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.

“NOTHING.”

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.

Nothing.

 

I Don’t Miss Sleep Anymore

Safe haven
My three men…all wiped out together

The other night our double bedroom doors burst wide open at 1:03 a.m., startling both hubby and I awake. From the light in the hallway, I could make out that the perpetrator of our early morning wake up call was our youngest son, Luke.

“What’s up, Luke?” I asked, although I already knew the answer to this question.

Luke is our “good” sleeper. While his brother tosses and turns in the top bunk, Luke slumbers peacefully. He sleeps in cars, on planes, and in restaurants. When he’s down for the count, you usually don’t have to worry about him again.

“I had a nightmare,” he replied as he quietly closed the door behind him with sudden politeness.

“Really? What about?” I said.

As he began to climb onto our bed, he started recalling a dream wherein he was being chased in Roblox, which is some new video game he and his brother have been playing. He sat on the end of our already cramped, queen-size bed telling us about snakes (like Indiana Jones, he hates snakes) and death. He was visibly unsettled. Often he will just tell us about his nightmares, and then head back to his room. Sometimes, though, he needs real comfort. I could tell this was one of those times. Finished with his story, he finally crawled toward the top of the bed, pulled back the covers between me and hubby, and began to insinuate himself between us.

“So…sorry about this, guys,” he told us as he nestled in and began to settle down to get some more sleep.

When Luke was small, we experienced periods during which the only way he would fall asleep was in our bed. He slept in a bassinet in our room until he was four months old. He slept with us again off and on from 9 months to roughly 14 months. Sometimes he would fall asleep in our bed and we would transfer him. Sometimes we were so tired he ended up staying with us all night. When we would tell other people about Luke’s sleeping habits, most would cluck their tongues and tell us what a mistake we were making. We brushed it off.

In the house I grew up in, we were not allowed to sleep in my parents’ room. Ever. It simply was not done. My parents gave us our own rooms, and they expected us to be in them. End of story. When we had our children, I assumed that our kids would have the same experience that I did. But, our kids are not like my sisters and me. Our kids have vivid imaginations and stressful dreams. Joe sleepwalks. Luke, if aroused from sleep by an unexpected noise, is often unable to calm down enough to go back to sleep. We do what we can to get sleep when we can, and sometimes that only occurs when we let the boys sleep in our room. It is what it is. We have made our peace with it.

I flipped around as Luke was in our bed the other night, unable to go back to sleep. I could not get comfortable because what was once 20 pounds is now 55 pounds and takes up a lot more room. I was about to resign myself to taking Luke’s place in his bed while letting him rest peacefully with his dad when, out of nowhere, the announcement came.

“I think I’ll go back to my own bed now,” he said, grabbing his stuffed animal and climbing carefully over his father and out of the bed.

I walked with him down the hall and tucked him back into his bunk bed underneath his sleeping brother to make sure he was truly ready to settle down. He pulled his stuffed Husky dog, Shasta, towards him, curled into a little ball on his side, and closed his eyes. He was calm, and I knew I would not be seeing him again until the morning.

I’ve thought a lot about the way we “spoil” our kids by letting them do things like sleep in our room on occasion. Truth is that I don’t feel the slightest bit of remorse about it. I don’t think it’s undermined their confidence or made them any less capable of handling their fears. Instead, I think it’s allowed them to believe that when things get scary, they can turn to us. When they feel confident and relaxed, they always move forward without us. Sure. We’ve definitely lost some sleep with restless boys in our bed or on an air mattress in our room, but I think the trade off of knowing that they know they can count on us is worth it. Besides, these days are numbered. Someday they will be out of the house, and I will miss hearing that door burst open in the middle of the night and knowing that they need me. I’ll catch up on my sleep then.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.