Girl Child is about to be a senior in high school and is college shopping. This is a tough time. I was a mess when Man Child graduated and went away three years ago; little did I know he’d yoyo back and still take up our garage, carport, most of the basement, a good part of the driveway, his room, the laundry room, and the good television. That was all okay as long as he was helping me renovate a camper. Now that he’s found more entertaining projects, I want to be able to reach the garage fridge.
I don’t think Girl Child will yoyo. I’ve been watching her backside heading away from me since she could walk. “Me do it!” is her mantra and she ain’t part of no stinking system. She’s looking at art schools. Spousal Unit and I look with her, gulp at the cost and wish we hadn’t encouraged creativity and freedom of thought.
Looking at colleges is a different activity than it was in my day. Back in my day, you took your ACT, imagined all those wonderful schools out there waiting for you, then attended Marshall University, which was a gnat’s ass down the road and free because your ACT was decent and your grades were good. You majored in public relations because somebody told you that you were a people person and that’s what you should major in. You ate your veggies, obeyed your parents and walked naked to school in six feet of snow. Uphill both ways. It was different then.
Nowadays, these whippersnappers know what’s out there and that it’s within reach. These punks also know themselves well enough to have a much better grasp of what they want. They have counselors who walk them through the process and give them insight to their personalities. “I’m an INFP,” announces Girl Child after her Meyers-Briggs test. “That’s introversion, intuition, feeling, perceiving.”
“Oh! I took that test when I worked for an ad agency,” I proclaim. “I think I’m an INFP also! I know everybody thinks I’m a people person, but I’m really an introvert.”
She looked at me as if I had recommended she wear my Walmart sweat pants to prom. In the months since, she has explained to me in various ways, why I couldn’t possibly be an introvert.
I don’t begrudge her these thoughts, mostly because there is nothing worse than realizing you have similar personality traits to your mother, especially when you’re in high school. I also don’t begrudge her because she’s not alone in this line of thinking. I have spent a lifetime telling the world that I just want some time to myself and that people get on my nerves. The world laughs, says, “You can’t POSSIBLY be an introvert” and proceeds to follow me to the bathroom.
Case in point: We have just returned from nearly two weeks of traveling, combining college shopping, visiting kinfolk in West Virginia, taking my niece to a journalism conference in DC and dragging my sister along for a week of enforced relaxation. She’s bad at it and we wanted to show her how the professionals goof off.
We rented a bungalow a stone’s throw away from the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis to be our home base and we set up camp. It was picturesque and I imagined my sister learning to chill out; my husband learning how to mix a vodka tonic; and me learning how to have time alone.
The first time I wandered off alone and sat on a bench overlooking the bay, people came and went. I nodded at them and they nodded at me, but that was it. Ahhhhh…introvert time. A gorgeous young woman walked into the park area with two lively Australian Shepherds. Girl Child’s trainer has an Australian Shepherd. Even if they’re not golden retrievers, they’re pretty cool dogs and since I really missed my dog, they would do. Petting one of the dogs led to conversation which led to more petting and more conversation and the next thing I knew, I was friends with a Swedish transplant who has two horses and events, just like Girl Child does and has RA, just like I do and is one of the coolest women I have met in a long time.
Another day, I had the opportunity to be alone, waiting at a Barnes and Noble while Girl Child and Spousal Unit went on an almost four hour school tour. My knees could only take one hour, so I begged off and slid into a comfy chair between the periodicals and the college t-shirts. I had been there for a while when a young man sat down in the other comfy chair and scooted it closer to mine.
After a while, he leaned toward me. “May I ask you a question?”
I refrained from the smart-mouthed response of, “You just did,” and instead said, “Sure.”
He pursed his lips then said, “Are women offended if you ask them about their weight?”
I thought for a minute. I was sitting in a bookstore on a college campus. I bet some schmuck of a college sociology professor was making his students do this very uncomfortable test to see how people would react. Or I was being punkt, but I didn’t see where any hidden cameras could be.
“Well,” I answered slowly. “Not all women are offended, but I have to admit, since I am overweight, it’s a pushbutton issue for me. I think it’s also a generational thing. I grew up in an era where anything bigger than a size ten was cause for shame. There was a lot of pressure on us to maintain a certain size and if we didn’t do it, then there was a lot of body shaming. I think girls in this generation have a healthier sense of self and there is a general acceptance of different body shapes and sizes.”
I went on to tell him that I wasn’t proud of my size, but that I realized my lifestyle choices had led me to this, along with an illness that doesn’t cooperate very well. His face dropped. “You’re sick?”
“Yeah. It’s not a big deal. It’s manageable, but it sucks. Are you doing this for a sociology project or something?”
He looked uncomfortable. No, he answered. He just wondered. He squirmed. I realized then that I was being tested. I don’t know how, or why, or to serve what purpose, but this was in the middle of a week of racial divide, violence, misunderstanding and uproar. This wasn’t a time for me to suffer righteous indignation at having my size pointed out to me and it wasn’t a time for me to walk away. I scooted closer to him and we talked.
I hope he gets his pharmacy tech degree and I hope that job allows him to go to college and get a degree in psychology. He has a curiosity about human nature that should be pursued. I plan on checking in with him occasionally to make sure he doesn’t give up his dreams. Maybe my encouraging him will encourage me to make healthier choices. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to continue to be the fat white lady students walk up to and ask impertinent questions.
The last day we were in Annapolis, my sister and niece, Spousal Unit and Girl Child left me on a bench at the city dock while they shopped Annapolis. Time alone at last! The people watching was excellent. So many sockless ankles in Topsiders! And who knew Laura Ashley was still a thing? Across the dock stood an older man, who looked as if life had dealt him a little more than most. His features were so interesting that I took a picture. He caught me and I pretended I was playing Pokemon Go.
He walked over my way and I panicked a little. It really is rude to take pictures of people without their permission and I felt as if I had stolen his soul. He walked past me and sat down at the next bench, pulled out a loaf of bread and started feeding ducks. I’m a jerk and I pretended to continue playing Pokemon Go and got better pictures. The ducks were eating right out of his hands.
He stood up and walked toward me again. I deserved whatever tongue lashing he was going to give me and prepared myself. Without saying a word, he handed me a slice of bread and returned to his bench. We fed ducks from our respective perches, like preschoolers in parallel play. I got ducks to eat from my hand.
When my first slice of bread was nearly gone, he wandered back over and pressed his hand to his throat. The machine in his neck helped him squawk, “Feed them all.” He handed me another slice. I fed ducks. And sparrows. And even the occasional robin. I was equitable in my distribution. I was the homeless lady in “Mary Poppins,” surrounded by cooing, pecking fowl. Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.
After my family members returned from shopping, before we boarded the water taxi to our adorable rental bungalow, I walked over to my new bird-feeding friend, took his hand and thanked him. He smiled.
I returned to my beloveds, thinking that perhaps I’m not an INFP, so I must be an ENFP. I like people. People are good. People make me happy. People, who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Apparently, I don’t need alone time as much as I think I do. I smiled at my waiting family with peace and love in my heart.
Girl Child returned the gaze, curled her nose in disgust and pronounced, “You have bird crap in your hair.”
Oh just leave me alone. I can’t stand you people.