So. Much. Change. AllAtOnce.

I haven’t blogged in over two months. So much has been happening, I don’t even know what to blog about. If you could screw off the top of my skull and release the contents of my brain, the thoughts would come leaping and scrambling out like clowns from a tiny car.

Remember the post about job hunting? Well, I have a new job. That job includes a new schedule and longer hours. Still haven’t figured out how there’s time to cook dinner and get some exercise and write and pay attention to my family and my boyfriend all before bedtime. (Plus there’s Netflix; damn all those TV shows.) I know that working moms all over the country do it—heck, I did it for years—but it’s kicking my hiney right now because I’ve had this cakewalk schedule for the last two years. Welcome back to the world of grownups, Meg.

Also, I moved. I read once that moving is the third most stressful event for humans, after death of a loved one and divorce. (Pretty sure “job change” was high up on that list, too.) So, I guess it could be worse, but yeah—it’s pretty stressful. Also included in moving stress: I shacked up with my sweetheart and we’re ADJUSTING.  “Adjusting” involves trying to fit two households into one home and trying to remember how to share space with someone after you’ve been single for 15 years. I’ve only freaked out once so far.

And the big, downhill-rolling boulder that is my daughter’s departure for college continues its rapid descent onto my poor mom-heart. Maddy leaves in less than a month. She needs plane tickets and dorm furnishings and a laptop and luggage and a warm winter coat. Hopefully I can come up with the money to pay for all of those things and still have enough left for a case of Two-Buck Chuck to drown my sorrows. It’s pretty bad. I’ll be driving down the freeway or doing the laundry—just minding my own business– and out of nowhere, BAM! Emotional ambush!  Fine one minute, a weepy mess the next.

So, all in all, this is a good time for me—new job, taking the relationship to the next level, kids are growing up and doing what they’re supposed to do—but it’s also a boatload of transition all at once. I’ve got no cause to whine because all my transitions are good transitions, but most days I feel like my life is racing ahead of me and I’m being dragged along behind it with a death-grip on the bumper.

Oh! Suddenly I thought of a metaphor! (I really thought of this right now, spontaneous-like.)  My life feels a little bit like parasailing right now.

Victor & I went parasailing a couple weeks ago. (Because, you know, things weren’t crazy enough—let’s get suspended 600 feet over the Pacific Ocean while hauling ass in a speedboat!)

I was totally game for the parasailing, when Victor asked me to go– I didn’t feel afraid at all. That was stupid, because as it turns out, parasailing is actually pretty terrifying. I was fine until it was time to go up.

We were on a boat with two other couples.  The staff harnessed us up in strangely loose-fitting harnesses, and offered no safety instructions whatsoever, except to say, “If you want to hold on, hold the rope; don’t touch the metal hooks. “

IF! IF you want to hold on! Holding on is optional! So my rational mind knew that it had to be pretty safe—they let any schmuck do it; you don’t have to be fit or strong or know what you’re doing, and obviously you can’t screw it up or they’d give you more directions. Must be safe, right?

We climbed up on the back of the boat in our big, loose harnesses and they hooked us up and ZOOOM! Up we went! 600 feet! It felt just like an elevator. My harness felt just like a swing. My boyfriend was with me, taking pictures all around with his iPhone, dangling next to me without a care in the world.

And I was CLUTCHING the ropes for dear life. White-knuckled, rigid arms—clutching. I understood that I was safe, that I could not fall, that holding on was optional—shoot, Vic was right next to me, happily using all his limbs—but NOTHING could have pried my fingers off those ropes. Nothing.

We were up there for about 12 minutes, I think. I managed to take in the amazing view; I marveled at the coastline and all the tiny people on the beach—probably pointing up at us lunatics dangling over the ocean—and I even enjoyed it when the captain reeled us in and dipped us low so our feet could trail in the water. But all the while, I held onto those ropes like my children’s lives depended on it. I squeezed so tight that my arms started to fatigue, and I was terrified that my strength would give out and I’d have to let go.

Vic took this...how's that for perspective?

Vic took this…how’s that for perspective?

There’s the metaphor: clutching. My life feels like it’s flying out ahead of me and all I can do is hold on. All this frantic feeling…all this desperate clutching for nothing…questioning my own strength when my strength is irrelevant, because this ride won’t stop no matter what I do.

Just like I knew I was safe in that harness, I know am safe now.  Everything is going to be fine. The clutching is instinctive, self-protective, but it’s not necessary, and I’d enjoy things so much more if I could just let go.

One way or another, I will let go. I’ll either wise up or wear out. And either way, I’ll be fine.

Thoughts on Graduation: At Least They Don’t Eat Bugs Anymore

A momentous occasion is happening today: my youngest child is graduating from high school.

As usual, the clichés are all true. It really does seem like just a short time ago, she was following me down the sidewalk with a lunchbox bigger than her five-year-old head.  This post isn’t really about that, although I’ve been shaking off those thoughts all morning.

The thing that’s freaking me out is this: although my daughter is almost 18, and my son is 20, suddenly I feel like a brand-new parent all over again.

When each of them was born, I felt excited, terrified, proud, overwhelmed—like every other new parent.  The stakes were high: life and death. If I slept too hard, they might suffocate in their crib. If I chose the wrong foods, they might have an allergic reaction. If I failed to pay attention or made the wrong decision, I could ruin them or even lose them for good.

To make matters worse, it seemed like for the first few years of their lives, they were actively trying to kill themselves. You know how it is with babies and toddlers: turn your back for a second and they’re sticking their fingers into light sockets, wandering out into traffic, trying to eat toxic substances….remember?

You probably see where I’m going with this.

Parenting an almost-adult feels exactly the same. The stakes aren’t life or death anymore, but they’re still high. Decisions my kids make at this stage will absolutely impact the quality of their lives for years.  In some ways, early adulthood is a trajectory, and a degree of difference now can have a big impact on where they wind up in a decade or so.

There are the big life decisions, like where to go to college, and what field to study. Whether they’ll follow their passions or follow a paycheck. Then there are those insidious, spur-of-the-moment choices that could change their lives forever: driving drunk, just once. Skipping the condom, just once. All the time, every day, whether they realize it or not, my newly adult children will be making choices that determine the courses of their futures.

So yeah, I’m not sleeping very well these days, just like when they were babies. I’m constantly second-guessing myself, just like when they were babies. And some days, they seem like they’re actively trying to ruin themselves, just like when they were babies.

They don’t stick their fingers in light sockets any more, but some of the choices they make are just as stupid. And just like “Don’t eat that bug” didn’t make sense to them when they were toddlers, my pearls of wisdom are lost on them at this age, too. They speak English now but they don’t speak Perspective. I probably sound like an adult from a Peanuts cartoon: “Wah wah wah, wah wah, wah.” I want so badly to help them through these tough years, but I can’t. They have to grow up on their own.

I don’t mean to sound negative—this time is very exciting! It’s like when they were learning to walk: they fell down a lot. I wasn’t any less proud of them for it. (Can you imagine? “Get up, you little hobo, learn to walk right!”). It’s worrisome and frustrating, but that’s what kids do when they’re learning to walk. At this age, they’re kids one minute and adults the next, and I love them either way. They make me angry, sure, but they also surprise and delight me with the people they’re becoming.

Last night I went to my son’s apartment—his first—and there he was, living like a starving twenty-something, nothing in the fridge.  He’s working, going to school and barely scraping by. I’m so proud of him I could bust. I’m so worried about him I can’t sleep. He’s right where he’s supposed to be, and I guess is this is probably just how I’m supposed to feel.

And today my daughter will graduate. My heart’s all swelled up with tenderness for her. Like when your baby starts to smile and coo—you knew it was coming, and every kid does it, but there’s something so magical and heartwarming when it’s YOUR kid. I know I’m going to lose it when I see her in the cap and gown. I’m excited, terrified, proud, overwhelmed—just like 17 years ago.

Congratulations and good luck to all the graduates in the blogosphere today, and to their parents, too.

Swoony McLovestruck Writes Again

So, if you read my last blog post, you know that I met someone super fantastic and I got all loopy for him. Despite my chronic worrywart headtripping, everything is going great.  I’ve seen the inside of his car, his freezer and his closet, and he has no stash of human heads or carcasses of any kind, even though we met on the interwebs. So far so good.

Seriously, since that last post, if I relayed all the cutesy-wutesy that has transpired, you would get a toothache. But I am going to tell you about one great day, because a team of romance writers could not have scripted it more perfectly.

Saturday it was “cold” here in SoCal: sparkling sunshine, light winds, dry air— highs hovered around 60 degrees. Brrrr!  That’s a wintery day for us–we break out the scarves, hats and boots the minute the thermostat drops below 70. I got all bundled up in my warm hoodie, and I wore real shoes and socks instead of flip flops.

Mr. New Guy loves to be outdoors, and he will actually PLAN things to do. (Tip for guys: chicks dig it when you plan.)  He suggested Crystal Cove State Park, a place I had never been, even though I’ve lived in Orange County for over 30 years.

Crystal Cove has sandy beaches, tide pools, acres of hiking trails and a restaurant and visitor center that showcases the vintage 1920s cottages.  In case you failed to get sufficiently excited by that sentence, I just want to reiterate BEACH and VINTAGE. Also TIDE POOLS.  And for the rest of you, the restaurant serves bloody marys on a beachfront patio.  You can’t lose in this place, I’m telling you.

We walk a short trail down to the visitor center and spend a little while poking around the gift shop, where Mr. Wonderful talks about art with me, because he’s actually interested. We check out the historic cottage display, which makes me nostalgic for times I never experienced, and then we canoodle under a tree in a surprisingly cozy Adirondack loveseat. When I remark on how comfy the loveseat is, he suggests that we try to build one together sometime. I am not making this up. When he comes out with stuff like that I want to look for hidden cameras. How does he know?

So then, no shit, we hold hands and jump across a little stream of water to the beach, because we are some kind of walking romance novel cliché and I’m just going to accept that now.

The beach is gorgeous and perfect, see?

We walk down the sand, not talking because when you’re at the beach you don’t need to talk, and then we crouch over tide pools for a time, looking for tiny sea creatures and poking anemones. Tidepools make me feel like I am 10 years old again.

One more perfect beach pic. (He took the pictures. I’d give him a photo credit but I’m trying to keep him anonymous.)

Beaches make me feel like nothing, in a good way. I don’t have any words for them because that is the effect they have on me. So I will skip to the Thai restaurant part now.

He takes me to his favorite Thai place in Costa Mesa called MaDee Thai Kitchen. As we walk in, they call out his name from the kitchen, and I feel a little pang of pride—not because I feel important, but because I’m with a good guy, someone who bothers to know the people he encounters in his daily life, someone who’s curious and considerate about the experiences of others. That’s huge for me—to be friendly and to really know people.

These people are worth knowing.  Tony and Sue, the owners, talk to us about the long hours they work in the restaurant and their plans to finally take time off over Thanksgiving. I like to listen to non-native English speakers when they put words together in ways I wouldn’t. When we ask if it’s been busy, Tony says, “Not too busy. Just easy coming.”  That expression makes perfect sense to me and I stash it away for future use. Tony talks to us while we eat, about cooking, about the ingredients in his baked mussels and where he learned to prepare them that way.

I learn that I do not like mussels, but holy cow, the Pad Thai is good. So is a dish called Crying Tiger, which does not involve tigers or crying.  It’s beef, served with greens and a yummy sauce.

On our way out, my new guy spots this on the counter:

It’s a graphophone, like a primitive record player, from the 1880s. New Guy points it out to Tony and Sue, and they call up their friend (relative?) Jay from the kitchen. Jay is an older Thai man with limited English and a face like a laughing Buddha. He’s so excited about the graphophone that he whips out his iPhone and flicks through pictures of his extensive phonograph collection. I laugh at the incongruity of his age and passion for antique technology, and his obvious iPhone proficiency. Without words to explain how he feels about the collection, he repeats in his thick accent, “I VERY CRAZY. You see? Very Crazy.”

While we’re talking and laughing, Jay opens a small canister with an Edison label and takes out what looks like a thick vinyl cylinder, but according to my in-depth Wikipedia research is more likely either tin or cardboard with a wax coating. He cranks the machine up, slides the cylinder in place, and everyone stops talking as the crank unwinds and a perfect, plinky tune wafts out from the cone-shaped amplifier. Magic. Auditory time travel.

The sound is so sweet and I want to hear it again, but I feel like it would be greedy to ask, like maybe there are only so many times you can listen to magic before it’s used up.

Instead we thank them, chat a minute longer and then head out into the chilly afternoon. In the car I am quiet, which isn’t normal for me, so he asks if I’m sleepy.  Not for the first time that day, or the last, I grin and shake my head. No words.

I very crazy, too.

Notes from the Flip Side: Meg Gets Loopy

When I wrote my last post about misadventures in internet dating, I got commiserating responses from fellow internet daters, and a note of fear from one dear friend who is “just dipping his toe” into the online dating pool. “You’re scaring me,” he said.

Of course, I graciously reassured everyone that there are plenty of nice people in the internet dating pool—heck, I’m in it, right? Mostly it’s decent human beings out there, and everyone is looking for the right match. Sure, I sniffed, I haven’t found mine yet, but I still believe he’s out there.  Then I poured another cocktail and tried to laugh it off.

Well, everything changed, the very day I published that post.

Today I can hardly write because I can’t see out of my heart-shaped cartoon pupils. No kidding. I’m pretty sure there are birds and maybe even squirrels singing happy little tunes right outside in the parking lot of my office building.

I met someone. I mean SOMEONE.

Normally, I meet nice guys on internet dates— guys who are pleasant and reasonably attractive and have jobs and all their teeth and I think, “Okay, Meg…this could be viable. There is nothing wrong with this guy. You should give this one a shot. ” And I try to send some moderately enthusiastic text messages to indicate interest, and I try to pencil him into my schedule within a reasonable time frame, and I walk this weird line of trying to keep him interested while I try to talk myself into being interested. Try, try, try. So much work!

You can imagine how attractive I am while I’m doing this ambivalent crazy-dance. Invariably, the guy senses that I’m not actually interested and it fizzles, or I sense that I’m not actually interested and it fizzles, and back to the drawing board I go. Yes, I’m a head case. I keep thinking that maybe if I just give one of these guys enough time, some kind of spark will ignite.

Apparently, sparks don’t require much time to ignite. I met this new Someone one time, and BAM! Two weeks later, I have become a 16-year-old girl. I haven’t been this attentive to my phone since EVER, because maybe he sent a text! Maybe I should send him a text!! Maybe I should write our initials in a heart on a Pee-Chee folder!! With lots and lots of exclamation points!!!!

That “maybe you should try” voice is drowned out by the “WHOOOOEEEEE!” voice and now there is a new one chanting, “Slow down slow down slow down.”

Look, Voices– I am a grown-ass woman and I can handle this.

It is hard to be 40 and 16 at the same time. I’m flip-flopping between giddiness and eye-rolling at my own insipid state. There’s no way to erase all the lessons I’ve learned about rushing into things, or people not being who they appear to be at first. An overthinker/worrywart, I tend to play it close to the chest.  So now, I have this constant argument in my head between the infatuated teenager and the cautious adult.  And you thought I was crazy already. Ugh.

The good news is that the Someone is also loopy. He’ll send a message saying, “I’ve been wanting to text all morning, but I’m trying to maintain composure.”  Or he’ll follow some sweet sentiment with, “Am I being pathetic?”

So we discussed it, this delightful Someone and I—we had an adult conversation about whether we are being reckless. Should we be mature about this and take a step back, perhaps?  Do we need time to cool off?  After thoughtful consideration, we decided HECK NO! THIS IS TOO FUN! Who cares about tomorrow because TODAY ROCKS!

In a week or two or six, if I post again about how internet dating sucks, please forgive this brief, moony-eyed lapse into smarminess. I’m not in my right mind. And I really, really hope I get to stay this way.

The Joys of Internet Dating

I swore I would never do this– write a post about the men I encounter on internet dating sites. It’s cheap and low brow, and I am a classy girl. More than that, I recognize that I am potential fodder for someone else’s jokes. I realize that a chunky, 40-year-old mom trying to rustle up some action with her not-so-sexy pics could be pretty amusing to a lot of people, so I vowed not to throw rocks from my glass house.

I can’t help it. There’s just too much material.

For starters, at least I know I’m a chunky, 40-year-old mom. I’m nerdy. I like to read and garden and I make that very plain on my profile. No cleavage pics, no sexy pouting, no enticing descriptions of a wild, party-girl alter ego.  Which is why I’m shocked when I’m approached by guys like this one, who actually emailed me this morning:

I’m sorry, Natural Born Hustler; did you mistake me for a hoodrat honey? Do I appear to be thuggin’?  Cuz I ain’t, Hustler. Although I cannot see your pants in the picture, I’m sure that you need to pull them up.

Holy cow, I could write a whole post about this guy and how I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. Not him, not the tattoo, not why he approached me at all. Do you think he wants to rob me?  I just don’t get it.

Then there are the screen names. If your screen name is, “4U2SEXWITH,” I don’t want to meet you.  And because I am crazy, the thing that bothers me most about that screen name is not the inherent sexual proposition, although that is extraordinarily tacky. No, the thing that bothers me most is the use of the word “sex” as a verb. I hate that, because when “sex” is used as a verb (all by itself, with no preposition or helping verb—yes, I am a grammar geek), I always interpret it as “to determine the sex of.”  Since I don’t have a litter of puppies or a batch of chicks at the moment, I don’t need anyone to sex with.  I don’t need to sex at all. By the way, “4U2SEXWITH” is a real screen name from a real person who actually emailed me. I have no idea what the email said.

Another recent email came from a guy with the screen name “Footguy.” He wants to know what color my toenails are painted. He wants to know if I like foot rubs and he hopes I am enjoying a relaxing evening at home, barefoot.  Criminy.

Then there is the massive barrier that results from trying to communicate with someone in writing. This morning a man—a good-looking man with nothing offensive or off-putting in his profile—attempted to contact me through the dating site. The conversation looks like this:

Man: Hi pretty

Meg: Hi there 🙂

Man: Your pretty

Meg: Thank you. I think you’re cute, too.

Man: I like your profile

Man: Can I call u

This guy is trying to be nice, but he’s certainly no conversational wizard. Yes, the incorrect “your” is his error, but I try really hard not to tweak on that. Plenty of intelligent people make that mistake, and I know some very smart people who can’t spell. The problem could also be typing. Some people, especially those who don’t work on computers, have to type everything with two fingers.  If they tried to be dazzling and eloquent, it would take all day. I’m really trying to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, but still, this is all I have to go on. I can’t form an impression from this grunting sort of communication.  Am I the only one who reads that exchange in the voice of Animal from The Muppets? “YOU. WOMAN. PRETTY.”  I don’t want to be critical, but I really don’t know what to say in response to that. Hi. Thank you. No; it’s probably better if you don’t call me.

Then there is the flip side: flowery messages by romantic men who are trying to woo women they know nothing about. One guy signed his sticky-sweet but generic email, “Captivated by you.”  Really?  Was it my sexy mom pics or my list of exciting domestic hobbies that were captivating? Do tell! One guy sent me the message, “Hello, Beautiful. You have a very enigmatic smile.”  If you know me, there is really nothing enigmatic about me or my smile. I have a pronounced overbite and I’m a goofball, so what I have is a dorky smile. I’m fine with my dorky smile, but I know damn well it isn’t enigmatic. How to answer that email? Should I flutter my eyelashes and say, “Aww, shucks, I bet you say that to all the girls?” Because he does, apparently; a week or so later I got the exact same email from the same guy. That’s his form letter.

While I was writing this post, I received a message from a guy who is 21. TWENTY-ONE PEOPLE-YEARS OLD, messaging a clearly-labeled 40-year-old on a dating site. With an age gap that big, it’s not even flattering; it’s just baffling. He is new to the area and wants to know if I will “hang out” with him.  Poor lamb– I suppose if he is lonely I could set him up on a play-date with my 19-year-old son.

Oy vey.

One perk about online dating: the longer I do it, the more I am content to be single.

A Sneak Peak at Empty Nest Syndrome: UGGHHH

My daughter’s been away at camp all week. I’ve been home alone since Sunday. Usually, this means a good time for me. This week, not so much.

I’ve been a single mom for about 14 years. For most of those years, when my kids went away, it was kind of a treat. Judge me if you will, but every parent needs breaks and single parents need them even more. So I would pack their little overnight bags and bundle them off to Dad’s house with lots of love and kisses, and then PAR-TAY!! Momma’s alone for the weekend! YESSS!

Let me tell you, some of those weekends I got pretty crazy. I could sleep with ALL THE LIGHTS OFF AT ONCE. I could pee, or even take a whole shower, with no one walking in. Leave the TV off for the whole weekend. (Is there any sound more grating than SpongeBob?) Not have to make anyone pancakes. Not have to break up fights. Not have to share. It was awesome.

But things are changing at Casa de Meg. My son moved out two years ago. My daughter is almost 17 and about to begin her senior year in high school. She’s like a roommate now- albeit one I cook for and drive around, but still- it’s just she and I in our two-bedroom apartment. And she’s away fairly often these days, so I’m grateful for her company when I get it.

Last week, I tried to plan ahead for this kid-free week. I figured I could line up some internet dates—at least it would be blog fodder to entertain you with. Or maybe I could work out a whole bunch, try the gym by my house like I’ve been meaning to. I could catch up on paperwork. Paint something, maybe.

OR, I could—and by “could” I mean “did”—sit on my couch and drink and eat fast food and watch crappy TV for four days. I suck.

Here’s the problem: when my daughter leaves, it’s no longer a getaway from my single parenthood; it’s a glimpse into my future. That future is an empty nest. EMPTY NEST!! EMPTY NEST!!! (<——that is me shrieking crazily like Chicken Little).

Remember those cartoons where the guy would dive from the ridiculously high platform into the ridiculously tiny bucket? They would show the view from the platform down into the bucket before he jumped, and there would be clouds halfway between because it was so high up. That is how I picture the empty nest: way, way, down at the bottom of a very high cliff. One day, approximately 395 days from today, my daughter is going to leave for college and I am going to have to jump off that cliff.

Melodramatic? Me? Okay maybe, but I am really that apprehensive.

I had my first kid before I turned 21. I don’t know how to be a grownup without being a mom. I always figured I would raise my kids and then resume my regular life– catch up on all that stuff that normal people do before they have kids. Only now they’re grown and I don’t know what to do. Or maybe there is so much to do I can’t decide what to do. And I don’t have anyone to do things with and I don’t have any money to do them and waah waah waah… Is there any beer in the fridge? TV sounds pretty good.

One day at a time, Meg. I have books to edit, college to finish, dogs to walk, blog posts to write, practically ARMIES of WINNERS on the internet just waiting for me to date them… there’s plenty to keep me busy when the kids are gone. Maybe I will find someone new to make pancakes for. Or better, someone to make pancakes for me.

And anyway, there’s still a whole ‘nother year before I have to jump.

 

 

 

 

 

Cupcakes and Competition: Lessons from a High School Bake-off

Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcakes with Cookie Dough Centers. Yeah baby.

“Mom,” my daughter said. “I have to bake cupcakes for Huffman’s class. It’s for a bake-off and I get 25 points for entering.”

“Great,” I answered. “How many points do we get when we win?”

Oh, we won. We don’t mess around. We made Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcakes (a la Joy the Baker) with a cookie dough center, complete with whipped cream and cherries. Some of the other kids—kids who brought inferior baked goods–criticized Maddy for trying too hard.

Trying too hard?? It’s a competition! Do you criticize your basketball team for trying too hard? Do you tell your track runners to slow down? No. You tell them to WIN.

My daughter and I are both highly competitive. Our competitiveness is exceeded only by our lack of athletic ability. So while we can’t run faster or jump higher or hit harder than you, we will KICK YOUR ASS in a bake-off. Our cupcakes will mop the floor with your lousy cookies and then stuff them down your throat, LOSER.

Only we won’t say that out loud, because we’re ladylike.

Maddy and I were cracking ourselves up, talking about our aggressive baking and how our thwarted competitive natures spill over into non-competitive arenas because we have no other outlets. Maddy said something like, “Yeah, I’m good at all the lame stuff—baking, board games, logic puzzles…”

Then, because I am a mom, I jumped in with a little lesson that I wish I’d learned earlier in my life.

“Baking isn’t lame. Logic puzzles aren’t lame. You think it’s the lame stuff because it’s what you’re good at,” I told her. “Other people wish they were good at the things you’re good at—it’s not lame stuff. You just don’t value your talents because they come easily to you. But they don’t come easily to everyone. ”

When I was younger, I felt like I was only good at easy things. My strong suits are words, pictures and people.  To me, those are all easy, fun, fluffy talents. Even my strongest skill, which has always been writing, seemed inadequate to me. Because I have a simple, straightforward style, I felt like my writing was unsophisticated and childish. I always believed that the real value was in the numbers skills–the logical, left-brain sort of talents. Yeah, I can make things look nice and I can get along with people but who cares? Who’s going to pay me for that?

As I entered corporate America, I was subjected to personality and aptitude tests that reinforced that belief. No matter which test they administered, I was cast straight into the bimbo category: you’re a Sanguine! A High I! An ENFP! They all seemed to indicate that I talk too much and I can’t keep my act together. I think my elementary school teachers were in on those tests.

I wished I could be more like the analytical types, or the bold, Type-A types. I wished my skill sets were more practical. Basically, I just wanted to be what I wasn’t. Don’t we all?

One perk of getting older is that as we gain perspective through experience, we are able to see ourselves more clearly and understand how we fit into the big picture. I have now read enough bad writing to realize what a gift it is to be succinct and articulate. I have now worked for enough terrible bosses that I see the value in people skills. I have seen enough ugliness to appreciate my own ability to make things beautiful.

I’ve also figured out that not everyone thinks that what I do is easy. Even smart people with great ideas can’t always put them in writing. They think it’s some crazy superpower, just the way I feel about people who can do math in their heads.  More than one employer has capitalized on my people skills—turns out that people skills, or “soft skills,” as they are referred to in corporate-speak, are very hard to teach.

I’m not sure if this is universal or just women who do this, but it took me a long time to understand that the “easy stuff” only seemed easy to me because I am good at it.

This phenomenon of downgrading our own talents seems to be an extension of the grass-is-always-greener mindset.  We always think someone else’s talents are more valuable than our own.  Someone said, “If the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence, try watering your own lawn.”  Genius.

In this case, we need to recognize that just because it comes naturally to us, doesn’t mean it’s cheap or lame—someone wishes it came naturally to her, too.  Someone wishes he could write a better sentence, or bake a better cupcake.  My abilities are unique and valuable, even though it took me several decades to realize it. They are worth cultivating.

Another perk of being middle aged: I still have time to implement all this wisdom I’m trying to impart to my daughter. It’s not like I’m croaking out advice on my deathbed. It’s not too late to capitalize on those talents—not too late to water my own lawn.