Falling In Love with My Life Again

A friend recently shared her favorite advice for keeping her marriage strong. Her method doesn’t involve sexting or Kegels or kinky sex positions. Instead, whenever she’s feeling disillusioned in her marriage, she literally walks outside of her home and looks in the window at her husband, as if she’s getting a glimpse of a stranger’s life.

While I suspect she’s a wannabe voyeur, she swears this technique helps her fall in love with her husband again.

At first, this exercise sounded like a lot of work to me, what with leaving the house and all, but after a particularly difficult afternoon with my own family, I needed to look at my life with new eyes, so I took her advice.

I stepped out our back door and slammed it as hard as I could, enjoying both the dull thump of door rejoining frame and the brittle rattle of wooden blinds bouncing off the adjacent window.

The incessant hum of the nearby air conditioners provided a cocoon of white noise, the ideal backdrop for my peeping-tom activities. The warm mid-September air still held traces of summer’s musky scent, like the lingering smell of sunscreen on skin after a shower.

I counted to ten, willing myself to forget every pre-existing frustration with my family before looking through the kitchen window.

As the late afternoon sunlight cast stripes on his lean face, I watched a man with a freshly shorn crew cut and soft crinkles around his eyes slicing a cheese pizza into small squares. The man had an easy looseness about him as he moved through the kitchen pouring milk into plastic tumblers and piling grapes in a bowl, abiding by the five-second rule on dropped food.

Two young girls, years apart in age and build, played separately across the room.

The younger child, wild brown curls tumbling across her face, appeared to be playing school. Looking up over the edge of a clipboard, she cocked her head and paused for an answer from imaginary pupils before drawing a red check mark on her notebook.

The older girl sprawled on a couch nearby reading a book, her long legs wrapped around a striped pillow. While she read, she fidgeted her toes to remove the bright pink socks covering her feet, then threw them at the younger girl, hitting her on the head and launching a firestorm of muted screams.

Moments later, when the family gathered around the counter for pizza, I wondered what the man was saying to earn his children’s rapt attention. (Perhaps he was making up a story about a strange woman who skulks around looking into people’s windows?)

The father pulled his fingers back and blew on the tips as he divided the steaming slices onto three plates. (Three? I resisted the urge to knock on the window and remind him to save me some pizza or never see me naked again.)

He helped the younger girl cut her pizza into small bites and gently brushed a sticky curl off her cheek. The older girl tapped the younger one on the shoulder and pointed down the hall, snatching a piece of pizza off her sister’s plate when she wasn’t looking.

The younger girl, bug-eyed with anger, curled her lips into an Edvard Munch-worthy scream. Even enraged, this child with spindly arms and an unusually wide mouth was strangely adorable, reminding me of a hairier version of E.T. And from a detached distance, the older girl’s actions seemed more of an awkward, playful attempt at connection rather than as mean-spirited instigation.

The father walked around the counter to give both girls a hug, stealing pizza off his older daughter’s plate and eliciting a stream of playful screams and giggles.

I glimpsed my smile reflected in the window and felt a surge of gratitude for this spirited bunch. Mission accomplished.

They're trouble but they're all mine.

They’re trouble but they’re all mine.

Strangers On a Street

I was the sort of kid who spent afternoons playing with dolls on the grass, utterly focused in my own imaginary world. That’s how David snuck up on me that day.

Although our houses faced each other on Westover Street, per some unspoken rule, David and I never crossed over, each playing only in our respective front yards.

We’d gone to school together since kindergarten, but our taste in toys separated us as surely as our mothers’ dislike for each other.

“The only time that woman talks to me is to brag about her kids,” I overheard my mom tell my dad one evening. “If I have to listen one more time to how ‘exceptionally gifted’ David is, I’m going to scream!”

All I knew is that David spent hours marching his GI Joe dolls up and down the thick branches of the oak trees dotting his front yard. He never played with other kids, and he never said a word to me.

But that day was different. Even the air smelled wrong, like a mixture of damp towels and rotten eggs.

As I played on the grass, making Barbie kiss Ken again and again, David appeared, towering over me, blocking the sun.

“Wanna see something cool?” he said.

Startled, I jumped up, wiping grass off my knobby knees. David seemed wild and unexpectedly animated, his flat black hair in tangles and his mouth contorted in an unusually toothy grin.

“No, thanks,” I said, clenching my eyes shut as I bent down to pick up Barbie. I felt both excited and scared, unsure what to make of this new version of my typically somber neighbor.

“You don’t have to touch it. It won’t hurt you,” he said.

As I opened my eyes, my scream stuck in my throat, like it did in nightmares when an unknown danger approached and my voice wouldn’t work.

David’s cupped hand cradled the ugliest creature I’d ever seen. Its red protruding eyes stared into my own bulging browns.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“My dad says these 17-year cicadas are gonna be everywhere in a few days,” David said. “This is the first cicada on our block, and I found it.”

“No way,” I said, a swell of defensiveness tempering my fear. “I bet we have way more of those ugly bugs in our yard than you do.”

David shrugged his shoulders and walked away, murmuring quietly to himself.

I felt confused and angry. How dare he come over here to brag!

I spent the rest of the afternoon searching unsuccessfully for my own cicadas, hoping to best David while simultaneously praying to never see those bulging red eyes again.

Over the next several weeks, as the cicadas invaded every crevice of our neighborhood and we grew intimately familiar with these mysterious creatures, I silently watched David from my side of the street quietly marching GI Joes up and down the tree trunks in his yard. I never again saw his face light up with such pure excitement. And he never crossed over to our yard again.

Place Your Bets: The “L” Word

Cuddled on the couch with my boyfriend, his sturdy chest a pillow for my head, I was enjoying a lazy Sunday morning reading the The New York Times and licking Cinnabon frosting residue from my fingertips. Sedated by the sunshine and carb overdose, I felt all shades of happy, the two of us the picture of young, uncomplicated love.

Life was good. My new job was proving to be challenging and promising, my relationship of four months, steady and fun, and most importantly, my previously too tight jeans, loose and comfortable, the result of a bonus new relationship weight loss. I had it all.

“I’ve read this article on Iraq invading Kuwait twice, and I have no idea what I just read,” I said.

“I told you Cinnabons were dangerous. All that sugar is rotting your brain cells,” he replied.

“Do you even know where Kuwait is?” I said.

“I did before I ate those two buns.”

Laughing, I enjoyed his warm embrace and scratchy day-old beard on my cheek.

“God, I love you!” I said.

I gasped aloud as his body stiffened and my breathing stalled. Did I just say that out loud?

Several moments passed as I registered the horror of my words. Denied an exhale, my lungs burned and the hairs on my arms stood up in declarations of danger.

Maybe he hadn’t heard me.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Oh, he heard. Shit!

My mental tailspin was as immediate and unstoppable as a bullet tearing through flesh. I’d done it – used the “L” word first. It was a rookie mistake, and I no longer qualified as a rookie.

“I meant to say, ‘I love this.’ This. Spending  Sundays with you. This,” I stammered. My face grew red as my discomfort expanded in lockstep with my lie. The moment for me to shut up was right then.

“I love this too,” he said, his tone imperceptible to my ear.

The sound of blood rushing in my head blocked out everything except the wall-rattling, soul-jarring noise of the El train rumbling past my apartment at its appointed quarter-hour. I couldn’t turn around, couldn’t look at him. If I’d had a bookie or any savings, I would have placed a substantial bet then and there on the outcome of our relationship.

Hey, Ace, put ten grand on Over Within a Month to win, place and show.

Place Your Bets! Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Place Your Bets!
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Instead, I erupted in uncontrollable giggles, either from lack of oxygen or complete humiliation. Or both.

Without turning to face him, my back still against his chest, I announced, “Yes, I said I love you, and now that it’s out of my mouth, I want to take it back. But I can’t. So deal with it.”

His response? A deep laugh and a bear hug.

There, I thought. Now we can move on. Right?

I would have lost my shirt on Over Within a Month. Turns out, Two Weeks was the winning bet.

Gift Finding Vs. Fault Finding

The other night in Florida, out to dinner with my husband’s siblings at a popular oceanfront restaurant, we encountered an uber friendly, highly inquisitive (read drunk and obnoxious) gentleman in the open-air lobby.

A Left Coast native, he was intrigued by our Midwestern lives and long-term marriages and peppered us with probing questions.

After one too many inquiries, I checked out of the conversation and focused on more important things, like what sides I would order for dinner (corn bread and baked potato) and what the odds are of being eaten by a shark if I went into the ocean with a bleeding cut on my leg (according to Google, 1 in 100,000,000).

When I resurfaced, I caught the end of this conversation:

Obnoxious Dude (pointing to my sister-in-law’s husband):  So … you were college sweethearts. Why did you end up marrying this guy?

Sister-in-Law:  He made me laugh, had a good job and a great head of hair.

Obnoxious Dude:  Sounds like you made a good choice. And what do you bring to the relationship?

Sister-in-Law:  I’m very good looking.

After laughing at my sister-in-law’s cheeky response, I started thinking about how I would answer that question – what do I bring to my relationship?

While I am also very good looking, I’m usually more willing to point out my shortcomings (bossy, short-tempered, martyr-ish) than my gifts.

Photo courtesy of http://www.miscfinds4u.com

Coincidentally, a good friend and spiritual mentor had suggested I spend some time during our vacation making a list of all the gifts I have to offer, all the wonderful qualities that make me, me.

After resisting her suggestion for days (and knowing I was still at least 30 minutes away from that corn bread), I started making a list in my head at the restaurant.

The first few were easy:  funny, loving, warm hearted.

I quickly added honest, responsible and persistent.

After those, the going got harder:  organized, compassionate and friendly led to sensible, hard working, good speller.

Blah, blah, blah – in my head, all of these attributes added up to B-O-R-I-N-G!

Where were sexy, exotic and impertinent? Why weren’t unpredictable, brazen and audacious on my list? (And where’s a good Thesaurus when you need one?!)

The next day, when I called my friend to share my insights, she relayed to me a story from the Talmud (I’m paraphrasing here) about a man who upon his death tells God, “I’m sorry I wasn’t more like Moses.” God replies, “I’m just sorry you weren’t more like you!”

Listening to this story, something shifted in me.

I’m tired of fault-finding and wishing I were different instead of owning all the glory and wonder that is me. My friend helped me realize that instead of changing anything about me, I want to own, value and even celebrate everything that is me – my strength, honesty, courage, confidence, earnestness, authenticity and big spirit-ness.

I already have all the qualities I long for and admire in other people, some only need more exercise to reach their full potential, like the ab muscles I’ve neglected over the past several years.

I’m likely to relapse into fault finding, so I need fellow travelers on this gift-finding journey. Are you with me?

What attributes of yours will you celebrate today?

Guess Who’s Having a One-Year Blog Anniversary?

I planned to write a wise, funny yet gripping one-year blog anniversary post featuring a riveting celebrity-type interview (think Vanity Fair or Oprah Magazine) of me (playing the celebrity) by my daughters (playing the adoring interviewers). Here’s how that worked out:

Plan A:  The Celebrity Interview-Style Post

Me:  “Ava, it’s time for the interview. What questions do you want to ask me about blogging for my one-year anniversary post?”

Ava (9 yo):  “What’s your favorite subject to write about?”

Me:  “Great question! I love writing about the lessons I learn from you and Rhys about …”

Ava:  “Mom, the right answer is ‘Ava.'”

Me:  “I love to write about you, honey!”

Ava:  “Good. Are we done yet? I don’t have any more questions.”

Me:  “None? Don’t you want to ask me what I love about blogging or when I started writing or what I wanted to be when I was a little kid?”

Ava:  “No. I really want to go back to reading my book.”

Me:  “Okay … Rhys, honey. You know how I told you it’s my one-year blogging birthday. What questions do you want to ask me?”

Rhys (4 yo):  “What is three plus three?”

Me:  “Six. What else?”

Rhys:  “That’s all, mama. You did great!”

###

Plan B:  Interview Myself (with some questions I stole from a celebrity interview in Oprah Magazine.)

Best Childhood Memory:  Jumping off our home’s front stoop and biting through both sides of my tongue. It didn’t really hurt, and I still remember all the sympathy, ice cream and Italian ice I scored.

Best Childhood Memory (not involving injury or copious amounts of blood):  My mom’s homemade chocolate/strawberry/whipped cream birthday cakes. Every year for decades. The best.

Best Childhood Memory (not involving injury or copious amounts of blood or food):  Let me get back to you on this one …

Best Hidden Talent:  Holding it in. But I’m working on it.

Best Karaoke Song:  Santa Baby (I can’t carry a tune, but when I turn on my pout-y, entitled gold digger persona, ain’t nobody got nothin’ on me.)

Best Surprise:  Feeling increasingly nauseous while in a theatre watching the movie Rabbit Proof Fence with my husband in late 2002, rushing to the nearest drug store for a pregnancy test and finding out we were unexpectedly pregnant with our first child. That and this red tandem bicycle.

gift fail, tandem bicycles, romantic gestures, inexpiable gifts

My Second Best Surprise

Most Memorable Holiday Moment:  Christmas 2002:  Telling our families that we were pregnant with Ava. I wrapped a book, “The Expectant Father,” and gave it to Mike to open in front of my family on Christmas Eve, then rewrapped and presented it to him again on Christmas Day with his family.

Best Escape:  Going to Costco or Target by myself. Or perhaps you meant travel? New York City. Or anywhere I can walk/sightsee/people watch with my husband or dear friends, be inspired by great art and theatre and get a massage.

Best Keepsake:  Curls from my daughters’ first haircuts and the many blankets and sweaters my mom lovingly knit for both girls.

Best Attribute:  Willingness to own my side of the street (eventually)

I Never Miss an Episode of:  The Good Wife with my husband (And we all know what kind of trouble that causes.)

Best Parenting Tip:  When in doubt, call 911.

Best Mom Skill:  Calling 911

I’m Proud of My Kids For:  Expressing all their feelings, speaking up for themselves and knowing & asking for what they want (I didn’t say I always like it, but …)

Most Prized Possession:  Other than my laptop for digital photos, this goose (which I am now aware is, in fact, a duck). I’ll write the story someday, but until then, I’ll tell you this goose/duck went with us to the hospital for both of our daughters’ births.

Duck, Duck, Goose

Duck, Duck, Goose

Anything Else You’d Like to Add:  On the one-year anniversary of A Teachable Mom, I’m beyond grateful for the love, acceptance and inspiration you all have shown me this past year. Thank you!

–As told to me by me.

Xo,

A Teachable Mom

And That’s Why God Created Doctors

Where did I get the idea that as a mother I have to be an unmitigated expert at everything?

I blame Google.

rottenecard_43485192_qy9rp33mqf

I’m honored to be guest posting over at The Mommy Mess today talking about our family’s latest trip to the emergency room, our third in the last six months. A veritable trifecta! (Surely we now qualify for the hospital’s frequent visitor program. I’m expecting discounts on medical services, complimentary valet parking and a commemorative plaque in the lobby.)

If you haven’t been following our ER saga, you can catch up here and here.

And if you aren’t familiar with the talented Adrienne Bolton and her touching, funny and poignant blog, The Mommy Mess, get thee over there pronto. You won’t be sorry.

Here’s the link again:  And That’s Why God Created Doctors.

The Mommy Mess

My Big, Wide Road …

Do you ever find yourself obsessing over decisions, turning seemingly small choices into life-altering ones? Does the entire future of your existence ever rest on choosing the right summer camp for your kids or picking the perfect nail polish color for your not-often-enough pedicure? No? Just me? Apparently all of you have actually learned not to sweat the small stuff? Miraculous!

If, like me, you lean perfectionistic and tend to talk to yourself less than lovingly (like this perhaps?) …

bad-decision

head over to Christine Carter’s place, The Mom Cafe, to read the rest of my guest post, My Big, Wide Roadwhere I talk about tightrope walking and what happened when I made all “wrong” choices for a day.

Christine is such a loving, inspiring woman and a talented, generous writer. I always leave The Mom Cafe feeling uplifted and encouraged. I’m confident you will too. Enjoy!