In just a few minutes from now

Speak your wisdom here,
in the mirror; she’s wearing
headphones anyway.
********************************

Well, it has happened. My oldest, a girl, has turned 13. She is a teenager, and I guess that means I am now the parent of a teenager. I have been reading beautiful “letters to my daughter” writings, full of motherly wisdom. They all provide guidance to help their offspring navigate the rocky life ahead. I thought about writing something similar to my girl, but it felt fake. Instead, I’m drawn to write a letter to myself… here goes.

Dear Me,

Hi. So I know you heard the news. Your baby girl is growing up. Yes, she became taller than you several months ago (not a difficult feat, mind you, but a humbling/proud moment nonetheless). And her feet are longer than yours (again, nothing to brag about since your feet stop growing at 32 months).  But now another milestone has been crossed… and with each of those, a little part of you falls away. As someone said to you — or did you make it up yourself — being a parent is ‘one long letting go’, and several feet of holding on just ran between your slack hands.

You have 3 years until she is driving. Not even 6 years to college. And your boy is only 4 years behind her.  You have got to get your shit together, and fast. Here’s my advice to you.

That voice in your head is routing itself to your mouth way too often. It is bad enough that it tortures you with stories of ‘not enough’ and inadequacies.  But it used to be further away, separate from you. Now it seems to have sidled up to you, almost like a lover, pressing closely against you — so close its voice is becoming your voice. And as you allow it external voice, you lose your best self.  But here’s the deal: your best self – even your mediocre, haven’t-showered-in-days PMS-y self — is so much better than that shitbag voice in your head. Quit letting it speak for you and fast.  In 10 years (who am I kidding, in 10 minutes) you are going to hear that voice come out of your 13 year old and your heart will break. Make a change.

Your life is so much better than you allow.   You’ve dressed up longing and are pretending it is a vision board.  Stop. Stop longing for a life where you aren’t tired. Stop longing for a job that fulfills you 100% all the time. Stop longing for that ‘thing’ (artwork, clothing, knowledge, vacation, sheets) and quit deluding yourself that it will cure something, fill in something, create something different in your life. It won’t. And you know why? Because if/then statements are bullshit.  If I (lose weight, make more money, buy a vacation home, cut my hair) … then I will be (content, pretty, zen like, able to…). Blah de blah blah.   You know what isn’t bullshit? The life you have right now.  This is way more than gratitude. This about being present in your life and recognizing how amazing you have it.  You want your teenager to appreciate what you provide? Then you better appreciate what you have, right now, with no if/then, no more accumulation, no numbing out.

Be more mindful of where you are choosing to spend your time.   Take stock every few days… if you’ve read more words on Facebook than your family has shared together… well, perhaps that isn’t your highest choice.   I know you tell yourself that you are relaxing when you surf online, but you and I know that’s crap.   And spending 30 minutes more at work isn’t making you more successful.  Of course you need to do that sometimes, but you allow it to matter when really it doesn’t.   Start paying attention and see whether your choices take you toward the life you want; chances are you’ll easily make another choice.

Midlife has brought you a strong desire to find significance in your life, but all the stuff mentioned above has blinded you to how the everyday moments are chock full of what you seek. Our lives are 99% daily living, 1% extra-special moments. If you think that significance is only in the 1% you are doomed. There is significance all around you. Every day.  Please start looking for it. Because frankly, in just a few minutes from now, a few more years will have passed. Trust me on that one.

Love,
Me

Do your new reading glasses make my ass look fat? The evolution of a marriage…

Small, square, the ad read:
“…A cuddly renaissance dude…”
With that, I was hooked.
———————————————-

Today I celebrate 19 years of wonderful marriage to Frank. Wow. Nine-teen. That’s a lot. We’ve known each other 20 years – yikes!  that’s like two decades! It has both felt like a very short period of time and like forever, because it seems I can’t recall much before we met.

I’m not sure I’m going to add anything new to the “anatomy of a marriage” genre, but I thought a trip down memory lane would be fun to write. So I present to you my marriage, in 6 stages:

Dating, 14 months: We spent a lot of time at my apartment. I lived alone and it was snuggly.  During this time Frank killed a rat in my apartment (the rat had the strength of 10 men and the daring of a playboy centerfold; I was terrified). He took me sledding for the first time in my life (winter snow is a little thin on the ground in middle Georgia).  It was a lovely place and a lovely time. I enjoyed our courtship a great deal. (I know, I know, who the hell calls it a courtship…)

Marriage years zero to 4: Our first apartment together. I moved in first, a few weeks before the wedding. I knew when the washer and dryer arrived the day after I moved in — my first major appliance purchase ever, let alone with another person — that this was serious. Why the 100 wedding invitations and the white dress hanging in the closet didn’t also convey this, I don’t know. But the washer and dryer… that was it. It was a great apartment. All new building, third floor on the back. We could watch the fireworks at Kings Island every night from the deck (ok, so you had to stand at one end and lean over the railing a little). We lit fires in the fireplace (also a novelty to this childhood victim of gas heat).  We sat on the floor and ate on the glass-topped coffee table in front of the TV so often I made a little table-cloth. (It currently lays folded on a shelf 4 feet from me now; we’ve never been able to part with it.) When we started rehabbing my husband’s childhood home, spending all but sleeping hours elsewhere, the place felt less lived in. Imagine my surprise then when we moved out in 1997: I sobbed uncontrollably at the loss of our first marital home. Even Frank shed a tear.

Homeowners, Part 1: We were virtually immobile for the first 2 years of our life in this home. The previous 18 months of near constant rehabbing had stripped us of our youthful vigor (being newly married and mostly broke, we did almost all the work ourselves. We started by removing the entire roof, trusses and all, and setting new trusses with a crane, if that gives you an indication of how much work we did…). The walls remained boring beige. The last few bits of rehab went untouched for years. But we enjoyed being homeowners. Frank bought me a go-kart disguised as a lawn mower which I joyfully drove like a maniac every summer weekend. I planted a few vegetables. I took a landscape class and redid the front yard. Frank put in a concrete driveway that could withstand the landing pressure of the space shuttle.  Five years after moving in, and nearly 10 years into our marriage, we decided to start a family and quickly (and thankfully) after that, our daughter was born. (I loved painting her nursery (thanks Teneal!) and would silently weep when years later it was undone by another family.) We had cats and house plants and relatives next door and across the street. It was a good party house and the vaulted ceiling hosted a 12 foot tall Christmas tree each year. When we sold the house in 2005 to the first people who looked at it, we were pleased someone who appreciated our hard work, craftmanship and obvious love of the place had purchased it.

The Expat Years: In 2005 we moved to England for my job; Frank became a stay at home dad. We learned to drive on the other side of the road and call it rubbish and motorway and car park and mum. I loved it… and it was hard. Redefining your roles in a marriage and as parents isn’t easy, and often I struggled balancing work (and my perceived higher expectations being an expat) with being a second-in-command parent with being a mom with being a wife with wanting some alone time. But we learned to go with the flow.  Two years into it our son was born and I watched with amazement as my husband grew into an expanded role as caregiver and home-keeper and I chilled out about being the primary breadwinner and an expat. Although we were happy to come back to the US in 2008, I will always love England. I never did fully say goodbye to our rental home there… not sure why.

Growth & Maturation: Remember 2008? Gas prices were sky high? House prices were rock bottom? We returned then, rented a home and stood ready to finally build a house on the 5 acres we had purchased in 2000 in a dream location in the country. But we had to wait. Had to get one kid in school and one in daycare. I had to get used to a new job with what seemed like a 24 hour clock. Frank had to restart his engineering business. And we had to decide on how to proceed with building the house.  Have Frank be the general contractor or use a builder? Will the bank loan us the money in this economy? The house we designed will cost HOW MUCH to build? Meet with the architect and redesign the house smaller with fewer bells and whistles. Revisit the budget, crunch some numbers. Argue with the homeowners association that we weren’t quite yet ready to build… These were the longest 18 months of our marriage I think. My son wasn’t getting along in day care; we were falling deeper in love with our daughters school 45 minutes in the opposite direction from our 5 acres. Did we really want the custom home? Was country living really the right thing for our little family? Was day care really the best option for AB at this time? Did we want a nice house but no money for vacation for the next 20 years, or some other path? When the universe presented to me, one January afternoon in 2010, a 4 bedroom house less than one mile from school on over an acre… an English Tudor no less… with one of those rock bottom prices nearly half of the dream home’s… well, the rest as they say is history. It was one of the most mature things we ever did – picking the collective future of our family over an old dream that didn’t really fit anymore. It was like finally parting with that really cool pair of designer pants that you bought on deep sale at Saks on a whim… they fit, but you never really had the right place to wear them, but you couldn’t bear throwing them out.  Selling the 5 acres felt like taking those pants to Goodwill. You know it’s the right thing, but you still wonder if you made the right decision – will you have just the right event to wear them to come up in a few days…

Homeowners, Part 2, No regrets: 2010 – to present.   I love my marriage. I love my kids and husband and the family we make. I love my house. I (mostly) love my job. We have a good dog and a short commute.  We sold 5 acres of specialty property in a down economy. We can take a vacation each year. The cars are healthy. I have to honestly say I am more content now than I have ever been. Don’t get me wrong — the first 19 years have been wonderful and I’m happy for the journey (and often dumbfounded at my good luck that started with reading that personal ad one NyQuil-drunk March evening…). And yet right now, everything seems to have come together at the same time. I have always mocked those 40-ish actresses who report that their 40s are sooo much better than their 20’s and 30’s. That they know themselves better, feel more comfortable with themselves, etc etc. I don’t feel like I have that level of self awareness – I have no clue if I “know myself better” or not. However, when viewed through the lens of the last 20 years… of the evolution of my married life, well then I must agree. It is, right now, the best. Amongst all the really amazing and wonderful great times, now is the best.

All my love, Frank. So very glad you picked me.

Oh, Great… New Guilt (flavored with Gratitude)

(the following haiku must be spoken in your best wrestling announcer voice…)

It’s a G word fight!!
Guilt v. gratitude… cage match!
The victor? Stay tuned…
………………………………………………….

I work full-time and my husband stays at home with the kids (one in school full days, one in half days). He manages the household – laundry, cooking, grocery, a little cleaning, home and car repair. I bring home the bacon, manage the finances, do some yard work and also clean house when I’m sufficiently motivated (e.g. when company is coming).

This set up has been working for us for about 7 years. In those seven years, I’ve become thoroughly experienced in a variety of guilt:

– how much I like my job
– 7am conference calls that mean I don’t see the kids in the morning
– 8pm conference calls that mean I tuck the kids in at bedtime
– That between 7am and 8pm conference calls, I don’t give Frank as much attention as he deserves and I want
– How I don’t contribute very much to the non-financial aspects of this family
– That I can’t recall the last time I made it to a dentist appointment for the kids
– That the kids more or less like him as much as me now
– That he doesn’t get much time with people over 4 feet tall
– That when I get home from work sometimes all I want to do is hide under the bed and not talk to anyone or do anything, which means he never gets a break.
– Working out since I’m already not seeing the kids much

Well, friends, I have something new to feel guilty about, and it is an interesting role reversal guilt: Frank has gotten a job.

We’ve always known this would happen. Long ago we decided that once our youngest started full-time school, Frank would return to work. We need the income to support some choices we’ve made (namely private school). And it would be nice to take a vacation to someplace other than my parents’ house. And our savings account is quite dusty… You get the idea.

But now the time has come. He job hunted, found his engineering skills still very marketable, and has a great new job starting in a month. The kids know that he is going back to work. Here is just a sampling of what I’ve heard them say over the last few weeks:

–         But who is going to take care of us (because clearly we are now going to just leave them home alone…)
–         But I’ll miss daddy
–         But daddy has always been the mom
–         But I don’t want him to go back to work

So now on top of all the other guilt that I’m experienced in, I now get to add the “I don’t make enough money to fully support us and now the kids are sad because dad has to work” guilt. Wow, that’s a fun one. Now, no one is making me feel this way. Frank hasn’t overtly said: hey, would you please make more money?  But would he rather not have to get a job that makes $XYZ and instead do something that makes some ill-defined amount of money and is super flexible? Sure he would.  And the funny thing is, I would too. These last few weeks, as we’ve managed kid and adult sickness, job interviews, extra yard work, new spring activities for the kids, doctor appointments, etc etc., it has become very clear to me how much I’ve come to rely on his flexibility and the work he does around the house.

I’m also feeling a wee bit guilty about the nugget of resentment I’m realizing I have because him going back to work is going to mean more “work” for me, too. (that has to be the most bizarre sentence structure ever) I’ve truly benefited from him handling the daily stuff and now I’ll have to handle some of it too.  Laundry, picking up around the house, grocery shopping, post office visits, and on and on.  (Again, I’ve always “known” how much he handles at an intellectual level, but the last two weeks I’ve felt it “real time”.)  The concept of taking what little discretionary time I have in the evenings and dividing it up across more chores is not a thought I enjoy lingering on.

Part of me keeps snarking at myself: you have a great job that you love, your kids are healthy, your husband is a saint; boo hoo hoo, you have to work around the house some more so you can have your private school/vacation cake and eat it too; cry me a river.  I get that. I respect that. All good points.

That’s why I’m pleased the majority of me has been realizing how much gratitude I feel for Frank.  He graciously, and with almost no debate, pulled himself from the workforce to do right by the kids and our life during the last 7 years.  He doesn’t complain unreasonably. When I’m beat and want to hide under the bed when I get home, he diverts the kids’ attention so I can do just that. He reminds me that we are a team… I have my role and he has his, and together is how it all gets done. And now that he is the one having to change it up (again!) he’s been totally cool.

So I think it is time to end the G word versus G word battle raging in my head these last few weeks, and remind myself what my friend Lynette told me many years ago – guilt is a useless emotion. (I’ve also really enjoyed reading Becky and Susan’s posts over at Working Moms Against Guilt about their recent transitions – very inspiring; so nice to know I’m not alone.) Instead, I will keep gratitude high in my awareness and enjoy watching this family explore new routines and responsibilities (the kids have no idea that they are going to get tapped to do more around here… announcing that should be fun…). We’ll figure it out.

I’m Sick (or Why They Make You Take Vows)

Her head, heavy as lead;
Her throat, makes sounds like a goat.
South from there sucks too.

…………………………………………………………………..

I’m sick. (pathetic cough, grimacing swallow)

I have a headache – actually, anything north of my shoulder blades feels like it has been knitted together with steel wire. Stiff, pokey, extra heavy.

My sinuses have decide to expand to monumental proportions, and I’m quite confident they would have burst out of my face if it weren’t for the steel wiring.

My throat is currently home to… (I couldn’t find a word to adequately describe what feels like “my flesh having unsuccessfully met a cheese grater” so for inspiration I decided to google “images of sore”, at which point I lost my desire for further descriptive words. Don’t try that search at home, it will haunt you.)

And my fever, despite assaults by way more ibuprofen than the manufacturer thinks I can survive, has held on. 103 sucks. 103 for two days has left me gooey and useless. I spent all day yesterday in either the recliner or in bed.

To top it off, my son and daughter are also not well – fevers, infections — but they are well enough to insist on joining me on the recliner or talking to me approximately .0005 seconds after I finally drop off for a nap.   Trust me when I say that I continue with my not mother of the year streak.

Which leaves Frank. Frank the wonderful. Frank the sent from heaven. Frank the “I don’t deserve you”.

Today, Frank earned the “that’s why they make you take vows” award.  As if yesterday wasn’t bad enough (my inability to do more than lay down required far more attention from him than you might think), today topped it by a lot.  I’m not going to tell you what happened (What?!? Me not reveal something embarrassing and personal? Surely this is the antibiotic talking…). Just know that it involved me and required his help. Awkward help. God love you kind of help.

And he stepped up. Did what needed to be done without complaint. He could have made some jokes about situation, but he didn’t.  I love this man. I’d like to say that I would do the same for him. If I had a better memory I might recall such a circumstance in our 19 year history, but I don’t.  I also have a fairly horrible track record when it comes to patience for the sick. After about 36 hours you had better be well, because my attention and sympathy are waning. (This last sentence really applies to other adults, not so much for the kids; somehow the kids are blameless but the adults are faking lay-abouts…) All this adds up to some doubt on my part as to whether I would be as good to him as he has been to me. Nonetheless, I will hope that I, too, step up.

So this post is dedicated to my beloved.  Thank you thank you thank you for picking me. I’m a better person for it. I promise to do my best to never put you in a situation that nominates you for this award again.

The Anatomy of a Breakdown (Through the Eyes of Vodka)

Haikus written drunk
Lack insightfulness, wit, depth,
But who the hell cares.*

………………………………………………………………….

Ahhh, vacation. A few days of sun and pollen-drenched blossoms. Restful sleep and a modest sunburn. All the ingredients required for a few days R&R.

And then you have the return drive. Nine plus hours up and down the mountains that criss cross I-75 through Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky on the way to my beloved Ohio.

We were 34 miles away from home – 34 MILES!! – when AB, the 5-year-old, announced he could no longer hold it and we needed to stop. Since we couldn’t convince him to pee in a bottle (yes, I’m a horrible mother, this was a viable option for me… we were making fantastic time and I wanted to get home), we were forced to take the next exit, where we pulled into the Pilot Truck Stop. I like gas stations that service truckers. The bathrooms tend to be better than most, they have the widest variety of junk food, and the people watching exceeds all expectations.

So Frank and AB departed to the bathroom, while my girl and I sat in the car, enjoying the momentary silence and the air conditioning. Ohm. Then the boys returned, the car was put into reverse, and we began our departure.

Five feet later, the departure stopped. The car died. Died. As in dead. As in no-go-no-more. 34 MILES FROM HOME!  Below is my dissection of the event through the steps of emotional change I experienced. Kubler-Ross has her 5 stages of grief. I present to you my 7 stages of a breakdown…

1. Command and control. The car was dead in the water. Actually, it was dead in the middle of a high traffic area in the parking lot. The instant it was clear to me that there was no instant recovery, I jumped out, having acquired super human strength, and told Frank I would push while he steered. (Note: We were driving a Chevy Tahoe, not a Mini Cooper.) I waved off the people patiently waiting, blinker on, for our parking spot, and assumed my line-backer position behind the car. Heave ho, with a little help from Frank who assisted from the driver’s side, we pushed the car back into the parking spot. Alexander Haig’s famous line “I am in charge here” echoed in my head briefly.

2. The Adventure. This stage is marked by a sense of fun and a dash of gratitude. “At least it didn’t break down in the high-speed lane during rush hour!” I told the kids. This is something new – “we’ve never been in a situation like this” so let’s have some fun while we are at it. Adventure attempts to cover over the anxiety of other participants. I’ve employed this tactic on midnight ER visits with the kids with some success, so I readily reapplied it here. It is mildly successful.

3. Wary Problem Solving. This is where you realize things are no longer going your way. Of the few things your incredibly-smart-car-savvy-can-fix-anything-husband thinks have gone wrong, none of the easy ones are showing up. I start to participate in the problem solving, pushing the gas pedal just so, turning the ignition as instructed. Other car guys are stopping by to offer help and ideas, none of which fall in “the part is available in the truck stop and is easy to replace” category. I have started to count how many apples we have left and begin turning off cell phones to save battery life. The preparation has begun.

4. Taking Action. There we are, both Frank and I, on the phone trying to figure out how we are getting 4 people, a car load of crap and the car itself 34 MILES to our home. I’m calling American Express to find out if our gold car has any road side assistance features. He’s calling AAA re-upping our long expired membership so we can cheaply obtain a tow. The kids, who have begun to whine in earnest, have started to get nervous and fidgety… I decide to have a whining contest to give them a creative way to express themselves that doesn’t make me want to put them up for adoption. (This part was fun, actually. I gave each a scenario and they had to produce their best whine: “Moooooommmm, but I don’t want to brush my teeeeeeth”.  “Mooooommmmm, I don’t like to eat green beeeeeeannns.” They had a lot of fun.) Overall, this was progress, as we were making decisions, moving forward, no longer just waiting for a solution to stick.

5. The In Between. This was our darkest moment. Just like depression precedes acceptance in Kubler-Ross, we were in a dark place. The tow truck was going to be a while. The cab even longer (no room in the tow truck for us all).  I took the kids into the Subway restaurant in the Pilot Truck Stop to get them food that contained some semblance of nutrition, and they were like wet cats. At one point, I leaned over, demanded eye contact, and told them they had better stick with me or, well, I didn’t provide an alternative but rest assured they understood unpleasantness would ensue. I was incapable of communicating with the poor Subway clerk – I couldn’t make eye contact; I responded in single syllables; I took deep breaths before speaking; I was unable to make anything make sense. Words failed me and I found myself resorting to single syllables and doing nothing more than tell my children to sit down and be quiet (actually, I ejaculated the phrase “sit down now” so vehemently that they listened). It wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t well. This was a bad place…

6. The Release. The cab arrived just as the tow truck was ready to depart. The driver was a delightful woman with children the same ages as mine. She took over – put the car seat in, put me at ease, got us on our way. We talked easily about kids and the news of the day. AB was a joyful, delightful boy intent on relaying his entire medical history during the commute. Salvation was upon us. The end was near. 34 MILES was traversed at last.

7. The Drinking. The bags are unpacked, mostly. The kids are in bed. I’m here, thoroughly enjoying my second Cosmo, replaying the day’s events for you, my delightful reader. I’m a little drunk, and more than a little resentful that I have a 8:30am conference call tomorrow (boo! hiss! what was I thinking!). We are all well; we even managed to pick the dog up in time (only 5 minutes after close) so that the whole family is now back together again.

That brings to a close our day returning from vacation. I provide these stages as a guideline should any of your find yourselves in such a situation. May this provide needed guidance and reassurance that you will, you WILL, arrive on the other side of such tragedies.

If not, here is my recipe for a good Cosmo: 2 parts (part=shot glass) vodka (I’m not picky, any brand will do, you are mixing it for crying out loud so pick the medium cheap brand); 1 part Triple Sec; 1 part cranberry juice; 1 part Rose’s lime juice. Mix all together; introduce an ice cube to cool it briefly; then poor into a drinking container without the ice. Snobs will tell you a martini glass is required. I use a wine glass because I am not a snob, but rather a cheap drunk. Enjoy.

 

*This is the best haiku I’ve ever written. This took 20 seconds to write. Viva la Cosmo!

A New Definition of Normal (Not for the Squeamish)

First the dog threw up…
on the kid…. and then the kid
threw up… on the dog.*

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When work gets a little nutso, I tend to call my husband. His voice just seems to lower my blood pressure and remind me what really matters. Today was like that: I called him as I was heading to a meeting and told him “I just need a little normal”. He laughed, wondering how bad it must be if the happenings at our home seemed normal, but proceeded to tell me about his morning, AB’s morning, etc. And then he told me about our “normal” dog.

Seems Lily the wonder poodle went out to poop this morning, very normal indeed, but then she pooped two or three more times while in the yard. That’s not normal. When she finally came back in, Frank noticed that she still had poop hanging out of her bottom. Again, not at all normal; in fact, a little alarming since this has happened a few times in the last few days.  Then he shared the best part of all: as he was pulling the poop off her bottom, he pulled a paper towel out of her ass.

Half sheet.

Totally intact.

And after he did this, he proceeded to pull a second half sheet paper towel out of her ass. It appears that just like a canister of wet wipes, when you remove one, the next one pops up, waiting to be extracted.

Oh my god. I don’t think normal will ever be the same again.

We then had a great time with the puns. It is no longer “select a sheet” but “select a shit”.  Plus, the new selling line is the “quicker pooper-upper”. This went on for several minutes and I encourage you to add your own thoughts in the comments section.  He then threatened to rinse them out and lie them side by side with other slightly used paper towels to see if I could tell the difference. The call ended soon thereafter.

(For those of you wondering why I feed my dog paper towels… we caught her red-handed on Sunday licking the “breakfast-bacon-draining-paper-towels” which she had fished out of the garbage; had no clue she had already scarfed down two.)

Anyway, before I ended the call, I proclaimed my continuing appreciation for my husband and his willingness to deal with these types of situations. (I would have collapsed immediately upon noticing the fluffy end sticking out; he doesn’t rattle near as easily.) I returned to spread sheets and conference calls, but kept reflecting on the visual image of him, with the kids mesmerized by his side,  pulling out the paper towels like a magician fishing scarves from inside his clenched fist. I’m sure people wondered why I kept smiling.

(Note: Thanks to Frank for the wet wipes and magician metaphors! Stolen with his full knowledge.)

(*by the way, only the first 8 syllables are truth; the rest is just funny to visualize)

It’s My Birthday!!

My birthday demons:
vanquished thanks to a Cosmo,
Cake and nice strangers.

“““““““““““““““““

Yesterday was my birthday. And it was a fabulous day. I don’t have a history of great birthdays.

Long time ago; with Kaye, Melody, Stephanie's sleeve... others?

As my parents are CPAs and my birthday falls in Tax Season, my birthday wasn’t always celebrated on the specific day. It was usually deferred (with my awareness and somewhat reluctant agreement) to a more convenient day. Growing up I can remember spending the actual day in several less-than-celebratory ways:

–          Working at my parents’ office. Nothing says happy birthday more than bookkeeping or data entry.

–          At a college class with my dad, who was getting his degree. In one memorable biology class they were experimenting with mice. I’ll leave out the details here lest any PETA people see this.

–          Watching the Brady Bunch and wishing I had MarciaMarciaMarcia’s hair.

As a result, many years ago I made the terribly mature proclamation to my husband that no matter what – come wind, rain, appendicitis or Armageddon – we would celebrate my birthday ON THE ACTUAL third of February. He has no issue and has obliged.  Birthdays have been better since then.

But this one was borderline great. It didn’t end in a zero or involve gifts or parties, so why was it so great? Here is what I did…

–          I told everyone it was my birthday. With arms spread wide, I boldly declared it and basked in the well wishes from people I knew as well as complete strangers. Two guys in the elevator at work thought I was a little mad, but they complied. In a meeting where half were visitors from another company I didn’t know, I found a birthday buddy – it was her birthday too.  The people at the hibachi grill sang to me with gusto.  Now I didn’t walk around shouting this or wearing the birthday crown like my kids do at school, but you’d be amazed at how easy it is to slip it into otherwise natural conversation topics.  Meeting introductions are a perfect way: “Hi, I’m Maureen and I work in HR. Been with the company 22 years and speaking of that, today’s my birthday.”  Or in chit chat: “Yes, it is Friday. I love Fridays. This is an especially good Friday because it is my birthday.” See, not awkward at all.

–          I shared my age when asked, 44, and left it at that. Usually I share this expecting someone to say “Surely not, NO! You couldn’t be that age! You look far too young!”  When you have that expectation and no one says such things, it can be a real downer. This time I had no such delusions. I officially look about my age. On a well rested day, I might get away with late 30’s/early 40’s, but Friday wasn’t a well rested day. Regardless, I’ve lived 44 years, I have a good life, and if you think I look older than that, I’m learning to be ok with it. (Don’t get me wrong, I slather 7 different potions on my face each day and really believe they make a difference. I’m not so much into embracing my age that I won’t impede its progress with hair color, good skin care and a decent bra.)

–          I left work early to surprise my daughter by picking her up from school (my son was already home). My company allows really great flexibility – and since I had put in a 12 hour workday the day before, I had no qualms about leaving at 3:15. Seeing my daughter’s face when she was expecting a black car and not my red one was a treasure.  When I got home, the weather was such that I all played outside for over an hour with both kids, something else I rarely get to do during the week. Glorious.

–          We ate cake first. Since it was a date night, I wanted to be sure I celebrated at some point with my kids. So at 5:30 the Bonbonerie Opera Cream Torte came out of the fridge, a candle was lit, the kids sang to me and I read my cards. Then we ate. Nothing like cake before dinner to make any day special.

–          My birthday dinner was kid-less. I know I just spent several lines talking about how much I like my kids, but my birthday dinners with them, I have learned, historically suck.  Dinner with small/medium kids are “squat and gobble” meals.  You eat fast, don’t really know what you’re eating and at the end are shocked at how much it costs since you barely tasted anything. Either that or you park your kid with your smart phone playing Angry Birds while you finish your meal, hoping the people at the next table won’t think you are a horrible parent and report you to some kid-snatching state agency. Neither are appetizing.  This time we left the kids with our well trusted babysitter and the two of us went to a new Japanese Hibachi restaurant and shared a meal with strangers. It was delightful! The younger couple next to me were soon to vacation in London and thusly had to endure a list of recommendations from us (we lived there for 3 years). The older couple next to Frank had grown kids who had gone to the same school our kids attend (and have also lived in London) – more story swapping. She was also a writer who hadn’t yet embraced the web and gave me her card and asked me to get in touch about writing blogs. We all had too many things in common for it to be mere chance. It was just great birthday karma.

–          I had two Cosmo martinis at dinner. I don’t drink often, but I enjoy its effects when I do. That’s all I really need to say about that.

–          Facebook. Why? Because people I haven’t seen in 25 years take the time to wish me happy birthday. I know people don’t really remember my birthday, they just see the reminder, but there is something fun about seeing a few dozen birthday wishes from the people you call friends, regardless the tightness of the relationship.  Add to that that this posting might result in even more people I don’t know commenting with “happy birthday”, well, I’m back to my first point – bring on the well wishes!

So that’s my recipe for a great birthday. I’m ever so hopeful I remember this come next year. It will be a Sunday thanks to leap year – hey, I just realized, it will be Super Bowl Sunday!  Maybe I’ll have a Super Mo Sunday party!  You will all be invited.

Kids say the darndest things (or Balls, part 2)

Imploringly he
holds my face and whispers his
sweet little boy song

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The place: CVS

The who: Me and my then 4 year old boy, AB.

The what: AB watching himself on the security TV at the entrance.

The quote:  Hey mom, watch me! I’m whacking my boy parts on TV!!

The reaction: Silence.

Because really, what can you say after that? I had at least 10 replies cued up in my brain, several that were downright hysterical, but none would play too well in that suburban store. Instead, I smiled blandly at the clerk, who, at 16 years old, thought that was the funniest thing she had heard in a while, and quietly replied “he’s 4”.

We left the store rather quickly. I tried to explain to AB that a) we don’t whack our boy parts and b) we certainly don’t do it in public.  But he was already onto the next topic, the whacking long forgotten.

I think AB picked me; I think that little soul looked down from wherever souls hang out pre-birth and decided that I needed to learn agility.  Verbal ability, mental agility, emotional agility, physical agility and most of all spiritual agility.   He has presented me with so many wonderful opportunities to build my skill set in this regard – always with a smile that melts your heart (those dimples! damn them!).  It hasn’t been an easy practice.  There have been more than my fair share of hot tears, born from frustration and defeat. But then we have a moment like CVS. Where the universe gifts me with an opportunity to observe my son with wonder… to watch him so downright pleased with seeing himself on camera… to have such confidence in who he is and what he is capable of that he boldly declares it to the world.  Look at me! Look at what I can do!

Who cares that if he was 10 years older he would be arrested for saying such things. I don’t want to be the one who dampens that spirit just yet. Instead, I’ll just carry on, walking with him, learning to be more agile than I ever thought I would need to be.  We will be fine. And we are going to have some great stories to tell someday to an unsuspecting girlfriend.

“The Best of” our Christmas holiday (or how weapons, a hand mixer and underwear made for a great few days)

Christmas joyfulness
Cupped in my hands, warm, fragrant,
To be savored, shared.

——————————————-

The buzz of Christmas is giving way to the reality of normal life. Before it gets away, let me share some of the more notable happenings around the Howard household these last few days.

Most surprising: It was one of our best Christmas’s ever. I usually fret each year that the kids won’t like what Santa got them; they will ask “is that it” at the end of the frenzy… that they’ll mention the one gift they had secretly wished for, which I didn’t know about…. All of which would break my heart. I was determined that this year I would be “relaxed and groovy” about everything. And you know what? A funny thing happened. I was relaxed and groovy and so was everyone else. Coincidence? I think not.   It was a wonderful day full of gratitude and love.

Most ridiculous cooking instruction:  Mix for 5-7 minutes until combined.  Are they kidding me? Combined means it is all one color and that takes about 30 seconds.  What happens after that is a waste of time.  I made it 4 minutes and gave up.  The cake was wonderful. 

Best timed cooking mishap:  My hand mixer, which held up so nicely in the agonizing 4+ minutes of cake batter (not to mention the other things I cooked Christmas Eve), died later that same evening. Just as I was finishing Santa cookie dough, one of the beaters stopped working. The other one died a few hours later as my husband was working on homemade yeast rolls.  Lucky for us, that was the end of the need for the hand mixer.  And this is what after Christmas sales are about, after all.

Proof I have the best kids:  At 7:30am Christmas morning, both kids galloped  into the bedroom ready to go. My husband turned over and said “it isn’t 8 o’clock yet. Go back to bed!” and you know what? They DID! Both retreated to their rooms and slept/read/played quietly for 30 minutes. I was astonished. Best kids ever.

Best answered prayer: Christmas day was warm enough that the blasted Cars 2 Splash Car Color Change Track wet-o-rama could be set up outside.  That was a complete mess. If you don’t know what this is, just know that ice cold water and hot water are both required for it to work. No way will that ever be set up inside. Whoever designed that does not have children, hates mothers and lives in a room with a drain in the center of the floor.   

Funniest moment:  My 5 year old boy got an Imaginext T-Rex, which launches projectiles (aka weapons).  My 9 year old girl got a hu-mungo Littlest Pets tree house thingamajig complete with a dozen wacky animals (aka peaceful). I walked in on the boy, T-Rex in hand, stalking the tree house chanting “I’m going to shoot you down… pting, ptchow” and launching all matter of pretend spears at the little creatures. It was like a replay from Avatar – the militant brutes against the tree loving aliens. Classic boy play.

Best quote – unbelievable:  “I can’t wait to try on those shoes,” spoken by my husband, seriously, when the large box from Zappos arrived. I was astonished and didn’t reply for several moments. I plan to remind him of this quote at a future time beneficial to me.

Best quote – concerning: “Mom, can I have 4 skewers?” spoken by my daughter, who was playing with her younger brother. As she disappeared upstairs with them, she shouted over her shoulder “Don’t worry, I’ll be safe, I won’t poke him!” Yeah, right, I thought.

Best quote – embarrassing:  While standing in the crowded checkout line at Macy’s, intimate apparel in her hands, my mom loudly declared: “You know, I haven’t bought underwear in 12 years.”  If silence made noise, the place would have been deafening.  I watched eyes bulge and ears prick, could hear brain cells working, asking themselves “did that woman just say what I think she just said???” My reply: “Mom, why did you feel compelled to declare that in front of this large group of strangers?” at which point everyone laughed out loud. A slightly racy conversation ensued where people speculated as to why my mom hadn’t purchased any underwear in such a long time.  I crept away slowly…

Prettiest scene: My table set with lovely Christmas china, my wedding silver and wedding crystal. I just don’t use this stuff enough, and yet when I do, I enjoy it so immensely.  I even lit candles – long tapers in lovely silver candle holders. It was so peaceful I lit them again for the leftovers tonight – it made an average meal feel special and calm.  Highly recommended.

I would love to hear your stories.  And I hope you had a memorable Christmas with those you love and that you can keep the feelings present well into 2012.

We’re a team (or one of many reasons I love my husband)

There’s no better spouse
Than he who sacrifices
His sleep for his wife’s

********************************

In 2005 my husband became a (mostly) full-time stay at home dad. There were some very tough times (for me at least) as I adjusted to this, which are the subject of a separate posting. Today, I want to talk about a moment where my affection for my husband spilled from me and I truly came to appreciate what we were doing as parents and partners.

I was at work, and got a call that I needed to have a senior executive I worked with video-taped for a big meeting. I needed to write the script, find a quiet location, tape him and get it sent off by noon (I think it was 10am). I didn’t have a camera, a script, nothing (this was 4 years ago, before every handheld device was a decent video camera).

So I called my husband… the man who has every electronic device. 

“Help! I’m sorry to bother you, but I really need your help!!” I said frantically. “I know you have a ton of things to do today, but I really need you to bring our video camera to work – make sure there is a fresh tape – I have to do a video of Mr. X in the next 90 minutes. Really, I’m sorry to bother you, I’m sure you have a lot you need to do, but I don’t know what to do!?!”  My voice petered off, sheepishly.

Frank simply said  “Honey, don’t worry. We’re a team. I’ll be right there.”

I didn’t know what to say. I was stunned. The phrase “we’re a team” was one I don’t think I’d heard him say before, and at that moment it was the most perfect thing he could have said.  It meant we were in this together, that he had my back, that he supported me regardless, that I needn’t feel guilty about interrupting his plans for the day, that together we would sort this out. And vice versa.

Here I was worried that I was somehow throwing off his day – worse, being a nuisance — and he settled once and for all that what we did, we did together, for the betterment of both.

To this day, 4 years later, that continues to be a defining moment for me as the single breadwinner of this family. The humanity in that phrase, spoken by a man who was still exploring what it meant to be a stay at home dad, overwhelmed me.

I recalled this moment while watching the move Secretariat. The main character, Peggy, was a housewife who found herself a racehorse owner, trying to evolve herself into a working woman while maintaining a family, often half a country away. There is a heart breaking scene where she is in a hotel room, her flight having been canceled, listening to her eldest daughter perform in a play over the phone.  She lies down on the bed, her hand over her mouth, weeping while she listens. I’ve been there – it was painful to watch. The difference is in that movie, her husband was a jerk about her success as working woman until the last 15 minutes of the movie, whereas my husband has never once been anything less than supportive of my path.

I am grateful to him and for him. I think he is a special breed of man, and more are out there. I couldn’t do what I do without him.  Do working dads out there, whose wives stay at home, feel the same way about their partners?  Do the wives see themselves as part of a team? I don’t know. I sure hope so.

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