Life Advice from the Back of a Shampoo Bottle

A few years ago, a shampoo bottle gave me life advice that I’ve been trying to follow ever since. I know this sounds ludicrous, but this wasn’t your ordinary shampoo bottle. This one had been through some stuff and wanted to share its sage advice.

Most shampoo bottles just say: “Lather, rinse, repeat,” and really, it would be difficult to apply that to any part of your life outside the shower. This one was different. It’s guidance really hit home and stopped me in my tracks the moment I read it.

This shampoo eschewed the advice of all the shampoo bottles that came before it and took a whole different tack. It told me to “Lather. Indulge. Rinse.” I could hardly believe it. Indulge? Was my shampoo bottle telling me to slow down?

I think it was. When do you ever hear the word indulge outside the context of talking about food? And don’t the food connotations of food feel kind of negative? Is that just me?

Well, this shampoo bottle didn’t care about negative connotations of indulgence conjuring laziness and gluttony. This shampoo wanted me to savor the moment it was in my hair.

And the conditioner bottle had even more specific instructions: “Massage, indulge (for at least one minute), rinse.”

I took those suggestions very literally. I made mental note to stay there, chilling with the conditioner in my hair, for what I could only guess was at least a minute (since I don’t have any waterproof time-telling paraphernalia to bring into the shower with me).

It’s probably just a sign of the obedient child I was and always will (kind of) be, but I followed the demands of that shampoo and conditioner. I stopped and noticed where I was. I ceased feeling like my five minutes in the shower (particularly the few minutes washing and conditioning my hair) were just a means to an end. A necessary evil.

No, this was a precious moment to “Indulge,” for crying out loud!! It was an order. It was printed in gorgeous serif font right there. I’m not gonna ignore this wisdom! Especially because the bottle cost $36 and makes my hair look like Gisele’s (or as close as it’s gonna get, anyway) and smells like heaven. This is no freaking drugstore Prell (which I always wanted to buy when I was little. Do they even make that beautiful green shampoo jello-like concoction anymore?)

So I slowed down and enjoyed myself because my shampoo told me to. I think about it literally every time I take a shower now. And sometimes when I’m not in the shower too.

Because everything is moving so fast these days. And it’s a rare moment that technology isn’t crowding out your brief moments of unspoken-for time. But there are moments worthy of indulging in, savoring, enjoying (you catch my drift), and I think life is better when we do that.

And if we can slow down and indulge for the minute we have shampoo or conditioner in our hair, what else could we savor and appreciate more? A sunset? A delicious meal? A moment of familial tranquility? A drink with a friend? A page of a favorite book?

Now, listen, I am no expert on this. Far from it. I mean, I still have to stop and remember what the shampoo bottle says when I’m in the shower. But every time I do, my body relaxes palpably. The commandment to indulge does something to me.

It reminds me there’s another way of doing things.

And it took a shampoo bottle to remind me.

Stalking Fed Ex

My ten year-old daughter has become obsessed with Fed Ex trucks. An unusual obsession, to be sure. I think it all started when I was waiting for a package one day and asked everyone to be on the lookout for the truck, so we didn’t miss it. And ever since then she gets super excited each time she sees a Fed Ex truck.

It makes her so happy that now it makes the whole rest of our family happy too. Like we squeal with delight every time we see one, and if possible, I try to capture a picture of it, so I can show my daughter when she returns from school.

It reminds me of when my son was about three and every time we saw a firetruck we’d all get so excited, anticipating his excitement. I still get excited when I see a firetruck, even though he’s long moved on. Inside, a surge of unbidden joy erupts, before I remember my son doesn’t care anymore. But the joy is there, nonetheless.

So that’s how we are about Fed Exes now too. We cheer, all of us, when we see one. A whoop goes up, even from my son, knowing that it’ll make my daughter happy that we’d seen one. I snap a photo for what I’m starting to think will be a book of pictures of Fed Ex trucks that my daughter can page through when she needs a smile.

The cool thing about all this is we have a new, random thing to be happy about. Another sign that the Universe is full of bright signs and little bits of joy.

Dear Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Dear Amy Krouse Rosenthal-

I read your essay last night, the one looking for a new wife for your husband because you are terribly sick.

I had avoided it for two days. I saw it there in the New York Times, titled “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” and I intentionally kept turning the pages. I had a feeling I knew where it was headed, and I didn’t want to go there. But for two days I saw repeated mentions of it, and finally I broke down and read it.

And then I broke down for real.

First of all, you are far more gracious than I am. For years I have tried to get my husband to agree to mourn my loss for years if I die early. Isn’t that the right thing to do? The thing you do if the raddest person ever, the center of your world, makes an untimely exit? I think so. After all, men can be kind of bad at acknowledging women’s importance during life, so at our untimely deaths it seems like the right thing to do to spend years wishing you’d shown her how much she really meant (though you couldn’t see it or admit it at the time).

But you clearly do not agree. So with what may have been your last essay published by the New York Times, you tried to find a suitable next wife for your husband. And you incredibly graciously left the end of the page blank “as a way of giving [them] the fresh start [they] deserve.”

Um, what? Incredible!! You are really making my plan for years of posthumous worship and self-imposed alone time for my husband look super-selfish (which, okay, it probably is, but. . . well. . . I was feeling pretty fine with that until now.).

After reading and feeling really affected by your essay, I went and read some of your previous writing. I found a piece you wrote for Oprah’s magazine talking about how much you appreciated your life and sort of worrying (at age 40) how many more times you’d get to do even mundane things in life.

It’s like you knew. You knew, didn’t you? (In a cosmic sense, that is.) And that makes me feel all kind of weird. Because I don’t know you, but I want you to stay. I don’t want you to go. I don’t want your husband to have another wife (and not just out of solidarity with my lonely husband if I am ever to leave prematurely). I want him (and us) to have you. Your gifts of putting things into words so perfectly. Your reminders about how important life is. Even the small things.

If that is not possible (or even if it is), there is a lesson here, right? Enjoy the little things. Enjoy all the days. Because you were sad when you were 40 and you thought you only had 40 more years left. When, in fact, you had a lot less than that. You only had eleven years. Which means your calculations were off by a lot. And those days were even more precious. Is that possible? That a day is worth more when you have less of them? Maybe, right?

Well, Amy, I want to say thank you. For your essay. For using your power with words to connect to the rest of us. For living your life out loud and wanting more days (when so many of us, myself included, sometimes take our days for granted, assuming we’ll have a million more of them).

I am grateful for you and your words. I wish you a million more days.

And, if anyone deserves worship (posthumous or otherwise), it’s you.

I Want to Be Annie

When I was growing up, the movie Annie really lodged in my brain and informed my ideas of awesomeness for quite a long time.

I wanted to be Annie.

I loved her red curly hair, for instance. It was only at some point after college that I stopped yearning for red hair (and carefully trying to hone my own strawberry blonde version with the assistance of the boxes lined in Aisle 2 at CVS). I just loved that look.

As a result, I had short curly (permed) hair in the 80s. Sadly, however, I also had glasses and braces (Annie, decidedly, did not). I looked, literally, nothing like Annie. My curls were too short, too kinky. I had convinced my grandmother to take me to get a perm on a visit to her (Dang! My parents must have been shocked when they picked me up!). Maybe this was my first lesson in describing things well to a hairstylist, because the look just didn’t translate on me.

But there was something about that spunky orphan. The way she made Daddy Warbucks (and Grace) fall in love with her and want to adopt her. The way she just powered through life’s difficulties (like the Depression and parentlessness). She was one tough motha.

And she rocked her look like nobody’s business.

I wanted that.

So I tried to emulate her look for a long, long time before realizing that wasn’t really my look (how many people can pull off red curly hair?).

But I tried and tried just to be sure.

The Breakup

When I wrote before the election that I knew there would be a lot of emotions that needed to come out after the election was over, I couldn’t have predicted what some of those emotions would be for me. To be honest, I thought I’d be feeling elation at the election of the first woman President; relief that years of inequality (at least on that front) had come to an end; release of the fear and tension that had built up throughout the election.

Instead, I just realized that I feel like I’ve been through a breakup. What clued me in? Tears that started flowing whenever I worked out, heard a sad song, or thought about explaining the whole thing to my kids (among other times).

I feel like I just broke up with who I thought we were as a country. Yes, I feel pleased that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote (that helps me to feel hopeful about what we care about as a country), but I had really hoped that we would continue moving forward toward greater equality and openness as a country, when it seems a great deal of our country wants to move back to a time that has passed.

I am worried about the hate that emerged during the campaign and the rise in hate since the election. I am concerned about the safety of immigrants, people of color, LGBT people, Muslims, and women in this country. I fear that there is a sizable portion of the white people in this country who want to go back to a time when white privilege went unchecked.

I don’t think that everyone who voted for Trump is sexist or racist or xenophobic, but in the course of the campaign, Trump constantly uttered statements that were sexist, racist, and xenophobic, and I think people had to, at the least, look past those things in order to vote for him.

That’s not the country I thought we were. Though we have a history of racism and sexism, I really believed that we were doing the work necessary to move further away from that history. There was still plenty of work to do, but I thought we were moving in the right direction. I no longer feel that way.

I’ll be honest– I’m still heartbroken. But I feel like I’m having a different breakup too: a breakup from who I used to be. Something about the way this has all gone down has me going deep into who I am to find what matters the most to me; what I can hold onto when so much seems so uncertain.

It has made me pull back in some ways in order to gather the energy to figure out who I want to be going forward. And, in some ways, it feels comfortable to feel like the underdog again. There’s something about that energy that feels true to who I am. I’m okay being one of the ones fighting for change from the outside.

But I also realize that I have to fight. I cannot sit by and watch my country slip backwards without fighting for what I believe in, without supporting people who feel afraid about their place in our country. If Hillary had been elected, maybe it would have felt easier to sit back and coast. Now, coasting is not an option. We all have to stand up for what we believe in and ensure that our country doesn’t become the worst of itself.

I will be giving to organizations that protect women and minorities. I will be joining forces with racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, LGBT people, and people with disabilities in fighting for equality and inclusion. I will be using my power to help protect people who might be feeling threatened. I will be as outspoken as ever about my feminism.

I’m back to avoiding George Stephanopoulos (and other political pundits) and limiting what news I pay attention to. I think it’s the best for me right now.

But I have changed. This “breakup” changed me. And I’m starting to feel just fine about that. Because I like the me that’s left behind.

The Lip Gloss

I went to a Christian summer camp one year when I was about 12. It was, overall, a hideous experience. There was peer pressure to become a “born again Christian,” for instance, which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in a summer camp. When people talk about loving sleep away camp, I assume they went to camps that looked a lot different than this.

This camp also had a pool filled with swamp-like water that had leeches in it. Needless to say, I’m in no rush to send my kids to sleep away camp.

But there is one other memory that sticks with me. A good one, even. A memory that informs my concepts of beauty and desirability.

There was this girl. I think her name was Jenny, but I’m not sure if I just think that because it was the ‘80s, and every third girls’ name seemed to be Jenny.

She was beautiful. She had blondish wavy hair and was tall and just seemed older. My memory is that all the boys fancied her, but I don’t know if I just think that now because I, personally, thought she was otherworldly and fabulous. Chances are I wasn’t super well-connected to what the boys around me were thinking.

Anyway, she wore this amazing lip gloss that was pale pink with tiny rainbow glitter flecks in it. I coveted that lip gloss. It seemed like the holy grail that would transform me into Jenny. One swipe of that lip gloss would instantly convert me from a gawky, curly haired and bespectacled nerd to this heavenly creature that seemed to float above the trivial concerns that bogged down my twelve year old thoughts.

I really thought that lip gloss held all the answers. Trapped at a sleep away camp in the woods of New Hampshire without any access to a store of any kind meant that that lip gloss could not yet solve all my preteen problems. The answers would remain at arms’ length. That pale pink liquid gold could not yet be mine. So I spent all my time coveting it and generally trying to figure out what Jenny’s other secrets might be (while trying to block out the other realities of this camp that made no sense to me).

I don’t remember how long after I got back home I found a lip gloss similar to Jenny’s. Chances are it wasn’t long at all. But there was an unexpected twist. Even after I found the coveted gloss, I discovered that it looked totally different— and, frankly, bad— on me.

The pink glitter gloss didn’t transform me into Jenny (or any other replica of an older, attractive teenager). Instead, it made my full lips look enormous, my braces more prominent; and the glitter didn’t look cool. It looked all wrong.

It was the first lesson I would get in someone else’s look not working on me (a lesson I relive every time I try to replicate the look of a supermodel or a boy-shaped actress).

But I still have a weird affinity for pale pink glitter-flecked lip gloss. I am still drawn to it, even though it still doesn’t look good on me (though, mercifully, my braces are gone). It was my entree into a world where I noticed beauty and a world where it could transform a situation I’d rather not be in.

There were so many lessons in that pink lip gloss. And somehow my twelve year old self just knew it.

What the Olympics Do to Me

I am currently preparing for the next Olympics. Where is it again? Oh yeah, Tokyo.

What will I be competing in, you ask? Um, I’m not entirely sure. Probably gymnastics. Or maybe I’ll push up my training and compete in figure skating at the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018. If so, I really need to get a move on.

Because the pesky truth is that I cannot do a cartwheel, and haven’t been on ice skates in maybe two decades.

But that’s what the Olympics do to me. They make me think I can do it. That if I just buckle down and focus, I, too, could be doing an electric floor routine that rouses the crowd to clap to the beat of my funky, off-beat music while I complete incredible body-thrashing flips without breaking a sweat.

I literally had to remind myself twice while watching the coverage of the Rio Olympics last night that I am not a good swimmer and cannot perform a single cartwheel. Because I was honestly starting to think about what it would take to be in the next Olympic Games. Feeling like I had a shot. But then I got to wondering, if I’m not going to win first place, is it worth all the preparation? As though I have a hope of coming in fourth (or eighth or sixteenth) among the world’s most elite athletes in anything.

Perhaps my delusion is just proof of the effectiveness of the televised coverage of these Games. The commentators give you a quick primer on what a double salchow is and what you should look for in judging these athletes’ performances. And, two minutes later, you’re like, “Ugh!! She’s totally going to have a deduction for that bounce!!,” as if we know what the hell we’re talking about.

Is it just me? I sure hope not.

The other thing I do when I’m watching the Olympics is cry. A lot.

I think it’s due to a combination of factors. Firstly, I think about all the Olympians have sacrificed. All those movies, fast food outings, extra sleep sessions and dates they missed because they were training. The hours and hours of toil and sweat and tears.

Then there’s the fact that, as a parent, I now identify with their parents as well. I know how much they, too, have sacrificed. And how their hearts must be in their throats. Their lives put on hold to travel to their child’s meet of all meets with prayers of winning (not to mention prayers that they don’t get hurt). One look at gymnast Aly Raisman’s parents in the stands this go-round showed you the torment of being an Olympic parent.

Finally, there’s the sheer exhaustion. My exhaustion, that is. From staying up late night after night to watch these Olympic dreams unfold before my eyes (while seeing dreams I never knew I had resurface, same as they did four years ago during the last Olympics). Sure, I know these athletes have worked their bodies to the bones, but do they know what it’s like to stay up past midnight every night (with a fast 6:00 am wake up call from one’s own children) watching other people chase their dreams? I bet not.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I have to get training.

At Least We Have Butter

When life starts to feel overwhelming, I try to remember the good things. Increasingly, that means (or includes) butter.

Ah, butter, that glorious concoction– made so simply, and for so long (historically). And yet better than nearly anything newly invented.

It’s the perfect combination of salty and sweet (and, ya know, fat). There was that dark time during the 90s when fat was the enemy and butter nearly vanished; in its place hideous substitutes like margarine, and “buttery spreads,” that, in fact, weren’t, promulgated.

Thank goodness we’ve made it past those days. Butter is back, and I couldn’t be more grateful. (As an aside, however, unsalted butter makes roughly no sense to me. I think, if you’re gonna go for it, you should be all in. Even in baking, a little salt makes it better, doesn’t it?)

It’s hard for me to imagine much that could surpass butter’s life-uplifting qualities. What is better, for instance, than biting into a piping hot roll with a generous dollop of butter on it? And our grandmothers knew it all along. I love Michael Pollan’s advice to only eat things your grandmother (or was it great-grandmother?) would recognize. Clearly, our grandmothers know butter. So I think we should run free and wild with it. Just as they would.

What could possibly make bread (and life) any better? Of course, bread is a whole other issue that I should perhaps avoid. Because now that butter (and fat) are back, bread is the root of all culinary evil. So, now our butter is back, but our bread is fake (a.k.a. gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, with at least 175 sprouted whole ancient grains that cave men and women would recognize). It’s an issue. But thank goodness butter is back, because nothing makes fake bread taste better than good, old fashioned butter.

I’m Turning Into My Grandmother

We used to make merciless fun of my grandmother because she didn’t wash her hair. She got it washed and styled, once a week, by a professional; but she didn’t wash it herself. In fact, getting my grandmother’s hair wet outside of the confines of her stylist’s bowl was a clear no-no. All her 13 grandchildren knew this. She even wore those unseemly plastic hair ponchos that they sell at the drugstore to prevent her hair from getting rained on.

We all thought this was hilarious. How could she not take a shower? (Instead my grandmother preferred baths, which made it less likely that water would inadvertently touch her perfect hair helmet.) How could she not blow dry her own hair? It seemed impossible, really. Beyond our comprehension.

And yet, a few decades have passed, and now I’m turning into my grandmother. Let me stop and say that I’d really love to turn into my grandmother. She is my role model in so many ways. I’d be gleeful to realize I was turning into her because I was strong, and capable, and an overall badass (she is 96 and is still rocking the world in every way I can imagine). But that’s not what I’m saying. I’m turning into her in a way I never expected.

Because, lately, I can’t wash my own hair.

Nora Ephron warned me about this. She said that twice a week she went to a beauty salon and had her hair blown dry. She also counseled that getting one’s hair blown out is “cheaper by far than psychoanalysis and much more uplifting.”

When I read Nora’s words I was so surprised by them that I underlined them in my book. It seemed so revolutionary. So unheard of, not doing one’s own hair! But Nora said she did it and it was the best thing ever, so I mentally added it to my Maybe I Should Do This Someday list.

A few years passed, and blowouts suddenly became a thing. Blow dry bars started popping up on city street corners. Going from time to time for an event gradually led me to wonder why I ever did my own hair. It looks so much better when someone else does it. They are professionals, after all; trained to do precisely this. And they can see the back of your head, which seems like a distinct advantage. The convoluted motions necessary to contort your body to blow your own hair straight are completely unnatural, and once you stop doing it often, those weird muscles that hold your arms at odd angles start to atrophy.

I now look back in wonder at the fact that I used to get up an hour early each day to blow my hair straight before work or school. How did I do this? Lose sleep for my hair, that is, and also make my hair look remotely good (which, in hindsight, is about as good as I could get my curly hair to look when straightening it myself). It is a mystery to me that I’ll likely never solve.

Now, I have two modes when it comes to my hair: wavy and half-assed or professionally done. There is no in-between.

And, while years ago I couldn’t have imagined it, now I’m mostly okay with this. Sure, I wish I could do it myself and achieve the gorgeousness that my hair stylist is capable of. But in the grand scheme of important talents, I’ve decided this is one I can do without.

And, besides, it makes me feel closer to (and more like) my grandmother. But if you ever see me in one of those plastic hair contraptions when it’s raining, please sit me down and talk some sense into me.

Beacon & Joy

I lived for a few years at a pivotal time in my life at the corner of Beacon and Joy Streets.  I always loved this address because it sounded, to me, like a quite hopeful and happy place.  Like the beginning of something.

It turned out that, in my own life, it was the beginning of something.  I got married while living at that house.  I had my first baby, and started to come fully into who I am deep down at that house.  I got up the nerve to start my first website.  To dedicate myself to being creative (instead of the lawyer I had been prior— and a lawyer whose inner creativity had felt long-ago left for dead, at that.).

Over time, we grew out of our apartment with that hopeful sounding address and moved further down Beacon Street.  Still somewhat bright sounding, but without the helpful addition of Joy in the title.

And, eventually, we left the city of Boston entirely; moving first to Washington, D.C., and then clear across the country to California.

It’s funny, looking back, because when I lived at the corner of Beacon and Joy, I felt that it was a geographically challenging address, because it was at the top of a a steep hill.  I thought, “How is this sustainable?  How can I be expected to trek up this hill with groceries and babies?”  Now I live in San Francisco, land of impossible hills.  So there is irony in this tale (if not all of them, really).

But I also think there is some irony in the fact that I still feel like I live on the corner of Beacon and Joy.  Not geographically, of course, because I live thousands of miles away from that pivotal corner in my life.  But in the sense that I try to embody a hopeful place, a positive outlook on life.    I try to appreciate the good that is all around, even when it takes some doing to find that good.  That is what Beacon and Joy meant and means to me.  It’s why for years I’ve wanted to name something, anything, after that corner.  Because it feels so poignant and meaningful to me.

So, here it is. . . something named Beacon and Joy.

And I hope it, too, is just a beginning.