Thursday, March 23, 2006

Where each consecutive birthday trumps the tragedy that was my adolescence

Here's a revealing photo from way back. This may have been around 4th or 5th grade...I'm not sure since I've tried to forget a lot of it. Clearly this picture could be captioned: "The ugly stick in mid-strike". I despised this haircut as well as the modification my own mother made shortly afterwards when she cut my bangs too short with scissors from her sewing basket. Oh GAH! The horror! I'm still having flashbacks.
Fast forward to a better pic...or happier at least. Taken a few years ago with Mr. Half.

Thanks to all who have sent birthday wishes. It means more than you know. Technically, my big day is March 24th, but I usually try to embark on my journey of self-pity and despair a few days early. I won't announce exactly WHICH birthday it is, let's just say that I'm older than Queen Latifah and younger than Christie Brinkley and leave it at that. Mmmm-kay?

I know we're supposed to believe that age is just a number, but it's really also a marker for achievement. I'm okay in the personal achievement department, but I've been in hand-to-hand combat with my free-lance career since it started. And if I feel I haven't really done anything significant since the last birthday...well...things can spiral downward in an unsatisfying way. Sure,'s all in your attitude. If you think you're special, then you are special. Believe in yourself and you can do anything. But there's a fine line between self-confidence and self-delusion and if you don't believe me, I've got some taped episodes of the "American Idol" auditions I think you'll want to see.

What hit me hard this week was the obituary of a woman who graduated with me from high school. She died of pancreatic cancer eight months after her diagnosis. She was so tough that she worked for five of those months. This was a woman who knew what she wanted to do...even when we were kids...and she went out and did it. She was brilliant. Bachelors degree from Georgetown University and an MBA from Columbia University. At our 10 year reunion she was working on Wall Street and since then had spent her years being VP of this investment firm or creating her own invesment group. She gave her money to Doctors Without Borders and Emily's List. She gave financial backing to artists and sat on the board of the San Francisco Ballet. She did all of this without being dependent upon a husband/boyfriend/father for a dime. At the time of her death, she was President of a fund for an international investment firm.

Her death hit me hard, though not for the reasons you'd expect. Yes, sure...I was sad about her dying. She was too young for that. She was a good person, but we were not close or even what you'd call friends. We both placed into the same Advanced Composition class our senior year of high school, but we sat on opposite sides of the room, and after graduation I only saw her at the two reunions.

No...what hit me hardest was how her life stands in such a stark contrast to my own and how that made me do a lot of navel-gazing this week about what I've done with my own life since graduation from high school and college. No way could there be the kind of obituary for me that was written for her. Yes...she died too young, but even so she packed a lot of living into those years. She accomplished a lot and there was this linear progression of plan and execution, plan and execution that I can only envy. The highlights of my day today? I helped the youngest son finish a major project on Macedonia and I also had my teeth cleaned. Oh...and my editor rejected my proposed book review because someone else had already asked for it or reviewed it or something. I'm foggy on the details.

I'll be fine...really. It's just reality slapping me in the face with its cold and cruel hand and just like the toy Weebles from back in the day, I'll wobble a little but I won't fall down. Not yet anyway. Happy Friday!


Blogger Brooke said...

You were beautiful then and you're even more so now! (I love how smart you look in your school pic...I can just see it in your eyes!)

I'm so sorry about your classmate. My dad died a little over a year ago from pancreatic cancer...about 6 months after his diagnosis as well.

It does hit hard.

May I say though, that no matter what your age, you are a remarkable person, writer, wife and mother...happy birthday!

11:10 PM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...


I was the academic overachiever in high school and college who everyone thought had such great promise. I was expected to take a certain path, live a certain way, and be ambitious. My sister was diagnosed with cancer when I was 16, and I met E when I was 17. I learned at an early age that what was really important to me were the relationships I had with people in my life. Those were far more satisfying than the accolades I accumulated and the career path everyone expected me to pursue. I have worked but not had a high-powered career or a well executed plan. Like you, I've often struggled with what that says about me. But the truth is I've known highly ambitious and "successful" people and I've never for a moment wanted their lives. Maybe I've craved the recognition they get for "living the American dream" but I never wanted to be the person who is always in a meeting, unavailable, hard to reach and yet glued to a cell phone, unable to find time to socialize, remember birthdays, sit down to a leisurely dinner, enjoy a blue sky, send a care package to a friend.

1:11 AM  
Anonymous sweatpantsmom said...

In every picture of me taken before the age of seven my bangs are practically at a 45 degree angle to my face.

I actually tried to cut my daughter's hair the other day and almost did the same thing. I guess it's genetic.

(Beautiful post!)

1:25 AM  
Blogger Peggy said...

Your classmate had a way that worked for her; you have a way that works for you. Sometimes life is just more interesting without a plan. You have a loving family and group of fans here who think you're terrific. Enjoy your birthday!

4:19 AM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

Happy Official Birthday. I hope you get the chance to treat yourself to something fabulous today. :)

You know, I do that too...look at my friends and what they're doing with their lives and compare it to mine and what I'm doing. I look at my friends who are working in their fields, putting their diplomas/degrees to good use, and I look at what I'm doing, which clearly has nothing to do with what I went to school for. But I wouldn't change my life for anything, and I'll bet that you share the same sentiment.

Have a great weekend. :)

5:52 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Happy Birtday, Wordgirl! May today be filled with gentle reminders that you are exactly where you need to be in this beautiful reality that you've created for yourself.

Now go party hardy!

8:04 AM  
Blogger Catherine said...

Ooops, I meant BIRTHDAY. (Don't know who Birt is.)

8:07 AM  
Blogger Sarcomical said...


you look mahvelous.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

Happy Birthday, Wordgirl!

You know, mothers, yourself included, will never get the accolades and respect that they deserve.

I'm sorry to hear about your classmate. She sounds like she was an amazing woman who did amazing things and really did pack a lot of living into her life.

And so are you. And so have you.

I think you're extraordinary. You have an unbelievably beautiful family, including three sons who apparently adore you in spite of the fact that they are teenagers. You are an amazing artist. You produce well-crafted little written gems nearly every day. You have a loving marriage. You have a community of readers. You have been a teacher.

And you make the most beautiful cinnamon rolls I've ever seen.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

I'm confused. Were we supposed to think that childhood picture was BAD? Pffft. Oh-kay... I'm sorry you're blue. I hope you have a great weekend with tons of pampering. Double Fudge Ice Cream usually does the trick. ;)

9:40 AM  
Blogger Nessa said...

Happy birthday today! You look FABULOUS, dahling!!!! Here's to many more years!

9:44 AM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

I suffer from the same disease. The "Have I really pushed myself and lived life to the fullest?" disease.

You know what though? You have been instrumental in countless lives because you did spend time helping others (namely 4 menfolk). That's what I tell myself now. I am not meant to be a "front" man. I am a behind the scenes person. Helping my crew make it in this world and being there as a support.

Happy Birthday!

9:51 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

I think V-grrrl makes a good point. Your classmate may have been the president of her company, but could her kids get her to help them do a project on Macedonia?

That's the kind of stuff that has real worth. Plus the fact that you touch so many of your readers with your excellent writing. You make us laugh and you make us think - that's also important. Add the fact that you're a smart, good, caring person with a great family to the list and you've got quite a lot of life in your years.

Happy Birthday. :)

10:26 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

Hear, hear, V-Grrrl. Beautifully said and I suspect that WordGirl is the type to appreciate the smaller things in life as well.

I'm learning that accomplishment is all a matter of perspective. And can I just say that I envy your ability to be more attractive with each passing year. Not every woman can pull that off.

Happy Day, I hope it is filled with a thousand little moments that you will carry through the next 365 days. Don't forget to look out for them :o)

10:30 AM  
Blogger john boy said...

Just came by to wish you a happy birthday! Hope you were able to enjoy some healthy self-pitying time today ;)

6:48 PM  
Anonymous LetterB said...

I understand why you used your classmate as an example but jesus gay woman! You're not dead! F*ck a showy obit - i'd gladly take a few more years of paying bills, myself. God willing (and statistically you're in good shape) you have lots of time left to do many other things that will add on to your already illustrious list of accomplishments, not the least of which is keeping 3 boys alive and thriving. I am struggling with just one toddler - you are a freaking rock star in my eyes.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Rock said...

Happy Birthday WordGirl. Nothing like reading about your self loathing to pull me out of my own angst.

You know I never really worried about getting "old" until this very year - I know you started that about five years ago. Frankly whenever I think about it I say "well Wordgirl is as old as me - and that just can't be".

You're really pretty much frozen in time for me. White dress, no shoes, wrinkled nose....

Happy B-Day.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous jess said...

happy birthday! i concur completely with letterB above. You are amazing and wonderful and an excellent writer. Don't fool yourself into thinking you're anything but!

11:50 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

You know sometimes I have compared my writing to your writing and I have despaired. There is a big difference between a blade of grass and a bouquet of fresh flowers, but I enjoy my accomplishments. You should too. And hearing you now, I really apologize for my previous comment. I was not trying to pick on you as much to say not to focus on minor issues.

The major feminist issues are still important.

* Parity In the Workplace
* Domestic Abuse
* Rape

Those are major issues, and they still need to be solved.

Unfortunately, I reply in first drafts. I seem to be thinking, but not really.

Oh and happy birthday. Enjoy all your presents. The best part is that you are _____ years younger than me!

11:01 AM  
Blogger Rude Cactus said...

Oh, I'm late! Happy Birthday!!!

4:30 PM  
Anonymous sarcastic journalist said...

I know what you mean. How do some people accomplish SO MUCH? However, to some people, having a happy marriage and beautiful children is a big accomplishment.

For those reasons, I think you have accomplished tons. That, and you're doing freelance, which is HARD.

Happy birthday. I hope you got plenty of cake.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Wild Bill said...

Happy Blogger Birthday Wordgirl. Here's your birthday post.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I had a thought.

You as a Feminist are represented spiritually by two images from antiquity. There were the Venus statues found in Europe, and the fact or fiction of the Amazon warriors as recorded by the Greeks.

The first repressents lifegiver and nurturer. You fulfilled and fulfill this role by giving birth to your children, and providing a good home for them. Your love nurtures both your children and your husband who would be incomplete without you.

The warrior is seen through your professional ambitions. The spear is thrust through to opportunities. The shield protects against rejections.

That editor chose someone other than you. You have to use your free time to nurture contacts as well as seek places to send your ideas and writings.

Did I forget to mention that you are also equipped with a sword? The sword chops through the barbed vines, the barriers that are before you.

So see yourself as a true Feminist, and good luck with your professional writing.

Too bad I can't join you all for your outing. I'd buy you all a round of Long Island Iced Tea, and we would see who would still be standing by the end of the evening.

Again, Happy Birthday! Now I have to go back to bed before I'm caught.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Misfit Hausfrau said...

Happy belated birthday--my birthday is just 8 days after yours.

10:20 AM  
Blogger jess said...

happy belated!

I'm less than three years out of college and am always appalled by reading the college magazine and seeing how much classmates have crammed into these years.

1:31 PM  

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