So, the thing is… has anyone seen Elvis?


My friend Kristin said the most interesting/hilarious thing to me one day.  She was telling me about how she got her Chevy Suburban -- because I’d teased her about it. (In Austin, if you are a mother, you are either a mini-van driver or a Suburban driver and it implies a LOT about your life and your political leaning and your religious affiliation and, well, how you view your mama and your papa.) She told me how she’d bought it without ever driving it first because the sales guy was so sexist and horrible and kept asking if she didn’t want to defer to her husband’s judgment.  I mean, he was sort of insistent about it.  To the point where Kristin completely lost her temper, pointed to her car and said, “Get it ready in two hours because I’m coming back to pick it up.”


She leaned over, “But Barb, remember when I would have walked into a dealership and commanded everyone’s respect and have asked them, ‘Okay, who wants to sell me a car?’”  She sat back.  “I think I’ve lost my Elvis.”  Our eyes met.  I knew JUST what she meant.  She wasn’t stricken or anything—just wry and nostalgic and tired.


She seemed pretty tired. 


And the thing is… I DO remember Kristen at her height of Elvis-ness. 


We were both involved in a program called Leadership Austin, back in 1995 when we were young, strong-minded and distinct leaders.  We gravitated to each other because we have similar irreverent senses of humor and we both like wine.  She was the first person I told that I had a crush on my not-yet-husband, who was also in the program.  She told me after the third date with HER not-yet-husband that she’d found The One.  And she was very, very picky and she knew everyone in town, so I knew he must be special.  Also, I knew how decisive she was and if she said she was marrying Tony, then she was marrying Tony.


So, she did.


And then she had three children, really fast and with her normal complete assurance and aplomb.  We kind of lost touch—not really, but in that way where you know someone is leading your parallel life and you’ll catch back up as soon as you can stop changing diapers.  When I first sent out my very first column, she forwarded it on to everyone she knew—everyone in the world practically –and over night, I had a real subscription list of people.  I kept up with her through the grapevine and knew that she and her husband were trying to adopt a child from the Ukraine –a feat I marveled at, thinking that she already had one more child than I and was still looking to welcome more.  But that’s Kristin.


And of course, it was uncanny (almost spooky) that she said this about having lost her Elvis to me right at that moment because I’d just started back to work and was feeling like everything I did was completely…inadequate.  Ineffectual. Fragmented.  My first official day at work, Jane (severely and profoundly five-years-old) spiked a fever and in what was, I guess, the experience of every working mother everywhere, I had to leave my sick child in order to go to work. You can just imagine that she was completely understanding and loving when I left. Right.


Since then, my life has become this series of to-do items that my husband has come to call, for example, The Grocery Store Fantasy.  Or the Exercise Fantasy.  The Bill-Paying Fantasy.


I don’t know.  I guess I’ve lost my Elvis, too.  Right now, I seem to feel guilty no matter what I do. My normal anxiety/sensitivity level is so heightened that I bumped into a door the other day and I APOLOGIZED to it.   Even I, who apologize to everyone to such a point that my children say, “Mom, you’ve used up all of your ‘sorries’ for today,” realized I’d just completely lost all focus.  It’s hard to imagine Elvis apologizing to a door, isn’t it?


And I’m just really tired.


My problem is that I took a part-time job but honestly, I don’t DO part-time.  My husband reminded me of this in his one small warning before I took the job.  I’ve NEVER done part-time.  I’m a full-time kind of gal. When I worked FULL-TIME, I worked a zillion hours a week and frequently went into the office over the weekend.  I’m missing some gene that lets me do things in moderation.  Seriously, I cannot think of one single thing I do that I don’t do either to excess or not at all.


In one of the pivotal books of my life, Travels with Charley (John Steinbeck), there is this passage right at the beginning where he says “… For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness.  I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as punishment.  I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage.”


Now, see –I subscribe to that way of thinking.  Not consciously, mind you, but it’s been a tenet of my world for as long as I can remember.

The thing is… I think it’s a mistake as I get older.  I think the key to life is to learn balance –to learn how to do things in moderation and to still enjoy every minute. I mean, even ELVIS lost his Elvis in the end.  Nobody talks about how happy and fulfilled and fit and boyish he was when he died, right?


(Oh great, like I needed the visual of the fat, old Elvis for yet another parallel to my OCD. Sigh.)


So, the key is balance and centeredness and a bigger vision than just the task immediately before me.


Only, I have no idea how to do this.


Seriously.  In my world, winners aren’t made by their moderate lifestyles.  Name one person who has changed the course of the world while exhibiting great calm and centeredness and balance at the same time.


BESIDES Mother Teresa, I mean.


I can’t think of anyone.  But then again, I’m not out to change the world.  Anything I’ve done to change the world, I’ve done when I had my children.  Now it’s up to them. 


So, the thing is… Elvis has left the building.  But he was just the opening act.  It seems to me that the bigger question is who the headliner really is  --and if she’s got the staying power of a genuine star.




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(c) Barbara Cooper 2006



Barb Cooper is the mother of Ana (8) and Jane (5).  She lives in Austin, Texas and was never that big of a fan of Elvis.