Bee Stings, Midlife and Telling Stories

Xylocopa9I stepped gingerly across the slick wet rocks, boots in hand, the small stream gleaming. There was something important about getting to the other side without falling in. I placed my foot on the next rock and felt the firm, sudden sting in the ball of my foot. Sharp intake of breath, a sudden jerk, a small yelp. I plunged my foot into the cold water and waded to shore where I sat on the edge of the stream examining my foot in wonder. Stung at last.

When I was a kid bee stings seemed to happen to everyone but me. Bees buzzed lazily in the woods behind my best friend’s house where we played spin the bottle, around the massive garbage bins behind the middle school, by the pool snack shack. Everyone had a bee sting war story: a bee swallowed while zooming downhill on a bike, a hand swollen to the size of a golf ball, a sister who got stung in the eye!

I’d stand in the casual circle of tweens, dripping in my red Speedo, hair slicked back, breaking off bits of a frozen Charleston Chew. I faked my way into the group as if I was just like everyone else. I laughed when the others did as if I knew from a bee sting with the throbbing, the pinkish, raised bump, the way you had to make sure the stinger wasn’t lodged under your skin. If you were allergic you’d find out fast enough, break out into hives or go into anaphylactic shock. Getting stung by a bee was a rite of childhood that wasn’t mine, a story I couldn’t tell.

My first and only sting in the stream happened in my mid-20s. This hike in the woods was a semi-date with a boy I wouldn’t end up marrying. Image was everything. That hike turned into crossing the stream, barefoot, in search of a lunch spot, a place to loll, maybe a flirty conversation. Instead I ended up sitting in a half lotus on the muddy bank cradling my stung foot. I could see the tiny pinprick where the stinger had gone in. It hurt more than I imagined or let on – deeper and all mine.

There are some events that defy description. You can’t really understand them until they happen to you. Some of them are known and knife-sharp – a miscarriage, a death, even a bee sting – while others are slower in coming, undefined and amorphous until you notice them swirling curiously at your feet like a tattered plastic bag caught in a sudden summer wind. This is what midlife feels like. At some point between loading the dishwasher and paying the taxes, renovating the kitchen and explaining polynomials to my 12-year-old, I turned 46. Now it’s as if the word “midlife” is sewn into the label of my favorite jeans; it’s plastered across my jar of all-natural, skin plumping face cream; it pops up on Google maps when I look up the directions to that trendy new restaurant in the city.

People keep talking about “the second half of life” as if I’m supposed to be done with the first half. I do not feel done with anything. Must the place where I am now, sitting at the kitchen counter, the children asleep, the bananas turning brown in the fruit bowl, be the fulcrum? One step forward and the time I have left is forever less than the time I’ve already spent. How can we know? I am a self-professed late bloomer, stung by a bee for the first time in my 20s. Who knows what other firsts lay in wait for me, what other stories I have to tell.

No one ever mentions the bee post-sting in their tales, how they lay there twitching, lamely buzzing, no chance of a second half. That day by the river, I vaguely remembered that bees don’t survive once they’ve stung someone. I hopped up with boot in hand, waded back out to the rock and quickly crushed the dying thing, sweeping the remains out into the stream.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post inspired by the prompt, “I wonder…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by Kerri of (Un)Diagnosed and still ok and Jill from Ripped Jeans & Bifocals.

Special thanks to Jena Schwartz for the original prompt that started this post, “Tell me about bees.” If you’re looking for a brilliant space to write, share and be amazed, try one of Jena’s online writing groups.

Words That Stick

Meaning of Life

My friend Ariana posted these words on her Facebook page a few days ago. In the middle of my runaway life, that first line – “The meaning of life is just to be alive” – resonated with such a relief. I’ve been so rushed and wound up, overcome by tightening deadlines, overscheduled with meetings and appointments, intimidated by to-dos. Time shrinks without warning, pushing me into the next day before I’ve had a chance to be fully in the one I woke up in. Continue reading

First Date, French Kissing and Wondering Why He Likes Me: When I Was 14

Seeing myself in that three-way mirror was like seeing myself for the first time. All the ways I’d placed myself in the world suddenly gave way.

IMG_5960We were at Jessica’s house in her mom’s bathroom trying on the eyeliner I wouldn’t be allowed to wear for another year, curling our eyelashes, giggling and gasping as they caught in between the metal clamps. I moved a panel of the mirror and suddenly a different me appeared. My nose slanted across my face rather than running straight down the middle. I noticed how slender my face was, thin and long and the way my jaw rounded gently, no strong lines. Until then, I’d only known myself straight on, unaware of my asymmetry. It stunned me, this three-dimensional view of myself, like staring at a stranger then realizing I’d known them all my life.

“Try this one,” Jessica said, passing me a glittery baby-blue shadow. “It’ll go good with your eyes.” Continue reading

Will I Know How to Raise My Teen Girl?

IMG_5859It’s an unwritten law: there will be scraped knees and hurt feelings. Hearts will break, exhaustion will set in; someone will get cancer. One of my three girls will grow up to hate me, maybe all three, hopefully not all at the same time. But then they’ll love me again, won’t they?

I’m reading this article in the Sunday New York Times magazine called The Mother of All Problems. It’s about teenage girls and how they turn on their mothers, become unreachable, utter profanities about us behind our backs to their friends. Hate, hate, hate us. Continue reading

Compassion is Alive and Well in the 4th Grade

Last month, in honor of the launch of #1000Speak, I posted a special piece about compassion called Teaching Our Girls About Friendship. Writing on a shared theme and posting on the same day as hundreds of other writers worldwide was a mighty, moving event. Reading so many amazing stories and perspectives inspired me, swelled my heart and put a perma-grin on my face for days. The whole experience got me thinking:

If writing and reading about compassion can have this kind of impact on me, an adult, what can it do for our kids? Continue reading

5 Ways St. Patrick’s Day Prepared Me for Motherhood

IMG_4570In my 20s and early 30s, wearing green, pinching the unfortunate souls who didn’t and getting wasted on St. Patrick’s Day was a required annual ritual my party hardy friends and I looked forward to. Then I had kids. Suddenly March 17 and the traditions of the day took on a different meaning. Here are five ways St. Patrick’s Day prepared me for motherhood: Continue reading

5 Lessons I Learned Staying Home with My Sick Three-Year-Old

IMG_5769 Winter in northern California is hardly challenging. Even during the years we get lots of rain (not this year or last), it’s rarely freezing cold and it certainly doesn’t snow where I am in the Bay Area. Despite the mild weather, we do still get hit with colds and flu though. My youngest ended up getting sick with a cold this weekend and stayed home from school today, which meant I stayed home too. Here’s what I learned during our sick day together. Continue reading