Monday, January 25, 2016

Burying the Lede (Or How I Started Dating Again)

In journalism, "burying the lede" is not putting the most important point of the news in the first sentence of a story.

So. Fine. I won't bury the lede. I'll just get it out there right in front: I started dating someone. I think he's awesome. He's a ginger with a handsome beard. We are still in the giddy stage. We are probably nauseating when we're together. Just ask our children.


I didn't (and don't, literally as I'm writing this) know how to tell the blog world.

Except for a handful of posts about parenting or family life, I haven't been really big on sharing personal stuff on the blog.

I'd like to say that's because I'm all noble and sensitive and other people's lives are involved and I have to respect their privacy and (insert the ethics of that whole ball of wax here). Sometimes that's very true, but in this case it's highly fragrant horse shit. Probably. I think I'm just a big chicken. I'd rather talk about garage door replacements than (gulp) feelings. Gross.

Feelings about a boy? Even grosser.

I'll just look down at my own feet and blush while I talk. 

I hadn't dated for close to two and a half years. That was partly a conscious decision and partly easy-as-falling-off-a-log, because when you're a woman in your late forties and have a family to raise, the dating world doesn't exactly feel the tragic loss of you and come begging for you back.

If you're my age and the only free time you have is spent at the grocery store and in the school pick-up drive, one is not running into a ton of eligible dudes. Or any. If I had any additional free time, I didn't want an awkward coffee with a total stranger. I wanted a nap. Secondly, I knew myself well enough to realize my self-esteem, however sturdy, wasn't sturdy enough for the creepy and harsh evaluations that happen on dating websites.

Between not having anyone ask me out (see? Nobody's interested) and feeling just fine without anyone in my life (see? I don't need anybody), it seemed easy enough to just kick the idea of dating again on down the road. Indefinitely.

But being single and totally independent was beginning to be not so much a status as it was becoming an identity. An entrenched one. Maybe even a permanent one.

Why? I don't have a good answer. Maybe I felt like I had something to prove, that I was a Tough Girl, and could Handle My Life. That was the glossy magazine version. But maybe it was also part of keeping my hands so tightly on the steering wheel of my life that no new directions--meaning risky, uncontrollable, unforeseeable directions-- were possible. I'd decided this was how my life was going to be. It was predictable and safe. Deep down, I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about that.

Somewhere in the middle of all that emotional toughness/caution and October a guy named Tom asked me out. Without really thinking about it much one way or the other, I said yes.

I surprised myself more than I can really explain. Now, three months later, I am still dating the cute red-haired boy from homeroom class.

We've known each other a long time. Thirty-six years. Because our school assigned students to the same homeroom for the entirety of junior high, Tom and I spent time together every single day for three years beginning when we were twelve and thirteen years old.

It would make for a ridiculously adorable story if we held hands under the desks back then, or had a crush on each other, or something. But nope. We did not. We were homeroom classmates, friendly and good-natured ones. That was it.

In high school we had separate circles of friends and never had class together; we lost touch completely after graduation, only connecting again decades later on Facebook. Even then it remained platonic for many years, until now.

My memory of him from our youth is one of kindness, dependability, and personal integrity-- all the things that didn't seem to hold much interest when I was in high school and dating boys who were mainly about cigarettes, rusted-out Camaros, the Scorpions, and rebellion.

It was profoundly reassuring to rediscover those better traits in the grown man so many years later. Instead of a single awkward coffee with a total stranger, it has been one date after another where laughter and holding hands seem completely natural.

Just don't think for a minute this is a fairy tale, though. He's red-haired, and I'm Irish. We are passionate. About things like how much dishwasher soap is enough, apparently.

The relationship is clearly already in crisis. Or it's Wednesday. 

Perhaps the more realistic photo from that first selfie session is this one. I don't remember exactly what he'd just said, but it was equal parts funny.....and exasperating. I'm not sure whether I'm going to slug him in the arm but either way I have to stop laughing first, and he's obviously quite pleased with himself no matter what I decide.

In that respect, maybe it isn't so much different than junior high. It just took us 36 years to notice each other. But in the end that part doesn't matter so much. It has been worth the wait.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Closing a (New) Door on 2015

It's January 2016, but I have to go back to November 2015. Mid-November, actually, on an unseasonably warm weekend. 

Regular readers may remember that I spent a large part of our really $%^#-ing rainy summer of 2015 scraping, repairing, and painting the north side of my garage: 

This may have been the last time you saw it: 

There was still a purple door. A purple door that wasn't actually a proper exterior door, but an interior hollow-core closet door. A purple interior closet door that was rotting off its hinges and had a broken doorknob and had to be nailed shut to keep it shut. 

While my Dad and I had planned to get to it multiple times over the year, other things always got ahead of it, and we ran out of time. 

But in November we had a weirdly warm and gorgeous Saturday, I had some good help, and this happened: 

It's nothing fancy. Just a basic builder's grade steel exterior door. But with a window, because I wanted the option of a little more daylight in the garage. 

Honestly, I thought the gaping hole in the garage looked better than that purple door. 

While we were at it, we put the same kind of light fixture on the garage that had been installed on the front of the house a couple summers ago. I like consistency in that sort of thing. 

Here's an overexposed cell phone shot of that ugly purple door being carried out of my existence. And a clue. A clue to my help for this project, and uh, something new going on in my life. Or a someone new. A dude. Can you tell how bad I am at this? Anyway, more later, when I figure out how to write about something personal on a blog in a way that doesn't make me want to break out in hives. 

Finally, just before Christmas we got the door fitted with new trim, as the old was dry-rotted beyond saving. We primed it, but it still needs paint and a bit of caulk here and there. I took the photos mid-snowstorm!

And here's a corner view: 

Now a before: 

And after again: 

And as hardy as Midwesterners tend to be about their winters, that was the last of the outdoor carpentry until spring. We've been on a different, indoor project in the new year. That is, when I'm not fighting my urge to hibernate--pajamas, books, coffee, movies, naps. Balance in life is important, right? 

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Greetings 2016: Good Stuff Can Happen

This is what I posted on my personal Facebook page on the last night of 2015, while I was watching old episodes of Firefly with my 16-year-old and struggling to stay awake:

"The big happy lesson of 2015: not everything can be planned or should be, and really good stuff can happen if you let yourself go, let yourself walk straight into it. In 2016 I hope to keep walking straight into it. Happy New Year, everyone." 

It's true. I'm known as an over-thinker and by the time I get around to acting on anything in my life I've long had a well-thought-out plan with every step and every possible outcome of those steps considered. I'm really into heavily scripting my life. It feels safe. Improv feels dangerous. Terrifying, even.

And no, I'm not much fun at parties.

While I don't think it's a negative personality trait as a whole (super-sensible girls never end up in the wrong place at the wrong time and really, at my age that just sounds tiresome and expensive rather than exciting), there are some negative consequences to allowing careful planning to become paralyzing over-thought, not even counting the party thing.

I learned this last year that you can have everything so tightly planned and so rigidly decided that there's really not any room for.....anything much. Anyway not anything the way real life happens--messily, jumbled cares and joys, and without any guarantees.

Not only did it bring progress on my house to a standstill, me unable to make any decision at all let alone some big ones I've got looming out there on the horizon, it made me unable to set any new goals for anything else in my life, either. You can control yourself right out of any future, and by the middle of the year I was getting pretty close to that point.

This sounds like a depressing way to start the new year, doesn't it?

That's where the big happy lesson comes in.

I suppose it would be too big of a shame if the over-thinker carefully planned a moment to "let myself go, to let myself walk straight into" the good stuff that happened this fall. It did not happen that way. I'm still trying to figure out just what did happen, actually. All I really know is that I went the opposite direction than my plans, did it without much thought as to why, and now find myself in an entirely different place in the beginning of 2016 than where I thought I would be.

It's the reason blog posts have been non-existent for months. The over-thinker, ironically, is still trying to make some sense of it, even though it has been good stuff. What the hell is wrong with me? Old habits die hard, if at all.

Then again, I love so much where this is going, even if....and this is huge for me.... even if I didn't plan it down to the last detail.

I know I'm discussing this in huge generalities right now, and I hope readers will temporarily forgive me. I'm trying to grasp the edge of this the only way I know how--as a writer--and for that reason I'll be blogging more posts in January. Like I said, I'm going to keep walking straight into it. I'm going to let things happen in 2016. How about you?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Moms Don't Need the Gratitude Police

Everyone who is a mother has had this moment. Probably a lot of them.

Worn out with an endlessly fussy baby, non-stop toddler tantrums, grade-school homework revolt, or a morose and defiant teen, a mom vents to friends and family, or posts something to the modern-day confessional, Facebook.

Almost without fail at least one other mom, and often an entire guilt-inducing chorus of them, will make a comment that is some variation of this:

"Oh, you should cherish every day with your child, because eventually all those precious moments will be gone and you'll regret it. Count your blessings. You should be grateful!"

Honestly? Stop. No. Don't say this to other moms.

I've never been a huge fan of those who insist that a properly thankful attitude is the solution to every problem--or as I call them, the Gratitude Police-- but lately I've been more bothered by them than usual. Maybe because I know a lot of young moms right now and I feel protectively big-sisterish. Maybe because as the years have gone by (I've been a mom almost 21 years), the Gratitude Police keep showing up, and I'm tired of grimacing through their advice.

I've decided that "you should be grateful" isn't all that helpful. I think in a lot of cases it's not well-meant-- it's a form of passive aggression. In quite a few cases I think it does real harm.

In the first place, I'm generally of the opinion that any sentence that starts "you should...." is not going to be well-received by a woman who's had dried spit-up in her hair for three days straight. Nor should it be.

To anyone who shared their fears, frustrations, irritation, exhaustion, and bewilderment about mothering a child, regardless of whether it was on a minor or monumental scale, "you should be grateful" plays like a one-sentence lecture. Because that's what it is. A lecture on how you should be quiet about your feelings, and how your attitude is all wrong.  I don't call that empathy; I call it an an emotional shut-down.

And who said anyone was ungrateful? What a way to leap to the worst possible assessment of someone's character. The large majority of the time, moms are letting go of some temporary frustration, not rueing the day their child was born. They're stating the hardly earth-shattering news that breast pumps and nights of lost sleep and sibling warfare and melted candy bars in hot mini-vans are all really crappy. Nobody should have to feel grateful for that shit. Ever. Believe it or not, it's absolutely possible to hate these things and still be grateful every moment that your kids exist. They're not mutually exclusive. Complaining in the moment doesn't negate your overall commitment to the people you brought into the world.

At its worst, "you-should-be-grateful" talk angers me because when we address someone else's discontent in such a casually dismissive fashion, we may not know what we don't know. We're telling a mother her feelings not only don't matter, that she should feel bad for having them? That's not a super-great message to send to the average woman who is momentarily struggling with some parenting challenge, or just needs to blow off some steam. But what if you're telling that to someone who is also battling severe anxiety? Post-partum depression? A physical health problem? Emotional abuse? What if what you see on the outside is just the tip of her very large and frightening iceberg? Do you want to take that chance?

Cut it the eff out, ladies. Seriously.

As an Official Older Mom Person, here's what I know from all of my two decades of experience:

Good, bad, or indifferent, these moments moms are having will pass regardless of how we feel about them. It's not like we get jelly beans in the Extra Time Jar for being properly grateful, whatever-the-baby-poop that even means. Nor do we get to return to yesteryear for being properly grateful. Either way, the calendar pages flip-- some days with a loving and wistful look over the shoulder, and sometimes with a "welp, we survived." We can be glad for both. Because they are both real life.

I had four absolutely adorable, funny, mostly-happy babies that I loved with every particle of my being. I did not, however, love every minute I spent with them. And that's okay. I can say honestly, years after the fact, that I still do not miss tantrums, dirty diapers, and sleep deprivation so profound and ongoing I had difficulty remembering the proper names of common household objects and my own husband. I don't. And no one can make me. It doesn't mean I loved my children any less, then or now.

I think it's okay to stand up for yourself, which I began to do when my youngest, the twins, were little. "Excuse me. I didn't say I was ungrateful. I said that I was at my wit's end because my child keeps throwing food on the floor. Do you have any useful suggestions?" Reframe the conversation away from shaming you. Because you do not need that garbage when you have a valid problem, and they should know better.

Gratitude can't be coerced out of you by someone else. Because that's not gratitude. That's guilt. Moms have enough of that to deal with as it is. We are made to feel bad because we breastfeed in public, or because we choose not to breastfeed at all; because we stay at home, or because we have a job; because we let our children walk to school unsupervised, or because we are helicopter parents. Society delivers us a lot of conflicting messages about motherhood except for one: mothers are expected to be damn near perfect. We're not. We're exactly the same person we were before we became mothers, only with less sleep and more laundry. There's no point in feeling ashamed of our humanity just because we produced some more of it. Do your best. Accept that some (many) days it won't be enough. Love them anyway. Love them ferociously. Forgive yourself. Forgive them too. Somewhere in the middle of all that, gratitude tends to take care of itself.

What if gratitude isn't taking care of itself? Ask for help from friends and family who don't discount your feelings. Tell your doctor and pediatrician. Be specific about what you need, and what you're worried about. There's a whole world-wide army of variously imperfect and yet awesomely capable and loving mothers out there who understand, whatever it is.

They are not the ones who will tell you to be grateful. They are the ones who will tell you to hang in there, and offer you the extra hand you need to do so. They are the fellow mothers you need in your life. They are the mothers you will be truly, truly grateful for. Without having to be told you should.