My heart is racing. Perspiration drips and pools in uncomfortable, now damp, places. My eyes can’t focus in the darkness. My feet hesitantly move forward…
As I’ve mentioned briefly in previous posts, I have been slowly, sometimes really quite painfully, edging my body toward the precipice of change. “The time has come. The time is now.” Those phrases from Dr. Seuss’ book, Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now?, started as a quiet refrain echoing in my brain until late August when my children confidently started another school year. And I was left behind with those damn words crowding out all of my other senses.
This school year marks the official threshold into my new life. My youngest son, Brooks, is now a second grader, and, truthfully, I’ve simply run out of excuses to delay the inevitable. Despite my bribery, empty threats and crocodile tears, my children won’t stop growing. As their awkward, spindly bodies grow more rapidly than I can purchase clothes and shoes to adorn, their little spirits dodge my shadow and reach for the sun.
My right foot tentatively tests the wire before bearing any real weight upon it. As the wire starts to sway and dip beneath my toes, I panic and quickly remove my foot. My entire body firmly rooted in the past once more.
On the first day of school, all three of my children sprang from their beds, got dressed and ate breakfast without any help from me. Not one miniscule moment of doubt or nervousness entered their boisterous morning conversations. I was stuck watching this movie playing in front of me with actors that looked identical to my own children in a carbon-copy setting of my own home, and I kept waiting for the cinematic magic to end. It never did. As much as they groaned and grumbled the days before school began, all protestations and dissent were absent from that first morning of school. And I was superfluous.
I’ve become more and more superfluous with each passing year. I’ve spent the last 13 years as a stay-at-home-mom. Ever since getting pregnant in the fuzzy years between adolescence and adulthood at age 20, my purpose has been my children, my family. My dreams were left aging in a barrel in the basement, carefully tucked away for some undetermined future date. I’ve spent the last two years since Brooks started Kindergarten weighing my options, slowly investigating my interests, and staring in the mirror at the older woman who vaguely resembles the girl I once knew.
The children left for school with excitement punctuating each sentence. The door closed and the silence entered. I glanced around my too quiet and empty house. The silence was deafening, so I jumped in the car to run errands.
As I had no children with me, I could finally return some rather embarrassing merchandise that I purchased on impulse and didn’t need. I wouldn’t have any miniature witnesses loudly asking me in detail about my items, and I could take advantage of the middle-of-the-week and middle-of-the-day store emptiness. Harboring false illusions of anonymity, I strolled into the store.
I had returned items (though none as humiliating) to this store many times before, and I had never seen a friend nor even an acquaintance during that time of day at this particular store. Surely, I would escape notice. I cautiously rolled up the items into a neat little ball of subterfuge, carefully lodging the most embarrassing item out of sight. I took my place in the Customer Service line. My timing couldn’t have been worse for as soon as I recognized the curly, blond hair in front of me and the sound of her voice registered, an acquaintance, in perfect synchronous movement, spun around and looked at me. Her gaze caught mine. I was stuck.
The avalanche of really bad timing had only just begun: She was at the return counter, waiting as the employee picked up a phone to presumably request assistance of some sort. And at that moment, another employee waved me to the cash register directly next to my curly-haired acquaintance. I had no choice. My feet shuffled forward. My customer service employee was an older man, whom I’m sure under normal circumstances is an ideal employee and a delightful man; however, as he unrolled my merchandise without discretion and loudly inquired, “Do you have a receipt for all of this?” I wanted to strangle him, but replied instead, “Absolutely!” I brandished two receipts, my credit card, my club membership card and my driver’s license to expedite the process. He clearly did not register my non-verbal communication.
He shook out the two items of truly cringe-worthy clothing – clothing that really can only be described as “old lady cruise wear.” Super cute clothes for those active ladies enjoying their 70’s and beyond, sailing aboard cruise ships, enjoying leisurely lunches at the golf club with other retired girlfriends and playing Bunco at the senior center. You can probably picture the clothes right now: brightly colored capris with an elastic waistband and generous silhouette paired with a cotton shirt adorned in fake jewels and bright patterns in perfectly complementary colors, which matched the capris.
The clothing was cute, comfortable and purchased in a last minute packing/shopping frenzy before our annual camping reunion. All I needed was a sun visor and a practical pair of sturdy sandals and the outfit would have been complete… for a 70 year old. It looked utterly ridiculous hanging on my 34 year old frame. (I really don’t know what I was thinking.) I do look forward to my future living in an active adults community with my gaggle of girlfriends. I assure you that I will rock my “old lady cruise wear” look and gladly embrace it as I sip morning mimosas on some Red Hat Society outing. But, alas, that time is certainly not now.
Back to my predicament at the customer service desk: I’m stuck at the register with a less than discreet customer service gentleman, who can’t seem to find the tags on the worse fashion purchase that I have ever made in my entire adult life. I reached across the counter to help him. This only offended him and he kept on shaking the garments, which caused them to completely unfurl. I cringed as each fake gemstone sparkled under the florescent lights. I glanced at the register next to me where my aforementioned acquaintance’s eyes volley between the outfit (which seems 100 times more hideous and a touch garish each time the employee shakes it out) and me standing in my signature cute skirt and top. She was clearly trying to reconcile the purchase with my current appearance. One corner of her mouth turned upward as she realized that she now has front row seats to my utter humiliation.
I momentarily relaxed when the tags were found and scanned. All embarrassing clothing had been returned. And then I heard the dreaded rattling of the last item, which I had carefully hidden away in the clothing: diet pills. Yes, diet pills. I, Crystal Intini-Alperin, had a moment of weakness and self-doubt in the weeks leading up to a college friend’s summer wedding. And when I was at my most vulnerable, an ad in the back of US Weekly caught my eye. It showed before and after pictures of some Jersey Shore girl (I don’t watch the show, but I’m pretty sure they are all named Snooki) and I thought to myself that if even this Snooki character could use diet pills that I could, too. I was a fool, and of course, I bought them in bulk. Big mistake and there was no way that my leering companion was not going to notice the pills.
And this is where my little-old-employee-man decided to screw with me. He started to vigorously shake the bottle of diet pills and loudly asked, “Are you sure this hasn’t been opened?” Yes, I was sure. He continued to shake. “Are you sure this item is on your receipt?” Completely aware that not only was my curly-haired acquaintance ignoring her cashier and staring at the ridiculous situation I was trapped in, but now everyone else at the service counter was staring in my direction, too. My cashier was shaking the diet pills so enthusiastically that I fully expected for either a mariachi band to enter from behind him or a hidden camera to appear with a jovial host documenting my disgrace for a special episode of “What would you do?” which would ask viewers what they would do if they saw a woman with a healthy BMI with diet pills!
It was one of those everyday moments in life that went horribly wrong. I had two choices: cry or laugh. Thankfully, I decided to laugh and smiled in defeat to those around me. I learned a very important lesson that day: Always wear a wig, dark sunglasses and complete disguise when returning items at any store within a 50 mile radius of my home. And never take any kind of lifestyle advice from a girl named Snooki. It also became quite clear to me as I was driving home from the store that if I had time to make such ridiculous purchases, it really was time for me to start my new life. No more excuses.
I take another long cleansing breath and close my eyes. I picture the faces of my children and remember the many times that I have told them to not be afraid, to be brave, and to remember that the world is theirs to conquer. I have to make them proud. I place my right foot on the wire once more. Before the fear can burst out of bubbling cauldron in the pit of my stomach, my left foot joins my right. The wire dips and sways again, only this time I am prepared. I am brave. I am completely out of my comfort zone. It is too late to go back. “The time has come. The time is now.”
And I really hate heights, so I better figure out what the hell is going to meet me on the other side, across the wire, where my life as a grown-up is waiting to begin. The world is finally mine to conquer.
Tags: active adult community, Change, Children, cruise wear, customer service, Dr. Seuss, embarrasing moment, first day of school, humor, Jersey Shore, Parenting, Red Hat Society, Retail, self improvement, Snooki, Stay-at-Home mom, store returns, transition