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.

Falling In Love With Boys

I haven’t spent much time with little boys. As one of three sisters with two nieces and two daughters, I’ve never even changed a boy’s diaper. So when I volunteered at my daughter’s preschool for Water Day, and the teachers assigned me to the boys’ group, I had no idea what to expect.

I have never seen so many penises in one place.

As I walked into the classroom, ten naked little boys jumped, whirled and rocketed across the colorful alphabet carpet like firecrackers exploding inside a box of Cracker Jack.

I didn’t know where to put my eyes.

Is it wrong to look at their little penises? I wondered, feeling as uncomfortable as if I’d wandered into a secret fraternity ritual.

I pretended to search for lip balm in my purse, digging like it was an oversized diaper bag instead of an envelope-sized clutch.

“Mary,” the teacher said. “Mary?”

I turned and registered the slight smirk on her face. “Just grab one and help him get his clothes on,” she said. Why was I waiting for her to add “Keep your eyes to yourself, perv?”

So I looked. Nine circumcised, one not.

What the hell is wrong with me? I wondered. First I don’t want to look at their penises, now I’m cataloging them for future reference. Talk about pervy!

But instead of feeling depraved, once I looked, I fell in love. Little boys are freaking adorable! Here were ten exuberant little people, so proud of their nakedness. So unwilling to get dressed. The glee and unfettered energy in that room could have powered the Northern Hemisphere for a week.

As I kneeled on the faded carpet, eye level with the sea of nakedness, a quiet, brown-eyed boy handed me his underwear in a plastic baggie marked “Henry” as two boys nearby danced a jig, their knees and naked bits keeping time with their giggles.

I held Henry’s tiny tightie-whities as he carefully stepped in, one foot then the other, his small hand resting on my head for balance. His and mine.

“I love water day,” one boy shouted, setting off a chorus of “I love” everything from popsicles to lightsabers.

“I love my penis!” a boy yelled, galloping around the room like a cowboy on crack.  The room devolved into happy chaos as I stared in awe, grateful I wasn’t in charge because all I could think to say was “May the force be with you.”

I could have sat there all day soaking up their contagious energy. Instead, I packed up the wet towels and swimsuits, feeling grateful for this glimpse inside a boy’s world.

That night, as I watched my husband undress for bed, I wondered what he must have been like as a little boy and if he ever wishes we could add a boy to our brood. I know I do.

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.

Life Patterns

Our four year old is learning about patterns in preschool and beginning to notice the many patterns of life all around her. Seemingly overnight, our budding student (who has yet to embrace the useful pattern of play, play, clean up) is attuned to the various patterns she witnesses in nature, in her artwork, in books and in our daily routines and interactions.

“Mom, did you know that the sun has a pattern?” she asked recently, her mouth full of Goldfish crackers. “It rises in the East and sets in the West. And when we get up, get dressed, and brush our teeth in the morning, that’s a pattern too!”

At first I was impressed by her keen observation skills, now I’m panicked that she’ll pick up on some of my less-than-flattering patterns; ones I’d rather keep under wraps, or least out of her classroom. I can picture it now:

Rhys:  “Teacher, I have some patterns to share with the class!

Teacher:  “Great! Go ahead, Rhys.”

Rhys:  “Small, small, big. That’s the pattern of bumps on my mom’s ass chin.”

Rhys:  “She also yells at us every morning for running late. And throws away our artwork and stuff without asking. Those are patterns, right?”

Teacher:  “They sure are, Rhys. Thanks for sharing!”

Before Rhys has the following conversation with certain people, “Did you know that every time you call, my mom lets the answering machine pick up? It’s a pattern,” I’ve decided to feed her some patterns I made up am okay with her sharing:

How about:

life patterns, patterns of life, behavior patterns

Yesterday as we were cuddling on the couch, I reminded Rhys of two of my favorite parenting patterns:

“Rhys, did you know that my reading to you every afternoon is a pattern? Our daily dance breaks are a pattern, too.”

“I guess so,” she said, staring at me. “Mom, I see a pattern on your face. You have crinkles next to your eyes. Short, short, long. Short, short, long.”

“Those, my love, are called smile lines. And they’re my best feature.”

Smiles Lines. My best feature.

Smiles Lines. My best feature.

Maybe I’d be smart to steer her toward some of my husband’s patterns instead …

What patterns of yours do you hope your children don’t notice?

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?