Le 40 is Le Terrifying and I Can’t Understand Why.

Y’all. Why am I so scurred about turning 40????

A bit of background: growing up, no age ever really scared me off. I ached to be 12. I fortycouldn’t wait to be 16. 21 was super cool. 25? Give me 5. And if you’ve read any of my past posts, you know about the wonder, amazement, and sheer beauty that 30 brought me. (There are too many posts to link about 30; just hit that search button, playa.) As the ages continued, I embraced each new year, grateful for the increase in wisdom and self-discovery, among other awesome things that came with getting older.

But why is 40 giving me all the terrors known to man? What is it about that number?

Oh, and the whole “you’re only as old as you feel” adage means nothing to me. I was born old and stressed out.  If anything, getting older has given me ample opportunities to age backwards. Meet your Melanin Benjamin Button, everyone. So why do I envision this new decade hiding behind a dark corner, flexing its long claws, ready to strike?

Here are some irrational, pre-40 fears:

  1. All my bones will fall apart.
  2. Someone will refer to me as middle-aged.
  3. My hormones will get further out of whack and someone will find me on the side of the road muttering unintelligibly to myself.

I said irrational, didn’t I?

In the past, like most kids, I always felt too young and dreamed of being older. And now…give me trips to the library during school-sanctioned summertime and rolling in the grass in the backyard without fear of ticks, please. Perhaps it’s that, the strange sense of losing youth, that’s bothering me. Even though I craved getting older, I also knew that the process would take time. Fast forward to now, where time is a giant clock that has “40” emblazoned on its surface, staring back at me with its arms folded and an impatient tapping of its foot. We have arrived.

In the grand scheme of things, rationally, I recognize that the age is really only a number. It’s relevant for tax, census, and records purposes. It doesn’t define me or create some sort of blueprint of what my life will become. I know, I know…

Here are some of my favorites who are turning 40 this year right along with me (or already have):

Anyway, I will continue to heave giant sighs and wonder what 40 will bring me. Meanwhile, you will tell me in the comments how you dealt with new ages and/or decades, won’t you? Because you love This Square Peg and want to comfort her somehow, right? Right? Riiiight?

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How to Adult.

adulting

Because let’s be honest: there was no real manual to prepare for adulting when we were kids, was there? Sure, our parents may have given us advice and even perhaps provided their own living example. But we were destroying playing Legos and watching Jem and the Holograms. We–I, for sure–weren’t paying attention. And then you turn 25 and you’re like…how many more nights do I have to eat peanut butter so I can have enough money to pay my rent this month?! (True story.) Here are five things I wish I had known (or listened to) in advance, but I’m glad I know now:

  1. Adults are just tall kids wearing grown-up clothes. Seriously, the behaviors we saw in classrooms and on playgrounds don’t change that drastically. Tantrums become manageable, attitudes can be hidden, etc. Timmy, now Tim, probably still wants to stick in a frog inside your T-shirt, but instead, he ignores you during the staff meeting. And let’s not get started on Janine and your ongoing issues with parking, personal space, and food in the office fridge. My point is that we may grow up, but not everything goes away. Cliques remain. Mean girls become mean ladies. That sort of thing. And I don’t excuse myself: the way I dealt with life as a 10 year-old versus now means I deal with it better, but trust, I still have my bratty ways. And a strong side eye.
  2. Credit cards are nothing but the work of the devil. My dear Daddy tried to warn me about them. I remember sitting in the car and staring placidly out of the window while he discussed the danger of relying on credit cards. I wasn’t listening. Le sigh. In college, I was offered an Faustian bargain: to get a free mobile phone, all I had to do was sign up for a credit card. Ooh, free phone! Got the phone, the card, and eventually, the bills. It was an interesting journey. I learned the hard way. But I learnt!
  3. Love isn’t a guarantee. Growing up, I saw how difficult things could sometimes be for my parents, who were raising four children while balancing all the things married life and the economy and other responsibilities demanded of them. The unsurprising result: I never imagined myself married. No visions of weddings or my own little children running around. It just seemed hard. I knew my parentsAngela Bower loved each other, but there were so many struggles. I was content imagining myself as a rich advertising executive with high heels and maybe a boyfriend, a la Angela Bower from Who’s the Boss? (Honestly.) But when I got older and recognized that love, despite its wrinkles and hardships, was still love and worth the fight (also seen through my parents’ example, among others), life taught me an interesting lesson: so what? In other words, me finally understanding and wanting love didn’t necessarily guarantee that I would find it or attain it. And so far, love remains elusive. Becoming an adult with adult comprehension was no automatic journey into a love of my own, a lesson that continues to morph before my eyes. But you know what I found? An abiding love for This Square Peg. I’ll take it.
  4.  Assume nothing. Along the adulting highway, I started to believe–really, assume–that folks would act right/make good decisions/not cut me off in traffic/so on because that’s what kind, good, compassionate people do in life: the right thing. Nooooooope. People are complicated creatures, including the person writing all of this. Assume. Nothing.
  5. Questions are really OK. Y’all. I’m about five months from entering a brand new decade in life and I still call my mom/bestie/sister/friends and pose a variety of questions about life, people, work, etc. My bottom line: adulting will never mean an exhaustive understanding of everything. We will still wonder; gaze in confusion; dissect; figure out or try to. And that’s OK. The complexities will continue. But that’s…adulting.

Yeah, I miss those days when I knew nothing about taxes and utility bills and struggle peanut butter and the list continues, but I wouldn’t trade those days for now. It’s nice to see the world through these adulting eyes…I think.

What’s one adulting lesson you wish you knew in advance (but are happy to know it regardless)? Share with your fellow tall kid in grown-up clothes, please…

be our guest.

welcome

There we all are, sitting in our living room in our old house in Ghana, surrounded by endless laughter and fascinating conversations. My parents are there; also uncles, aunts, various relatives, and longtime family friends that might as well be kin to us, being that I’ve known them and have been around them for as long as I could remember. Some of my earliest memories involve evenings like this, where my parents hosted friends, family, our neighbors. The joyous faces and smiles. The gentle teasing and ribbing between my father and his pals. The beautiful women I observed reverentially. And the food. Ah, the food. Without really understanding it, my parents were establishing, for their children, a blueprint of hospitality. Things didn’t change when we settled in the United States. From our little apartment to the townhouse we later lived in, there were always people. Family, friends, relatives, all part of our immediate family of six. My parents never hesitated to help friends in need; if someone needed a place to stay, he or she was staying at our home. As I got older, it was incredible to see the generosity and love my parents showed to others.

This posed a bit of a problem growing up, however. Sure, my parents could invite loads of people over because they were adults and could do whatever they, the payers of rent, pleased. But their kid inviting other kids over without telling them?

nah

It happened more than once. I’m convinced my mother had moments of stopping herself from doing permanent damage to my hind parts. No worries, though: I learned my lesson at the age of 14. We won’t get into the details, but it was the last time I didn’t check with my parents first before making invitation. Believe me.

Here’s the thing (if you’ve experienced it or are experiencing it, you’ll agree with me): living alone is glorious. There’s really nothing like being the queen/king of your castle of one; laying about, doing whatever strikes your fancy. I moved out of my parent’s house and lived on my own in my first apartment when I was 24 years old. It was amazing. It was eye-opening. It was frustrating. It was the best. After that, there was an interesting journey of roommates and housemates and then moving back home when Dad got sick and then, a year and six months ago, leaving VA and moving to the Lone Star state and living solo once again. All that said, I’m happiest in the company of my own solitude. But I’m also the daughter of two people who kept that open-door policy we discussed above, and so it’s necessary to tell you I love a house filled with people.

I’ve hosted gatherings, game nights, movie nights, come-over-and-chill evenings (my personal favorite), girls-just-talking-into-the-wee-hours-of-the-early-morning events, etc. It’s thrilling to look around my living room and see people, to hear the laughter, to go deep into conversation. Last night, I hosted an impromptu dinner with friends. I actually cooked dinner–chili a la Square Peg–and we ate and watched movies and had a smashing good time. You can’t beat that on a Sunday evening. (But it was also nice when everyone went home and I resumed my relaxing spot on the couch and watching cheesy Hallmark movies.)

Can’t thank my parents enough for showing me how to love people, how to be generous, and how to say welcome.

What say you? Loner or lover of guests or both?

 

Starring This Square Peg as Herself.

owlcreek1I was 11 years old, a quiet sixth-grader. That day, we embarked on a field trip to a place called Hemlock Overlook. The bus ride was animated, filled with the excited conversations of my fellow classmates. I silently observed the scenes passing us by and wondered just where we were headed. Field trips had always been fun for me: museums, the zoo. This place was unfamiliar to me and I was curious and anxious about what we would find.

The school bus pulled into a dense, wooded area. It seemed to be a giant park. It was a giant park. A giant park, as I came to learn, that was filled with a variety of physical fitness-inspired activities. Games. A zip line that I eyed warily and ultimately refused to climb. The whole thing was weird and stressful. On one hand, it was nice to hang out with some of the few friends I had in my classroom. I was a shy girl, but there were some kids I was actually comfortable with; I remember some of us sitting around a table and talking/laughing. On the other hand: I wasn’t a fitness girl by any means. Sure, I “played” soccer during recess, which essentially meant just standing around while the real dynamos kicked the ball. This was intense. Needless to say, I was always last in each of these activities and I was always slow.

Then came the rope.

In the middle of the area was a large mud hole. The point was to grab a rope and swing across the hole to get over to the other side. Simple, right? I wanted to throw up. I had already failed at every single activity. Why would this end up in anything other than total disaster? Of course, I was last to go. I gulped. I grabbed the rope. Gravity took over, if only for a few seconds. I was moving. Moments later, all of me was drowning in mud.

Raucous laughter ensued. I think my teacher was even laughing. I was a mess. Clothes, face, everything covered in mud. I wanted to cry, scream, even chuckle a little so they would think I had been on it the whole time, purposely falling into a mud hole for some attempt at comedy.

On the bus ride back to the school, I listened as some of the kids talked about me. The mud on my clothes. How I looked. Describing how I fell in the hole. I remember gazing out of the window and wishing–and it wouldn’t be the first time in my adolescent life–that I could just disappear.

The website for Hemlock Overlook states that these adventures teach the adventurers about team collaboration. If the goal was to teach my classmates, even my teacher, how to collaborate by laughing at me in unison, then, yes, it worked. I learned a few different things from the experience, however. How to be humiliated. How to hold in my tears for more opportune moments when they could be released comfortably. How to sit in the filth of mud and hold my head up while people around me were sending darts by way of words in my direction. No one comforted me. No one patted me on the back and said, “Sorry, This Square Peg, at least you tried.” Nothing like that occurred.

In the past, when I’ve randomly thought about this memory, the clarity of hindsight never comes. My adult brain is rarely able break it down in a palatable way. (For years, I think I even repressed it, not really sharing the story with friends.) But looking back now, I’ve realized a few things about what the experience taught me. For one thing, I have a deep, deep spot in my heart for the kind of kid I was back then. The slower ones, the ones picked last, the ones who aren’t adept at team sports or athletics. Those are the children I want to hug and assure. Secondly, my mother has always reminded me to keep my dignity in any situation. To keep my cool. That moment on the school bus was certainly the beginning of learning how to do just that. Even if my insides were turning into mush. Le sigh.

education

Sometimes it takes place while sitting quietly on a school bus, trying not to cry, trying to hold on. Nevertheless: you learn.

What are your seminal moments from childhood? What did you learn? Share? Pretty please? 

“when you gonna make up your mind?”

nora

Confession: I lost a bit of myself in 2017.

I think it happens to every woman. Here and there, pieces of who we are, good pieces, at that, begin to crumble at our feet. The sources of that quiet, subtle destruction are many. Discouragement, lack of confidence, heartbreak, loss, pain, unhappiness–so, so many things. Womanhood is hard. If you’re a woman, you know what I’m talking about. We struggle. We weep. We bleed. Of course, this is the human experience, isn’t it? Every human being endures. Every human being has to fight to hold on. Sometimes I do wonder if there seems to be an extra layer of things to fight for when you’re a woman. Maybe our emotions get the best of us. Maybe it’s biological. I don’t know.

2017 was an interesting year of womanhood for me. Instead of going into the specifics of that journey and all the things I experienced, I want to talk about what I learned and continue to learn from those experiences, as we’re only weeks into 2018 and a new year doesn’t necessarily mean a ton of changes have been irrevocably made. Here are three things I now know for sure.

Protect your heart. A friend once gave me this piece of advice. The heart has many chambers, he said. Know which ones to open and which ones to keep closed.  It’s important to protect both your heart and the energy around it. Because people are powerful. Sometimes we open a chamber without really wanting to, only because we’ve been stupefied and transfixed into action. Know the people around you. Resist them if you need to. Let them in only if they deserve to be there. (I don’t diminish the excitement that comes from meeting someone who seems like they’ll be good for your heart. Maybe they are. Maybe not. Exercise caution.) There were times in 2017 that I didn’t listen to my intuition. That I forced feelings that, deep down, weren’t there. It’s all related to the heart. Protect it however you can. It doesn’t need a suit of armor, but it needs a lock and key.

Protect your ‘no.’ One of the most brilliant, thought-provoking statements I’ve ever heard is the following: No is a complete sentence. It fell by the wayside for me a bit in 2017, this ability to say no and mean it and allow that to be a viable answer. Sometimes I said yes when I didn’t want to. Sometimes I found myself qualifying my no. I’m getting back to protecting my adult right to choose if I’m going to do something or not. You may be accused of not wanting to try new things, of being scared, of not being open-minded. Sure. But determine those things for yourself, dear reader. I’m all for suggestions, but I’m also all for honoring the rights of others, myself included.

Protect your you. Ever mess up royally, just full of mistakes, and then start to call your own self every objectionable thing in the book? It’s intense. It’s not beating yourself up. It’s beating yourself up and then some. You become every villain, every ounce of ineptitude, every horrible thing. Look. 2017 was hard, you guys. I found myself going about 600 paces back when it came to my personal insistence on building myself up. It was very much the opposite: there were times when I verbally and mentally pushed myself so far down…it was just incredible. Protect your you. It’s a bit trite and treacly to say, but I’m saying it anyway: the value you bring to anything is immeasurable. Even if something implodes, you were part of it. Just whatever you do, especially as a woman: hold on to your value. There are things other say, and then there’s what you say about yourself. Protect that power.

I’m continuing to take 2018 one day at a time. Let’s hope there aren’t too many pieces of me left on the ground as I make my way. You, too.

tori

[The post title is a lyric from Tori Amos’ amazing song, Winter. All about growing up, choices, leaving the fairy tales behind. Appropriate for our discussion, no?]

(Un)necessary.

What is?

closuregif

Closure. Let me tell you a story. Many, many moons ago during that perilous decade known as my Twenties, I met a boy. He was nice; we became friends. Eventually, I developed a crush on him (as I was prone to do) and silly me, I believed that he felt romantical (definitely not a word) about me in return. He didn’t. After some time of seeing that my efforts to engage him met with silence, it was clear that he wasn’t interested in me. Disappointing? Yes. Ultimately something I moved on from? Absolutely. And then a friend and I talked about it and she encouraged me to reveal my feelings for him, something I had never communicated. “You need closure,” she kept saying. “You need to know where you stand, once and for all.” But, dear reader, I already knew where I stood. It was startlingly clear: this boy had zero interest in your Square Peg. So why did I nod along with her talk of closure and needing to definitively know whether the door between us needed to stay closed or could possibly re-open? Because deep down, I wanted to know, too. And I was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, the door didn’t have to remain closed.

Le sigh.

I reached out to him and we’ll just say that he definitively made his feelings known: the door was not only closed but had been slammed shut. It was a punch to the heart, to say the least. But the bruises healed. I learned my lesson and I moved on. And what lesson did I learn? Closure isn’t always unnecessary. closure

Is my statement borne from the bruises that were inflicted on my heart because I re-opened a door that should have remained closed? Sure. After all, I could have saved myself the endless tears that came from his unrelenting honesty. I could have saved myself from the humiliation I felt so deeply. I could have saved myself from the anxiety that came from wondering if he had shared this story with his or our mutual friends. Yes, my statement is riddled with bias. But here’s the thing: in life, in general, my story notwithstanding, sometimes a goodbye, your goodbye, is one-sided and that’s OK. (I just killed a family of commas.) Sometimes both parties don’t need to officially end something. When you know and understand that it’s over, is it necessarily important that the other party acknowledge that it’s over, too? I really don’t think so.

I’m sure a roomful of therapists is presently finding my opinion laughable (and note that it’s my opinion), but that situation with the boy and many, many others that came after taught me a few things: closure2

  • Sudden silence in a relationship doesn’t always require a summary.
  • People disappear.
  • You never hear about certain topics again.
  • Friends quietly move on.

As much as I view myself as a Law and Order/Murder, She Wrote-type investigator, I’ve learned that certain moments in life don’t need me to dig deep. Silence speaks volumes when it needs to. But This Square Peg, you say, I’d rather just know where I stand with someone. I agree. However, we can’t always say that the other individual is interested in ensuring that you know where you stand with them. You know what I mean? Maybe they’re just done and somehow, they want you to get that. There won’t be an official coda.

Doesn’t mean you won’t be hurt.

Doesn’t mean you won’t be angry.

Doesn’t mean that the lack of resolution won’t eat at you.

Doesn’t mean that you won’t wonder.

But it happened.

Looking back at the situation with the boy, I initially did a lot of blaming in the aftermath. Myself for giving in to what I wanted to hear. My friend for placing that seed in my mind. The boy for being so intense with his honesty. The boy for not realizing how amazing I was. The boy for…we’ll stop there. Because hindsight and age mean understanding. Here’s what I now know for sure, clearer than an ending or a resolution or closure: it wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Let me know your thoughts about closure in the comments…are you for it? Against it? Doesn’t matter? 

here.

Yes, I moved.

Yes, I hitched up my lady pantaloons and made the decision to start over with new people, new new places, and new things.

Yes, I wept when leaving my mother, my brothers, and my sister.

Yes, I continued to weep on and off days after arriving in the Dallas area (specifically Carrollton) and still nurse a weepy homesickness that consumes here and there, especially when I’m driving. (Why do we weep when we drive? Or is it just me?)

Yes, I realized that this was a pretty significant step to take in my life and I have to say: I truly underestimated the emotional upheaval that was poised to come.

Yes, it’s lovely here.

Yes, I’ve reconnected with/met a few friends who’ve helped to assuage my aching for home and the familiar.

Yes, I’ve gotten lost on these long, winding roads and have become besties with my GPS.

Yes, I’ve slowly created a routine that I’m getting used to. quotelion

Yes, some roads have already become so familiar that I turn off the GPS when driving, and I realize that my mobile phone’s data plan thanks me for this.

Yes, it’s really hot here. For real. Like really.

Yes, I want to go home. But right now, I won’t.

Yes, the quote to the right explains how I largely feel about staying here.

Yes, I’ve wanted to blog since I got here, but I needed time to wipe these tears. And a wet laptop keyboard wouldn’t have helped anyone.

Yes, I FaceTime my people whenever I can. And I worry about them. And I think of them constantly. And I’m back in kindergarten.

And yes, despite that ache mentioned above, and the homesickness, I’m happy, excited, and curious about the future.

It’s nice to be with you again, dear reader. If you’ve ever made a move, please tell me about how you dealt with it in the comments, won’t you?

I’d Like to Marry for Money, Please.

Got your attention, huh?

When I was a teenager, I was like most young girls. I read Tiger Beat and BOP magazine TigerBeat BOP magazineand dreamed about Jonathan Brandis and New Kids on the Block and other movie/TV/music stars. Cute was everything. Whenever I imagined being married in the future–well, quite honestly, I didn’t want a husband; I wanted to be Angela Bower, work in advertising, have a home in Connecticut and a penthouse in NYC, and have a fancy, pretty boyfriend who worked in fields like I didn’t quite understand, like venture capitalism or investment banking or stocks and bonds. And moonlighted as a singer or poet. It was light and fluffy, as dreams should be.

How things change. Being in my mid-30s. Living an adult life with bills and responsibilities and choices. Now, when I think of marriage and the future, the first thing that comes to mind is the dollar bill. (Or the pound, or the euro, etc. Look, I’m an international gal. Anyway…)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those women that needs six figures in my life. I don’t care if my future husband is an accountant or a plumber. But I’ve got bills, ya’ll. And bills will come after we marry. As such, I need someone who will nicely fuse his paycheck with mine and make them eventually go away. Is that bad? Am I being superficial and money-hungry? I don’t think so. I’ve taken care of myself financially since I was in my early 20s. Dealing with finances won’t go away, but the idea of two people backing each other up financially is far more attractive to me than a cute face. Hey, physical attraction is important. Life would be extra, uh, interesting if the guy you’re sharing your life with looks like a resident of the Black Lagoon (or we look like that to each other). In the end, however, I just don’t have those particular stars in my eyes anymore. Share my faith, undoubtedly; love me, oh, yes; make the butterflies jump and dance in my belly, absolutely; be able to support our family financially, yes, yes, yes. And yes.

When people tell me about “available” menfolk in their lives and how they’d like to introduce me to them, the first thing I think about is whether they’re employed. This is a far cry from my 20s, when I was far more concerned with the way one guy’s hair seemed to curl so beautifully in the front or the dimple in that other’s one cheek or… You get my drift. Times and what I consider important have changed. Some say that when a woman meets a man, she looks past the moment and into the future at what their lives will be like. I agree with this because I do it. While I believe men largely stay in the present, women look ahead at what you will be, what we will be, and whether we’ll be living with your parents.

From time to time, I think back to those days of afternoons on the sofa in our basement, surrounded by my glossy teen magazines and reading them like they were historical tomes. That girl was not thinking about 401Ks and renting vs. buying and how that pesky school loan will never go away unless we donate our first child to the Department of Education. This woman is, though. Just saying.

from the start.

I’ve always been different.

I entered the world quietly. No crying or whimpering. As a result, the doctor gently swatted me on the bottom. My mother said I turned my brand new head toward the doctor and seemed to gaze at him with disdain. Like, did you just SWAT me, fool? I then responded to the swat with a slight whimper. She had arrived.

And so she has.

"You wanna fight me?"
“You wanna fight me?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was born into a world of beautiful women who never hesitated to speak their minds; into a colorful world filled with electric sights and sounds; into a continent that can best be described as enigmatic and compelling. Yet I came in quietly and remained that way. I observed; I feared speaking up; I sat still. But I also loved what I loved, held on to what I wanted despite the opinions of others, and leveled that same seconds-after-birth expression of disdain to whomever warranted it.

Painfully shy yet unflinchingly stubborn. Wanting to be like everyone else for a long time and hardly a thing like them at all. Never fitting into the mold people expected of me, including the things I wanted for myself. And finally, finally proud of the person I am.

This square peg…is about me. The writer, the worrier, the dreamer, the art lover, the travel lover, the thinker, the overthinker, the African girl, the African woman, the American woman, the silly, the serious, the foolish, the fearful.

Come away with me…