I’ve been at a bit of a loss on what to give you to commemorate your retirement, and although I’m not sure I’ll be satisfied with this either, I decided to go with what I do best (I think, anyway): words. I’d have liked to maybe read this out at your ceremony or something like that, but my understanding was that the schedule was pretty regimented, and considering my track record for giving you extra things to worry about at the last minute, I figured I’d spare you and make do with giving this to you elsewhere. I apologize that this will be doubling as a Mother’s Day gift a little bit—but for me, your career and your being my mother aren’t really separable, so hopefully it’ll all make remarkable literary sense and this will be so impressive.
I don’t say that to mean that your children were your real job or any sort of conflation like that (although I know we were Work). What I mean is that you brought the same earnest, effort, and care to both roles regardless of environment. I often had no idea what it is you actually did at work, but I never felt like I didn’t know you there compared with how I’ve known you as my mom. You’ve always been true to who you are, and maybe that’s not such a rare thing, but it has been incredibly significant to me as I’ve grown and continue to grow into my own person.
I say all this while also recognizing that although I always knew you at work, I’m not sure if everyone at work would have recognized you at home, and I feel like I’m actually a little lucky for that because I’ve gotten to see all the ways that the big things in a person’s life can fit together when you wouldn’t expect helicopter parts and your kids’ Pokémon obsessions to resemble each other that much—and perhaps they don’t at all, because it’s not about the wrenches and Pikachu but about the people they affect. It’s clear both when you talk to me for roughly ten minutes and when you talk to anyone who has worked for, with, and above you that your impact is meaningful and memorable. Maybe even “legendary” 😛
I’ve written briefly before about how you defined integrity for me—”Doing the right thing even if it’s not the right time”—and I’ve been mulling that over for more than half of your time in the Coast Guard. I’ve seen where you try to live your life this way with us and with what I’ve heard about your work, and I think it could be a pretty apt characterization of your approach to pretty much everything you do. Although it’s taken years of contemplation, I think I understand pretty well what you were trying to tell me at the time, and I try to live my life the same way. I’m grateful both for my outrageous memory that’s been able to hold onto this idea and for the source of it. Thanks, Mom.
I brag about you and tell people I have big shoes to fill all the time, and I’m so proud to call you my mom. Congratulations on thirty years.
Jerrika, Jerri, Jerr Bear, C’mere, Stop That, Sweet Pea ❤
I’m as much of a western European mutt as one could possibly be, but the features which have manifested most prominently in my appearance seem to be Norwegian and Italian–I’m tall, super sturdy, and have barely olive skin and generally dark hair.
In most ways, this works for me; you can always tell I have eyebrows and my eyelashes are relatively excellent, if I may say so myself.
However, I occasionally envy my fairer female friends and family with their freakish ~*~blonde leg hair~*~. Apparently my cousin hasn’t shaved in over a year and you can’t even tell unless you’re really looking for it. Conversely, I was referred to as the “Pokey Monster” in my eighth grade gym class because I usually showered at night and always had stubble by the next morning. The one morning I did shower and shave in the morning so I could proudly show off my legs sans hair, I managed to miss an entire stripe of it up my leg. The Pokey Monster moniker remained.
I was ten the first time I shaved my legs: I made the cheerleading squad, so I was thoughtfully granted the privilege of smooth legs for the uniform. I don’t remember if I was particularly worked up about shaving my legs before that–I’m inclined to think not, since I was a child, and hardly wore anything that showed my legs because I’ve always been edgy and different and that had manifested itself the prior school year by me proudly wearing nothing shorter than capris, except a skort ONCE–but I do remember being a little surprised that I suddenly had this new opportunity to alter my appearance.
I remained edgy, cool, and married to jeans for most of the next eleven years. I’d shave once or twice a week, but it was because hairy lady legs were gross and I like how smooth legs feel, not because anyone was likely to see them. When I was 21 I finally learned to appreciate tights, and thus an Era of Skirts began that didn’t really impact my shaving schedule, but did allow for me to explore alternative silhouettes without fighting the Pokey Monster. This era overlapped with a semester abroad when I lived with four other girls, one of whom commented casually that she hadn’t shaved in weeks. She frequently wore tights, and evoked my curiosity. I experimented with not shaving my underarms for a month “to see what color it actually was (dark as night),” but got bored with it and returned to my regular shaving schedule.
Unbeknownst to me, this brief introduction to my adult body’s natural hair growth was apparently enough to foster what became a desperate interest in what my “real” legs look like, which brings us to now. I decided to make the opportunity to ignore my razor, and haven’t shaved my legs since Halloween.
When you grow your leg hair out for the first time in over a decade, you notice a few things:
As radical as your personal growth project might seem to you, no one will actually be very impressed. The truth is that people see legs exactly as hairy as mine all the time–they’re just on dudes, and dude legs don’t look particularly different from lady legs. The shock factor for which I vaguely hoped has not materialized when I’ve revealed my shins to anyone. The closest has been my mom occasionally saying they look like a “rain forest” in what I think is a confused attempt at support influenced by benign disgust.
The hair doesn’t grow in the same way on your calf, which might puzzle and distress you. It looks like I’ve been shaving just my calves every couple of weeks, and I have not. I’ve discussed this phenomenon with a few of my guy friends, who, thankfully, confirmed that this is normal. One of those friends told me his brother was also unaware of this for years, and accused my friend of shaving his calves in his sleep as a prank once he finally noticed that they are markedly barer than the rest of his legs. That story especially made me feel better.
There is a world of sensations about which you didn’t know before.
Most notably, I can feel the air moving through the hair on my exposed legs when I walk. This is easily my favorite part of having fuzzy legs. It makes me feel like a woodland creature who can detect things about their environment through their fur, even though the only thing I actually detect about my environment this way is that I am using my legs to move through it.Other sensations include the foreign surrealness of seeing hairs plastered down on my legs in the shower, and the inescapable pain of hairs getting caught in the fabric of literally anything I put over them–blankets, pants,anything.
You will not always have a clear idea of what “success” looks like here.
Some people in my life can go for longer than I have without shaving and will still have dainty, smooth-looking legs while mine, after mere months, rival the hair density of men I know.As someone who often wants to be perceptibly feminine, this feels like a monumental failure: in my natural state, I am significantly manlier than some women and men from the perspective that more body hair = more masculine. As someone who also often measures their self-worth by whether or not they can keep up with or beat the boys, this feels like I am winning hard: in my natural state, I look like I won’t wilt in difficult external conditions, and like I could possibly wield a heavy weapon or maybe be a miner.These are obviously highly subjective and opposite standards of judgement that exacerbate conflict with my self-image, so I try to convince myself that my true goals for all of this are the comparatively more solid accomplishments of “self-awareness” and “acceptance.”
I can’t say I like my legs better this way. I honestly do prefer how they look hairless on me. The hair-getting-caught-in-everything thing is incredibly annoying, especially when trying to sleep. I’m also not comfortable showing them bare because I’m not necessarily trying to make a public statement with this and it still is weird here to see girls with such hairy legs, so my clothing options are frequently more inconvenient than they would be otherwise.
That being the case, I’ve wrestled with whether or not I should include a picture of my unshaven legs with this post. For all my gained self-awareness and acceptance, I’ve only shown them to a select few because I’m self-conscious about the fluff, and this is the internet. A part of me feels like going to the trouble of growing the hair and writing this just to not take the full hit to my pride is a little cowardly and anticlimactic, but I think I’m going to keep the visuals of this exploit to myself for now. I’m sorry if I got your hopes up. For a similar viewing experience, I encourage you to go look at a dude’s legs.
I haven’t decided when I’ll end this hair-removal hiatus, because, despite not preferring it, I appreciate many things about my legs au naturel. Obviously, I get to take shorter showers and save money on shaving products. There is something amusingly soothing in “petting” myself, and it’s an easy way for me to experiment with my appearance and explore different beauty standards without drawing much unwanted attention to myself. I feel more connected to my furrier forebears, with a superficial sense of satisfaction in my “bravery” to acknowledge this inherited reality of a genetically powerful Mediterranean ancestor.
Perhaps my favorite thing about all of this, though, is that it has helped me get over some of my judgements against body hair on women. I can (sort of) see hairy legs on women as genuinely cute and girly when I couldn’t before. If someone wants hairy legs then I’m excited for them to do it, and I’m glad I gave that alternative a chance for myself.
I know anyone likely to look at this is someone with whom I’ve maybe already talked about all this, but if you have any thoughts you’d like to add, I’d love to read them in the comments 🙂 Thanks for reading.
I passionately pursue uninfluenced first impressions of almost any shows, books, movies, or art that I experience, to the point that I sometimes avoid movie trailers for fear of “spoilers.” I also watch/read/see most shows, books, movies, and art well after it’s released, during which time people take the opportunity to consume, review, and discuss those things. Therefore, I have to stay on red alert for spoilers much later than is reasonable. Out of consideration for any other dedicated-but-woefully-late media consumers like me, this is your official spoiler alert for a show that started in 2010.
Andrea from The Walking Dead is sensitive, pragmatic, intelligent, and in general could be considered inherently good. She is fiercely loyal, and has some progressive ideas about suicide and choice that I’m not always sure I disagree with. It was interesting watching her refocus her deep well of passion from the verbal and mental channel of a civil rights lawyer to the physical and instinctual role of a post-apocalyptic survivor. She is not afraid of her voice, and is a refreshing example of an unapologetically womanly woman who does not use her gender as an excuse or bargaining chip. All in all, she is a complex, well-developed character worth studying, with admirable qualities and understandable flaws.
I can’t fucking stand her.
She makes some stupid stubborn stand to prove she makes her own rules and I want to smack her. She runs her stupid mouth because she’s not a timid little sheep and I want to smack her. She sticks up for her stupid boytoys out of blind ignorance and I want to smack her. She diligently practices with her stupid gun and valuably contributes to her stupid communities and I want to smack her. Her stupid hair curls in a pretty way and I want to smack her.
Andrea is a central character from basically the beginning, and my intense dislike for her spawned early and grew fast. Something instinctual and primal responds whenever she is mentioned or appears onscreen, and that something says “Smack her.” I’d like to think this is not merely the actress’s fault for looking smackable somehow, but I haven’t read the comics, so I can’t technically say that isn’t why yet. However, I went through the show wanting to smack several other characters, and the desire to smack eventually subsided to empathy for pretty much all of them–even Merle. Andrea’s smackability has been an unwavering constant.
Her efforts are no less earnest and thoughtful than anyone else’s, and they’re all operating in a reality for which I have no obvious personal reference point, so my harsh criticism of her has felt relatively unmotivated. I attempted to temper and quell my Andrea-induced rage with rational analysis and self-reflection.
The truth is that I make stubborn stands to prove I make my own rules. I run my mouth because I’m not a timid little sheep. I’ve stuck up for my boytoys out of blind and willful ignorance. I don’t have a gun yet, but I lose a lot of sleep trying to figure out how to valuably contribute to my communities. My hair curls in a pretty way.
I don’t remember precisely when I looked at Andrea and saw me instead, but I was not thrilled. I don’t enjoy finding new ways to not like myself–despite my talent for it–and the realization took all the fun out of hating her. As fashionable as self-deprecation is, people often don’t get the joke, and I probably look like a jackass tearing up a character I pretty plainly resemble to anyone who knows me well. I feel like I’ve been robbed of something because I never get to purely indulge in despising a character (obvious exception: Dolores Umbridge).
And so, forgiving Andrea is extremely annoying. I’m pretty grumpy about it, and am trying to do it gracefully by being frank about my reluctant but legitimate link with her. She has given me an opportunity to assess my own behavior from the outside, which is useful any time anyway, and is perhaps especially necessary during this current period when I spend a lot of time alone with my thoughts about the consequences of my actions.
Andrea dies relatively early and relatively badly. I’m not anticipating any zombie apocalypse-level crisis in my future, but her full narrative is something I should probably consider as I work on my own life. I will try to be less annoying, try to be a better team player, and try not to sleep with power-hungry psychopaths who will try to murder me and all my friends.
I wouldn’t consider myself to have been the most media- or socially-critical tween/teen. I didn’t want to be a shallow sheep, so I threw myself into emo counter-culture as much as I dared in an enlightened search for alternate perspectives (spoiler alert: I didn’t delve far). I relished the decision to vandalize my poor seventh grade boyfriend’s picture in my yearbook after our “dramatic” break-up, the cause of said break-up being that I believed some hearsay and didn’t bother to fact-check against even my own knowledge and experiences. As special as I’ve always wanted to be, I don’t know that I possessed particularly exemplary qualities compared to any other 13-year-olds.
However, even in middle school I was a bit baffled and impressed with how successful and well-received Simple Plan’s music was among my peers. The band was and remains a conflicting cultural point in my Millennial experience. I never had any of their albums personally, but I heard them occasionally at friends’ houses and I knew the main singles. Listening to some of the songs–“Welcome to My Life,” “I’m Just a Kid,” and “Worst Day Ever” standing out the most–I couldn’t shake the sense that some of the lyrics are an almost offensive caricature of teenagers and growing up, and that I was being mocked or duped by listening to them.
Pierre Bouvier was about twice my age when Simple Plan took off. This was undeniably apparent to me by looking at him and the rest of the band, so I immediately mistrusted these songs which I interpreted as an attempt to represent me and my life. He was more than a decade away from who I was, and therefore was not one of us. I’ve read a few places that Millennials value authenticity above everything else, and, at least in this case, I militantly demonstrated this assessment. The cover of No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls has a trashed hotel room and members of the opposite sex together in a way that I did not have access to as a pre-licensed teenager. I was fairly positive these 20-something-year-old men, who probably had neighbors that would probably call the cops on them, hadn’t been locking themselves in their rooms and screaming over the radio anytime recently. I expected, being creative people who are twice my age, that Simple Plan’s ability to express themselves would be more refined and eloquent than mine, even with my above average reading level.
And yet, “Welcome to My Life” promptly goes down a checklist of teenagerisms from which I was already trying to set myself apart because they’re all part of an overplayed stereotype of what teenagers are like. My peers loved it, and I did not understand why. Was I being pretentious? Did I miss some irony in the lyrics that made them cleverer than I thought? Was I a special snowflake with more advanced lyrical analysis than the rest of my friends? I had a hard time believing that I was the only one who had noticed the misunderstood teenager trope in every movie, commercial, and show I ever saw. I also had a hard time believing that I was the only one trying to prove that I was more than that.
I remember MSN screen names boasting “I’m Just a Kid” and feeling out of the loop because this phrase didn’t speak to me. I didn’t even want it to speak to me. The whole concept felt like an attempt to rescind responsibility for our lives, and even if we were limited by our youth, we certainly weren’t helpless. I might not have been blatantly aware of it, but just having the option to make a screen name was a demonstration of the options and power available to us, and I guess I didn’t appreciate the irony of using that power to bemoan that we were powerless. I probably considered myself deeper than that: if I was powerless, it wasn’t because of something as pedestrian as being a child. My favorite bands were Good Charlotte and My Chemical Romance–I was powerless because I knew there was darkness in the world and nothing I could do would stop it.
Not everything Simple Plan produced offended my teenaged identity. “Shut Up” became a significant part of my life’s soundtrack when my best friend and I left it blasting in her room while we snuck out the window to go talk by a nearby creek. They headlined with Good Charlotte at the first real concert I ever attended. I enjoyed several of their other songs without feeling put down at all, and I knew of at least one video that seemed to agree that the all-alone tone of “Welcome to My Life” was a bit silly. Although I felt that it lacked creativity, I had to admit that even the band’s “offensive” music was catchy–a virtue on its own.
Perhaps the most astounding thing about these songs is that, for all my pubescent dismissal of Simple Plan’s genuineness, it seems that I was operating under a gross misunderstanding that I can only attribute to lack of experience. I am 24 now, and I have discovered that feeling misunderstood and angsty is still absolutely a part of my day-to-day life. Simple Plan was actually telling the truth about their ages, and I know this now because… I do feel like breaking down. I am sick of everyone around. And you don’t know what it’s like. To be like me.
Except that you probably do. My expert analysis has revealed that Simple Plan continues to apply to all ages and phases of life, at least up to your 20s. How liberating that nothing has changed for me since seventh grade except my perception of what adulthood actually looks like. Apparently it looks like I’m just a kid.
In my biography post, I mentioned my cat who stays inside. I knew at the time that this subtle acknowledgement was not a fair representation of her, and it has been eating at me. Therefore, we shall now celebrate my cat exclusively in this blog post.
This magnificent creature is Samhain.
Samhain (pronounced SOW-in) is a remarkably attractive black and orange tortoiseshell short-haired cat, named for the Gaelic holiday often associated with Halloween. Samhain loves unrestrained access to laps, being scratched along the bridge of her nose, and demanding more water proportionally to her size than any animal I’ve ever known. Sometimes she gently snores (like right now), and any treats she’s given are swallowed whole. Many friends and strangers have complimented her sleek, soft coat and large yellow-green eyes, but these are just two of her fine features. Samhain is charmingly bow-legged, and has an uncommonly handsome frame with a neat, round little head–not to mention her distinctive coloring which sets her apart even from other Torties. She is in one of three states at all times: stationary, jumping, or running; she does not walk anywhere.
Samhain became a part of my life in the spring of 2008. I first laid eyes on her tiny flawless form when my best friend introduced me to the litter of kittens her outside cat had recently birthed, to which Samhain belonged. My family had a tradition growing up of giving animals names that begin with s or the s sound, and as soon as I saw her colors, I knew I couldn’t stand anyone else giving her any other name than the one she now has. I begged my mother to let me add just one more kitten to our existing tally of six cats. Fortunately for everyone, my pleas paid off.
Her first experience inside was, predictably, adorable. She was so baffled by carpet that she preferred sitting inside on her litter box ramp rather than venturing anywhere on the unfamiliar and unfirm material surrounding it. I had to put a piece of cardboard in front of the litter box opening so she had somewhere to sit besides the bathroom. She figured it out, though, and soon became quite comfortable with the cozy offerings of an inside-cat lifestyle
I discovered that she loves to cuddle up on paper after frequently transplanting her from my senior project documents in the fall of 2008. She has always loved snuggling with people, and it was obvious early on that any attention paid to her head was good. She mastered glaring very early, but for all her side-eyes and leers, she is actually exceptionally patient with being poked, pulled on, and otherwise generally annoyed. I’ve never met a cat that will put up with so much to stay in your lap. Any attempts to remove her before she is ready to remove will be met with admirable resistance. Samhain is cling wrap with claws.
For the first several years of her life, Samhain wouldn’t finish any of her meows, and would instead trail off halfway through, much like a person gesturing to something and saying “Hey, I just saw a…” or “Would you mind getting…?” She seemed to grow out of this once we moved into our first apartment with just the two of us in 2013, when she began exploring the full range of her vocal abilities. I didn’t want a litter box in my bedroom and don’t like to sleep with the door open, so I did not let Samhain sleep in my room with me; as a result, she developed an interest in creatively compromising on this arrangement. She and I quickly found that her preferred means to express her good night wishes and gentle morning reminders of breakfast through a closed door was by meowing with all the legato and forte she could muster for several minutes. She would make similar proclamations whenever I returned home from trips, classes, or social outings.
Samhain is especially concerned with being well groomed. She devotes huge chunks of her day to ensuring that her fur is clean and orderly so that she is comfortable and presentable. She is afflicted with highly sensitive skin, which eventually led to the portions of her life when she wore an Elizabethan collar in order to let her heal and prevent her from scratching and picking out scabs on anything and everything we owned. It was during these times that I was again astounded by the ingenuity and talent of my cat. Although she initially was so shocked by this change that she stood perfectly still in a halfway sitting position for a full minute, she speedily learned how best to adapt to this dramatic shift in how she experienced the world. While wearing her Cone of Shame, she compensated for her limited peripheral vision by endearingly slithering her head back and forth as she slid the cone along the ground in front of her. She also understood that just because she couldn’t actually lick herself doesn’t mean that she should let those skills fall by the wayside. Even while wearing the cone, she goes through the grooming motions that are so important to her. She is a model of diligence and discipline in the face of adversity.
Despite her seemingly sedentary lifestyle, Samhain is actually quite skilled in the acrobatics characteristic of her species. She commits to all of her movement choices, and makes going from the floor to clutching the door frame five feet in the air look like teleportation. She is also keenly interested in my activities, particularly when they involve decorating for holidays and/or bringing nature inside, such as carving pumpkins, stripping holly branches, and trimming the Christmas tree.
I could provide a wholly separate, comprehensive blog on the virtues of my cat, so I will bring this post to a close with a list of Samhain trivia:
Samhain is what cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy would call a “tree-dweller”; she likes to be up high, surveying over all she reigns
Her favorite people foods are Twizzlers and cured meat of any kind
Although she prefers the inside life, Samhain is naturally equipped for camouflage in the wild–particularly during the autumn months
Samhain is a master of disguise, and can occasionally be seen sporting different looks as they suit her needs
Samhain is, regrettably for all other past, present, and future cat owners, the pinnacle of her kind, and cannot be replicated; this is one of those sad facts of the world, and I am truly sorry to all of you who are not me