You’re probably wondering why I didn’t phrase the title as a question.

The truth of the matter is that it is a constant question of mine, and the following is my feeble attempt to explain the enigma that is my mother.

Ladies & Gentlemen.

Who is Planet Sheila.

To understand where “Planet Sheila” comes from, you have to understand that my mother operates by her own rules and communicates in such a way that seems cryptic and bizarre yet is so profoundly simple and earnest. I first introduced Planet Sheila as a “character” of sorts in my life, far beyond the standard role of “mom,” to friends who questioned some physically present as well as world-view oddities I carried with me; the only way to make sense of what I couldn’t easily explain (at least not without a million back stories and “you had to be there” moments, which let’s face it, are painfully boring if you weren’t) was to tell people she hails from another planet: Planet Sheila. Maybe the laws of society and physics and reason don’t apply here on Planet Earth; but in a galaxy far, far away, the rules for which my mother is bound and lives her life is perfectly sound.

You see, her out-of-this-world behavior(s) and communication style are not merely wacky or utter nonsense. Quite the contrary, in fact. It happens with such frequency and pattern that it can’t be chalked up to typical “my mom is crazy” rhetoric. No, no… this is a social scientist’s dream of a case study.

Or space scientist, as it were.

^Behold, the humble beginnings in the evolution of Planet Sheila (circa 1986?). Look at how happy we all were before my other 4 siblings came along. LOOK HOW HAPPY.

For instance, when the dawn of texting came about and the shorthand along with it (LOL, BRB, WTF, etc.), my mother essentially invented her own. It took me months to be able to understand it without staring blankly at the glowing screen, and I wasn’t sure whether to be proud of myself or worried of my own understanding of it coming so easily. She also texts exactly how she talks, long before voice-to-text was even a thing, complete with emphasis on her word choice and with the same speed and chaotic jumping around she does in real life. During those days of running myself ragged in college and to this day of trying to manage a business, reading her texts between those intense moments of work bring me some weird little comfort of “hearing” her voice.

Probably the most famous of the Planet Sheila character points comes from the goodie boxes she sends on the occasion, whether special or just-because. I am 100% convinced she doesn’t realize she does this because it’s just too perfect (and maybe it’s a Planet Sheila social custom). Since I went away to college years ago, she still sends several boxes of items meant to bring some small joy and touches of the heart, but not without wondering where some of this stuff came from… it never, ever fails that a Planet Sheila box comes with the following three things: a practical item (ex: a travel wallet, a notepad, an “as-seen-on-TV” type device, etc.); a fun & frilly item (maybe a bracelet, some chocolate, wine with a fun label, cute slippers, etc.); and a WTF item. As in, I have no idea where it came from or who or why they would sell it… so random and bizarre it can only come from a store on Planet Sheila. A bright green St. Patrick’s Day stocking with my name embroidered on it (because on Planet Sheila, the elves fill a stocking then, too). Statues of religious icons (Child of Prague? yup, we’ve got him). A bright red shoe covered in bedazzles meant to hold your wine (as if we keep wine around long enough to need a holder). The list goes on.

But then there were the things that she introduced my siblings and me to from Planet Sheila in my early years and kept the spirit alive so well I can’t imagine having grown up without some of those memories.

For instance, we didn’t listen to Top 40 in the car driving to school or running errands, but rather my mother loved show tunes and ballads from big musicals. It opened up the conversation to things like history and asking what certain words/phrases meant in songs, and it wasn’t until I was in college I realized how weird it was to my siblings and I to beg for the Les Miserables soundtrack (“Red, the blood of angry men; Black, the dark of ages past!”… not exactly Kidz Bop).

Then there were the Christmases we’d bake an absurd amount of cookies or fudge or rice crispie treats to deliver to the usual suspects, but then we’d have the real fun and drop off goodies to those who we generally just found to be fun people in our lives: the attendants at the mailroom; our family pets’ vet; the shop owner of the quirky general store; the owners of the eclectic restaurant; the lead pharmacist at our favorite local drug store; etc. I grew up thinking that’s what you’re supposed to do, and I remember year after year getting so excited to see what new friends we’d add to the list of deliveries, thinking my lumpy and awkwardly designed in colored icing treats were better than any grocery store could hope to make.

Friday nights growing up, if not spent watching classic movies (okay, and occasionally Dumb & Dumber because Planet Sheila would snort-laugh at how stupid it was), were spent going to the theatre or opera or ballet. We learned the etiquette of applauding through movements, dressing for the occasion, and were always treated to a late-night dessert and discussion of the production afterwards.

Planet Sheila prepared food in such a way that either made you eat until you exploded or questioned the meaning of life. There was the one time she made a wild attempt at making biscuits when we moved from the Midwest to the South, and I thought she was trying to murder us by choking on the chalky, dusty hunks of flour and water (true story, I didn’t touch another biscuit until I was 19 because I thought they were supposed to taste that way and I thought Southerners were insane for liking them so much). But then she could make the most incredible corned beef or rack of lamb that to this day rivals any gourmet restaurant, and her invention of the “Squirrel Gut Cake” (a layer of brownie and a layer of cake separated by a thick filling of gooey red colored icing and topped with ugly green colored whipped topping and “guts” – basically nuts and a crap-ton of sprinkles and gummy worms) had all the neighborhood kids asking for that hideously delicious dessert.

On Planet Sheila, there are no strangers – only friends, and interesting ones at that. It took me years to realize she and my father didn’t “know” everyone in town… but they, especially my mother, gave them the space to be themselves and found everyone they met exceptionally fascinating. While I operate from a place of caution with a guarded heart, Planet Sheila opens hers to people she knows needs it most.

The attitude of gratitude is hallmark of Planet Sheila, as is the necessity of showing up BIG when called to do so (for Halloween one year she went full zombie and wore one of those creepy beauty peeling masks with some strategically placed makeup that was so perfectly horrifying, I’m still shocked Hollywood special effect people haven’t figured out how genius that was).

On Planet Sheila, time is a construct and not a fact, which can be so endlessly frustrating yet liberating at the same time. (If she’s 15min early or late, she’s basically “on time.”)

Sharing really is caring on Planet Sheila; she carefully choose several angel tags off the Christmas tree at church and invited us to shop for the people those tags represented, to whom I only knew by name. But I remember getting really excited to pick out sparkly pens and stickers and clothes for them and hoped one day we’d meet and share stories about who we were going to be when we grew up (and what their favorite scene is from Guys & Dolls, because doesn’t everyone have one?).

Generous. Bright. LOUD. Overtly positive yet with a hint of doom and cynicism. Curious. Hungry for new experiences. Full of life. Full of surprises. There is no word for “dull” as it’s a concept that doesn’t even exist, and bathroom sinks are used for vodka and wine storage. #alwaysprepared

These are the qualities you’ll find on Planet Sheila.

While one may never know when you’ll receive a transmission or maybe when her ship unexpectedly lands in your backyard, but I will say I can always count on her presence to light through the cosmos when you need it most. She can find the humor in anything and remind even the most self-inflated personalities, HEY MAN, we all put our green corduroy pants on the same way.

I hope one day I get the chance to visit Planet Sheila, as it must be simply marvelous. But until then, I’ll look to the stars knowing she’s always orbiting like a bedazzled spinning tea cup ride in the sky, sprinkling joy and absurdities everywhere she goes.

In the spirit of Planet Sheila and this weekend being Mother’s Day, I’d like to take a moment to officially announce my start of a new weekly newsletter inspired by the woman herself. Each week you’ll receive another piece of junk in your inbox with links to three new discoveries on the interwebs: 1 practical item; 1 fun & frilly item; and 1 WTF item. Sign up here (if you dare) and prepare to be amazed. Or at least mildly entertained.

And with that, I bid you all adieu, Earthlings.

Hugs & High Fives to infinity – and beyond!

-C

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve had several intense experiences with people in seemingly mundane, everyday occurrences. I don’t know if it was some cycle of the moon or the fact I maaaay have been sneaking an absurd amount of leftover Easter treats (I mean, COME ON they were 75% off), but it left me feeling out of sorts and anxious.

Being someone who feels and experiences things REALLY big, I’m used to having to take a step back to make sense of how I actually feel about things. But this was different. Like some force decided to take me down a notch, and do so in ways that would chip away at my weird little spirit. Small passive-agressive jabs. Belittling questions. Back-handed compliments. Seemingly normal interactions that seconds later make you say, “Wait – what?!” I chalked it up to reading too much into things but for some reason I couldn’t shake it.

And then the tipping point.

So there’s this lady, a new neighbor, who just moved in on our floor down the hallway. She’s got that croaky, huffy kind of voice that is only made louder when she’s got something to complain about… which is pretty much every time I’ve spoken with her. Since the day she’s moved in a few months ago, I’ve tried to be helpful and offer ways to get her acclimated to the island and share what makes this place so great when I run into her, and it’s only met with angry, self-important remarks. She’d carry-on about her assortment of medical issues then bark at me how I’d better get ready for the “joy of old age.” Then there was the host of “problems” she’s discovered about living on the island she’d rage on about while I’d listen as intently as I could and offer suggestions on some of our favorite spots. She’d respond with a scoff and an eye roll. So, I quit trying.

During this heightened period of WTF with humanity, I was walking out to my car to teach at the studio and she was talking with our downstairs neighbor, an older gentleman who’s been nothing but nice to us since coming to the island. I politely smiled and waved and caught some teeny bit of the conversation about one of her latest health problems and maybe needing some help with something in her car (?) and she literally yells at me while standing next to our neighbor: “Well I wouldn’t bother asking HER, SHE doesn’t care. SO selfish, that one.”

Bwuh?

Stunned and a little disoriented, I didn’t have the time nor wit to respond… and it really threw off the rest of my day.

Ruminating over all the moments I’ve interacted and all the conversations we’ve had with our new neighbor, I wondered over and over what I had done to come across heartless and selfish to this woman. Of course, John being the kind and wonderful person he is (and having had the similar experiences with her as I had), he assured me it was her just being a mean old bat and not to think so much of it. Which of course only made me do so more.

A couple of days later, still feeling out of sorts with life and letting our neighbor’s angry words get to me more and more, I blew off my normal morning workout and took to the beach. It was a particularly cold and drizzly morning (the last of those April showers, I suppose), but I felt compelled to so anyways. As soon as I heard the crash of the waves and felt the squish of  sand under my shoes, things suddenly better. To my surprise there were several beach goers that morning, all of whom offered a wave or a smiley “good morning” as they power-walked the shoreline or trotted along with their equally as friendly dogs. A long, brisk walk listening to one of my favorite podcasts started to put a lot of my glitchy thoughts and feelings back into order.


Sure enough, later that day the sun came out my downstairs neighbor and I ran into each other. He assured me he put her in her place after her shouting at me and didn’t tolerate her being so negative. Even for a guy that has to be one of THE nicest people on the planet, he felt she was just a mean old woman. “Don’t let her bring to her level,” he told me.

I think being a person who likes to fix and help and generally is anxious when things are out of order, it hurts at even the thought of someone believing I don’t have the very best of intentions. I prefer direct and open communication, and try to leave the doors open to that as much as I can. And I have to remind myself there are people who don’t prefer these things – and people who are so broken after a lifetime of choosing to be unhappy. Misery is so easy; it’s so easy to be down and stay there. And it’s a lot easier to bring someone down with you rather than try to rise above.

For those people, there’s a part of them missing that only they can fill with a sense of wonder and curiosity and gratitude. They’re often jealous because they feel others’ success means they’re just that much further away from theirs. They like busting chops. They’ll never have enough and never feel like they are enough… and the only thing, I think, we can do is listen when we can and pray they take that step out of fear and loathing to a place of hope and fortitude.

Something that brought me back, too, is remember how many amazing, kind, supportive, and generous people I DO have in my life. The sweet emails from clients. The messages on social media saying incredibly kind things about my work. The unexpected hugs from friends. The late night night texts to check in. The smiles from strangers on the beach. The shnoogles from my favorite shark-dog.

I can’t say I’m out of the funk yet, but at least I know I’ve got a hug somewhere when I need it. And I’ve decided a long walk on the beach should always be in my repertoire.

Hugs & High Fives,

C

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