Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Last Real Bad Guys

Child One is working on a paper for Modern U.S. History and she’s chosen to write about Guantanamo Bay.  So we’ve been talking a lot about habeas corpus and constitutional law, the Geneva Convention, the war on terror, the failure of the Bush administration to declare war and all sorts of other things that happened while Child One was busy growing up and the rest of us were idly sitting by complaining a whole lot but doing very little.  And in this conversation, we find ourselves talking about the bad guys – who they are, why they are, and how they got that way.  It’s a messy business, this whole war on terror.  And the issue of who is held, on what grounds and for how long seems unanswerable in a world as confused as ours has gotten.
As I was talking to Child One about all of this tonite, I realized that I sort of miss the Nazis.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Nazis and how useful they were.  They were unambiguously evil.  They fell on the blackest edge of the dark-light spectrum.  There was no question about whether they deserved mercy or should be spared.  They were just bad.  And being just bad was really useful.  If there are really bad guys that means there can be really good guys.  But that simple premise, the beauty of good vs evil, seems terribly old fashioned and rather lost these days.    

The Nazis were the last real bad guys.  Even the Russians in the Cold War inspired some debate – you could always find a Commie or two willing to debate the benefits of the political policies of the Eastern Bloc.  And now we live in an era of fear and racism – brown skin and a belief in Islam are reasons enough for a jail sentence.  But of course not all Muslims are bad.  And not all people with brown skin walk around strapped with explosives and a willingness to die.  Its hard to tell who’s good and bad these days.  But the Nazis were different – they were just plain bad. 

Part of me longs for that kind of simplicity.  TVs were black and white.  Bad guys were bad and good guys were good.  And part of me, the bigger part really, knows that in fact the world is a complex place, that it is all shades of gray and that the complexity of variety is both confounding and exhilarating, exhausting and energizing.  The only way to really live IN the world is to embrace the complexity for its blacks and its whites and all the shades of gray in between.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ex-Wife has a birthday.

Last Sunday was Ex-Wife’s birthday.  Child One realized too late that she had no plan.  And, as Ex-Wife’s birthday falls on Valentine’s Day, reservations at any restaurant were out of the question.  So Child One decided to throw her mother a party - a Japanese party with sushi and inari and a variety of Asian treats.  But we were running a little late returning from our weekend away and it seemed to me that Child One shouldn’t bear the whole burden of prepping the party.  So I offered to help. 

“Help” really just meant going to Whole Foods (twice) to pick up trays of sushi and boxes of edamame and some inari and soft drinks and various other treats.  Child Two came with me for the first trip.  Child One joined for the second.  And as we stood in the check out line with our little plastic containers of rice-wrapped veggies, Child One flung her arms around me and snuggled a thank you into my neck.   She pulled back and we smiled at each other and shared a laugh.  “Of course,” I said, “after all, its my ex-wife’s birthday.”  The checker looked at us sort of funny but went about her business as Child One turned to me and said, “That’s funny, L.  That’s just what I was telling my friend the other day.  I told her about you and mommy and that there are just no normal families anymore.”

This particular friend’s parents are splitting up.  This is unusual in Child One’s world.  Child One has mostly been surrounded by “normal families.”  Unlike Child Two, most of the parents of One’s very dear friends are still together.  Her friends don’t have familiarity with awkward step-moments or the frustration of wanting the pair of shoes that just happen to be at one house when he or she is at the other.  Among her friends, Child One has always been the different one – the one struggling with the issues of traveling between houses and navigating betwixt parents.  But now Child One gets to be the expert, using her experience to help her friend thru the brutal terrain of divorce.

Meanwhile, Ex-Wife seemed happy with her party and her presents and the kids were happy they’d pulled it off.  The holiday weekend ended and both children settled back into their “normal” life with two households, three parents, four dogs and one slightly overweight cat.  Child One will continue to counsel her friend and will undoubtedly describe a life of bouncing between houses and keeping track of shoes and sweaters and books and time.  But hopefully she’ll also remember that she often thinks that three parents are better than two and that weird families are more normal than not. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Substitute Pig

If you were a person walking by a certain café in the valley on Friday night, you might have noticed an elegant navy blue Porsche 911 parked in front of the valet.  And if you bothered to look through the passenger side window of the navy blue Porsche 911, you might have noticed a little pink stuffed pig face down and jammed into the corner of the tan leather sport seat.  You might have wondered, as you wandered by on a balmy Friday, why such a sweet child’s toy was left, abandoned, in a sports car parked outside a café.  Or perhaps you were struck by the incongruity of that particular toy in that particular car.  You might have shaken your head in disgust, thinking the driver an irresponsible parent who thrust his or her small child into a racy sports car with no child seat.  What you wouldn’t have realized, what you couldn’t possibly have known, is that the abandoned little pig does not belong to a young child at all.  The abandoned little stuffed pig belongs to 16 year old Child One, and the driver of the sports car is me.

I rarely drive the car that is Sig Other’s prize possession.  But it was a holiday and Sig Other left early for a weekend in the desert with Child Two.  Child One and I had various responsibilities that prevented us from an early escape so we decided to meet them there.  S.O. packed up my mommy-car with bikes and gear and headed out with the boy to prepare for his big bike-riding weekend.  Child One and I followed in the evening, but stopped to grab a bite in the hope that traffic would subside.  And truly I liked the idea of a chic ride in the sporty speedster, my teenager beside me and LV luggage in the back.

We were all packed up and tucked into the compact cabin of the little sports car before I had a chance to glance over and see Child One stuffing the little pink pig into her bag.  “What’s that?” I asked.  “Piggy,” she replied.  “He still comes with?” I asked.  “Of course,” she said, “but Blue Bunny stays home these days.”  This last was delivered as a matter of fact.  Blue Bunny isn’t actually blue at all.  BB is a little white stuffed rabbit in a blue outfit.  And BB has been with Child One since infancy and resides on Child One’s massive king sized bed covered in stuffed animals and pink pillows. 

Child One hangs on to the threads of her girlhood in ways like this.  Blue Bunny and Peej have travelled with her since she was tiny.  This pig, this little pink stuffed pig on this particular trip, is actually a stand-in for the real pig (“Peej”), who is now old and tattered and too precious to leave the area code.  Blue Bunny stays home now too.  Ever since the “incident” in which she was lost in the fine pressed sheets of Claridge’s Hotel and did not surface until weeks later when some lovely woman in housekeeping rescued her and sent her home via airmail.  Bunny was laundered and no worse for wear.  But that was her last overseas journey and she now stays safe at home, replaced by a substitute pig on vacation so as not to tempt fate.

I tease Child One about traveling with her little pig.  I tease her often about how firmly she holds on to her childhood and yet I’m hanging on right there with her.  And I think about life 18 months from now, when she and Ex-Wife and Sig Other and I will be standing in some college dorm hallway about to open the door to a tiny, overcrowded room that will be her home away from homes for the next phase of her life.  Ex-Wife and I will cry and fuss and Sig Other will keep his sunglasses on and pretend like he’s not bawling harder than either of us.  And I imagine the moment we open the door, enter her new room and meet her new roommates who will become immediately familiar with Blue Bunny and Peej and the little substitute piggy and all of the lovely quirks that follow Child One around and make her so special and lovable and amazing.  I wonder if she’ll consider leaving Substitute Pig with me?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What about me???

Years ago, Sig Other and I were goofing around and talking about what we would name our fictitious future autobiographies.  “Simple,” said I, “yours would clearly be called ‘What About ME?’”  Sig Other laughed and agreed that no name could be more perfect.  And so it stuck.  Now, every time I don’t answer a phone call or email quickly enough or pay enough attention to every detail of Sig Other’s life, a cry will ring out across the internet or phone lines – the cry is a simple “What About Me???” 

So tonite, as I sat at dinner with a group of friends on a Friday eve as Sig Other was 3000 miles across the continent, I checked my emails and discovered a text that read, “What about me?”  That meant he was winding down his day or going to bed and couldn’t reach me.  That meant he felt abandoned. 

Sig Other loves attention.  Sig Other loves to be the center of the universe, and his universe is mostly me.  Sig Other is ridiculously generous, self aware, and flexible.  He is also vaguely narcissistic.  If Sig Other and I were asked to cast the movie based on the story of our lives, here’s what we’d do:  I would make a list of fabulous actresses who are in or nearing their 40s but look much younger thanks to plastic surgery and a series of injectibles.  After looking at women inappropriately attractive, I would cast the girl in the starring role who felt the most authentic to the essence of the woman I am.  Sig Other would cast himself.

If asked about my rockstar fantasy, I could go into great detail about the outfit I would wear were I to have sung backup for the Rolling Stones on the Bridges to Babylon tour or I’d wax poetic about the little black dress and pulled back hair I’d have sported to audition for the contemporary equivalent of the girls in the Robert Palmer video.  Sig Other would be lead vocals, songwriter and producer of his own eponymous band.

This is the fundamental difference between S.O. and myself.  S.O. walks down the street assuming that all eyes are on him.  I walk down the street and assume that even people who know me don’t see me.  Sig Other is the exotic butterfly yin to my camouflage yang.  And I like it that way.  I like the deflection.  I like that he is larger than life and over the top and outrageous.  And I like that only those very close to him know the gooey, sweet center on the inside of the hard candy shell. 

So when I get the insistent, demanding, plaintive text crying “What about me?” I simply smile and feel lucky and pick up the phone to call my sweet love.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

I had a fabulous date with my Best GF tonite.  Sig Other is out of town so BGF and I made some time to talk and laugh and catch up on our lives and I felt really great afterwards.  What’s weird is that it was a phone date.  What’s weirder is that we started our date talking about what we’d each had for dinner. 

Let me back up. 

I had a brutal day.  I got home at 8:30p and didn’t realize for almost an hour that I’d left the front door wide open as I’d rushed in from work to feed the dogs, call my boss, iChat with Sig Other (who is sick in bed in his New York hotel room) and open a mediocre bottle of red wine while making myself something to eat. 

Here’s what I had for dinner: an Annie Chun Noodle Bowl.  Reconstituted noodles with rock hard tofu squares and miso scallion broth.  Here’s what BGF had for dinner: a handful of chocolate malt balls.  Here’s why that’s just wrong: we’re both in our 40s, both successful business women with big fat salaries, full-time housekeepers and lives that most people would consider highly organized and ridiculously functional.  So how did we find ourselves in this situation?  How is it possible that my evening meal consisted of a bowl of salt water and hers a bowl of sugar? 

When I was a teenager, I imagined a future fantasy life very much like my current real life.  I would be successful, have a gorgeous home, a sexy Sig Other and beautiful dogs.  I guess what I didn’t fantasize about was what I’d have for dinner.  If I’d thought of it I would have imagined a private chef who would fill in on nights I wasn’t either out at the hottest restaurant or energetically whipping up my own five-course meal in my state of the art kitchen.   What I wouldn’t have imagined was a solo night at home with a phone glued to my ear and a bowlful of re-hydrated noodles in a plastic bowl on my lap.

I’m shocked at how ridiculously unglamorous my life is.    Shocked that people as highly organized and functional as me and BGF have not figured out a way to keep a refrigerator stocked with fresh, organic and healthy culinary delights.  But mostly I’m shocked that a mediocre bowl of brown salt water and a good thirty minutes on the phone can feel like one terrific night out.  Maybe I’ve got all the sustenance I need after all...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I knew this would happen.

Child One is growing up.  I knew this would happen.  The delight of her chubby girlhood was always meant to disappear down the inevitable but steady path to adulthood.  And so she marches, albeit awkwardly at times, toward the bright, funny, inquisitive, self-possessed, over-achieving young woman she is meant to be.  But I hate it.  I don’t hate who she is or will be.  I hate that she is no longer a little girl, no longer dependent and no longer around.  Last night I had a dream that she was taking an apartment in Santa Monica to be nearer school and that Ex-Wife had blessed the move.  I freaked out – isn’t she away from us enough, I shouted?  Between school and internships and studying and horses, isn’t she away all the time?  And we only get her for another year and a half before she leaves us entirely to go to college – a new adventure in a life that promises to be full of things I only dared dream about at her age. 

I read about abandoned children in Haiti and babies born with no hope for the future.  And as I turn the pages of the newspapers and magazines, irrational craziness pops into my head – I should go get one of those children, bring home a baby or two to take care of.  They need homes, they need love, they need food.  But what I’m really thinking is “I need them”.  I need them to replace the growing half-children in my own home.  Even Child Two is no longer a baby.  Every day, traces of Young Man creep in to replace the scared, funny little boy he used to be.  The new Young Man is confident and sensitive and daring and far more adult than an eleven year old boy should be.  He’s extraordinary really. 

If I spend more than two seconds thinking about it, I willingly come to the conclusion that the last thing I want is a baby or young child in the house .  Sig Other and I have little enough time with each other to begin with – we never had a honeymoon period – never got to be a young couple on our own.  It was always more important to both of us to integrate the children into our lives and so now that they are getting older and will be around less often, we should revel in time that we have to spend together.  And I can’t wait really.  I look forward to a romantic future as much as I mourn the family-ridden past.

But I miss the days of driving Child one around.  I miss the days of too many obligations and not enough “me” time.  And now that “me time” presents itself I don’t know what to do with it and wish that time was spent with the children doing children things.  So I will do what all parents of growing teenagers do – I will ask Child One out on a date – I will see if she can squeeze me in this weekend between homework and horses and friends.  And I will be grateful for whatever moment she can spare for me along the busy and frenetic and fabulous path she carves from sweet chubby girlhood to fabulous, intriguing and exotic adulthood.  Maybe just a trip to Starbucks or a jaunt out for frozen yogurt?  Please?