Messes Are My Kryptonite

My husband and I possess competing superpowers.

I have the ability to walk into a room and notice every last thing that is out of place. Depending on my mood, I also can spontaneously spin my head around a la The Exorcist while muttering obscenities. (I know you’re jealous, but you should know that superpowers, no matter how glamorous, can also be a burden.)

My husband, Mike, can walk into a room and not notice anything that is out of place. It’s a gift, people.

I would prefer sexier, more enticing superpowers – self-propelled flight, time-shifting, whatever it was that Wonder Woman could do. Unfortunately, my husband and I seem to be stuck with these superpowers. For now. And unless something changes (e.g. my husband suddenly inherits the superhuman compulsion to clean up), we will continue to argue over life’s messes. For better or worse.

If you have messiness issues and want to know more about ours, check out my guest post, It’s a Safety Issue, over at Me Myself and Kids.

Something’s Shifting

For as long as I can remember, I’ve bristled at any mention of my maternal grandfather. Whenever I’ve heard stories of his escapades as an Italian immigrant adapting to life in the US, instead of remembering him fondly, I’ve felt curiously annoyed or irritated.

I’ve often played devil’s advocate aloud or in my head whenever a family member lovingly described an interaction with him.

My father would affectionately reminisce, “He was loud and blustery and always laughing. What a character he was; forever joking and telling great stories.”

Instead of feeling happy my dad had positive memories of his father-in-law, I’d think, “Sure, Grandpa was always talking, but he never said more than five words to me. I was invisible to him.”

My mom would wax poetic about my grandfather’s ongoing financial support of his church. And laugh about how he admonished my grandmother for spending money on groceries for their six children. Instead of appreciating his quirkiness or relating to his financial fears, I was happy to point out my grandfather’s hypocrisy.

I’d hear repeatedly about how hard he worked and how much he sacrificed to come to this country. Instead of admiring his tenacity, I’d think, “Oy, enough with the martyrdom. He had it good – his wife and kids took care of his every need. The cheap bastard never spent a dime on them and hid all his money in metal pipes in his basement.”

If fault-finding and bitterness were marketable skills, I’d be as wealthy as my grandfather was upon his death at age 96.

I’ve often wondered why I never felt the warm, loving feelings toward him that appear to flow freely among my parents, siblings and extended family members; why mostly what I felt toward him was resentment.

Though I grew up seeing him regularly, my grandfather and I didn’t have much of a relationship. Perhaps it was the language barrier, he spoke only broken English, but we didn’t interact at all until I was a young adult and even then, our conversations were limited.

“Have some wine. Drink, drink!” was the extent of our connection. I’d giggle. He’d laugh. Enough said.

Except it wasn’t enough. Now, as an adult watching my father interact lovingly with my daughters, I’ve often felt deprived of a loving, committed grandfather figure who doted on me and showered me with affection.

Instead I experienced my grandfather as distant and demanding. Even at a young age, I hated what I perceived to be his favoritism of his sons and the disrespectful way he treated my grandmother. She was my hero – all warmth and hugs and generous bosom.

Grandma was the saint in my eyes. I’d prefer to hear more stories about her; to have known her as an adult instead of losing her as a young teenager. I’d like one of my grandmother’s impossibly comforting hugs right now.

My grandfather died in 1998. On the day of his funeral, I wrote a long, heartfelt letter to him expressing my anger and resentment. I blamed him for a lot of the dysfunction I saw in my family of origin and held him accountable. I tore up the letter all those years ago hoping to release the pain and ill feelings I was carrying. And all the shame I felt for resenting instead of admiring him.

Two weeks ago, my husband and I had lunch with my mom and dad. For the first time in my life, I felt eager to hear stories from them of my grandfather’s antics. Rather than judgment, I found myself fascinated by his life, compelled by his struggles and achievements, curious about his foibles and his larger than life persona.

I found myself wondering about his fears, jealousies and resentments. The stories I’d heard about him rarely acknowledged his weaknesses or failings. He was the hero in everyone’s eyes but mine, and I could only see his flaws. Suddenly, in wondering about his doubts and compulsions, I could feel his humanity. And my own.

During lunch my parents recounted many funny anecdotes about my grandfather, including the day he found an old toilet in the alley on his way home from work. Confident he could put this toilet to good use, he carried it on to the bus, eliciting disparaging comments from the bus driver.

His response? “The seats here stink. I brought my own.” He placed that toilet in the aisle and rode on his throne all the way home, confident no one would mess with him. I can clearly picture the self-congratulatory smirk on his face, the triumphant strut in his step.

I realized my grandfather did have something I admire – the ability not to care what other people thought of his actions. He was shameless. And fearless.

I’d like to steal some of my grandfather’s confidence and joie de vivre. (For the record, he can keep the old toilets. Not my thing.)

Maybe my family members could see all along what I’m only now experiencing – my grandfather was a human being, capable of great sacrifice and greater folly. He loved his family enough to provide for them day in and day out and what he lacked in affection, he perhaps made up for in marrying a woman capable of nothing but.

I imagine him as a little boy, 12 years old and living on his own in a foreign country. Working by day as a water boy for the railroad builders, fending for himself at night.

My heart is softening toward this man. I miss my grandmother. Maybe one day soon I’ll also miss my grandfather.

Please Don’t Talk to Me While You’re Squeezing My Breasts

No, I don’t mean my husband. (This isn’t that kind of post. And you heard enough about our sex life recently to satisfy my exhibitionist tendencies for a few more weeks.)

Yes, I do mean you, Ms. Mammogram Technologist!

I’ve been learning to use my voice and speak up for myself in all kinds of situations. Except the other day in the mammogram screening room where I encountered my nemesis, Chatty Cathy.

From the moment I walked into the screening room, I knew I was in trouble. Chatty Cathy greeted me with a big smile and a warm hello and proceeded to explain every last detail of what was about to happen to my girls. Then she explained again – in excruciating detail – while her cold, deft hands prodded and maneuvered my breasts in to a machine that compressed them beyond recognition.

I’ve found out that I get dizzy and hyperventilate while having my breasts fondled by strange women and large machinery. My skin turns a lovely shade of avacado before my baby browns roll up into my head. I do not faint. Instead I use my superpowers to ignore the feelings of panic roiling through my body; my only goal to survive the screening before I die on the floor.

I tell myself there are two kinds of people in the world regarding medical procedures:

1)      Those who are comforted and reassured by having every detail of what is going to happen to them explained

2)      Those who prefer to be kept in the dark, told what to do and left alone to panic in peace and quiet

I propose hospitals provide a preference checklist with the 25 other forms required before any medical procedure. I envision something like this:

Please Select One:  I prefer my medical technician to be:

a)      Outgoing, Warm and Friendly:  takes her/his time to guide me lovingly through each step

b)      Quiet, Gentle and Quick:  gets me in and out of procedure quickly with a minimum of explanation

c)       Reminiscent of a Stepford Wife on Crack:  uber helpful and willing to delineate every detail of the procedure multiple times with a frantic vocal delivery

Don’t get me wrong, my deranged dedicated technologist was simply doing her job. An incredibly important and difficult job. I imagine many women love her repetitive assurance that she knows her way around a breast or two.

I happen to prefer hyperventilating in silence. Give me an overview and the bare minimum of information I need to disassociate in peace while you’re squeezing the bejesus out of my breasts.

Perhaps I should thank her. I haven’t been felt up with so much exuberance by anyone other than my husband in many, many years.

Now, lest I continue on this victimy rant another moment (something I would love am loathe to do), I did have choices in this situation.

I certainly could have spoken up and calmly explained my preferences. Unfortunately, all I could think in the moment as the blood pounded my temples was “You may be competing for some kind of Miss Congeniality award, but dear woman, shut the fuck up!”

While those words were an option, she was holding the fate of my delicate woman parts in her hands.

Instead, our interaction went something like this:

Chatty Cathy Technologist:  “You’re looking a little pale, dear. It’s okay if you want to sit down. You could sit for two or three minutes and relax and then we can start again. Whatever you need because all I care about is making sure you’re comfortable and making sure we get the best pictures we can. We need the pictures to be identical to the ones you got last year so the radiologist can see if there were any changes to your breast tissue between last year and this year. Do you want to sit down and relax for two or three minutes? Or even five or ten minutes?”

Me:  “No, thanks.”

Chatty Cathy:  “A lot of women get light-headed so it really isn’t any problem if you want to sit down and take a break. We’ll just take our time between each film; go slow and steady to make sure we get the best films we can. Do you want to sit down? This is a foldable, cushioned chair made in China but imported in the United States by an American chair company. I can guarantee it is comfortable and should you want to try it out yourself, I’d be happy to take off the iron shield from around your hips so you are comfortable.

Me:  “No, thanks.”

I am disappointed in myself for not speaking up – that would have made for a shorter post and perhaps a better story!

My 9yo daughter, Ava, has no problem using her voice and speaking up whenever necessary, sometimes to my dismay. During the mammogram, I started thinking WWAD – What Would Ava Do? I’m confident she would have spoken up immediately with some version of:  “Miss Technician Lady, can you please stop talking now. You’re giving me a headache. 

If only I had her courage!

Instead, I offer myself this practice script for next year’s exam:

Technologist:  “… And we compress your breasts because we care. Do you want to sit down, dear?

Me:  “Miss Technician Lady, I am feeling really anxious. I would prefer to do this screening as silently as possible. Could you give me the least amount of detail to get through the screening and keep the talking to a minimum? Thank you.”

Easy? No way. Doable? Perhaps. Next year.

Or maybe I should practice holding my breath longer? You tell me.

Does anyone else have trouble speaking up to a medical professional? If you are a medical professional, how would you suggest a slightly neurotic patient like me handle this situation?

Next up, getting my dental hygienist to shut up…

Fig Leafs & Triangles

Fig Leaf Charm

“Tell me again, Mom,” Ava pleaded. “Tell me how Grandma met Grandpa.”

“Do you want the fairy tale version or the truth, little girl?” joked Lottie, my sister.

“Leave it alone, Lottie,” I warned.

I curled up on the couch next to Ava, wondering if my daughter, like me, would one day recall verbatim my Mom’s fairy tale-caliber love story. Or would she embrace Lottie’s cynical revisionist version? Lottie and I each clung to our respective interpretations of this family lore, desperate for individuality.

I’d grown up with my mom’s romantic musings echoing in my head – true love, a deep abiding faith, love at first sight. I’d longed for a similarly dramatic experience, an equally compelling legacy to hand down to my children.

Mom was dating Bob, a Navy ensign from her Little Italy neighborhood in Chicago. They wrote to each other faithfully for two years while Bob was stationed in Japan. Bob wrote heartfelt sentiments and dreamed of marrying Mom when he returned home; Mom enjoyed the root beer floats Bob treated her to while on leave. And wrote to Joe, a man she’d never met, in Italy.

“One man could never satisfy Mom’s needs,” Lottie teased. “Ava, your Grandma had a way with words and men on two continents lusted after her … letters.”

I flashed Lottie my “shut the fuck up” look, with the usual result.

At Christmastime that year, Joe proposed a rendezvous. Bob proposed an engagement.

“Our Mom, breaking hearts across the Atlantic,” joked Lottie.

“Auntie, Japan is in the Pacific Ocean,” Ava reminded.

Confused and overwhelmed, Mom asked God for a sign. The sign came in the form of a tiny gold fig leaf charm, a symbol of love, enclosed in a Christmas card from Joe.

“Better luck next time, Bobby boy!” Lottie exclaimed, dissolving into giggles. “The poor schmuk.”

“Ignore her,” I chided.

Because of immigration restrictions, Joe could not enter the US. He and Mom instead met in Mexico. From the airplane window, Mom spotted an old man waving in her direction.

“This is my favorite part,” said Ava. “Grandma refused to get off the plane. She knew right away she didn’t like him and told the flight attendant to take her home!”

“Mom’s one moment of sanity in this sordid tale,” teased Lottie. “Ava, for future reference, big diamonds are the only signs worth paying attention to.”

Acknowledging my annoyance, Lottie lifted her hands in mock surrender, “Just sayin’!”

The flight attendant escorted Mom off the plane, and Joe turned out to be a different man with a warm, infectious smile.

Joe, immediately smitten, professed his love that night. Mom took longer to warm up.

“They got married 10 days later,” Ava reported with a triumphant grin. “That’s true love!”

“And they’re still together 52 years later,” I added, casting Lottie a superior smirk.

Lottie rolled her eyes, “Ava, let me know when you’re ready for the ‘Green Card’ version of this fairy tale. It’s a better story.”

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

I’m linking up with Yeah Write for the final week of the Summer Writer’s Series. Please click on the link and check out the many talented writers. Then come back and vote for your favorites on Thursday.

Love, Dad Style

I can tell you about many of the things that make my husband an amazing parent (his sense of humor, his willingness to play, his tenderness toward his daughters), but I’d also like to share one specific way he lights up my heart as a father to our daughters.

Last year, my husband started a new tradition. Every month or two, Mike mails a love letter to our daughter, Ava (9), telling her all the things he admires about her and his feelings about being her father.

He sets a monthly reminder on his Blackberry to write about the growth he’s seen in her, the fun interactions they’ve had that month, his hopes and dreams for her. He expresses his love for her in details big and small.

I’ve been working on a love letter blog post to Ava for her 9th birthday for days. The feelings are there; the words are not. Unlike me, Mike doesn’t put off expressing his feelings until he has crafted the perfect sentiments. He jots down his thoughts, prints them out and mails them off.

To me these letters signify something vital and priceless. They say:  I see you. You are beloved. You are on my mind. Our relationship is important to me. I see you.

And who doesn’t want to feel seen and known?

Ava tells me she loves these letters and feels really happy when she gets them. I can’t think of anything better than having a father that really sees his children and takes time to express his feelings.

Mike is aware of the importance of his relationship with our daughters and of the impact he will have on their future success in intimate and professional relationships. As soon as Rhys can read, I trust he’ll write to her also.

I love and admire that he takes his role in our daughters’ lives so seriously.

Here’s to this great idea and to dads and daughters everywhere!

How do you nurture your relationships with your children and make sure they feel seen and appreciated? Please share your ideas, big and small, in the comments. 

Linking up with Bohemian Bowmans for My Husband Is Awesome Day!

Sheer Luck

Photo by By D. Sharon Pruitt via Wikimedia CommonsThe handsome face of a former crush stared at me from the pages of a glossy home and garden magazine. The four-page spread featured his impeccably decorated home and equally stunning wife and young children.

I gripped the magazine and reflexively sucked in my stomach as the nail technician buffed the calluses from my foot, oblivious to my shock. It was impossible to breathe and read in unison; devouring the details of his life took precedence.

I had fallen hard for him that summer years ago, and this airbrushed flashback hurt my eyes.

We worked for different companies on the same floor of a downtown office building. I ran into him, literally, rushing to the elevator and narrowly missed dousing him with decaf. The delight in his bright blue eyes grabbed my attention first. Surprised at my unusual fortuitous timing, I apologized and stared. He smiled and introduced himself, his eyes never leaving mine.

I glowed for days.

Over the next several weeks, we flirted and created excuses to run into each other, steaming up the hallways and rumor mills. I felt exhilarated and alive; miraculously blessed with good hair and a shine-free forehead.  When he finally asked me to lunch, I wondered about the delay. I fantasized he was wary of a work romance or coming off a break-up.

After a lunch of juicy burgers and witty conversation, he asked me out for Friday night. I floated to my cubicle with the words, “I have a boyfriend. I have a boyfriend!” ringing in my head.

Five discarded outfits and 18 breath mints later, we walked hand in hand to a restaurant near my apartment, giggling and sharing stories. I was charming and delightful; he was smart and funny and made me feel the same.

After dinner, anticipating our first kiss and wishing for another mint, we sat on a park bench and he pulled me onto his lap. “I really like you and am completely attracted to you,” he sighed, “but I have a girlfriend.”

“Huh?” was all I could manage.

“I thought you should know.”

Do I get off his lap now? I wondered.

“Oh,” I stammered. “Um, thanks for telling me.”

We walked the last few blocks in silence. At my front door, he reached for my hand. “What are you doing now?”

“Going to bed,” I replied.

“Alone?” he queried.

“Goodnight,” I said, my confusion not yet yielding to the anger and hurt churning my insides.

The following Monday, after a puffy eyed, pity-party weekend, the elevator doors opened to reveal my crush, arm in arm with a gorgeous, long-legged beauty.

“Honey, don’t forget to pick up our wedding rings,” she purred as they walked past, the enormous diamond on her finger clouding my vision.

Stunned and embarrassed, I looked away and silently urged the elevator doors to close. Or swallow me up.

“Poor girl,” I thought, discarding the magazine in favor of the latest People. “I’m going with OPI’s Sheer Luck on my toes today.”
read to be read at yeahwrite.me
I’m once again linking up with Yeah Write for Week Six of their Summer Writer’s Series

Hope Floats (and Jumps In a Lake)

Long before we met, my husband and his brothers bought a small cottage on an inland lake in Michigan.

“The Cottage” as we call it, has been my husband’s pride and joy; a retreat from the city and a reminder of the fun-filled days he spent as a child at his Nana’s lake cottage.

For the past 12 years, Mike has pushed encouraged me to enjoy the cottage and see it through his eyes.

Here’s how he sees it.

Photographed by: Oliver Dixon via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s how I see it.

Photo by Oven Fresh via Wikipedia Commons

For 12 years, I’ve hated the place:  the bugs, the slimy lake, the remote location, the old furniture, the lack of cable or internet connections. .. my list of grievances is long and justified (by me). And I’ve always felt that being at the cottage is a lot more work than I want to do on vacation.

The cottage has been a big thorn in our marriage from day one – a convenient place to stash our varied resentments with each other. We’ve talked about the cottage ad nauseam – with each other, with friends, with couples’ counselors – and though we’ve learned to compromise over the years, we’ve never been able to truly resolve our fundamental differences about the place.

Compromises

Before we had kids, I would join Mike at the cottage for a day or two at most and he would spend time there alone. When our kids were babies and toddlers, I used my terror of being so close to the water to justify not wanting to spend much time there.

For the last several years, our compromise has been to rent out the cottage to others for the entire summer, save for a day or two when we celebrate Ava’s August birthday there with our Michigan family members.

Now that our girls are older, they ADORE the cottage; LOVE everything about it:  the lake, the boating, the nearby ice cream shop and mostly, being close to family (their many cousins live in an adorable neighboring town). My kids love the place, my husband loves it, what’s wrong with me?

This year, Mike decided he wanted our family to spend a week at the cottage – one of my worst nightmares. (Okay, fine. I can think of many worse things and I’m aware I’m coming across as a spoiled brat, but hey, I warned you I am high maintenance!)

I’ve been dreading nervous about this week all summer. However, being the giver trooper that I am, I bravely headed to the cottage last week for Ava’s ninth birthday party. Mike handled everything for the party –  from food to drinks to water fun for all of us.

I relaxed and enjoyed his mom and siblings’ company and found myself de-stressing from the moment I arrived.

What was different this year? Yes, Mike was in charge, but  this doesn’t account for my sudden insanity change of heart.

My secret:  we brought one of Ava’s school friends from home with us for the weekend. N is a darling, kind, funny little girl, one whom my daughter loves and connects with well.

From the moment we walked into the cottage, N commented on what it lacked:

One bathroom? Ewww!

Small beds? Bummmmer!

Boggy lake bottom? Groooossss!

Spiders and bugs? Disgustttttinnnggg!

I saw myself so clearly in little N.

Instead of taking in the beauty of the lake, the picturesque surrounding area and our cottage’s desirable position on the water, she focused on its flaws.

Rather than admit she was nervous about being out of her comfort zone, she criticized her surroundings.

Um, could I relate? Hell yes!

And suddenly, for the first time ever, I felt utterly willing to take advantage of all the cottage has to offer. I put on my bathing suit, lubed myself with sunscreen and perched a billowy hat on my head (to protect my delicate sensibilities).

Properly attired, I offered my hand to N.

I was going to face my fears and jump in that lake. Would she join me?

The first few steps of boggy, mushy, slimy lake bottom did nothing to entice us farther. We traded “ewwws” and joked about turning around.  We had a choice.

I chose “yes!” I was going to join my daughters and husband, already out frolicking in the lake. Was N coming with me?

Yes, yes she was! We jumped!

And splashed.

And had the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

We laughed and giggled and tubed and boated our way through the day. And this mom (me!) even went for a solo swim, up and down the lakefront. Ava was shocked, shouting, “I never thought I’d see my mom swimming in this lake. Never.”

I’m grateful I got to surprise my kids and show them a new side of me. I surprised myself, too — old dog, new tricks and all that.

In that moment, I felt like an Olympic athlete, facing my fears and confronting my old attitudes. I was bursting with hope – hope that with a little support, I could change many old beliefs and self-limitations and open myself up to joy and new adventures. That’s the life I want to live and the model I want to provide for our girls.

And here’s a huge shoutout to N – once she jumped, she never looked back! And that girl knows how to have fun!

She’s a brave young girl, and I’m grateful for her loving guidance. I couldn’t have done it without her!

We had a wonderful visit to the cottage this year. Of course, this could have been a momentary lapse of sanity on my part. I’ll let you know next year.

When was the last time you took a risk and tried something you’ve been avoiding? How did it work out for you?

I’m participating in Melanie Crutchfield’s Blog Relay for Hope. I was handed the Relay Baton by the inimitable Kristin Mae at Abandoning Pretense. Be sure to check out both of these wonderful women!

I’d like to invite Outlaw Mama, Welcome to the Motherhood, Mom in the Muddle and The Fierce Diva Guide to Life to take the Baton and write a post about Hope.

Here are the instructions:

Step 1: Write a blog post about hope & publish it on your blog.
Step 2: Invite one (or more!) bloggers to do the same.
Step 3: Link to the person who recruited you (me, in this case) at the top of the post, and the people you’re recruiting at the bottom of the post.

Melanie Crutchfield will be holding “Closing Ceremonies” around August 10 and will gather up little snippets from people who wrote about hope, so make sure you link back to her as the originator of the relay.

Thanks for reading!