volunteer dads

Photo credit: Boulder Daily Camera.

When I was in kindergarten, I was a Bluebird.   It was a junior-level Campfire Girl, like a Brownie is for the Girl Scouts, but with blue uniforms and sashes.  I was abundantly proud of my uniform and of being part of my troop.  As a freckly-faced, redheaded, adopted, only child, with the only single parent in the whole school, fitting in did not come easily for me at that time, to say the least.

Our troop met at Mrs. Longo’s house for our meetings, where we would have the kinds of sugary snacks that my mom didn’t allow, then play games and do crafts.  It was all very exciting and grown-up, I thought.

One day, Mrs. Longo announced that our troop would be having a Father/Daughter Picnic. Everyone was very excited, but I was perplexed.  My dad had died before my first birthday, and I was uncertain of the protocol around a Father/Daughter picnic when one didn’t have a father.  I sat for a moment, feeling sad and confused and then had a great idea.  I approached Mrs. Longo and asked if my mom’s boyfriend could escort me to the Father/Daughter Picnic.  It made perfect sense to me.  He’d been with my mom for several years and was a lot of fun and liked me a whole lot.  I felt sure he’d be up for the job.

Mrs. Longo looked me, tilted her head quizzically to one side, and said, “But it’s a picnic for daddies and their little girls.  I don’t think boyfriends are the same thing, do you?”

Nearly 40 years later, I can still remember the way her brown hair was styled (in a 1960’s-style flip, even though it was 1974), the color of the carpeting in her den (burnt orange), and the way my mouth went suddenly dry.  “No,” I said clearly.  Then I turned around and walked out of the den, into the foyer, where I retrieved my little school bag, and then straight out the front door and the 1/2 mile home.  When I got home to my mother, I calmly explained what had happened.  And then I never went back to Bluebirds.

Some of us didn’t have the luxury of the kind of dad who married our mom, got her pregnant, and raised us.  When my birth mother sprung the news of my impending arrival on my birth father, she was met with a stammering confession that he actually already had a wife and four kids living in another state.  So much for  our happily ever after.

My adoptive parents certainly loved me, and my adoptive father didn’t want to die, but that was his destiny, and nobody could change it.  He left an amazing legacy a mile wide and twice as deep, but nonetheless, he is someone I know only through photos and related stories.  I wish I had had the good fortune to have known him, but our lives intersected for such a brief time, I can’t really say that I do.

But I was one of the lucky ones.  One after another, men lined up to fill the void.  To assume the role and all its attendant responsibilities.  My bear-like grandfather with his burly chest and loud bark, who allowed the six-year-old me to put rollers in his remaining hair and take pictures of it.   My mom’s boyfriend, Van, who taught me to build the best snowmen (and ladies — his even had boobs), and read me the Sunday comics in different voices for all the characters.  Countless uncles who doted on me and gave me advice and told me I was pretty and smart and wonderful.

And then, finally, there was my dad.  Insane enough to volunteer for the job when I was 13 and in real danger of becoming a bitchy, know-it-all teenager, he didn’t just tolerate my presence in his relationship with my mom, he embraced it.  He has told me, on more than one occasion, that he didn’t marry my mom in spite of me, but — in large part — because of me.   “You deserved to have a dad, and I knew I could be that for you, ” he told me a couple of years ago.

My dad didn’t tell me what to think, he taught me to think for myself, even when it meant that we had bitter political arguments.  He didn’t tell me what to do, he showed me how to make good decisions.  He taught me about consequences and apologies and changing a flat tire and cooking a cream sauce without burning it.  He gave me solid, honest advice about men, and never judged me for the unworthy ones — “All part of the learning experience,” he’d say.  During my first month of college, he sent me a box of condoms and pamphlets about AIDS and STDs  (I became the Safe Sex Dispensary for my dorm floor…), and after my separation, he sent me a care package of tools and related DIY books, because “Every single mom has to take care of herself.”  And when people tell me that I’m a lady, I know that it’s his influence they’re seeing.

When he left my mom, he refused to leave me.  I was confused, and angry, and would have let him go, but he stayed in touch, even when it fueled my mom’s anger and cost him in more ways than one.  As the years went by he continued to introduce me as his daughter, and kept me in his will (even over my step-brother’s strenuous objections), and wrote me long letters in his perfect penmanship about the books he was reading and the boats he was sailing.

We have talked plainly and openly about the irony of our relationship and how it confounds a lot of people.  But to us, it makes sense.  I am his daughter and he is my dad.

I opened my local paper today and discovered an editorial opinion piece poached from the Seattle Times — my dad’s local paper — along with the cartoon drawing posted here.  And I took a moment to be thankful for all the men along the way who worked extra hard to make sure I know what it means to have a father.  To all of them, wherever they are now, I say thank you from the deepest, darkest parts of my heart.  Not every guy will sign on to change the life of a little girl who is not even his own, but the ones who do re-define “Dad.”

Here’s the op-ed piece:

It’s Also the Day to Remember the Fathers Who Stepped In.

Happy Father’s Day.

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Filed under love, men, parenthood, single mom

the deal.

My friend Annie got back from a short vacation last night, and before we even put our children into their respective beds, I had unloaded on her the detritus of a stressful week.  The expense and hassle of purchasing three new appliances, one of which has flooded my laundry room (twice!).  The predictable but still painful family arguments around the disposition of my aunt’s belongings.  A disagreement with James.  Essentially the stuff that is life, but a heavier burden when carried alone.

I remember once when I was a small child and my widowed mother had very little money, our dishwasher flooded the kitchen for the second or third time in as many weeks.  My mom sat on the kitchen floor, amidst the soapy mess, and sobbed.  Overwhelmed and lonely, she couldn’t move until there weren’t any tears left.  Then she fetched some towels and began the frustrating process of sopping up all that water, as I perched on the stairs and watched.

I have thought a lot about that day this week, as I’ve mopped up my own soapy messes.  Twice.

Nearly every marriage has some big parts that really work.  For me and Bryce, it was the rough times.  Unlike some couples, we were at our best when facing a challenge together, shoulder-to-shoulder.  Whether it was Sabrina’s serious health concerns or Bryce’s dual lay-offs in one year, we just braced ourselves and carried on, in sync.

One of the shames of divorce is that you have to divorce the whole person.   You don’t get to pick and choose which pieces of them you’d like to never see again.  The baby goes out with the bathwater, so to speak.

Since I left Bryce, I have not had another relationship that felt as reliable or solid as that one.  I miss that in my life.  I really do.  But in the absence of that particular kind of comfort, I have discovered a nearly-as-good substitute in my friends.

Sometime early in our friendship — before I’d even left Bryce — Annie and I fell into a certain unspoken deal with each other:  if one of us needs someone, no matter the time or inconvenience, the other is there.  We have each had moments in which we’ve dropped everything at work, or plopped our children in front of a movie, or told a date that it would “just be a minute” so that we could attend to whatever small or large crisis had exploded in the other’s world.  Sometimes there have been tears, sometimes curse words, sometimes desperation, and sometimes anguish.  Sometimes we have come through for each other better than at other times, but we have always been there.

A few years ago, I couldn’t have appreciated this in the same way, and I didn’t ask it of my friends then, either.  But when, after many, many years, you suddenly find yourself without someone solid to lean on in the dark or difficult times, friendships take on a different quality.

When I was in my 20’s and still believed that I was Superwoman, I had a therapist ask me where I unpacked my load.  I had no earthly idea what she meant, but it sounded vaguely sexual to me and I was embarrassed by the question.  What she meant, of course, was simply where was I safe enough to let it all out?  To allow all my deepest fears and hopes and dreams to get some air.  At that time, I had no answer for her.   Her question has stayed with me for all these years.

I realized this week that it is still a question I struggle with, but the closest I come to that safety is with my female friends.  With a few of them — like Annie — I don’t have to be always smart or always accomplished or always fun.  Sometimes I’m not any of those things.  Sometimes I’m frustrated and overwhelmed and sad.  And I thank God that I have people in my life who can handle me that way.

I am constantly amazed at how much better I feel after talking to a friend and unpacking my heavy load.  It’s enough to give me the strength to re-pack it and carry it for another day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet the washing machine repairman.  Again.

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Filed under divorce, friendships, marriage, relationships, single mom

how well do you know your vagina?

Even before I start, let me say that I can only imagine how many hits this post will receive, given that any post that even remotely touches on sex always skyrockets to the top of my ratings and claims the top spot for far longer than it generally deserves. But since we’re all (mostly) mature adults, I will continue…

When I was 21-years-old and living in England, I was on my lunch break one afternoon and alone in the office.  As I was leafing through some British version of Glamour or Cosmo or a faux Mademoiselle, I turned the page and was confronted with a double-page spread of vagina mugshots. One hundread to be exact. One hundred thumbnail photos of other women’s vaginas, all lined up neatly next to each other under the title “How Well Do You Know Your Vagina?” My jaw literally dropped. I turned the page quickly, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued. I snuck a peek back at the vaginal mugshots and proceeded to lose the better part of the afternoon learning more than any middle school health class had ever taught me about vaginas.

It was like intellectual porn, really.

There were lots of fun facts and figures (none of which I remember now), and all kinds of historical details about chastity belts and venereal diseases and the like. But the section that really arrested my attention that hot summer’s day was the part of the article that discussed how unique vaginas were and how very few of the 100 women pictured on the preceding pages could correctly pick out her own from the line-up. The magazine article lamented the fact and credited it to the repression of female sexuality.

At that, I looked up and wondered… Could that possibly be true? Of course we could pick out vaginas, right? We’d know our hands in a second. Our lips. Probably even our ears. And vaginas are at least as important as those, right? But then it dawned on me. I hadn’t ever really seen mine. Not really. Not the way it looked in the mugshots – the full-on, legs-spread version. And if I really thought about it, it had never occurred to me that they would all look so different. I figured they were mostly the same, perhaps with some minor variations, like a knee or an elbow.

Now, being that I was a young woman determined not to be sexually repressed, I was aghast. But I reassured myself what I was in the clear majority, according to the article. And actually (I triumphantly reminded myself!) as an American, I was probably in an even greater majority in my home country, given that we Americans hold the dubious honor of being the most sexually repressed Anglo society. So there!

But it still bothered me.

A few nights later, over Indian curry with some girl friends, I mentioned the article and asked them nonchalantly if they thought the statistics cited were surprising.

Girlfriend #1: That’s bollocks. Some twit who’s never seen her vagina wrote that article to justify her own prudishness.

GF #2: Agreed. It’s rubbish if you ask me I mean, who HASN’T seen theirs?

<general scoffing around the table as I took a quick bite of Naan and changed the subject>

Well, you can bet that I got very well-acquainted with a small compact mirror and my own pink parts later that night. Like hell was I going to be the only one of our acquaintance who couldn’t pick her vajayjay out of a line-up, should the need ever arise.

I had forgotten about that magazine article until recently. One morning I woke up, rolled over, grabbed my iPhone and opened my email to find this photo:

Credit: Elephant Journal. http://www.elephantjournal.com

It was attached to a story in one of my favorite online journals – Elephant Journal – about the latest craze in cosmetic surgery: vaginal reconstruction known as vaginoplasty. What?! I had never heard of this! Yet again, I was behind the proverbial eight-ball as far as vaginas were concerned!

You can read the article yourself here, but the nutshell version is this: women across the country are paying between $10,000-15,000 for designer vaginas. Apparently, the most desirable vagina is one with thick, full outer lips (or labia majora, if you’re the clinical sort) and small, tight inner lips (or labia minora). So, apparently, not all vaginas are created equally beautiful; someone, somewhere decided that there is a particular standard of vaginal beauty, and this is it.

Huh.

Okay, so maybe I should have been comforted and found some way of peacocking my privates around town a la Britney Spears, but instead I was just dumbfounded and more than a little appalled. I mean, really… is this what we’ve come to? We’re now judging and classifying women by the most private piece of our anatomy? Pitting us against each other – yet again! — in the continued, futile competition to be the perfect woman? How sad is that?

First I wondered whom decided on the ideal standard? The article indicates that this “perfect” vagina strongly resembles the standard exhibited by the ladies of the porn industry. After a moment’s confusion, I realized that this makes perfect sense. Women are watching porn in ever greater numbers – porn that is created by and mostly for men. And, for most women, it is our only real opportunity to see a vagina other than our own up close. So it stands to reason that more porn watching by women would result in a female curiousity about what other women look like down there and what men might prefer.

The next logical question is why would the male porn executives (do you suppose it says that on their business cards? “John Smith, Porn Executive”) favor this particular look over some other? Beauty, we know, is a standard that is (thankfully) forever changing to some extent. But, as study after study shows, within cultures, at any fixed time, there are very strong and consistent ideas of female beauty, and many of those ideas are rooted in biological drives of which we aren’t even aware. Large breasts suggest a nursing (and therefore) fertile woman. Same goes for a high waist to hips ratio. So, no surprise to discover that the porn pussy resembles a healthy, fertile young woman’s vagina. From older friends who speak plainly about these things, I have learned that as we age, and particularly as we go through menopause and lose estrogen, the inner and outer lips of our vaginas lose their fullness and elasticity, becoming elongated and darker. Therefore, vaginas that seem to resemble those characteristics of a post-menopausal woman (even in very young, nubile women) may be subconsciously associated with older, less fertile women.

So, yes, it appears that men (speaking very broadly here), might have a preference for a particular “look” in vaginas. This is not entirely news to me. Having a very curious nature and no real filter for probing questions with my male friends and lovers, I have conducted, over the years, my own informal survey of male preference of intimate female body parts like nipples and vaginas. And my highly unscientific survey supports the idea that there are, indeed, some very broad preferences.

Okay, so that’s the science (including my own, less-than-sound brand), but here’s how I think it works in real life: most men are simply happy to be given access to the castle. The location and structure of the moats and turrents are really quite unimportant in the grand scheme of things. As the Elephant Journal article makes plain, just because men may have a preference doesn’t mean that that preference will determine (or even influence!) their decisions about dating or having sex with a particular woman. One man even told me about how his ex had such long and protruding inner lips on her vagina that she would have to carefully tuck them into a bikini bottom. My mind boggled at this, and while he acknowledged that it was certainly not his favorite part of her anatomy, he’d been very attracted to her and loved her very much. So, bottom line, yes, he noticed, and no, it didn’t really matter. Was he relieved to discover I was built differently? Yes, but he definitely wasn’t dating me for my vagina any more than he’d left her because of hers.

I think the appearance and character of intimate female parts is, for men, probably similar to penis size and shape for women. Do we notice? Absolutely. But excepting the extreme ends of the spectrum, it doesn’t influence how we feel about the guy we’re with. Like eyes and hands and smiles, it may be – or not – something that we particularly like about our man.

So why are women spending so much money to get a designer vagina then? Typically I try to refrain from judging other women for their cosmetic surgery choices. Having not lived in their shoes, with their experiences, I do not feel qualified to cast a verdict on the wisdom of their nose job or breast augmentation. And, should I choose to have anything done to alter my body, I would not want other women weighing in with their opinions.

But.

TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS?!?! Seriously, people?

The breast thing, the nose job, the tummy tuck, the liposuction, the chin implant… I get it. Honestly, I do. This, I do not, though. While I can recognize that perhaps I have never encountered the unique humiliation of disrobing and being concerned about the appearance of my vajayjay, I still have to imagine that – not to be a broken record – but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Is there a man (or woman, for that matter) out there who stopped sleeping with a woman because he didn’t like the look of her vagina? Perhaps, but I’m really doubtful on this one.

But then I have to wonder if the male reactions are subtle and the guys valiant in their efforts to conceal some element of surprise or disappointment, and I cannot imagine how much that would surely suck.  I suspect that the ex with the protruding lips must have received some less than favorable reviews at some point in her life… enough for her to ask the man I know whether they bothered him. So, obviously, there was some uncertainty or insecurity there. That I get. That I understand. And that I wholeheartedly sympathize with. Given the extremely long list of things that women worry about as we disrobe for the first time, adding something that intimate (and heretofore unchangeable) to the list is just a crying shame.  Ugh!

Finally, I wonder at our choice in idol. Why, again, are we making ourselves over to look like porn stars? Are the women getting this cosmetic vaginal surgery the same ones who are getting the double F cup size on purpose? Or are these women who are otherwise just like me and have decided that they need a porn pussy to be pretty? Usually major beauty definition shifts are credited to bona fide celebrities (See Cindy Crawford for curvy models and Angelia Jolie for full lips). But in this case, we’re talking about emulating young women who’s biggest achievement thus far has been to star in a porn movie under a fake name that would likely make her father put a bullet in his head. I don’t really get it.

But I guess it’s the only model women have at this point. Until more female celebrities start following Britney’s lead and allowing us all a glimpse at their vajayjays, we can only go with what we can see, I suppose. Still, it seems a shame. I’m sure amongst the top 50 female celebrities, the variety of vaginal types would be quite diverse. By revealing themselves that way, they could likely set at ease millions of women nationwide and stop all this ridiculousness before it goes any further. But I don’t expect to see Jennifer Aniston opening her legs for Cosmo anytime soon.

Now that I think of it, if the female celebrities do decide to take a stand for vaginal beauty, I think that all their male counterparts should disrobe publicly as well. Just as a show of solidarity, of course. Definitely not because I’m curious and like seeing hot men naked. I’m just sayin’.

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Filed under dating, relationships, sex

fuzzy edges

A few weeks ago, I went to the doctor for what I thought was an eye infection. She suspected something different and within a couple of days, I was in front of an opthamalogist/eye surgeon who was telling me that I had contracted an upper respiratory infection and transferred it to my eyes, probably while crying so much when mourning my aunt’s passing last month. Anyway, the nasty virus had damaged my eyes pretty seriously. I was ordered out of my contacts and all eye make-up or creams for at least two weeks  (later extended to at least 4 weeks). Steroid eyedrops were prescribed for the searing pain, but I was glumly told that the other symptoms would likely persist for maybe 6 months, possibly up to 2 years.

Awesome.

This is definitely not the news you want to hear. But at the same time, I was enormously relieved and grateful that the damage was not likely permanent, and that the doctor could relieve my pain with his little prescription pad.

I left his office, removed my contact lens, and embarked on a journey into another world.

In this world, nothing is crisp or clear like it was with my contacts for the last 20 years. My vision is good enough that I can almost get away with not wearing my glasses at all, and the prescription is only right for a certain distance (basically the distance from the front seat of my car to a stop sign I’m approaching), so I have been foregoing them quite a bit. (Except when I’m driving. It hardly seems fair to imperil everyone else in town just because I hate my glasses…)

The world without my contacts or glasses is a fuzzy one. Soft edges. Less intense colors. Kind of like one, giant Monet painting. I have trouble discerning facial expressions from more than 3 or 4 feet away, so I’ve turned into something of a “Rainman” character in that I don’t see nor respond to other people’s frustration or grief or anger or humor until they are right upon me. To me, everyone wears the same expression.

My children read signs for me and locate grocery store prices. My colleagues whisper to alert me to whom is waiting for me at the counter so that I don’t inadvertently offend anyone with the wrong name. My boss has grown accustomed to pointing out the mistakes that spellcheck doesn’t catch and I can’t properly see.

I went to yoga last week and fell out of nearly every balancing pose I tried, not having the ability to focus on a point in the distance to hold my balance. Staring at my computer screen is a hit-or-miss proposition. Sometimes – like tonight – I can see the letters fine as I type them. Other times, when my eyes are more tired or the light is too bright, I can’t, and the result is something resembling an ancient Cyrillic language.

Small items or things at a great distance run the high risk of being completely mistaken for something else altogether. I plucked a black widow spider out of my shower the other morning, just as it was making a run for my foot. To me, it looked like black fuzz from the sweater I’d been wearing; I thought it had fallen from my hair into the water and was being washed toward the drain. Only when I dropped the spider in the toilet and saw the distinctive orange marking did I realize what it was.

A few evenings ago, I nearly allowed my little dog to “make friends” with a raccoon I’d mistaken for a fat, fluffy canine, and tonight, while on my villa balcony in Cancun, I saw a man on the plaza below looking up at me with his arm raised. I looked around and saw no one. So I waved back. He held his posture, so I snuck inside, retrieved my glasses, and discovered that I’d just waved at a statue.

Being sight-impaired for the short- to medium-term is something of an inconvenience and, occasionally, funny. But it’s also opened my mind to things I hadn’t seen before. I’ve discovered that I listen better and more clearly. Without being able to read the nuances of facial expressions and body language, I react less quickly and take offense far less. I am slower, more deliberate in everything I do, because it’s awfully hard to rush around when you might crash headlong into something if you do. Nothing is black and white; my entire world is a grey area. There are no absolutes. I am perpetually vulnerable and unable to pretend otherwise. It is a humbling and amazing place to be. A surreal world with fuzzy edges.

The limitations on my ability to read and gauge others’ feelings and thoughts has also caused me to rely more strongly on my own. When you can’t tell if the person sitting across from you is saying something that they don’t really believe just to be nice, you have to take them at their word and decide for yourself what you think. When you have blonde eyelashes but can’t wear a lick of eye make-up, you have to set vanity aside and decide that it’s up to them to see the inner beauty of your happiness. And when you wake-up every morning able to still see your children’s faces, you remember gratitude for what is still clear, rather than cursing what is fuzzy.

My eye damage has been the classic blessing in disguise. I am not sure why the universe chose this particular means of reminding me of so many valuable lessons, but I am grateful for them nonetheless. When my eyes are healed and I return from the land of Mr. Magoo, I will be relieved to have my sight fully restored, but I’ll also miss some of the softness and gentle realness of this world, too.

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Filed under general musings, personal growth

first crush

Yesterday afternoon my 11-year-old daughter, Sabrina, returned from three days of wilderness camp with the 5th-grade.  She perched on the Tiffany-blue stool in my bathroom as I sprawled on the floor, tools in hand, replacing the guts of my toilet tank.  I expected a play-by-play rundown about camp, but she answered my questions obliquely and distractedly.

And then it was revealed that something else entirely was on her mind.

A boy.

Turns out my little girl arrived at her dad’s a week ago to discover that a boy she likes, whom we’ll call “Justin,” had called a day or two earlier to ask her to play tennis. They take tennis lessons together each week and have known each other distantly since they were toddlers.  Since she’d been at my house that week and her dad was clueless that this boy was anything special, he’d  simply asked Jay to call back another time.  Which he didn’t.  And poor Sabrina was beside herself today, a week later, when she returned to my house.   I struggled with the wrench as Sabrina laid out for me her worries.

Sabrina: Mom, what if he doesn’t really like me and he was just bored?  And what if, since I didn’t call him back, he asked the new girl in our class to play instead and now he likes her?! (She is kinda pretty….)  Or what if he does like me but he thinks I don’t like him because I didn’t call back right away and so he’s given up on me?  Ugh!!!

Poor Sabrina is in the throes of her first real crush.  We talked about Jay and what it is that she likes about him (“he’s smart and goofy and funny”), and what she wants with him (“just to hang out with him and be his friend and maybe later when we’re older, he can be my boyfriend”).

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched her rocking back and forth on the stool, face anxious, brow furrowed.  And I was struck by how our wants and our fears never really change.  No matter the age, we basically just want to be near that person — to share space with them and know more about them and feel the warmth of their attention on us.  And we worry about the unknowns —  Does he love me?  Does he love someone else more?  Will he love me tomorrow?  Does he know I love him?

So we tackled her concerns one at a time:  1) He wouldn’t have called to spend time with her if he didn’t like her; 5th grade boys don’t spend time with girls that they don’t like.  2) When we really like someone, we don’t change our mind in the span of a week, even at that age, and even if he did play tennis with the new girl, he might not end up liking her nearly as much as he likes Sabrina, because finding someone we really like is never easy.  3)  He probably does think that she’s not particularly interested in seeing him outside of tennis class, and I explained that it was her turn to call him back, acknowledge his phone call and see if he’d still like to play.  She visibly blanched at the idea, but I reminded her that she wasn’t having to ask him cold — he’d already taken the first step toward her and indicated that he’d like to be her friend.  She hesitantly agreed to the logic of that.   And then —

S — Maybe I should just ask him if he likes me.

Me — No, you won’t have to.  If he likes you, he’ll want to keep spending time with you.  You’ll know soon enough.  What he tells you won’t reveal nearly as much as how he behaves. He might not even know how to answer that.  He’s only 11.

S — But I just. want. to. know.now!

Me — <sighing>  I know sweetie.  Boy, do I know.

I withheld the obligatory and unhelpful lecture about how that feeling never changes and how she will be saddled with those uncertainties for the duration of her dating career, but I couldn’t help but wonder at how many variations on this precise conversation I’ve probably had in my life.  How much effort and energy do we expend toward trying to figure out the heart of another?

I also found that I was providing her with the same advice that I give myself (with varying degrees of success):  You can’t worry about that other girl or how he sees her; you can only be the best version of you and if he can’t see how amazing that is, or if it’s not what he wants, then that’s only his problem.   She received this advice with the same skepticism I sometimes feel when staring into the black hole of insecurity.  In fact, as she rolled her eyes, I couldn’t help but sympathize.

In the end, we agreed to obtain Jay’s phone number from her dad’s tennis club directory and Sabrina will call him for a friendly game of tennis.  I promised her I would help script her proposal so that she wouldn’t flub it.  She seemed satisfied with that resolution, but I could tell that it still sat heavily with her through dinner.

And she wasn’t alone.  I felt the heaviness of a different kind:  the realization that we had crossed yet another threshold on this journey to adulthood.  Somewhere in our shared future, she will revel in the soaring, overwhelming buoyancy of first love and the stunning, scintillating experience of sex.  She will discover new facets to herself and see her strengths and failings reflected back in the eyes of someone she wants to think her perfect.  And she will also suffer rejection and a broken heart and the disillusionment of the end of a fairytale.  All of these things are inevitable.  All of these things are life.

At this point, I am grateful that she so freely confides in me and allows me some entry into the affairs of her small, innocent heart.  I hope that this is always the case, but I know that in all likelihood, it will not be.  For now, though, I will do my very best to guide her, and protect her, and catch her, as she moves headlong toward the discovery of why crushes are called crushes.

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Filed under general musings, love, parenthood, relationships, single mom

the watershed

I spent the day today making my little corner of the world just a little prettier.  Lillies and impatiens in the planter on my deck (with a pink flamingo, just for fun).  Herbs and strawberry plants in big pots on my kitchen patio.  Fresh water in the bird bath and fresh food in the bird feeder.  Patio furniture scrubbed, paths swept, and tiny lawn mowed.  A new rosebush planted outside my bedroom window in honor of my aunt, with pink blooms that perfectly match the lipstick shade she wore every day of her adult life.

My girls and I finished our spring cleaning yesterday by tackling Sabrina’s closet, which had become so unwieldy, it was like a scene from a film where you open the door and everything rains down on your head.  No exaggeration.  But our little home is all neat and tidy and sparkling clean now, inside and out.

A few weeks ago, these chores would have rested heavily and uncomfortably on my shoulders.  I would have felt dismal and overburdened by them.  Indeed, only a few weeks ago, I was feeling that life was a somewhat monotonous repetition of obligations, chores, and responsibilities.   I awoke in the mornings despairing of another busy day of nothing to look forward to, and climbed into bed each evening feeling frustrated, sad, and lonely in my life.   I plodded through everything quietly and determinedly, weighted down by a silent melancholy and pessimism born of a fear that I would always feel that way. 

And then, my only aunt died last week.

And that changed everything.

When I received the news on Monday night that she was in the hospital, in debilitating pain, and not expected to survive the week, I was devastated.  Her death Tuesday afternoon contained as much relief (in freeing her from her suffering) as it did grief.  The text informing me of her passing came from my young cousin, her grandson.  It reached me just as I was convening a very important meeting at work.  It said, simply, “Grandma went to heaven at 12:45 PM.  I love you.”    I’ve no clear memory of the subsequent two-hour meeting, although I’m told by colleagues that it went well.  Thank God for auto-pilot.

I spent most of Tuesday evening talking to my cousins and my mom, allowing them to hurl themselves into their grief and find some solace in our shared memories of my aunt.   Then later, an ex-boyfriend provided the same sounding board for me:  letting me remember all the best of my aunt and celebrate her life by sharing her with someone who’d never met her.  All last week, friends checked in and provided support and love in beautiful, small ways.

Last weekend, before receiving the news of my aunt, I’d enjoyed a four-day weekend and an amazing, soul-drenching visit from a high school friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years.   My friend, “Kathryn,” is someone who truly sees life as a glass half-full.  Not in the annoying Don’t-Worry-Be-Happy! way that makes me want to smack some people, but in a quiet, consistent way that makes me ashamed of my own tendency to host pity parties.  Whether it’s a rocky divorce, a professional set-back, or a romantic relationship with some pretty daunting challenges, she tackles them all with a cheerfulness and gratitude toward her life that is inspiring.

We spent the whole weekend talking, eating, reconnecting and rediscovering all the things we have in common.  We played tourist and exchanged advice and walked my dog and just marinated in the comfort of female friendship.  It was wonderful.

When I dropped her at the airport, I was sad, but buoyed by our time together.  My head was spinning with all that had been said and I could feel something dormant in me re-awakening…   And then my mom called with the news of my aunt.

But rather than undermining those good feelings from Kathryn’s visit, my aunt’s death actually built upon them.  In fact, the cascade of tears that I cried for my aunt this past week washed away all the negativity and melancholy I’d been carrying around.  It is as if my grief broke through some emotional levee and allowed a torrent of frustration and sadness and fear unrelated to my aunt’s death to be carried away along with my grief over her passing.  To my great surprise, I have emerged from my utter sadness over losing her more contented and peaceful and optimistic than I have been in many, many months.

It is a watershed.

I have stopped looking backward.  I have accepted where I am at this moment and am embracing it with a joyful and hearty hug.  I am mindful and aware of all the small, perfect things in my life right now — the softness of my sheets, the sweetness of waking up to dogs licking my hands, the way the aspens are leafing out on my drive up the canyon each morning, the softly tanning skin of my daughters, the amazing people that are my friends.  Each of these things is perfect, and I had stopped seeing them.

The irony here is that my aunt was also a glass half-full kind of person.  She saw everyone and every situation in the most flattering light.  She genuinely believed and lived by the adage that if you don’t have something nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.   When life threw her a curve ball (and some of her curve balls were mind-blowingly unfair by any measure), she never asked “Why me?” but rather “Why not me?”  When offered sympathy, she would shrug and say “That’s life,” and typically recount some friend’s circumstance that was worse than her own to justify her sense of gratitude in the face of misfortune.  I’ll be honest, at times it was maddening to face her perpetual positivity, but this week I’ve remembered that she was the wiser of the two of us.  Cynicism and pessimism and anger and fear are greedy houseguests.  They leave no room or sustenance for contentment or optimism or happiness.  Being perpetually vigilant about what might next befall you or spending all your energy counting the ways that life is unfair will keep you busy, but not happy.  Definitely not happy.

Watershed moments are one of life’s small little miracles packaged as struggle or pain.  Sometimes they come in the form of job loss, or divorce, or hitting bottom with an addiction, or, as in my case, an actual death.  But regardless of the form they take, they have the capacity to shock us out of complacency or denial or fear and blow our world wide open. Sometimes the destruction is an opportunity to create something new and better; the watershed acts as a catalyst to gently resume the forward motion toward our dreams.  Other times we are incapable of seeing the opportunity before us, so busy we are staring at the closed door behind us.

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that Kathryn visited right before my aunt passed away.  I believe that life was slapping me out of my melancholy and frustration.  I believe that it provided me with two very strong, very stark reminders of all I was missing.  I believe that each of us makes a choice how to see the world around us, and that sometimes we get lost and can’t figure out how to get back to equanimity.  And I believe that when we’re lost, life will always show us the way, if we let it.

And I believe that my aunt would agree that my new rose bush is simply perfect.

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Filed under general musings, happy endings, healing, personal growth, relationships, sadness

sunset

I was walking one of my dogs when the phone call came.  It was almost dusk.  A beautiful sunset after an unseasonably warm day.  Walking by the creek, I felt the damp coolness in the air that only comes from being near water derived from glaciers miles away.

I almost didn’t answer the phone, so sweet and still was the moment.  I was feeling peaceful for the first time a long, long time.  But it was my mom, and I hadn’t talked to her all week, so I took the call.

Isn’t it funny how you just know?  As soon as you hear the voice, you know.  Someone has died or is dying.

She is my mom, so she asked pleasantly after my daughters, how my weekend was, even how my dog was, before finally saying, with a catch in her words, that she had some bad news.  My aunt — her only sister and my only aunt in the world — was in the hospital and not expected to survive the week.

I’ve lost a lot of people in my life, and it’s always the same:  the words hang in the air and somehow I manage to say all the appropriate things.  I asked after my mom, then my cousins.  I listened while my mom cried and I made the sympathetic murmurs of reassurance that you make when someone’s grief is primary over your own.  During our conversation, I finished my walk, let myself into my house, hung up with my mom, and transferred a load of wet laundry into the dryer.   Then I stood in my foyer and tried to remember what I was supposed to do next.

Without thinking, I picked up the phone and dialed my old phone number.  My youngest daughter answered and I asked to speak to my ex.  As I explained to Bryce what was happening and how I might need to get on a plane on short notice to attend the funeral, I cracked.  Before I knew it, I was slumped against the wall, choking out the words through sobs.   He wasn’t the person I’d have chosen to lose my composure with but he handled it well and with compassion, thank God.

Since that phone call, I have pushed myself through my evening chores as if moving through molasses.  I had forgotten how heavy this kind of grief is.  How it settles on your heart like a rock.

And then the memories started.  My aunt, whom I just spoke to on Thursday, is not yet dead, but my mind is already combing the recesses of my memory for all the clips that include her.  And there are a lot of them.

In fact, my very first memory is of my aunt.  I was standing at her kitchen counter as she chopped some kind of vegetable — I want to say carrots — for dinner.  Her blonde hair was in a 1960’s style chignon, and a polyester dress with a large floral pattern hugged her perfect figure.  She talked to me while she chopped and handed me pieces of vegetables every once in a while.  I was so small that I couldn’t see over the counter… possibly age two?  Three at the most.

As a young child, I thought her impossibly glamorous and beautiful.  Her house in Southern California seemed like the coolest and most modern home imaginable.  They had a trampoline 30 years before doing so was fashionable.  My aunt was hipper than Mrs. Brady.

My aunt took me to Mexico for the first time when I was only about 7 and Ensenada was a yet-to-discovered tourist destination.  Twenty years later, she took me to Cancun after I passed the bar exam, and introduced me to the resort we still go to every year.

The summer I was 16, Katrina and I went to her house for a week.   I learned to drive a stick shift that week in a old Toyota Tercel whose transmission was, I’m sure, never the same again.  As I slid out of her driveway, gears grinding and car lurching, my aunt stood on the sidewalk, smiling and waving us off, as if such automotive behavior was perfectly expected and acceptable.

My aunt helped me pick out my prom dress — a dreadful Jessica McClintock lavender and white concoction that looked like it came off the wardrobe truck for Gone With The Wind, but was surprisingly stylish for 1985.  And it was while visiting her house a year later that I bought my first shockingly small bathing suit.

When my mom and I didn’t speak for several years, it was my aunt who tended to me, calling frequently, cheering me on, reminding me how much everyone loved me.  And when my marriage ended, it was my aunt who reminded me all the time that lots of great people end up with failed marriages.

I will remember her laugh and her love of children and her beautiful eyes.  I will remember how dogs delighted her and how she loved amusement parks and how good her cooking was.  I will remember that she used to make homemade greeting cards for every occasion and that she always made everyone feel welcome at her house and that I was her only niece and therefore always special.

Over the next week, as her body gives up and her soul makes other plans, I will be, I am sure, inundated with memories of her.   Her passing will remind me of my own mortality and how very soon it will be my generation that will be burying each other.  I will move through my grief and tears and goodbyes and emerge in a world slightly altered by her absence.

Death necessarily follows life, but it also intrudes on it, cleaving a canyon through the lives remaining behind in its wake.  And no matter how many times I wander through this particular canyon, the landscape never ceases to feel surreal, the air heavy, and the path rocky, my step all the less sure in the dimming light.

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Filed under sadness

elevator wisdom

My mother has a boyfriend.  It seems odd to say that of a 73-year-old woman, but what else do you call a man she’s dated for the last 10 years, but isn’t married to and doesn’t live with?  So, “boyfriend” it is.

But really, he’s a member of our family.  I’ll call him “Ted.”  Ted is a wonderful man:  kind, generous to a fault, patient, gentle, but also a “guy’s guy” who has slowed down athletically only because time has insisted upon it.  Ted is like a father to me and a grandfather to my children, and my ex-husband admitted that he was sad to lose Ted in the divorce.  I’d have been, too, if I were him.

Every year, my girls and I vacation in Cancun for a week with Ted and my mom.  It is Ted’s gift to my family, and we all look forward to all year long.  Coming from a land-locked state, my girls have grown up with those white sands and turquoise waters as their beach, and I have relished the giving them that experience.

Ted and I had an instant rapport.  We have some obvious commonalities — similar education, being an only child, same sense of humor — but, more importantly, we just seem to “get” each other.  There is an understanding there that has bound us together for many years now, facing my mother’s health crises, my divorce, his daughter’s addictions.  Despite our difference in age, we give each other advice, and respect it more than either of us does from most people.

One day when we were in Cancun a year and a half ago, I was struggling.  I’d awoken that morning from difficult dreams highlighting the hard choices I’d made recently with regard to my marriage, my children, my work… I felt lost and wondered if I was rushing headlong to disaster.

We were all sitting by the pool late that morning, when Ted announced that he was returning to his villa to retrieve his sun hat.  I took the opportunity to accompany him inside and check my email at my own villa.  As we stepped into the elevator, Ted turned to me, looked me squarely in the eye, and began speaking as if he were resuming a conversation we’d just paused in.  He said this:

Here’s the thing.  My dad wasn’t the smartest guy about some things, but every once in a while, he was pretty wise.  And he used to tell me that once a choice is made, there’s no going back, only forward.  Any choice can seem like a bad one in hindsight, and any choice can seem like a good one.  It depends on how you’re determined to see it.  The trick, he’d say, is to stop thinking of it as a choice once it’s made.  The guessing, the thinking, the analyzing, all that is over.  The choice isn’t a choice anymore; it’s a decision.  Treat it like a foregone conclusion or a mandate from God or however you have to think of it, but don’t look back, only forward.  Seek the opportunities hidden in it and remain open to the possibilities.  Second-guessing will only slow you down, and you’ll especially need the forward momentum if it really was a bad choice.  No matter.  It’s done.  Just look ahead and keep moving.  Okay, here’s my place.  See you down at the pool.

And then he exited the elevator, and I was left, mouth agape, wondering how in the world he’d known what I was struggling with that morning.

Ted was right, of course, and I’ve thought about his words often in the time since.  It’s so easy to play the “what if” game with the benefit of additional information and experience and wisdom, but where does it get us really?  Reflection from a distance can be useful, definitely, but not when it stalls our progress.  Not when it mires us in self-doubt and uncertainty that is likely borne more of fear and insecurity than of a truly rationale evaluation of our earlier decision.  If a decision was truly wrong, we usually know it immediately and can correct our course in that short timeframe.  Revisiting an old decision is usually nothing more than a way to give power to our fears.  Most of us make good decisions, for us, for that moment.  They may not take us where we’d thought they would, but they probably take us where we need to be.

Ted’s advice was exactly what I needed to hit my internal reset button and push past the moribund wallowing in which I was engaging.  Relinquishing the weight of self-doubt and second-guessing frees up so much energy and stamina and clarity to identify and tackle the good stuff that might be just around the corner.

Plus, it gives me time to try and figure out how Ted managed to frame and solve my emotional crisis in the span of a 5-floor elevator ride…..

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Filed under dating, divorce, healing, love, personal growth, relationships, sadness, single mom

i’m sorry i put asians on your wall

My readers who are not also bloggers may not realize that WordPress, the web platform upon which this blog is built and maintained, provides blog authors with considerable information about how readers find our blogs, which posts they’re reading, and which parts of the world they are from. If you’re using your blog to market a service or business, this information can be very useful, indeed.  For the rest of us, it’s just interesting and, occasionally, amusing.

My personal favorite is the section that tells us which search terms, in Google or Bing or some other search engine, deposited readers on our metaphorical doorstep.  Sometimes these are logical — the search term “broken-hearted” keeps my post entitled “broken-hearted little girl” near the top of all my posts in terms of number of times read, although my “worst. sex. ever.” post is closing in fast, thanks to the searched phrase “worst sex ever”.  Apparently a lot of people out there are having really bad sex and turning to the internet for comfort….

Some more of my all-time  favorites, just for fun, along with my editorial comments:

1.  kitchen girls (Sounds like an all-girl band from the 1980’s, with teased hair and leopard-patterned mini-skirts.)

2.  sex with her was the worst ever,  and  guy I loved said I was the worst sex ever (Ya gotta wonder if these two Googlers are talking about the same experience… One word:   Ouch.)

3.  bad karma, small penis (Damn.  That’s a double whammy right there. My condolences.)

4.  gait boobs sex pic (Wow.  Sorry to disappoint, searcher.  I’m not sure what you were looking for, but I’m pretty sure it’s not on my blog.)

5.  joan rivers has an odd gait (True, perhaps, but is it precarious?)

6.  sexy kitchen (What exactly makes a kitchen sexy, anyway?  I used to be an interior designer and I never had a client ask for a sexy kitchen.  Hmmm….)

7.  love is messy any comment?  (Why yes, in fact, I have a whole blog post written on this topic.  Right this way….)

8.  woman for a day (Glad to know that I’m reaching the transgendered niche.  Welcome!)

9.  duct tape mouth (Three different people searched for this.  THREE.  Seriously?  Am I missing something?)

10.  dumb guy walking away from girl (That about sums up perhaps half of my posts.  Well done.)

11.  elvis birthday cake designs (Okay, the only valid excuse for this one is a White Trash theme party.  Honestly, people, in the name of all that is good and holy, doesn’t the man deserve to rest in peace without having “Happy Birthday Jolene” written in cheap gel frosting across his forehead? Enough already!)

12.  don’t trust a man with a suitcase (A suitcase?  Really?  This is a new one to me.  A wedding ring, sure.  A penis-compensation vehicle, absolutely.  But a suitcase?)

13.  women are my blessing and my curse (Yes, they are.  Get over it or date men.)

14.  bossy woman quotes (Excuse me?  I am not bossy! Okay, maybe a little.  Sometimes.  Oh, alright, I am.)

15.  what is meant by crickets and tumbleweeds in dis bitch (Tsk, tsk.  No need to resort to calling me names.  Besides, my blog post explains it, asshat.)

16. jolly good fellow marriage (For some reason, this one always makes me think of Dick Van Dyke tripping over that footrest and bouncing back up.  No idea why.)

17.  dear god protect my facebook friends  (Who needs a priest when you have Google?)

18.  couples therapy fake funeral (I’m not sure why you’d have a fake funeral.  Sounds painful and gut-wrenching.  Kinda like couples therapy.  Oh wait, I see the connection now…)

19.  ex wives are a nightmare (Maybe so, but a lot of ex-husbands aren’t exactly peaches, either.  And that’s why they’re exes….)

And finally, my absolute favorite:

20. i’m sorry i put asians on your wall (No problem.  I put Spaniards in your gas tank.)

I mean, really.  That’ s just plain awesome.

See, you should get a blog.  Just to see what kinds of crazy search terms people come up with.  It’s hours of entertainment.

Now, excuse me, but I have to go clean Asians off my wall.

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Filed under general musings, relationships

moments

I started my morning today with a friend who told me the story of a man she’d recently met in a local photo shop.  They started talking cameras and ended up talking about friendship.  It was one of those simple moments in which we make a connection with a perfect stranger that stays with us, even days later.  Not a romantic connection, but the kind of connection in which there is a recognition of a similar way of thinking, of a similar wanting in this world, of a similar desire for human connectedness.  Some might call it a soul connection.

As I drove to work, my mind played with the kinds of moments I’ve shared with strangers.  Some are very simple, others life-changing.  In some of those moments, I am convinced that the other person shared the experience, but in others, I suspect that I passed through their life with little impression or impact.  That doesn’t, of course, make those moments any less special to me.

Hours later, driving home from work, a song cycled through my iPhone and I was reminded of one such moment that I shared with a man, 20 years ago.  At that time I was barely 23-years-old, working in the British music industry, promoting artists to radio and television outlets.  It was late afternoon on an early summer day, and I was backstage at a radio station-sponsored charity concert, supporting one of our acts.   They finished and filed off the stage, grumbling about their performance (and granted, it wasn’t their best).  I murmured words of encouragement and offered hugs, then turned to follow them out of the stage area.  As we moved, single-file, the next band was coming on, single-file next to us in the narrow, short hallway.  From a short distance, I made eye contact with the other band’s singer.  We locked eyes, holding the gaze as he walked past me, so close I could smell him and see the flecks in his eyes.  As I passed, I craned my neck to hold his gaze, and he managed to turn himself completely around in the tight space, guitar in hand, watching me move away from him until his bandmate shoved him onto the stage.  As he struck the first chords on his guitar, my colleagues and I stepped out the door, into the blinding sunlight, and away from him.  I’d never seen him before, and I never saw him again.  But 20 years later, I still remember that moment.

Now remember, I was a young American girl in the British music industry who favored body-hugging catsuits and thigh-high boots.  Turning heads backstage was not an uncommon occurrence in those days.  But that moment was different.  Deeper.  Special somehow. What was it about him that arrested me in that moment? It wasn’t his good looks; he actually wasn’t the physical type I went for back then, and I’d never given him a second thought, despite the fact that his band was splashed all over magazines and tv in Britain at that time.  No, as I looked into his eyes, I felt something different… a pull… a desire to sit and talk to and know this person.  Likewise, in his eyes, I saw not the simple, hot, predatory hunger of lust that I was used to, but a kind of…. recognition… surprise… attraction. Later, his band skyrocketed to fame and had two gigantic hits stateside after my return.  But to me, he’s always been a pair of hazel eyes in a dim hallway.

Life is made richest by those precious, unexpected moments of connection.  Some are shared with people we already love, when we discover a new intersection of understanding or shared passion.  Others — and in many ways these are the more delightful — are shared with people we barely know.  They are reminders of interconnectedness, of the fact that we are not alone in this universe, small islands merely bumping into each other as we navigate the physical world.

I have very few of these moments these days.  My life is so constructed as to limit the opportunities for me to meet new and dynamic people.   Sometimes when I think of how many of those moments I experienced in my 20’s, I want to go back and shake that young woman.  I want to tell her how much rarer those moments become as we age.  I want to yell at her to turn around and talk to that young man backstage, to wait for his set to end and him to come find her.  I want to inform her that those are the moments that change our lives.

Then again, my life in my 20’s was very different.  When I was living in England, I was surrounded by artists of all kinds — musicians, actors, painters.  Their way of looking at the world challenged me and pushed the limits of my creativity.  I spent most nights in nightclubs and recording studios, often not arriving home until noon the next day.  When I gave that up, I plunged myself headfirst into law school.  Again, I was surrounded by people who pushed me, scared me with their intellect, and forced me to debate and defend my beliefs.  Those two periods of my life were very different in so many ways, but shared a vital similarity:  I was open and curious and hungry for the world around me in my 20’s.

In some ways, I am still that young girl.  I am still emotionally and intellectually curious.  I am still intrigued and arrested by dynamic people who can blow me away in one fashion or another.  But age has bred caution, and knowledge, and a certain disappointment in human limitations.

Even so, every once in a while, I am still blessed with one of those perfect moments.  And now, the awareness of their rarity makes them all more sweeter.

Someone asked me today what I want most right now.

Moments.  I want moments.

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Filed under friendships, general musings, happy endings, love, personal growth, relationships, single mom