a full cable car, stood in the center, compacted on all sides by Chinese tourists with faces and cameras pressed against the windows, and began the ascent to Shilthorn to find breathtaking views of the Lauterbrunnen valley, or as clearly indicated through the blast of James Bond theme music piped in through the cable car speakers, to experience the location of the 1969 film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
At the top, we saved some money and embraced a once in a lifetime opportunity by ditching the cable car and putting in a full work day walking the 5 thousand foot descent back to our hotel in Gimmelwald. The path started out with a loose gravel feel and views to conjure images of bodies rolling down the side of a cliff. Soon after passing a memorial to a woman struck by lightning in the late 19th century, there were views of lush grass and wildflowers. It seemed the worse was over, and after a good dose of the pound of chocolate in my pack, a close encounter with the most beautiful cows I’ve ever seen, and snapping a few hundred pictures, I was having a great time.
Then the fog rolled in, then the sprinkles, then the torrential downpour. Next, the path turned from grassy meadow into switchbacks made up of giant loose rocks slicked up by rain. The fog obscured my view of anything more than six feet in front of me. As far as I knew, I was completely alone in the Alps, a likely candidate for the next memorial to Girl Struck by Lightning. I called out, “When I can’t see you I get too scared to move. Silas! Come back!” He tried to stay close, but said he could not possibly walk any slower. I was moving like the Tin Man in serious need of some oil.
I thought, How could he be so insensitive to always be bolting ahead like that? Does he even care about me at all? Resentment built up to a point where I was so irritable, I would have picked a fight with a baby. This exact scenario has been played out about a hundred times between perplexed, defensive Giraffe and Weiner Dog barking like she’s seen a mailman rolled in bacon grease. It’s taken years of suffering this immaturity to realize it’s pretty simple: on a hike, Lydia should always walk ahead. On a walk, Silas needs frequent calm requests to, “slow down, please.” I wish I could walk faster, but I can’t. I wish Silas could simultaneously work a math problem in his head and be aware of his wife, but he can’t. So, we make do with what we’ve got.
Just when I was vowing to never hike again, the treacherous path opened into a level pasture with more majestic Jersey cows, worn wood barns, and houses with green shutters. There was hope of dry clothes, hot spaghetti, warm kisses, more chocolate, and returning home alive.
It was the sort of multigenerational Christmas party where adults play homemade mash-ups of Charades and Catch Phrase, acting out “Nancy Kerrigan,” trying to land a living room rendition of triple sow-cow without tripping over a crawling baby.
In the final round, our opponents pressed start on the 30-second timer, and the obvious star of our team proceeded to whip through about 8-clues. She was crushing it, even with her attention divided between the game and making sure her kids didn’t plow over a wine glass with a matchbox car. When the timer buzzed, she looked astonished at the slips of paper piled on the floor. She let out a whoop and exclaimed that she did it! Even with “mom brain!”
Someone else joked that this is perhaps the first time the stay-at-home-mom has used her brain all day. I did not laugh.
I hear moms continuously making light hearted comments about a major sleep deficit and the resulting blur, about the near impossibility of abstract thought when attending to a child’s immediate, constant needs.
In a church committee meeting, a woman said she apologized if her thoughts seemed disjointed—mom brain. On Facebook, a friend offered to sell her Kindle; she hadn’t read a book in several months—mom brain. Another friend asked me to catch her up on a particular current event; mom brain had kept her from the news.
For the past 5-years, I was working as a nanny. When I got home from work, I’d try to read but my mind would race with how I could get a kid to tie his shoes, to have better manners, to eat more vegetables. Then I’d jump to thinking about the immediate needs of my own environment: vacuuming, groceries, paying a bill, scheduling a haircut. I was a childless woman with a slight case of mom brain.
While I empathize with those who are frustrated by their mental state, I’m weary of motherhood being presented as “mom brain,” apologized for as if it were a bad cold. Can we find a way to collectively value different life choices, different seasons of life, and the resulting different requirements of our minds and bodies?
As I approach my child bearing years with trepidation, I am grasping for a way to value the next season. My biggest worry is that I will stop being me. According to the reassuring voice of the Discovery Channel, I will be different, but it’ll be more of a transformation than a loss of identity. Post-partum moms might describe their brains as turning to mush, but brain scans show that their brains are actually growing and being restructured. We have mom-brain to thank for the survival of our species. Being enraptured by the baby’s smiles and coos alters your brain in a way that creates a bond between baby and parent and motivates the parent to keep the baby alive and foresee the baby’s needs.
So, maybe there’ll be a few years where I go to a party and am unable to parrot NPR and want to leave at 9 p.m. I hope the transformation to motherhood will make that feel like no big deal. I imagine I might mourn the temporary loss of my current contemplative, leisurely season of life, but I am working on trusting that in the new season there’ll be much to celebrate.
Probably more reassuring than the Discovery Channelwould be the voices of real moms. I want to hear about how you are wearing running shoes with skinny jeans and you’re so exhausted you don’t even care, but I also want to hear what makes it all worth it. How have you been transformed in wonderful, positive ways? I imagine most of that has something to do with immense love for your child that is impossible to put into words, but if you can find words, will you share them with me?
My intro to astronomy professor lectured about galaxies with an enthusiasm that rivaled Magic Bullet infomercials. She was your average middle aged woman except for a strip of hot pink hair. One look at that pink highlight raised an immediate cool-teacher flag. You didn’t even have to check ratemyprofessor.com to know she ranked 5s across the board. Going through the syllabus, she got to the part about using the telescopes in the observatory, and the room simmered with the hissing whispers of 180 of my peers. Rooftop access? Sweet!
I stared straight ahead. I didn’t get it. What was so great about planets? In a week’s time, I dropped the class. I ditched Well Funded Science Hall and its comfy theater seats, new carpet smell, and IMAX size satellite images. Images that were supposedly stunning but just made me wish I was in Asbestos Hall watching a VHS about the Native American sports mascot controversy. I’d find some other way to fulfill the general requirement for a natural science class.
In the days that followed my astronomy breakup, whenever someone stopped to chit-chat, to ask how the semester was going, I’d enthusiastically tell them I dropped the class, “It turns out I just really don’t like outer space!” I announced this as if I’d discovered a new species.
In retrospect, I always knew I didn’t like outer space. Even through my phase of checking out Star Wars movies from the library, I didn’t like it. If those films had anything to say about light years or spacecraft or planets, I completely tuned it out. The only thing I remember was amazing chemistry between Han Solo and Princess Leia. I probably owe my marriage to the notes I took from Leia: use wit to simultaneously infuriate and allure. Check.
I can now identify boredom as the emotion I felt when childhood friends showed me moon phase posters, books about constellations, and mobiles of the solar system.
At Bible camp, a fellow middle schooler, wrapped up in a warm fuzzy moment, would gaze up at the stars and say, “This,” pointing to the sky, “Is what I love about being out here…” and then something about feeling so small and like God is so big. I’d silently let the moment pass so we could get back to conversation topics like, “Would you rather have a head as big as your fist? Or, kick a soccer ball with a toothpick wedged under your toenail?”
My dad made his best effort to expose me to the glory of God found in star gazing. In the dead of night, I’d wake up to his hand shaking my shoulder and his voice saying, “Lydia…Lyd-eee-uh. Do you want to go look at the eclipse?” I, along with a younger brother or two or three, staggered into our winter coats, shoved our pajama pant legs into boots, and rode in the car a few miles to the edge of a corn field to look at the sky. I don’t remember how many times that scenario occurred. I don’t remember what we saw in the sky, if anything, but I remember knowing in those moments that my dad must love this world and love us, his kids.
I wonder if it even occurred to me before college that I could audibly dislike outer space. In the house I grew up in, saying, “Well, that’s sure different” was critical language at maximum strength. When other kids whined about the food on their plate or not getting the toy they wanted at the store, it made me feel anxious. I didn’t understand such free flowing emotions. It embarrassed me.
Dropping Astronomy triggered a bit of an addiction to finding a sense of self through identifying dislikes. I’d proudly start conversations by divulging that I never went through a dinosaur phase, “I don’t even like them. I don’t know any of their names except for Long Neck. Oh, wait, that’s not even real. That’s from Land Before Time.” The proclamations of disdain were endless: classical music is stressful; Harry Potter could never be real and therefore I don’t care about him; Life is too short to read Jane Austen’s old timey dialogue about who’s the best piano player. By my 21st birthday, I’d become a curmudgeon. I’d finally learned how to whine about the food on my plate.
Nowadays people who let their positive emotions flow freely are the ones who make me anxious. A couple years ago, I volunteered at a drop-in tutoring center for kids. The place had an outer space theme. Planet paraphernalia was everywhere, so I only lasted 6-months. That was part of it, but the real reason I quit was the cohort of other tutors oozed enthusiasm and confidence. I was the one without any ironic tattoos, ‘80s eyeglasses, or a job as a video game writer. I waited and watched as one by one the seats next to the cool tutors filled with eager book report writers and Hello Kitty backpack wearers. I was the last pick.
I’d like to be first. I don’t think I’ll ever quite be one of those embarrassingly positive people. The people who have just had The. Best. IPA. The people who say stuff like, “You look phenomenal! Seriously, gorgeous. Where did you get that scarf?” If anyone has to add the word seriously, I imagine they’re not serious, but I need to entertain the possibility of their authenticity. If I could follow the example of the gushers, even in my own subtle way, I know I’d have a more firm sense of self; if I could at least make top 5 lists of favorite things—movies, authors, bands. Who we are is more than a sum of our preferences, but I know I would grow if I were to cultivate passions, to articulate likes along with the dislikes. Without preferences, dreams, and desires, there is no forward motion, and I want to go places.