Monday, November 17, 2014

An Alien And A Mika-Maka

A colorful illustration of the state of New Mexico covered the side of the U-Haul.  On top of New Mexico was an alien.  A looming, green alien with a pointed chin and bottomless black eyes, our traveling companion, our sentry standing guard as the miles between Ohio and Colorado fell away.   The U-Haul was on the smaller side.  But then, we had just graduated and gotten married. We didn’t own much more than our newly acquired wedding presents, an old couch, a halogen lamp, and a hot pot.  

Our wedding day had been unseasonably cool for August in Cleveland.  Wet and gray, the ground soaked through.  We said our I dos while the rain drummed against the stained glass windows, the sun poking out just as we cut into the flower encrusted cake.

On this morning - the day we packed up and moved our lives to Denver - it was warm, humid. The U-Haul door slid shut, disrupting the early morning peace.  A cloudless blue sky peeked down on me through the thick green of the trees as I stood beside my alien and took it all in for the last time. 

Standing in front of me, white hair curled delicately around her face, was my Mika-Maka.  My grandmother.  And the only grandmother in the entire world with that name.  A name made-up by my cousin, but one that fit her like a glove.  Because, that’s exactly what she was, a Mika-Maka.  The only one of her kind.  She grasped my hand in her velvet soft one and placed a flower in my palm.  It might have come from my bouquet or from my parent’s yard, I was never sure.  I held it to my nose and sniffed, it smelled good.  

Then she put her arms around me and hugged me close.  I held on, feeling so big, like her bones were fragile and I could crush her small body if I squeezed too hard. But I held on tight, because that’s what you do when you say goodbye to your Mika-Maka. 

“I love you, Missy,” she told me, kissing me lightly on the cheek. She smelled good, too.  Like chocolate fudge, zucchini bread, and flowers.  I soaked it all in.  And that hug, so brief against our shared lifetime of hugs, back scratches, hand-holding, and snuggles, is the one I hold in my heart today.  The one I can recall vividly, like it was just yesterday.  A gift, that hug.  A gift I feel immeasurably grateful for receiving.

Because that was the last time I saw her.   

Our lives have moved forward since that morning.  The years have fallen away quickly, breathtakingly so, as did those miles on our journey to Denver with our meager possessions in tow.  But that day, on the eve of the biggest chapter of my life, my memories remain rich in detail.  They are mine to take with me as I travel -  a flower, a new bride, an alien, and a Mika-Maka.    

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Indelicate Matters

Not to be indelicate, but I've been having some stomach problems lately.  A not so "polite" subject matter and certainly not one for the dinner table even though it's all about the food.  Probably not really a subject matter for a blog either.   Or is it?

It's something I've dealt with most of my life to some extent.  I know many women out there can relate.  Not so sure about the men as most of you seem able to set a clock based on your water closet visits.

Up until now it's something that really only affected me say, after a night where I imbibed too much (college years), anytime I ate fast food (kinda obvious), all road trips, or after eating anything which offended my stomach in an unforgivable manner.  But lately, and especially in the months leading up to my 40th birthday, things went downhill fast.

What is it about turning 40 anyway?  It's like my body fell asleep in my late 20's and on my 40th birthday jerked wide awake and shrieked, "What the hell??  What has happened to us, precious?"  

I wonder if turning 40 is God's little inside joke.  Just something to keep Him entertained along the way.  Does he chuckle to Himself as we morph from:

"Oh, me? I'm in my twenties.  I'd love to run a marathon with you - I haven't been training, but I used to run a bit in college.  How hard can it be?"


"What are these tiny, unidentifiable scribbles on this piece of paper?  Is it hieroglyphics?  Is it code for something?  Excuse me…what did you say?  Would I like to borrow your READING GLASSES???"

But it's no joke.  It's real.  A very real reminder of what a delicate balance we must maintain in our health.  So as my body has begun to show the signs of a little wear and tear, I know all is not copacetic.   And so, as we do upon reaching 40, because the road ahead just got a little shorter, I decided to call my doctor and make an appointment.  

I really like my doctor.  And it isn't just because I get to weigh myself at her office instead of having a size 0 nurse weigh me.  When I operate the weigh machine I get to move the scale around until I land on whatever number I'd prefer to see, hop quickly off and delightfully declare, "Well, look at that, 125, just like my driver's license says!"   

I do like that part, but I really like her because she isn't afraid to visit the holistic side of things when meeting with patients.  I also love the wind chimes and hummingbird feeders.  It makes me want to tell her that I meditate to a CD of a very well-known guru from India.  Which I don't. I just want to impress her because the rock art and water features make me feel relaxed and inspired.  

My point is that she listened to my long list of bodily digestive woes, and came up with a plan to help me move forward.  She didn't just prescribe me a medication and send me on my way.  Instead she looked at my lifestyle, my habits, and with a few tests developed a plan to figure out what's bothering me so we can move towards healing my grumpy gut.    

Why, you may ask, am I over-sharing this obviously personal information?

Because I have the list of foods I am allowed to eat in the next 6 months sitting beside me right now.  And it is not a long list.  At all.  I think Ella's first words would have made up a longer list than this.  Also eating is going to take more brainwork on my part.  I have to read labels very carefully, plan every meal to make sure no offending characters are involved, journal about how that meal made me feel or didn't feel, then do it all over again in a few hours.  And to top it all off, my happy hour acquaintances are also banned from joining me on this journey.

Despite everything, I am going to do this.  Because my health is important.  I only have this one body and I want to take care of it.  I am 40 and I hope to be 80 one day.  Getting older is quite a ride.  But older is beautiful, too.   So tonight I will begin my new food journey and while the kids and Sean are enjoying tacos I will be happily munching away at…let's see here...chicken liver, plain roasted beets, and a white potato with no butter or sour cream.  

Dear Food Journal,

Tonight's meal did not make my tummy feel bad at all.  Hooray!  However, it did make me feel so, so sad because it tasted terrible.  Also, I really, really, really miss taco night.  

The ever hungry but hopefully healthier me 



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Definition of a Friend

I googled friend today.  And Google told me that the definition of a friend is:


1. a person who one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations

2. a member of the Religious Society of Friends, a Quaker

1. add (someone) to a list of contacts associated with a social networking website.
"I am friended by 29 people who I have not friended back"

Umm, thanks Google.  I think.  Wish I had googled this years ago when I gave a toast at my friend Kelly’s wedding.  It would have been so much more...accurate.

"To Kelly - the person with whom I have had a bond of mutual affection for years, and, uh, not in a sexual or family relation way, and also not just because we're Quakers.  Which we're not.  Here, here!!"

As for social networking...well, you know what you've done!  You, social network, have single-handedly downgraded the word "friend" to that of a well-worn, meaningless, ego-driven verb.

"Would you friend me on Facebook so that you can learn to love me through my posts about working out, the funny things my kids say, and my favorite dinner?  Plus, also, you'll get to see close-ups of me ONLY from my good side while standing in different places.  It is sure to be a great friendship!"

I think it's actually quite challenging to come up with a single definition of a friend.  But when I googled inspirational sayings about "friends," I found loads of pictures of kittens in various states of happiness.  Kittens snuggling with each other, or with a newborn, or cuddling with large vicious-looking dogs or gorillas. So I wonder, in my friendships, am I the kitten or the gorilla?

Fifteen years ago I was a bride in white arranging flowers, making critical decisions between two disturbingly similar shades of cream, and choosing a capped-sleeved bridesmaid dress in pastel green.  To this day, one memory stands out.  Other than marrying the love of my life, of course.

It’s this.  My friend, Taryn.  Taryn, who has particular aversions.  Like shredded meat, Broadway musicals, swim goggles, and anything that limits her physical movement.  Like capped sleeves on a pastel green bridesmaid dress.

The idea of Taryn wearing fabric across her upper arms…two pieces of fabric designed to give the wearer a beautiful neckline, but ultimately, with the unintentional side effect of severely restricting upper arm movement.  Today, thinking of the hours spent posing for pictures, walking down the aisle, dancing, arms mummified to her sides throughout it all, and knowing that inside, and not even deep inside, she was probably panicking and using early stage labor breathing to deal with her rising hysteria…well now, that’s what Google would call a true “bond of mutual affection.” 

Friendship is this and so much more.  It really can’t be captured in a single definition or event because it is layer upon layer of capped sleeves, honesty, forgiveness, laughter, tears, encouragement, embarrassments, sacrifice, and shared time.  

Being a friend is not about the number of phone calls, texts, emails or Facebook comments we make.  Those are just the icing.  The cake part is the sincerity, the joy we feel at a friend’s success, the sadness we share at a failure.  It is the ability to truly want the best that life has to offer for another person, a person who is (now I get it Google) outside of our blood-ties or our marital bed.

So, why am I all concerned about Google's opinion on friends?  Well, school has started.  Which means my kids have left the safe cocoon of home where family ties are strong and forgiveness comes easy.  They have been thrust back onto the playground where everyone is learning how to navigate the tricky world of social interaction.  So I am taking the time to think about the people in my life who have taught me how to be a true friend.  And I will share these stories, these friend definitions, with my kids, in the hopes that one day, they will wear capped sleeves for someone else. 


(Psst...share your friend definitions with me.  I'd love to hear more!)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

According to my mom

I am really good at stuff.  Or so my mom tells me.  Also, I am a great writer (perhaps of all time), beautiful, smart, funny, with a cute "figure."  Or so my mom tells me.  Because my mom has only ever said words of encouragement to me.  Except perhaps the time I was about to drop out of college just before graduation to take an activist-type job paying decidedly less than minimum wage, but just a scosh above barely a livable wage.  (That was a good call, Mom and Dad.)

I'm sure in this age of parenting books and general parenting know-how, there exists a book written by a renowned child-rearing expert about this very topic.  That this type of over-encouragment of a child/middle-aged adult instead creates a massive ego and "me" complex.  That by boosting your child's inner awesomeness only serves to make them think that they, and they alone, are the best ever.  That this ridiculous kind of encouragement will ultimately lead to a lifetime of failed accomplishments, unfulfilling relationships, and a mediocre life at best.  

Well, parenting book and renowned expert (whoever you are)....may I respectfully disagree?  

My mom had confidence in me.  She believed in me.  l grew up enveloped in her absolute, shining love...for me.  When I saw myself through her eyes, I felt like I could tackle just about anything and be successful.  I developed an inner confidence, a voice (her voice) inside my head that cheered me on to keep trying, to work hard, and to make a difference in whatever I did.  And even if I failed, I always had a cheerleader in my corner who encouraged me to keep at it until I succeeded.

Because of her, I felt beautiful.  Even when I was going through my super awkward teenage years.  Not because she thought I was the next Christie Brinkley - random reference but remember my age, people!  She would always tell me I had a lovely (albeit) feisty spirit.  That my heart, faith, kindness and humor is what made me beautiful.  She taught me how to focus on what true beauty and success really look like.

It doesn't look like a stack of degrees,  a cover girl body, or a high-paying, high-powered job.  It doesn't look like the finish time to a race, the number of "friends" on Facebook, or even the number of friends on speed-dial.  It doesn't look like a perfect marriage, perfect children or a perfect house.

My mom taught me that none of that matters if your heart doesn't start in the right place first.  Because of my mom, I grew up feeling beautiful from the inside out.  And that kind of beauty doesn't fade with wrinkles and age spots.  In fact, that kind of beauty can only grow stronger with age.  Like my mom.

Because of my mom, I learned to see success in all its sizes.  In case you are worried, I know I am not the greatest writer ever.  But my mom's faith in me makes me want to work harder, to challenge myself to be better - whether it's at writing or being a mom.  Or simply to be a better human.  

My mom has believed in my ability to be more than I am my whole life.  She is my rock.  The person I know will always be honest with me.  And the woman who can still embarrass me in public.  At the grocery store, standing in line at check-out, holding my hand, looking at me with that smile, eyes beaming with pride because I just told her in great length and detail about something funny I said, or one of the kids said, or a recount of an SNL commercial.  It doesn't really matter what I'm saying, she's just having a moment where she loves me.  So she leans over and in a not so quiet voice says, "You are just so beautiful."

Ugh.  So embarrassing! I turn beet red as the teenager scanning our items tries to hide a giggle.  I'm 39, but as horrified as when she would say this to me at 16.  But just as I knew way back then, I know she is not talking about my face or my "figure."  What she sees when she looks at me is the person I truly am inside.  And she thinks that part of me is beautiful.

On April 24, an ER doctor told me my mom was very, very ill.  They had no idea what was wrong, but all he could tell me was that she was a very sick lady.  There were no words of encouragement from the team of doctors and nurses working over my mom.  They asked me to leave, to wait outside while they put needles in her and decided whether or not to intubate to help her breathe.

I felt numb.  Like I was standing on an iceberg of emotion.  And if that iceberg melted in the slightest I would be flooded with more raw feelings than I could manage.  So I prayed.  I made calls to let our family know.  My dad and I waited.  We sat in her room in the ICU.  I held her hand and kissed her forehead and watched, waiting for the first sign that today was not her day.  That today was not the day I would have to face the world without my mom.

And to my everlasting relief and gratefulness, today was not that day.  My mom turned a corner, the most important corner she will ever turn in her life, and began to heal.  Throughout the next two days she made enough improvements for us to all take a deep, deep sigh of relief.  As I drove home from the hospital the next night, I was overcome.  The iceberg melted and I sobbed and sobbed at how close we had come.  I don't know what my life looks like without my rock.  Without my mom.

I went back to the hospital the next day.  That day we got to laugh, marvel at how quickly things can change, hold hands, and join in a collective sigh of relief with my dad, brother and sister.  Then a nurse came in to adjust mom's oxygen and put in another round of antibiotics.  It was a quiet moment - mom had been resting and I was typing away at this blog.  Then I hear her say to the nurse, "Judy, my daughter Missy is such a great writer.  She has a blog and loads of people who read it.  Missy, you should read one of your blogs for Judy."

I am beet red, feeling 16 again and trying to hide behind my computer.  "Mooom," I say, not unlike a teenager, "I think you and maybe five other people read my blog.  Geez."

But inside I am beaming.  Because my mom is proud of me.  And my heart just bursts with love for her.  


Friday, April 11, 2014

Goodbye Cousin Eddie

Last night our family said hello to a new friend.  This new friend will take the place of a beloved piece of rusted metal.  Rusted metal and canvas which has played a pretty big role in our kids' summer memories.  Such a big role, that when we announced that we would be purchasing a newer-to-us replacement, not one of their sweet faces responded with delight.  They were crushed, disappointed and as my oldest pointed out, "Isn't this just a bit too soon?"  There were tears.  I'm not lying.  They were not ready.  

"So is Max the next to go?"  demanded Keira.  

"No, kiddo, the dog stays.  This is just the beginning of our future mountain adventures!"  

"But, Mom, it has a toilet.  That is not camping."  

Maybe not, but in honor of our fallen friend, I am reposting this tribute to...Cousin Eddie.  

Summer in the mountains arrives s...l...o...w...l...y.  It seems to take forever. Then one day you realize that you've been wearing shorts more than jeans, even at night and voila! You know that summer has arrived. And with the arrival of summer comes camping.

Before kids, Sean and I used to backpack and tent camp. And when I say "used to backpack and tent camp" what I mean to say is we went backpacking up a really, really steep mountainous incline once. It was fun but the lack of an ice cold beer at the end was kind of a mood killer. And once we even tent camped when Ella was a baby. It was okay, but something about sleeping on the ground with babies and toddlers just killed the "camping is so fun and relaxing" spark.

So when Keira was born we knew it was our moment to sell out. You guessed was time to enjoy the Rocky Mountains in a glorified tent-on-wheels. A pop-up.

With a baby and a toddler, we didn't want to spend a huge amount on our new camping digs. We were budget conscious and just a little bit cheap. After a brief search of craigslist, we found our mobile dream mountain home.  A 1972 Starcraft camper for a whopping $500. It was older than us, had a floral pattern on the cushions that rivaled any Carol Brady dress, and was only slightly more expensive than the doll-size camper that comes with the "I love camping" American Doll.  It was just our style.

This camper had been well cared for by its previous owners. Like a handsome older man, all of our camper's important parts were intact and functioning. And much like a young, energetic woman dating a handsome older man, we broke him. During our inaugural camping trip, the canvas which had survived through presidents, recessions, the Cold War, and the entire seasons of Seinfeld and Friends ripped in three separate places. Zippers which had zipped without fail for the previous 30 plus years suddenly became disabled and useless. Screens that had served past occupants well by denying mosquitoes, flies and bees access to the inner sanctum tore without warning.

After applying copious amounts of duct tape to all his tender places and affixing a large blue tarp upon the entire right side of the camper when threatened by a downpour, we stepped back, gazed lovingly at our camper and realized that the only right thing to do was to call him...

Cousin Eddie.  You know, Cousin Eddie?  That friendly, slightly embarrassing second cousin?  The one who dresses inappropriately, belches loudly, has little to no social skills, and shows up uninvited on your front door for a "visit?"

Clark: So, when did you get the tenement on wheels? 

Eddie: Oh, that uh, that there's an RV. Yeah, yeah, I borrowed it off a buddy of mine. 
He took my house, I took the RV. It's a good looking vehicle, ain't it?
Clark: Yeah, it looks so nice parked in the driveway. 

   Eddie: Yeah, it sure does. But, don't you go falling in love with it now, 
because, we're taking it with us when we leave here next month. 

And so our family camping adventures began.  We might not be the prettiest camper on the mountains (not pretty at all actually), but Cousin Eddie has served us well for over 7 years now.  He pops up on demand, the heater continues to keep us warm at night, the hail-damaged roof stays in the upright position at all times - even during an intense wind storm, and most importantly, the five of us sleep comfortably and soundly all night long.

So now, every spring we hear the kids ask,

"Mommy and Daddy, we really miss Cousin it summer yet?"

Oh, yeah, it (almost) is.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

There Goes Santa Claus

My kids are growing.  Fast.  To all the parents out there...were your kids delivered with a warning label?  Did it say something like, WARNING!!  Don't blink or 10 years will go by.  PREPARE yourself for the day you will be fielding questions about sex, sperm donors and being gay...on the way to basketball practice.  AND MOST IMPORTANTLY!!!  DO NOT cry on the day you have to answer the worst question of all.

"Mommy, is Santa for real?"

I am here for you, parents who have yet to face this.  I warn you, it will not be easy.  In fact, it is heartbreaking.

It was a regular weekday night.  School, dinner, reading and a tuck-in from Mom and Dad.  Nothing was amiss.  Nothing out of sorts which might have prepared us for such a drastic turn of events.   Right as I placed my goodnight kiss on her adorably small, freckled nose, Ella (who is soon to be double-digits) pulled me closer and whispered in my ear, "Mommy, I have to ask you something."

I pulled back and looked her in the eyes.  And I just knew.  I knew exactly what she was going to ask.  And I wasn't ready.

"Is Santa for real?"

Oh, the heartbreak, those words!  It's not like she hadn't asked before.  Or shared a story of a friend of a friend who didn't believe in Santa.  But in all this time, she had never looked at me in that way.  In that little girl growing up way.  I had promised myself and my kids that I would never lie to them.  If they asked me something important.  Something that needed an answer.  An honest answer.  Then that is what I would give them.  But not this!  Not now!

I stammered something unintelligible.  Something very Polar Express, "Oh, you know, honey.  If you really believe in Santa, and a bell rings somewhere, then, you know....then he's real?  Right?"

My first (and probably only good) suggestion parents - never answer a direct question about Santa with a not-confident, teenage-like question.  They are too smart for that and will smell something fishy almost immediately.

"Mommy.  I'm serious."  Her blue eyes stared at me hard, shrewdly even.  There was only one way out of this.  I had to stall.

"Oh, honey.  Umm.  Why are you asking this now?  It's so late.  Let's get you to bed."  She crossed her arms and cocked her head in a very cute, mini-adult Columbo way.  This kid was out for the truth.

"Okay, fine.  Why don't you sleep on it.  If you still want to ask me in the morning...well, then, we'll talk."

Looking extremely unsatisfied but temporarily mollified, Ella kissed me goodnight.

Immediately, I ran upstairs, grabbed Sean, pulled him into our closet, and closed the door. Among our mingled clothes (his, of course, folded and stacked beautifully, as you well know) I hissed, "Ella just asked me if Santa was for real.  Like, for real, for real."

Apparently I revert to teenage speak when faced with huge life questions.

"What did you say?" he asked.

"Nothing, yet.  I told her to sleep on it and ask us in the morning if she still wanted to."

"Do you really want to tell her in the morning right before she goes to school?"

My husband is wise, so wise.  (And also, like, so totally hot.)  He was right.  We had to tell her now so she could go to bed freshly devastated and betrayed.  Then wake up and go to school feeling the same way, but more in a PTSD kind of way.  This was brilliant.  And we were ready.  Holding hands, we called Ella up to our room.  Together, the three of us sat on the bed.  She, looking at us expectantly.  Us, with pre-formed tears already welling in our eyes.

At this point, you might think we were taking this all a bit too seriously.  But how could we not?  Our family memories abound with Christmas mornings.   The magic of watching little faces light up as they run down the stairs, shouting in glee at the presents awaiting them.  The innocent conviction that an overweight old guy crept in through the chimney to leave Target-brand presents under the tree.  Their absolute assurance that Bacon, our tiny, red-cheeked, slightly effeminate Elf-on-the-shelf will fly back to the North Pole every night with a stellar behavior report.

And now we were about to ruin it all.  To dissolve the magic of the season.  To be the man behind the curtain.  We were Morpheus about to shatter her world.

"So, Ella."  I start.

"Yes, so, Ella." Sean helpfully adds.


Wringing my hands, I try again.  "Okay, so you really want to know if Santa is for real?"

Blond hair swings rapidly as she shakes her head yes.

"Okay, you are about to become part of the inner circle."

(Side note:  She is too young to have seen Meet the Parents, so not a word about how I ripped off major lines from that movie.  She.  Will.  Never.  Remember.)

"For years, the inner circle has only consisted of Mommy and Daddy.  But tonight, Ella, you are about to join this very exclusive, very special circle.  This is a big deal because it means that you are growing up."

I take a deep breath.

"You asked us if Santa is real....well, he is, uh, not.  Not real.  What is real is that Christmas is about love and the beautiful gift that God gave to our world."

I feel pretty confident that this is going well.  But then I see that tears are starting to form in Ella's eyes, her chin is trembling and her face is going red from her efforts not to cry.

"Santa is not real?"  She asks as tears stream down her face.

Well, crap!  Did I jump the gun?  Hadn't I done my due diligence with all my very obvious questions of "Do you actually want to know?!?"  Is honesty actually not the best policy?

"No, baby, he's not.  Well, actually, Santa is more like a symbol for lots of people.  People who love you and want to share something fun, and magical and special with you."

"Like you and Daddy?"

"Yes, like me and Daddy, and your grandparents and aunts and uncles."

And then she began to cry for real.  Real tears, real sobbing as the world as she knew it shifted.  I look at Sean who cannot speak.  Sean who with the giddiness of a child moves furniture every Christmas Eve to make way for the Santa gifts.  Sean who booby traps the hallway so the kids won't sneak up on us playing Santa.  As he watches the one bit of magic gifted to children slip out of Ella's life, he struggles to maintain his own composure.

It's hard watching our kids grow up.

We hug and hold her until the sobbing subsides.  Our hearts in pieces.  Finally, she takes a deep breath and asks, "Hold on, does that mean Bacon is not real either?"

"Bacon is not real either," I say.

"YOU move him every night?  But he wrote notes back to me!  That was YOU!"

With that, another round of sobbing ensues.  Santa was one thing.  She's never actually met him.  But Bacon?  The Elf who lives with us all during the season, hiding out, being funny and impish, writing hilarious notes?  That was one truth too many.

Bit by bit, as the reality settles in, her world begins to open up to all the possibilities.  Like, what's it like to play Santa, and did we love hiding Bacon, and wait a minute, does this mean the Easter Bunny isn't real either?

"Can I help hide Bacon next year?"

"You bet, honey.  It will be so much fun to have you playing along with Daddy and me.  Just remember, you have to keep this to yourself.  Let your brother and sister enjoy it for as long as you have."

She heaves a huge sigh, rolls her eyes at me and says in a hold-on-to-your-hat-because-I-will-be-a-teenager-soon kinda way, "Mom, of course I will keep it to myself.  But I do have one question.  All those Santa presents were from you and Dad?" I nod yes.  With a worried look, she whispers, "Do you even have any money left?"

And that is how Santa got out of town.  In a matter of minutes it was all over.  I knew it was a done deal when just a few days later Ella pulls me aside so we can have an "adult" talk as she called it.

"Sooo, my ski goggles that were in my stocking?  You gave those to me, right?  And those jammies?  Those were from you, not Santa, right?"

I pull her to me and hug her tight.  Maybe this will take a bit longer than we first thought to sink in.  "Oh, sweet baby girl, yes, we gave you all those things.  Because Santa isn't real, remember?  I'm so sorry, honey."

She wiggles out of my loving and supportive hug, puts her hands on my arms and with the keenness of an older kid, says, "That is soo great!  Because the goggles are too tight and the jammies are too short.  This means we can return them, right?  Where did you get them?  Target?"


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

For better, for worse or the laundry

Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, 
that dweam wifin a dweam... 
And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva... 
So tweasure your wuv. 

Who doesn't know this quote?  Who hasn't repeated these lines at a wedding reception?  Or anytime you hear the word "marriage", or automatically upon seeing Robin Wright or Cary Elwes?

Do you have the wing?

My wedding ceremony did not have a priest with a speech impediment, nor was I waiting desperately for Wesley or anyone else to save me from marrying the man at the end of that aisle.  I was all in.  I was 25 and ready for the "wing" and a life with Sean.  It's just that nobody prepared me for the first year of marriage.  I thought that the first year was all sex and candy, with some work thrown in to pay the bills.  

Which is not exactly true.

Immediately following our honeymoon, Sean and I loaded up a U-Haul, moved to Colorado, got a cat and a grill, and began married life.  

We had never lived together, but I figured, how hard could it be?  I had roommates all through college.  I knew how to share toothpaste, milk and beer.  Now I got to live with my best friend...all the time?  How could this not be awesome? 
I was a bit idealistic then, I think.

My first hint that things might not go exactly as planned came from something so mundane - the dishes.   One night, I jumped up to do the dishes for my new husband.  I'll be real honest here. I don't ever want to do the dishes.  The act of loading and then unloading the dishwasher is repetitive and depressing.  It never ends.  But, in this, my first month of marriage, I was filled with the desire to let my love shine brilliantly through even the small things.  Like the dishes.

On that night, I probably hummed while I worked, placing each cup, utensil and plate in the dishwasher with a smile, blowing a kiss to the machine as I pressed the start button, skipping lightly as I left the kitchen and entered the bedroom where pleased with my own sacrifice and giving spirit, gave Sean a deep, sensual and loving smooch.    

A few nights later, Sean joined in to help.  There we were, side by side, rubbing elbows, playing tag with a kitchen towel, dancing to music while we happily shared the task -  literal love birds.  Then the cracks began to form.

"Melissa, did you wash the dishes off before putting them in the dishwasher?"

"What? Um, no.  That's what the dishwasher does, silly."

"But you have to get these chunks off before you put it in.  This is like an entire pork chop.  Jeez."

"Oh, okay, well, if the dishwasher can't actually clean the dishes off, then what's the point?"  

Sean rolled his eyes, looked back at the dishwasher and sighed.  "Melissa, if you put the plates in the racks instead of stacked on top of one another, they will get more clean.  Is this how you load the dishwasher every time?  No wonder I had to scrape off that last load of plates."

This conversation was followed a few days later by:

"You clean the counters off with a sponge?  Sponges are gross and dirty.  Here is a rag, it is much better."

And then:

"Babe, thanks for doing my laundry, that is really nice of you.  But, um, could you please give my shirts a quick snap before you fold them?  Then, here, watch me, fold them in thirds.  I like them folded in thirds - you might too."

I was thrown for a loop.  And irritated.  I strongly disliked being told what to do.  Even if what I was doing was a seriously crappy job of folding.  Granted, I was the one who had, in a moment of newly-wedded bliss, offered to do the laundry.  So, one could point out that I should have been more open to suggestions on how I might improve my technique.  After all, isn't that how we get better at listening to suggestions and honest critiques and then applying them where needed?

Here's the problem with that line of thinking.  I was 25.  Which in parts of our culture is just a teenager with a college degree.  I could still be stubborn in that pig-tailed, stomping feet, little girl way.   

But still.  I thought of myself as a modern woman.  I had a graduate degree.  Household chores did not fulfill some inner longing for order and cleanliness.  They were just a part of life - meant to be gotten done, quickly, so I could move on to something meaningful and fun.  Needless to say, I took pride in the fact that I did the chores at all, not that I did them well.

Sean's suggestions for how to do stupid things better were bringing out my inner child.  And it started to put a slight strain on us.  Inevitably, my annoyance with his comments and his annoyance with my unwillingness to listen, would come out when we got together with our friends.  They quickly became unpaid marriage counselors as we took over dinner conversations to complain about the other's annoying, absurd habits.  

It didn't help that in this first year, I was job hunting and Sean was working night shifts.  Our schedules were completely different which made our tolerance for each other's ridiculous habits very thin indeed.  And ridiculous we both were.  He, with his cleanliness regime and need to give advice, me with my stubbornness and "Don't criticize me!" mentality.  

But we loved each other.  Not in the way that we do today, 15 years later.  Early love is spring-like in its newness, but shallow in its innocence.  Early love is easy, fun, playful and intoxicating.  So in that first year, when our habits, good and bad, joined the team, things got complicated.  The cake had been cut, the dress worn, the flowers thrown.  This was it.  Big time adult commitment.   We had no "get out of marriage when things get hard" clause.  He wasn't a friend I could avoid until the awkwardness had passed.  

He was my husband and I was his wife, for better or for worse.  

Our first year taught us many things about each other.  Things we didn't see on dates, dorm rooms or vacations.  We learned how the other starts each day.  How we prioritize our time.  What matters the most.  What matters very little.   And we discovered that on some things, we are very, very different.  Fortunately, those were usually the small things.  Like the fact that I don't make coffee until 11AM, if at all.  And that while Sean was quite skilled at folding his own laundry, rarely, if ever, did said perfectly folded laundry make it to a drawer.  Or our dueling sense of time - my "on time is better than being early and having to wait" versus his "better to be 3 hours early, than 1 minute late" philosophies.        

Each year of our marriage has brought with it new challenges, triumphs, fears and joy.  But the first year remains the one that has made us both grateful.  Grateful we experienced it and survived it.  Because that is the year we learned how to fight.  And did we fight.  At first we just picked at each other and bickered.  For some reason, that felt more loving and kind than fighting.  But picking and bickering is unsatisfying and eventually becomes snide and completely unproductive.  It solves nothing.  Just makes one of you feel better for a moment.  Fighting with someone you love is like purging toxins from your body.  You know you love the person in front of you.  But whatever has angered, annoyed or frustrated you, distorts your vision.  It changes the air between you.  And so we fought.  The kind of fighting that might involve raised voices and tears.  Or just a willingness to get it all out on the table so the matter could be discussed, dissected, explained, understood, or even laughed at.   

We learned how to fight so that we could understand and hear each other, and once you can understand where someone is coming from, you can move towards forgiveness.  And forgiveness is huge.  It's powerful, critical and worthy. 

For all of that, we are grateful.  It was like marriage boot camp and we came out the other side trained and ready for all the years that lay ahead.  We still fight of course.  That first year didn't make us peaceful, co-habitators who agree on everything, never fart and always have lovely morning breath.  Oh no.  I make mistakes. Sean makes mistakes.  And sometimes it takes every tool we have in our arsenal to get to the other side of an argument where peace, love and sex reign.

We don't get those first-date jitters anymore.  How could we?  We have used the bathroom after each other for far too long.  But love after all these years is so different from that early love.  For good reason.  Love today encompasses every touching, maddening, heartbreaking, mundane, and exhilarating moment since.  Even the fights.    

There is no real ending to this story.  I hope to write its follow-up on our 50th year of marriage, which will undoubtedly have more fart and bathroom references.  But I'll give you an ending for that humbles me. 

Recently, I was fired.  By Sean.  Over the years, Sean has taken numerous occasions to school me on how to effectively fold his t-shirts (in thirds!), pants (crotch together!), and socks (fold don't roll or it will ruin the elastic!).  I have attempted to do as he has asked. Perhaps not with as much love in my heart as I should have.  But, he does so much for me, the least I can do is fold in his patented way.  However, last month I shockingly discovered that I am so bad at folding the laundry, that my folding actually makes his clothes more wrinkled, so dismal at this household chore...that Sean had to ask me to stop.  Please.  To please stop washing and folding his clothes.  He said this very nicely.  As though I would jump up and down, clapping my hands in glee, like a Genie released from the lamp.

While doing the laundry is a certain kind of lamp, I was not elated to be released.  It's been my chore for years.  My thing.  And after all this time, to be unceremoniously fired?   Fired from doing Sean's laundry because I suck that bad?  Has that ever happened in the history of laundry?  Sure, I have moaned and complained about this task, but for Sean to request my immediate cease and desist so his clothes will look better without me?  It didn't feel so good.  And it kinda made me angry.  Angry in that pig-tailed, feet-stomping way of my youth.  But I put that girl in time-out and decided to avoid a needless fight over this chore.  

It is year 15, after all.  Maybe it's time I figured out how to fold the damn laundry.