Monday, December 30, 2013

Plan (Un) Accordingly

I fell in love with making plans when I was in the fifth grade. At the beginning of the school year, Mrs. K gave us planners with shiny covers and spiral binding. She required we write down our assignments daily, and she checked our planners weekly, signing her name with a flourish to provide proof that we were, indeed, planning. Like the nerd I am, I enjoyed the process. Here was this planner with boxes and dates, times and schedules that provided me with life structure. Such control! Such ease!
I have used a planner ever since. I write down appointments, schedules, ideas, trips. I daydream about the future, the hows and where’s and what’s. I make plans.
But here’s the thing… A thing I am starting to understand more and more as life goes on:
We have no true control in this life. And plans? They fall through. Plans change because circumstances change. Situations change.
People change.
The change seems to always hit you where it hurts, that thing you weren’t prepared for or expected, your Achilles heel. The career major, or the school, or the state you live in. The job. The person you date, the friends you make, the places you love.
It all can change.
This past weekend, I traveled to Nebraska to stand up in a friend’s wedding. Another friend was also in the wedding, and we were having a great time dancing and laughing during the reception. Later on in the night, however, after the bouquet toss but before the Conga line, my friend checked her email.
“They canceled my flight,” she said, staring down at her smart phone. It was 10 p.m. Her flight was originally scheduled to leave at 2:45 p.m. the next day. There weren’t signs of bad weather, no explanation for the cancelation in the airline’s email. We didn’t understand.
And so we did what you do what plans fall through: We made new ones. It took one hour, two long phone calls, another flight delay and some extra driving, but my friend made it to her family the next day. It worked out.
Because it always does, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
A change in plans pushes us to change our course, right as we think we’re steering it in one solid direction. Just around the riverbend, and all that. During this whole growing up thing, I’ve looked back and realize that failed plans can be a good thing and, if not a good thing, a necessary one at least.
If we truly did have control over our life’s paths and life really worked according to OUR plan, then we’d be stuck being the versions of ourselves based on the decisions we’ve made at the time. Which means I would have married my first boyfriend and moved to New York City to become a magazine editor at Seventeen. Looking back now, I know I would have hated living in NYC, my first boyfriend should not have been my last, and I would have gotten tired of writing about hot crushes, male boy bands, and current prom dress trends.
But I didn’t know that back then.
Without a change in plans, I wouldn’t have gone to grad school. I wouldn’t have changed majors, or worked at a baseball stadium, or tried octopus.
We all deal with changes.
I know people who planned to do one career, then ended up pursuing a completely different path. Men who go to college, then go off to war instead. Women who don’t plan on being moms, then have a beautiful baby boy. Women who plan on having a baby, then suffer a heart-wrenching loss.
We don’t plan for the speeding tickets, the missed reservations, the job relocations across the country. The “We Have to Let You Go” speech. The “It’s Not You, It’s Me” speech.
The fighting, the breakup, the cheating, the divorce. The judge’s sentence, the doctor’s diagnosis. The car accident.
We don’t make these plans.
But these things happen. Life happens. And it’s in these moments, where we are scrambling to make new plans, to deal with the cracks in the ceiling and the pain or the panic, that we grow as people. As much as it can hurt, it’s these changes that allow ourselves to become ourselves.
So if something isn’t working, if the relationship is wrong or the career is wrong or your life is just all wrong, then we have to do the opposite of planning:
We have to let it go.
Life changes. Let’s plan (un) accordingly.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


It’s an alphabet carpet with pink As and orange Bs, blue Cs and a ragged looking D. All of us are sitting around the letters, X marks the spot, while Mrs. A reads us a story. I scoot next to you, our Keds barely touching. You move over, away from me, so I move closer. And we remain close for the next 15 years.
It’s a note scribbled “W/B/S” and “LYLAS” at the bottom, silently passed between desks in 4th Hour Social Studies. Those were the days before YOLO.
It’s an orientation line where your mom says,  “She looks nice,” so you come up to me and we make small talk that turns into years of deep talks, late night-in the hallway-or on the phone-talks.
It’s the piano I sat on, the teasing comb you used to make my hair look special and voluminous on my 21st birthday.
It’s the borrowed satin tops and sequined belts, the bikinis and flip flops at Pompano Beach. Red heels and a piggyback ride down Mission Street because those things hurt, and you were there to carry me.
It’s a Yukon he let you drive. A cafeteria table where we all ate and analyzed, gossiped and shared.
It’s a nickname.
It’s a Bob Evans restaurant. A bonding conversation over mean girls and bad boyfriends.
It’s a bar where we stand next to the juke box and mock the dudebros with the gel’ed hair. It’s grad school exams and getting excited about mint chocolate shakes because heck, we were too stressed to be excited most of the time. It’s eating ketchup packets and airline cookies in the Metropolitan Museum because hunger trumps NYC museum exhibits.
It’s a phone call saying, “He broke up with me.”
Or worse.
 “…Dad has leukemia.” It’s the fluorescent laundry room lights, blinding me as your words echo through the phone speaker. It’s the tears we cry together in separate places, the prayers we say, the Olive Garden breadsticks we bring to the hospital room.
It’s you being on my side by my side, even if that means us both losing in order to gain.
It’s a North Carolina beach and a corporate office and walking through the hallways giggling behind tight-lipped, white-collar suits.
It’s bridesmaid dresses.
It’s a tightly closed hug as you sob into her shoulder because you have never felt pain like this—heart-wrenching, gut aching, pain.
It’s a baby boy in a blue onesie named the name you told us back in high school hallways, before the parties and the boys, then the men and eventually, than the man that becomes your husband. The man who makes you a mom.
I guess the song is true, you know. Make new friends, keep the old, and all that. One is silver and the other is gold, and just like any currency, sometimes we make change. Break even. Break away.
And that’s okay.
Because there’s something to be said about the world of girls, the friendship ties that bind. As I get older and now have old memories mixed with new, I clearly see our past while standing in the midst of the future we dreamed about, talked about, wondered about.
All I know is the world is lonely without a shoulder to lean on. Despite the changes, the growth, the separations or the closeness, every bit of it counts. It’s part of the fabric of our histories, woven in and out.
Like letters on an alphabet carpet.
And for that, I am grateful.

Monday, December 2, 2013

That Time We Went Shopping on Black Friday

Black Friday is something I avoid. The idea of shopping the day after (or night of) Thanksgiving overwhelms me. Long lines, busy traffic, and getting in a wrestling match over a Hugging Elmo can create anxiety butterflies in my stomach full of turkey and pie. I’m more of an online shopper.
My mom, on the other hand, loves Black Friday. She and Dad usually go out shopping together the night of Thanksgiving, a Bonnie and Clyde tag team amongst the crowds and craze.
But last year, fate intervened, and I found myself at Walmart on the night of Thanksgiving.
“Lindsay, I have to work on Thanksgiving night,” my mom explained one early November afternoon. “Can you please go out and help your Dad? There’s this big screen TV on sale at Walmart we want to pick up.”
I looked at her. We all have our faults, and Mom and I both knew cranky shopping was mine. I have like, a two-hour maximum shopping threshold, and it’s all downhill from there. I’m like a toddler. I’m not proud of it.
“Mom,” I said after a pause, “I just don’t think I would be good at it like you are. You know I’m not the best shopper.”
“I know, honey, but I don’t want your Dad to go out there alone,” Mom continued. “It will be fine. It’s one store, just for the TV and a few video games for your brother, and that’s it. Adam could come with. All you have to do is stand in line.”
I already felt bad Mom wouldn’t be able to go out shopping with Dad. Every year after their price tag slashing conquests, she complained about how tired she was and how she “would never do THAT again.” But I knew better. I knew she loved scooping up the deals like ice cream flavors. So I decided, in that moment, to rise above.  Rise above my shopping dislikes and take my mother’s place—sort of like in that Disney movie, Mulan, when Mulan goes to battle in place of her father. I would bring honor to the family! I would fight the Battle of Black Friday! I WOULD GET THAT GINORMOUS WALMART TV.
“Well, okay,” I said after a pause.
It’s not like I’d be out all night like the Hardcore Shoppers, I thought. The stamina of those people is impressive. Survival of the Shoppers’ Fittest, and I was at the bottom of the retail chain. But I thought again of Mulan and Mom and family honor, and as my mom gave me a hug of thanks, I was glad I said yes.
On the afternoon of Thanksgiving, Dad, Adam and I set the plan. Dad would drive his truck, while Adam and I would drive in Adam’s Taurus. We’d meet at Walmart and assess the situation once we got there. The anxiety and excitement were starting to rile me up. So many questions. Would we get the big TV? Would we have to wait in line all night? How many people would be there?
Day turned to dinnertime, turkey became a carcass and the side dishes found new homes in plastic Tupperware containers, officially deemed Leftovers. Mom left for work, giving me a hug and a “Good luck, honey! Thanks so much!” as she walked out the door. I smiled and gave her a thumbs-up. “Okay guys, I’ll see you there,” Dad said as we walked out the door, cell phones charged and jackets on.
And we were off.
In the car, Adam and I turned on the Christmas music. This was our first Thanksgiving as a couple, and I liked the idea of Adam, Dad and I doing something together as a team—building the family bond, breaking in the boyfriend with the father and all that. Little did I know what the night had in store for us.
“Do you think Walmart is going to be nuts?” I asked Adam. Traffic was busier than usual. I felt like we were entering an entirely new world. Busy traffic was the first sign of change, like when you go to Florida and start to see palm trees.
“Nah, it’ll be good,” he replied, ever the optimist. “I think it will be fun.”
Adam and I pulled into the parking lot, cars quickly pulling into spaces on both sides of our car. As we started walking towards the sliding glass ENTRANCE doors, I saw Dad’s red truck parked near the back. He was already inside the Mad House.
“Here we go,” I said to Adam, grabbing his hand.
“Here we go,” he repeated with a smile.
Once in the store, my eyes widened with surprise. I knew there would be a lot of people, but there were so many people—all in lines weaving in and out, aisle after aisle. There were people amongst the glass freezers of frozen pizzas and Eggo Waffles, there were people in the main aisles towards electronics, there were people near the mangos and the fruits, crowded around displays of Barbies and basketballs.
There were tons of people in the Health & Beauty lines, all standing in aisles amongst creams and shampoo and razors. And there, near the boxes of hair color in between the Blondes and Brunettes, stood my dad.
“Here, take this.” I gave Adam the ticket in my hand. Ironically golden in color, this ticket could be redeemed for the TV that Mom wanted us to get. Our job was to stay in line and wait until the clock struck 8 p.m.; that’s when the TVs became available to purchase. We’d hand over the ticket in exchange for the TV, pay, leave, get home, collapse on the couch and call it a Successful Night.  
“Will you go stand in line for the TV and I’ll meet you there?” I asked Adam.
“Sure,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, giving his hand a squeeze. “I’ll be over there in a minute, I just want to see how my dad is doing.”
“Take your time,” Adam said and started heading towards the lines near the Frozen Foods.
I turned back towards the Health & Beauty aisles. Dad hadn’t seen me yet, but I watched him for a second. I smiled. Wearing his favorite St. Charles Bulldogs sweatshirt and a red trucker hat, Dad looked slightly out of place as he stood in line amongst strangers. This was out of Dad’s comfort zone, doing this shopping stuff without my mom, but he was doing it anyway. This is love, I thought.
“Dad!” I waved, shouting from the main aisle. People turned to look at me.
“Sis!” Dad smiled, waving back. He was towards the end of the aisle, which was roped off so I couldn’t get to him. This is all so Titantic/every man for himself/women and children first, I thought.
Just as I began to move closer to the roped off area to talk to Dad, a large woman in a Walmart uniform started to shout.
“All right,” Walmart Woman said, her voice booming over conversations. “Move ahead,” she gestured towards the front–of-the-liners, sweeping her arm forward. “Thirty people go in at a time, and you get three minutes. JUST THREE MINUTES.”
People started moving ahead towards the woman, my dad now closer to the main aisle where I stood. Three minutes? I mouthed at Dad, confused.
Dad reached above his head and pointed over the Walmart woman’s shoulder. Right behind the woman was a gate-like metal bar. The woman lifted the bar and began to number off people who were allowed to enter into another roped off section. Normally reserved for Home & Garden Tools, this area had been transformed into a DVD/Video Game “Land,” where displays of DVDs and video games stood on the concrete. The whole roping off-thing reminded me of the black velvet curtained room at video rental places that housed the naughty, adult-only stuff.
“Sis, here I go!”
Dad had reached the front of the line, and the Walmart woman was motioning him forward.
“THREE MINUTES!” the woman reminded the group. Like ants on a picnic blanket, the shoppers started to scatter.
“Go, Dad, go!” I shouted, laughing as I watched the madness begin. Dad began to move like a burglar, all stealthy and quick as he darted amongst strangers.
I felt like I was watching a game show like Supermarket Sweep or Minute to Win It. These grown adults were grabbing DVDs like hotcakes, as if each DVD was a $100 bill. It was all just too much.
“Come on, Twinkle Toes!” I shouted jokingly. I couldn’t stop laughing. Dad fought back a smile as he looked back at me, brows furrowed, a DVD in his hand. I squinted at the cover: Breaking Dawn: Part 1.
“Sure, Dad!” I shouted. “Grab it!” Dad nodded, chuckling as he ran faster from display to display. I stood alongside other encouragers as they coached their people.
“Sue! SUE!” one guy wearing a Lions jersey shouted next to me. “Go to the back! Look for the NCAA game Jacob wants!” A husky woman with a red face and curly blonde hair nodded, determined, and headed towards the back.
Just then, the Walmart woman shouted.
“You have 10 seconds left! 1, 2, 3…” Now people really started to move, pushing past each other and grabbing cases left and right. Dad emerged from the roped off area, his hands full and breaths heavy.
“Dad,” I said, giving him a hug, “THAT was impressive. That was hardcore. It’s like a freaking jungle in there. I felt like I was watching a game show, geez. And there you were, in the thick of it all….just...running around, grabbing….” I was laughing hard now, waving my hands above my head as if I was grabbing things out of the sky.
Dad smiled and looked down at the Breaking Dawn DVD and video games. “Well,” he paused, all serious. “That’s how you do these things.”
“I guess so,” I said, smiling.
Dad and I started towards the Frozen Food section. During the DVD madhouse, Adam had texted me he was waiting in line near the ice cream.
“I wonder how good ole’ Adam is doing,” Dad said as we walked by Women’s Wear, People were everywhere, their carts already full of other Black Friday deals.
“I’m glad Adam came with us,” I said.
“Me too,” Dad replied, then stopped in his tracks. “Oh, wait, Sis. SIS. I gotta get this for Adam. He needs this.”
Uh-oh, I thought, walking faster to see what he was looking at. Dad is a notorious prankster, always has been.  Whatever he was holding, I could bet it was embarassing, inappropriate, or gross.
Or a combination of all three.
“This is perfect,” Dad said.
“Dad, what do you…” I looked down. “DAD, come on!” I said. Hanging off a hanger in Dad’s hand was a triple F cup-sized satin bra, bright purple. I could probably put my entire face in one of the bra cups. Dad looked down at the bra, a grin spreading over his face.
“Dad, you cannot give that to him, what are you doing?” I said half-heartedly, trying not to laugh. Laughing only encouraged him more.
“Oh no,” Dad said, nodding his head and smiling. “I think Adam would like to get one of these in front of all those nice shoppers.”
“OhmyGod, Dad, you are ridiculous, put it back.” I said, but I smiled. I couldn’t help it. The smile was all it took, like giving silent permission. Dad threw the bra in a nearby empty cart and started down the main aisle that ran parallel to the Frozen Foods. I shook my head and continued walking, searching for Adam up and down aisles full of people.
After passing the Pizzas and Frozen Veggies section, I found Adam near the Mackinac Island Fudge and Strawberry ice cream flavors.
Dad won’t give that bra to him, I thought as I walked towards Adam. Too soon. Too soon for pranks. Even my dad had a threshold, rules for when and how and where.
“Hey!” Adam said, opening his arms outwards in an embrace. I walked into his arms and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “How’d it go over there?”
“It was INSANE,” I said.
“Adam, it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, seriously,” I said. “They let people in, like, in waves, and you get a time limit.” Adam raised his eyebrows.
“I know, right?” I said. “So Dad was in there, amongst all of these people, and he was just darting in and out grabbing these DVDs...” I started to laugh again. “People were shouting, saying ‘Grab this! Get that!’ It was like a game show, for real.”
“Oh my God, that’s crazy,” Adam said. “I’ve just been standing here. I’ve heard people say at 8 p.m. they’ll start to give out these TVs.”
“Yeah, that’s the plan.” I looked around. We were surrounding by people. Most of them were middle-aged, but there were teens and older adults, too. We all were looking for the same thing: Deals. I guess Christmas did bring people together.
“Adam!” A deep voice shouted across the main aisle about 50 feet away. Adam and I turned towards the aisle.
I saw a glint of purple. Satin. Oh no, I thought. He’s doing it.
“Adam!” my dad shouted again. This time, people were staring at us. “Adam!”
Adam looked across the aisle where my dad stood, holding the giant purple bra over his head.  “Adam, is this the one you wanted?” Dad shouted. Our aisle-mates turned and looked at Dad, then back at us.
I stood frozen like a statue, staring at Adam’s face. Whatever Adam responded would be important. Dad would remember how he responded. For my dad, it was like a Project Runway, “either you’re in or out” moment. I could not believe Dad was doing this, here, in Walmart, with a purple satin BRA.
Dad continued to hold up the purple bra in the air, grinning. Adam stared. Oh no, I thought. He doesn’t think this is funny.
After a pause, Adam looked down at his feet. Then, he slowly began to smile as he lifted his head up.
“No,” Adam shouted to Dad. “I told you to get the leopard one!”
The crowd of people began to chuckle, and I laughed as I punched Adam playfully in the shoulder. Dad brought the purple bra down, smiling and nodding back towards him. He’s good, I could hear my dad thinking. Of course, I knew Adam was good all along.
“I’m so glad you came with us,” I said, taking Adam’s arm and putting it over my shoulder. “Thank you.”
“Of course,” he smiled. “Your dad is hilarious, did you know that?”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I do.”
Adam, Me, Dad: The Black Friday Trio.
In the end, the clock finally struck 8 p.m. and we were able to nab the giant TV, the DVDs and the video games from my dad’s mad dash. We did not, however, purchase the purple bra. But when I heard my dad re-telling the bra story to my grandma over the phone the next day (“And then he said, ‘No, I told you to get the leopard one!’”) I knew the bra would live on in our memories for years to come.
Despite my dislike of shopping, I started to see why my mom liked Black Friday. It wasn’t just getting the items for a good price, it was the planning, the strategy, the Us vs. Them. It was the adventure. The quest.
The fun.