Help A Brother Out…Talk About Man Jeans Today

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how difficult it is to be honest and talk about things openly, especially when the thing we need to discuss might make us or someone we care about uncomfortable. At some point, however, the truth needs to be spoken, no matter how ugly it might be. To move beyond it, to improve our life and the lives of those around us, we must be brave. We must face the thing that frightens us and remove its fangs so it can gnash its teeth at us no more. I’m here today to open a dialogue about such a topic.

There is an epidemic among middle-age men in this country, an unheralded scourge that has been spreading each year, leaving more and more unfortunate souls in its wake. Each day, I encounter an ever-increasing number of victims who suffer from this disease. Sadly, most suffers remain unaware of their sickness, unable to identify the thing that is causing women to point and giggle behind their backs. That sickness, my friends, is man jeans. Yes. Man jeans. There. I’ve said it.

Bad jeans all around…but it was 1998.

Bad jeans all around…but it was 1998. That’s my story.

Now, I know there has been a lot of blog time spent on mom jeans. Saturday Night Live lampooned them in a skit back in 2003. Mom jeans, with their nine inch zippers, pleated fronts, and roomy seat are touted to fit even the least active moms and be suitable for any occasion. Yes. It’s true. The post-child female body doesn’t always fit back into those darling, low-slung, hip hugging jeans from our pre-child-bearing days. Sometimes moms need something with a little higher rise to hold in the residual baby bump and to reduce the disfiguring effects of the dreaded muffin top. This is why mom jeans were first invented, and why women bought them. But eventually women began clamoring for something more attractive to wear for the years between Abercrombie skinny jeans and Goodwill-bought, elastic-waist, polyester, granny pants, and clothing makers rose to the challenge. Stores devoted entirely to the purveyance of the best fitting denim for most any shape and size sprouted up, and moms began finding fashion again. While it’s true that with the switch to designer denim we had to give up no-fuss, washer/dryer care, as well as abandon that little bit of pleated expansion space that left us room to sneak off and ingest an extra cupcake or three at the block party, designer jeans made motherhood and midlife a lot sexier. For each woman turned from away from mom jeans, though, the disparity in the denim choices between the sexes grew until we arrived where we are today…with a preponderance of middle-age men wearing man jeans while the women who love them stand by in their fashionable denim, shaking their heads and wondering when they married this old geezer.

An unidentified man and a cute toddler wearing man jeans. The toddler is pulling it off.

An unidentified man and a cute toddler wearing man jeans. Note: the toddler is pulling them off.

I’ve heard it said that many men hit what they feel is the best year of their life and become lodged there permanently. It’s their happy place. Based on the outfit choices of most middle-age men I know (and, unfortunately, at 46 I know a lot of middle-age men), they gave up on themselves sometime during the Clinton Presidency. For those of you in the dark about what exactly qualifies as “man jeans,” let me point you in the right direction by putting it in simple, Jeff Foxworthy-worthy language for you.

If your jeans came with a tag that said “relaxed,” “loose,” or “comfy” fit, you might be wearing man jeans.

If you’ve had your jeans since college and you were in college over 10 years ago, you might be wearing man jeans.

If your jeans came from LL Bean, Kohl’s, Land’s End, Bass Pro Shops, or any outlet store, you might be wearing man jeans.

If you require a belt to keep your jeans up or you’ll end up looking like those “hoodlum” kids you complain about, the ones who wear the waist of their jeans below their boxer shorts, you might be wearing man jeans.

If your idea of shopping involves grabbing a pair of 36″ x 34″ jeans off a wall to fit your 34″ x 34″ body without ever considering trying them on, you might be wearing man jeans.

If there is so much excess room in the butt of your jeans that you could drop a load in there and no one would be the wiser, you might be wearing man jeans.

If your favorite pair of jeans has sparkly embellishments on the pockets, well…then, I’m afraid you might be wearing your wife’s jeans.

I understand that most men don’t like to shop. You hate spending money on clothing, and if I tell you it might cost you $200 for a good-fitting pair of quality denim that will last, you are going to tell me exactly how many beers you could buy with that cash today. But at some point, men, you’ve got to face facts. You’re middle aged. Your pecs have seen better days, you’ve got clothing older than your children, your new boss is ten years younger than you, and the hair on your head is thinning while the hair in your nose is coming in nicely. And, it sucks. But are you ready to cash it in? Should we just hand out grandpa pants, the fetching ones that you can pull all the way to your burgeoning man boobs? Put on a pair of your jeans. Take a good, long, hard look at yourself in a full length mirror and acknowledge that you’re not the man you once were. You’re better. You’re smarter, wiser, and more successful than you were twenty years ago. You deserve designer denim. And if you pick up a pair of raw denim, you won’t even have to wash them for six months. :D

If You’re Not Hungry Enough To Eat An Apple….

Some fine table manners right there.

Some fine table manners right there, I tell you. Come get him, girls. 

Dinnertime is frustrating for every mom. I think that’s just a universal reality. If you’re lucky enough to belong to a family where your children sit at the dining table and eat all the food you cook (or microwave or pick up at the drive-thru window) without complaining or begging to watch television or texting or playing video games or burping the alphabet, if you belong to a family where mealtime each evening is a pleasant affair where your family calmly and politely discusses the events of their day over the mutual breaking of bread, well, then throw yourself a frigging fish. You’ve got yourself and your family trained better than circus seals.

I spent the first eight years of our sons’ lives desperately trying to make dinnertime a good experience for all. Nearly every evening, somewhere between Luke’s penchant for puking at the sight of any food of which he does not immediately approve (which narrows the family menu down to chicken nuggets, steak, or pizza) and Joe’s ADHD-driven inability to sit for more than three minutes, our dinner routine would downward spiral its way into cajoling, shouting, bribing, and eventually crying, most of the time on my part. Around the time the boys turned seven and nine, I decided that I’d had enough. I’m a slow learner, but I eventually catch on. I gave up trying to make our boys well-rounded eaters who used manners and ate everything on their plates without argument. I figured their wives could figure out how to do that someday. I had less frustrating things to focus on, like teaching them math facts and educating my husband about proper shoe storage. If I take the time to teach my boys everything polite society would have them know, when would I have time to drink wine?

Eventually, the boys did learn to eat more foods just as I suspected they would. And I figured out some meals that I could prepare that all four of us could ingest without anyone puking or swearing or even crying. It has taken me many, many years, but I’ve finally gotten dinnertime running nearly as smoothly and reliably as a 10-year-old Honda. Tonight, for example, I served grilled chicken (courtesy of my husband), pasta for the boys, quinoa salad for hubby and I, steamed broccoli, and fresh strawberries. We had a brief flirtation with polite conversation before Joe spilled his entire glass of ice water all over his brother. Somehow, once that was mopped up, we still managed to have 10 minutes of cordial mealtime. Because the boys are growing and sucking down food with the unbridled ferocity of our Dyson vacuum, our table time is minimal, but I don’t care. When it’s over, if all the food is gone and we managed more than few grunts in between scarfing bites, my goal has been successfully achieved. The kitchen gets cleaned, the table wiped down, and I slink upstairs to our bedroom where I hope to become like the Cheshire Cat and fade into the bed so that I won’t be noticed for the rest of the night. My work is finished.

Or is it? Every night between 8:45-9:30, Joe decides he’s ready for “second dinner.” Now, I never planned to condone the notion of second dinner. Dinner is served just once. That’s how it was in the house where I grew up, and that is how I planned for it to be in our home. Life, however, laughed at my plans. Joe takes medication for ADHD, and that medication is a stimulant that deeply reduces his appetite while it’s on board. Because he doesn’t eat much at lunch, consuming approximately the daily caloric intake of a waif-like, chain-smoking, Diet-Coke-swilling runway model, he is famished by dinner. That hunger is merely pacified by the full meal I prepare at our usual dinnertime, which leads us to second dinner. Second dinner, it was long ago decided, is his problem. By the time second dinner rolls around, the cook has gone home for the night.

Tonight I went down to refill my water bottle and found Joe staring longingly into the stainless, silver box in our kitchen, both doors wide open in an effort to cool the room, apparently.

“I think I am going to make this salmon,” he announced, hastily grabbing a frozen fish steak from the lowest tray in the freezer.

“Ummmm….no,” I replied. “You’re not flash-thawing salmon and then cooking it. That will take about 45 minutes. What other ideas do you have?”

He dropped his head, begrudgingly returned the salmon steak to its home, and closed the freezer door. He then inched his way closer to the open refrigerator side and peered in.

“You could make me some sautéed kale,” he suggested.

“Ha. Good one,” I replied. “I’m not cooking anything. The kitchen is clean and it’s closed.”

“I could do it myself,” he said.

“You’re going to wash and chop kale and sauté it on the stove and then eat it?” I said with a bit too much incredulity.

“I could,” he replied.

“You could if the kitchen wasn’t closed,” I reminded.

I was getting annoyed by this process. Why couldn’t the kid eat a bowl of cereal like his father would be doing in an hour? Why does everything have to be a production? He should just plan to head to Broadway after high school. I’m sure he would fit right in there.

“You know, Joe? Eat some baby carrots. Eat an apple. No cooking.” He stared me down with his steely teenage glare. He’s practicing his intimidation, but he’s not quite tall enough yet for that to be working for him with me. I continued, “Dude, if you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry. Period.”

He shrugged, picked his iPad off the counter, and headed up the stairs. Game. Set. Match.

I was pretty proud of my brain for coming up with that appropriate little nugget of wisdom, discovered just this week courtesy of a Facebook meme, and perfectly echoed in this clutch situation. Sometimes, Mom, you’ve still got it, I told myself. Now, if I could convince myself to live by that phrase, perhaps I could be swimsuit-ready by the time pool season gets underway.

Asleep At The Wheel Again…ADHD and Motherhood

The day my 8 year old decided to cut his own hair and photograph it.

The day my 8 year old decided to cut his own hair and record the event. Not his best decision-making moment, but it has made for some good laughs.

It’s laundry day. Well…actually, every day is laundry day, but today I finally decided to toss a couple loads into the washer. As I collected the boys’ hamper, I noticed that Joe had thrown a couple of his jackets in. I hate it when he does that. Sometimes the hamper is replete with clean clothes he tried on but decided not to wear. While I’m grateful that he’s finally learned to put his clothes into a hamper after thirteen years, he now puts everything in there. He often puts his shoes in there. His shoes. It’s much easier to toss everything into the bin than to put it away, right? It keeps the floor clean and then he doesn’t have to listen to me complain about that too. It’s genius, actually. A simple, expedient filing system that gets me off his back, at least for the present moment. And Joe is 100% in the present moment all the time.

Frustrated by the discovery of the jackets, I confronted him.

“Joe…why are these coats in here?”

“I wore them,” he said with typical teenage attitude, eyeing me like I am a moron for not realizing that dirty clothes go in the hamper.

“You can wear a jacket more than once before it needs to be washed. Unless it’s got a stain or it stinks, you should just hang it up to wear again,” I informed him.

He appeared uninterested.

“Every time you do this, it’s more work for me. I know we’ve talked about this before,” I said with the usual tone of parental disappointment that is meant to encourage enough self-reflection and remorse to induce self-awakening and, hopefully, an apology. If you’re wondering if it ever works, the answer is no.

“I know,” he admitted.

“Well, then, why do you keep doing it?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t mean to do it. It just happens on accident all the time.”

And, there it is. A succinct description of exactly what ADHD is. Joe’s ADHD includes impulsivity, inattention to detail, and inability to focus. So many times when he was younger I would repeatedly scold him for the same behaviors. Once, before we’d diagnosed his ADHD, I asked him why he kept chewing on his shirts even though we had discussed ad nauseam that he needed to stop doing it. He said he didn’t know why he did it. He knew it was wrong, but he simply couldn’t help it. That explanation was mind numbing. Here was a kid who was obviously intelligent, who could repeat minutiae about different dinosaurs from different epochs, remembering the dates they existed and statistics about their size and weight, but there he stood telling me he didn’t know why he kept gnawing his clothing like he was a goat. As a parent, it frustrated the living hell out of me. How could he be so smart yet so unaware at the same time?

When we had Joe evaluated for ADHD, the psychiatrists at Children’s Hospital explained to me that the frontal lobe of Joe’s brain simply doesn’t work the way mine does, ultimately leading to his greater difficulty in choosing between good and bad actions. As a child, if I was punished for something one time, the frontal lobe of my brain would remind me of that event and help me make better choices the next time I encountered a similar situation. Joe’s frontal lobe, however, simply isn’t as active as mine. The doctors explained that it is as if there is a little man in there whose job is to help him make good choices but that little man continually falls asleep on the job. It wasn’t until much later, when Joe better understood himself and his brain, that he was able to admit that his inability to stop negative behaviors when he knew they were wrong frustrated the living hell out of him too. We’ve spent the years since his diagnosis working to understand how we can help Joe and what we simply need to accept is part of his make up. It’s a work in progress.

I’m laughing now thinking about the question I posed to Joe earlier. I know how he works. I just needed to remind him again and move on. He will eventually stop putting clean clothes in the hamper, just like he eventually started putting dirty ones in there. It’s merely going to take a lot of patience and a lot of repetition. Six years into my understanding of this ADHD world, I am still making silly parenting mistakes with Joe.

You’ve got to wonder when the little man in my frontal lobe started taking so many naps.

Our Nation of Fools, Zealots, and Unicorns

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” ~Abraham Lincoln

“Never argue with a fool. Onlookers might not be able to tell the difference.” ~Mark Twain

You know what makes me tired? I mean, mother-of-toddler-triplets tired? The non-stop, exhaustive, political and religious divisiveness presented in the daily media. With Hillary Clinton’s long-expected announcement about her second presidential bid, things have become even uglier in my world. It’s not that I’m not interested in politics. I am. Like most Americans, I have plenty of opinions about our government and whether we have become the kind of nation our forefathers envisioned when they drafted our Constitution. Most of these opinions I keep to myself because I’ve learned that bickering with people whose minds are made up is a Sisyphean task. People say they’re capable of open-ended, honest, fair, and cooperative discourse about opposing views, but I’ve seen too many dinner parties turn into shouting matches over who is right and who is stupid to believe it exists. And the more polarized we’ve become as a nation, the less likely it seems that we will ever be able to have friendly discussions about opposing political or religious views. It’s a shame, really.

I have a significant number of family members and friends who never seem to tire of political and religious controversy. In the days before I knew better, I got into “discussions” (yes…that word needs quotation marks) with these people about my views. Some of these people wrote me off. The rest, however, made me their pet cause, which has proven to be worse. These people have since made it their life’s work to enlighten me about how misguided I am in an effort to save my soul. This, too, is exhausting. There aren’t enough free hours in my day to read the emailed articles sent to inform me of my inherent and unacceptable wrongness. So, I don’t read them. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I had a choice…I could save established relationships with people who disagree with me or I could spend my life defending myself and my views to them while becoming increasingly agitated about my need to do so. So I chose to let go. The emails sent for my edification go straight into my junk folder where they remain unopened in communication limbo. Every once in a while, I hit delete for the whole lot of filtered messages in a ritualistic, spiritual cleansing.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” ~Abraham Lincoln

Some people think that my unwillingness to go into battle over my beliefs is cowardly. While they proudly spout their views in every possible public forum under the guise of free speech, repeating news-generated talking points or quoting pieces from partisan publications, I remain silent. And my silence merely reinforces their opinion that if my beliefs held any merit I could defend them. It’s a nasty cycle. I suppose I could catalog and save statistical evidence to offer while disputing my detractors, but how would that ever be worth the effort when they are so convinced of their moral higher ground that they would find a way to dispel my proof and continue along in their assertion that I am at best misguided and at worst completely wrong? I’m female and, despite having been raised Catholic, I now identify more as atheist than Christian. I’m an anomaly. According to a Pew Research study in 2012, only 2.4% of US citizens identify as atheist. Of that 2.4%, it’s been estimated that only 25% are women. I’m so far out there right now, statistically speaking, that I’m nearly a unicorn. Some don’t believe I even exist.

Because I am different from the majority and do not myself fit in, I work on accepting others where they are because life is hard enough without creating controversy where none is necessary. In 2001, we bonded over a previously unimaginable horror. In those moments after the Twin Towers fell, there were no labels. It didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican, Christian or Jew, pink or brown. In those moments, we were all simply Americans. While I would never wish for those days back, I do have some nostalgia for the feeling that, as different as we were, we were all in it together. And I wonder sometimes at how in 14 years we’ve slid so far away from the united in the United States of America. Us versus them is now a continual ideological battle being waged within our own borders. It serves the best interests of no one.

So, I won’t debate you if our politics and religious views don’t mesh. I won’t unfriend you on Facebook merely because we don’t agree. But I won’t support this pervasive notion that any one group has cornered the market on morality in this country. There is no one way to be more intrinsically American than another, and no one group deserves a greater say than another. As a young child in the early 70s, I learned that we were free to be you and me. We were all unique, but we all somehow belonged here together in our differences. Maybe that was really idealistic, but I liked that message. I’m not exactly sure when things changed and we became so intolerant of the value of each individual within the confines of our united society, but I’m not buying into this new paradigm. I’m not defending my beliefs. I’m not kowtowing to the majority you create that leaves me on the outside. And I’m not teaching my kids with my actions that they have to explain why their opinion counts. It just does. They’re free to be whatever they want, and they don’t have to fit in to belong. This is America, dammit. And their mother is a frigging unicorn.

The When Harry Met Sally Question

Twenty years ago before I made him grey.

Twenty years ago before I made him grey.

“If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.” ~Richard Bach

Marriage is hard. When I think back to my twenties, when most women I knew were dying to find their soul mate and embark on the magical love train of happily ever after, I laugh. We had no clue. In sickness and in health and for better or worse were concepts we weren’t capable of understanding in any legitimate sense. Sicknesses were colds and worse meant having to watch a movie we hadn’t chosen. As I’ve grown older, there have been intermittent days when the vows I took at 27 have started to come into clearer focus. I’ve had occasional oh-shit revelations about what I committed to when I stood there in front of all my friends wearing an off-white dress I hastily purchased off the bargain rack, holding flowers I settled for on a fixed budget, and hoping against hope that the photographer would get at least a couple decent shots. Marriage is serious…heart-attack-bankruptcy-miscarriage-mortgage-infidelity-and-unemployment serious. I don’t think many of us understand the gravity of the lifelong task we’re undertaking when we sign up. We learn about it along the way.

About twenty-two years ago, I went on a double date with my roommate, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s roommate. Walking home from a bowling alley after a couple poorly rolled games and a couple of pitchers of beer, I had a long, admittedly drunken, talk with this new guy. I was six months out of a semi-disastrous “relationship” and not really looking for anything. I was tired of men. I was tired of stressing about love. I was finally content being alone. I told him that I had made mistakes in past relationships when I had given up things that had mattered to me because someone had asked me to. I told him I wasn’t playing that way anymore. If he wanted to date me, he had to take me as I was because I wasn’t changing. I told him I had many male friends that I would not, under any circumstance, be jettisoning. He could deal with that reality or he could walk. It didn’t matter to me. It was his choice. I’ve never quite figured out why he stayed with me after that full disclosure, but he did. And nearly twenty years of marriage and two children later, here we are, grown up but not, still floundering our way through the insanity that is intentional, lifelong commitment to another person against all odds and life’s randomness.

I’ve held steadfast to most of the things I said in that drunken tirade that night after bowling, including maintaining my friendships with men. I am not a girly girl, and I never was. I’m a thinker more than a feeler and, partially because of this, I’ve struggled more trying to keep friendships with women than with men. Many women flat-out don’t get me, and I’ve accepted that. Men seem to appreciate my emotional reticence, my quippy, sarcastic retorts, and my no-nonsense attitude. Some of my male friends have been in my life for decades. Some I’ve met only recently. Some are people my husband has met. Some of them are relative strangers to him. I have male friends I communicate with weekly via text or email and others I see in person every few months at some public location where it’s acceptable for a married woman to associate with a man who is not her husband. Last night, for example, I enjoyed dinner with a male friend at a cool little taqueria in Denver where we sat at a community table and I decided that whoever invented the gourmet shrimp taco was the foodie equivalent of Einstein.

I know that accepting me as I am with my friendships not been easy for Steve, but he has muddled through it because he committed to doing so a million years ago before he knew what he was getting into and because he’s a man of his word. Because of Steve’s understanding, I’ve had exposure to conversations many married women don’t get to have. I continue to learn about the male perspective from multiple sources, and this has given me priceless knowledge about how to be a better human being, as well as a better partner. There is nothing like listening to your male friend talk about his failed marriage to help you see where you might be going wrong in your own. I’m grateful to my male friends for being honest with me about my shortcomings and for not telling me what I want to hear but what I need to hear. I continue to learn about the nature of communication (and miscommunication) and friendship through them. At the end of the day, Steve and I have new topics of conversation that have, as an unanticipated side benefit, created a level of intimacy between us I had not imagined was possible. We talk about our marriage. We talk about what is fair, what is difficult, and what is frightening because we have opened ourselves to what is fair, what is difficult, and what is frightening. We’re constantly negotiating our marital contract and figuring out how to make it better for both of us.

Like Harry in When Harry Met Sally, Steve’s not entirely sure he trusts that men are capable of being just friends with women, but he’s willing to entertain my little experiment because he knows I am not going anywhere. I am as pragmatic as they come. I know there is no man out there who is better equipped to love me as I am than he is. I’m not going to discover a new true love over tacos or at a concert. There’s no such thing as a perfect match, but I’ve gotten as close as I could ever come with a guy who loves me enough to set me free when I need to feel like my own person. I’m far too intelligent to walk away from a deal like that and a husband like Steve.

And, in case you’re wondering, Steve doesn’t have currently have a bevy of female friends. He does, however, have a wife who trusts him implicitly if you’d like to take him out for Taco Tuesday.

May You Live All The Days Of Your Life

The beast enjoying the fresh snow

The beast enjoying the fresh snow

“May you live all the days of your life.” ~Jonathan Swift

I love this quote. It’s so simple yet eloquent and profound. I mean, every day that you’re alive, you could argue that you’re living. But are you truly living? What does it mean to live versus to be alive? There have been plenty of days in my life when I’ve gone through the motions. I existed. And I was alive in only the most basic sense. I wasn’t living fully, deliberately, or honestly. Living honestly lies in experiencing the senses, feeling your emotions, promoting your consciousness. It lies in the awareness of the present moment and in appreciation for it. It lies in a daily choice to be open, enthusiastic, and mindful.

A few weeks ago, we were buried under February snow. It was cold. I spent most of the month of February this year as I do every year…holed up in my bed under blankets, sipping tea, binge watching shows on Netflix, scarcely moving from my spot, trying to convince myself I was not depressed. February is my annual, 28-day hibernation. One day, though, we had a lovely respite from overcast skies. The snow had stopped, the clouds had cleared the way for swaths of blue, and something called to me to live.

It was 10 degrees when I left my house, bundled in my ski gear, wearing snowshoes, and hauling additional gear. I had no problem coaxing the dog who had been housebound with me out onto the open space for an expedition. Her enthusiasm and joy kept me moving on each time I stopped to catch my breath, enjoy the view, and question my sanity. I was alone and, with no one to challenge me, this walk that would normally take me 15 minutes on a summer day took me close to 25. I was in no hurry. I had no plans other than this one.

Just a girl, her dog, and a sled

Just a girl, her dog, and a sled

When I reached the first hill, I kicked off my Crescent Moon snowshoes and began climbing. Against all logic and better judgment, I’d hauled my son’s bright yellow Zipfy sled out there with me, fully intent on some perpetrating some childlike behavior. You see, the day before school had been cancelled due to snow, and I had watched longingly from my kitchen window as some neighborhood children climbed that normally silent hill and put their mark upon the pristine landscape. My sons sled a lot in our neighborhood during snow season, nearly every afternoon when the weather allows it, but I have never joined them. I’m the mom. I have responsibilities. They would think it was too weird. And I am getting on in years and might break some bones, right?

Upon reaching the top of the hill, I threw the sled down and climbed on. My dog was poised in front of me. She’s a border collie. She loves to herd things. She planned on herding me all the way down the hill. When I finally summoned the nerve, I inched forward with my feet and began sliding down that very steep hill. If it felt steep on the climb up, it felt steeper on the ride down. The dog bounded in and out of my path as I careened down the slope picking up speed. Before I realized it, I had neared the bottom of the hill and noticed what I had not seen before. Those little stinkers had built a ramp. I hit it at full velocity, whooshed into the air, and dropped some obscenities as the sled and I collided with the ground with enough force that I wondered if my neighbor felt the tremor in her home. My face was covered in snow. I felt snow down my shirt. I surrendered into the earth and laughed at the absurdity of a nearly 47-year-old woman collapsed by herself on a deserted sledding hill at noon on a Friday. What kind of crazy woman does that?

I stayed on that hill for about a half an hour longer, hiking up repeatedly so I could retrace the path the children had carved out for me as well as fashion a few lanes of my own. The dog challenged my efforts, lunging at me sporadically while I lurched and swayed my way down the hill in an attempt to avoid running her over. Each time I wiped out. Each run found me increasingly covered in snow. When I’d had enough, I sat and began petting the dog, noticing the chunks of snow in my soaking wet hair, breathing steadily and consciously, feeling gratitude for the time, energy, health, and means to spend an hour of my day outdoors, frivolously free from the mundane.

Seeing that quote today reminded me of my sledding adventure. We adults don’t indulge in living often enough. Swallowed by routine and obligation, we stagnate. We place responsibility over fun, whimsy, and novelty. To make this earthly journey worthwhile, though, we need to remember to let go on occasion. Joy is not just for children and border collies. We need to have our own sledding days, to bear witness to the beauty of nature, to smell the moisture in the air, to feel the sun on our face and the snow down our shirt, to taste the blood from our lip when we bite it on a hard landing, and to laugh out loud at ourselves. That is living.

The Gremlin and The Missing Ski Sock

One lonely, Smartwool, shark-festooned ski sock. Just one.

One boy’s lonely, Smartwool, shark-themed ski sock. Just one. It breaks my heart.

Last Wednesday morning, before our son left for his three-day adventure at Outdoor Lab, we unpacked and repacked his gear bag a final time. I wanted to make sure that he knew where everything was and to verify again against the packing checklist provided by the camp that he had everything he needed. I also secretly hoped it would increase the chance that he would come home with everything that was originally packed in the bag. The probability that Joe would come home sans at least one item was high. This is the kid who has famously come home wearing only one shoe. One shoe. Don’t even ask. But hope springs eternal, and I am always optimistic that the kid might just surprise me someday. And I like to set him up for success, so we discussed the bag, its contents, and my expectations.

“Listen,” I said, “The only things in this bag that I really care about are your ski socks. I mean, I’d prefer you come home with everything, but the ski socks are at the top of my list of items I’d like to see returned on Friday, okay?”

To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure why I was telling him about the socks. They weren’t the most expensive item he was packing or the most important. I suppose I was thinking about the plans we had to ski early on Saturday morning and simply hoping to avoid a last-minute, Friday-night trip to REI before closing to replace yet another pair of ski socks.

“Okay,” he replied, messing with the flashlight he was packing.

“I was thinking that one sure way to make sure the ski socks make it home is if you wait to wear them until Friday. Then they will be on your feet when you return. Just keep them in your bag and wear them Friday.”

“Okay,” he answered again, clearly listening to me with a quarter of his left ear only. Teenage boys can be such great listeners and even more impressive conversationalists.

Having given him what I envisioned were adequate tools and preparation, I sent him off to Outdoor Lab with relative peace of mind.

Friday afternoon when he arrived back from camp, exhausted and disheveled, the first thing he said to me before even getting into the car with his gear was, “I’m not sure I have both of my ski socks.”

I glared at him.

“I mean, I think they both might be in the bag, but I only remember for sure seeing one of them.”

I glowered.

“You’d better hope they are both there,” I said.

“I’ll check while we’re waiting for Luke,” he said as he began rifling through his belongings in the back of the car.

Of course, there were not two socks. Why would there be? It had been my only request. If you say you want something, you’re about 100% certain to miss out on that exact thing. Call it Murphy’s Law. Call it a jinx upon yourself. Whatever. I’d set myself up for certain disappointment when I made that request. You’d think by now I would know better than to verbalize anything like wishes.

Now, I’d like to say that I was totally zen about the revelation of the missing sock. I’d like to say that I took it in stride, like a patient, understanding, and loving mother. I’d like to say that my yoga training reminded me to take a deep breath and have the presence of mind to realize it’s just a damn sock. I’d like to say those things. I can’t. Truth is that, after I too checked the bag to substantiate the missing sock, I went the teensiest bit ballistic. Let’s just say that my response was less Buddha-esque and more Godzilla destroying Tokyo. I’m not proud of it, but after 46 years I’ve had to admit that I am actually human and capable of a great deal of ill-advised moves. This was one of those times.

After my little meltdown, I left Joe to sit in his corner and stew while I retreated to mine. I’m sure he was mentally shoving dirty socks in my mouth while I sat indignant, annoyed, and pouting. It was the principle of the thing, right? Sure. It was one sock, but these kids have cost us a fortune with the vortex they’ve created into which one sock from each pair of socks they own continually seems to disappear. As I took some deep breaths and let go of some of my righteous indignation, perspective began to creep in. It was a sock. What was I doing? Why did I care so much about it? I tried to ascertain what the loss of one, grey, Smartwool, shark-emblazoned sock represented because clearly it went way more than wool deep with me.

I walked to Joe’s room, knocked, and waited to be invited in. I sat down and told him my truth.

“You see, Joe, the thing is that part of my job as Mom is keeping things in this house together for our family. I’m Chief Equipment Manager. I’ve spent fourteen years doing things like making sure each deck of cards has 52 members, each DVD and video game is in its case, and each person has enough basics like socks, underwear, and pants without holes. It sounds crazy, but someone has to do it. Every time a sock goes missing, it’s like someone’s chipping away at my efficacy as household manager. At the end of the day, when you take off two socks and toss them aside because you don’t care and can’t be bothered to put them together into the hamper, I feel like there’s no respect for how hard I work to keep us all together and functioning. I’m sure it doesn’t make any sense to you. It is just a sock, but somehow it’s more than that to me. I am sorry for yelling at you, though. I overreacted.”

He looked at me thoughtfully and apologized too.

I’m not sure he completely understood what I was getting at, but he was making an effort. He might be a little more careful with his belongings…at least for a few days while the memory of my tirade is still fresh in his mind and the loss of two week’s worth of his allowance to buy a new pair of $20 ski socks is still stinging a bit.

A wise friend of mine has taught me that most of the time when we lose our shit over a little thing, like a sock, for example, there’s a gremlin hiding there. The gremlin is a much more dangerous but largely unacknowledged beast that takes that little thing and through the magic of mind-trickery and shadow puppetry turns it into deceptively larger but illusionary creature. My gremlins often creep out when I feel undervalued, invisible, and inadequate. This sock monster was a perfect illustration of how much work I have yet to do on combatting and ultimately containing my gremlins. Sooner or later, I hope I will learn not to give my gremlins water, feed them after midnight, or expose them to light.

Getting Schooled

All geared up for adventure

All geared up for adventure

Our son, Joe, has been counting down the days to his first-ever Outdoor Lab excursion with school. Outdoor Lab is sleep-away science camp for middle schoolers. Students head to the mountains for some outdoor education that involves daytime field work in science-related topics followed by nights spent sleeping in cabins with teachers and classmates. Joe class would be studying “snow science.” For most kids in our county, Outdoor Lab occurs in 6th grade. Joe’s private school sends kids to Keystone Science School during 7th and 8th grades. Joe has had to wait this extra year to attend. He’s heard his friends talk about it since last year and he was dying for his chance to go.

Weeks ago, he started telling me that he was afraid he would get sick and not be able to make the trip. He worked in extra hand washings every day. As his teachers prepared the class for what to expect, what to pack, and what would be expected of them, Joe would come home filled with details and brimming with expectation. Yesterday afternoon he and I pulled out the packing list, found an appropriate duffel bag and backpack, and located a mummy sleeping bag. Then we set about picking out the right clothing and gathering up gear. 1 pair long underwear. 1 pair ski goggles. 1 pair sunglasses. Sunscreen not less than 35 SPF. Lip balm not less than 15 SPF. 2 water bottles. 1 flashlight. 2-3 pairs synthetic or wool…not cotton..socks. Systematically, we crossed each item off the list as we placed it into the duffel bag he would have to carry from the bus drop off point to the cabin. He was adamant that it all must fit into one bag and that it would have to be easy for him to carry. At the end of the night, we had a medium-sized duffel jam packed with every item on the school’s list, a backpack loaded with sun gear appropriate for hiking at 10,000 feet, and a child who was complaining that time was moving too slowly.

I tucked him and his brother in for the night and fell exhausted into my bed. Of course, Joe woke me up three times between midnight and 4 a.m. and only on the third wake up call admitted to being the tiniest bit nervous about sleeping away from home without his family. We chatted a bit about how everything would be fine, about how being nervous was normal the first time away from home, and about how amazing it would be. I told him I would miss him but he’d be home with us soon. He fell back asleep quickly after we spoke. I stayed awake for another hour and a half thinking about him. My little family of four is my entire world. I was struggling as I tried envisioning us as a trio and not a quartet.

When Joe woke me up at 6:35 (ten minutes before my alarm clock would have summoned me and less than an hour after I’d finally fallen back to sleep), he had already showered and dressed and had played on his iPad for an hour. He spent the morning rushing around, talking excitedly, ready to get out the door. I dragged my feet a bit as it sunk in that he was actually leaving. I packed his lunch slowly, drawing out our last bit of time together for three days. I gave him some cashews to try in his lunch. He chewed one, swallowed it, and then began panicking, imagining that he was going to have an allergic reaction to it and not be able to go. I reassured him that if he had a reaction to the nuts (which he wouldn’t because he’s not allergic to tree nuts or anything else for that matter), the teachers would give him a Benadryl and he’d live another day. I started to wonder if his ingenious plan was to drive me insane so I would not miss him.

When we got to school, we saw many of his classmates had already checked in. The drop-off space was filled with all manner of packed items. There were rolling suitcases, sleeping bags packed in square, plastic, comforter bags, and large, garden-sized trash bags filled with supplies. I started to wonder if I was the only one who had obsessed to ensure my son had all the requested gear neatly packed exactly as specified. The principal came over and told me that Joe won the award for Best Packed Bags. I guess that means I am still a prize-winning rule follower.

I gave him a big hug and snapped a quick photo of him weighed down by his perfect bag. He looked so grown up just then, standing there squinting in the morning sun on the east side of the school. I watched him as he walked toward the stairs for class, quietly sending him all the positivity and love in my heart. I held it together as I had promised him and didn’t even tear up until I was exiting the school parking lot. I breathed a sigh of relief when the school messaged that the group had arrived safely at Keystone.

I’ve been wrong thinking of this as Joe’s adventure. It’s my adventure too. After thirteen years, Joe is off learning how to be Joe without my help. And I’m here learning that he’s not mine. There’s genius in this Outdoor Lab concept. The kids aren’t the only ones getting an education and important life experience. Looks like Joe and I are both getting schooled this week.

Beyond The Winter Of Our Discontent

“Our winters are very long here, very long and very monotonous. But we don’t complain about it downstairs, we’re shielded against the winter. Oh, spring does come eventually, and summer, and they last for a while, but now, looking back, spring and summer seem too short, as if they were not much more than a couple of days…” ~Franz Kafka

Winter with my boys (2005)

Winter with my boys (2005)

Parenting is an intriguing journey. When I think back on my life to a time before I was someone’s mother, it is barely recognizable. I feel I’ve lived an entirely new life since those days pre-children. I’ve come to realize that parenting is not unlike a 365-day trip around the sun through the seasons. And just as you turn the calendar on a new year and suddenly find December on the next leaf, the important job of parenting too passes in a blur.

When we were expecting our first child, the freewheeling fall days of our life as married couple floated off, crisp leaves gathering under our feet, and we braced for the brisk change parenthood would bring. We geared up. We prepared for rough weather. And when our sons arrived, we immediately found ourselves housebound in a snowstorm of diapers, feedings, and nap times. A trip to the grocery store alone was my sunny day. A date night was a beach vacation with umbrella drinks. Most of the time we were holed up at home, trying to dig out from under Thomas the Tank Engine, wooden blocks, and plush animals. We uncovered solace in movie evenings with Nemo and Mr. Incredible and Lightning McQueen, which were followed by family sleepover nights in our room where we would hunker down and take long winter’s naps together. Those were some of the best nights of sleep we got during this period in our lives, and good nights of sleep were few and far between back then. We were perpetually tired, surviving on caffeine in the morning and sugar in the afternoon, and trying to find time for ourselves when we could. Everyone tells you to cherish life with your little ones but, like living through a seemingly endless, difficult winter, that was easier said than done. Continually exhausted and struggling to figure out the dynamics of our new family, we prayed for a thaw.

Gradually the boys grew, and days seemed less bleak. Toddlerhood ended. Full on youth arrived with all its exuberance and light. We emerged from our hibernation and began to go places because, well, going places was easier. Gone were the bottles and sippy cups and diaper bags and extra changes of clothes for blowouts and Baby Bjorns and strollers. We were no longer bundled up and weighed down with paraphernalia. We marveled at the ease with which we traveled. We walked to the park as they raced ahead and sat uninterrupted while they cavorted.  A garden’s worth of handmade, paper-flower bouquets sprang up, accompanied by colorful paintings and creative tales. They started school and we appreciated engaging with them as they discovered the little secrets of life we’d long since taken for granted. We introduced them more and more to things we loved. We grew as a family, figuring out who we were together and how life worked best. Sure…there were occasional squalls, and brief deluges reminded us we hadn’t reached summer yet, but I knew things were getting better when we stopped complaining as often about the weather. We breathed in the freedom and exhaled with peace.

The moment when spring ended and summer began wasn’t even distinguishable. One day we were praying for an extra fifteen minutes of sleep and the next we were waking up at 8:30 and wondering if the boys were dead. The boys began exploring their independence with sleepovers at friends’ homes and hours of Capture the Flag after dark and afternoons on their bikes at the park. Suddenly, we had something we hadn’t had in years. Quality time alone in our own home. This weekend, we had not one but two nights consecutive nights during which we got to be grown adults without responsibility for children. We weren’t even on vacation. We had lovely meals, conversation about topics other than Pokémon, and a rearview mirror glimpse of the winter years fading in the distance. We’re walking around in flip-flops with Mai Tais in our hands now compared to the days we experienced when the boys were toddlers, when we were buried under the daily tasks of wiping butts and spoon feeding. We’ve settled into this fairer weather and summer is in full swing.

With all this free time on my hands lately, though, it has begun to occur to me the added peace we’re enjoying in this warmer season heralds the earliest moments of the permanent quiet that lies ahead in our next season. The boys are growing older. They don’t hang out with us as often. They have their own interests. Their independence gives us our freedom but it also decreases our involvement in their lives as they begin to separate and form their own lives and identities. In the quiet over the past two nights, we’ve discussed how weird it’s going to be when we’re alone again. As slow as time seemed to be moving back in the early days is as quickly as it seems to be moving now. They’ll be gone before we know it.

And we now understand that this is why people tell you to enjoy your children while they’re young. As much as it sucks hearing it when you’re sleep-deprived, covered in baby puke, and dying for a minute alone in the bathroom, the universal truth of the eighteen years of parenting is that it flies by like seasons in a year. The parents who tell you to cherish the moments you’re wishing would pass a bit more quickly don’t mean any harm. They’re simply beyond the winter of their discontent and wishing they’d understood how quickly spring arrives with summer and fall nipping at its heels.

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To the woman who tutted at me using the disabled toilets…

Me:

We need to do a better job understanding how little we understand about the lives of others.

Originally posted on So Bad Ass:

Dear lady who loudly tutted at me using the disabled loos,

I know you saw me running in, with my able bodied legs and all. You saw me opening the door with my two working arms. You saw me without a wheelchair. Without any visible sign of disability.

You tutted loudly as I rattled the handle with my hands that work perfectly and my able voice call to my kids that I’d be out in just a minute.

My lack of wheelchair may have suggested to you that I was some lazy cow who didn’t care. Some inconsiderate bitch who was using something I wasn’t entitled too. (I actually carry a card to explain that I’m entitled to and have a disability key if you’d have cared to ask). You may have seen my face blushing as I caught your eye and assumed I was showing guilt at blagging the…

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