Friday, June 25, 2010

Thumbs up!


Child One  is now officially “in a relationship.”  How do I know this?  Facebook tells me so.  There is a little heart after the declaration, a bunch of comments and at least twenty-three thumbs up.  A Facebook relationship status update is sort of like the thrice-folded note passed from the back of class to the front – highschool secrets written in pencil and smudged from one hand to the next, from desk to desk under the not-so-careful eye of a too-tired teacher who probably knew but could care less about boyfriends and girlfriends and going steady.  The difference is that “in a relationship” is a public statement where others comment for all to see.  And the difference is that rather than the twenty-eight students passing a crumpled paper around class, this status statement is relayed instantaneously to the almost five hundred online “friends” of Child One.  Living Out Loud.  If this ain’t it, I’m not sure what is…

Monday, June 21, 2010

Decorating your rut.

In between husbands one and two, I had a bit of a crisis (for those of you who don’t know/remember, Sig Other is husband number three).  The crisis was an obvious one of identity and lasted for about ten years.  During that time, I sought counsel from a wonderful therapist who was neither analyst nor medical doctor but was enormously helpful just the same.  I’ve not seen her in years now, having ditched her some time ago and graduated to a nice woman with “Dr.” in front of her name.  The Good Doctor and I are just getting to know each other and I’m not entirely sure it’s an enduring relationship and as we chart our course I think often of my old therapist.

My old therapist’s specialty was addiction – patients who suffer addiction as well as those drawn to those who suffer from them.  I was in the latter category.   I loved me an addict.  Alcoholics, drug addicts, sober or still suffering – I was drawn to them all like a moth to flame.  Husband #1 was in the midst of his downward spiral and husband #2 was sober but without program.  One was certainly more civilized than the other but each was a train wreck in his own self-absorbed way.  It took me fifteen years, two disastrous marriages and a decade or more of therapy to burn out on what I now realize is the MOST boring story of all time – that of an addict.  Because no addict’s story is as interesting to anyone else as it is to him or herself. 

I spent a good deal of time with my old therapist talking about WHY I was a person drawn to addicts.  We’d discuss my childhood, my memories, my feelings.  And sometimes, we’d just talk about life.  I loved just talking about life, and so did my old therapist.  She had a million funny phrases and anecdotes about the state of love and life and femininity and growing up.  And I remember a phrase she had – a phrase that stuck with me and which I found amusing and depressing and apropos.  “Life,” she said, “sucks.  Its hard being alive.  And often its boring.  And mostly what we find ourselves in is a rut.  And the challenge, as an adult, is to decorate your rut – dress it up in a way that makes it feel fresh and new and exciting and not old and stale and boring.”  

“Decorate your rut.”  That was the phrase echoing in my gut as I approached the redesign of The 43rd Year on the eve of my 44th.  I can’t blame alcohol – I’d had none.  I can’t blame advice – I asked no one.  I simply felt that one year of the same design was enough and boldly pressed the “design” button on Blogger.  My gentle dove grey background became boldly blue and words popped off the page in neon hot pink.  The 43rd Year was suddenly the blog equivalent of a virtual Woman on the Brink – dressed up in platinum wig, frosty white lipstick and a too-short mini, she took herself out for a 48 hour spin on the town.  Those of you who experienced my aesthetic misstep can now thank Miss Whistle, who chided me gently about my poor choice of colors both on Facebook, on the site itself and in person.  So I return now to my original format – albeit slightly updated.  I acknowledge that I am a person more comfortable in earthy greys and browns – I am not a person who wears color or lives in color and therefore am surely not a person who should have a colorful blog.  I accept the design of my rut and, in fact, quite love it.  I apologize, dear bloggettes, and return you now to the comforting shades of black and white and grey of the original 43rd Year…

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Birthday To Me!!!

So here it is folks.  The last day of Spring, the end of my 43rd year and the beginning of my 44th.  The weekend began with a cozy and delightful surprise Friday dinner planned superbly by sly Sig Other and my sneaky, lovely friends, and rolled through to a Sunday filled with flowers and delicious food and perfect gifts.  Sig Other and the children have feted and fed me to my heart’s content and I will spend the evening obsessing over which apps to download for my new iPad and how best to utilize the fancy Panini press from the children.  What I won’t obsess about, at least this evening, is my blog, though I’ve certainly had questions about its survival as the year came to a close.  Sig Other thinks I should shut it down and start anew under a different title.  Various others have suggested I continue on as the 43rd was the year of inspiration.  The truth is, I don’t think it much matters.  I don’t think anyone reading cares whether it’s the 43rd year or the 49th.  And I’ve no particular inspiration on this day suggesting a new title or subject matter.  So for now, the 43rd year will continue as is – perhaps with an amendment to color palette or font.   Happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Titanium, titanium, titanium...

Sig Other’s mother is mean.  She isn’t mean to everyone.  She isn’t mean all the time.  But she’s mean to him in ways that are unacceptable.  For years, Sig Other and Mean Mommy maintained an air of civility and spoke daily, mostly about the health of Sig Other’s father and the well being of the children.  The conversations were entirely foreign to someone like me – someone who grew up in a house where people were mostly nice to each other.  It was jarring to me to hear a dialogue that began with “Hi mommy” and ping-ponged through harsh criticism, pointed accusation, ribald humor, gentle questioning and back again.  It left me exhausted and confused and entertained and anxious.  But to Sig Other and Mean Mommy, it was just a regular check in call, just daily routine chitchat.   That is, until Sig Other’s father died.  I realized then that the calls made to Mean Mommy were really calls made by Sig Other to connect with his father who had long since grown weak and mostly incapable of regular phone chatter.  Once he was gone, so too was any shred of connection no matter how schizophrenic.

Thus, the approach of a weekend family wedding to be attended by Mean Mommy loomed large and dark for those of us less skilled at navigating the tumultuous waters of this particular brand of mother/son interaction.  The thought of spending three days in close proximity to Mean Mommy – or more specifically, Mean Mommy interacting with Sig Other – was enough to make me want to stay in bed with the covers pulled over my head for the duration of the holiday weekend.  Even if the covers were the shoddy polyblend paisley of our mid-level nonluxury hotel room. 

And so I went out on a limb.  I made an offer to Sig Other – a bribe really – in order to assure some familial peace (and really in order that I should spare myself a stomach ache or two).  “Hold your tongue,” I said, “just bite back whatever you might want to say, no matter the provocation, no matter how nasty or vile or difficult your mother gets, and I will buy you the titanium travel bike of your dreams.” 

It might have been prudent, I suppose, to do a little research on titanium travel road bikes BEFORE I made such an offer.  I realize that now.  I realize now, and probably realized the moment Sig Other accepted my bribe with great gusto and little hesitation, that titanium travel road bikes are enormously expensive luxury items – that the cost of my own comfort for three short days would be an item so pricey that in its stead we could have taken a lovely vacation or booked multiple therapy sessions to ease whatever pain I would have suffered during the course of the cruel three days.  But I wasn’t prudent.  I did no research.  And in great desperation I threw out the offer.

And yet I feared that even a man as determined and disciplined and single minded as Sig Other could not survive the provocation of relentless Mean Mommy.  Even Sig Other would fail, I thought, in rising above the underhanded remarks, the sly jabs, and the ever-constant criticisms of Mean Mommy.  Surely there would be no way he could sustain a Zen posture in the face of such extreme circumstance. 

And yet he did.  Rude comment after rude comment, provocation after provocation, sly sneer after sly sneer, Sig Other held it together.  He would chant his mantra silently at first.  And then, when pushed to the edge, a little more obviously but still under his breath, “titanium, titanium, titanium.”  And Mean Mommy would say, in her best entitled Polish Princess voice, “what is this titanium?  What is he talking about?” and then continue on whatever narcissistic rant he had rudely interrupted. 

The truth is, the only person who lost her cool the whole weekend was me.  I couldn’t take Mean Mommy.  I couldn’t take the fake niceties that permeated tense, chilly air.  I wanted to punch her in the nose twenty minutes in.  How dare she faun over Child One as though she had a real relationship with her?  How dare she lay claim to a grandchild she barely knows?  How dare she insist we drive her and invite her and include her in things?  She has no right, she hasn’t earned a place, she isn’t…

Hang on – what she isn’t is my mother.   What she isn’t is my problem.  What she isn’t is MY mean mommy.  So what am I so angry about?  I’m angry she wasn’t kinder to Sig Other as a child.  I’m angry that he didn’t get the kind of mother who supported him, believed in him, loved him unconditionally and enjoyed him for all of who he is. I'm angry that she makes no effort to reach out, get to know or stay in touch with her grandchildren and yet she acts as if they are very close and meaningful to her.  

But the truth is, and this may sound strange, the fact that Mean Mommy is a mean mommy paved the way for me to love Sig Other all the more.  The fact that Sig Other grew up with a Mean Mommy makes him the easiest person in the world to love.  Because all he requires is kindness.  All he requires is a person who sees him, accepts him and loves him for who he is, all of who he is at any given moment.

So I thank Mean Mommy and I feel no guilt about the bribe I offered or the bike I will buy.  If all it takes to keep a little peace is to reward good behavior with a truly fabulous bike, I’m in.  I will keep bribing and buying and loving and making up for all the years of damage Mean Mommy did because she didn’t understand that sometimes a little bribe goes a long way and sometimes the most delightful surprise is who people are and not who we think we want them to be.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


ExWife and Sig Other don’t communicate so well.  This may, in fact, be one reason they are no longer married.  There is something about the chemistry in the air that floats between them that makes each combustible when in close proximity to the other.  Strident and shrill are the words I would use if asked to describe the bulk of their interaction.  They go zero to sixty faster than any Grand Prix racecar. 

Enter Google Calendar, the panacea of divorced households, the whiteboard of peace and a true godsend for busy multi-home families where communication is challenged at best.   Because it isn’t just ExWife and Sig Other in this world – there are children that need to be shuttled around, schedules to be made, arrangements to be dealt with.

There wasn’t always a schedule. When the kids were really little, there was a loosey goosey kind of free-floating vibe with regard to custody.  The children slept where they felt most comfortable (ExWife’s house) and Sig Other had free access whenever he could see them – an open door policy that allowed nightly tuck-ins and help with homework.  This seemed to work fine for Sig Other, Ex Wife and the children.  It drove me bananas – I like a schedule.  I like things to be tidy and organized and thought out.  Spontaneity is not one of my strong suits.  I like a plan.  And as the children grew, it proved that they did too.  Children like a schedule.  They may say they enjoy the free-floating devil may care arrangements we lived under in those first few years.  But the truth is it created anxiety.  For them.  And for us. 

And so a schedule was born - one schedule that applied to both children and we stuck to it as best we could.  But then Child One started to grow up.  And with age came friends, and more homework, and more extracurricular activities, and more bags to schlep.  And with all of that came a reticence to go back and forth from one house to another.  And so we decided – we all decided – that her schedule would shift – that she would divide her time equally between the households and would have some version of one week in each home.

But schedules are tricky in the real world.  Sig Other travels and Child One ends up back at ExWife’s house.  Or I travel and Sig Other asks Child One to stay with him so he won’t be alone.  Or Child One just gets overwhelmed or tired or busy and doesn’t want to switch and so ends up staying in one place or another longer than the suggested week.  And that’s when emotions start to swing, that’s when voices start to rise and tempers get hot.  And that’s when I get stuck in the middle.  Because I see both sides really – or in this case, all three.  I get why ExWife is upset if Child One spends what seems like more time with us.  I get why Sig Other feels that after all the years of imbalance, its time for both children to divide their time more equally.  And I get why neither child wants to be torn between squabbling parents

So where does that leave all of us?  With Google calendar of course.  Check it out.  Because this, hopefully, will be our saviour.  I am now in charge of the family calendar – an application we can all access to add, delete or examine any and all activities in the lives of the children and each other.  And so far, its working.  As summer starts, as schedules get busier, I hope I remember to record and erase with each shift and plan but at least this is a start.  Any other brilliant ideas?