5 Lessons I Learned Holding Your Hand

Little sisters, am I right?

We look up to our older siblings, hoping to to be one quarter of the person they are. And what do they do? They use us as their minions to do their bidding. They tell us it won’t hurt when it does. They act like the hardest thing they’ve ever done was share anything. They tell us to get out when all we want to do is be there with them. They tell us we’re annoying when all we want to be is appreciated.

As a younger sister, I can attest that this is all true. But I can also say that there are many benefits to being a younger sister, too. So, on my older sister’s birthday, I would like to recount some of the lessons I learned by watching her live her life first. Yup, that’s right. I had a bird’s eye view of all of her failures. But we’re going to focus (mostly) on what she achieved, so that I can do right by her. After all, she did right by me.

5. Don’t Listen to Mom and Dad

-Mom and Dad certainly know best, except, well, when they don’t. They can direct you as much as possible until it has to become about what you want out of life. Although my sister took this to the extreme by listening to the advice of my parents and doing the exact opposite, she showed me that it was possible to live outside of the box that the world created for me. She showed me it was possible to accept someone’s advice without taking it. Of course, sometimes avoiding fights and going along with whatever your parents say is the safer route, and she certainly taught me that lesson, too.

4. Make Some Noise

-I thought that this was only me, but I think all younger sisters suffer from this issue a bit: we don’t like to talk for ourselves. From day 1, our older sibling is holding our hand, introducing us, telling other people what we think before we can even form words. Which inevitably turns into ordering food for us and talking on the phone for us, and basically taking over all social activities, like a personal secretary. So, when I grew up, I was left with a residual shyness. My sister? Shy isn’t in her vocabulary. She’s zany, and boisterous, and downright loud. And while most days I appreciate that I am the ying to her yang, I have to say that I admire her energy. It makes me feel like I should do more to make my presence known in this world, let alone a single room.

3. Treat Yourself 

-As a younger sister, I have often been tricked into doing something that I didn’t want to do simply because my older sister told me it was a good idea. Who was I to argue with my elders? Inevitably, this lead to me fetching her snacks or doing her chores. Now, that I am older I can see through that ruse…and use the same tactics on other people. See, now I realize that my sister was just treating herself. She was just asking for help when she needed it (and when it was convenient for her). In all honesty, we all need to ask for assistance when we need it, and we also need to treat ourselves like the queens we are. Just as long as there is some give and take along the way.

2. Monkey See, Monkey Don’t

-Okay, and now we get into the less than glamorous moments. You’re human, sis. So, I’ve seen you make your fair share of mistakes. But I want to thank you for learning from them. You not only shared your wardrobe with me but you shared your slip-ups. You told me what happened, and why I should never make the same mistake. Because of this, I started to live vicariously through you, and I could have the fun without any of the consequences. It was kind of like chewing chocolate cake and then spitting it out: all the taste and no calories. So, thank you for having less intelligence to do the things you did. But thank you for having more intelligence to turn around and tell me what was a terrible idea. And also what made a great story.

1. I Forgive You

-Yes, nothing is more sacred than those three little words when you’re a little sister. Because after all these questions: Who stole my straightener? Where’s that shirt I like? Why are my shoes in your room? It’s nice to know that you can focus on what really matters. Forgiveness. No, I will not stop stealing your stuff. No, I will not hang up your clothes after I use them. No, I will not return what I borrow. But I promise that I’ll always be there for you when you need me. That is, if you can forgive me. (And I think you should because you did some pretty messed up stuff to me when we were kids. Like, you tried to run over my arm with a power-wheel car, and you almost forced me to eat “backyard soup.” So, I think you owe me this one. Or at least this shirt.)

Of course, I know I had it easier being the little sister. But I know I had it even easier because you were and are my sister. Love you.

War Paint

Let me tell you a little bit about myself (as if I don’t do that every night).

When I was younger, I was a tomboy, which is a term that I don’t even agree with. But if I had to describe myself in a context that most people would understand, I would proceed to tell you that I mostly chose sports over dresses. I chose books over Barbies. I chose being dirty over taking showers, every time. I pretended that I wasn’t a “girl,” and all that it does or does not imply.

And, of course, that meant that I forewent all makeup. No eyeliner, mascara, eyeshadow, foundation, blush. Nothing. (I had enough on my face with glasses and braces.) Who even had time for all of that when there was homework to do? Why wake up an hour early to paint your face when you had gym for your first class? What was the point of all that effort?

So, I continued to arrive fresh faced at school while I slipped quickly into the bathroom and out, as a line of my peers applied lip gloss and shadow with their fingertips. They would make kissy faces in the mirrors on their lockers, chatting with each other. It was like a secret society that I was on the outskirts of, without the tools to communicate.

Except, I exiled myself. There was no reason that I couldn’t join in. I simply chose not to, and so armored myself against it all. I perceived makeup as vapid and shallow. I then convinced myself that the people who wore it were only trying to beautify their outsides to make up (pun intended) for their insides. I told myself that I would never, ever be so self-conscious that I would carry around lipstick, just in case I needed a touch-up, just in case someone started to see through it all to the real me.

So, what happened to little, proud BaileyDailey? She grew up, and she grew up. She realized that it was stupid to judge people on their appearance, no matter how they chose to enhance or detract from it. She realized that makeup was actually for people who were completely confident in who they were and simply wanted to transform themselves into something else. She realized that makeup was war paint, a challenge to the rest of the world to smudge her lipstick, to smear her mascara. It was also a promise that she would still come back, looking flawless.

Today, I still don’t wear a ton of makeup. I still don’t know what the best brands to use are. I still can’t put on liquid eyeliner perfectly on the first try. But I’ve stopped rolling my eyes when I see that other people do. As women, we need to raise each other up. But more than that, as people, we need to learn how to learn from each other.

So, when I kissed and made up with makeup, I matured as a human being. I stopped giving the snake eye to the smoky eye. I quit giving lip to lip liner. But most of all, I stopped confusing the content of someone’s character for the color of their eyeshadow.

What Do We Watch on Tuesday?

If you were a kid in the 90s,  your parents would order a pizza for dinner every Friday night. I don’t know why this was an unspoken rule of weekly take-out, but if it was Friday, you knew that you were going to eat cheesy goodness while watching Sabrina The Teenage Witch, in that order.

Little did you know that your parents were also giving you a taste of adult living at a very young age, while simultaneously setting you up for heart disease. What was a fun way to spend the end of the week suddenly became a rut that you were trudging in by the time you were nearing puberty. Your mouth would start watering on Thursday night in anticipation of the next day: pizza day.

And so it was born: your ambition to work for/treat yourself with the weekend. (To be fair, 5 days of schooling also contributed to this, but hey, positive reinforcement doesn’t help it, either.)

And it is now that I invoke this sort of, blogger’s license, and say that you should break the routine you live in whenever possible (and at the same time, I freely admit that this is a struggle for me as well. I, too, looked forward to pizza at one time.)

But like pizza, routines are unhealthy. (I know, sad truth.)

Now, I’m not going to tell you that life exists outside of your comfort zone. Because you already know that. Yes, if I tell you what you should be doing, it doesn’t change the fact that you aren’t doing it. You’re scared and that’s obvious. We all are, and that’s why we adopt routines in the first place. That’s not a crime, it’s a fact.

No, I want to tell you it is possible to break your routine. It is possible to start something new. It is possible to stop asking, “What’s on television on Tuesday?” Not because you already know, but because you have broken the habit of doing the same thing every Tuesday. Just start small. Watch your normal shows on a Wednesday night instead of a Tuesday. I know, I know, that’s really starting small. But when you convince yourself that change isn’t life-altering, and that it won’t kill you, then you can move up. Try a new restaurant. Read an author you’ve never read.

Then, when you’re comfortable in your new uncomfortableness, keep going. And you’ll realize that the life you were living before wasn’t really living at all.

Routines can be good because they help us to remember what we need to remember in our lives: the car keys, this huge project, that night out with your friends. This is because nothing ever changes. But routines aren’t memorable for the long-term, as days merge into one another as one gray blur. That’s why we need a break from routines from time to time, to feel new things and try new things. To live the life we want to live instead of the life we feel we must.

So, we’ll do it together. We’ll both make small changes in our life so that they add up to something big. Because life is simply that: small moments that add up over the years.

(But don’t worry. This blog will always remain routine without being ordinary.)

5 Lessons You Can Learn from Snow

Forget what you know about snow.

Forget that it’s cold and miserable, and that you can bring it to your doorstep by simply placing a spoon under your pillow and turning your pajamas inside out. Forget how it ruins your morning routine and makes you slip and slide on the roads like a, well, slip and slide. And finally, if you do anything tonight, forget that snowflakes are unique and special, just like you. That fact is cliched (though true) and we’re all better than that.

Instead, think of snow like you thought of it as a child: all glittering and hushed silence. Think of snow as an opportunity to make excuses for yourself by staying in and drinking a hot beverage. Think of snow as the golden ticket that you get for one day, when it is totally fine to do something for yourself.

Now, see what you know about snow, and what you still need to learn.

1. Someone Has It Worse Than You

-I know, I know. You have a long drive ahead of you. There’s snow on the ground. People are idiots. Winter is tough. But guess what? There is always someone who is going to have a longer drive than you, someone who has more snow than you, and someone who is going to be a bigger idiot than you. (I know, hard to believe). So, why not look on the bright side? (Not the blinding snow bright side. Really, it’s just an expression.) Just do your best to do what you have to do. Actually, that’s all you can do, whether there is snow on the ground or not.

2. Go Slow

-Speaking of driving, please heed this advice: go. slow. For whatever reason, this goes in one ear and out the other when people see the white stuff on the ground. People drive like they can stop on a dime if needed. The truth is, you couldn’t do that in sunny weather. Which is why going slow should be a way of life, everyday. When you’re moving slow, there is time to avoid mistakes and even learn from them. You just have to take your time and you’ll be fine.

3. Be Prepared

-And, in the spirit of going slow, you should also make sure that you are prepared. If you are able to think ahead (and you should because all of the meteorologists on television are living for 6 PM and 11 PM, when they can scare the crap out of you until you are convinced that you need six more loaves of bread and three kinds of milk), then you can save yourself some time and a major headache. For the majority of life, it helps to work hard on making sure that you have a plan. Like snow (especially shoveling), it always helps to work smarter, not harder.

4. Know Your Limits

-Of course, the other side to #3 is that there is only so much you can do. Sometimes, Mother Nature has her own plan, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Remember the first lesson? How everyone is an idiot? This comes as a direct result of not knowing your limits. You think it’s fine to drive 60 MPH on every road because you don’t know your car’s limits in the snow. This is not to say that you shouldn’t reach for the stars. You should just know when to push it and when to stroke the brake pedal very carefully. Very carefully.

5. Live Now

-While it may feel like the snow will be there forever (and it does seem to linger in big piles until it gets dirty from the passing traffic), it won’t. So, before it melts, make a snowman, a snowball, or a snow fort. And evaluate your priorities like this everyday. What is going to melt today? What can I do right now that I can’t possibly do tomorrow?  And then, once you have all of that straightened out, carve out a little time for fun. Because like building a snowman, the opportunity to do so may not be there forever, but you will always have it as a fond memory.

Bonus Lesson: don’t eat the yellow snow. Or do. I’m not in charge of your life. I’m just trying to help you to make good decisions out there. And not eating yellow snow is one of them.

A Moment in Laughter

Tomorrow is the anniversary of a family friend of mine passing away. Neil was passionate, creative, and absolutely, downright hilarious. He worked hard but always made time for what he loved, which was music. He would play with his band on the weekends in local bars. It was a special treat to go see him play because he made us all feel as if we were the private party of a homegrown rockstar.

I don’t really have the words to describe how much I looked up to him. Not only because he was one of the few people in my life who actively pursued his passion but also because he never took life too seriously. I can distinctly remember that he once severely injured his knee because he was trying to perform a karate move on a filing cabinet. I’m not sure what was funnier: the fact that he did it or the way that he told the story after the fact.

He was one of my biggest role models, and I felt completely lost when he died. I cannot even begin to fathom how his family feels without him now. But I know how I would like to honor him, if I may.

It’s customary to ask for a moment of silence to commemorate the passing of a loved one. But tonight, I’m asking for a moment in laughter. It’s what Neil was best at, making others laugh. And laugh hard. I’m not capable of that level of comedic relief, but I can share with you some of my favorite jokes and puns so that maybe I can procure a chuckle or two in his honor.

So, join me, in my moment of laughter for Neil.

  • What do you call fake spaghetti?

An impasta

  • What happens if you eat yeast and shoe polish?

-You’ll rise and shine!

  • What do you get from a pampered cow?

-Spoiled milk.

  • What happened to the dog that ate the firefly?

-He barked with de-light!

  • Why do fish live in salt water?

-Because pepper makes them sneeze!

  • I don’t trust those stairs because they’re always up to something.
  • Yesterday, I accidentally swallowed some food coloring. The doctor says I’m ok, but I feel like I’ve dyed inside.
  • The roundest knight at King Arthur’s table was Sir Cumference.
  • Novice pirates make terrible singers because they can’t hit the high seas.
  • There was a big paddle sale at the boat store. It was quite an oar deal.

I hope a few of these made you smile. I know that it made Neil smile to hear some laughter in the world. Even for just a moment.

I will end with one of his performances, as I leave you all, dear readers, as he left us: doing what he loved. I do what I love now (writing) because he had the courage to show me how.

Rest easy, my friend. And know that your time here on Earth was nothing short of magical.

Why I Love Law and Order: SVU

I would like to preface this by saying that I do not like cop shows. I do not like the whodunit mystery, the forensic clues, the poorly made up “corpses,” the predictable story lines, the standoffs, the badge flashing, or the too violent interrogations. The CSI: Every Major City trend only disgusted me when it was prevalent. The appeal, however, was not lost on millions of viewers. They asked, blood, bugs, and blondes? What’s not to like?

Nothing, I replied. There is nothing to like about a murder that is punctuated with a bad pun every episode (I’m looking at you, CSI: Miami. Actually, I have an eagle eye on you in particular, Horatio).

And then, one day, I saw the light. Well, actually, I saw an episode of Law and Order: SVU. And it wasn’t like I had never seen an episode of the series before. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t heard from classmates that they had skipped classes just to see who murdered who in the end and how much time he or she had to serve. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know that it was a great show. I guess I simply hadn’t paid attention before. I guess I had never let myself be invested in the characters, both the cops and the victims. And when I finally made an effort to watch, well, I couldn’t look away.

From Mariska Hargitay’s flawless portrayal as the strong female lead that we all want and need from television to Ice T’s hardboiled act that is tempered by his caring nature for his partner, Amanda (Kelli Giddish). Even with Elliot (Chris Meloni) leaving his longtime role for a short stint on True Blood, SVU has never faltered.

Sure, they rip ideas from the headlines. A lot. And yeah, maybe there are a few too many plot lines that cross into the lives of the cops themselves that inevitably create unneeded melodrama. But if you thought that Law and Order: SVU was just another cop show like I once did, then you would be dead wrong. (I know, I know. I’m no better than Horatio at this point.)

Because it’s not. The entire process is shown, from arrest to courtroom, a side rarely developed in this genre. Usually, the cop in question just stares off into the distance once the baddie is thrown into the back of a squad car in other shows. But not SVU. We see justice at work, or more often, not at work, noting the fallacies in the system. We see cops interacting with criminals at every point, showing the gray areas of the case instead of just the clinching evidence at the end.

But the best part of Law and Order: SVU is what I can’t quantify, what I can’t name. The chemistry of the characters in the precinct. That really iconic dun dun noise when there is a change of scene. The twists and truly insane turns that any episode can take. And, of course, the way that I am completely enamored with it all.

In the end, it’s amazing what good television can do. But really, it’s all about good storytelling. And if after all all of my testimony, you still think I’m crazy for not liking any other cop shows, well, I’m guilty as charged. (Seriously, that was the last one.)

What Big…Shoulders You Have?

What big eyes you have, grandma!

The better to see you with, my dear.

What big ears you have! 

The better to hear you with.

What big teeth you have…

And you should know that this is the part where things start to go downhill. The Grimm Brothers are not known for their sensitivity, and Little Red Riding Hood does not disappoint in this category. After the last line (above), the little girl is chased around the room by the wolf who has eaten her grandmother only moments before. That is, until the friendly axeman arrives to stop the fray by chopping the wolf up and saving the little old lady from imminent digestion.

You are probably familiar with some version of this tale, but I bet you didn’t realize that within this gruesome scene, there is a rather positive message.

Even though Red Riding Hood knows something is up because she keeps pointing out the unusual features that her “grandmother” has suddenly assumed, the wolf is still able to spin the negatives into positives (as surely as Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold) by telling Little Red Riding Hood what his charming characteristics are good for.

Forgive me if I am reading too much into this child’s story, (I’m an English major after all) but it seems that the wolf has rehearsed these lines when he delivers them to Little Red. In fact, I would daresay that the wolf has been defending his anatomy his entire life due to the ease with which he speaks to the girl.

You see, the wolf is personified in this fairy tale. That means he possesses qualities that humans have: speech, emotions, the ability to dress up like little old women, you know. So, if he’s only “human,” why wouldn’t he have insecurities about his big ears, eyes, and teeth?

After all, I’m sure you have insecurities. Actually, I can rest assured that you have something that you would like to change about yourself. (I am as sure about this as I am about the fact that Little Red Riding Hood should not actually be read to children.)

Of course, everyone wants a tummy tuck and a little fat sucked away here and there. But if there is one thing that I fixate upon every time I look at the mirror, mirror on the wall, it would be my shoulders.

My shoulders are one of the biggest things that stand between me and the feeling that I look like a sweet, slight, feminine princess. My shoulders are huge. I once measured them and found that they are exactly the size of a clothes hanger, which does not lend itself to the whole “dainty damsel” image favored by society.

But the funny thing is, my grandfather used to compliment me on my shoulders all of the time when he was alive. He would tell me that I have strong shoulders and that I should be a swimmer. And wouldn’t you know, I started to see my shoulders differently. I saw my them as an extension of my ability to bear weight without collapsing. (We’re talking about emotional weight, here. Not physical weight. My arms are puny, let’s so stick with the metaphor.) I suddenly saw myself as strong and present in the world, instead of cowering and afraid. My shoulders became a point of pride instead of contention because I began to see them as a symbol of my ability instead of my appearance. Suddenly, it was not, my! what big shoulders you have. It became my! what big shoulders you have! All the better to raise the glass ceiling on your expectations of my capabilities as a strong woman, my dear.

Now, I’m not saying that you should wait for someone to come along and write a love poem about your insecurities, suddenly casting them in a favorable spotlight, like my grandfather sort of did for me. I’m saying that you should be more like the wolf. Not in the way that he eats grandmothers or preys on little children, but in the way that he champions the parts of himself that he literally cannot hide. The way that he is unapologetic for who he is, even when he is pretending to be someone else entirely.

We all know that fairy tales have wonderful lessons for children. It is time we reconsidered them as adults. We need to see that we are not a wolf in our grandmother’s clothing, trying to be someone else, but ourselves, as we were meant to be seen.

It’s Not the Years in Your Life

Humans. We’re extending our lives a little more everyday. Doctors actually printed out a 3D heart so that they could save the life of a baby recently. We’re getting closer to immortality all the time. Maybe one day we can defrost Disney, become bionic, and clone our clones.

But being immortal isn’t going to help us live our lives now. In fact, it doesn’t matter how old you are, 9 or 90, you aren’t going to survive for 10 more years or even 100 if you don’t understand this basic principle: there is always time to live up to your potential.

You need to believe that you can start anew at any time. No matter how many times you have failed or how many times you have started over before. You have to know that you can learn or try anything new, at any age. That, just like Madonna, you can reinvent yourself.

I mean, I hear all of the time that children can learn languages quickly. A child’s brain is already mapping new ideas and connections all of the time, so what’s one more English word, one more Spanish phrase?

But what everyone assumes from this fact is that there is a small window that you have to jump through in terms of knowledge. If you don’t do something when you’re young, you will never learn to do it at all. And if you miss the opportunity, well, you miss out. Of course, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Science does not say that we ever stop learning at a fixed point in our lives. We can discover a new language, a new skill, or a new lifestyle at any time, and we absolutely should.

Yes, it may not feel like you have a lot of time on this Earth. And it isn’t fair that we are limited to a lifetime that is synonymous with the blink of an eye on any other planet. But I assure you, you will have plenty of time to write the next award-winning screenplay, the next 700-page tome, the next best chapter of your life. That is, if you start right now and never stop.

I don’t know when you’ll die. It could be tomorrow. And it could be 500,000 tomorrows from now. But I can assure you, if you begin by squeezing every drop out of life, you will never feel as though your time is running out. Just the opposite.

The Last Laugh

You know when you go to the circus, and you go to see the clowns…

Wait, scratch that. No one, and I mean, no one, goes to see the clowns. They are just some unfortunate part of the show that everyone is suffering through. Really, we’re all afraid to anger them in case they fly into a murderous rage, which we all know is as much a part of their act as throwing pies at each other.

Well, let’s just talk about the general idea of clowns. Sure, they’re funny…I guess. They fit in a small car, they shoot water out of their flower lapels, and they honk their noses. But have you ever noticed that clowns don’t tell jokes? Usually, clowns are completely silent, acting out their humor by playing tricks on one another. Or making fun of themselves. That’s right, they use themselves as the target for their own act.

So, are you a clown? Then, why are you making fun of yourself for the benefit of others?

Of course, if you’re anything like me, you just try to use humor as a deflector. You usually try to joke around when things get a little too serious. You like to tickle the elephant in the room instead of ignore it.

And, naturally, you try to poke a little fun at yourself so that other people don’t get there first. You would hate to hear what other people really thought of you, so you try to predict it and say it first. Hey, I’m just saying what everyone else is thinking, right? 

Wrong. You have no idea what people think of you, and to be very honest with you, people don’t think very often. So, you are probably several leagues off base with whatever you are going to say.

But if you still feel like you need to make a good impression, don’t show your hand. If you joke around and tell everyone that you’re a klutz, they suddenly become aware of every clumsy move you make. Why? Because you pointed it out to them, for no reason. And why did you point it out to them? Because you were afraid that they would get the last laugh. So, you took it for yourself.

But have you ever noticed that the only people laughing at the circus is the other clowns? Partially because, as we’ve established, clowns are not funny, so they have to help each other along. But it’s also because people don’t know where all of that self-loathing is bubbling up from. It’s the same idea with you. Why is this perfectly nice person calling herself an idiot? they wonder. They just see you laughing at your own “stupidity,” and they aren’t in on the joke.

So, stop trying to get the last laugh because you’re uncomfortable. Be confident in yourself and remember: you are a person, not a punchline.

Don’t “Let it Go.”

Frozen was a well-calculated Disney formula, full of frosty fun, sisterhood, and, of course, hit songs to listen to until your ears bleed. And the entire franchise has not been so invasive (although their merchandise is even in drug stores, an obvious link) as their mega popular, tour de force, ridiculously catchy melody, “Let it Go.”

But if you aren’t singing Elsa’s solo because you have children and its their favorite, you may be humming it under your breath due to the simple fact that it is a common, calming phrase. How many times have you told yourself to simply “Let it Go,” when you’re angry or upset? And now, how many times do you sing the song after trying to soothe yourself? I thought so. Unfortunately, Disney is the inventor of “ear worms,” and it’s not a coincidence that “Let it Go” is such a popular phrase in our lexicon.

For me, while I love the movie, I see the song as cheapening a lesson that more people need to embrace in a non-Disney environment and on their own time (and in their own pitch).

So, I think we all need a new catchphrase for when things don’t go our way. Instead of letting it go, I try not to pick up anything at all. One of my favorite mantras is to “resist nothing.” Even though I didn’t make it up, I still think it’s the bees knees.

Think about it: any change in your life, any opportunity you are given, any challenge you may face, you simply don’t need to resist it. Just let it happen, instead of trying to “let it go” after you’ve already become upset or anxious about it. Try to take things as they come, one at a time, and be comfortable in the knowledge that you don’t need to be afraid of any of it. If you feel overwhelmed, it’s because you are letting yourself feel overwhelmed.

Now, if only Elsa could have taken a bit of this advice. (But I guess “resist nothing” simply wasn’t as catchy?) Luckily, you can. And you can free yourself from having to perform a musical number every time you need to recenter yourself. I think we should all try “letting go” from “let it go.” Believe me, your mind (and ears) will thank you.