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.

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