I am getting rid of some things that are hard to get rid of, and I think it would help to tell you the stories of those things. Today I am getting rid of a large incomplete set of Noritake Arroyo china. It looks like this:
(image from Replacements.com)
What I find charming about it is that from a distance it’s a fairly subdued pattern of light grey and darker grey squares on white, with a silver rim; but as you get closer, you can see there are little pictures in the squares. I saw this at Goodwill about twenty years ago, when Paul and I were living very close to the edge, money-wise. I immediately had Feelings about the dishes and wanted them badly, but they were $100—absolutely out of the question. For months, MONTHS, every time I went to Goodwill (usually two or three times a week), I looked at them. They went down to $75. Then they went down to $50. And then they were $25 and I had $20 of birthday money to spend, and I bought them, and I was so happy.
And we have moved these dishes three times, and I have gradually added more pieces from eBay and other Goodwills—and we don’t use them. They have a silver rim so they can’t go through the dishwasher. We have my grandmother’s dishes for special occasions. We just don’t use them. It is time to let them go to someone else.
But this is a perfect example of wishing there was a way to find the person who wants them. There is definitely someone out there who collects Noritake Arroyo, which is hard to find, and would TREASURE my hodgepodge set as an addition to their own set. There IS! But where? And how to get these to them? Selling is a great way to unite searchers with treasures, but it’s a huge pain: describing items accurately, taking pictures, posting auctions—UG. And shipping would be a disaster: tremendously expensive, a tremendous hassle, and very likely to end in breakage; I’m not willing to do it. Money from the sale is of near-zero interest to me, but I don’t want a lot of work and hassle and shipping expenses, either. I tried a local antiques consignment shop, figuring that was a nice compromise of low-hassle/low-money, but they were not interested.
So I’ve been holding on to them as if I think I will one day run into someone within 20 miles who loves these same dishes, and that’s just not going to happen, so I’m going to bring the box to Goodwill.
Before getting into the intended topic of this post, I would like to begin with two neutral descriptions of my recent reality:
1. Rob, my firstborn child, who was supposed to work until midnight on his first day of work and be home at about 12:10 a.m., didn’t come home until 1:20 a.m., and did not respond to texts because his phone was dead. He was late because closing took more than an hour longer than anticipated by his experienced adult manager, or because he misunderstood the scheduled shift; I can’t really pick which I’d prefer.
2. Paul, who is rearranging our basement, thought that the reason many of our stored/shelved items were in plastic Target bags was because I never even bothered to take them out of the store bags and just put them directly into storage. The actual, significantly better and less insulting reason: I wrap items deliberately to protect them from damp and dust. He took everything out of the bags and threw all the bags away before telling me his clever theory. When incredulously confronted, he said we could “just” put everything BACK into bags—but that it should be NEW bags, because these ones were dusty.
For the first time since subscribing many years ago, I have given up on a stack of People magazines. I remember when I used to try to wait to read each issue: the best was if I could wait to read it until the NEXT issue had arrived, so I’d be reading one AND still have one. Before a trip, I would save up several so I could have them as a treat on the plane.
This stopped about a month before the election, and didn’t pick up again afterward. Recently, with my magazine rack crammed not only with People but also with Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Teen Vogue, I made a concentrated effort to catch up.
As you might imagine, it was worse than before. There were articles from BEFORE the election—ack. There were articles from AFTER the election—ack. There were lots of reminders of things that I’d mercifully forgotten. And my overall interest in the celebrity stories didn’t revive. Reading them was a chore, even if I skipped the ones about celebrities I hadn’t heard of (a gradually-increasing percentage, with age). One of Paul’s favorite games is Guess Why Swistle Is Cranky, and several nights in a row I gestured wordlessly to the magazine I was reading.
It didn’t take more than a dozen such evenings before I floated the idea to myself that I didn’t have to read the magazines at all. Not even a little! I’d suggested this to myself before, but it’s hard to take something that used to be a costly hoarded treasure and just toss it out without consuming it. Like, if you generally love eating Cadbury Fruit & Nut bars, and the only thing happier than knowing there is one waiting for you is knowing there are TWO waiting for you, it’s going to be a little difficult to throw out a whole case of Cadbury Fruit & Nut bars—even if you’ve since gotten tired of them.
But our library has a subscription to People, and they archive it, so if I ever regretted the decision I could go back and read the ones I’d skipped. And our library also has a well-visited Free Magazine Swap area, where people can leave magazines for other people to take, and I KNOW People magazines get SWAPPED UP: when I drop some off on my way in, they’re often gone by the time I check out. So they would be appreciated and not wasted, and that is typically the hardest aspect of getting rid of something: finding someone who wants it.
No, I couldn’t do it. I needed to read them. My subscription runs out in the fall; I just won’t renew it, and I’ll keep going until then. I will read them all, even if the progress is slow.
Followed by: THAT IS THE MOST RIDICULOUS THING I HAVE EVER HEARD. I spent a little time snipping my name/address off a few dozen magazines (snipping that rectangle is the international symbol for “This magazine is donated and not lost/stolen,” as well as the international symbol for “I don’t want you to know I read People magazine unless I choose to share that extremely intimate information with you”), and I have put them in the library book bag. I left behind the few most recent months’ worth, in case I decide I do want some for a trip or whatever; I can donate them later if I decide no.
Then I turned to the New Yorkers. I recently renewed my subscription, so those are going to keep coming. I would very much like to be someone who reads every well-thought-out article, but instead I am someone who appreciates the cover and then flips through and reads all the cartoons. I will be at peace with that. I went through all the issues I had, and I read all the cartoons, and they were really good and I enjoyed them. And won’t it be nice for a library patron to come upon this pile of barely-flipped-through magazines? Yes. After those challenges, Teen Vogue and Vanity Fair were a piece of cake: address removed, and into the library bag.
Two nights ago I dreamed I was loading the dishwasher. Last night it was stress dreams: we were late to something! I was trying to pack but couldn’t figure out what to include! there was a truck half full of our possessions and half full of stuff for Goodwill, and I needed to separate them before it left for Goodwill!
Add to the list of things I didn’t realize before having children: I didn’t realize I’d be tapping into so much empathetic stress. Edward is a counselor-in-training at a camp this week, and today is his first day, and I was in full fret mode about it even though it is really no big deal: he will basically be assisting high school students as they assist elementary school students. Rob and William both got summer jobs at a fast food place, and I am barely stopping myself from trying to marionette them through it, telling them everything I can think of about what might go wrong and how they should deal with it.
They’ll be fine! It’ll be fine! This is GOOD for them! The worst that can happen is nothing too bad! But I feel as if I’M the one starting a new job, but so much worse: if it were me, I would have control over the situation and know what was happening. It’s much more like the feeling of sending them off to school for the first time and then sitting at home wondering if they’re scared or confused or upset. I’m picturing William in particular, learning to mop up the full soda he just dropped behind the cash register—and I’m picturing him at about age 6, fuzzy headed and trying not to be scared of the school bus, instead of as a perfectly normal 16-year-old with a perfectly normal first job making perfectly normal new-employee mistakes. The manager will be FULLY FAMILIAR with high school kids, and FULLY FAMILIAR with this being their first job. I WANTED THEM TO GET THESE JOBS, AND EVERYTHING IS FINE.
Oh! I have a lip oil report. Remember I found that Burt’s Bees color chart and it created in me the need to find out what lip oil WAS, preferably via acquiring some. And I did acquire some, and I have used it, and I am ready to say: meh, I wouldn’t, if I were you.
(image from Amazon.com)
To begin with, it was NINE dollars. NINE. The only reason I spent that much was that I misunderstood and thought it was $4.99 like the lip balm. But no. Nine dollars. I justified it by figuring that that’s part of what the blog ad income is for: trying things and reporting on them.
Then, I got it home and couldn’t figure out how to use it. I took the cap off and there was a little dry white brush at the end of a tube. There was a twisty thing on the bottom of the tube, so I twisted it and nothing happened. I dug the wrapper out of the trash, but there were no instructions on it. I had to search online, where I found instructions that didn’t work: the Burt’s Bees site said to twist the thing on the bottom of the tube 10-15 times, then apply; but I twisted dozens of times and there was still nothing to apply. I began to conclude it was empty or defective.
I searched the review section on Burt’s Bees and on Amazon, and found tons of people saying they couldn’t figure out how to use it and maybe it was empty or defective, and tons of other people saying that the first time you use it you have to hold it upside down and twist it for a LONNNNNNG TIME. So I did that, for longer than even what I would consider a long time, and then suddenly a bright colored drop appeared in the brush. It seemed precarious, like it would fall off.
I painted the drop onto my lips. I could see shine, but very very little color—less than the tinted lip balm. It’s basically lip gloss; some lip glosses feel kind of icky to me, but this feels nice. It feels, as you’d expect, like oil—a nice thin layer of moisturizing oil. But not enough color to be worth it, and way too much fuss. I can use a tinted lip balm anywhere, but I’d feel ridiculous painting on the lip oil in front of anyone else. I’ll use it in the morning when I’m getting ready, and I won’t replace the tube when it runs out.
It was $4.99 at Target, and that’s five times what I pay for ChapStick when I buy them in untinted 3-packs for $2.99. Despite what you have heard from vicious gossips about what I’ll pay for air-conditioning, I hesitated about this purchase, worried that I would hate it and throw it out after one single $5 use. But now I am thinking I will go back and buy half a dozen more in case they stop making them.
It reminds me very much of the Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm (don’t pay $10 for one—I think Target has them for about $5). I like both the ChapStick one and the Burt’s Bees one because they have a little color, but not so much color that you have to look in a mirror to put it on: you just put it on like regular lip balm. I keep one in my pocket.
The tinted ChapStick also comes in Rose Petal and Coral Blush, but I have learned that the words I need to look for in lipstick are words such as “wine,” “plum,” and “violet,” and I am still remembering to avoid anything with words indicating light-pinkness or orangeness.
…Oh my gosh, look what I found:
(image from Burt’s Bees)
Yes. YES. Plums/berries is mine, with occasional dips into the darker/purpler reds and pinks—some of which look in fact miscategorized, perhaps because the box for plums/berries was already full. I wear the lip shimmer in plum (plums/berries); I tried the cherry (reds) and it was way too red for me, which should have been obvious but it was on such a good clearance, and one of my best lipsticks ever is one I never would have tried if it hadn’t been on such a good clearance, so that keeps me taking chances. In tinted lip balm, I wear sweet violet (plums/berries) and also red dahlia (reds). I am going to have to try the tinted lip oil in misted plum; I don’t know what lip oil is, but this chart has created a need.
I highly recommend the plum lip shimmer, by the way, if you’re a plums/berries person too. It’s not particularly shimmery in plum. It’s lipsticky enough that I have to look in a mirror to put it on. And I like the peppermint flavor.
(I am imagining Paul reading this post and starting to rub the bridge of his nose.)
I dreamed last night that I took a chance and kissed somebody, and it turned out to be a welcomed chance, and he was a very good kisser. And then my brain, which also doesn’t let me eat dream cupcakes when I am on a diet, stopped this excellent storyline with the panicked information that I was MARRIED, and that this kiss COULD NOT BE TAKEN BACK, and that EVERYTHING WAS NOW TERRIBLE AND PROBABLY UNFIXABLE.
This morning I am crabby and resentful. But as long as I was in a bad mood anyway, I went ahead and made some phone calls I’d been putting off. One call was for an overdue haircut: my hair is too heavy for its clip now, so it keeps gradually falling out and then I have to keep putting it back up. That drives me crazy and also makes me feel like an ostentatious hair-player. (Hair-play-with-er. Hair-flipper. What do we call this?) So I am looking forward to that and I only wish I’d called three weeks ago so the haircut could be TODAY instead of in three weeks. And I have some good leftovers waiting for lunch, plus more of The West Wing to watch (I’m on the second episode of the third season), so THAT’S good.
Speaking of hair clips, I think I have said this before but I will say it again: I need a local hair-clip swap buddy. The two types of clips I use are little claw clips (for buns) and bear claw clips (for messy French twists). They are sold like this:
(image from Amazon.com)
(image from Amazon.com)
I only like the tortoiseshell (brown) ones. And I am too nervous to swap them around at the store to make a pack of only the ones I like. Actually, I’d do it with the bear claw ones if I could still find them locally, but the little ones would take too much time to do and I wouldn’t be sure how to arrange the two rejected packs. All one color? Half black, half clear? And I’m less sure another customer would want one of those packs, whereas I’m fairly certain another customer would want the two black bear-claw clips.
The upshot is that I end up donating half of my bear-claw clips ($4-8 for a 2-pack online) and two-thirds of my little claw clips ($2-3 for a 12-pack at Target), and that seems really dumb. The only solution I can think of is to find people in my town who use these kinds of clips too but like the black plastic and/or clear plastic ones and don’t want the tortoiseshell ones. Then we can trade. Maybe we can have annual clip/barrette-trading meetings. There can be cupcakes.
Rob did not want to make a big deal out of high school graduation: light on the pomp, minimally-required circumstance. He didn’t participate in many of the optional fun senior things. And he’s going on to college, so he didn’t have that “done with school” feeling. So this is a report of that kind of graduation.
The week before high school graduation, there was an assortment of activities: final exams, several rehearsals for graduation, handing out yearbooks, picking up caps/gowns, a senior trip, a slideshow, a scholarship ceremony, an awards ceremony, a picnic.
I found I kept sort of forgetting about graduation, and then remembering it with a startled feeling. It sometimes felt like a big deal and sometimes didn’t.
There was also the odd overlay of remembering my own high school graduation, which doesn’t feel as long ago as it was. On the other hand, it’s long enough ago that I thought I remembered the song we were all playing then, and I was TOTALLY WRONG: the song I was thinking about came out after I graduated. So. I mean, I’d played it for Rob with tears welling in my eyes, full of fake memories of that song playing on the radio as we got ready for graduation, and now I feel a little sheepish. I had a whole mental montage, and it’s a lie.
As with college tours, high school graduation gave me the “Look how OLD we all are” feeling. Who is that plump middle-aged woman standing next to Rob in his graduation gown in that photo? OH IT IS I. You know how older people often say they don’t feel as old as they look? THAT TIME HAS COME TO COLLECT ME INTO ITS SAGGING ARMS.
You already know I cry easily, but I cry PARTICULARLY easily at anything ceremonial/symbolic: national songs, parades, dress uniforms, ritual costumes, ritual music, ritual rituals, synchronized salutes, official declarations, everyone standing for the bride. The graduation processional was a weepy moment. The formal declaration of graduation, read by the superintendent of schools, was another such moment. Look at us doing our formal human things!
The speeches by the class president and the class valedictorian were mercifully short: I will listen without external eye-rolling to teenagers talk about following their dreams and changing the world, but it’s easier on my eye-strings if they can keep it brief.
Our high school has a principal who is much better than average at speeches: he’s warm, friendly, personal, funny. He managed the In Memoriam section without choking up, but with a couple of pauses that made me choke up to think of him trying to keep from choking up.
I had expected to be weepy during the diplomas, but I was not. I had expected to be bored, but I was not: I had forgotten that they read people’s FULL NAMES during graduation! I was extremely interested to hear everyone’s middle name, and sat riveted throughout. Rob has four names, two of them difficult to pronounce (one of them my maiden name), and the reader got them all right; Rob said the reader was at the graduation rehearsals, getting pronunciations from everyone and then double-checking them. (I remember that from my own high school graduation.) I was very pleased to hear my maiden name read aloud in connection with my child, and very pleased to hear it pronounced correctly.
Afterward, they said “CONGRATULATIONS CLASS OF 2017!,” and all the parents stood up, and the graduates flung their caps into the air, and so there was another little dab at the eyes.
Then we found Rob in the crowd. I wanted pictures of him with some of his friends, and that wasn’t something he would have asked me to do but he was willing for me to do it, and then as it turned out he got into it once we started. Also, after feeling shy the first couple of times I had to ask a kid if I could take their picture with Rob, I felt much more comfortable: everyone was so chill about being asked, and so willing to pose, and I got a ton of cute pictures that Rob may appreciate later, but I wanted the photos for myself even if he doesn’t ever care about them.
Let’s see, now let’s talk about worries and how they turned out.
I was in general worried because it was a new thing and I didn’t know how it would go. But I was less worried than usual, because I’d been through high school graduation myself and knew the gist: I only needed to add the parental-role upgrade.
I was worried about Rob not participating in most of the senior fun stuff. I worried he’d regret it later. I worried that maybe I should have forced him. I worried it meant he was a weirdo. I expect to resolve these worries in one direction or another by the time he is my age.
We were all worried about the weather: if it had to be held indoors because of rain, then each graduate could only bring five guests; if it could be outdoors, there were no guest-number restrictions. (It did not rain.) I was also worried it would be very hot outside. (It was not.)
I was worried about what to wear, especially since there was the possibility of needing to climb bleachers. I didn’t need to worry, though: people wore everything from shorts/t-shirts to Easter church outfits.
I was worried about parking and seating, but that went fine. Graduates had to be there an hour before the ceremony, so we just stayed after dropping off Rob; there were still plenty of parking spaces and almost a full choice of seats. (I wouldn’t have wanted to come much later, though; people arrived in a constant stream, and I don’t know where everyone found parking.)
I was worried that it would be awkward to ask people to pose with Rob for pictures, but EVERYBODY was asking EVERYBODY to pose for pictures.
I was worried that I would cry an embarrassing amount, and that all the Sentimental Ritual Stuff would make me cry even more than I felt like crying—but I did not, and they did not. I’d say I cried significantly less than expected. I teared up a few times and that was it, and all around me other parents were doing the same. It’s much worse when I cry at band concerts, where NO ONE else is crying and I am doing a steady leak. The children are so earnest about their instrument-playing! and isn’t it wonderful that adults put in so much time and effort to teach children to make music! and look how much they improve each year! and look at how sweetly the older kids are helping the younger kids! And also there’s the inexplicably touching moment when the conductor does that signal that makes everyone put their instruments at the ready.
Last time we talked, I had just found a leak in the bathroom and cat barf on the couch. That afternoon, the air conditioning stopped working.
I called a place and left a message, and after 24 hours of misery I still hadn’t heard back from them, so then I called a second place. They said oooh, unfortunately they didn’t have any regular appointments until next week: I could either wait 8 days and pay the regular appointment price, or I could pay over twice as much and get an overtime appointment for that afternoon/evening. Reader, I paused for about 4 seconds and then I booked it for that afternoon/evening. Then I felt like a dumb spoiled princess all day because, what, I can’t go a single week without AIR CONDITIONING? It’s worth THAT MUCH extra money not to have to be a little too WARM for a few days? Was I not remembering we have FIVE CHILDREN to help through college?? But then it got to 93 muggy degrees in the house and I was holding a dishtowel-wrapped ice pack to my neck and feeling so glad I’d booked the expensive appointment. It reminded me of the time I didn’t buy a seat on the plane for my baby because it seemed so spoiled to get him a seat when he could ride on my lap for free, but afterwards I was thinking it would have been worth TWICE the price to get him his own seat.
The a/c guy arrived around 4:30 and Paul went outside with him to stand near him in a manly way and speak of tools and motors, and about ten minutes later Paul came inside and said, “Go ahead and turn the a/c on,” and I did, and cold air started coming into the house. And then Paul said, “Oh, and he said it was a quick fix and not very long after 4:00, so he just charged us for a regular appointment.”
SO HAPPY. SO, SO HAPPY. The a/c was back on, AND we got it that day instead of 8 days later, AND we paid the same price as if I’d martyred it for 8 days?? Right away I wanted to tell you about it: I do so much complaining, and so when a good thing happens I want to make sure that gets into the playlist. But I couldn’t think of a way to tell the story without also telling you I was someone who would pay more than double to get the air-conditioning fixed sooner.
It is one of those very unpleasant tangles where if I act as if it’s no big deal and you are in the financial situation where you would not be ABLE to make the decision to pay double, or able to have a/c at all, then it’s like I’m saying “Oh, I’m so BAD but I just HAD to have that diamond! I mean, I feel guilty about it when other people don’t have enough food or whatever, but you’ve got to TREAT yourself sometimes!” We were in a pretty grim financial place when I read a blog post saying how gross it was that so many people didn’t bother to get pedicures in the summer, and I remember the nauseating, incredulous indignation I felt on encountering that level of careless, scornful obliviousness. But if on the other hand I make a big deal about spending the money and feeling bad about it, and if you would absolutely have spent the money too, then it’s like I’m criticizing your spending and saying you should feel bad about it too.
Money and the spending of it can be tricky to talk about. But here it is two days later and I still wanted to tell you the happy thing about getting a same-day overtime appointment for regular price, so I am telling you and trusting that we all know about how money/spending can be tricky to talk about.
I am having a morning. As I was about to get into the shower I noticed a puddle on the floor where there should not be a puddle, and further investigation revealed a leak in the cabinet under the sink. It has apparently been going on for some time unnoticed. I threw away a set of sopping hair clippers, some half-used boxes of flushable wipes that had been under there ever since I saw some story about them not actually being flushable after all, and a couple open packages of pads that had done their valiant best to deal with the issue. It isn’t a disaster, you see: it was an opportunity to clean out that cupboard! It might also be kind of a disaster. I put a bowl under the pipes, and a fan pointing into the cupboard, and a plumber is coming tomorrow afternoon. We have been meaning to redo that bathroom anyway, and let’s hope we don’t also have to redo the underflooring.
Anyway, then I took a shower, and as I was combing my hair I heard a child say, “Uh oh, cat barf.” A cat had thrown up on the couch instead of on the nice easy-to-clean hardwood, and furthermore the cat had hit BOTH cushions. So I cleaned that up.
Then one of Edward’s braces broke off during breakfast (he was eating a MUFFIN), so I had to call the orthodontist. And it was a wasted call, because she said, “No big deal, we’ll just fix it when he’s here in three weeks.” Which is giving me the stress because it’s the END brace that broke off, the one that holds the wire. But I said so when I called, and she just said, “Is the wire poking him? If it’s poking him, you can snip it with wire snips.” OH OKAY. So…not a big deal, I guess.
*breathes carefully and calmingly through nose*
I did get TWO satisfying things done. One: I completed all the health forms required by Rob’s college-to-be, and then dropped off the physician verification form at the pediatrician’s office for them to verify/sign and fax back to the college. This is the kind of thing I would normally put off until shortly before it was due, and then I would be panicked and stressed, so I am very pleased to be getting it done so uncharacteristically early: it’s not even due until August. I was partly motivated by wanting to beat the rush of all the other parents contacting the pediatrician in August, and partly motivated by redirected plumbing/orthodontic stress.
The other satisfying thing was just a trip to the grocery store, but I really needed to go and I really didn’t want to, so it felt like it counted more than usual.
A couple of nights ago Henry threw up, and it happened before he was entirely awake—with the result that if he, like a cat, had gone out of his way to barf in the worst possible location, he would have succeeded with high honors. If he’d thrown up in his bed, I could have coped just fine: that makes a big mess, but I am in my 19th year of parenting and I can handle a barfed-in bed. But he threw up over the side of his bed and onto the wall-to-wall carpeting, the installation of which is one of my top parenting regrets. (We were finishing an unfinished basement, and wall-to-wall seemed like the only way to avoid cold floors. The floors are not cold, no, but now they are covered by NON-REMOVABLE ABSORBENT FABRIC.)
After he threw up on the carpet, and into the workings of the control for his electric blanket, and all over a pile of books and toys, and down into the crevice between his mattress and the bedframe, Henry got himself to the bathroom and threw up again into the sink. In cleaning up the sink, I got bleach on one my favorite t-shirts, which I was sleeping in for reasons unknown: usually I sleep in a t-shirt that has gotten too battered for daytime, or in one of my new collection of political t-shirts, but I must have forgotten to change it. So right now I have that t-shirt laid out in the tub, where I have deliberately dribbled more bleach on it in an effort to salvage it, because when something is ruined it can sometimes be saved by MORE RUINING. But I believe in this case we are looking at a lost cause: the spray bottle was set to too fine a mist to start with, so it just looks weirdly and irregularly faded and stained. I will put it through the laundry just in case, but it may be time to say goodbye to this shirt. Or it can be a sleeping shirt now.
Anyway, you know how sometimes it takes a day or so for a muscle to let you know you overdid it? Apparently scrubbing a carpet on three separate occasions (I kept feeling as if it were not clean yet) was beyond what one of my thigh muscles thought should be asked of it at this pay grade. I think what actually did the damage wasn’t the scrubbing itself but the getting down onto and up off of the floor, again and again, as I kept stopping to rinse out the washcloth—or at least, it was when I was on my way down to the floor this morning to gather up some laundry that I really felt the burn. To be more accurate, I said “YIKES” and descended the remaining distance to the floor rather more rapidly than scheduled, luckily cushioned by the laundry. Thank you for your years of service, thigh muscle. Good luck with your apparent retirement.
It reminded me of an anecdote from the years when “getting down to the floor” and “getting back up again” were not activities I gave much thought to except when heavily pregnant. When Rob was a toddler and I was expecting William, we went to visit my grandparents; they were in their mid 80s then. My grandpa got down on the floor to play with Rob. When he was about to get back up, there was a moment when you could see him assessing his options and not finding a whole lot of them, and my grandmother said comfortably from her recliner, “Mm hm. I was wondering how you thought that was going to work.”
I went to a parents thing at Henry’s school, and I shook a lot of hands. Here is what I noticed:
1. A lot of people, men-people and women-people, shake hands the way I do: you keep sliding your hand forward until your thumb-pits engage, and then you shake and/or squeeze.
2. A lot of people, men-people and women-people, DO NOT do this.
Here is what everyone who didn’t do the first option did: they stopped as soon as they were holding my fingers in their fingers, and then they pressed lightly. Like a duck bill, lightly clamping my fingers. I did not know what to do at that point. They were duck-billing my fingers and I could not complete the shake. It’s like if you go for a hug, and someone grips your upper arms and stops you before you get into the hug-space, and your arms are left dangling alone.
I tried this out with Paul just now. “I need to shake your hand for a blog post,” I said, and we shook hands the way I think of as Shaking Hands: slide hands forward until you can slide them forward no more. Shake. Then I said, “Okay, I need to see where it is that it stops when people do it the other way,” and we tried that a few times but it was hard for two untrained novices to figure out where to stop if not at the thumb-pit, and then Paul got all squirmy and uncomfortable about it and we stopped trying.
But Paul does say he has encountered that handshake before. “ONLY with women, right?,” I asked, but he refused to commit. But…I can’t picture two men shaking hands that way, can you? Delicately pressing each other’s fingers? I think it must be that that is the way some women offer their hands for a handshake: stopping before the thumbs can get acquainted. And how some men have been trained to shake hands with women: like, be CAREFUL with women.
So here is my four-point theory:
1. Some women are taught to shake hands without engaging the thumb-pit, no matter who they’re shaking hands with.
2. Some women are taught to shake hands with full thumb-pit engagement, no matter who they’re shaking hands with.
3. Some men are taught to avoid the thumb-pit with women, but to engage the thumb-pit with men. (Maybe some women are also taught this?)
4. Men are never taught to avoid the thumb-pit with other men.
So then I, as a woman, encounter these options:
1. Men who have been taught to grab a woman’s fingers without engaging her thumb-pit (but would shake a man’s hand with thumb-pit engaged).
2. Men who have been taught to shake anyone’s hand, man-hands or woman-hands, with thumb-pit engaged.
3. Women who have been taught to grab anyone’s fingers, man-fingers or woman-fingers, without engaging the thumb pit.
4. Women who have been taught to grab anyone’s fingers, man-fingers or woman-fingers, with the thumb-pit engaged.
And I, as a woman, NEVER encounter:
1. Women who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits engaged, but men’s hands with only-fingers. (Or maybe I DO encounter this, but don’t realize it.)
2. Men who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits engaged, but men’s hands with only-fingers.
And my theory further theorizes that Paul, as a man, encounters these options:
1. Men who shake with thumb-pit engaged.
2. Women who have been taught to grab anyone’s fingers, men-fingers or women-fingers, without engaging the thumb pit.
3. Women who have been taught to shake everyone’s hands with the thumb-pit engaged.
And that Paul, as a man, would never encounter:
1. Women who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits, but men’s hands with only-fingers.
2. Men who have been taught to shake women’s hands with thumb-pits, but men’s hands with only-fingers.
3. Any man who would shake his hand with only-fingers.
Here is what I need: data points.
Were you raised as a girl-person or as a boy-person? And how were you trained to shake hands? Were you trained to do it the same way no matter who you were shaking hands with? or were you trained to shake boy-hands differently than girl-hands? Or if you don’t remember being specifically trained one way or another, how did you grow up doing it? I don’t remember being trained; I think I picked it up from examples and social cues (i.e., seeing others do it, and participating in handshakes with others), and also I remember reading a lot of references to “good firm handshakes” and “limp/cool/fishlike handshakes,” which further developed the concept.