Friday, January 31, 2014

A Hero in a Cow Suit?

Anyone can slay a dragon, he told me, but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.  - Brian Andreas   Real Hero, StoryPeople 2002

Next week, this will be my Cow Suit Saturday attire. I’ll have a cape! I’ll be a hero!  I wish it were that simple.
I’ll be spending my day around dozens of middle schoolers working math problems while their coaches cheer them on. Area engineers and other STEM professionals volunteer to grade, proctor and judge their work.  Sounds like a whole room of heroes to me.  

Middle schoolers are my favorite crowd to cow around. They can always use a hero—a friendly personality who makes them feel confident, safe and precious.  I remember those awkward and vulnerable moments like yesterday.  (I think I had some yesterday, actually.) The Cow-culator can set a room full of freckle-faced mathletes at ease. It’s easy because their smiles are so swift and so genuine.
Tomorrow I’m going to cow in one of America’s largest cities. Alone. And I’m feeling... a lot. I’m nervous. I suppose I’m a little scared. I feel silly. Ridiculous. Childish. Stupid. Uncertain. The more I think about it…it’s a terrible idea. I should work on writing a column about Mathletes. Or pay bills. Or do sit-ups.  If I keep going here, I’m going to talk myself right out of it. My mom would say, “Quit working yourself into a tizzy!”

Indeed. I just need a little courage. A little reframing. A little visualization to set one hoof in front of the other and goooooo!  It seems foolish and selfish that I am inventing something to summon courage for when there are so many people that face real things that need real courage. 
Although, if I invent dragons to slay and I am successful, maybe I’ll have the courage to slay the real ones.  Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish  real ones from the invented. Maybe someone will see me slay my self-imposed dragon and it will inspire them to slay a few of their own.  Maybe someone will think I’m a hero. How much of this is about me? How much of this is about others? I can’t be anyone’s hero until I am my own.

At times, we are our own lone heroes.  That heroic will and the courage come from within because they have to, but sometimes they come quicker knowing there are other dragon slayers…and cows out there.  
Tomorrow was originally a challenge from a new friend. When I asked her to cow with me some day, she talked of insecurities and discomfort. As we chatted she issued an assignment in exchange for a cowing adventure with her. And I gotta say…it’s something that scares the heck out of me. “Isn’t cowing about stretching boundaries?” she quipped.   Moouché. This one is a doozy.

As I visualize and recall all of the wonderful cowing experiences, I know I’ll gain something tomorrow that I haven’t even considered. A lot of tomorrow, though, will be very much about this woman and accepting her challenge. It’ll be like me taking a bite of the pureed peas to show the toddler, “Yum! See? Now you take a bite.”  Maybe not peas. Cowing is more like cup cakes.

I’ll say it again…the smiles I see and feel are bliss. Every time I’ve been in the cow suit, they make me love this world all over again.  I’ll be darned…the cow suit does make me a hero.  And I don’t even need a cape. But tomorrow a little courage would be nice.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Beauty Like No Udder

My friend Tamara is beautiful. No really. Like inside and out. In gym clothes, out-on-the-town attire, a cow suit or mom jeans. (Just kidding—I’ve never seen Tamara wear mom jeans.) She always smiles and complements people and is kind. Beautiful.
I’ve wanted to write about Tamara since I first considered writing a book on cowing back in 2011. I’ve not done it yet because…well, it uncovers what a shallow cotton-headed ninnymuggins I can be. I haven’t wanted to put that in print and I’ve struggled with the words.

We’ve both experienced some face-slapping “life is short”events of late, and the time is now to write about this cow!

Tamara joined our Relay for Life team, Cows for a Cure in 2010. I didn’t know her well at all, and I wasn’t anticipating getting to know her. She scared the heck out of me.

The 2009 Bannock County Cows for a Cure
Tamara and I are the ones in cow suits.
Look at her. Even in this silly cow suit, she’s beautiful. And it’s not just my subjective opinion that I’d cite here. She’s textbook beautiful in her facial symmetry, her sparkling eyes, and her disarming, perfect smile. She’s fit. She’s fashionable. (Trust me on this.) And her husband is all this, too. Even his teen mullet pictures adorning the stairways of his mom’s house…. His cheekbones and smile… Rawr! I may have a soft spot in my heart for fellow former mullet-wearers, but I’m pretty sure this guy’s a hottie, too. (To be clear: Tamara has never sported a mullet; only her husband has.)

Tamara possesses a physical beauty that takes me back to my pimpled, awkward high school self. I’d take a different route through the high school halls to avoid the cheerleaders. Or the older star athletes of both genders. I had those universal feelings of inadequacy, and I let Tamara be one of those people to summon those in my adult life. The few times I met Tamara, I figured she was out of my friendship league and dismissed all possibilities her being friends with me.
She was out of my league because I was being preemptively dismissive without even giving her a chance. A jackass suit would have been more appropriate.

It was 90 degrees and I was cowing around the track. I figured Tamara would be above these antics and unabashed irreverence. And then, when it was time for the team lap and we asked the herd who wanted to put on a suit, she was the first one who jumped at the chance. Whoa. Seriously?
The 10 seconds in which she raised her hand and jogged toward the cow suit bin were some of the most impressionable of my life. OF MY LIFE. We were the only two on the team for a while running around in udders. She challenged everything I had invented about her. She challenged my notion that I was not a judgmental person. She uncovered that I still had some insecurities I needed to address. By insecurities, I mean “idiocies.”

In my late-30’s I realized how much judgment and how many preconceptions I still carried with me. That’s a tough steak to chew. I love it when people surprise me like Tamara did. She’s down to earth and damn fun. I love meeting her for lunch. We both love Erasure, and we both love dancing the night away. And of course…We both love to cow!
Our times at Relay for Life are a lifelike mixture of joy and sadness. We spend those nights smiling and laughing and crying and remembering loved ones. We know some of each other’s stories of losing people to cancer, but not all of them. The knowing people’s stories isn’t important. Just being there and being together with the Herd is.

We’ve all got something. Something tragic. Something fantastic. Something to lament and something to be grateful for. And I have something beautiful in my sweet cow friend Tamara.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Milk? Whatever. Got Blood?

MJ and I donated blood the Monday before Christmas.

With the holiday whirlwind, I’m just now getting around to blogging about it. It was a Christmas miracle that our schedules aligned to allow for the mootual donation in the first place, but it was important.
Time magically appears for the important things.

We dressed in cow suits for our donation in honor and memory of Ryleigh Thomason. Ryleigh was a friend and classmate of MJ and became my buddy through my volunteering at her school and being on a Relay for Life team together with her folks.  After Ryleigh passed away when she was 15 from leukemia, our Cows for a Cure team became Ryleigh’s Herd.

Ryleigh’s elementary school hosts a blood drive in her honor in late November near the anniversary of Ryleigh’s passing, and neither MJ nor I were in town to attend.  We scheduled our December 23 donation date weeks in advance.
I was swamped at work trying to meet a year-end deadline for a project. I hadn’t made the gym that day and likely wasn’t going to for the next three. The last thing I felt I had time for was a trek out to the Red Cross at the mall to get a needle in my arm. The mall. Dang  I still had Christmas shopping to do.  Oy.
I was hurried as I drove up and knocked on MJ’s door in my cow suit. I had one for her draped over my arm. She has a suit, but she took it with her to college.  If you know me and bits of my life’s history, you can fill in your own blanks at the continuing weirdness and sting of MJ now having a different door and my having to knock on it.  
That sting comes in a flash and can be gone just as quickly when I’m slung back into the moment. This moment was about remembering Ryleigh and hopefully offering a piece of ourselves that might help someone some day.
MJ greeted me with a smile and exuberance to suit up and in minutes we were off.  I drove like a maniac. We took a blazing shortcut through the McDonald’s parking lot, and exchanged a few cow quips at the chain’s expense.
When I parked at the mall, we sprinted through the parking lot. Children pointed with one hand while holding their mom’s in the other.  Families stopped to stare and we could hear faint murmurs as we trotted to our appointment.
We explained about Cows for a Cure and Ryleigh’s Herd immediately as we checked in. I sensed that the ladies quit smelling us for alcohol once they heard about the Herd.
We are fairly regular donors, but it's still good to read the booklets.
I am a good blood donor. One time, a lady caressed my arm in an almost inappropriate way and went on and on about my beautiful veins. I admit. They are lovely. And I’m fast. They can’t leave me unattended for very long.

I told the worker that after my bag was in place and she said, “If you need me, just moo.”

Um. No. I explained that it was fine for people to moo at me, but I was not about to moo at any woman not in a cow suit. Ever.
My time this year was 5:19. A Bovine Best!
MJ took a little longer.

I just assume that most of the pictures I take of this calf are going to have the
 "Take the Picture Already!" look.
I was thrilled that MJ took longer because it gave me more time to (a) brag about my swiftness and (b) to enjoy some guilt-free cookies.
I didn’t realize this about Keebler, but check it out. They donate 6 million cookies a year!
All I need to push me over the edge in a sweet tooth frenzy. WITH milk, of course.
I bet I talk about Ryleigh in at least half of the times that I wear a cow suit, and this was one of them. This wasn’t my first time donating blood in a cow suit, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last.  And every single time, I will think about Ryleigh and how she and her family have become a part of my herd.