Sorry

I apologize too much.

Recently, a man came out of a coffee shop, texting while he walked, and slammed his shoulder into mine.

“Sorry,” I said.

He didn’t say anything.

Last week a bartender forgot to make my drink. “Sorry,” I said when I reminded him.

“Sorry” to the Uber driver who had a hard time finding my obvious location. “Sorry” to the grocery store cashier when I decided to not buy a bag of broccoli that was rotting. “Sorry” to my neighbor when I asked her to do something about her constantly barking dog.

I’ve had this compulsion – to apologize for things that aren’t actually my fault – since I was young. And I’m not alone. I’ve known many people – women actually – who do the same thing.

I’ve tried to consciously stop using the s-word but it leaps, unbidden, out of my mouth in every situation. It’s so deeply ingrained in me that it’s almost physically impossible to stop.

When I was ten-years-old I attended a manners camp for girls.

While there, I learned many important lessons like: A lady eats chicken drumsticks with a fork and knife.

On the first day of camp, I showed up in purple khaki shorts, a purple and yellow sleeveless denim shirt, and my giant glasses. In other words, I was looking my best.

During check-in – after they’d determined what ‘season’ of colors most complimented my skin tone (autumn) – a woman asked me to stand against a wall as she took the “Before Picture.”

“Before what?” I asked.

She smiled brightly.

“Before we make you beautiful.”

Do you hear that? It’s all the feminists in the world screaming.

I’m screaming too – but only on the inside, like a lady.

A few days later I posed for my “After Picture” with no glasses, my face caked with make-up, and wearing a white and blue pants suit.

I looked like a 10-year-old Murphy Brown.

I felt uncomfortable but I supposed that was just what beauty felt like: Awkward, not quite right, and not at all what I started with.

Even then, I was learning to apologize for who I was.

Young girls are taught this kind of thing all the time in various forms – that maybe we’re not good enough, smart enough, strong enough without some simple additions.

Now, twenty-two years and many-more-stories-like-that later, that message for me is slowly fading.

I’ve learned a few things. Important things like I don’t look good in pants suits.

And I don’t have to apologize for who I am.

So lately, I’m really focusing on stopping the constant apologizing. I know it’s just a leftover word from my less-confident days but I’ve realized that by keeping that little habit in my language I’m actually saying something much bigger.

I’m sorry for being here. I’m sorry for having an opinion that’s different than yours. I’m sorry you feel threatened by my confidence.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m sorry for those things. Because I’m not.

Not anymore.

Sorry.

 

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

Showered

Last weekend I attended my hometown bridal shower.

In Los Angeles – and on the wedding blogs I’ve started to follow – bridal showers consist of perfectly coifed brides sipping mimosas in flowery dresses while very young and very beautiful women crowd around her feeding her compliments and caviar.

I knew that’s not what I was getting into.

Even though my aunts (the hosts of the shower) had kept most of the details a surprise from me I did know a few things.

I knew they had placed the invitation in my hometown newspaper. I knew the event was being held at the town community hall. I knew I was supposed to dress-up.

But when I walked into my bridal shower that morning I was instantly overwhelmed.

But when I walked into my bridal shower that morning I was instantly overwhelmed.

Everything from the decorations (an homage to my “I Love Lucy” collection in high school) to the food (homemade by my aunts) was filled with love and caring.

With every guest that started to arrive it felt like a little piece of my history was walking through the door. My high school English teacher who had fostered my love of literature, my great Aunt who taught me to play Old Maid and drink strawberry floats, my friend who had been my friend even before we learned to talk.

We played games, ate delicious food, and opened presents. I didn’t drink a mimosa and there was no caviar in sight but when I looked around the table I felt this was better than any bridal shower on a wedding blog could ever be. This was real. This was personal.

My cheeks ached from so much smiling and I looked around at the forty women gathered around the table and tried to string together thoughts, to grasp what this meant to me.

I have not lived in my hometown for thirteen years but you would not have known it from that bridal shower.

I still felt like one of those women – a part of that clan. And that day felt like a send off, ensuring that I stepped into the next big change in my life well equipped. Not just with gifts but with a reminder that I am not alone.

That I will never be alone

I will never be alone.

What an incredible thing, community. That feeling of having a very crowded heart – stuffed with the love of women who taught me to bake, to run fast, to be smart and strong and kind. To be a woman worthy of my roots.

Maybe that’s exactly what a bridal shower is supposed to be about – not presents or mimosas or even the marriage but about reminding you of the woman you are and the women you came from.

That you are walking into your new partnership with new pots and pans, a homemade quilt, and the very distinct knowledge that there are a lot ofwomen cheering for you.

 

Norwegian/Mexican/French….

I’ve always had a fascination with my ancestors.

As a kid, I would spend hours in my grandfather’s musty attic, trying on my grandmother’s hats from the 1940’s, pouring over pictures of my great-grandparents, and reading love letters exchanged during the war.

I would stare at my stern-faced ancestors and wonder what brought them all the way from Norway (or in my father’s family’s case, Luxembourg) to a farm in the Northern part of the United States.

Almost every person in my hometown had similar stories and backgrounds. Being a child of farmers from Norwegian descent was commonplace.
It wasn’t until moving to California that I realized there was anything special about my cultural background.

It wasn’t until moving to California that I realized there was anything special about my cultural background.

After moving to Los Angeles – a city that pulses with almost every culture in the world – being a farm girl with a Norwegian heritage became unique. It was more interesting than I had ever considered it. I began to be proud of my heritage – hold on to it with a fierceness I had never considered as a child.

I dreamt about starting a family with a Norwegian man, comparing family histories, and celebrating the holidays with krumkake and rommegrot.

Then, two years ago, I met a Mexican/Italian/French man and everything changed.

He didn’t know what lefse was and I didn’t know that some people liked salsa with their eggs. Somehow we still managed to fall in love.

In this new relationship there were whole new cultures to explore – heritage that I never considered would be a part of my story. I was fascinated that Jason’s father’s first language had been Spanish and his mother had been raised above a French Laundry in the heart of San Francisco. He loved that covered wagons and sod houses were a part of my family history.

A few weeks ago, Jason and I traveled to San Francisco to meet his Italian/French side. Jason tried to prepare me on the plane, explaining that Italians are a passionate, boisterous people who have no trouble expressing how they feel. I didn’t blame him for being concerned.

My family doesn’t really do ‘boisterous.’ We don’t get too loud and we aren’t too chatty. We love each other with a complete whole-heartedness but we don’t need to say it all the time because we told each other about ten years ago and that’s just fine, thank you very much.

So as we pulled up to Jason’s uncle’s house I felt a tingle of anticipation.
The door flew open and immediately we were met with warm hugs and double cheek kisses, excited questions and offers of wine.

That night at dinner the conversation never stopped as we dined on pasta and bread. They argued in front of me – “Where did you put those bottles of wine? I set them right here and now they’re gone! Lou, WHERE ARE THOSE BOTTLES OF WINE?!” – and they expressed their love in front of me – “I’ve been the luckiest woman in the world since the day I married you.”

And that was all before dessert.

The boisterousness was intoxicating and while I might have been the quietest one at the table, I felt warm and welcomed.

That night, I wandered the halls of their home, staring at their old family photos that looked nothing like mine. Women with dark hair and men with olive skin, people who made their way in a vibrant city in which my ancestors had never set foot. They looked polished, sophisticated, the kind of people I read about in books as a kid. I stared at their faces and thought about my own future children.

If Jason and I are lucky enough to someday have children, maybe they will wonder how they came to be Norwegian/Mexican/French/Luxembourgian/Italian/Germans.

If Jason and I are lucky enough to someday have children, maybe they will wonder how they came to be Norwegian/Mexican/French/
Luxembourgian/Italians.

I will pull out old photos of Norwegian farmers and set them beside photos of Mexicans in Arizona and Italians in San Francisco. And I will tell them that they came from that – something mixed, and beautiful, and special.

And afterward we’ll sit down for some lefse with a side of salsa.

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.

Marriage

When you’re engaged, nobody likes to talk to you about marriage.

People ask to see the ring, pictures of the dress, and whether or not it will be an open bar, but it is very rare– unless you’re my therapist – that anyone asks me how I’m feeling about my actual upcoming marriage.

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about it much either. Here in Southern California – a place where wedding season is all year long – I got lost in the hubbub. It’s hard to retain any kind of perspective when you are on the phone with wedding coordinators who tell you there is no way you will ‘pull off a wedding’ for less than the cost of a two bedroom home in the suburbs.

There was too much to do – choosing invitations, deciding on food – that I had no real time to think about what I was actually getting into. How crazy it seemed that I was going to go to bed next to one (handsome and charming) face for the rest of my life.

It’s so easy to push aside the momentousness of that and focus on cake.

It’s so easy to push aside the momentousness of that and focus on cake.

That is, until my last visit home when I saw my college roommates. I think of these girls as a part of my heart so was thrilled when we were able to get together and – as one of them said – “plan my whole wedding.”

Armed with nachos, a steady supply of gin and tonic, and a (later regrettable) lack of sunscreen, we took my parent’s boat out on the lake for some quality girl time.

It was a perfect day and the soft lake water lapped against our boat as we talked and talked as only old friends can. Somewhere around the tenth helping of nachos our conversation drifted from wedding dresses and honeymoons to the actual institution of marriage.

Each of these women are married and for the first time since I slipped that diamond on my finger I found myself in the middle of an honest conversation about being in a marriage. About choosing someone’s good and not-so-good parts. About how marriage is saying a whole-hearted ‘yes’ to complete uncertainty.

During our conversation, I kept waiting for the anxiety to settle in but as my friends chatted I started to feel lighter. Like something was being released from my heart. Something that I hadn’t realized I’d been holding on to.

An unrealistic expectation of total marital bliss.

Throughout all the excitement of the engagement and the thrill of wedding planning I began to store up fear.

Throughout all the excitement of the engagement and the thrill of wedding planning I began to store up fear. Fear that my marriage wouldn’t be perfect and that maybe one day I might wish I were single again. That one day I would look in the mirror and not see a bride excited about her future but rather a wife who got frustrated, a mom who was tired, a woman who just wanted a night out alone.

The truth is, that’s going to happen. And that’s okay. But those thoughts didn’t jive with the happiness I felt like I should be oozing.

When you are engaged and someone asks “Are you SO EXCITED about your wedding?” It is very hard to say “Yes, but I am keeping in mind on how difficult living with the same person for the rest of my life will be.”

But finally, now in the boat, I was having an honest conversation about what real commitment was like. I could say these things out loud and be heard – really heard – by some awesome ladies who have paved the way before me. It was a refreshing break from all the glee.

The sun sunk a bit lower in the sky and I navigated the boat back to the dock feeling lighter. My marriage won’t be perfect and neither will my wedding. But I’m not afraid of admitting that. In fact, I’m glad. I would not have been able to stand up under that kind of pressure.

We said goodbye to each other that night, standing in my parent’s driveway slapping away mosquitoes. As they piled into their cars they shouted back to me.

“We can’t WAIT for your wedding! We are SO EXCITED.”

So am I.

 

This piece was originally written for the Fargo Forum.  You can find them (and me) here.