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.

The Tell-Tale Cry of Nothing

Little monsters
Little monsters

I was standing in our sons’ bedroom tonight as they were settling in for the night and I was struck with a memory from our recent past. When they were younger, on occasion I would hear a bang, crash, thump, or some other oddly loud sound coming from where they were. Before I could even inquire about the noise, one would holler to me at the top of his lungs to stop the impending investigation.


That was it. No explanation. No apology. Sometimes it was repeated rapidly several times in the same way to reinforce the complete and utter nothingness of the nothing. It still makes me laugh to think about it. I always figured that if no one was crying and the house wasn’t suddenly filled with smoke and the ceiling hadn’t caved in and there was no water cascading in a flash flood down the stairs, all was well. Or at least well enough. I’d find out soon enough what mischief they’d been up to.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t supposed to have secrets. I kept a journal, and I knew it was read despite my best efforts to hide it. I would set it a certain way before I left and sometimes when I returned I could tell it had been moved. I guess I don’t blame my mom for snooping. Parents have to look out for their kids. I suppose my journal was as close as she was going to get to finding out what was going on in my head. Still, my lack of privacy growing up deeply influenced how much respect I have for my sons’ right to keep some things to themselves. Not everything, but some things.

So far, I’ve been lucky. Most of the time, they do admit when things go awry. They fess up when they mess up. Maybe not without prompting, but they don’t persist in a lie for no reason. I learned a lesson from my youth. The more my parents pried, the more I clammed up. In response, with my own children I’ve decided not to sweat the little things because I want them to trust me when the big things pop up. And I know they will.

I don’t often hear the tell-tale cry of NOTHING these days. Perhaps it’s because they’re older and spend more time playing on electronics than wrestling. Perhaps it’s because they’re better at covering things up. Or perhaps it’s because they’ve accepted that I know they’re good kids and there’s nothing they could do that would make me love them less.



The Three Meanest Words In The English Language

One crazy family is enough.

For a few years now, there’s been a television show on NBC called Parenthood. I rarely watch network television, mostly because our evenings are filled with homework and getting the boys ready for school the next day and family time. What little time is left at the end of the night is primarily devoted to my trying to scheme up an idea to write about in this blog. My sisters have been talking to me about the show for years and telling me I should watch it. Frankly, though, it looked a wee bit too sappy for me so I have taken a pass on it without a second thought. A couple weeks ago when I finally told my mom we were having Luke evaluated for possible learning disabilities, she suggested Parenthood to me too. I started wondering if there was some sort of reward from NBC for people who bring new viewers to the show. But, Mom told me that the show might validate some of what I go through with my boys because a couple on the show has a child with differences. She thought I might be able to relate to it. So, I caved and started watching it via Netflix.

Well, it turns out that my mom and sisters were right. It’s a really good show. And, yes, watching Kristina and Adam negotiate the waters of Asperger’s Syndrome with their son Max does seem a wee bit familiar. It’s nice to be able to identify with a parenting experience similar to mine rather than watching a parenting experience I wish I had. The episode I watched today, though, hit a little too close to home. The teenage daughter buys a sexy black lace bra from Victoria’s Secret. The parents are not too happy about it because they realize what it means about the escapades of their fifteen year old daughter and the boy she has been seeing. As the mother leaves the daughter behind to go on a business trip, she whispers the three meanest words in the English language to her. She says, “I trust you.”

Oh, how I hate that phrase. That phrase is a lie. If you trust someone, you don’t tell them that you trust them. You simply do. If you tell someone you trust them, what you’re really saying is something like “I want to trust you so if you go behind my back you won’t be able to withstand the crippling guilt of having disappointed me after I put my faith in you in this very obvious way.” The implication is that whatever it is you were thinking you were going to do in some way goes against some underlying compact and will destroy the very fabric of our relationship. Those three words completely remove the fun from whatever it is you wanted to do. I hate that.

My husband has said these words to me on more than one occasion. Oddly enough it’s always been under the same circumstance. I’ve wanted something expensive and threatened to buy it against his wishes and better judgment. Then, he utters those three words and renders me powerless.

“I think I’m going to go ahead and book us that trip to Costa Rica,” I say. “The one I told you about.”

“I told you we really can’t afford to do that right now,” he replies.

“I know. But, we’ve only got one life, and it’s such a fabulous deal on a trip I really want to take. We can find a way to make it work,” I plead.

At this point, he’s running through for me the long, boring, laundry list of items we honestly *need* to spend our money on, stuff like carpet cleaning, a new water heater, and a stack of bills. Meanwhile, I’m rolling my eyes at him and singing “lalalalalala” with my fingers in my ears (in my head, anyway).

“You can’t stop me, you know. If I buy the trip, you’ll go and have a great time,” I say.

“But, you won’t buy the trip,” he replies. “You know how I feel about it. And, I trust you.” And, with that, the trip slips through my fingers. We won’t be going to Costa Rica, at least not this time.

I began watching Parenthood because I was looking to make a connection that would make me feel better about my life. As it turns out, though, the similarities between that show and my real life have become a bit too surreal for me. It’s as if the writers and Ron Howard have been stalking my life for material. And, let’s face it, there really is no escape from reality in television if the television you’re watching is mirroring your life. Perhaps it’s time to switch to The Walking Dead. I bet there’s nothing in that show that will reek of the too familiar. At least, not until the predicted Zombie Apocalypse occurs.








Not Just A Laughing Matter

Dang…this movie is funny!

After the debate tonight, I did something I never do. I flipped through channels, found a movie, and watched it. The movie was Bridesmaids. The first time I saw it, I saw it in the theater with my friend Heather. We laughed until we got to that point of no return when everything you hear is funny. We would get ourselves under control and then laugh again when someone else in the theater started laughing. In fact, I remember that I laughed so loud that I snorted, and then I laughed because I snorted. (I am nothing if not dignified.) When the film came out on DVD, I bought it. I forced my husband to watch it. Tonight, I knew it would be the perfect debate relief. It was. I once again laughed until I wanted to cry.

As the credits were rolling tonight, though, I thought about the story line between the police officer and the main character, Annie. I like him, not just because he’s got that darling Irish accent, but because he knows she’s batshit crazy and he likes her anyway. He seems to sense she’s going through a rough patch and rather than judging her for her irrational behavior he hangs around long enough to see her through it. I think that’s beautiful.

We don’t do that often enough for each other these days…give each other the benefit of the doubt. We don’t accept apologies willingly enough. We don’t overlook faults quickly enough. We hold onto grudges and keep our guard up so we won’t get hurt. It’s too bad, really, the amount of misunderstandings that occur because we’re so concerned with things being equitable and neat. I know I am so guilty of this. I should try harder to be like Officer Rhodes, to see past the imperfections of others (and myself) and just be nicer.

Not all things in life that are a laughing matter are without a lesson.

You’ve Got To Leave If You Want To Be Missed

Our cute sons

Last week was a whirlwind for me. Flew to Boston on Friday. Spent Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in New England hitting five states in three days as was my goal. Arrived home late on Monday night. Put in my usual mom day on Tuesday beginning at 6:30 a.m. Whipped my way through laundry, grocery shopping, and packing so I could get up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday to head to the airport with my own mom to head to Vegas to celebrate her birthday there. Was in Vegas from 9 a.m. Wednesday until 8 p.m. yesterday. During our time in Vegas, my 70 year old mom and I did a ton of walking. I wish I’d been wearing a pedometer to measure it. (I mean, when do you go to Vegas and eat out for every meal and come home to discover you’ve actually lost weight on your vacation?) Today, a full week after my travel commenced, I collapsed. I love travel more than most things, but it was such a gift to be home today that I did nothing. Literally. No-thing. Not one thing. From 6:45 a.m. when I heard my boys wake up and head into the computer room to play Minecraft until 3 p.m., I sat in my bed. It was a stick-a-fork-in-me kind of day. I was done. Done physically. Done mentally. Done emotionally. I needed a day to recover from my vacations. Go figure.

Tonight, we went to spaghetti dinner at my dad’s church. Riding over in the car, it occurred to me that I hadn’t spent much time at all with my boys in over 7 days. While I was gone, I was too busy to miss them. Every moment of my travel had been filled with things to do. When they woke me up at 6:45 a.m., I wasn’t annoyed. I popped into their computer room and sat on the floor hugging them for a few minutes. Even though we were all home today, they spent most of their day playing outside with friends while I convalesced in my room. So tonight at dinner they had to keep telling me to stop hugging on them, staring at them, and telling them how handsome they are. I was embarrassing them with all the attention. I couldn’t help it, though. It wasn’t until tonight that I noticed how much I had missed them without even realizing it.

This evening I was reminded of why we need time away from our children. We need to step back a while so when we return we can savor them. How often do we get caught up in the day-to-day routine and fail to appreciate our kids for their creativity, their fourth-grade humor, and their dirty faces? The things about them that really get on my nerves when I’m faced with it day to day, like the way Joe likes to wipe his greasy, buttered hands on his nice shirts or the way Luke goes straight to whining mode when we mention it’s time to read, made me smile tonight. I had more patience for their antics. When we were finished with dinner, we drove them to a nearby playground and sat and watched them play for 15 minutes. Watched them play. I never take the time to do that, to simply be still and enjoy witnessing their childhoods. Today was a good reminder of why we leave our kids. If you can get beyond their sad faces when you’re leaving, beyond the forty text messages you receive from them daily when you’re gone, and the immediate question “what did you bring me” when you walk back in the door, you will discover that you actually missed the little buggers. You might just find out that they missed you too. But, you’ll have to leave first.

I Have More Purpose Than Cousin Itt

My rough estimation of my own Cousin Itt.

I am lost. I thought that once the boys started back to school, things in my life would fall into a pace or rhythm in which I would be able to find adequate space for my writing. So far, though, that has not happened. Two weeks into my “freedom,” and I’m no further along on my book than I was months ago when I decided I should commit to writing it. It’s been weighing on me, this lack of progress, gnawing at my confidence and sucking out my desire to continue. Each day I’ve found it more difficult to believe I’m truly capable of what I’ve said I would do. Because of this, I’ve been feeling a bit like Cousin Itt from The Addams Family, a superfluous, faceless joke of a family relation with no real skill or purpose. It’s a dark place under all that hair.

A little over a week ago, I wrote a bit about fate and coincidence. I’ve long thought that life presents us with what we need. The problem is that most people are too closed off to the signs and hints, the gentle hand of fate that continually offers us what we need to help us along our journey. You have to be paying attention if you want guidance. As I’ve been sitting here wallowing in my self-perceived worthlessness and ineptitude, I haven’t been in tune with much else in my life. How do you see the positives when you’re up to your eyeballs in negatives?

That is exactly what I was saying to myself this afternoon right before I decided to check the email account I created for this blog last December. I don’t check this email regularly because experience has shown that not very many people frequent it. Still, today, as I was going through my other four email accounts to play catch up (I have an email problem), I thought I might as well go ahead and check my blog account. There, in my inbox, was a message from my graduate school thesis adviser. I haven’t had any contact with Dr. Savage in years. He found me through Linkedin (another account which I don’t use) and followed the link to my blog. On any other day, it would have been nothing more than a pleasant surprise to see a message from Dr. Savage in my inbox. Today, though, in the midst of my self-loathing, it was a sign. His message was full of complimentary statements about my writing, and these statements came at a time when I most needed an infusion of positive energy. I’d like to say it’s some sort of weird coincidence, but I don’t believe it is. The universe wants me to shut up, have faith in myself, and be patient. The universe sent Dr. Savage to remind me to solider on because I’m doing what I should be even if it’s not going the way I had hoped it would.

Ten years ago, I was close to tossing my thesis in the trash. I was frustrated, tired, and (quite frankly) bored with listening to myself talk. I wanted to let it go and move on. But, Dr. Savage told me I was almost there, so I kept working. He was right. I graduated in December 2002 with a master’s degree in writing. And now just when I’m shaking my head and wondering what I was thinking when I embarked on this writing journey, Dr. Savage shows up again. That is no coincidence. You know…Cousin Itt might not have had a purpose, but I do. I merely needed a little reminder.

The Difference Between A Rut And A Grave

My brand-new, 13 year old Kona mountain bike gets a rest while I hydrate.

“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”  ~Ellen Glasgow

I haven’t ridden my mountain bike on a singletrack trail in about seven years. This morning, in desperate need of exercise but short on time, I decided I would ride the six-mile, singletrack loop on the open space park behind our home. I used to be slightly more experienced at negotiating the rocks and bumps on a mountain bike trail. I used to have a bit more confidence about it too. Although I’ve ridden over 900 miles so far this year, these have been road bike or trainer miles. And those, as you can imagine, feel very different than mountain bike miles. This morning I might as well have been piloting a moon rover over the pitted surface of that hard, space rock. I felt lost.

All the time I’ve spent in the bike saddle this year kept me from becoming winded on the incline part of the ride today, but that’s the only thing my training prepared me for. I forgot how freaking bumpy the bike feels on a rocky path. I forgot how my hands get tired from the tighter grip I need to keep on the handlebars while negotiating the twists, turns, and obstacles along the way. I forgot the nerve that’s required when you see what lies a head of you. I forgot how your personal space is invaded by plants that brush you as you ride and remind you how narrow your path is. Aside from the two-wheeled mode of transport and the basic skill of balancing on a bike long enough to propel it forward, these sports seemed very far apart from each other this morning. If road biking is a cheetah (or, in my case, maybe a blind, three-legged cheetah), then mountain biking is a mountain goat (or in my case, a blind, three-legged mountain goat).

I had to rediscover some things on the ride, like that I’m not currently coordinated enough to ride and drink while on a singletrack trail. This is why it would have been worth it to pull my Camelback out of storage. But, the most important thing I remembered is that to be successful while mountain biking you have to trust yourself and your bike. You have to believe that the bike will carry you over the obstacles and that you will be able to control it when it does. The problem for me is that trust is not ever been something I’ve excelled at. I’m suspicious. I’m cautious. I’m a recovering control freak. I’ve been conditioned to eliminate the variables to create a smooth journey. But, mountain biking is not a smooth journey.

The more I thought about it on the much less tenuous descent toward home, the more I realized that I need to work toward becoming a better mountain biker because those skills are skills I need in my every day life. I need to trust. I need to believe. I need to push myself just a little bit further than I’m comfortable with because I can do it if I just try. You can only grow if you ask yourself to move beyond the grooves you’ve worn into your daily existence. Once you jump the boundary and veer ever-so-slightly off course, things change. You change.

I’m going to get myself some clipless pedals and fun mountain bike shoes and start pushing myself a bit more to ride that singletrack trail behind my house. Maybe if I do I’ll become confident enough to try other nearby trails and branch out. And, if I can do that, I’m fairly certain I will grow enough spine to try other new challenges as well. This morning, I felt lost while out on that six-mile loop. Sometimes, though, being lost can remind you how it feels to stop going through the motions and actually live.

The Easiest Way Down Is For Sissies

There is difficult, slightly difficult, and not difficult at all. But, what you get out of life is largely only what you put into it.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”                               ~  Frederick Douglass

I spent my weekend skiing at a resort that was new to me. It’s been a long time since that was the case for me, and I had forgotten how much it helps to rely on ski maps until you get your bearings somewhere new on a mountain. So, my friends and I studied the map, picked some routes, and targeted a few areas we were interested in experiencing. One thing struck me wherever we went on the mountain, though. I kept seeing signs that pointed to the easiest way down. Now, I know that if I had been on the beginner slopes, I would not have seen those signs; but because we’d decided to spend a fair amount of time on advanced terrain we saw plenty of signs that offered an easy way out.

Those signs are crucial on a ski mountain. Sometimes, without a map, you end up somewhere that might require more skiing skills than you actually possess. To keep yourself from injury, you need to find the easiest way down. But, the more I reflected on those signs, the more I realized that perpetually taking the easiest way down can do more harm than good. I only became a better skier when I began trusting myself and taking some risks on tougher slopes. If I had not been willing to let go, ski a bit faster, and believe in my abilities, I would still be stuck in the same rut, too fearful to venture out.

I work hard to show my boys that growth only comes through taking calculated risks, branching out, trying new things, and being willing occasionally to look foolish for a while while you work towards improvement. Most of the strides I’ve made in my life, the goals I’ve accomplished and are most proud of, have come only as a result of overcoming a struggle. Many things that have come too easily feel unimportant by comparison. And, the things I most worried I would not be able to do yet eventually accomplished are my happiest memories. If you look at a difficult task square on, have doubts in your ability to surmount it, and yet plug right along until the goal is reached, you truly are rewarded. If you’d asked me ten years ago if I could ride my bike 150 miles in two days, I would have flat out laughed. Yet, here I am with two MS150 rides under my belt and a third one on tap for this summer. I won’t lie. The last 7 miles on those 75-mile days are rough. But, once I roll under the finish gates, I feel such intense joy and strength. I know I can do anything. I am invincible.

Without struggle there is no progress. The easiest way down will get you where you need to be. No doubt about it. You can continually travel the same well-trodden path and live a perfectly adequate life. You won’t get anywhere but through it, but you’ll do fine. But if you can accept (or even seek out) a challenge or struggle now and then, you will grow beyond your wildest expectations. While I appreciate the tips on finding the easiest way down, I think I’ll keep pushing my boundaries for a while and see where I end up instead.



Trust Falls

Looking for the silver lining in my cloud

On January 1st, in the spirit of everything zen, I made myself a list of mantras to repeat this year. They are meant to guide me toward achieving greater personal peace in 2012. I printed the list out and stuck it on my closet door as a daily reminder. My seven mantras are:

1) Soften

2) Be Grateful

3) Adventure

4) Trust

5) Be Still

6) Practice Acceptance

7) Listen Beyond the Words

I plan to blog about each of these seven mantras at some point during the year. Today I am struggling mightily with the idea of trust, so it gets to be my first victim.

I am a trusting person. I want to believe the best about people. Most times I’m not disappointed. Sometimes, though, I get kicked around for trusting some who should not have been supplied the benefit of the doubt. To combat my very trusting nature, the universe provided me with a defense mechanism, the ability to not care what most others think of me. When most people break my trust, it doesn’t bother me. In my life, there are a mere handful who are capable of hurting me by pointing out or taking advantage of my weaknesses. Unfortunately, some of the handful have pushed me to a point where I doubt them.

And, this is why trust is on my mantra list. Sometimes I feel like Charlie Brown with that stupid football. He knows in his heart that Lucy will pull that football away each time. He tries to be strong, to deny her the opportunity. He knows he will end up feeling like a fool. He knows she thinks he’s an idiot for falling for it repeatedly. But, Charlie Brown is ultimately a kind soul with a trusting heart. He gives in to his optimism, and let’s Lucy hold the ball for him. Of course, she does pull it away at the last second and laughs as he lands on his back with a resounding thud. With the people I love, I am Charlie Brown. I want so badly to trust them that I give second and third and fourth chances. It’s careless. Sometimes I get hurt and wind up cursing myself for not trusting my instincts and protecting myself against what I was absolutely certain would happen. But, I’m Charlie Brown, so I give in to the idea that people can change and that what has happened before may not necessarily happen again.

What I am pondering today, though, is this: am I optimistic for giving second and third chances to people who’ve repeatedly proven me wrong or am I insane for putting myself time and time again into the same situation and expecting different results? I suppose there are plenty of people in my life who would opt for the insanity defense in my case. But, I can’t help but think that what keeps me giving people the benefit of the doubt is that I deeply want them to rise to the occasion and not kick the crap out of me again even though they know they can. I’m still waiting for that moment of triumph when I know that my risk in trusting was worth it.

I guess I am too much like Charlie Brown, doomed to endure those ridiculous, epic-fail place kicks at the hands of that conniving Lucy. Even though I get hurt, I’m simply not ready to close myself off and give up on the people I love. It might be a trifle hippie, love-child, Woodstock-ish, but I’m just going to sit around singing Kumbaya and participating in trust falls until the day I don’t fall flat.