Sunday, August 19, 2012

I Want My Cool Back

by Amy Ruhlin


My daughter and I sit in a coffee shop near her college campus. She has just turned twenty and I watch her drink a mocha latte topped with whipped cream while I sip herbal tea infused with antioxidants. She wears skinny jeans and a lace tank top, her blond hair swept back into a smooth ponytail. I have on Bermuda shorts, but I am sporting my new denim jacket ,and I have remembered to flat iron my hair so it is only medium frizzy.
I am surrounded by 20-somethings. They order complicated coffee drinks with ease and carry heavy backpacks with confidence. Some of them wear knit caps made of wool, and eyeglasses with black frames.

I love this quintessential college town. It oozes cool with its locally owned restaurants, funky art galleries and live music venues. It reminds me of how my husband and I lived when we were in our twenties, before we moved to the suburbs to raise our children. It reminds me that I am tired of chain restaurants, manicured lawns and cul-de-sac streets. I want my cool back.
“So what’s the deal with the kids wearing caps and glasses?,“ I ask my daughter.

“Hipsters,” she says.
I decide hipster must mean cool. I assume it is a cross between hippies and the beat generation; it must mean good music and social causes and great literature.

“You know, “ I blurt out, “Dad and I used to be cool. We were original hipsters.”
I want her to know that I was not always a middle aged mom with over- processed hair and fluctuating hormones. I want her to know that her Dad did not always have an achy back and goofy dance moves. I want her to know that we were totally cool.

“Uh, it’s really just about what they wear Mom, but I’m sure you and dad were cool. We should probably leave now," she suggests. 
Clearly, she is not getting it.
She goes to her classes, and I drive back home. My 16-year-old son comes home from school, and I meet him at the front door.

“Hey, I just found this old tape in the back of my closet! Will you listen to it?” I ask.
It's a cassette tape of course; we were way too cool for eight tracks.

“It’s your Dad’s radio show when we were in college,” I tell him. He was a DJ!” (weren’t we cool?)
My son politely listens to the tape while I point out that the music his dad played was very avant-garde.

The tape ends and my son says,
“Aw, Dad sounded so young! That was weird.” He forgets to mention cool; clearly, he is not getting it either.

The next weekend we all decide to explore a nearby city. We find a vintage record store with rows of vinyl, and it even has a display case housing turntables from the 1970's. It's a beautiful sight.
“A record store! Cool!,” my son says.

Then, he makes a beeline for a separate section in the back; the section that has the newly- released CDs. This is disappointing. Now, he won’t be able to see how cool his Dad and I look perusing the rock n’ roll album section.
“I feel right at home,” I say to my husband.

“Yeah, me too,” he says. “I remember spending hours in record stores when we were in college.”
He picks up an album and flips it over to read the back, just as he always did when we were young.

“I can’t read this,” he says. “Was the writing always this small? I’m going to the car to get my glasses.”
While he is gone, I walk through the store. I am wearing a new scarf, tied just right, and I think that it is billowing nicely as I stroll down the aisles.

I find an old favorite album. I rush over to my daughter, who has just wandered into the vinyl section.
“I listened to this  album all the time when I was around your age!,” I tell her.

“Aw, do you want me to take a picture of you holding it Mom? Here, let me fix your scarf first.”
She makes major adjustments. “There”, she says, “much better.”

She snaps the picture and shows it to me.
“Aw, that’s sweet. You look nice,” she assures me.

She goes back to the CD section to join her brother and I find my husband. He is reading the back of an album cover. He can see the writing now that he has on his 3x reading glasses.
He has just turned 51, and I watch him standing there in his Bermuda shorts and checkered shirt, as cute as ever.  I think about the years we have spent raising our two children, who clearly have kind hearts. I think about how, against the odds, we have been happily married for 28 years.

 And then, I think that we are totally cool.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Childhood Friends Make Midlife Easier


by: Amy Ruhlin

I am in the midst of motherhood when the phone rings and I see the name of a childhood friend on caller ID: a woman whom I have known since I was five years old but have seen only a few times since we were 18.   I hear her voice and it sounds like home.

I still think of us as girls. I can see us on picture day in kindergarten and I remember her smile outlined in dimples.  I see us years later walking home from junior high school together (no, it was not called middle school in the 70s). We had matching Dr Scholl's sandals and ate grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with pickles for our after school snack.

I wore a green dress in her wedding in the early 1980s.  In those days we dyed satin shoes to match the bridesmaid dresses, and as we talk on the phone I realize that I've still got those green shoes; my daughter played dress up in them for years. I wonder if I've held onto them for a reason.

She tells me that she is now divorced, that she is finding a new life and that she is in transition. She says that she is "getting herself back" and though I am delighted to hear from her, I do not yet fully understand what she means or why she has chosen this particular time to reconnect.

Months pass and  I hear the voice of a different childhood friend on my answering machine. I remember us as teenagers:  we sit cross-legged on the floor of her basement agonizing over boys and listening to albums. I can see the cover of the great first Boston album: guitars as spaceships hovering in a black sky.   She also married in the early 80s and I stood by her side in purple taffeta.

She says that she has been thinking about me since her daughter is now a teenager and is burning CD’s for her boyfriend. It has reminded her of our days in her basement. She tells me that her kids are growing and for the first time in a long while, she has some time to herself; she is in transition. She says she remembers our special  friendship and that she has never really found anything like it since.

Years pass and I stay busy in the throes of motherhood. I am wrapped in the cocoon of the comfort of daily routines, the laughter of young children and my role as a mother.

Then I begin a transition of my own.  My kids are nearly grown, I start to let go and I try to figure out who I am now and what is next. I think about the phone calls from my childhood friends and I begin to understand what they were looking for.

I buy the Boston album (wow, it’s on CD now). I turn up the volume and alone in my car, I try to remember the girl I once was. I dig out high school yearbooks from the attic and open the1978 edition.  I see a photo of another friend from our gang. She is laughing.  I can almost hear the lilt in her voice and the sight of her face makes me smile. I wonder if she is still funny; I have not seen her in over 30 years.

I read what she wrote on her photo: "I'll always remember you even in years to come.  Please keep in touch from time to time."

 I copy her words and send them to her in a facebook message.

"This is what you wrote in my yearbook.  I think I am going to cry," I write.

She writes back: "I'm going to cry too! We all MUST get together."

All of us are still here, most of us are now 50, and we discover that we all live within driving distance of each other. We make plans to meet.

Weeks pass and then I am in my car, driving four hours north and singing along to my Boston CD. I cannot wait to see them.

They surprise me by bringing another classmate.  She looks just the same with her signature short hairstyle. She says she uses a flat iron now and we howl; we remember when she used scotch tape to flatten her hair overnight so that it would be straight by morning. 

The five of us spend the weekend sprawled out on the sofa eating chili and flipping through yearbook pages.  My friends are still funny and still listening to rock 'n roll. They still have dimples and still straighten their hair. It is so good to see them.

I hear them speak my name and I am just Amy,  as I always was to them, before my role as a mother. It is so good to be just me again; it feels like home.

Only one of us is not yet 50 but she will be this September. Last week, she sent us all a message:

 "My brother is having a blowout for my 50th. Please make plans to attend."

Her message reminds me of her words in my yearbook; words that took me more than 30 years to notice and then nearly made us cry.  I plan to be there for her birthday.