Wednesday, September 30, 2009

MOVEMENT ORDER

Last night, Sig Other announced that he no longer wished to receive emails about schedule or plans. Those emails, he explained, create too much clutter in his inbox and those things were better discussed in an end-of-day meeting. Good point, I thought. But I also knew that mere discussion was not enough. So I set about creating a system whereby Sig Other’s assistant, my assistant, our beloved Jake (part time house assistant and manny) and Ex-Wife all received information in one email that could then be disseminated into our various calendars. I created a Movement Order. A Movement Order originated as a military term. It’s also commonly used in production and is generally a memo with instructions for moving large groups from one place to another. My first Movement Order was not, however, about moving a large group. It was meant to move one small boy.

I should point out that Child Two is not actually small. He’s rather large for his age, taking after his father who stands around 6’4”. None of us will be surprised if Child Two overtakes his papa before high school graduation rolls around. But he is only ten and so in spite of the fact that he can easily physically overpower me and his mother, he’s just a little boy. And a sweet, sweet little boy at that. So the fact that it takes a movement order and four adults to manage the to-ing and fro-ing of one ten year old boy over a four day period is a little mind blowing.

It begins like this. Ex-Wife has the children one weekend a month so that she can enjoy them sleeping in, partaking in weekend activities and hanging out rather than the hustle and bustle of weekday life. So one week a month we have them during the week. This is always a little in flux, particularly now that Child One drives and wants a more flexible schedule. But that is basically the arrangement during the school year and we try to stick to it (work travel schedules notwithstanding). Child Two, like me, loves a schedule.

But this week is slightly different in that Ex-Wife has a volunteer commitment on Saturday. And as a big supporter of volunteerism as well as a supporter of Ex-Wife’s extracurricular life, I told her I would be happy to help out with transportation of Child Two that day. Even as I made the offer, I realized I had already scheduled all of my personal maintenance for that Saturday – cut, color and facial were already booked and if rescheduled would have to wait another month. But not to worry, as self-appointed General of the UPCO and UPCT (United Parents of Child One and Child Two), I would figure it out.

An email was immediately sent out to Sig Other’s assistant, my assistant, Jake and Ex-Wife. It went like this:

MOVEMENT ORDER FOR CHILD TWO

Wednesday

Ex-wife - pick boy up from school, take him to doctor and drop him at our house.

Sig Other - leave work early to come home to boy.

Thursday

Me - cancel pilates, drop boy off at school (stopping first to drop half-breed dog at vet). Race to Santa Monica from school for morning mtg.

Sig Other – following lunch mtg in BH pick up boy at school

Me – leave work early to come home to boy so Sig Other can attend Back To School night at Child One’s school

Friday

Me – drop boy at school

Ex-Wife – pick up boy and take to soccer

Saturday

Me – pick boy up from Ex-Wife’s house and drop at Hebrew school (boy should already be dressed in soccer gear) – race to hair appt.

Jake – pick up child early from Hebrew school, feed and take to soccer

Sig Other – return from Saturday morning bike ride and go to child’s soccer game. Return home until Ex-Wife retrieves child.

This gave me enormous satisfaction. I wondered aloud what we did before Child One could drive, what people with only two parents do and (God forbid) how a single parent household managed. It takes a village. Or in this case, a Movement Order.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lucky Girls

The other night, Miss Whistle talked a bit about her father-in-law and what he means in her life. She told me about how she moved from the UK to the States as a young girl of 22 and how, from the moment she met him, Big John treated her like a daughter – never a daughter-in-law, never an interloper in the family, never like a stranger that needed getting used to. She went on to say he’s been supportive and kind and open to her for twenty plus years. How lucky is she?

I found myself getting uncharacteristically teary as she talked and I realized I was jealous. Not pea-green-with-envy-jealous. More the kind of jealous you have of a friend you love – you may wish you had the thing they have but are still happy they have it. I was jealous of a relationship I never had: jealous of the opportunity to take care of a dying father, jealous of the time spent saying goodbye and experiencing the process of death in a person with a life well spent. My father died suddenly. At the age of forty-eight. And I was fourteen. Almost fifteen. Younger than Child One is now. So yes, I’m jealous of the opportunity to watch a parent grow old. Jealous of the opportunity to say goodbye.

These are things I rarely talk about. I shy away from them in my own life and often in the lives of those around me. I’d rather not engage in conversation with the family shattered by the death of a child over twenty years ago. I don’t ask Miss Whistle often enough about the health of her dear father-in-law. And I don’t wallow in the personal pain of others. When asked, I answer questions about being a young teen with a dead father with bravado and glibness.

But I cry at shitty movies, elementary school graduations and moving speeches. I blubbered for weeks when my precious Golden Retriever died after twelve years with me. And I found myself weepy in my conversation with Miss Whistle the other night.

I used to fantasize that I would meet a man with a wonderful father and that my future father-in-law would stand in for the father I lost too young. And yet I chose a first husband with a deadbeat abusive drunk for a father and a second husband with a sweet but politically incorrect and sort of checked-out father. Sig Other’s father was colossal in his time – a brilliant man with a charming manner and razor sharp wit. But by the time I came into Sig Other’s life, Shamu was old and aphasic and a little grumpy (though less grumpy than I’d have been had I all his physical maladies). He died a mere shadow of the lion of a man he’d been in his prime, and though I believe he could have been the kind of father-in-law I’d have invented for myself, age and the toll of too many strokes put that possibility well out of reach by the time I met him.

To a certain extent, we are all defined by what's missing in our lives - by what we've lost. I can say that I got over the loss of my father - that I moved on. And in some ways that is true. But in my more honest moments, I will admit to the deep, dark chasm left in his absence. And will admit to disappointment. Disappointment that I never found a surrogate dad, never found a mentor who took me under his wing, a professor who showed me the way or boss who kept a special eye out. And I never stopped hoping that a magical all-knowing father figure would walk into my life with all the answers to life’s great questions.

Marrying an older man was an option, I guess. A sort of wildly clich├ęd option, but an option nonetheless. I went out on a date with an older man once. He was wildly successful, very rich and provided phenomenal dinner conversation. But by the end of the night, when he tried to kiss me, I was completely embarrassed for him and almost started to giggle. He was so awkward and momentarily adolescent. And it just seemed so silly to me that this man who was thirty years my senior would turn into a little boy making a pass. I couldn’t find a remote speck of attraction. I guess I wasn’t one for a literal father figure.

For years it was there – that deep, black, insatiable hole left by my father’s death and no amount of attention could fill it. Two bad marriages and a myriad of ridiculous choices can attest to that. And then I found Sig Other, and the children, and real love. Sig Other is not a father figure. He could not be more different from the man I called “daddy”. I chose Sig Other because part of me knew no one could ever replace my father. No living man can fill the shoes left by a ghost. Those shoes will always remain as they are in my memory – rugged, sturdy, maybe a little muddy but solid in construction. And Sig Other’s shoes are lighter, more agile, certainly more fashionable and filled by the man who walks beside me in a life we built together. And he doesn’t mind that I weep at mediocre movies, or when I think of the children growing up. How lucky am I?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

College Night

The other night was College Night at Child One’s Super Crunchy School. Sig Other was working and could not attend. So I went without him. I’d already had a few conversations with the school college counselor and as such had become the self-appointed representative of the United Parents of Child One (UPCO) in the Junior Year Family Panic About College. By way of background, there have already been a few conversations this school year about things like test prep and curriculum overload, and we, the UPCO, have taken on all challenges as a unit. I can’t say it a wholly harmonious unit but it’s a unit nonetheless. Sig Other definitely represents one end of the academic extreme ("you should apply to Harvard") and Ex-Wife the other ("do you really want to apply to schools that require SATs?"). And I try to bounce somewhere in between but find myself often biting my tongue with both of them.

I left work early, changed out of my high-heeled fancy shoes into flats that were comfier and more Crunchy School-friendly (though still Chanel), and set out across town. Traffic was heavy, giving me too much time to ponder the journey and just enough time to begin to feel very awkward and out of place. What was I doing? Was it appropriate that I attend College Night? Do other kids’ stepparents attend College Night? Is it awkward for Child One to have her mother AND her stepmother present? Would Child One feel pressured to make me feel wanted even though she really thinks I’m an interloper? Is it too much for her to have to explain to her teachers or her two-parented friends why she has three parents and why they’re all so damned involved? Was this responsible Step-Parenting or overstepping boundaries? Also, what if I couldn’t find the school or didn’t know where to park or they wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have the secret parental pass code and couldn’t pass a DNA matching test they inevitably must give at the door? Would the other parents stare at me in confusion? Would they wonder what the hell I was doing there?

Like I said, traffic was bad. And I’d be lying if I didn’t consider turning around and going home. Child One didn’t need me there. Or did she? I wasn’t sure. And so I sat in traffic and fought my anxiety and realized part of my anxiety was about Child One and part was purely selfish. I hate going places where I could be uncomfortable. For years I’ve entertained at home on the weekends with the excuse that we have the kids on the weekends and don’t want to leave them, so in order to maintain an social life we entertain at home. And I love cooking. It relaxes me. And fills a creative void. All those things are true. And also true is the fact that I’m a control freak, that I feel more comfortable in my own home because its an environment I control – the guest list, the food, the wine, and even the conversation to a certain extent. School never felt like a second home. School always felt bewildering and overwhelming. So sitting in traffic on the way to College Night, I started to experience that familiar feeling, started dreading the notion of being thrust back in time – back to a place with awkward hellos and uncomfortable straight-backed plastic chairs and flat indoor/outdoor carpet that smells vaguely of industrial cleaner.

Eventually, I arrived at Crunchy School, pretty much on time and somewhat calmer. The security guard on duty didn’t ask me for my step-credentials and very sweetly directed me “the gathering space”. What’s wrong with a goddamned high school gym or auditorium? Or even a theater? No – Super Crunchy School has to refer to the drama room as a Gathering Space. There, I was greeted by Robert, the counselor I’d spoken to on the phone several times, and Julien, who will be Child One’s advisor. Ex-Wife had saved me a seat next to her in front. And Child One waved wildly from her seat at the back of the bleachers where she sat with the rest of her class. I said hello to the few parents I knew and then dove into the handouts and reading materials.

The presentation was fairly short and terribly informative. We all laughed nervously as we were called out (kindly, of course, but called out nonetheless) for being the over-anxious, over-achieving parents of our over-anxious, over-achieving kids. No one asked me what I was doing there. No one wondered who the hell I was. I didn’t stand out like a sore step-thumb. The only uncomfortable part of the evening was, in fact, the hideous plastic chairs. Child One seemed glad I came, gave me a big hug, an “I love you” and made a joke about her lesbian mothers as we all stood around chatting. And as I walked back to my car, I realized, once again, that life is all about showing up.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Morning Papers

My pilates instructor is sick today. Scratchy dry throat – probably the thing I had two weeks ago. Child Two is sick too, poor boy, snotty and sleepy and wrung out. And though I swore to my trainer I’d get up and work out on my own, I find myself more compelled to stay in bed reading the papers, checking Twitter and writing. Stretching my atrophying brain muscle feels more important these days than fighting off the inevitability of my sagging flesh. And so I eek out a few extra reclining moments to read this morning’s Maureen Dowd missive about how women’s lives are getting unhappier as men seem to be on the upswing. No great revelation there. Yes folks, choice has made women more miserable. DUH!!!

Depressed by the NYT, I postpone my morning journey through Page Six to think quickly about the day ahead, which will be capped by College Night at Child One’s Super Duper Crunchy School. Sig Other is working and won’t make it. So Child One will be escorted by my Ex-Wife and me. I’m sure this will make her very happy – a night out with the Lesbian Mothers is much more harmonious than a night out with both biological parents. Child One will be freed of navigating and negotiating the waters that run crazy through the space between divorced people – alternately still and suddenly turbulent. More to come as it seems Child One’s approaching College Years will be the subject of much discussion both tonite, tomorrow and beyond…

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gratitude

Thanks to Sig Other, Miss Whistle and the power of Twitter, I am now on the roster for Child Two's class. Be careful what you wish for...

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Ex-Wife

I often forget, in conversation, that people might be confused when I refer to “my ex-wife.” I’m a heterosexual woman with no history of lesbianism (sorry ladies). So I can see where the phrase might be confusing. I have an ex-husband. Actually, I have two. And that is never confusing to people (confounding, perhaps, but never confusing).

“My ex-wife” is, of course, the ex-Mrs. Sig Other. She’s not MY ex-wife at all. She’s Sig Other’s ex-wife and the mother of Child One and Child Two. But more often than not, she feels like MY ex-wife. She’s the ex-wife I talk to about plans for the children, about arrangements for birthdays, holidays, school functions and the like. She’s the ex-wife with whom I organize pick-up and drop-offs. Ex-Mrs. Sig Other is the ideal ex-wife in many, many ways. She is kind. She doesn’t poison the children against me (as far as I know). She’s relatively easy in terms of plans. And she’s a nice person. She was just not a good match for Sig Other.

Modern day society has adjusted to divorce. It has had to. Fifty percent of first marriages result in divorce. The odds are worse for folks on Round Two. So society has had to adjust to divorce. And you would think, that in the same way, it has had to adjust to remarriage. But it hasn’t really. We still live in a world where the fantasy of a primary, traditional family structure reigns supreme.

To be honest, Child One and Child Two would tell you that being a child of divorce sucks. Shlepping stuff back and forth, constant confusion about schedules, too many voices chiming in – all of that sucks. But its real. And we make the best of it. What sucks for me – the step-parent – is that traditional institutions make no room for untraditional families.

Here’s a for instance: two weeks ago, I go to sign Child Two up for AYSO soccer. I loathe soccer. Soccer, to me, is the thing that plagues my weekend. But my ex-wife is out of town and she asks little of me and so when she asks this one thing – when she asks if I can go sign The Boy up for his beloved sport, of course I say yes. I stand in line in the smoky blazing hot Valley heat for an hour just to get an empty form and look over to see that the line to return the completed form is just as long. So I take my forms in triplicate on a clipboard and start to fill them out while standing in the second long line. And I fill in the information for the father. Then I fill in the information for the mother. And then there’s no other space for any more information. What about me? What about the stepmother standing in line to sign Child Two up for the season? What about the hours I’ll spend on the weekends, shlepping him to practices and then to games? What about the ice-packs I’ll put on sore knees and the water bottles I’ll pack so he doesn’t dehydrate? Doesn’t that count for a line on the AYSO form? Is it too much to ask for a space that says, “And anyone else?” I don’t need a title. It doesn’t have to say “step-parent”. It could just say “anyone else.” That would be enough.

Ex-Mrs. Sig Other even sweetly tried to get me on the roster for Child Two’s 5th grade class so that I would have advance notice about school functions where I’m expected to show up and serve. Year after year I’ve gone to the damn school fair and put in my four hours of service at the boiling hot prize booth. And year after year I’m the only person without a printed name badge. Why? Because Child Two’s hippy dippy school has forms that only allow for two parent names on the roster. Momma Bear and Poppa Bear. Step-bear gets left in the cold. So, I decide, this year I am NOT going to put in my hours, I am NOT going to the lame picnic that I’ve gone to five years in a row where other mothers look at me and can’t decide if they should be nice until the Ex-Mrs. Sig Other gives them the sign that its ok. Bless her for stepping in and shaming those nasty conventional parents.

This is less a problem at Child One’s huggy school. Super Crunchy Progressive Secondary School has accepted the fact that Child One has too many parents. Three parents on conference calls, three parents on the email list and three parents on the roster. If they are surprised or confused , they hide it well. Or they’re so progressive they can’t tell which one of us is married to the other. For all they know, the Ex-Mrs Sig Other and I are the couple and S.O. is out in the cold (in fact, sometimes I think this is Child One’s fantasy as she’s made more than one joke about her Lesbian Mothers). The folks at Super Crunchy School don’t care. They’re just happy to talk about Child One and how fabulous she is and how fabulous they are and how much everyone loves everyone else.

But its an issue. And it will remain an issue. In spite of the odds, the majority of Child One’s friends’ parents are still married. So they don’t have three parents. Or four. They have two. Two parents who live in the same house and don’t require their children to adhere to a schedule or carry things back and forth or feel torn whenever they’re with one parent about not spending enough time with the other. It’s a terrible burden, this whole “Child of Divorce” thing. And yet it is a fact in our lives that we must endure and try to help the children navigate. I hope we’re not fucking it up too badly. I hope they only spend a moderate amount of their adult therapy discussing what a piss-poor job we did of easing their burden. And I hope that future generations either manage to lower the rate of divorce of adjust their forms to accommodate the third parents. Some of us Steps would really appreciate a line of our own.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

YOU ARE SCREWED (aka Out of the Bloget)

Covert. On the D.L. Undercover. However you want to put it. The simple fact is I lead a double life. Regular Me and 43rd Year Me. I blog. I’m a secret blogger. I cavort around the blogosphere. And for the most part, I’ve been cavorting in relative obscurity. I’ve been in the bloget. My blog is not meant to save the planet or change lives. It’s meant, really, to keep me from tearing my hair out. And it’s fun. Even though the premise of the blog is to be brave - to go forth into the world of writing that has been so terrifying for so many years - it turns out I’m still a chickenshit because only about ten people know about the blog.

Why write on the sly? Well, what if I discover I’m not a good writer? What if my colleagues discover I write rather than network in my free time, or worse, that I HAVE free time? And I’ve enjoyed my obscurity. Obscurity is freedom - sometimes to say outrageous things, sometimes stupid things. Sig Other knows about the blog, of course. And the children and my best girlfriends. And that was about it. Until Miss Whistle started spreading the word.

A few days ago, Miss Whistle very sweetly tweeted about a post she liked. And thinking myself very clever, I tweeted back to say thanks. I should explain that I am digitally challenged. The world of internet interface is remarkably confusing and while I am not a total Luddite, still I suffer from a sort of hand-eye-computer lack of coordination that is stunning to some (Sig Other chief among my critics). So the “thanks” I thought was a “direct reply” was actually a “retweet” that hooked directly into my Facebook account – my Facebook account that is accessible to my mother who was unaware that I blog. My pride and excitement about Miss Whistle’s tweet momentarily stripped away any shred of terror or discretion. And that moment was all it took.

I realized my mistake relatively quickly and raced to my Facebook account to amend my homepage and remove the link to my blog, hoping I’d rectified what was sure to be a disastrous discovery. I made it all ok in my head until I went home that night and confessed my fear to Sig Other. “Hm,” he said. “You know, Philip Roth’s family disowned him after they read Portnoy’s Complaint.” Not exactly comforting. Miss Whistle tried to reassure me by telling me that when she starting writing she was given the following piece of advice, “write as though everyone you know is dead.” But of course, everyone I know is NOT dead (thank goodness) and that’s easy advice to follow when you’re tapping away alone in a room, but awfully terrifying once you realize that not only are you read by people you have never and will never meet, but also by those nearest and dearest. Still though, there was no call from Mom and I slept easy assuming I’d erased my Facebook error.

Until the following - an email sent from my sister with a single phrase in the subject line: “you are screwed.” Three little words that sent a shiver up my spine. No further explanation was required. I knew that my technical error had been irreparable, that Mom had discovered my blog and that the Silence from the North would be broken in a matter of time – only I had no idea what to expect.

A day passed, I’d left a message the morning before the discovery and was surprised that she hadn’t called back. Usually I get a return call quickly. So I knew she was thinking about what to say – thinking about whether to be hurt or angry or entertained. I fretted and stewed and wondered what I would say when she finally did call. It was the next morning, and we both danced around and talked about my health and her upcoming travels and things of no importance until she said, “I read your blog.” I didn't know what to say. I feared what would come next until she said the thing that every child would want to hear from a parent, “you’re a very good writer.” We talked a little while about perception and poetic license, about memories versus fact and things I’d gotten wrong (my father loved the Sierras not the Rockies, but let’s be honest, the Rockies just SOUND more romantic). And that was it. All my fear, all the machinations I’d gone through to avoid discovery and the truth is, it was no big deal. The truth is, she got that a blog is just a blog and that my arranging words on a page doesn’t change our relationship or the world or anything else. Thank you, Mom, for understanding or at least for pretending to understand.

So now, I'm out of the bloget. My mother knows. My sister knows. And some nice friends of Miss Whistle from Twitter. Welcome to the 43rd Year. I hope you enjoy...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rock Star!!!

Sig other came home with the new Rock Band for Xbox360.  The Beatles Edition.  On the day of release.  This is the modern day equivalent of a caveman returning home from the first day of the hunt with fresh kill after a long winter of stored nuts and roots.  It is Man Victory - the way a father tells his kids he cares, the way the head of household declares his supremacy amongst men.  Special dispensation came from the ex-Mrs. Sig Other and Child Two came over for dinner and a test run.  Pizza was ordered. Child One, impressed that her father managed to score the game her friends were buzzing about all day, put aside her homework.  And the show began. 

Child Two grabbed the guitar, his wavy flaxen hair and cooler-than-thou ten-year-old-vibe made him the perfect chill lead for the band.  Sig Other hit the drums and Child One was on lead vocals – perhaps not the best choice given her tin ear and slightly flat voice.  But enthusiasm prevailed over talent and the family rock band was in full swing. I took turns with Child One and alternated between a Cher-meets-Chrissy-Hynde fantasy and playing number one groupie.

The great thing about this edition of Rock Band is that even pop-culture-challenged Child One has familiarity with Beatles’ songs from her childhood and elevator Musak.  So we rocked out.  We sang badly.  We cracked each other up.  And we jammed along song after song until Child One declared it was time for the nightly iChat with her math partner and Child Two insisted it was time for his own homework – twenty minutes of reading before bed.  Sig Other looked at me pleadingly.  But bed was calling – bed and my just-arrived and greatly-anticipated copy of Half The Sky.  Poor caveman - left alone at the drums in his rock star fantasy world whilst the spawn and I returned to our regular lives. 

It's sexy time.

The other night, toward the end of a lovely dinner party at our dear friend’s house, Sig Other turned to me and said, “Come on, woman, let’s go home.  It’s sexy time. “  Awkward giggles led to howling laughter which led to frank confession about how we, the middle-aged, the married and mature communicate about sex – how we give our sexual cues.

When we were younger, sexual cues were easy to read.  They were the cues of early adulthood – sexy lingerie, a lit candle, a suggestive rub or a simple “I really want to fuck you” would do the trick.  But as we’ve grown older, the cues that once seemed sexy, now just seem silly.  Sig Other has little interest in lingerie (and by “little” what I really mean is “none”), a lit candle just means we’re having company and a rub is reserved for aching muscles and headaches.  So we had to come up with new cues.  For a time, this led to a lull in our sex life.  Sig Other chalked it up to a radical change in my middle-aged libido.  I worried that I was depressed or hormonally imbalanced.  So we went to go see a couple’s therapist.  The therapist was smart and direct and came highly recommended.  She was also sexy.  Which was a little weird since we’d gone to her to talk about our sex life.  She had a propensity to wear shortish red dresses without underwear.  So let’s call her The Flasher.  It was sort of like going to Sharon Stone for relationship advice.  Except for one thing – Flasher was spot on. 

The Flasher nailed us (you’ll pardon the pun) after one session.  She was impressed with how quickly we got to the point.  We’re not people who have time to waste.  And our waning sex life had nothing to do with what she expected – we were not withholding sex because of repressed anger or lingering resentments.   We simply had a miscommunication about sexual cues.  After listening to both of us describe our sex lives past and present, she looked at me and said, “oh, you’re used to having porn sex and you,” she said looking at Sig Other, “don’t relate to porn sex.”  Porn sex.  In one session, in one sentence, she’d summed up the problem.  My orientation to sex was largely about objectification, adoration and control.  In my Germanic household, we never talked about sex.  I was a Jewish immaculate conception.  So I learned about sex the way every normal suburban teenage product of the 70s did – from reading Judy Blume books and watching 9 ½ Weeks over and over again.  To that end, it made sense to me that a sexy little bustier would be the smoke signal advertising that I was open for business.  But to Sig Other, the bustier was just a piece of clothing standing between him and his object of desire.  He wanted to be close – intimacy is what was sexy to him.  So the bustier wasn’t sexy at all.  It was just silly.  And when he found it silly I felt rejected.  And so it became a bad cycle.  I tried out my porn cues. He either didn’t read them or found them silly.  I felt rejected.  Bad cycle.  But the truth is, as long as he feels close, as long as he feels loved and loves, Sig Other desires me.  All the time.  Middle-aged exhaustion and busy schedules notwithstanding, Sig Other is perfectly happy to have sex at a moment’s notice without much preamble.  In fact, it turns out, his preamble goes like this: “Its sexy time.” 

The first time Sig Other said, “Its sexy time” I thought he was kidding.  “That’s it?” I asked, “That’s how you’re going to come on to me?”  “Yep,” he said with a smile, “Its sexy time.”  And oddly enough, it was.  It turns out that was enough.  Sig Other declaring an intention and following through was about all the foreplay either of us required.  And so it was that our sex life was reborn.  It probably isn’t a sex life worthy of a Pam & Tommy-style video release.  It’s a grown up sex life.  Its intimate.  And fun.  And sometimes exciting.  It’s sometimes brief and sometimes leisurely and passionate.  It’s sometimes surprising.  And always satisfying.  Because it exists.  And its clear.  It’s funny how something so unsexy has become sexy in its own way.  “Sexy Time” is silly, it’s anti-porn, and it goes against everything we learn in the movies, in romance novels, on TV.  But it works.  And it turns out, a lot of middle-aged couples have their own version of “sexy time.” 

So now we go back to the dinner table the other night.  After the giggles died down, disbelief turned to confession.  Because all of us at the table were well into our 40s, some couples married 15 years, some longer, the stigma around sex has worn down a bit.  Its still there and the topic of frequency remains taboo or at least reserved for quiet conversation among the closest of friends.  But frequency notwithstanding, there is still the issue of language – the language we use to communicate desire to our partners, the language we use to say Its Sexy Time.  One husband of a long-married couple admitted to the phrase, “Come on, baby, do you want me to give it to you?”  There were variations on this, including a simple “let’s do it.”  But my favorite of the night was “Honey, should I move the pug?”, the pug being the snoring family dog who hunkers down nightly between husband and wife and needs to be removed from the bed to make room for a conjugal visit.   This last broke us all up and led to Sig Other standing, grabbing my hand and saying in his best John Wayne, “Come on, girly.  Let’s go home and move us a pug.” 

 

 

Monday, September 7, 2009

HALF THE SKY - in anticipation of reading the Kristof/WuDunn book

Something happened at the Western Wall a few months ago that I can’t quite get out of my head. We were touring the old city with a private guide I’ll refer to as Slightly Zealous Guy (SZG). Slightly Zealous Guy is sort of a New Orthodox young man in his early thirties who was raised in a secular household and whose recent discovery of religion makes him alternately fascinating and boringly excited about his own self-discovery. The day was long and sweaty and we were trudging around in the full heat of the day. And we came to a part of the city where there’s a perfect view of the Western Wall from above and a perfect view of the curtain that divides the men’s side from the women’s side. We stood at that vantage point for a while and SZG talked about the wall and the history and talked about going down later in the day and how we could put our prayers on little pieces of paper in the crevasses of the wall like so many before us.

But before we walked away, before we moved on to our next stop, I asked Child Two to take a moment and tell me what he noticed about what he saw. Besides the obvious – besides the security and the variety of Jews worshipping in a variety of ways – what else did he see? Without hesitation Child Two pointed out that the curtain that separates the men from the women does not separate the sexes into equal parts. Or, in his words, “um, the men’s side is bigger?” “Yes,” I said, “that’s exactly right. And why do you think that is?” At that point, SZG piped in, “Ah,” he began, “this is because more men come to the wall than women. So the men need more room. The curtain divides the sections in direct proportion to the number of visitors.”

I looked down at the wall as he spoke and here’s what I saw: a very large section rather sparsely populated with a variety of men ranging from Black Hats to tourists of indistinguishable religion; and a very small section jam packed with women standing four and five deep at their paltry section of wall. I was just hot enough, and just tired enough, and just annoyed enough by our sweet but overly zealous guide’s reasoning, that I briefly lost the polite air that permeates the space between guide and tourist and blurted out, “That’s ridiculous! Look down there – the women’s side is packed. I want to make sure the children are aware that , in addition to the wonderful things about Judaism and its rich history, there are some things that are not so great.” “In my opinion,” SZ Guy shot back, “the division is correct. And I am entitled to my opinion.” “Yes, you are,” I said as I strode away. “And I am entitled to disagree.”

Why has this moment stuck with me? Why did it upset me so? Of course SZG and I are not going to agree on certain aspects of Judaism. What upset me is not that we did not agree. What upset me is not that he did not see what I saw. What upset me is that I am not educated enough, not well-read enough, to be articulate about an inequity that must be addressed. What upset me is my own frustration with my paltry intellect, ill-prepared to take on this young man in a reasoned and powerful way.

So it is with great anticipation and even greater respect that I look forward to reading Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDun’s book, Half the Sky (due out tomorrow in bookstores). In an interview about the book, Kristof says that the transcendent moral issue of this century is legal discrimination against women and girls. WuDunn goes on to say that if we do not take responsibility for empowering and educating women, we cannot tackle global poverty and extremism. Their goal is awareness – awareness of the issue so that it becomes part of the global agenda, the worldwide conversation. It is not complicated like nuclear proliferation. It is not impenetrable like other world issues. Their thesis, supported by research is pretty simple. Empower women through education or microloans and change the world. Kristof and WuDunn are, in a better-researched and more articulate way, pointing out the curtain that divides the world into unequal parts. But rather than simply being frustrated by the curtain, they are providing a context and a solution – a way to activate and participate in the solution. They are suggesting that we all have a responsibility to open our eyes, not just to the indignities of global poverty, but to the potential solutions - solutions that we can all have a hand in if we are aware and proactive.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Becoming Charlotte

I will not become my mother, I will not become my mother, I will NOT become my mother.  I can say this a hundred times a day and still I fight it with every fiber of my being every day of the week.  And there is no more glaring example of the ways in which I have tried to not be my mother than in my anxiety every time Child One goes off on her merry way in her new car with her new driver’s license. 

This is my own fault, mind you.  I was the one who gave her the final push to get her license.  As summer wound down and the first day of school loomed every closer, I was the one to say, “hey listen, I’m making plans for three Saturdays from now.  And I’ll be busy ALL day.  So if you want to get anywhere, you better take your test so you can drive yourself.”  I did not say this to be cruel.  Of course I had no plans and of course had she not taken her test (or God forbid, failed), I would have driven her wherever she wanted to go.  I said it to be motivating.  I figured that Child One would simply never make an appointment with the DMV unless pushed.  Unlike me and my peers, Child One and her generation feel no pressing need to get their driver’s licenses the day they turn 16.  Unlike me and my peers, Child One and her peers have, for the most part, healthy relationships with their parents.  The desperate urge to escape, to get as far away from their homes as quickly as possible, doesn’t dictate their teenage choices.  In fact, they’re very happy to be driven around, very happy to spend time with their parents, very happy to stay dependent.  But the threat worked.  And Child One made her appointment.

Anxiety and anticipation of failure notwithstanding, Child One passed the test and became a licensed driver three weeks ago.  The morning after she got her license, she took her first drive, by herself, in her car to her internship twenty-five miles away.  She then drove to her riding lesson, to lunch, to see a friend and then home.  And I was a nervous wreck the entire time.  I asked her to call me at every stop.  I checked my phone for texts every few minutes.  And I even caught myself wringing my hands – a gesture that when performed by my mother can send shivers of anger through my body. 

Two nights later, Sig Other and I were home watching tv when the phone rang.  It was Child One, on her way home from a friend’s house.  Sig Other and she spoke for a moment and he said, “Yes, that would be great – see you soon.”  He hung up the phone and told me she was calling to say she would be stopping to pick up frozen yogurt for us on her way home.  And I burst into tears.  The plump little blonde girl who wore Indian shirts and made horse jumps for herself and the dogs out of brooms and chairs in the backyard was now a tall, thin, gorgeous young woman who was bringing late-night treats to her old parents waiting vigilantly at home.

But it isn’t the crying that makes me fear becoming Charlotte.  Crying is ok.  I actually like the fact that I cry easily.  I don’t mind blubbering my way through a movie or tearing up at school culminations.  It’s the worrying that drives me crazy.  My mother worried about me endlessly.  And ridiculously.  And irrationally.  And still does.  And it wasn’t just me she worried about.  She worried about my sisters, my father when he was alive, my stepfather after that.  And her brand of worry is not worry standing in for love.  Her brand of worry is insane.  If a storm in Palm Springs is reported on the news, she calls me in Los Angeles to see if I’m ok.  Every plane trip of my adult life (and every road trip of my entire life) has to end with a call to Mom so she knows I’ve arrived safely.  And if it were just a little reassuring phone call, that would be ok.  But the truth is, she can make herself sick and make everyone around her miserable until she gets the reassurance she requires to calm down.  She has no internal self-soothing mechanism.  And this is the thing that freaks me out.

So every time I catch myself worrying about Child One driving by herself alone in a car in this big giant wild city, I fight the moment when my chest seizes up – when I feel the smoldering of that panic that my mother would allow to catch fire and burn wildly throughout her body before it spewed out uncontrollably onto the closest victim.  It was unattractive.  It was irrational.  It seemed totally crazy and wildly selfish.  It still does actually.    And so whenever I feel that fear creeping up, whenever I catch myself wringing my hands or tensing up, I stop myself.  I stop myself and carry on an internal conversation about the fact that I’m being irrational.  I’m being silly.  And I’m being my mother.  This last is well more than enough to quell my anxiety and stop whatever urges I have to act out.  I will still ask Child One to call me when she arrives at her destination.  She’s only sixteen.  She’s only had her license for a few weeks.  Hopefully, by the time she’s 43, I’ll get over it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Smoke gets in your eyes. And lungs...

The fire they’re calling “the Station Fire” has been burning for days now.  127,000 acres have been ravaged and there is no question that I should be inside, protecting my lungs from toxic air.  But instead, I’m in the backyard, in the crazy hot air, trying to figure out what to call the color that surrounds me.  The sky is dark hours before sunset due to thick smoke from the fires combined with a cloud cover that moved in only this morning.  It’s a sort of brownish, rosy-orange.  And the concrete around my pool is a shade that can only be described as “1950s Patio Pink”.   And somehow the brownish sky with my pinkish patio has turned my whole backyard a sort of post-apocalyptic nuclear-waste-orangey-red.  Its as though I’m looking at my yard through one of those filters the rental people put over the ugly lights you get for events – the things they call “gels”.  That’s it.  My yard looks like its been swathed in a pink and orange work light gel.  There’s nothing subtle about it.  And though it does accentuate the hot pinks of my bougainvillea and the vivid grayish blue of that plant way in the back, it seems rather gaudy and unforgiving.  I wonder if those people at Crayola would consider adding this as the newest color in the box.  Is “Post-Apocalyptic Orange” a good name for it?  Or maybe “Death-Smoke Gold”?

The strangest thing about this air is that it makes me want to smoke.  I know that seems counter-intuitive.  You’d think that the thick haze would make me crave fresh air.  But it doesn’t really.  It makes me think that my lungs are being corrupted anyway so I might as well have a good time.   I don’t though.  I make it a point not to have cigarettes around.  If they’re not around I don’t smoke them.  If they are, I do.   But they aren’t around now.  So I sit outside, in the putrid air, and feel incredibly grateful that my little corner of the valley is safe for now, that those I love most are safe for now and that the orangey haze in my backyard will someday be replaced by clean fresh air.  Someday.  After the fires are gone.