Point of Clarification

A funny thing happened at barre class the other day.  I’ve been trying to go every day of the week as part of a challenge involving a sticker chart.  I’m surprised how much a publicly placed sticker reward chart still works on me at 42 years old.  Anyway, I’ve been going to classes that I don’t normally attend.  I had a new teacher and she seemed so familiar to me, I kept trying to figure out where our paths had crossed in the past.  She taught class the following morning as well, and I went through this with her. Where have I seen you before? Could it be yoga? What about kids’ ballet class? Finally she just looks at me and says, “you know, I taught class yesterday, right?  You saw me yesterday.”  I cracked up and let her know that, yes, I remembered her from the previous day.  Oh my God, I’m so glad she sought clarification, because what if she really thought that I didn’t remember her from a day ago? She would have been silently concerned that I was extraordinarily unobservant or else had dementia.

movie theater seat

How many times have people assumed that I said or thought something weird and not sought clarification?  How many people are hauling around these odd ideas about me that aren’t true? How many people have written me off because I said something that needed clarification?  How many people have I written off for lack of clarification?  I remember a mom that I used to sit by at the Swimtastic every Saturday morning, and we’d chat. Early on in the acquaintanceship she was sharing her concern about going to movie theaters she worried about knives in the seats.  Was there some news item about knife-spiked movie seats that I missed? I quickly adjusted my thinking to assign an abnormal level of paranoia to this woman.  Every week for the next couple of years we’d chat, and I’d silently be adding a grain of salt to her stories, assuming she was a crazy knife worrier.  It was only years later that I realized that she must have said “lice” and I’d misunderstood her entirely. Because, you know, knife in a movie seat is something that someone would say, apparently. I can only claim chronic sleep deprivation for that misunderstanding.

En pointe

At the end of last school year Natalie’s ballet teacher, Miss Lori, told her that she was ready to go en pointe.  That is, she had reached sufficient musculoskeletal maturity to beginning dancing on her toes.  Natalie had been enrolled in the beginner pointe class for several months, although in regular shoes. Before that she took several years of pre-pointe classes in addition to her regular ballet classes.  Prior to Miss Lori’s announcement I had no real idea of her progress, especially when it came to subtleties in strength and flexibility. She had long since outpaced my dance knowledge base.  So I was surprised and proud when I heard the news. It was a great lesson in hard work and dedication over time having a tangible payoff. There wasn’t anything magic to the formula. She showed up, worked hard, and made progress.  And now she was ready for the coveted pointe shoes!

pointe shoe

Ummm…looks like fun?

 

I learned that buying one’s first pair of pointe shoes isn’t something that can be done online, or even casually at the studio where other types of dance shoes are normally purchased.  It is a lengthy process of trial and error to find the right shoe, something liker Ollivander’s wand shop. Only instead of a magically gifted wizard, there are knowledgeable employees.  Students from Next Step Dance Studio are fitted at Ballera in Brookfield.

ollivanders

Ollivander’s

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Ballera

Natalie, along with two of her classmates, were scheduled along with their ballet teacher, Miss Lori.  Unfortunately on the day, Miss Lori was sick and couldn’t come along to approve the final selection. However, we’d already had to delay due to schedules, and she was confident in their fitting and sent the girls with their parents to be fitted.

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Scarlett, Abby, & Natalie

When we arrived, I was surprised at the number of girls being fitted for pointe shoes!  I learned that the shop’s work is seasonal, with a big rush during September to mid-October, coinciding with the beginning of a new dance year.  Natalie’s friend, Scarlett, had already been fitted, and she hung around to browse the leotards while her friends went through the process. The store keeps a detailed binder on all dancers who they’ve fitted, as well as information on the general requirements for the dancers’ studios.  NSDS prefers several American-made brands, which is nice as they are slightly less expensive than some of the European models. Rachel, the young woman fitting Natalie, measured her feet, examined them, and began pulling likely models.

Natalie was fitted with a toe pad that dancers wear under the shoes, and was advised as to what a good fit would feel like.  Long story short: it would be more tolerably uncomfortable than a less well fitting shoe. Sometimes dancers need additional supports for their toes like lambs’ wool or toe spacers, but Natalie’s feet were standard enough to require only the basics.  Rachel pulled out the first pair, nestled in a box. They were so shiny and pristine, the toes as yet unscuffed. Unlike pointe shoes that you might see on ballerinas or in pictures, they are sold without ribbons. She slipped her feet into the first pair and Rachel had her perform several maneuvers.  Then she held her hands and assisted her en pointe. It must have felt so weird the first time!

pointe shoe fitting 2

Discussing how the ribbon-less shoes should feel

pointe shoe fitting

Trying the first pair

Rachel wasn’t happy with the fit of the very first pair of shoes, and she pulled out a pair of Capezios.  She went through the same maneuvers, and Rachel just sat back and said “Wow. We’ll try on more, but I really think that these are the ones!”  And her prediction was correct. She had Natalie try on about five more pairs, but they kept going back to the Capezios.  Lucky Natalie. Her other friend, Abby, took over an hour to be fitted, due to her unique feet–size 10 ½ narrow!  She ended up needing a Russian-made pair, and her fitter thanked her for providing a fun challenge.

en pointeWith the winning pair established, Rachel led her to a small barre in front of a mirror and go up en pointe to see herself, for one last inspection.  She then had her go into sous-sus for me to get a picture. Natalie reluctantly took her shoes off, and I reminded her that she couldn’t wear them around until Miss Lori had a chance to approve them in class on Monday.  I was instructed on how to sew on ribbons and elastic, and Natalie was instructed on care of the shoes. The toes are made firm through layers of cardboard and glue, kind of like papier-mache, but with the final product being like a block of wood.  Her shoes would need to dry thoroughly after every use. To help with this we bought a small mesh bag to store them, and when we got home she made two sachets out of rice and old tights to put in the toes. We’ll see how the fastidious care lasts on the rush of leaving the dance studio after several hours of class.  

 

 

Finally, we rang up.  I asked the cashier for a picture, and she obliged.  I wanted to document the fact that these shoes are not cheap.  Luckily Natalie fit well in an American brand. The shoes and storage bag ended up costing in the neighborhood of $100.  A quick online search suggests that I will be buying more pairs on the order of months versus years.

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Obliging cashier

 

In the end, the cost of the shoes and the years of dance are more than worth it for our family.  Natalie has learned discipline and the reward of hard work through dance. She has made lifelong friends, and I always know that an hour spent at the studio is an hour well spent.  I look forward to watching this next stage of development in her dance life.

Dream Big

My 8-year-old has been obsessed with America’s Got Talent.  We were happy that the Asian card trick guy, Shin Lim, won.  He was both of our top choices.  Go watch that link, I still get chills.  I also especially like how he always looks a liiiiiiittle bit constipated during his act.  Keeps Jimmy in business.

She is also now determined to be on AGT some day. She’s currently torn between trying to actually HAVE a super award winning talent, or developing a weird talent that will get her on an early show and then  eliminated.  I pointed out that the former route would involved a lot of practicing and experience performing in front of people. Some of these people might include her class or her school. Well that didn’t sound too good, so she’s currently thinking a lot about how many animal sounds she might be able to realistically master in the next couple of years.  She figures that’s good for an early round.  

Now when I was little?   I wanted to be on Star Search.  And, I’m embarrassed to admit it, I really wanted to be one of the Spokesmodels that Ed McMahon ogled.  They had to have “beauty, poise, and the ability to speak effectively.” Each model had a pre-taped package of them modeling three outfits in fuzzily lit settings, and then the camera cut to them in real life, walking across the stage to Ed and throwing to commercial.  I’ve gone back to check, and the modeling seemed to involve a lot of touching of one’s hair, enormous earrings, enormous-er hair, hose matched to shoe color, and wind machines.  They were also incredibly trashy in a daytime soap opera kind of a way, and I’m not sure how I was allowed to watch these given that I couldn’t watch Three’s Company.

spokesmodel

I know that some people have gone on to actual careers after Star Search–Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Dave Chapelle.  There’s a whole list on Wikipedia. I never heard of any of the season winners of the Spokesmodel competition. But there, buried at the bottom, Sharon Stone actually competed as a Spokesmodel on one episode!  So I don’t know, my daughter might have the right idea–better to just be a flash in the pan on one of these shows that actually win the whole thing.

I still have a little bit of a crush on constipated Shin Lim, though.

 

Sweet Dreams

Apparently I’m stressed about something lately, because I keep having my current stress dream.  The one that my brain defaults to now is this:  I’m somehow called back to my former job as a hospitalist, taking care of sick kids in the hospital along with a team of residents and medical students.  My dream brain somehow knows that I can’t do this job anymore, I don’t currently hold hospital privileges anywhere.  As I maneuver through the complexities of the dream, I’m always slightly worried that someone will figure out that I can’t really be doing this anymore.  But I’m never THAT worried because, hey, it’s their fault for putting me on the schedule!

hospital

Good Lord, they expect me to know what’s going on!

In the dream I’m taking over a panel of patients that I know absolutely nothing about.  Permutations of the dream involve my never having been to the hospital, not being able to log onto a computer, getting locked in the call room, falling asleep, or sitting down at 8 p.m. and realizing that I haven’t even begun to chart on any of the 32 patients on my service.  Oh wait, that last one is an actual memory, never mind.  Last night’s dream I added in an extra nuance of having to take care of one of my infant patients while working and someone misplacing the patient.  You know, the usual.  Occasionally I’ll have enough dreaming awareness and announce to everyone that I don’t actually work there anymore and walk away.  Thank God for sentient dreaming.

The only other two worry dreams that I still have with any regularity are the “All the teeth have come loose in my jaw and I’m spitting them out like a character on Hee Haw”  and “Back to High School.”  The first one I can’t make sense of, but apparently I’m not the only one who has it.  The second one always has a flavor of my subconscious reconciling the impossibility of that dream with the fact that it’s happening anyway.  I have been sent back to high school because I’d registered for a class that I never bothered showing up for and never dropped, so my high school transcript is “incomplete” and this needs to be rectified.  So I’m my 42 year old self, back in high school.  I have the same locker, and of course most of the dream revolves around not remembering the combination or, if I do get into it, realizing that all of my school supplies aren’t there anymore.  Shocking.

Last night I had a completely new worry dream, and I’m not sure what to make of it.  I’m in a TV cooking show, and I’ve somehow progressed far beyond my abilities.  This is more Top Chef than Worst Cooks in America.  The other contestants are already plating and I haven’t even managed to locate a cutting board.  So I woke up this morning with pressing need to do some relaxation.  And organize the cupboards.

cutting board

Stuff of nightmares

Summer Feet

“They feel too small!” exclaimed my 8 year old, complaining over the gym shoes that were actually a size too large.  “Give me back my sandals. It’s only the first day of school, nobody will care.”

******

Growing up, back to school shoe shopping was a rare treat.  The Bier kids were allotted two pairs of shoes each: a pair of athletic shoes and a pair of “nicer” shoes.  Additional, activity- related shoes were acquired second hand. Some classmates might see an additional pair of shoes or two throughout the year depending on sales and whims.  I, however, knew that those two September pairs were it, so they better be good.

 

As much as I loved those back-to-school shoes, putting them on was a mournful rite.  We spent summers largely barefoot, a pair of flip flops tossed in the heap by the back door.  These were reserved for those occasions when actual footwear was required: church, the once-per-week trip into town to the library, or a visit into the barn.  Otherwise we marauded the yard in barefooted glee. Our feet were uniformly black by the end of those summer days. Mom may not have always had the energy to force full baths on all of us kids, but every summer night concluded with us perched on the side of the bathtub for a footbath, transferring our grime to the black bathwater.  My soles grew tough, and by the end of the summer I was able to run across the gravel driveway without missing a beat. Those free summer feet rebelled against the new, stiff, back-to-school shoes. They were smothering, way too tight. Rest assured there’s no way they were ACTUALLY too tight. Mom made sure we all had a full thumb’s width of space at the toe, all the better to guarantee a full season’s usage on the rapidly growing Bier brood.  

 

 

Hiding away those summer toes might as well have occurred alongside corset application.  My feet felt stiff and choked. After a few days, the feeling of the ground faded away, dampened by thick soles.  My toes got used to their sardine-can existence and stopped straining to stretch. My summer tanned feet began their inexorable slide into the soft, pinkish pallor of February.

Intense, Vivid, Saturated

Main Hall

Lawrence University’s Main Hall, a view on my way to Reunion Convocation

Note:  I was asked to give the toast at my 20 year reunion at Lawrence University this past weekend.  People seemed to enjoy it, so I’ve reprinted the text below.

 

It’s always so magical to get back here and grapple with the simultaneous reality of permanence and change.  I am always happy to be reminded, too, that Lawrence is, at it’s very core, just a place. That is in contrast to the many permutations that Lawrence has taken in my dreaming mind since graduating.  That Lawrence is some sort of Stranger Things Upside Down that I need to get over.  Here are some things that I still have dreams about:

  1. I parked my car somewhere and now can’t remember where I parked it.  It is usually winter. It might be under one of those unidentifiable snowdrifts.  
  2. I forgot to drop a class and have been registered for a mysteriously titled class, usually in Main Hall, the entire term.  The final is tomorrow. I have never attended and don’t even really know how to find the classroom because it’s in Main Hall.
  3. I haven’t checked my mailbox the entire term and can’t actually remember how to open it.  This is a variant on the high school “can’t open the locker” dream
  4. I can’t lock my dorm room and when I come back it’s been
    1. Ransacked
    2. Emptied
    3. Taken over by squatters
  5. My dorm room has a secret annex that I never noticed that includes among other things a small kitchen, deck space, an atrium, and a full appliance package.

 

sage hall

My friend and I chose to stay back on campus for reunion, perhaps adding fuel to the fire of my dorm-related anxiety dreams.

So in my dreaming life, apparently Lawrence serves as little more than a conduit for all of my waking anxieties.  Because these anxieties are numerous, I rotate these Lawrence stress dreams with other favorites, including the one where all of my teeth fall out one by one like one of those Hillbillies on Hee Haw.

 

These weird dreams stand in stark contrast to my actual daytime memories of Lawrence  They’re so very vivid and numerous. Vivid, intense, saturated. I think for most of us gathered here, some of our most purely distilled emotional moments happened on these 88 acres.  My fiercest friendships grew up here. My most mind-blowing realizations. The shell of my small-town existence was chipped and ripped away here. We loved wholeheartedly, idealized unjadedly, grew unrestrainedly.  We have never been so terribly hung-over either before or since. It was intense, vivid, saturated. And so, like you all, I come back to take a restoring sip from the fountain, to bring back into focus the moments from the faded photographs, to make out the echoes of laughter and tears and oratory in these walls.  

 

So, with that common, perhaps terribly sentimental thought in mind, let’s all raise our glasses:  

 

May our lives continue to be blessed with intense loves and vivid moments.  May our lives be saturated with Light, More Light!\

Veritas Est Lux

Good neighbors don’t need fences

Making friends as an adult is a tricky, tricky proposition. If you’ve got kids, that’s a good place to start.  I’ve found it useful to identify potential friends among my kids’ parent group by complaining about something and seeing if anyone joins in.  Just a little bit, I mean they have to know what they’re getting into.  I like to make sure their kids aren’t too clean or perfectly well behaved, because I don’t need that kind of pressure in my life.  And then there’s the whole thing of being on your guard in case someone seems like potential friend material but then it turns out they just want you to join their multi-level marketing scheme or cult or something or group that actually stays out after 10:00 or something.   There are so many awkward stages, it’s almost worse than dating, because it’s highly unlikely that at any point in the proceedings, you’ll get to break the tension by making out.  I mean, not impossible, but highly unlikely.   So, yeah, tricky proposition all in all.

I wish that I could have just keep all my best friends from all of my stages of life with me as I moved from place to place and job to job.  Create some sort of nomadic caravan of friends that I’ve collected.  That way all I would need to do would be to pop out of the door and wander over to their tent or whatever.  But alas, that’s not the way our world works, and they remain scattered, accessible on a daily basis only through a computer screen. It was so easy back in college, when all you had to do was wander into a dorm hallway and start banging on doors.  It’s harder now, but having a neighbors as best friends sure makes things easier.

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The neighborhood keeps me sane

 

My healthiest relationship and longest neighbor friendship is with Vicky.  I was reminded today of how much she means to me because we had a stupid argument, and that’s what got me thinking. Don’t worry–it’s all fixed up and better, not two hours after it happened.  On the rare occasions when we irritate each other, we argue like professionals.  Seriously, we should be used as a model for couples counseling.  For example, today I said something rude to and insensitive and made Vicky mad.  Then she called me back and, using “I” statements, told me how she felt. Then she allowed me to respond. I took ownership for my mistake, explained my point of view.  She listened. Then I said that I was sorry and asked for her forgiveness. Then she forgave me and we talked about other things and signed off by saying “I love you.” We should take our game on the road, I think.  She is honestly the ONLY PERSON that I argue with correctly!

Vicky and Me and the Kids

Here we are taking the girls to vote in the 2016 election.  It was good to have a friend after that…

 

To wrap up my little musing on adult friendships, here’s a little something I wrote three plus years ago when a couple of our other neighbor friends moved away.  The feelings hold true today, as new clans fill in the empty spaces of our neighborhood circle:

I like things the way they are.  Maybe not everything, but I love my neighborhood the way it is, and I weep to think of losing it.  I like that our kids have known each other since they were in diapers.  They lope home from the bus each day, secure in the comfort of each other.  Games and imaginings sprout up at a moment’s notice in the backyard tree fort, sunlight dappling the most ethnically diverse locality in all of Franklin, people with the brownish-whitish souls that belong to us.  I like that they belong to US.  I don’t care whose house they are in—they’ll be fed, and scolded, and loved, and entertained, and secure in the knowledge that they belong.  I like that my ugliest secrets belong to these three women and they don’t care.  They are some of the only friends who don’t need anything from me but me.  When I grant them kindnesses or favors I do so not to uphold some carefully crafted image or façade, but just because that the way it is.  I like that our backyards and the lollipop of a street are enough of a world for our kids in the summer, that they can subsist on endless popscicles snuck from freezer after freezer all summer long.  I like that we’ve cried together and even more so laughed together.  I like that my girlfriends are my family, and that we’ve created a magical little village for ourselves that is so rare in today’s world.  I guard it and speak of it with pride and knowledge that it inspires envy.  –me, Friday, April 17, 2015

Four of us

We were always too busy to get better pictures.  Miss this.