Monday, July 21, 2014

My Moootual of Omaha Aha Moment

I've traveled to Montana to film a Mutual of Omaha aha moment. Their traveling air stream trailer will be in Pocatello in a few weeks, but I'll be on vacation. After emailing back and forth with one of their reps about where their traveling schedule.... Great Falls, Montana worked for the cow.  This is my script I'll be working from. A lot of it will undoubtedly be edited and cut out, but that's their job. I just cow. Wish me luck!!

My name is Billie Johnson and this is my “Mootual” of Omaha aha moment.

I bought my first cow suit 20 years ago for a Halloween party. It was college—I wore it now and then just to be goofy. Then when I graduated, I wore it for some more Halloweens and on more occasions to be goofy. And then I wore it out, so I got another one.

Some friends and I got involved in fundraising for cancer research, so we got some more cow suits to make a herd. I realized during a particular event in which cancer survivors—both those currently undergoing treatment and those who’ve been in remission for years—were walking a lap around a track while other participants cheered. My herd was located near the end of their lap on the inside turn.

Some of those currently undergoing chemo and those who were elderly were tired. Weary and breathless. Their heads were drooping while they focused on their breathing and their steps. Until they saw our herd. We were clapping and cheering and jumping up and down. And just the sight of our floppy ears and udders changed their expressions immediately. They held their heads. They smiled. They mastered every next step before them.

A few years later a friend and I decided to surprise her husband by cheering at a marathon. We set up just before halfway with signs that said “Keep mooooving” and “You are incredi-bull” and we waited for him. While we waited, we started to cheer for other runners. The pain and punishment they put themselves through… and the pride of everyone that passed was astounding.

Many were exhausted. The sun was starting to make the road hot and blisters and cramps were beginning.
Each runner had a story. Sure, there were a few seasoned competitors that gave us a smirk but didn’t want to expend any energy to thwart a personal best time, but many many more were struggling. Some were noticeably overweight but still tackling a goal. Some had pictures of lost loved ones screened on their shirts or in their hands. One lady had her shoulder in a sling and some fiercely resisted the desire to stop.
But when they saw the cows, they smiled. Their posture and their gate transformed and they ran taller as they passed. It wasn’t me; it was my cow suit.

My a-ha moment came to me on the side of the road, sweating in the sun, squinting in my cow suit and clapping and cheering for friends and strangers. People smile at me my cow suit. They laugh. They look. We meet eye-to-eye and exchange more smiles and more quips. This would never happen in everyday clothes. I need to write about my cow suit and I need to wear it more often.

I started writing that day, and I have no doubt that a book will come at some point, but I keep adding chapters and I keep collecting smiles in my cow suit, and it’s hard to keep up with them all. So, I started a blog at Cow Suit Saturday dot com.

I’ve cowed and collected smiles in 8 states so far, and I’ll make it to all 50. I consistently cheer at community 5K’s. I’ve played my trombone in a cow suit. I got a tattoo, jumped off diving boards, visited hospital patients, went to the dentist, rode busses and subways, and did laundry in a New England laundromat in my cow suit. I added a Cape to invent my own superhero “The CowCulator” who speaks to kids about careers in math and science.

I’ve worn my suits with high school classmates, professional colleagues, kids, strangers, friends and all by myself.

The cow suit is ridiculous. It’s a skosh irreverent. It’s whacky. It’s simple, and it must be magical, because the smiles it inspires are pure magic. I look forward to every Cow Suit Saturday.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

When the Cow Comes Home to Lava Hot Springs

This one.  This one is about the pictures. I knew we could get some good pictures. (Mooochas gracias to Jena for taking them.)
I LOVE diving boards and I LOVE Lava Hot Springs, Idaho. "Lava" is pronounced with a short a like "lad" not a schwa like "lawn." And, yes, I know that's not how you pronounce what comes out of a volcano. But this is a little town in Idaho. Not molten sludge seeping from the earth. (Although, it WAS pretty hot today in Lava.)

I learned to swim in this pool in the 70's when my parents owned a bar and restaurant called the Lava Lounge in the town of just under 500.  Are you pronouncing it correctly?  After their divorce, I'd go visit my dad on the weekends and sometimes during the week in the summer. I remember a few trips to this pool by myself to just swim and dive and be young and free. My dad died when I was 13, and got sick when I was 12. Holy cow! I must have been younger than that for my solo trips to the pool. Can you even imagine letting an 11 year old walk through a little town and go swimming by herself? There were early or late weekday hours when I was the only one in the entire complex with the pool to myself.

I first jumped off of their 10 meter (33 foot high dive platform) all by myself. No one was there to cheer, encourage or cajole, but it didn't matter. I didn't need it and I had a ball flying through the sky and bouncing off the boards. If I hadn't have been able to venture out and discover this kind of fun on my own, I doubt that I'd be able to truly enjoy adventures and fun with others.  The ole...You gotta be happy with yourself  and by yourself before you can truly be happy with others...yeah. I started learning that right here when I'd return home to Lava Hot Springs.

Suited up and ready to jump!
That "No Running" is SO for me right now. And I'm never so naked under a cow suit. This is weird.
Kindly waiting for the kid below me. Although...
getting crushed by a cow in the Lava pool would be a GREAT story for him.

I took diving lessons as a calf. Look at those hooves. Can you tell?

Almost angelic with the clouds behind me.

And thus concludes my smiliest jump & entry from a diving board ever.

That. Was. Awesome.
(the clinging, skin tight cow suit is not awesome.)

Didn't you do this as a kid? Why don't we do it any more? Sometimes it takes a cow suit to let yourself act like a kid again. (clearly)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Stay-at-Home Heifer and Me

I imagine Katie cringed at the title of our blog. Not many 40+ women enjoy, let alone embrace, bovine-related monikers, but Katie’s now in the club. Welcome, Katie Cow! You’ve got no udder choice than to embrace it now.

Katie and her family just had a vacation and returned to Idaho for a week from their relatively new home in Texas. Katie and I shared a number of experiences in our youth—junior high, high school and Lutheran confirmation—before our paths diverged as they do in life. When I met Katie, I thought it was so cool that the last four digits of her phone number, her street address and a bike lock were all “3836”. The phone and address were a coincidence, but her dad finagled the bike lock. I remember thinking how cool it must be to have a dad who would do that.
The wooden porch of Katie's childhood home still smells the same!
We had junior high slumber parties at Katie’s house and a gaggle of girls would sneak out of the yard to go toilet papering. Or we’d simply wander the neighborhood at midnight. Caution: honor student renegades outside of the fence. Anytime we came across a parked van, Katie would steer our entire group to the middle of the street because she was sure there was a bad guy in there waiting to pull us in. Katie was careful and kind.

This same group of girls ate lunch together all the time outside the front doors of Hawthorne Junior High when the sun was out. I would bring one of those vending machine ten-cent bouncy balls and we’d play a game where we’d all stand in a group and one person would throw the ball at the school wall and then we’d swarm to catch it. I remember Katie being a good cross country runner and not all that coordinated, but she had moments of sheer cutthroat and victory going after the bouncy ball. Katie was driven and playful.

When we got to high school, I became engrossed in athletics and band and our friendship waned.  It sounds so sad as I type and in my middle-aged, seemingly-constant state of PMS where tears are always at the surface. It’s hard not to let one escape here. High school was the best damn time of my life. With her parents getting divorced shortly after, I don’t think high school was as grand for Katie, but she graduated with a 4.0+ and all sorts of college credits from advanced placement classes. Katie was smart and ambitious.

I reconnected with Katie over Facebook and at our twenty year high school reunion. Our lives really did take very different paths. I’m in the 18th year of my career as an engineer in the semiconductor industry. I don’t have kids of my own and am currently living alone but dating someone with three kids. Katie is a stay at home mom to 11 year old Sarah, 9 year old Matthew and 1 year old Bryan. A couple years ago, she was in the midst of exploring options to return to school or the workforce when her health necessitated a double mastectomy. And then Bryan came along. (I mentioned Katie’s procedure in my “The Other Sides of Pink” column for the Idaho State Journal.)

I’ve met and gotten to know quite a few stay at home moms over the years. Some have been lifelong friends and some have been moms of kids at the school where I used to volunteer. It’s not a role I can or have ever tried to imagine for myself.

My parents divorced when I was 3 and my mom was broke. Her social work license had lapsed and she struggled to recertify, find child care, and afford child care. Then she struggled to afford everything on a social worker’s salary when my dad wouldn’t pay child support. Thus at age 3 began my mom’s indoctrination of “you will have a degree and a job and a means to support yourself and never rely on anyone else because it is dangerous and scary to rely on anyone but yourself.” 

So, that is why I view Katie’s [choose one: life, career, lifestyle choice] with a bit of fear and skepticism. Not judgment, mind you. There’ve been a few reality shows that investigate dangerous or dirty jobs. I think there is none more dirty or dangerous than that of a stay at home mom.

Esteem and sense of worth is wrapped up in the behaviors and moods of little souls who have a mind of their own,and sometimes they appear to have no mind at all.  A sense of success in a day relies on their manners and moods. The lack of mature and cerebral stimulation would make me batty and the type of work entailed in a single day is constant with no reprieve. 

After I wrote a column touting the benefits of reading to children at night, a friend said to me, “See, and at that point in the day of a stay at home mom, when a child asks for one more story, it can be like you being at the office going on your 15th hour, having had a day of constant effort but attaining no significant accomplishments due to a zillion interruptions and then having your boss ask you to finish up one more report before you can relax in your day.”

That single comparison inspired a great deal of empathy in me for the stay at home mom.

I was so glad that Katie got some time off of her job to cow with me last weekend!  She’d been in touch about wanting to venture out in a cow suit and the Greenway Grind Color Run worked out perfectly with our schedules.  I planned to pick Katie up from her childhood home at 7:30am and we were going to go cheer for the runners and ring cowbells. As I scrolled through Facebook that morning, Katie had posted the following:

I'm getting ready to do something this morning that I've never done before. It's stepping out of character and out of my comfort zone. I'm not even sure I'll be very good at it. You only live once and only have a few opportunities for such things, so I'm gonna do it. I have to admit, though, that the "what were you thinking" thoughts are going through my head.

I thought…a lot of things.
  • You poor thing.  Don’t be nervous
  • Good for you for taking a chance!
  • Oh no. I suddenly feel some pressure to make this extra fun and memorable.
  • She sees cowing with me as an “opportunity”; I’m touched and humbled.
  • Oh, Honey. I spend my own share of time wondering “what was I thinking?”  and I also wonder if I should do more things more often that make me pose the question. I bet you do, too. Let’s go!
 Here are a few pics from our cowing adventure.

Katie is standing alone there in the middle after I had to hit the porta potty.
(coming out of the porta potty in a cow suit is always funny)
I considered leaving her here a bit to take it all in, but didn't want her to fret too long.
This is the bucket of red chalk that we got to throw at the runners.

The ketchup and mustard bottles make it easy to target them.
(This looks like a messed up add for canni-bull-ism.)

Katie... OWNING the cow suit!

Katie cow lies in wait.

It did take us a little bit not to hit the runners in the face, but by the end, we were pros.

Up above I described Katie from my old memories as being careful, kind, driven, playful, smart, and ambitious. I still think she is all of these things and her moments with me in the cow suit cinched it.

But I wonder… how many stay at home moms truly see and feel their own strengths and terrific qualities?The intense focus on the kids and house and home and husband can make a woman lose focus on the wonderful things in her.  Just in case it’s ever out of focus, Katie, don’t doubt this cow! And I don’t know what you were worried about…being good at it. Just look at yourself—you were a flawless color-flinging cow!

I was really disappointed that I forgot to ask one of the runners or race organizers to take our picture together. Gee, guess we’ll have to do this again.