Tree sticks with no leaves
Harbingers of winter’s suck
Is it summer yet?
Tree sticks with no leaves
Harbingers of winter’s suck
Is it summer yet?
My husband, endlessly keen on electronic gadgetry, came home from Best Buy with a Nest Cam the other day. He had been talking about getting one for a couple months, and each time he brought it up I rolled my eyes and ignored him. His reason for purchasing the remote video camera was that he would use it to check on the dog while we were out. He explained that the Nest Cam has a speaker so you can talk to whoever or whatever you see on the camera once it is in place. He fantasized that he would be able to yell at the dog if he caught her napping on one of our new library chairs, a decidedly verboten location for four-legged, shedding fur babies. While I could see where he was going with his idea, I told him that he doesn’t understand that she is a border collie. Border collies are a bit smarter than your average dog (and, given our current political situation, they may actually be quite a bit smarter than many average US voters).
I’ll be honest. The main reason I didn’t want him to buy the camera had little to do with its price tag and everything to do with his being able to check in on me during the day. Between the hours of 8:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m., my house is Vegas, baby. What goes on here stays here. If I walk around in my underwear all damn day, that is my private business. If I am unshowered and sans make up and dancing 80’s style to Depeche Mode while I vacuum furniture, that is not your concern either. And if, on some off chance, I am eating popcorn and binge watching episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the last thing I want is my husband yelling at me through the speaker to get off the sofa like I am his dog. I have personal space issues. Those issues are that I need it. While the government may have photos of me that I hope will never come to light when I run for City Council, in my own world I like to imagine I am at least somewhat stealthy and secure in my personal space at home.
As proof of this, I offer Exhibit A.
Yesterday, my son’s phone was accidentally taken home by another student. Concerned son asked me to use the Find iPhone app to locate it. While I was checking on its whereabouts for him, I used the app to illustrate my privacy issues for my husband. All three of my Apple devices are always and famously not sharing location for the exact reason stated above. Rest assured that if I go missing in the Colorado wilderness and the bloodhounds can’t track me, you should just write me off as eaten by a mountain lion because you won’t be tracking me using a Find iPhone app that I voluntarily engaged. Not. Ever.
But, I digress. Yesterday hubby set up the Nest Cam while enduring my vigorous and wordy protests. He tried to reassure me that he had zero plans on spying on me. He told me he would set it up so that the only time it was activated was in my absence. He reminded me of the house security system and its camera, which he pointed out had never been abused to stalk me. I consequently reminded him this is mainly because I made him mount it in the garage because my home is Vegas, baby. He had me stand in the living room while he tested the audio capabilities. Then he asked me if I noticed what he had named it. He named it Hal after the sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I told him he wasn’t funny. If you haven’t seen the movie, let me elucidate; Hal is a little smarter than you would want your computer to be. He’s nosey, sneaky, and he’s creepy as hell. Steve was doing little to further his case. I started imagining terrible things accidentally befalling Hal during a routine dusting task. A smack on the back of its little black head with a baseball bat, perhaps?
Later, an email message came in for Steve from Hal. He saw it, began laughing, and forwarded it to me. It reinforced my concerns.
Hal had tracked me to my own living room at 8:17 p.m. There I am looking down at my iPhone, probably right after I got an alert that Hal spotted something in my living room, namely me. The level of creepiness just got upped. All I needed was Hal’s soft and calm voice saying something like, “I’m sorry, Justine. I’m afraid you can’t do that,” and I would lose my shit. I told hubby that I hate Hal. Secretly, though, I hoped Hal hadn’t heard me because I know what he is capable of.
I went to sleep last night not exactly sure where we would eventually land on this whole Hal development. I kind of hoped hubby would return the stupid thing, but he seemed pretty hell bent on using it on the dog as planned.
Today he got his opportunity. While I was out at an appointment, Ruby did indeed help herself to a comfy seat on her preferred library chair near the picture window. Upon receiving notification of movement in the living room, Steve panned Hal around to check the chair. And there she was. Vindication would soon be his. Steve pressed the microphone button on the Nest Cam app and proceeded to chide Ruby loudly to scare her from the furniture. She didn’t budge. He tried again while people in his quiet office silently wondered what the hell he was shouting from his cubby. Ruby lifted her head but remained steadfast. She had seen through Steve’s little charade and she was having none of it. She put her head back down and went right back to sleep. She’s border collie smart.
When I got home, I had to scold her for sleeping in the chair, but I apologized later. She may not be the best behaved dog ever, but she was on my side about Hal. We females have to stick together. The camera is going back. Our house is still Vegas, baby!
“We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.” ~Anais Nin
Bra shopping. A task that in my world falls somewhere in relative popularity between cleaning the hair out of a clogged shower drain and hanging out at the DMV to renew my driver’s license. Perhaps that is why, upon realizing I was long overdue for some fresh elastic to keep the girls in place, I reluctantly visited the Victoria’s Secret web site and placed an online order for two bras. At least I could avoid the hassle of mall shopping if I had to suffer the abuse of spending a ridiculous amount of money on clothing designed to be worn under other clothing.
When the package arrived the following week, neither bra in my usual size and style seemed to fit right. Stuff was everywhere and yet not anywhere it was supposed to be. Ugh. Guess I wasn’t avoiding the situation after all. Berating myself for not having braved the store in the first place and causing myself double the humiliation and effort, I traipsed to the mall, returns in hand, prepared to right the wrong and put the ugliness behind me at last. Upon entering the store, I was immediately approached by a sales clerk. I normally avoid help at all costs, preferring, I suppose, to bumble through this process in relative obscurity. But I just wanted to be done with it all already.
“Is there something I can help you with?”
“I got these online but they don’t fit. I need to do an exchange,” I confessed.
“Can I see what you bought?” she inquired. I handed the white, plastic shipping bag over and she peered inside, checked the contents, and nodded knowingly. “These don’t fit because you aren’t a 34B.”
I stared blankly at her. This was news to me. I had been wearing 34B for as long as I could remember.
“I’ve always worn that size,” I told her.
“Then you have always worn the wrong size,” she said, smiling. “Will you let me size you?” she asked.
I hesitantly acquiesced. My goal was to escape with something that fit. Maybe she could help me expedite that process. To my surprise, she didn’t grab the measuring tape. Instead, she gave me a quick once over then asked me to turn around. After a quick appraisal of my backside, she delivered this shocker.
“Sweetie, you are tiny. You aren’t a 34. You are a 32. I’d like to have you try on a 32DD and a 32D.”
At this point, I am pretty sure I audibly snorted. She looked to be in her early 50s, so it was quite possible she needed some vision correction. She went on trying to sell me on her size prediction.
“Do you want to stick with the these same styles? What colors?”
My head was spinning as I followed her around the store while she collected items for me to try. 32DD. Hahahahahaha. This woman is crazy. Did she even look at me? I’m not Kim Kardashian size. Anyone can see that! Before I had time to get my bearings, she had handed me off to the dressing room clerk with three bras and a final plea to trust her and give it a try.
Dammit all if she wasn’t dead on. The first bra, a lightly lined 32DD fit like nothing ever had before. There was no seepage out the side, no back fat oozing out under the band, and the ladies looked supported and happy. I had never seen them look so good. Where there had been gapping in the cups, there was none. The cups were full but did not runneth over. Apparently I am a 32DD, at least in Victoria’s secret mind. Who knew? While I still doubt anyone would peg me for a DD if they passed me on the street, the fitting room attendant checked the sizing for me, verifying the other gal’s appraisal. I had entered the store feeling like a big woman with negligible cleavage and was leaving the store feeling like a tiny girl with an enviable bounty. Not sure how it happened, but I’d had an instant boob job!
I am retelling this story here today (after sitting on it self-consciously for months) because it only recently struck me how my own overly critical self perception, fueled by a few negative comments from others that I took too much to heart, affected my reality for so long. It took an objective opinion from an outside party to convince me to test my notions about myself. I have been grateful to that store clerk every day since that visit to Park Meadows Mall in April, not only because I finally have bras that fit but because I am at last willing to question my self perceptions long enough to notice positives I have previously discounted or dismissed. Turns out there is a lot more to me than meets my eye.
Most people I know can quickly point to a creature in the animal kingdom that creeps them out. Some people are freaked out by rodents, but I will happily rescue a vole or mouse that tumbles into our window wells. My mother and sisters cannot stand moths while I operate a catch and release program for them in my home. Some may bristle at bats or shrivel over scorpions or cringe at centipedes. Like most people, the members of our household are not immune to animal phobias. Channeling their inner Indiana Jones, both Steve and Luke are terrified of snakes. Joe and I come unhinged over spiders. I once asked Luke why he despised snakes and he replied with great exasperation, “Mom…they have NO legs.” He then asked me why I hate spiders. I told him it’s because they have EIGHT legs. I’ve always thought the four of us became a family for a good reason. When a wolf spider the size of my palm waltzes onto our porch, Steve saves the day. When a snake appears in our basement, I collect it in a plastic bin and toss it back outside. Luke kills the spiders Joe finds, and Joe walks ahead on hikes to make sure there are no snakes in Luke’s path. It just works out.
Tonight as I was making dinner, Steve was in the basement crawling over and rifling through various tubs in the storage room looking for the boys’ ski boots. After a while he appeared in the kitchen with the good news that he had found them. He then came a bit closer, and I could tell something was not quite right. He leaned in and spoke in a hushed voice.
“I found a snakeskin on the floor in the storage room.”
I looked at him. The news didn’t surprise or frighten me, but I know Steve well enough to know that this was not an easy discovery for him.
“Are you sure?” I asked cautiously, eyeing him for signs of an impending freak out. There were none.
“Where did you find it?”
“I moved the tub, and it was on the floor.”
“Don’t tell Luke,” I warned before continuing. “Do you think it was a newer shed? Could it have been there for a while?” I scanned my brain trying to think of the last time I had been in that room. Could it have been there then?
“Maybe,” he replied.
“I will go check it out after dinner.”
I started laughing to myself. It just figured. Steve would be the one to make that discovery, just as it was completely natural that I was the one who came within inches of the the biggest wolf spider EVER in our window well a month ago. (Oh my holy hell that thing was creepy. I took a photo of it once I was safely inside and it was so big that its eyes glowed red in the camera flash. No lie. But, I digress.)
After dinner, I led the way downstairs to find the offending object. Sure enough. There on the floor of the storage room was a shriveled snakeskin from a snake approximately eighteen inches in length (twenty four inches if you have Steve’s eyes) resting on the remnant carpet. We stood there staring at it before surveying the room, trying to imagine where the damn thing was now. I took a photo of the crinkled skin and started laughing again. The whole idea that there is a snake in my house is ludicrous. I’m not living in southeast Asia. Holy crap on a cracker. This is suburbia! I picked up the skin, gave it a once over, and as surreptitiously as possible carted it out to the garage trash can. I told Steve it was from a garter snake. He, of course, required proof. When I produced a photo of a garter snake on my iPhone, he agreed with my assertion with visible relief. As scary as it is for him to imagine there might be a snake slinking around our house, there must be some comfort in knowing it’s not venomous. I imagine right about now Steve is wishing he wasn’t allergic to cats because this would be a perfect time to unleash one in the basement.
On Halloween, we will have lived in this home on the open space for thirteen years. In that time, we’ve only encountered one snake inside our home (the rattlesnake in the garage doesn’t count) and that was the one I deftly removed. Still, this snakeskin in the storage room advances so many questions. Could the skin have arrived (as Steve hopes) pre-shed and attached to the bottom of one of our camping bins? If not, where did the snake come from? When did it shed its skin? Is it still alive and gliding silently around our basement somewhere? If so, where does it hang out and where does it get its water? How creepy is it going to be when we’re moving out and we find it or its carcass somewhere in that room? How much therapy is Luke going to need if he’s downstairs building Legos and it slithers by? Can a child sue a parent for non disclosure of a reptile?
This morning, as I was sitting in rush hour traffic on my way to the new house to begin Day Three of what will undoubtedly become a biblical, forty days and forty nights of painting, I was thinking about how dull my days have become. Tonight, there is a snake in the basement. Apparently I have got to stop thinking so much. The universe is listening.
Tomorrow is our youngest son’s birthday. Don’t ask me how it’s possible, but the little guy will turn 12 at 11:18 tomorrow night. When I was pregnant with him, Denver was hit with a massive, March snowstorm. We were trapped indoors with a toddler for three days with 54″ of snow in our yard. Thirty-one weeks pregnant, dying to get out, and stubborn as a mule, I refused to let my husband do all the shoveling and my fat, reflux-tortured, pregnant self landed a sentence of five weeks on bed rest. While I was reclined on the sofa, I would rub my belly and tell the little being in there that he (I was determined he was a he) could not be born before May 21st because I had been promised another Gemini son and this Gemini mother was determined to get what she was promised. I repeated to him over and over the date of May 21st and told him I did not want to meet him before that date. Luke, being a natural-born pleaser with minimal patience, arrived as ordered on May 21st just before midnight. Since then, I’ve spent my days ensuring I am as good to him as he has been to me.
Yesterday, Luke requested birthday cupcakes for his classmates. Noting that one classmate is allergic to gluten, Luke asked that I provide gluten-free cupcakes so George could participate in the party too. I thought about heading to the bakery to purchase cupcakes, but decided that today was a perfect day for baking. It was cold and rainy yet again, and our house would benefit from a hot oven and the smell of baked goods on such a gloomy day. So this morning I headed to Target and swiped up gluten-free yellow and devil’s food cake mixes, butter, and powdered sugar and headed home to commence baking.
I ended up with 48 cupcakes and, while they cooled, I whipped up some homemade, vanilla buttercream icing. I pulled out the natural food coloring and tinted the frosting Luke’s favorite color. Using my pastry bag, I lovingly piped beautiful swirls of orange. I stood back to survey my work. For someone who bakes as infrequently as I do these days, I thought I’d done quite well. As I was getting ready to pack them into cupcake tins so I could haul them to school in the morning, an unwanted thought began knocking on my brain. I tried to barricade the door so it could not get in, but it was powerful and the door came down under its weight. Due to food allergies, no homemade baked goods will be permitted in the classrooms anymore. Son of a bitch.
That was the first of a plethora of expletives that escaped my mouth as I stood there facing 48 cupcakes that could neither go to school nor in my mouth. I had spent three hours mixing, baking, transferring, cooling, measuring, monitoring, beating, coloring, and decorating this confections. Three hours I could never get back. Three hours I could have used wisely on other necessary pursuits. My chagrin escaped in a semi-controlled, adult tantrum, witnessed only by my dog who decided it would be in her best interest to vacate the vicinity post haste.
The meltdown moved on like a fast-moving thunderstorm on a hot summer’s day, and I took a deep breath. I remembered the Tibetan monks who create and destroy sand mandalas as part of their symbolic meditation on the transitory nature of material life. The monks use colored sand to create intricate works of art. For days and sometimes weeks, they work tirelessly as a group on these stunning creations, chanting and meditating over them to bring out the healing energies of the deities represented within the mandala. Once the mandala is finished, in an equally ordered and painstaking manner, they dismantle their work of art, pour it into a jar, and release the sand into a river so the healing powers held within each grain of sand can flow toward the ocean and disperse their positivity.
This afternoon, the cupcakes were my mandala. I diligently created them. And during their birth, I had been fully present in the moment, incorporating all my love for my son into my task. The cupcakes were not about me, and they were not for me. They were an act of love, positive energy, and goodwill. I chanted a mental Om, scraped the superfluous icing into the disposal, washed the dishes, and wiped down the counters. I packed up 24 cupcakes and launched the rest into the trash lest they end up in my belly. We will share the spoils with friends tomorrow. But today I will recognize this experience for what it is, a sticky-note reminder that life is full of discomfort, disappointment, suffering, and change. To find peace, I’ve got to learn to let go and let my inner Tibetan monk guide my thoughts. I wonder how I can get him to the surface more often? Maybe he likes cupcakes?
A couple days ago, I wrote about a note that my son had found dropped into his locker at school. Oh…the days of passing notes at school, especially notes that were dropped surreptitiously into lockers. Remember those days? When one folded piece of paper could set in motion a new romance? When a handwritten note could change your fate? The note Luke found was not a declaration but an inquiry, an inquiry which required him to check this box. He had an entire long weekend to ponder his answers. We discussed his options. Early on Monday morning, he reached for the note, took it over to the table, and privately recorded his responses. I watched him fold up the note and put it into his backpack. When we reached school, he made the bold pronouncement that later that day he would probably have a girlfriend. His older brother reiterated that the whole situation was depressing. And I drove off feeling a little bit vicariously giddy about it all.
Well, Luke got into the car yesterday with no news. Wanting to keep the whole affair a secret, he had tossed the note back into her locker rather than handing it to her in class. Now he would have to wait one more night to find out what effect his response had. He was playing it cool and maybe he was actually relaxed about it, but the suspense was killing me.
Today as Luke ran out to the car, there was an extra, nearly-imperceptible-to-anyone-but-a-mother bounce in his step. I could tell he had the news he wanted in his hands. He climbed into the car.
“So…do you have a girlfriend?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered with the sweetest little grin.
He handed me the note. I hadn’t seen it since he had taken it off the counter, so I wasn’t quite sure what he was showing me. As far as I knew, he had simply answered her questions by adding checkmarks. I wondered what she had added. Turns out it wasn’t what she added that made the note interesting. It was what he added. Luke had answered her question about having a girlfriend with a check-marked no, and then added yes/no check boxes of his own under these three words: Or do I? She had checked yes.
I have to hand it to my son. He’d found a way to get the answer he wanted without any help from his parents. His question to her was both flirtatious and charming. What 5th grade girl wouldn’t love that question after having received all the right answers to her own questions? And by making her respond on that same note, he’d worked it out so he could keep it forever as proof. He told me he’d wanted to be sure he’d end up with the note for posterity. The kid is a genius. I wondered if the poor girl had a clue what she was getting herself into.
On the drive home, I asked Luke what it means to be boyfriend/girlfriend in 5th grade. I had no experience with such things when I was that age, so my curiosity was piqued.
“So, do you kiss?” I asked.
“NOOOOOOO!” Luke replied in his most appalled voice. “We’re in 5th grade! We’re too young for that.”
This was good news. I was not ready for kissing.
“So, what do you do then?”
“You hang out. You talk on the phone. You just get to know each other better,” Luke explained.
“Do you go on dates? Am I going to have to drive you to the movies?”
“Yes,” he said, “but you’ll come in. You can sit in the theater with us but not in the same row.”
“Gotcha,” I replied, feeling a whole lot better about Luke and his new girlfriend.
For the rest of the ride home, we talked about what would be the best way to keep their new relationship status on the down low from the rest of the class. They haven’t had a chance to talk much since their declaration of like, so we discussed how he could ask if it might be all right to call her on the phone so they could talk in private. You know in Despicable Me how Agnes says, “He’s so fluffy I’m going to die?” Well, that adequately sums up how cute I find Luke’s new interest in romance.
When we decided to have children, I never gave much thought to this part of parenting. I pictured changing foul diapers and spoon feeding infants. I imagined taking them to the zoo and being the Tooth Fairy. But I didn’t imagine that someday I might be dispensing relationship advice. Maybe it’s because that was so far into the future? Maybe it’s because I never sought dating advice from my own parents? I’m happy that Luke is willing to talk to me. It means he feels I’m approachable. I know he’s only 12 and his openness might wain as he inches further into adulthood, but I feel we’re off to a good start. I’m excited for what the future holds for Luke. And I sure hope I like his new girlfriend. I imagine I will. After all, she has phenomenal taste.
Spring is in the air. The songbirds have returned to my bird-feeder welfare state. Tulips are in blooming underneath our spring snow. The flowering trees have kicked my allergies into overdrive. We’re solidly entrenched in the season of new beginnings and hope, which is why I was not at all surprised when the other day my youngest climbed into my car after school smiling quite sheepishly, holding in his hand a folded paper note with a smiley face painted on the outside.
He was whispering rather excitedly to his brother and his brother, in turn, was whispering back. Their hushed conversation was both animated and intense. I had a good idea what was going on based on conversations we’d been having for weeks, but I waited to be included. Finally, Joe’s excitement spilled over.
“Luke got a note from Maddy,” he gushed. Then he added, “It’s depressing.”
“How is it depressing exactly?”
“It just highlights my many failed attempts with girls,” Joe said.
“How many attempts?” I asked. This was all news to me.
“Eight,” he replied instantly with complete assurity.
“Okay. Can we talk about that in a minute? This isn’t about you. It’s about Luke. Let him tell his own story,” I chided. “What’s going on, Luke?”
“Well, after school I found this note in my locker,” he replied, handing me the piece of paper.
It was your garden variety, grade-school note. With carefully chosen words, the author was attempting to ascertain Luke’s level of interest in her. The innocence of the note made me smile. Any note with a “check this box” format wins my heart every time, and this note had two different questions with corresponding boxes. Add to it the charming spelling irregularities of dyslexia and you’ve got about the sweetest correspondence ever. I handed it back to Luke.
“So, how are you going to respond?” I asked
“I’m not sure,” he said.
“I thought you like Maddy,” I replied.
“I do. I’m just nervous. What if I tell her I like her and she doesn’t like me?”
“She wouldn’t have bothered to write the note if she didn’t like you,” I told him. “Girls generally don’t bother with guys they don’t like. We try to avoid them. Trust me.”
“Well, then, I think I will answer yes to the liking her question. But I don’t know what to say about the question of if I have a girlfriend,” he said.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” I inquired knowing full well the answer.
“No, but…,” he paused.
“You are afraid to put yourself out there?” I asked.
“Kind of,” he said.
“I can tell you this. If you like her, you shouldn’t play games. Be honest.”
“Okay. I will tell her I don’t have a girlfriend then.”
“Or…or you could make a third box to check that says Not Yet. That would let her know you’re hoping she will be your girlfriend,” I suggested, digging way back into my memories of flirting protocol. “That puts the ball back in her court,” I said, “but still keeps you safe because it’s not a definitive answer.”
“Yes. I like that,” he replied with clear relief that there was a way to respond that didn’t leave him completely vulnerable.
He folded up the note, put it away, and Joe used the opportunity to begin his lamentation about his 12-year-old brother’s third success in dating while he still only had one success, way back in kindergarten, and he’s almost fourteen. It’s hard to be Joe.
I’m grateful that my sons are willing to talk to me about girls, at least thus far. The world of interpersonal relationships is a minefield. I hope to keep the lines of communication open with them as they negotiate their way through it. They know I am an old lady, but they also know I dated plenty before I married their dad. I have shared some of my stories of heartbreak, embarrassment, rejection, and shame so they know I have been there and can commiserate. It will be difficult to stand by during the tragedy of their first broken heart but, for now, I’m enjoying the check-this-box phase of newly sprung love or, in this case, like.
The craziest thing happened to me last weekend. I got mistaken for an old person. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, honestly, because I only feel 25. But there I was having drinks at a bar with some friends when our server made a seemingly innocuous remark that sucked the air out of my midlife bubble. As she was taking our order for a second round of drinks, she chose to strike up a conversation.
“It’s getting pretty busy in here tonight,” she noticed. “There must be a show. Who’s playing?”
We told her we were going to see The Replacements. I could see her wracking her young, fresh brain for any recognition of the name The Replacements and coming up blank. My friends filled her in on who The Replacements were while she explained her ignorance of them by commenting that she grew up listening to KISS because that’s what her parents listened to.
Whoa! Her parents? Was she comparing us to her parents? Just how old did this child think we were? Certainly I do not look old enough to be her mother because I’m not old enough to be her mother.
“How old are you?” one of my friends inquired.
“I’m 24,” she replied.
Well, crap. I am definitely old enough to be her mother. I reeled at that thought for a few moments before seizing the opportunity to feel smug that I might be the same age as her parents but at least I’ve got better music taste. KISS? I openly admit that showing my face at a Replacements show dated me (since they officially broke up in 1991 before getting back together in 2006), but I have moved beyond 80s music. I listen to Sirius XMU, dammit. I have at least a modicum of knowledge about the current indie rock of college youth. So there. I’m not dead yet. Truth was, though, that I was a little shocked that she was so young and we were apparently so not young any longer. Then, apropos of nothing, she added this lovely comment.
“Well..I think it’s great that you’re all still getting out.”
There goes her tip.
Oh. My. God. I’m 46, not 86. Holy crap. Are people my age not getting out? Are my friends and I freaks because we can drag our aged carcasses from our homes, have some drinks, see a concert, and stay out until midnight? Am I an anomaly? Out on a Sunday night? I’ve never thought of my concert-going behavior as odd for my age (ugh…that phrase), but now I had to wonder.
We deflected her comment with a torrent of sarcasm. I gestured to extract the arrow from my heart. All the while, my head was spinning and my heart was gushing the last of my life’s blood. Had I really reached that point? Is that how 20 year olds see me? I’m the old lady they spy from across the room and condescendingly think, “Well…good for her”? When the hell did this happen? When did I cross that imaginary line from youth into old age? I’m not quite 50. I’m not yet eligible for AARP. Oh god. Does this mean I look over 50? The horror.
As if to punctuate the fact that I was absolutely not an old lady, I troubled her for a third glass of wine. The beauty of being older is that you can afford more wine, right? And if I’m too old to be out on Sunday night, I must certainly be too old to get drunk anyway. I’d show her. Old. Who was she calling old? I sucked down my wine like I was Ponce de Leon drinking from the Fountain of Youth.
When it was nearly time to go, I tossed a couple twenties to my friend and headed for the bathroom where I stood for a long time having a little come-to-Jesus meeting with my reflection in the mirror. I told myself that I’d rather be the old lady at the show than the old lady asleep at home. I am still at least sort of cool, even if my 24-year-old server doesn’t see it. I recall being a naive twit at 24. Someday, if she’s lucky, this girl will be 46 and some 24-year-old twit will inform her much to her chagrin that she’s now officially old.
In the meantime, I’m disappointedly starting to grasp the saying that inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell happened.
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 sufferers 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.
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.
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. 😀
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.