Adulting

None Shall Pass… Without Cake!

When I asked Ethan what he wanted his 6th birthday party theme to be and he said “knights,” I had to double check that I understood.  After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he responded, “Nocturnal.”

“Knights? Like, Knights of the Round Table?” I asked, knowing there was a better way to phrase this to a kindergartner.

“No,” Ethan said.  “Like knights that fight.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I got it.”

I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find good decorations easily.  At least, not as easily as if he said, “Starwars,” for instance.  But it wasn’t a problem.  I ordered a dragon pinata, foam swords for a melee, and foil crowns and stick on plastic gems for a craft station.  Easy peasy.

There were about 40 people on the guest list, so we had the party at a park in the neighborhood.  This took care of seating and shade.  Also, I thought if no one wanted to sword fight or decorate a crown, there was a playground.

I’ve never thrown a child’s birthday party before, and I admit I stressed over it more than I should have.  I didn’t sleep much the night before and then I went to the park early and claimed some tables (they don’t take reservations).  I did my best to plan for all contingencies, but there are always things beyond one’s control.  For example, a block away, a sewer pipe burst and each time the breeze shifted there was a distinct barn-yard smell.  I could have been upset, but I decided that it gave the medieval theme an air (pun intended) of authenticity.  Hopefully the guests felt the same.  (They did not, but they were very polite about it.)

The final touch were two figurines to decorate the cake – a knight and a dragon.  Once everything was set up and we were waiting for the guests to arrive, there was nothing to do but sit and wait.

“You know,” Matt – my history teacher boyfriend – said, pointing at the cake, “there is a historical problem there.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.  “What’s that?”

“Yes, I think the knight should have a sword.  I was just reading that knights, who usually came from the aristocracy, actually looked down on archery.  Archers were from the lower classes.”

“That’s interesting,” I said.  “Also, there’s a dragon.”

“True,” Matt said.  “Very true.”

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Precision Cooking

My man is making dinner.

Me: Why is there dough on the tape measure?

Matt: The recipe says the biscuits should be 1/4 inch thick and 2 1/2 inches across.

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Weekend in Zion

At The Desert Pearl Hotel in Springdale, Utah

Ethan (age 5): The sink in our room is so short! I had to bend over to use it!!!

Me: What sink? What are you talking about?

Ethan: The one in the bathroom.

Me: Right next to the toilet?

Ethan: Yeah!

Me: That is not a sink. It’s a bidet.

Ethan: What’s that?

(Pause)

Matt: It’s European.

Me: Only it’s for when you’re-a-poopin’.

Ethan: WHAT?

Matt: It’s a sink for your bum.

Ethan: 😐

End scene.

(Photo: Zion National Park –  Mt. Carmel Highway Scenic Drive)

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The Introvert at the Party; an exploration in Haiku

Introverted girl
at a social gathering
trying not to cling

Releasing Matt’s arm
I take a deep breath and wander
deeper in the house

Determined to learn
from the mistakes of my past:
don’t drink all the wine!

What is the most time
I can hide in the toilet
before eyebrows raise?

Do I look social
crossing the room with purpose
looking for “someone”?

Hovering over
the table of finger foods
not sure what to do

It’s called ‘finger food’
but do I use a napkin?
What’s the proper way?

And then what happens?
If I put it in my mouth
I will get a question

From someone or other.
I’ll stand there, mouth full of cheese…
happens every time.

Better to slip it
quickly into my pocket
for later, alone.

Time to venture off;
initiate a friendship…
thank God, there’s a dog!

Check the time, dear Christ!
How can that be possible?
It’s six forty five.

Cross the room again:
bathroom appetizer time.
It’ll be a long night.

Transitions

My writing group was discussing a piece submitted by our youngest member, a very bright and passionate millennial girl. Young woman? It was mostly great but I told her that I was having a hard time keeping her characters straight and maybe she could give them names?

“There’s just the one guy,” she said.

“Really? Oh I thought there were two. You are talking to your ex in the first scene but then a few pages later you wake up next to this guy and there’s no transition…”

“Yeah it’s the same guy. It’s just one guy.”

“Okay, well I was confused. Maybe I’m the only one…” I looked at the other writing group members for help.

She laughed. “You Gen-Xers. You don’t get us at all. When I say that we broke up I don’t mean we are over. I still need to get off. I still need a roommate. You guys are so easily shocked.”

She was right – I didn’t get it. But it wasn’t in a prudish “do you mean that you did the DEED with a BOY you aren’t IN LOVE WITH?” way.  I don’t care. It’s a clarity problem. Not a generational problem. Also, for the record, I spent most of the last ten years focussed on either dating or writing.  Good relationships are hard.  Good transitions are harder.

Still, it reminded me of the time I was at that dance club in Greece (I never go to dance clubs but we were in the Greek Islands) and I was wearing white pants (I never wear but we were in the Green Islands) and I got my period of fucking course. And I asked a group of Australian college aged tourists if one of the had a tampon and they looked at me like I was a particularly nasty leper asking for a band-aid and said, “Uh – no!? We haven’t had a period in years!”

Once I got over how an accent could be super cute and way judgey at the same time, my mind exploded. “What do they know that I don’t know?”

When I got back to the States I asked all my friends, “We are all still having our periods, right? Because apparently Australians have evolved and don’t do that anymore.”

So, apparently Aussie girls had that figured out back in the aughts and now millennial girls have evolved beyond broken hearts and paying full rent. Good for them. Less Tampax and Kleenex in the landfills.

Cohabitation

I started this blog after a breakup – a really bad one – with the idea that I was done with relationships.  I decided that I was tired of comparing myself to my ex-husband (married with two kids, while I was still single and lonely).  I decided I was done waiting for a guy to come along and stay in my life.  I was going to take myself to a sperm bank for my next birthday.  I was going to write about this process as it went along, as I made lemonade out of my sour relationship lemons.

I didn’t get far.  I went to my doctor and told her my plan.  She was discouraging.

“Your eggs are old; they won’t be very high quality anymore.”

I was 37 at the time.  I thought I was still in the window.  When was I supposed to freeze them? In my twenties?  Teens? No one told me!  My poor eggs.  I knew I had passed the ideal age, but I imagined there was still some green in my inner garden.  Suddenly I saw my eggs, not as colorful uncut blooms, but as the dusty and mold spotted roses rotting away on Miss Havisham’s wedding cake in Great Expectations.  Intended for a joyful event that never took place.

“Have you thought about adoption?” my doctor asked.

I did.  I thought a lot about it.  I certainly wasn’t opposed to it.  I did contemplate the fact that it is much cheaper to make a baby from scratch than to adopt one.  But the real deterant to me was the the fact that I would have to convince a number of people that I would be fit and capable of doing it on my own.  The sperm bank doesn’t have that obligation.  And I imagine they take credit cards.

The thought did leave me with the question… Could I prove to some strangers that I would be a good single parent?  If not, what did that mean? Would I be a good single parent?  I’ve got a paycheck, insurance and a spare room.  But it’s just me.  There’s no fall back plan.  If something happens to me, what happens to the baby?  Would bringing a child into the world, or even just my life, be a terribly selfish thing to do?

I decided it was.  And that was the end of that lemonade stand.

Let me say with full caps for emphasis: I AM NOT SAYING THAT SINGLE MOTHERS ARE SELFISH!!! THAT IS NOT WHAT I REMOTELY THINK OR FEEL!!!  I just decided that I didn’t have the resources to do it.  I have an amazing family, amazing friends, and I’m living a rich life that a part of me would love to share with a child.  The rest of me, however, is afraid.  Afraid I don’t have the physical or mental staminal to handle it.  Afraid that I would be too anxious or too sad to do it well.  And what if I get injured or sick and slide into destitution or a coma…?  As it stands, I already lie awake worrying about things like this.  If a little person were depending on me and only me?  I don’t think I could function.

ONCE MORE! FOR EMPHASIS! THAT IS JUST ME!  THE WORLD IS FULL OF AMAZING SINGLE PARENTS WHO KICK ASS ON A DAILY BAISIS AND I HONOR YOUR CHOICES AND YOUR AWESOMENESS!

Also, I heard a story on the radio about a woman whose 35 year old autistic son took a shit in the back of her car, and it terrified me so much I couldn’t blink for forty-five minutes.  So, just in case I implied that I am NOT selfish, that’s not what I meant.  I am.  I’m completely selfish.  That may be the real problem.

Anyway, that was three years ago.  And I did move on with my life.  I sold my condo and bought a house.  I got a promotion at work and that was a good thing.  I found other ways to connect with the children that were already in my life.  I focused on being the best damn aunt that I could be.

I didn’t want a relationship.  Frankly, the pain just wasn’t worth the reward.  I was never going to throw that much time and energy and love away on anyone ever again.  But time passed and – like I always do – I started losing my resolve.  Because I got lonely.  And I have these coupled friends that I hang out with and they make it seem so… possible.  So, I got back out there.  I met somebody.  And yada yada yada… my boyfriend and his five-year-old son moved in with me in September, just after my 40th birthday.

So far, it is going really well.  I was worried I would feel invaded and have a hard time downsizing enough of my stuff to make space for “the boys” (two human males and one snake that I am told is male; I haven’t verified).  There were a few pieces of furniture that I gave to charity that were harder to let go than they should have been.  Perhaps because they were things that I bought immediately after the divorce and were emblematic of my independence?  I bought them during the first period in my life when I had the freedom to choose a piece of furniture for myself.  First, I had to figure out what my own “taste” was, and I honestly had no idea.  I chose a few things, including a red armless chair and a faux leather trunk, that may well have been completely ugly, but they were new.  And all mine.  It was a scary, fun, and luxurious place to be.  Maybe giving those things away felt like closing of a chapter on my life, and that’s the issue?  Even though I wanted to close that chapter.

Or maybe I just liked that chair and that trunk and now I don’t have them anymore.  I guess I don’t need to get all Freudian about it.

My other concern was for Ethan, the kindergartener.  He expressed enthusiasm over moving in from the beginning.  He most often expressed excitement about getting to live with Wensley, because apparently moving in meant that the dog “will officially be my big brother!”  There was one other time that he told me he was really excited to come and live with me because I have Blu-ray, but mostly it was all about Wensley.

Still, I was concerned.  I was worried that once he saw his stuff in his new room in my little 1940’s house, he would realize just how much smaller it is than the one he had in his 2010’s town house.  He didn’t have a backyard at the town house, but there was a playground with a slide and swings.  And the old living room was more accommodating to wrestling.  Similarly, the old couch was more suitable for cannon-balls and similar.  I had the idea that I would set up his room with all of his old things but also put up a few new things that he could get excited about to distract him from the habitat shrinkage.  So I set about doing one of those HDTV makeovers, but on a much smaller budget.

First I got a Totoro night light.  You can choose if you want the stomach or the umbrella to be lit.  (When I turn it on for him at night I ask him, “Belly or brawly?”)  Then I got a large wall decal showing an X-wing and TIE Fighter battle over the fate of the death star from any one of the Star Wars movies (am I the only one who has noticed that they all seem to end the same way?).  His rug is five foot Millennium Falcon and his light switch cover says “Light Side / Dark Side.”  Admittedly, that last one was for me. Ethan will appreciate it when he is older, I’m sure.  But puns are not the natural purview of five-year olds.

Ethan got a tour of his room and he loved it.  Matt even helped make the light switch a success by acting out the difference between “light side” and “dark side” at the speed of Ethan’s switching.

It was a little strange because we were heading up to Idaho that day for a long planned visit to see Matt’s parents, so Ethan got to see his room but not stay in it that night.  While we were in Idaho Ethan and I were hanging out in Matt’s childhood room, looking through his old knickknacks.  We were blowing dust off sports trophies and holding sea shells up to our ears to listen for the ocean while Matt and his parents talked in the other room. Ethan put down his sea shell and told me again how excited he had been to move in with me.

“Daddy said we were moving and I said, ‘let’s move Friday!’”

I laughed. “Yeah, it took a little time to get it all planned.  We still have a lot of unpacking to do.  But I’m glad you are happy about it!  I’m happy too.”

Then he looked me in the eye and said, “You and Dad made a really good choice.”  I know it sounds like I’m putting words in his mouth, or like I don’t know how to write children’s dialogue.  But he talks like he is 28.  He just does.

I was charmed and more than a little bit verklempt.  He’s such a sweet kid; of course he wasn’t focused on the size of his room, or his stuff in general.  He’s been through a lot in his five years, and he is good at making lemonade, too.   I felt like he was telling me he’s glad I’m in his life, Totoro night light or no.  It suddenly occurred to me that he is gaining more than a dog and a yard – he’s gaining me, too.  I’m so glad he thinks that is a good thing.

V-Day

I don’t write much about my love life here.  Long ago, in another blog far away, I used to write about it a lot.  But that was back when I never imagined that I would be divorced for ten years and still live alone.  The dating adventures were fun and made funny anecdotes for my goofy blog.  Then, somewhere in there, it got sad.  I met some guys that I really hoped to make a connection with, but it never worked out.  There came a point when I realized that I wasn’t laughing at the anecdotes, I was just bitching.  I didn’t stop trying to find love.  But I stopped writing about it.

I’m a happy person with a full life and a lot of interests and accomplishments.  The relationship piece is missing, and I feel its absence.  It’s tricky because I feel so much gratitude for the life that I have.  And as a feminist I feel ashamed when harping on about being lonely or feeling incomplete without a man.  But I do feel incomplete sometimes.  And there are times when I wonder why – exactly, why – it is that I wasn’t able to make something work with someone after all this time.  My ex-husband is married with two kids.  Meanwhile, I feel like I haven’t made any progress down that road since we split and went our own ways.

A few days ago I was catching up on podcasts and I listened to the first of a three-part series from Dear Sugar, an advice column which has transitioned to audio format.  (I’ve written before about my love for Cheryl Strayed as a writer. Dear Sugar is her podcast.)  The title was “Looking For The One,” wherein “The Sugars” (Cheryl and Steve Almond) discuss one of the most oft asked questions they receive, “Will I ever find the one?”

A quick re-cap… They related the stories of the askers, all women who are single but range in age from their twenties to their fifties, who are trying to come to terms with single-hood.  They want relationships and they, like me, feel shame when they say they need a man.  And like me, they also feel anxious about the complexities.  What is wrong with me? Why her and not me? Am I going to be able to have children? I have a great life and this is the one thing that is missing, but if someone had asked me early on to choose between career and relationship, I would have picked the relationship. But I never got to make the choice.

I was sucked in, completely. This is my story! And they were talking about it in such a candid and empathetic way.  I have been at a point where I am feeling pressure to come to terms with my situation in a final way and find some acceptance, and to hear this discussion and the letters of other women in my situation was meaningful to me.  If I were to break it down to a list of the three primary takeaways (because let’s face it, I LOVE lists!), it would be these.

A). I’m not alone.

If this is the most common question that The Sugars receive, then that is informative to me.  Perhaps it shouldn’t make me feel better, and I’m not sure it does.  But five years ago, I had a lot of women in my circle of friends who were in the same situation.  Now, there are still a few. But not many.  It is good to be reminded that I’m not the only person who hasn’t found a chair this long after the music has stopped.

B). Of all the women who wrote these letters, most will find someone.  And some will not.

Thank you! Thank you, Cheryl and Steve, for saying that!  I can’t explain how much it made my heart sing to hear someone admit, “Actually, yeah – some of these women will not make this happen for them.”

I am so tired of reading that if I just keep trying and “put myself out there” and “never ever settle,” that I will find some dreamy and delicious relationship that was totally worth waiting for.  Because it isn’t true.  I could “put myself out there” and go on thousands of first dates and keep my heart open, and it still may never work out because frankly: I do not have control over the outcome.

Also, isn’t there a contradiction in telling someone to “keep their heart and mind open” and also, “never ever settle!”?  At this point, after a decade of being on my own, I don’t need to be told not to settle. I have seen what my options are.  If I do decide to try to make something that is less than ideal work, you can trust that I thought out that decision.

I have taken breaks from the search but, to date, I haven’t given up.  I know that being alone for the rest of my life is a distinct possibility.  But if it doesn’t work out, it wasn’t because I didn’t try.  It didn’t work out because sometimes it doesn’t fucking work out.

C). There are many kinds of ‘life partnerships.’

Amen.

There is a point in the episode where Cheryl makes a point of saying that they aren’t prescribing remedies or tactics for these women. But she did remind me that there are people in my life that have partnered with me for the long term.  I have two sisters and a number of wonderful friends who are on this journey with me.  They have witnessed and help me keep my history. They are loyal to me and know that I am loyal to them.  They would have my back in a bar fight.  Of that, I am certain.

Today is Valentine’s Day.  There were years in the last decade where that little day would creep up like a bad flu and then it would hit and I would suffer through it.  It wasn’t an issue this year.  It was just another day.  I mostly took note of it because I wanted to plan around the restaurant crowds (food: my other life-long partnership).  In fact, when I got out of bed this morning I had forgotten it was a holiday.  Then…

First thing in the morning, I had a text from my niece sending love and wishing me a happy Valentine’s Day.  I was touched.  People don’t give millennials a lot of credit when it comes to thinking beyond themselves, and yet that girl remembered to send a Valentine to the single auntie in her hermitage, and I appreciated it.

Then my friend Gina sent a message asking me to be her Valentine’s lunch date.  She’s in a newish relationship and I know they had evening plans for the big day of love, but still… she carved out time for me.

My friend Stef then got in touch to ask me if I wanted to do yoga.  We have a standing Sunday thing but I thought she might pass on Valentine’s to over plans with her husband.  But she wanted to go.  And what was I going to say?  “I can’t go; I’m busy”?  I went and it was great (especially when it was over).

I also got to talk to my younger sister and her son on FaceTime.  And I even heard from my older sister’s family, even though they are camping and off the map for the President’s Day weekend.  I didn’t expect to have either of those connections today.

I love.  And I am loved.  Not in a traditional Valentine’s Day way.  But I don’t care.  It is more than enough.  It is profound.  And I am full of joy and gratitude.

Don’t get me wrong; it would have been nice to get laid today.  But I suppose that goes without saying.

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Going For Gold

My sisters and I are throwing a party for my parents in a few weeks. They are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  

I am looking through hundreds of photos because we thought it would be nice to have a slide show going in one corner of the reception hall (for optional viewing of course; nothing kills a party like a mandated slide show).  I have been struck by how difficult it is to find photos of the two of them together. Of course, there are some. But most are photos of them doing their own things, or one of them posing with the kids and grandkids. 

Now, I know that correlation is not causation and I shouldn’t draw any conclusions. Still, after hours and hours of looking at photos, I can’t help but wonder if the secret of a long marriage is limiting the amount time you spend in the same room. And only standing side by side when someone forces you to pose for a photo. 

At the very least, it seems to have worked for my parents.