If You’re Happy & You Know It …

While I’m tramping around Florida vacationing with my family, I’m re-running this post from last year detailing our family’s Spring Break exploits. Not much has changed this year … but there’s still time. Enjoy!

… Drag Your Feet:

Does anyone else find it hard to relax on vacation? It likely won’t come as a surprise to hear that I have a hard time relaxing and easing into the rhythm of unfettered free time. I say unfettered but as any parent knows, vacationing with two pint-sized people is hardly the definition of carefree bliss. Our vacations are a lot like weekend family time at home (albeit with more sunscreen): fun family activities intermingled with standard-issue parenting/care-giving tasks. On vacation, we aim to spend more time slathering the girls with sunscreen than actually playing in the sun.

Somehow our attitudes and dispositions followed us to Florida (along with enough luggage to clothe a small nation). And for the first several days of our trip, I found it hard to relax. Not that I had expectations or anything? Moi?

While I thought I signed up for the Von Trapp family vacation (picture-perfect family cruising through Florida, singing our hearts out and casting loving glances at one another circa The Sound of Music), apparently I booked the Modern Family version (overpacked, clueless, loveable family bickering, crying and vomiting across Florida). Who do I talk to at Expedia about this?

…Have Fun, Damn It:

For the first few days of our trip, my need to control morphed from accomplishment mode to memory-making mode: “Family, it is time to make some memories! Have fun. Now.”

I was scared to let go of orchestrating our “good time,” fearing we’d sit in our condo rental for a week staring at each other (our apathy interspersed with lively bickering bouts, of course). Once I let go, I experienced my favorite Florida memory so far: watching in awe arm-in-arm with Ava as a flock of pelicans dive bombed for fish and a mom and baby dolphin danced in the ocean off Naples Pier. Pure bliss.

… Take a Nap:

This trip has shown me it’s hard for me to be a fun, engaged mom for more than ten minutes at a time without a nap. Ava brought along her massive paper doll collection (it was that or the entire American Girl doll contingent). And while Southwest Airlines is generous in its baggage allowances, it did balk at giving Samantha and Kanani (Ava’s dolls) their own seats and carryon bags.

When we’ve played with the paper dolls on this trip, for some reason I’ve been assigned the dog character. After pretending to pee on everything in sight (a YouTube-quality giggle maker with my girls), my role has been to follow Ava and Rhys’ characters around and not say anything. Ever. Not exactly the Tony-award winning role my agent usually negotiates for me.

As any dog knows, when in doubt, take a nap. And nap I have. Apparently, I’m getting the hang of this relaxing thing. I hope to find some balance between constant motion and comatose before it’s time to go home.

… Avoid Your Husband:

In addition to my expectations of familial bliss on this vacation, I also imagined romance, intimacy and connection with Mike beyond our wildest dreams. Months of missed connections at home were supposed to magically transform into lustful, heartfelt interactions on the Paradise Coast. Yet, I’m finding it hard to connect with him. I’d like to blame the kids (an easy out), but really, it’s just hard for me to connect. Period. My preferred state is fight or avoid. Apparently, the saying ringing intermittently in my head “would you rather be right or be happy?” doesn’t apply to me. Right? Happy?

Mike told me the other day that he didn’t find my pissy self much fun to be with. Harrumph. And ouch. (And please. We all know my pissy self is nothing if not fun!). After first getting defensive, I asked him to tell me what he was feeling rather than what he was thinking. He owned that he was feeling lonely. Hey, me too!!! Lonely! That’s what this feeling is! A hug, a kiss, a breakthrough. We’ve got this connection thing down! Check “connect with Mike” off my vacation to do list! Seriously, while our connections are messy and imperfect, I’m grateful we know how to come back together.

… Enjoy the Moment:

I’ve not felt like writing all week, yet I’ve had a hard time letting myself off the hook. A real writer would write while on vacation, I’ve admonished myself. Shut the fuck up, I’ve answered. And when I finally let go and decided not to blog until I got back home, I woke up this morning happy, relaxed and itching to write. Go figure! And then, go home.

What do you think? Fill in the blank: If you’re happy and you know it, __________________.

Spring Break, Family Vacations, Family Memories

My Valentine’s Day Post

Don't You Forget About MeI hate to be left out of anything. Whether that something is anything I really want to do is beside the point. Everyone in blogland is posting something about Valentine’s Day today. I don’t have any surefire libido-revving recipes, any devastatingly romantic plans for the day or any genius tips for surviving as a single person on this emotionally-fraught holiday.

Instead, today I have a raging head cold and the focusing-ability of a gnat. And a husband who is out of town. So what will I do? I’ll write something Valentine’s Day related anyway. Cause I hate to be left out.

My need to be included in all things is causing me trouble today. Apparently, my sense of self is fragile. If I’m not included in every party or outing or get together, I get itchy and scratchy and anxious. Anxiety is like bed bugs – nipping at you when you’re most vulnerable and expensive to eradicate. (And what could be more romantic in a Valentine’s Day post than mentioning bed bugs?)

But when I am included in everything, I more often than not feel overwhelmed and anxious (see a pattern here? If not, I’ll draw you a diagram.) I get resentful and ornery when I have too many commitments.

The flip side to my need to be included is that I feel guilty if I plan or attend something and other friends aren’t included. And I believe I have to protect their feelings by not mentioning the plans that I do have. For example, my family gets together every six weeks with two other families for something we lovingly call Suppa Club. I love Suppa Club and wouldn’t change a thing about it other than my guilt.

Every time we have one scheduled and a non-Suppa-Club friend asks what we’re doing, I try to avoid the question and feel guilty that we haven’t included non-Suppa-Club friend in Suppa Club. (If your head is now throbbing after reading that last paragraph, maybe you too can take a sick day? You’re welcome.)

When I am included, I feel sad for those who are not. When I’m not, I feel suicidal. How’s that for a win-win for everyone?

I could understand this anxiety better if I were nine or ten years old and juggling a variety of social plans like our pre-tween daughter, Ava. She has more social plans than Lindsay Lohan has citations. She doesn’t enjoy not being included, but she sure doesn’t feel guilty if someone is excluded. She moves on and enjoys whatever is in front of her.

Last weekend she hopped from play date with friend A to playdate with friend B and told both of them about her plans. (Horrors! What if their feelings get hurt? I can’t even write their names in the unlikely event either of them/their moms will read this post!)

Of course I realize everyone can’t be included in everything. Nor would I want everyone to be. (Other than me.)

BUT, I want everyone to want me to be part of everything. Is that wrong? Even if I don’t want to go and would feel resentful having to show up, I want to be asked.

How old am I you ask? Exactly. My brain gets it, but my vulnerable ego hasn’t quite caught up.

Last week, I asked a dear friend to join a writing group that she’s been part of for the past several months. I wasn’t clear in my own mind whether or not I really wanted to be part of it; I just knew I didn’t want to be excluded.

She lovingly and honestly said “no.” She admitted she didn’t want me to be part of that group, but was willing and interested in doing something separate with me. I initially felt devastated and ashamed; the message in my head that I wasn’t good enough to be part of her group. After processing those fun-for-everyone feelings, I moved on to a different point of view.

Her bravery rocked my world. I am so fucking lucky to have grownups in my life, people who will tell me the truth so they won’t have to resent me and distance themselves from me later on. I feel closer to this friend than ever and grateful she’s modeling sane, honest behavior for me.

Fragile ego? Check. Thankfully, I’m aware of my narcissism  and am willing to embrace it by telling everyone who will listen.

So, if you’re having a dinner party or going to an event without me, please make sure I know about it so I can feel crappy and jealous and loser-ish. It will be our version of Immersion Therapy (and infinitely quicker and cheaper than the regular kind).

What marvelous plans are you withholding from me?

Turns Out, Winning Is Everything!

After last weekend’s Super Bowl, while everyone else is talking about the implications of Beyonce’s pole dancing performance, I’m left wondering if the San Francisco 49ers knew they weren’t only competing for money, fame and a gaudy, bedazzled ring, but for their very lives.

Research shows that Nobel Prize winners live an average of two years longer than their equally brilliant fellow nominees. Similarly, Academy Award winners live nearly four years longer than other actors. (Hmmm, perhaps the added longevity has something to do with walking across a stage?)

I'll take two!Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I’ll take two!
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Winners outlive losers. Had the 49ers known this fact, would they have played differently? Granted, available research says nothing about Super Bowl winners.  And with the advanced dementia so many football players will have to live with as they age, perhaps they don’t want extra years. But I do!

I’m getting old. Four extra years could make all the difference in my life. I want to be alive (and moderately alert) to meet my grandkids without my daughters having to get knocked up in high school.

So far I’ve been a winner in life. I have a loving, hard-headed husband, two amazing, healthy children, a nearly fully-functioning mind, and the financial means to afford therapy for those parts of my brain predisposed to short circuiting. These wins should buy me a couple of years at least. But what if that’s not enough?

Just when I was beginning to believe that winning isn’t everything, that it’s worth it to show up, play my heart out and contribute, win or not, I find out nope, winning not only feels better, it adds years to your life.

I’m in search of some extra years, stat!  If winning will bring ‘em, get out of my way.

Does it matter if my opponents are formidable or would any wins work? I’m not above getting a win off of a child or a friend. If major award winners live up to four extra years, how long would I get if I beat my kids at Twister? What about Chess? Would my extra time if I won a Yeah Write competition be measured in days? Weeks? Oh, the glory of life!

Yes, winning these contests would mean I’d be stealing years away from my less fortunate family and friends. But those losers have more time to spare. Mine is a life or death mission. Now that I know winning imparts the benefit of extra life, move over people. You’re on notice.

What’s going to give me the most life for my effort?

The chances of me winning a Nobel Prize or Academy Award are slim at this point. (Though I am open to embracing either of those distinctions. And I’ve already found the perfect dress.) In lieu of a Pulitzer Prize jackpot, I’ll have to piece together additional life by winning smaller competitions. Here’s my plan:

  • Secure Publishing Contract = 6 months per book
  • Conduct Media Tours for my books:  National Media Outlets = 1 month per; Local Media Outlets = 1 week per
  • Publish Magazine/Online Articles =  1 week per
  • Win “Freshly Pressed” Distinction =  1.5 days per
  • Win at anything against my husband =  10 hours per
  • Win at board games and hide ‘n seek against children =  2 hours per

Am I not thinking grand enough? National Book Award? Oprah Book Club 2.0? New York Times Bestseller List? I’m feeling younger already!

Seeing that my life depends on it, perhaps I should start writing my award-winning novel … In the meantime, anyone up for a friendly game of tag?


PTSD By Proxy

Ever since we built the staircase in our house, I’ve been afraid one of our daughters would fall and get hurt. I never envisioned Mike would fall. I’d rather it was me. Mike is supposed to be invincible. Thankfully, at least he has a hard head.

I’m scared for his brain, his lovely, thoughtful, warm, loving brain, and I want to be up his ass about resting and recuperating. I’ve flip flopped between telling him what to do, policing his activities and leaving him be.

I’ve had no shortage of opinions on Mike’s recovery, and I’ve been willing to share my hard won medical knowledge, gleaned from too many years of watching medical dramas. I feel like a doctor, but as far as I know no one has bestowed on me a medical degree, and Mike is less likely to listen to the wisdom I’ve collected trolling the Internet than he is to his doctors. (The ones who actually completed medical school. As far as I know.)

If I were in his shoes, what would I like? To live my life. To make my own choices. More pain meds.

Mike isn’t a child, and I may want to consider not treating him like one. Perhaps it is time to back off and focus on my own recovery from the trauma of seeing him so vulnerable and hurt.

My emotions don’t match up to Mike’s current state. My husband is fine, getting stronger every day. Can you say “delayed reaction?”

Our daughters have been extra emotional lately (and that’s saying a lot), and I have the patience of a gnat (one in need of more antidepressants). I firmly believe every spouse or partner of an injured person should be given a prescription for the same level of pain medication that the patient is taking. An automatic partner prescription. I’ll take some valium too.

Who knew a loved one’s accident would give me PTSD? I have many of the symptoms (pieced together from every crack website I could find):

  • Reliving the Event – Every time Mike moans or coughs, I think he’s dying. If he’s too quiet, I think he’s dead. Isn’t that normal?
  • Avoiding Situations that Remind You of the Event – Well, I don’t want our girls anywhere near the staircase and I want to move to a nice, flat ranch house. Stat. Does that count?
  • Feeling Numb – no luck on this one – I’m feeling plenty thankyouverymuch.
  • Feeling Overly Emotional – Define “overly.” My crying jags feel so refreshing, even though they come over me in inconvenient places (read grocery stores and preschool classrooms) and often scare small children and animals.
I wish I looked like this crying ...

I wish I looked like this crying …

Instead I look more like this. Scare any small children lately?

Instead I look more like this.

  • Feeling Keyed Up – ding, ding, ding – I am on the lookout for danger and am feeling on guard and easily startled (See “Reliving the Event” above). My daughters are taking advantage of my over-reactivity by making loud noises just to see me jump. Thus my unrequited need for valium. Apparently, deep breathing exercises are all I get.
  • Impulsive or Self-Destructive Behavior – I’m obsessed with finding a new pair of sunglasses. But that’s pretty standard for me. Does shopping for hours on Bluefly for a new party dress and shoes I don’t need count? How about my new found big screen TV obsession?
  • Diminished Appetite – Ok, here’s the problem. Why is it I never get the diminished appetite symptom? Of any illness? Even when I have the stomach flu, I want to eat. What does a girl have to go through to get a diminished appetite?

I’m not making light of PTSD, please believe me. Whether or not witnessing an accident like my husband’s contributes to a PTSD response, I am not qualified to say (though at times I convince myself I am).  However, I am struck by the backlash of emotions I’ve felt over the past several days after holding it together for my family during and in the days following Mike’s accident.

I’m grateful for the friends and family who have offered me a safe and comfortable place to fall while I’ve fallen apart. After several days of feeling the weight of my emotions, I am feeling more and more like my regular crotchety old self. For this, we’re all blessed.

And if I don’t have PTSD now, just wait until we get the shopping medical bills from this little shenanigan! I’ll especially appreciate paying for all those $15 boxes of tissues I snotted up in the hospital. I better go order another pair of shoes.

Be well!

What Happened to the Martyr He Married?

My husband returned last week from a three-night trip to Miami to watch his beloved Notre Dame football team get walloped by the unstoppable Crimson Tide.  Mike’s getaway left me the sole parent, a role I have played many times and one I typically milk for as much resentment as possible.

Mike is exceptionally good at making plans with friends for activities he enjoys. Whether arranging football weekends, golf outings or ski trips, Mike knows what he likes and what will bring him joy and connection. He makes both a priority in his life.

Until recently (read today) I’ve been exceptionally good at being a martyr. And a scorekeeper. Not a fulfilling combination in our marriage. (And certainly not a satisfying role for an intelligent, smoking hot woman in her prime.)

Here’s our scorecard:

Marriage, Relationships, Parenting Styles, Martyrdom, Football WidwoMike = 35 Mary = 3

Yes, I’m exaggerating. I’ve only taken one trip:  a weekend visit to New York City last June with a dear friend.

This disparity has been an issue in our marriage for years; ever since we were blessed with children. Our pattern looks like this:  Mike makes plans for a night or weekend away. I collect a chit for a future getaway.

And by collect I mean hoard. My chits are stacked to the ceiling and threatening to overtake our living space. The time never feels right for me to plan a solo adventure, so I save my chits for a future, better time. When will this magical “better time” occur? Perhaps when our young daughters are away at college?

Don’t get me wrong, we do a lot of activities together as a family and as a couple. From date nights to nights away, we tend to our marriage in ways big and small. But most of my time is family time. When it comes to making room for individual pursuits, I’ve lagged behind (hid behind?) my socially-engaged husband for years.

I believe I deserve my own time, but am afraid of using up my IOUs and never having more; afraid of committing to my own happiness. If I keep my adventures in the future, I’ll have something to look forward to – you know, when we’re 84 and living on a fixed income. Then I’ll make time. Woot, I’ll live it up!

While pragmatism can be a worthwhile asset, I don’t want to model martyrdom and deprivation for our daughters or teach them by example that only one person in a marriage gets to enjoy time away for fun and pleasure. And somehow resentment doesn’t look as good on me as I hoped.

I believe people are put in my life, by choice and by design, to teach me things and help me hit bottom on traits that don’t work for me anymore. Under that belief, Mike has been trying for years to teach me to grab what I want and enjoy every big, juicy bite of it, trusting that more is on its way.

I have a choice. I can resent my husband and be a victim (Option A) or learn from his example and plan my own time away (Option B).

Option A:  “What the fuck, Mike? Why do you get to go away on another boondoggle? You should be here with your family having fun, damn it.”

Option B:  “Have a great trip, Mike! Before you leave, let’s coordinate our calendars for next weekend because I’m going away with my girlfriends. You have the babysitters’ numbers if you need them. Wanna have sex before your flight?”

Which would you choose? Exactly.

Today I cashed in one of my chits and spontaneously planned my own weekend getaway with two girlfriends. For next weekend! Although I’m feeling squirmy, I’m proud of myself and excited to try on a new role in my family.

One concern:  without my regular martyrdom and resentment fix, who will I be? Time will tell, but next weekend, I’ll be the one sitting by a pool reading a book. You may not recognize me. But I bet I’ll be looking damn good.

Dude Write

Also linking up with the good-looking group of writers at Yeah Write. Come check us out.

Lessons Learned (Vol. Six)

Taking time away from blogging and my computer last week felt hard and wonderful.  As I’ve come to realize, this morning in fact, my relationship with blogging is a bit twisted. Exhibit A:  This conversation with my husband, Mike, as I started writing this post:

Me:  “Honey, what did I learn last week?”

Mike:  “How about that you and Ava are both afraid to talk to boys.”

Me:  “True. But I haven’t posted about that yet.”

Mike:  “Oh. So you don’t learn something until you post about it on your blog?”

Me:  “Exactly. Nothing actually exists until I post about it.”

Mike:  “You are what you blog.”

Me:  “You’re a genius!”

I spent a lot of time last week planning our upcoming trip to Disney World and focusing on my in-person relationships with my husband, kids and a few good friends. Although I didn’t post anything, I did learn some interesting lessons for upcoming posts:

  • Hosting dinner parties makes me twitchy.
  • Expressing anger and frustration with my husband and kids instead of at them feels pretty. damn. good.
  • Though I never would have believed it, after years of exercising alone, I’m loving group boot camp with the moms from my daughters’ school.
  • Planning a trip to Disney World is an intense, full-time job, one made exponentially harder when I insist this trip be the one-time highlight of my daughters’ childhood. Pressure, anyone?

While I didn’t read as many blog posts from others as I usually do, I learned plenty from the blog-o-sphere last week. Here’s a sampling:

  • Worried about the forthcoming Apocalypse (12/20/2012)? Missy from Literal Mom has some intriguing, unusual tips for preparing. Apparently, some people need to be encouraged to dance naked in their backyards on a regular basis. How is it possible people are only now learning the joys of this practice? (Literal Mom)

That’s me! What did you learn last week?

Happy Sunday!

Lessons Learned (Vol. Five)

I loved last week!

My candidate won. Our two daughters cuddled on the couch reading together every night with nary a fight. I asked for and received insightful support and feedback on my writing. I had several good hair days in a row. I won a writing award. And … wait, did you just read that? My post, Rushing Is the New Crack, won a writing award from Yeah Write!

Life is good.

Other Highlights:

  • While I’m fairly certain hurricanes aren’t prevalent in the Midwest, as a future precaution, I now know what not to do should one rip through Chicago any time soon. Thank you, Ice Scream Mama! (Ice Scream Mama)
  • Note to self:  do not admit to our pediatrician that we don’t own a thermometer. Who knew a lack of thermometer constitutes a parenting fail? Not this Mary, and not me. I’ve always thought the cheek to forehead method worked just fine! (Giving Up On Perfect)
  • Coco Puffs, Kool Aid and Mr. Salty Pretzel Twists, oh my! I’m not the only one who vividly and fondly remembers the food mascots of my youth. If you don’t remember, Angie’s got you covered with this memorable essay. (Childhood Relived)

Learn anything last week you’d like to remember? Or hope to forget? 

Happy Sunday!