Monday, September 24, 2012

Regretting the Bangs

I'm turning 40 next week. Instead of being a whiny crybaby over it, I've taken strategic measures throughout the year to not let this milestone bother me, and to look at it as a positive event to be excited about. I started setting some realistic goals. I made writing a priority for the first time in years. I decided to drink fewer Diet Cokes. I chose to overcome some of my many fears, dubbing the summer at the neighborhood swimming pool, "The Summer of Jumping In." My 9-year old would swim off, mortified, while I stood terrified on the edge of the deep end, plugging my nose and shrieking loudly as I splashed inside, frightening the lifeguards. But by the end of the summer, on my last jump, I went in without holding my nose. It became a defining moment: jumping into a new decade.

Because turning 40 is such a big deal, I really tried not to spend unnecessary time obsessing over my looks. But let's be real here: society wants us to obsess over our looks. It simply can't be helped. When I get ready each morning, I finish my hair and make-up and channel my inner Grandma Mabel. Grandma was a glamorous woman who wore fantastic handbags and shoes, and fancy screw-on earrings she called “earbobs.” She would stand dramatically in front of her mirror after she finished applying her bright orange lipstick and white Coty face powder and say, “Well, I’ve done the best I can do with what I’ve got.” Poor grammar aside, she had a wonderful attitude.

This attitude is fine until you consider my forehead. No matter how hard I’ve tried to ignore them, the three omnipresent lines across my forehead have been mocking me in my reflection like an animated set of moving guitar strings. I actually imagine them singing to me like the popcorn and soda guys on the “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” cartoon.

Two weeks ago, I had enough and went to my salon in search of bangs. I cheerfully took the glass of wine offered by the receptionist, sat down in a cozy couch, pulled out my phone and logged onto Facebook with three simple words: "Bangs over Botox!"

I can't take credit for that hilarious line. It came from my coworker Lita, a gorgeous woman of Italian descent who will age like Sophia Loren while I age like Kathy Bates. She’s a few years older than me (we won't tell how many), but she taught me that bangs over Botox is the way to go. Never mind that she has the skin of a 9-year old and I spent the majority of my junior year in high school in a tanning bed; I will still take her advice if it means avoiding the needle.

Since my early 30's, I've sworn I would never use Botox for several reasons. I’m not fond of needles, especially not ones in my face. I don't like how Botox works wonders on a forehead but makes people's temples look crepey and weird. But most of all, I’m the person who obsesses over possible side effects which include: “blurred vision, decreased eyesight, drooping eyelids, swelling of your eyelids, and dry eyes”.  While I have plenty of friends who have used Botox with great results, I am certain that I’d be the one person who tried Botox who left a little more legally blind than I already am, looking like Droopy Dog.

It’s not that I haven’t considered it. In fact, I’ve kept a prescription for Botox in my handbag for years now, ever since the fateful day when my dermatologist's PA, who can’t be a day over 27, peered carefully at my forehead and said, "You know, I get a little Botox right here (pointing to her shiny white forehead). You can’t even tell, can you?”

It wasn't really a subtle hint. She wrote up the prescription and smiled sweetly, patting herself on the back for her little Botox evangelism. And it worked, at least a little, because I kept the prescription in my bag. I just never got the courage to fill it.

Getting bangs seemed like a much more reasonable alternative. I haven’t had bangs in years, mainly because my stylist Danny refuses to let me get them. I have thick hair, a cowlick, and I’m known for a constant ponytail because I’m too lazy to style my unruly hair. And while I pay good money for a cut and color on a fairly regular schedule, beyond that, my hair routine consists of weekly gray-plucking sessions at stoplights. It's a wonder I have hair at all. 

This time, I had to beg Danny to give me bangs. I showed him the photo of Reese Witherspoon with the lovely side-swept bangs, explaining that I was turning 40 in a few weeks, and this was a great way to ring in a new decade. He groaned, but in the end, he agreed to make it happen. And when I left the salon, he gave me what I asked for and more. For an afternoon, I swear, my bangs looked just like Reese Witherspoon's! Even Danny admitted that they looked better than he thought they would. When my sister and I went to dinner to celebrate, I felt like a whole new girl.

Then I washed my hair. Then I dried it. And now, I am seriously regretting the bangs. My new bangs regret me as well, as they seem to have a life of their own. Instead of gracefully covering up the guitar strings, they stick straight up or flop over to the side, defeated. When I look in the mirror now, staring back at me is a dreadful combination of Davy Jones from the Monkees (God rest his soul) and John Bon Jovi. If it weren’t for Goody’s half-size bobby pins, I just might start wearing a wig. I'll wait several weeks before making an appointment with Danny so he can help me formulate a bang-growing plan, simply because I can't take the shame of admitting he was right all along.

So, for the short term, I'm coming to grips with a bad hair decision. In my case, "Bangs over Botox" simply means that when you see me, my weird, uncooperative bangs should keep you distracted enough not to notice that right beside them lies a set of animated forehead wrinkles, just waiting for the day that I decide to take a leap of faith and freeze them for good. 

Or not.......

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Casserole Network

Ask anyone who has an affiliation with a religious organization, no matter the flavor, and they will tell you that when a baby is born, someone has surgery, or someone dies, the women in their community come together and cook meals to take to the families in need. Even for the non-religious, when someone is in need, women cook and deliver food. It’s just what you do.

Heat it and enjoy!
My mother and my grandmothers on both sides were Methodist women, so as far as I knew, life’s big dramatic events meant something fully unrecognizable and ridiculously delicious would arrive at your home. And almost every time, it would come in a Pyrex dish covered with aluminum foil. In Texas, this means that your pantry must always include a back-up supply of Cream of Mushroom Soup, and you can never have enough aluminum foil. I’m not sure if the Cream of Mushroom craze is universal. In remote Alaska, their version of The Casserole Network might have something to do with smoked salmon or elk’s feet. Either way, you get my drift.

This network is magic to me. I’m sure you can trace the origins to before telephones were invented, when carrier pigeons shared the news of an illness or death, and from there, women made large vats of soup to help their friends in need. Today, with iPhones and texting, the process is much easier. And the most efficient way to handle it is the brilliant, an online meal delivery planning service, introduced to me by friend Amy.

Amy is in a league of her own when it comes to meal delivery. She’s a pro, sending emails or texts and getting the job done while the rest of us are contemplating gift cards (another thing that offers as an option). Amy can plan a baby shower in less than 15 minutes, down to beautiful personalized napkins. She’s also the friend who announced boldly before having children that she would never serve frozen lasagna to dinner guests in her home. We gave her endless crap about this, but two children later, I think she’s actually sticking to her word. Meanwhile, if Queen Elizabeth came to visit unannounced, I’d probably whip out a frozen lasagna and call it a day, but that’s just me.

Fancy new meal delivery technology aside, I have always believed that The Casserole Network is more like the scene in Snow White where Snow White bakes a pie with the assistance of animated birds with culinary experience. I like to fancy that when someone gets sick, a vast network of animated church ladies simultaneously begin whipping up casseroles while animated birds pull processed cheese out of the fridge. There’s some whistling. It’s wholesome and pure. And nobody cusses like a truck driver like I did when I burned my arm making pasticcio for Geography Day when my stepdaughter was in elementary school.

Last Friday my mother had foot surgery, and the network kicked in right away. But first, a little background: my parents live in a wonderful little house in the Azalea district in my hometown of Tyler, Texas. The house has some definite quirks. For one, it was designed by a creative architect who may have had a little drug problem, or had some hatred for the elderly or temporarily disabled. Each room in the home is on a different level, so in order to get from one room to the next, you confront one or more stairs. The rooms are small, and the floor plan winds itself up from the ground floor, up seven levels to a balcony outside of the top bedroom. It’s basically an indoor Swiss Family Treehouse, except my parents don’t sleep in hammocks, and they don’t pass down dirty dishes on dumbwaiters made out of rope and sticks. But otherwise, the climbing is about the same.

When my mother, a very strong-willed and independent 65-year-old, called to tell me she was having foot surgery, I wasn’t surprised when she said she wouldn’t need my help. But I got to thinking about the quirky house with the stairs, and started imagining my mother toppling down the stairs in her black Velcro boot while my stepfather the artist was drawing in his studio several rooms below, completely unaware. I decided I needed to be there to help out, and that was that.

I arrived at the Swiss Family Treehouse the evening before the surgery to determine my duties and rest up for my mother’s surgery day. While catching up, my mother told me that several weeks ago, one of her dearest friends had a neck injury that required surgery. Because she’s a prominent member of the Casserole Network, my mother and other Sunday school friends arranged a dinner delivery, each taking on a portion of the meal. The woman who volunteered for dessert is a woman of my own heart. She started with grand illusions of making a homemade dessert, but life got in the way, and her back-up plan was to buy ice cream. I love that! My mother offered to handle the delivery, and, because of logistics, planned to meet the dessert volunteer at a local convenience store parking lot.

So far I’ve been pretty sexist here, failing to mention how men fit into this delicate picture. But let’s call a spade a spade, because we all know that most men don’t go whipping up chicken taco casseroles when their friends get sick. I’ve heard of exceptions, but for today’s story let’s consider that women are running this business. The men get to carry the hot plates.

On this particular afternoon, my mother and stepfather are in a convenience store parking lot, waiting on the dessert volunteer. It’s about 127 degrees, a typical late Texas summer afternoon. My mother does most of the driving, so my stepfather is in the passenger seat with a piping hot Pyrex dish of chicken spaghetti casserole on his lap. He’s loving life, I’m sure. He’s a skinny man in his ‘80s who has taken to wearing baseball caps with messages on them. If you had told me 30 years ago that he would be wearing baseball caps, I would fall on the floor laughing. Yet somehow these hats suit him now. The hat he’s wearing lately reads the famous Davy Crockett quote, “You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas.” In other words, he may be 81, but cross this man in a convenience store parking lot, and he might just toss a hot casserole at you. 

The scene is looking pretty shady as my parents wait on the dessert volunteer. My mother also does most of the talking, so she turns to my stepfather, and says, “How are we going to know which car is hers?”

My stepfather, in his typical deadpan style, says, “She’ll be driving the car with ice cream dripping out of the car doors.”

Soon enough, the dessert volunteer arrives and she and my mother make a shady-looking exchange with a plastic bag filled with individual ice creams in a variety of excellent flavors, thankfully still frozen. The patient and her husband were delighted; The Casserole Network’s job was done.

This weekend, it was my mother’s turn to be the patient. As a bossy firstborn daughter who appears to be “in charge,” I learned  that I am not mentally prepared to be my mother’s caretaker. She’s too strong and independent. She’s really good at getting things done. At the end of the day, I’m a big spoiled baby who likes to see my mom up and at it when I’m at her house. But because my sister had fallen ill several days before and would typically be with me to help out, I ended up the person in charge. My stepfather, also not fired up at the idea of my mother being partially immobile for six weeks, graciously allowed me to enter the tree house and take over.

Given the circumstances, I cannot stress how lifesaving the Casserole Network is at times like this. Even before my mother’s surgery, the network’s machine was smoothly running in the background, waiting for go time. As my mother recovered, the home phone would ring and a friend would be on the line, offering up delivery times that worked best for our schedules. No matter how hard it is for us to accept help, there comes a time when we all need it, and there is nothing better than a Pyrex dish covered in foil, a Tupperware bowl of fresh salad, and a Ziploc bag of cookies to ease the patient and her family down the road to recovery.