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January 30, 2007

Answering to my Teenage Self

Kelly Corrigan, writer, wife, mother of two, recently sat down for an interview with her eighteen year-old self to discuss values, ambition and dating versus mating. Here’s an excerpt from what appears to be an ongoing conversation.

KC (18): OK, um, for starters, why do you put on sun block every morning? It’s not like you’re going to the beach or something, and you could use some sun on your cheeks.

KC (39): Well, besides skin cancer, there’s the wrinkles. Look at my forehead. See?

KC (18): What-ever. Why don’t you go to a tanning place if you’re so down on real rays? I know one on Shattuck Avenue that’s awesome and they have a 10-pack thing so it’s totally cheap.

KC (39): It’s not a money thing; it’s the time. We’ve been out of ketchup for three days and don’t have a piece of bread in the house. Do you realize how challenging it is to feed children without ketchup? Anyway, I don’t care that much.

KC (18): I can tell.

KC (39): Oh, really?

KC (18): Well, I mean, yeah. You’re totally awesome and everything but seriously, CK jeans from Costco? T-shirts from Land’s End? And what’s this Miracle Suit thing? At least go to Old Navy. Or H&M. If I were you—okay, I am you, eew, weird—I’d spend more time shopping for clothes and less time shopping for ottomans and window treatments. And what’s with the gardening kick? You’ve been back and forth to the nursery like ten times in the last week.

KC (39): Is gardening so bad? My flowerbeds are finally working. Look at the snapdragons, the zinnias. That hydrangea is burning up but that corner’s always given me problems—

KC (18): Um, OK, senior citizens garden. That’s how they throw their backs out and break their hips. It’s the last thing they do before they move into [finger quotes] continuous care. By the by, Claire’s preschool called and you forgot to hand in the permission slip for the field trip to the [more finger quotes] retirement community. I thought you’d—ugh, I’d—be more together by now.

KC (39): Nope. Still hitting the snooze button, still missing deadlines and still ten pounds overweight.

KC (18): And still borrowing clothes.

KC (39): Oh come on, that was one time. I found out that wedding was black tie the day before we left.

KC (18): I just thought by the time we were 40—

KC (39): We’re not 40. We’re 39.

KC (18): Yeah, okay but anyway, I thought we’d have a couple nice dresses in the closet. I thought we’d throw nice dinner parties and get front row tickets at the best concerts and stop wearing those Levi’s.

KC (39): I love those Levi’s. Who’s looking at me, anyway?

KC (18): (head shake. hopelessness sets in around the eyes.)

KC (39): Did you see I quit smoking? Like, 10 years ago? My lungs are probably as pink as a baby’s bottom. And I got a Masters. Like we always planned.

KC (18): Oh really? I have it right here in my Monkees journal— P H D.

KC (39): Yeah, that was before we researched student loans and the job market for Comparative Lit Professors. Before we went to college and realized that the kids we’d be lucky discuss Wallace Stevens and Toni Morrision with just want to get into the right fraternity, try some psychedelics and maul each other.

KC (18): Whoa. Freak out. Little cynical there?

KC (39): Not cynical. I can’t be cynical. I have children. Just realistic.

KC (18): That’s what they all say. So, is this mommy thing what we’re gonna do for the rest of our life?

KC (39): We’re not gonna do anything for the rest of our life. We’ll keep changing. That’s one of the things we figured out.

KC (18): Sounds kinda unstable to me. Doesn’t it drive you crazy?

KC (39): No, it’s liberating—making small decisions, taking the drama out of things, knowing that I can change course. The only thing that needs to be consistent and stable is my marriage.

KC (18): Interesting. I like him, by the way, even though he was in a singing group in college. And he’s not as tall as I thought he’d be. But I like him.

KC (39): Tall? Get a grip, kid. You know how hard it is to find the right guy? Trust me, it’s all coming together just fine.

KC (18): What a relief. All that worry—the stress breakouts and bitten nails—for nothing. Hard to believe how normal it all seems. (pause) I still think you could you spruce it up a bit.

January 17, 2007

Public Service Announcement

You’ve probably already given up on your new year’s resolution. And why not? I mean honestly, how nutritious are brussel sprouts? And whose even gonna notice a missing five pounds? Everybody knows that resolutions are just a gimmick cooked up by the diet and exercise industry.

Or maybe I’m selling you short. Maybe Shakespeare’s tragedies are piled up on your nightstand right now, or you’re flossing while doing sit ups while calling your sick grandmother. Maybe you’re recycling more, relying on Tylenol PM less, and finally addressing the mold issue in your basement. My congratulations.

If however, you are in the vast majority who don’t bother with resolutions at all, to you I say: it’s not too late. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that people who make their resolutions after January 1 are more likely to keep them. We are a contemplative lot, and contemplation leads to resolve. So, get on board.

For your encouragement, here’s the process I used to narrow my list:
Start by listing all the resolutions you could possibly make and then categorize them. For example, in my PERSONAL GROOMING column, which was the longest by far, I wrote: dress better, take care of my skin, and shower more.

But then I stopped myself. I remembered what I learned once in an All Hands Professional Development session held, incidentally, in a field. (The terminally upbeat facilitator explained to us that nature was supposed to help us think “out of the box,” which she said with a wink and some finger quotes to indicate that the box we were supposed be thinking outside of was the office building itself. Mind blowing.) Anyway, the facilitator explained that all goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

So I went back to the Grooming list to revise:
1. Never again wear the t-shirt I slept in to drop the girls at school.
2. Shower every day, except those days when my hair looks extra good.
3. Replace Jergen’s with proper moisturizer and remember to use it at night.

My husband applauded this list, as he has always been a fan of small but achievable resolutions. His best one—he wanted me to pass on to you—was “Wash hands three times a day.” He swore this protected him from catching colds. [Now he has given that job to Airborne, which takes after being within ten feet of a smothered cough or a blown nose.]

The next category, which my husband also encouraged, was WIFELY DUTIES. He suggested cooking dinner more and by that, I took it to mean that Cornmeal Pizza from Whole Foods, while delicious and pricey, does not qualify as a home-cooked, square meal. He also pondered that I could be greatly improved if only I would put away the laundry immediately, instead of dressing out of the baskets, as is my wont. I took this one under advisement, struggling as I do with all clothing matters.

On to the next category, the most substantive: INTELLECTUAL DEVELOPMENT. With New Yorkers going unread week after week and the Sunday New York Times also proving to be more than I can digest, I knew I had to stay small here. So the resolution was to find my own answers to all the questions I usually ask my husband when he gets home from work, burning questions like Did Olga Korbet ever compete against Nadia Commenchi? Where did Auld Lang Syne [not Old Ang’s Sign by the way] come from? And, How do you spell nauseous?

This I was able to act on immediately. On the web, I learned all kinds of tidbits, one leading to another, in a seemingly endless chain. For instance, Auld Lang Syne, which means Old Long Ago, uses the same exact tune as The Unviersity of Virginia’s fight. Then, I found a list of people born on January 1. Siddig El Nigoumi, the ceramicist (that’s all it said; maybe my husband knows more) and Holling Gustav Vapor (the character on “Northern Exposure” who was married to the young cute ditsy girl). I pushed away thoughts about the uselessness of this information and instead, reveled in my new supply of cocktail party trivia. I covered so much ground in one sitting, I think I may have knocked off this resolution for the year.

Interestingly, while I was developing my intellect, I noticed an ad that said: Achieve your new year’s resolutions with cosmetic surgery. So while I’m hold with the nurse, let me suggest that the best resolution may just be to love your life just as it is and never get caught taking things too seriously.