Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cut it out

If I were a surgeon I’d start at the base of my throat.  I’d cut a very thin, very straight line down the center of my chest to just above my belly button and start to gently ease back the skin on either side so as not to stretch it too far.  Then I’d go to work on the muscle.  A sharp scalpel could make quick work of the job, until I exposed my chest cavity.  Once there, I’d remove the dark masses that grow through the week.  They look like cancerous lumps only more square.  But instead of diseased organs they are the dark masses of Envy, Shame, Humiliation and Failure.  I’d remove them and put them on a white background in a Lucite box and display them in a well-lit space as though they were the best of Damien Hirst.  And I’d feel better.  

But I am not a surgeon.  I’m just a regular person.  And I cannot cut these things out of me and pretend they were never there.   They are always there and to what degree they get to direct the course of my day depends largely on so many factors but all of them point back to me.  Do I let these words, emphasized by capital letters, get the best of me or do I suppress them with a smile and a laugh?    

Home, work and love.  The great cliché says that you can only find joy in two out of three at any given moment.  And I hate to live a cliché.  But the older I get the more I am forced to accept that I am lucky to have even one go well, much less two or three.  Tonite, at the end of a long day, at the end of an even longer week, I am grateful for the deep, steady breathing that indicates a sleeping Sig Other next to me, the periodic grunts of the beasts on the couch across the room, and the quiet hum of stillness that resonates through my home.  Two of my three are in tact tonite. Whatever else may happen, whatever else seems to be falling to pieces around me, I am forced to remember how lucky I am to have great love in my life.  My love and my home are one and the same.  How lucky am I?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Armed and Dangerous

Nora Ephron feels bad about her neck.  She shouldn’t really.  I saw her the other day and her neck looked great.  All of her looked great.  She was wearing a sophisticated black suit and had a perfect blowout.  She was, as always, dressed for the occasion.

I do not feel bad about my neck.  My neck is fine so far.  The skin of my neck has age appropriate looseness and there’s little if any waddle under my chin.  My arms, however, are another matter.  I feel bad about my arms.  Not all the time.  This Spring my arms were looking pretty good.  I was working out and had done a fair amount of work to make sure I could pull off my shoulder and arm baring wedding dress.  But then I got busy.  And life took over.  And now I feel bad about my arms.   They might look ok again someday.  But right now, they’re taking a little break from public exposure.  And that’s ok.  They still look fine in a tight fitting t-shirt.  The basic shape is still acceptable.  But the skin is a little loose.  And the looseness, in the wrong light, can look a little, um, cottage cheesey.  Yuck.

This is what I was thinking about as I sat at my table during the awards segment of a charity dinner tonite.  Instead of listening to the experts discussing the impact of the changing environment on children’s health, I was focused on the number of women in the room who had not paid proper attention to their arms.  It was shocking to be in a room with that much botox and that many eye lifts and waddle tucks and neck jobs and to realize that women who had spent near fortunes on their faces had forgotten entirely about their arms. 

Let me clarify:  I am not a person who believes that every woman should look like a Playboy bunny.  In fact, I prefer a woman to look her age.  Nothing is more glamorous than a well-aged woman.  And I’ve almost never seen plastic surgery look anything but ridiculous.  BUT, I also think a woman should DRESS her age.  At a certain point, unless you are Sarah Jessica Parker, you should probably check your arms before you go sleeveless.

Some inappropriately sleeveless women have an excuse.  They’re single or perhaps lack proximity to a full-length mirror.  Some may have husbands who don’t know any better or perhaps they just don’t have gay friends.  But most women over 40 have no excuse.  Most women over 40 have a husband or a child or a friend or a gay man or a full-length mirror or some combination of all of those things who can let them know when they wiggle.  And some women have people they PAY who should let them know.  Some women have assistants and publicists and STYLISTS who should tell them that the perfect new one-of-a-kind designer dress was really meant for some other woman – some woman whose arm skin has not succumbed to the rigors of time and gravity.  Some women should, quite simply, know better.

If 43 has taught me anything it is that at a certain age, no amount of working out can stave off the simple march of time.  And it is JUST NOT OK for a woman with a stylist to go out with flabby arms.  It is NOT OK for a woman wearing a borrowed designer gown to flaunt bicep cottage cheese.  If you are forty or forty-five or fifty, before you leave the house, ASK SOMEONE.  Seriously.  Ask a friend, ask your housekeeper, your daughter, your husband or your driver.  Ask the valet guy and your publicist.  And then ask again.  Mostly ask the mirror.  In low light and in high.  Because truly, I promise you, there is NO ONE THING MORE UNATTRACTIVE than a woman who cannot discern the difference between age appropriate bareness and showing too much skin.  If it jiggles, wiggles or looks like something you can buy in the dairy section, COVER IT UP.
Nora Ephron knows best.  There is nothing more chic, nothing more sexy, than a woman who knows when to sheathe her arms, cover her shoulders and reveal only the décolletage that is still reaching upward.  Hide anything that cannot defy gravity.  And for god’s sake, learn to feel bad about your arms.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sig Other's Scrabble Bitch

There are times, late at night, when Sig Other is glued to his computer and ignores everything else around him.  And sometimes, late at night, when Sig Other is in such a mode, I will hear him from across the house scream, “That BITCH!!!”  And I know that he is talking about my mother.

This is not the result of some overly protective move on Sig Other’s part.  Its not like Mom and I had a fight or that she is overstepping her mother-in-law bounds on some household issue.  No.  Sig Other and Mom are engaged in war.  But it isn’t your typical mother-in-law vs son-in-law battle.  It’s a word war.  An online, all-out, to-the-death word war called “SCRABBLE.”  It is possible that the two of them were responsible for the shutdown of Facebook Scrabble. 

For a long time, I suspected them both of cheating.  Sig Other would mumble, "That word is bullshit" under his breath as he went to the online dictionary to check it out.  It seems impossible that could both get so many seven letter bingos, could have such consistently high scores, could parry at such lofty heights.  And yet they do.  They are a perfect Scrabble match – each highly competitive and driven to find the highest scoring word in spite (or because of) their draw. 

At first, Mom would call and I’d think she was actually interested in me - how I was, what I was doing, what the kids were up to.  But then I realized that what she really wanted to know was why Sig Other hadn’t taken his turn yet.  We’d chit-chat for a moment or two and then she’d say in her sweetest voice, “Is your husband home? I see he hasn’t taken his turn yet in our game.  Is everything ok?”  And if he was home, and if he knew who I was talking to, he’d immediately chime in, “Tell that bitch I’m coming after her – she’s not gonna beat me – no seven letter bingo I can’t handle.”  It was a little uncomfortable. 

But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about marriage (and I’ve certainly had enough “at bats” to have learned something), it’s that we cannot be all things to our mates.  So if Sig Other is to have a Scrabble Bitch, I guess better my mother than some hot young word bimbo.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Just so we're clear...

I was sitting at lunch with a girlfriend today and somehow we got on the subject of the children and life before and after.  And we talked about driving to games and horseshows and playdates and the grocery store and what my weekends look like now versus what they looked like when I was single and not the stepmother of two fabulous children.   The funny thing is I swear I do not remember what I did all day Saturday and Sunday in my single life.  I know I was in better shape.  I know I was well manicured.  I know I saw friends more and was certainly more aware of the latest in handbag styles and skirt lengths.  But was that really what took up the 48 hours in between my last staff meeting of the week and my first?  Good God!

Let me back up.  Where I’m going with all of this, what I was thinking about in the shower as I washed off the detritus of my day was this: you can’t have it all.  I know we all know that.  I know we all repeat to ourselves every day.  And I know that as much as we say it to ourselves as adults, the damage done when we were young and being raised in the brave new world of liberation is too great to overcome.  Because in that world – in the world of the working woman and equal opportunity and bra burning – no one said you can’t have it all.  In fact, they said quite the opposite.  They said, “go for it.” No on ever said, “you have to choose.”  There was never a conversation about balance or priorities or any of that stuff. 

Honestly, I blame it all on the Enjoli girl.  Remember her?  She could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never, never let you forget you’re a man?  Her?  Right.  She fucked us.  Because clearly the Enjoli girl only worked a three hour day.  The rest of the time she was working out and getting a great wash-n-set so she could look like a rocking sex bomb when she walked in the door to greet her bacon-loving husband.  And where were the kids?  No where, that’s where!  Because Enjoli girl didn’t have time for rugrats.  She was busy earning, buying and frying the bacon before dripping the grease on her husband’s cock as foreplay to the kind of dirty sex romp that only well-rested, well-worked-out people experience. 

But I digress.  My point is simply this.  There is no one I know who has it all.  There may be some people who look like they have more than others.  I may actually be one of those people.  I am crazy about my husband, I have a terrific job, phenomenal stepkids, two ridiculously good-looking dogs and amazing friends.  Everything looks really good.  And it is.  I am NOT complaining.  But, the outside lights in my backyard are all blown out and have been for weeks.  No telling when I get around to fixing those.  For about six months I’ve been thinking my windows really, really need to be cleaned but soon it will be the rainy season so I may as well put that off until Spring.  My mother’s 75th birthday is coming up and I have reservations at various restaurants but no firm plans.  I’m two months behind on waxing, haven’t dealt with a recent speeding ticket and don’t remember my last manicure. I mostly feel like I’m bad at my day job and I sometimes feel I’m failing on the home front as well.  So it all may look fantastic but just so we're really, really clear and for anyone who may have missed my point let me make it again, YOU CAN’T HAVE IT ALL.  Got that?  Great.    

Sunday, October 18, 2009


My friend, C, has a theory about dating.  When I was single, she used to tell me that I had to find someone whose handicap complimented my own.  She would say that if a person was the emotional equivalent of a paraplegic, he shouldn’t be dating another person who couldn’t walk but instead should seek out the human version of a wheelchair.  Two people who can’t walk will go nowhere together.  It’s not a bad theory really. 

Likewise, a person cannot be expected to win a war armed with the wrong weapons.  A bow and arrow rarely work against a gun.  Combat training is no preparation for nuclear war.  Through time, the rules of engagement have changed and conflict grown more complex, more sophisticated.  I realized this as I was thinking this morning how ill equipped I am to battle the demons that haunt Child One. 

My own teenage years were fraught with operatic mood swings and dramatic battles. Thus I felt fully prepared to take on whatever teenage drama might come. I expected meltdowns.  It’s just that I expected them to be about things like bedtime and curfew and permission slips (real or figurative). My own teenage battles, however internal the underpinnings, were manifest in power struggles with my mother. I'm sure my father would have gotten roped in had he lived long enough, but unfortunately mom was left to fight alone and the will of a hormonal angry teen can triumph over a single parent nine times out of ten.

But Child One’s meltdowns bear no resemblance to those I staged almost 30 years ago.  It is a far more sophisticated battlefield on which she plays out the drama of adolescence. And perhaps we've done her a great disservice by providing no external enemy.  Her demons’ rule from within and usually only come out, like monsters under the bed, late at night and when no one else can see them.  I don’t know how to battle what I can’t see.  I don’t know how to battle something this unfamiliar. 

Of course, by the light of day, Child One’s disposition returns to its sunny state.  She awoke, refreshed by a good night’s sleep and unscarred by the tears of the night before.  This, I suppose, is the beauty of youth.  The young can fall apart so grandly one moment and bounce back the next.  I’m sure there is more drama to come, and I’m sure Sig Other and I will face each new battle ill equipped as we were for the last.  Knowing that we don’t have the right weapons doesn’t make going into battle any easier but it does help to know that she'll bounce back and, in the words of the great Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Worry About the Big Stuff

It’s 11:54 on a Saturday night and the whole house is asleep.   Child One is nestled in sweetly amongst the bears and blankets of her wee childhood.   Her Macbook and Blackberry are ever present by her side.  Child One’s friend, H, is spending the night and snores gently beside her.  Child One falls asleep quickly, exhausted from too many tears before bed, the result of not enough sleep and an abundance of activities: honors classes and internships and after school clubs vying for time spent divided between two houses and her beloved horse. Child Two is also sleeping – always a more difficult endeavor for him though blissfully easy tonite.  The boy rests on a yard-high downy soft mattress surrounded by clouds of grey bedding.  The dogs are down too, although that is an obvious and easy task.   A simple “let’s go to bed” will suffice for them any time after the sun has dropped, each burrowing into his and her own side of the couch and hunkering down for the night in the same position, same places no matter the weather or time.

And Sig Other is next to me, the rhythm of sleep clear from his breath.  We talked a while before he drifted off tonite – talked about Child One and her anxiety.  He wondered if she was suffering, if she was really in trouble, if she really needed help.  And I reminded him its impossible to make any sort of judgment about a tired teenager the closer you get to midnight.   Having been a female teenager once many, many years ago, I remember the anxiety and frustration and exhaustion and the feeling of being completely lost and totally overwhelmed.  I remember not knowing what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go to college (or even IF I wanted to go to college) and I remember that the not knowing was the worst of it.   I also remember many a meltdown and that each one felt real and horrible and brutal in the moment and in hindsight was probably the result of a teenage hormonal rollercoaster. 

I don’t worry about Child One’s teenage meltdowns.  I don’t worry when she cries or gets upset or anxious.  It’s natural to freak out as a teenager.  It’s natural to be afraid – of change that’s coming, of change that’s happened, of change you can’t predict.  What I worry about isn’t the anxiety.  What I worry about is what she’s anxious about.  I worry that our children worry about the wrong things – that we’ve created a false sense of security, that we’ve cushioned and protected and coddled and cacooned them right out of realistic fear.  Realistic fear is “how am I going to fend for myself in the real world?”  Realistic fear is about making a living, putting food on the table, affording a decent place to live.  Realistic fear can also be about government policy, war, healthcare, the safety and security of our future as a nation.  Realistic fear can be about bad guys down the street or across an ocean.  And realistic fear can be for the welfare of our family members and those we love.

Realistic fear is NOT “am I going to get into an Ivy League school?”  Realistic fear is NOT “am I going to do well or Really Well on my SATs?”  Realistic fear is NOT “if I take only two honors courses instead of four, will I jeopardize my future?”  But these are the fears that haunt Child One.  They are ridiculous.  And at almost midnight on a Saturday night, it is futile to tell her so.  At almost midnight on a Saturday night, all you can do is shut off the lights, send her to bed and know that the world will look different in the morning. 

But after she’s gone to bed, after the house is asleep and four humans and two dogs are lightly snoring in unison, I lie awake and wonder where we went wrong.  Of course we’d like the children to want for nothing.  Isn’t that what we all want?  And giving what you can doesn’t yield a spoiled child.  Child One and Two are not remotely spoiled.  BUT (and it’s a big but), wanting for nothing does not take away anxiety.  All it does is take away perspective about what to be anxious about.  Be anxious about world politics and the global economy.  Be anxious about how to pay the rent.  Be anxious about being kind and attentive to those you love.  Be anxious about the Nazis coming.  The rest of it, you have to let go.  How do I imprint this onto the brain of an anxious teenager???  

Friday, October 9, 2009


Today I received an email from my Fairy Blogmother, Miss Whistle.  In it, she let me know, in her lovely, English way, that I’ve behaved badly.  I didn’t behave badly on purpose.  But I behaved badly nonetheless.  It seems that etiquette in the blogosphere ("blog-iquette" as I now refer to it) dictates that if someone comments on a post, you (the author) should reply.  Of course that makes perfect sense.  And I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me until now that NOT responding is terribly rude.  Because, of course, if someone takes the time to read a post and respond, the proper thing to do is say "thank you".  And I’m usually quite good at a thank you.  I’ve stacks of stationery ordered for just such a purpose in my real life.  And I even keep stamps in my office drawer because I believe that even in the email/text-happy world we live in, it is still nice to receive a handwritten note in the mail after a dinner party or for a gift.  

But that is in my real life.  Somehow, I act differently in my blog life.  I still treat my blog life as though I am completely anonymous, as though I don't really exist or as though my posts cease to have a life of their own after I post them.  The truth is, I’m rather stunned that ANYONE reads my posts but for Miss Whistle, my mother and my friend, Rebecca, who lives in New York and reads as a way to keep up with the kids.  And so whenever I see a comment on the 43rd Year, I’m so excited that I get sort of giddy – I turn into a teenage girl who is so thrilled that she’s been asked on a date by a cute boy that she doesn’t have the presence of mind to respond.  Instead, my heart races and I fear discovery and fantasize about it all at once.  And so the tremendous “thank you” that is coursing through my blood never makes it onto the page.  

So this is my way of saying a belated THANK YOU to those of you who do read, and my way of sending a big, fat apology to Charlie Circus and anyone else who has taken the time to read and comment only to be seemingly ignored by me.  I’ve NOT ignored you, I swear.  It’s just that I’m so excited you wanted to date me that I’m still blushing in a corner, embarrassed to show my face.  Please forgive me.  I’ll act better in the future.  And thank you, Fairy Blogmother, for letting me know.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Women Who Walk

My best friend and I speak every morning.  We call each other from our cars on the way to work.  It’s the best time really.  No home life or work intrusions to distract us.  Sometimes it’s a two-minute check in.  Sometimes it’s a long chat that ends only when one or the other of us is at our office door.  We talk about what we’re wearing, we talk about the day ahead, we sometimes talk a bit about work and exchange vital information or just gossip about what’s going on around town and I usually ask what her infant daughter is wearing and doing that day.  But most often, we’ll start our chat with the fantasy conversation of what we would say to each other if we were not women who work.  We imagine a life in which we call each other in the morning to discuss our daily plan – will we meet for a hike or at exercise class?  Will we go to coffee after at Le Pain or at Joan’s?  And will we have meetings for the various charities we have time to dedicate our energy and passion to that day or perhaps just visit LACMA to see the latest installation?  Now that she has a baby, our plans include picking the child up after school and including her in the latter portion of our leisurely ladies-who-lunch day.

This all started because one morning as I was dialing her number (speed dial “B” on my berry), I noticed all the women walking in my neighborhood.  I was running a bit late that morning.  It was about 9am.  And there were droves of women in twos and threes walking through my neighborhood, chatting and looking very fit.  I should mention that I live in a neighborhood in the hills adjacent to an excellent hiking path.  So it wasn’t unusual to see people walking.  I just hadn’t noticed before how many women walk in leisurely groups at a time when the rest of us are headed to or already at work.  So when B answered the phone I immediately assaulted her with, “who are these women?”  “Who are you talking about” she asked with a laugh in her voice.  “Who are these women who walk at nine in the morning when the rest of us have to get to the office?  Why do they get to walk?  How did they figure out their lives like that?  I want to walk at nine am!”  We talked about the women, talked about what the rest of their days might look like, talked about what it would be like if we didn’t work.

And thus was born the ritual of the conversation in which we fantasize about a life in which we get to take a late morning walk, or go to the gym, and go to lunch, and dedicate ourselves to causes we care about, and get our nails done on a weekday.  It’s a silly ritual, really.  And in truth we both like being working women most of the time.  The fantasy is a “someday” fantasy and not a “today” fantasy.  But its fun and it’s a good distraction from the anxiety that can build on the drive to work.  And I still want to know who those women are that get to walk at nine in the morning and what they do with the rest of their day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hebrew School

Child Two started Hebrew School this year. It was his choice to learn Hebrew and begin to study for his bar mitzvah. His sister did not attend Hebrew School and was not bat mitvah. Sig Other was in his Hindu period during her formative years and thus Child One grew up more inclined to lunch at the Krishna temple than to snack time in the sukkah. And Child Two is often drawn to pursuits that are in direct opposition to Child One’s interests – a wise effort to distinguish himself from the glow surrounding his sister. She played piano. He likes drums and is showing an interest in guitar. She loves horses. He likes bike riding and soccer. There is crossover, of course (dogs and cooking and reading and things). But Hebrew is his and his alone. Intellectual and spiritual learning notwithstanding, Hebrew allows him a secret dialogue with his father. In Hebrew they can swear and make fun behind our backs and share things that only father and son should share with one another. Hebrew is his daddy-bond.

But Hebrew School is inconvenient. The Temple of our beloved Rabbi is far away and class often conflicts with soccer, work and sleeping in. But Child Two asks little and endures much. So if Hebrew School he wants, Hebrew School he shall have. Day One arrived and I felt it important to take him myself. Sig Other was out of town and Ex-Wife unfamiliar with our shul. So I took the afternoon off work and schlepped the sweet boy across town for his first day. He seemed calm and relaxed and my anxiety grew and grew as we neared. My own insecurity of not being quite Jewish enough, not being quite smart enough, simply not knowing enough, was taking over and I made light conversation about anything else to cover. We arrived, early of course, and made our way inside where immediately my own fears melted away as familiar faces and warm greetings reminded me, once again, how silly I can be. I deposited Child Two in his classroom with his lovely teacher, John, and made my way downstairs. My plan was to find a nice cozy place to sit and read and make phone calls while Child Two was in class. I’d make myself a nice little mobile office and alleviate the guilt of having left the office early.

I may not have mentioned but our temple is poor. It is young and vibrant and inviting and inspiring. And it is poor. There is no permanent facility so we are housed at the JCC, which may have been chic and sparkly in the 60s, but is now just old and dumpy. So finding a comfortable place to settle was a challenge. I picked a shabby but no longer chic sofa in the corner and hunkered down with blackberry and scripts. Twenty minutes later, a woman came and plopped herself down opposite me, shattering my solitude. “Do you have a child in Limudim?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied. Sometimes I just say yes because it’s simpler than explaining that Child Two is my stepson. And sometimes I say yes to avoid the inevitability of what comes next. But the woman was friendly and also had a child in school and we kept chatting and of course the moment came when I explained that Child Two is my stepson and not my bio-son. And she did what most people do when that moment comes – she did exactly what I was trying to avoid. She gave me a “Good for you!” And she meant it quite genuinely.

The woman went on to tell me that she is divorced, that her ex has a new girlfriend and that she is trying to help her kids understand that liking the new girlfriend doesn’t mean they are choosing one woman over another. She’s been trying to tell them there’s room for everyone. She was talking about helping her kids adjust, talking about putting her own anger aside for their sake, talking about coping. And she said something rather profound. She said, “I could never hate my ex as much as I love my children.” She told me this, I think, because she was representing the ex-wife point of view on allowing another woman to care for her children. And I appreciated that.

I should say here that I quite like this woman and expect we’ll be friends. So the fact that I'm pointing out that she did the thing that makes me so uncomfortable is not meant as criticism. It's just the perfect example. And it wasn’t that she was talking about her divorce and her ex and his new girlfriend – I like all of that. Talking about divorced families and how to cope is one of my favorite subjects. The thing that makes me uncomfortable is the conversation that assumes that the ordinary things a parent would do fall into the category of extraordinary once you’re a stepparent. I know it genuinely and sweetly struck this woman as terribly nice that I was taking the time to drive my stepson to Hebrew School. But really, it wasn’t nice at all. It is just what you do. It’s completely normal and a little bit of a pain in the ass. And I also realized it would be almost impossible to say this to the woman without sounding either falsely modest or sort of school-marmish. So I just listened and nodded and smiled and said, “thanks.”

This conversation is not unusual to me. In fact I have it rather often. Often people act surprised and commend me for my exceptional step-parenting skills. But I do not want to be commended for doing the thing you’re supposed to do. I don’t want accolades for doing the same thing a bio-mom would do. And I find it odd that we live in a world in which stepparents doing things that bio-parents do all the time is commendable. It isn’t right. I don’t want to be singled out. I don’t want a pat on the head and I don’t want to be told what an exemplary stepparent I am. These are my children. Of course I drive them around. That’s what people do. The idea that someone would do more or less for a child depending on whether or not there is a biological connection is shocking and gross and foreign to me. Is that what other steps do? If so, then shame on you, bad stepparents, wherever you are. You’ve given the rest of us a bad name.