Big Bertha and back-floating

“Are we gonna see Big Bertha today?” Her excited face peered up at me.

The other campers were quick to join in. “Ooh, yeah, can we see Big Bertha? Please?”

I paused. “Um, I guess we’ll see . . . You just never know.”

It was a safe answer. Especially considering I had no idea who Big Bertha was. It certainly wasn’t another member of staff. There was a lot of wildlife around the camp (appropriate since it was an outdoor center). A raccoon maybe? A giant one? I knew it couldn’t be some sort of reptile because there was no way the girls would be that excited. I had no clue.

But I’d gotten good at pretending I knew what was going on. Mostly because I’d had a lot of practice.

I’m not normally clueless, I promise. It was just my first week as a counselor at a camp I’d never even attended before. The day campers I was supervising had been there longer than I had, some of them entering their third or fourth summers there. They knew every trail, every shortcut, every camp game.

I was still trying to figure out how to get to the dining hall. I’d been thrown in the deep end and expected to glide across the water.

The thing is, I’m not really a swimmer.

But I’m a darn good back-floater. So I improvised. I learned how to “let” the veteran campers lead the way through the trails, how to observe the other counselors so I could learn from them, how to exude an attitude of “I’ve got this.”

Sometimes I still feel like that first-time camp counselor, improvising my way through life and trying to pretend I’ve got things sorted out.

Confession: I don’t really know what I’m doing.

And for the first time in a long while, I have no concept of what my life will look like a year from now. The career plan I used to have was derailed when I was laid off a few months ago, and my back-up options failed to solidify with every application I submitted, catapulting me into the wilderness, struggling to find Big Bertha.

The positive thing is, I’m getting pretty good at this improvising thing. I don’t think a single year of my life in the past decade has gone how I expected. Don’t get me wrong–I definitely don’t want to have every second of my life planned out for the next five years. I’d lose my mind. I like the element of surprise, of change. But I failed to predict how much change would swirl through my life over the years, wreaking havoc every time I started to feel like I had things organized.

But I’m a darn good back-floater. It’s not what I expected, but if I’ve gotta back float my way through life in order to stay above water, I’m on it.

Oh, and eventually I discovered that Big Bertha wasn’t a raccoon but a tree. A giant, unmoving tree, just waiting for me to find her. And I did.

signs of alien life

Confession: I’m surrounded by aliens.

That’s what happens when you live near a major metropolitan area.

Thankfully, aliens are pretty easy to spot. They cruise around in BMWs and Lexuses, march around in Louboutins and can’t stop talking about celebrity relationships and the latest sale on Gucci/Prada/etc. They’ve had an allowance since birth, got a car on their 16th birthday, and, in some cases, still live at their parents’ place which allows them to buy designer clothes instead of spending money on dull things like rent and food.

I’m not sure I even know how to communicate with this strange species of people. But I’ve gotten quite adept at recognizing aliens and people who were raised by them. Just in case you’re not as familiar, let me help you out with a few alien traits that make them stand out from the normals (i.e., those of us who can’t imagine paying $500 for a single item of clothing and grew up driving cars that made Herbie look cutting-edge).

Sign 1: Tagging.

I’m not talking graffiti here. The aliens adore monogramming – tagging their purses, clothes, towels, cat’s collars, you name it, with flowy scripted letters.

The normals are not so obsessed with monogramming. I mean, the kids of normals are lucky if they get their name marker-written on the tag of their jacket or lunch box. And even then, it’s usually not their first name, because it’s highly likely that item came down the line from an older sibling.

Sign 2: The greeting.  

The aliens can’t get enough of air kisses. I don’t know what it is about pretending to kiss someone’s cheek that they find so classy. It’s like “We’re such close friends, I’ll kiss you. But not close enough for me to actually touch you. Obviously.”

Normals offer a hug. Or a handshake. (Don’t knock handshakes. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a good, firm handshake.) But whatever they do, they actually do it. There’s no air-handshaking happening.

Sign 3: Polo.

There are horses, there are mallets, and there are people in fancy clothes. Apparently many aliens understand this and find it entertainment. Me, if I ride a horse, I want to actually go somewhere instead of up and down a field. I’m betting the horse does, too.

Aliens also share an affinity for lacrosse, rugby, rowing… essentially sports that most humans find strange or boring.

Sign 4: The help.

Aliens can be heard talking about such things as nannies, housekeepers, etc. You can hear them sighing about how hard it is to find quality child care that supports their 6-month-old budding genius’s educational goals and how applying to the best preschools is so demanding.

Normals are just excited they have a dishwasher. Like seriously. I don’t have to wash the dishes. Do you know how awesome that is?

Sign 5: Maintenance.

I’m not talking about their cars. I’m talking hair, nails, eyebrows, skin. They talk about getting their nails done the way normals talk about changing their oil: “I really need to make an appointment, it’s been ages.” They talk about strange maintenance procedures I’ve never heard of. And I really don’t want to ask.

I’ve got nail clippers. They work.

So there you have it. The five signs for identifying alien life. They’re not a bad species, these aliens, simply well-ensconced in their designer bubble worlds. Just don’t ever agree to go shopping with one, lest you see your rent/mortgage check flash before your eyes in the form of a purse. (And don’t use the term “purse.” They call them “handbags.” Why, I couldn’t tell you.)

Confession: I wore a $60 wedding dress. But don’t tell the aliens that.