When I was a senior in high school, I became friends with Sally. I genuinely dug Sally, finding a kindred spirit in her quirky, sarcastic wit, but in truth, I may have befriended her because I liked her older brother, Mike. Although Mike and I were friendly acquaintances, he didn’t pay me much mind and struck me as the shy type. I was the opposite: outgoing, friendly, gregarious and a blatant flirt. Being at Sally’s house afforded me plenty of opportunities to interact with Mike and attempt to get him to notice me.
But this story isn’t about Mike (which could be a novel), or Sally (which could be a short story), it’s about their mother, Nancy, with whom they lived after their parents divorced.
Nancy was not your typical mom. First, she epitomized cool. She listened to rock and roll—cranked up high on the weekends. She snow skied and windsurfed, teaching herself the latter when it arrived on the scene. Nancy was on the small side, so watching her wrangle that large rig to the top of her car was no small feat. Speaking of her car, she drove a sporty MG (that is, until Mike crashed it while driving drunk one evening. Worse, he crashed on the street behind my house after unsuccessfully trying to lure me back out after curfew…by this time, Mike had not only noticed me, but we’d begun an on again, off again dance that would last years). Nancy owned a beautiful home in the Oakland hills filled with chic but unassuming décor and lots of windows facing the San Francisco Bay. Perhaps most attractive, she struck me as independent and confident, traits I always admired in adult women because they seemed rare.
Nancy wasn’t sitting around waiting for life to happen. She didn’t seem remorseful about divorce or her lot in life. She appeared to be living it exactly as she wanted. She worked, played and sang along with Mick and the Rolling Stones. She probably had moves better than Jagger.
Nancy also never struck me as a meddlesome parent, or a hoverer. Both her kids were given fairly free reign. She was guilty of trusting them too much, but many of our parent’s did—to our advantage and times, our detriment. Because kids are idiots who make poor decisions. It’s called learning from our own experience.
Fast forward to now, and I’ve been thinking about Nancy quite a bit. I’ve reached a stage in my life where I feel a little like her. I think much of that is because I recently bought a kayak and have been dragging it down to the lake to paddle around. Back when Nancy started windsurfing, I’d go with the whole family out to Lake Del Valle in Livermore and sit on the beach while they took turns. I watched Sally and Mike both learn, with trial and error, but for some reason, I didn’t want to try it myself. Maybe I was afraid of failure (because it wasn’t the easiest skill to pick up), or looking stupid in front of a boy I liked (been there, done that), or simply preferred sitting on the beach in my bikini getting a tan. In those days, we slathered on orange-tinted Ban de Soleil oil and “worked” on our tans vs. avoiding them like the plague.
Today, I feel the same independence and confidence Nancy exuded. It’s a comfort with myself that I attribute to longevity and experience, which finally yielded some wisdom. I embrace being at a stage in my life where I know who I am and what I want. And being at mid-life, it’s nice to know I can still lift heavy weights, drag a kayak around with ease so I can revel in nature’s bounty, crank up the Rolling Stones and rock out, and maybe be a role model for girls navigating their high school years. That cool car? Eh. Maybe it’s right around the corner!
I love a full-circle moment, and this qualifies. Wherever you are, Nancy, I hope it’s full of freedom, mobility, splendid moments and loud music.
A collection of columns, articles and general a-musings.