Sunday, November 6, 2011

Empty Nest...



The first one was the worst.  Shabbat dinner with no children.  Child One was at college.  Child Two was in his first week of the new custody arrangement – a 50/50 split which gives him more overall time with us but only every other weekend.  So Shabbat rolled around and rather than race home to make dinner for anywhere from four to fourteen people which often included friends of Child One, I came home to an almost empty house.  Sig Other lay on the couch.  I came in, put down my bags, took off my shoes and sat down next to him.  “Should we land candles?” I asked.  “No,” he replied.  “Do you want dinner?” “I’m not hungry.  You?”  “Not really,” I replied.  And I meant it.   And so our first Shabbat without children passed with no blessings, no candles, no singing, no shared stories of the week.  We sat on the sofa, in the dark, catching up on reality television and eating leftover crudités from a plastic container.  By 9pm, we were asleep.

The second Shabbat on our own was almost worse.  I decided we could not simply ignore the Sabbath, could not simply sit like tragic zombies worshipping our apple TV, picking through the Friday night dregs of the refrigerator and waiting desperately for the empty weekend to pass.  I decided we would have Shabbat with or without children.  And so I came home, laid a proper table, opened a bottle of wine and set out the candles.  If anything, the mere process of going through the ritual for just the two of us was an even lonelier experience than not going through it at all.  It turns out that ignoring Shabbat is far less sad than observing in the absence of those who make observation relevant.

Let me explain.  When Sig Other and I became a couple, we discussed the ritual of Shabbat.  It was important to me because I felt I could finally honor the age-old tradition of my ancestors.  It was important to Sig Other because he could, as he put it, teach the children about their religion so they knew what it was they were rejecting when it came time to reject it.    And Shabbat became important to all of us as our Friday nights truly represent what is most meaningful about the ritual – coming together as a family, taking time to honor one another and to honor the demarcation of the end of the work week and the beginning of the time we have, however short, to renew our selves, our bodies and spirits, to prepare for the next week ahead. 

Shabbat dinners, though, are both a blessing and a burden.  Friday night is not just any other night of the week.  The food should be special, the table beautifully set, the mood a little different from every other night of the week.  And this creation of a family setting has been foremost for me for the past almost eight years.  But the creation of a family environment is not without a price tag.  Periodically, whene the week had been particularly cruel and I particularly tired, I would have pangs of resentment about being SuperStep and pangs of longing for a honeymoon with my husband I never had.  We never had time to be a young couple, never had periods of romantic Friday night dates and weekends away.  We had children.  We had family.  And integrating the children into our lives, making the “step-ness” of our lives a perfectly normal thing, was more important than any walk on the beach, any quiet moment, any candlelit dinner a deux.

So you would think I would relish a Friday night alone, you’d think I’d be thrilled to not worry about what to cook, whether there are fresh flowers on the table, what time the kids will be home from school.  You’d think this would be an opportunity. Child One is 3000 miles away.  Child Two is on a regular schedule of back and forth that affords us two weeknights and every other weekend entirely on our own. Perfect, right?  Great opportunity for romance, for coupley solitude, for self-education, self-expansion, self-growth.  But really all we are is lonely.  Really all we do in our moments alone is think about how much we miss the children, how much we miss Child One and her friends and reminisce about days and dinners gone by.

I suppose it’s a victory in a way – I suppose missing the children this much means we managed to integrate them and ourselves into a semblance of perfectly conventional family life in spite of a perfectly unconventional setting.  But it doesn’t feel like a victory somehow.  It feels more like a weekend spent thinking about the next time we’ll all be together as one.   

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hospitality???


There's nothing I hate more than checking into a hotel I frequent as a business or personal guest to no amenities.  I like to know that loyalty is honored rather than familiarity breeding contempt.  A note, a flower arrangement, cookies for kids - all are greeted with great enthusiasm.  Fruit plates, on the other hand, can be a mixed bag.  Consider the grapefruit, for instance.  A grapefruit, in my mind, is perfect for squeezing fresh juice.  It may also be useful when sliced into supremes and put in a salad.  Less oft, though certainly admired, is the grapefruit halved and sectioned at the breakfast table.  But rarely, rarely does one think of the grapefruit as a delicious option for a fruit bowl.  Unlike the handy apple, the grapefruit cannot be picked up and walked away with.  Its peel is unwieldy, often thick and overly pithy.  Unlike the banana, the grapefruit has massive seeds one can't carry as one piece and deposit politely into nearby rubbish.  And unlike the fruit-bowl friendly grape, a grapefruit is drippy and messy even after peeled and pithed.  So why, I wonder, do hotels bother to put such a daunting fruit in a basket meant to serve as hospitality?  Well, is has great volume, I suppose.  It might take two apples, a trio of apricots and at least two dozen grapes to fill the space taken by one juicy grapefruit.  And unlike its soft-skinned cousins, the mighty citrus lasts (or at least gives the appearance of lasting) a good long time.  No mushy edges, no spoilt centers - the grapefruit can go on for weeks looking fresh as the day it was picked.

So a fruitbowl, I imagine, stands for hospitality in the modern age. Long gone are the days of truly personal touches - a favorite cookie or preferred flower.  To be honest, I'd even prefer a fresh fig or apricot or representation of anything seasonal in its stead.  But grapefruit we get and so grapefruit, it seems, we shall endure...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

WHAT ABOUT mini-ME???


Those of you familiar with Sig Other in worlds either virtual or real know that he is the true originator of the phrase, "What about me?"  It is the name of his future auto-biography.  And it is his daily credo.  But the apple, it turns out, doesn't fall far from the tree.  My return to the blogosphere after prolonged absence was greeted by a call from Child One who chided, "I saw you wrote on your blog today."  "Yes," I said, "how did you know?"  "I check it all the time," said she, and continued, "but I was surprised you didn't write about me.  I mean, its been a big year, with me going to college and all the change."  She paused then and continued, "Why didn't write about that?"

In truth, I've written a great deal about that - about how difficult her summer between highschool and college was, about the loss Sig Other and I feel with her absence, about the profound shift in all of our lives as she's transitioned, rather ungracefully, into adulthood.  But none of it felt appropriate for publication. None of it, that is, except this short piece written at the request of my friend Nicola who created the 10Q (www.doyou10Q.com).  So here it is (for you, my sweet Child One) - evidence that I really do think (and write) about you...


THINK ABOUT A MAJOR MILESTONE THAT AFFECTED YOUR FAMILY THIS YEAR…

It would be easiest, I suppose, to go straight to the obvious – the empty bedroom down the hall, the closet missing half its wardrobe, the usually messy bathroom now standing idle waiting to be made a mess again in a few months.  The easiest thing – the most obvious thing to point to, when asked to think about a major milestone, would be the matriculation of our daughter to college.  She is gone.  The house is emptier, the world a little quieter, the days a little less full, because K is 3000 miles away experiencing a whole new life without us.

But in fact, that monumental event is NOT the thing that comes to mind when I think about a major milestone of this year.  In fact, what I think about is the text I got from K one day this summer.  It read: “…how glad I am to have a stepmother who yells at me for parking her car badly.”  I am that stepmother.  And for years I worked at NOT yelling at anybody for anything.  For years I did what most steps do – I twisted myself into a pretzel to do the right thing, to cook the right thing, to say the right thing so the children would feel safe and comfortable and loved.  And I kept my mouth shut about things I felt were wrong for fear of being disliked.   

But as K neared college, I realized that her ability to cope in the adult world – in the world outside our home – was far more important than whether or not she liked me.  And I started telling her what to do.  I told her to pick up after herself, to knock before she entered rooms, to close the cabinets she left open and yes – to park her car straight in the driveway.  We spent a lot of time alone together, she and I, in the months leading up to her departure.  And those months were fraught for her – full of anxiety and fear and depression and angst.  We talked about more than just parking straight and separating whites from darks when doing laundry.  I said some tough things and had to hear some even tougher.  And in that time, I felt a shift in myself.  I felt as I stopped trying to win, stopped trying to be loved, stopped trying to be the coolest stepmom on the block. I felt as I stopped caring about me and started caring about her – what was best for her, what would serve her, what would help her cope in a world far less cozy than our home. 

For the record, I have never yelled at either of my stepchildren.  And in this particular case, I’m quite certain I didn’t even raise my voice.  But I did give a sharp directive. And K has never parked sideways in the driveway again.  And THAT may be the major milestone of our year.




Sunday, October 2, 2011

Take that, Bill Maher!


Pardon my absence from the blogosphere but I’m slightly superstitious.  The world being what it was in the final weeks of summer – financial disaster in the US, riots in the UK, protests in the Israel and various domestic unrest in households near and far – it seemed best to keep my head down and forge quietly ahead.  LBJ famously said, “Being President is like being a jackass in a hailstorm.  There’s nothing to do but stand there and take it.”  My friend’s father, a colleague of LBJ, had his own Texan take on the phrase and would say to his little girl, “Sweetheart, sometimes you have to be like a jackass in a hailstorm – put your down and wait for the storm to pass.”  I’ve been waiting for the storms to pass and keep looking for blooming flowers amidst the burning ash. 

But the other night, I couldn’t find a flower anywhere.  I was home watching Bill Maher and feeling useless.  There was Bill, all witty and fabulous, interviewing intelligent people who had written books or started life-changing organizations.  His guests included a former governor, a civil rights activist and a world famous author.  And there was me, sitting on the couch with a bowl of pasta after a week of work at a job where I save no lives, change no political policy, influence no major governments.  Useless.   

I spiraled then, and thought about all I hadn’t done.  The world is on a scary path: economic disaster, failed education systems, escalating worldwide racism, sexism, anti-semitism.  There is spring during autumn all over the Middle East, the behemoth that is China is lumbering out of its deep sleep and toward epic change and our own country teeters on the edge of insanity steeped in dark crazy tea.  And I’m sitting on my couch doing nothing.

I told myself I do nothing because I'm not smart enough, didn't major in the right thing, haven't focused my energy in the right places these past several decades. And for the most part that is true. I didn’t invent a computer chip that changed the world. I have not written a book on world politics. I am not clever enough to be invited as a guest on Bill Maher and hold my own.  The truth is my knowledge of world events is limited to what media I consume in the pre-dawn moments before my day jolts into full swing or the bits and pieces I catch after hours.  And while I’m not the least informed of my circle, I’m hardly the most.  

But today I got jolted out of my useless blues.  Today I did the thing that still gives me joy, despite the fact that its part of my job and I do it time and time again.  Today, I went to the movies.  It seems a trivial thing really – two hours in a dark box with a big screen shouldn’t really change your mood.  But it can.  And today it did.  This thing we do – this magical, wonderful and terribly ethereal business of making movies – this world that can be so frustrating, can seem so ludicrous at times, can also be profoundly affecting.  True – its rare.  And most movies are crap.  I’ve worked on as many bad movies as good ones (ok – more).  And truly great movies are a scarcity beyond comprehension.  But they happen.  And when they do, when a movie can make you laugh and cry and feel and go on a ride that feels like fifteen minutes even if its been three hours – THAT is when being in the movie business feels like something substantial. 

I chose this job – this career in movies - in part because the idea of pursuing a PhD in political science seemed really exhausting 25 years ago.  But in part I chose it because I love it.   I love that I interact with some of the most talented, most inspiring artists alive today.  I love that these artists work in a medium that has the potential to have a reach far greater than paint or ceramic or even words on a page.  And I love that every experience with every artist is unique and a true education all its own. 

But mostly I love that today I went to a movie theater and for two magical hours got swept up in someone else’s life.  I entered someone else’s story – I saw what the director wanted me to see and heard what the director wanted me to hear.  But the experience was uniquely my own.  For the moments I laughed, as well as for those I cried, I was in the soothing hands of a master filmmaker and I went down the path he created for me – though I’m sure I saw the path slightly differently from the man on my right or the woman on my left.  This is the beauty of film.  This is the magic and strength and power of a well made movie.  And this is the world I have the great privilege to be part of. 

I am not a writer.  I do not direct movies.  But I do rely on a gut instinct to evaluate material and I do use that gut and a good bit of passion to push to make movies that make people laugh and cry and think and just get away for two magical hours in the special box we call the movie theater.  They may not always work – in fact, mostly they don’t.  Great film is harmonic convergence.  But when it works, when a movie is really firing on all cylinders - and you get that two hours of pure joy, of a story that makes you think about the world in a slightly different way - isn't that worth something?

I still wish I were clever enough and well-educated enough and worldly enough to have written a book, or run for office or created a policy that would make me fancy and cool and smart enough to be a guest on Bill Maher.  But I’m damn grateful for my two hours of bliss today.  And damn lucky to do what I do.

Friday, August 26, 2011

At last...


The summer night we've been waiting for.  Midnight.  80 degrees.  Noisy cicadas chirp madly in the dry grasses just now warming in belated summer air.  This is Child One's last Shabbat before leaving for school.  Hurricane Irene may disrupt our perfectly planned journey.  But weeks of planning and preparation will not stand in the way of Child One's future.  There may be tears and hesitation and a bumpy road of fear ahead.  And that's just for Sig Other and me.  What awaits Child One, no one can anticipate.   My friend Jess looked Child One in the eye the other night across a bottle of wine and a soggy pizza and said, "I want to Freaky Friday with you so bad I can't stand it."  That about sums it up.  Shabbat Shalom to all.  And a special prayer to the hope for the future we send out into the world in the next week - we wish you well and hope for the best.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pink, pink sheets...


There are brand new pink sheets in the wash right now.  One set of jersey, one of flannel.  Twin extra long as required by dormitory standards.  They are, of course, Child One’s sheets for college.  I’m washing them so they’ll be soft and smell of home when she puts them on her dorm room bed for the first time.  There’s no real need for me to wash them of course.  I have two housekeepers who could easily do the task and are expecting to fluff and fold in preparation for the packing and upcoming departure.  But I want to wash her sheets – want to feel the warmth as I fold them and smell what she’ll smell on her first night’s sleep at school. 

She is not excited to sleep on her new sheets – not excited to dive into the brand new shiny future that awaits her.  I find it hard to relate.  Like most 18 year olds of my generation, I couldn’t get out of the house fast enough – couldn’t wait to grow up – couldn’t wait to get away, to be an adult, to “start life” – that’s how I thought of it.   I could only dream of a fancy east coast school – could only dream of the world that eagerly awaits her.  But I never had to face the reality of what that meant.  Maybe I would have been scared – maybe I would have hesitated to fly across the country and dive into a world completely foreign.  I’ll never know.  It simply wasn’t an option.  But it is not only an option for Child One.  It is now her reality.

And Child One is nothing like me.  She does not want to leave the house, doesn’t want to grow up, has no interest in getting as fast and as far away as possible.  Its not that she isn’t excited about starting school – not that she isn’t looking forward to making new friends and tackling new academic challenges.  And it certainly isn’t as if she lacks gratitude or awareness.  She wants to embrace what lies ahead.  It’s just that she’d like us all to come along and embrace it with her.  But of course we can’t.  Of course she’ll have to take a deep breath and dive into the deep end on her own. And she’ll have pain and fear and anxiety as well as victory and great joy and success. 

Child One’s pre-college panic is not unlike Best Friend’s daughter N’s moment the other day.  Little N got an early lesson in charity as mother and daughter packed up binkies and a few infant toys and took them to a local hospital to share with children less fortunate.  N was cooperative and stoic during the packing and drop off but melted into a tortured tantrum later in the day.  She was having a hard time letting go, having a hard time moving beyond this phase of her life.  So, for her afternoon nap, her mother found an old binky in the back of a drawer – one that had escaped packing – and gave it to the hysterical child.  She calmed right away and fell quickly to sleep.

Child One is having just such a moment.  Child One would love nothing more than to keep all of her binkies – to hold on to this moment, to these friends, to this life of highschool relationships and dreams.  She does not want to pack it all up and move on to the next phase.  She knows she must – knows that she will forget about her binkies and begin to embrace a new life soon enough.

But tonight she is digging in.  And tonight I wash her sheets to make sure they smell like home.  I’ll stay up just a little late to fold them and pack them away so I know she has what she needs.  And maybe she’ll unpack them, two weeks and three thousand miles from here, and know that a little bit of home has followed her east and will always be with her wherever she goes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The 168th Post in which Child One ACTUALLY turns 18 and Sig Other is inconsolable...


Raucous Bollywood celebrations aside, Child One’s actual birthday is today.  And notwithstanding her deeply held belief that the 4th of July is a national holiday held in anticipation of her date of birth, this is the day, eighteen years ago when the little rosy cheeked, tow-headed girl entered the world. I wasn’t there that day.  I didn’t come into her life for many years after.  I feel weirdly guilty about that - an irrational guilt to be sure. But I take joy in her 18th birthday nonetheless.

Sig Other, however, is inconsolable.  He moves from stoic lamentation to breast-beating sorrow with hummingbird-wing rapidity and desires only to stay at home and mope.  No celebration is appropriate, no declaration great enough, no gift big enough to express his feelings about his first born coming of age.  To watch him suffer, one would assume there was something terribly, terribly wrong. 

In fact, there is nothing terribly wrong at all.  Child One has done exactly as asked.  She has grown up quite beautifully.  She has, with the greatest of both hesitation and grace, transformed from scared little girl to forthcoming young woman.  If you asked her, four years ago, about future plans, she would not have known how to answer.  She could not imagine leaving home, couldn’t imagine going to school out of town much less across the country and would never have thought of traveling the world on her own in search of adventure, education and justice.  Sig Other used to sit at the dinner table and repeat over and over again that it was her great fortune, not to mention her responsibility and obligation, to take advantage of the opportunity in front of her – to grasp at what had eluded us and strive for the possibility of better education, greater horizons, deeper experience.  Tears would stream down her face as he would look deep in her eyes and say, “you will graduate and leave us – you will go to a great school on the east coast and get an amazing education and meet interesting people and form deep relationships that will stay with you for the rest of your life.”  And she would say no – she would never leave home, would never go far away, would never want to be a grown up.  Yet here she is, 18 years old, about to leave for a summer volunteering at a school in Israel before starting her future at a fancy east coast school.  She has become all Sig Other ever hoped.   And all he can do is lament. 

“This is what you raised her for,” I say to him.  “This is what you insisted she do.  You’ve done an amazing job.  She is fulfilling every dream you had for her.”  “I know,” he says, “but I didn’t really mean it. I didn’t really want her to leave.”  He says this as we drive home from her birthday dinner and I imagine the evening before us – Sig Other sitting on the floor going through albums of baby pictures and listening to a mix-tape of Rafi and Paul Simon.  He doesn’t do this, of course.  He tucks his pain away and rather stoically goes to his office to fiddle with a faulty computer program.  But I know he is suffering.  I know he is in pain.  I feel guilty that we can’t sit on the floor with a bottle of wine and reminisce about her colicky infancy and adorable toddlerhood.    I wasn’t there for those moments.  I missed her first words and first steps and first taste of delicious rice cereal.  I’ve been there for my share of tears and vomiting and runny noses and pain – been there enough for lots of anxiety and some pain, a few hurt feelings and a few misunderstandings.  And of course for lots of cuddling and laughs and more joy than I could ever have imagined before she or Child Two or Sig Other entered my life.  But now I must go and console Sig Other and pet his head as he mourns the loss of his job well done.  

Monday, July 4, 2011

The 167th Post in which Child One turns 18.




Saturday night was Child One’s 18th birthday party.  She wanted something smallish – she and her best friend celebrating together – about twenty people for a nice dinner.  She picked a theme – Indian – and she and her friends bought glamorous outfits.  I did their makeup and filled the house with incense and geraniums and richly colored Indian linens.  The henna tattoo artist arrived, the kids all put on their bindis and milled about to Sig Other’s rather raucous Bollywood soundtrack mix.  Sig Other and the other parents and I hovered as long as we could – soaking up as much gorgeous, hilarious, hormonally charged teenage time as possible before making what we had promised would be a brief exit.  Child One had never really invited us, you see.  “You can stay” is what she said when asked if were to be part of the festivities.  Not exactly a cozy invitation.  And we were never included on the Facebook Event Page, which apparently has replaced paper or even email as the Emily Post of social event planning.  So we made our own dinner plans – adult dinner plans – and knew that we’d be nearby and gone very briefly.

Child One and company were having a perfectly lovely time when we left.   The table was piled with food and Diet Pepsi and laughter.  An hour and a half later we returned to empty bottles of rock-gut vodka and beer strewn around the house.  An anonymous Italian girl showed up in a cab with three leggy friends and proceeded to vomit in our bathroom while an eager teen boy waited nearby desperate to take advantage of her and another boy took her pulse, spinning his own fantasy of an emergency room drop-off.  Couples made out in dark corners, others just sat around talking about their future – one was leaving the next day for Europe and then college, they’d said goodbye already to another the day before.  The night was warm and smelled of spilled beer and cigarettes, smoke from a hookah (which had magically appeared in our absence) hung heavy over conversation about anticipation, fear and excitement of change.   Some were drinking.  Some were not.  And as I walked the party with my basket they were brutally honest about who had done what and how much.  It’s a pretty mild crew (notwithstanding the anonymous Italian girl) and I was impressed by how forthcoming and easy they were about handing over their keys. 

And yes, I took their keys.  I am the evil shrew collecting keys of potentially drunk teenagers and hiding them in a basket underneath my bathroom sink.  I told them I would breathalyze them on their way out.  I lied, of course.  I don’t have a Breathalyzer.  But fear still drives the teenage brain and so keys were collected and slowly doled out (or not) as the night went on. Most slept on couches or blow up mattresses or corners of the floor strewn with blankets.  One was up before us, waiting at the counter when we rose for a cup of coffee and to share his particular account of the events of the evening.  The rest made do with juice and toast and whatever was in the house as Sig Other and I fled quickly to avoid the flutter of inevitably hung over and sleep deprived teens.  By the time we returned most were gone and Child One had the good sense to clean up empty bottles and whatever detritus remained from the night before. 

But I was left wondering about how Sig Other and I deal with the issue of underage drinking vs. the way other parents do or vs. my own childhood.  In my teenage years, we would never have partied in a house with adults present.  We’d wait for any parent to leave town and invade like marauding booze bandits.  We thought nothing of raiding the liquor cabinet once we’d run out of whatever screw top wine or malt liquor we could buy with fake IDs flimsy as tissue paper.  And then we’d get in our cars – drunk as skunks and risk the drive rather than risk the wrath of a parent who knew the truth.   This was in the early 80s.  Meatballs was one of my favorite movies. There was one song – the theme song of the movie – that went like this: “We are the CITs so pity us, the kids are brats the food is hideous.  We’re gonna smoke and drink and fool around (we’re nookie bound), we’re Northstar CITs!.”  For some reason this song popped into my head as I thought about Child One’s 18th Bollywood Birthday Blowout.  There we were, at home with Child One and friends – and there they were smoking and drinking and fooling around.  And if they weren’t’ smoking and drinking and fooling around at our house, they’d be smoking and drinking and fooling around elsewhere.  So better here, in the relative safety of our home, I suppose, than out in the world and on the streets. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Birthday to ME!!!





I love my birthday.   In fact, it’s my favorite day of the year.  I can make my birthday last a week, sometimes even a month.  I’ve planned lavish parties and weekends away, been feted by Sig Other with surprise parties and outrageous gifts.  But this year I made no plans.  This year I decided to lay low.  This year belonged to Child One’s graduation from high school, and 18th birthday and departure for college.  It belongs to Child Two as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah.  It belongs to the backyard remodel and to a busy work schedule.  It does not belong, I decided, to me.  And so I planned nothing.  But it turns out that even with no plans, even with no fancy invitation, no perfect plan, no elaborate announcement, my birthday was as good a day as any I could have imagined. 

Beta Dog woke me with plaintive love and urgent snuggling, Alpha Dog, as always, woke up needing to go to the vet.  Sig Other wowed me with the perfect gift, and the day continued with flowers to make a funeral home jealous, cakes and gifts and lovely phone calls. I got emails with hilarious poems and facebook posts from around the globe, a delicious dinner, far too much wine and sweet gifts from the children.  It was, all told, a perfect day.

And now it’s here – the 45th Year.  I’m halfway to ninety and still have yet to find a better name for this blog.  I have no fear of growing older.  No hesitation to share my true age.  No phobia related to the forward march of time.  I quite like it actually.  I revel in my older lady status.  I like being the wise old sage, the broad, the ol’ lady.  Notwithstanding posts about saggy arms and wrinkled skin, I have no complaints about the passage of time.  Thanks to all who made the transition to my next forty-five years a smooth one.  Happy Birthday to me.

Friday, June 10, 2011

We interrupt this roadtrip...



To bring you graduation. 

Child One, clinging desperately to her childhood, donned cap and gown and, in spite of tears and protestations, walked elegantly toward adulthood last night.  Ex-Wife and Sig Other’s work of almost eighteen years, mine of almost nine, culminated with more of a whimper than a bang.  Ceremony was sweet and heartfelt, too long and too short all at once.  The chubby little bouncy girl is now an elegant giraffe in diamonds and heels – all legs and smiles and tears.  We’ve done what we can.  She goes into the world a bright, educated, inquisitive human with purpose.  She is the future – a future focused on justice and ethical behavior and kindness.  The world is unquestionably a better place for having her in it. 

And yet I’m sure I’ve failed dramatically.  I’m sure she does not have the right tools to fend for herself.  I’m sure that with all of the private school education and intellectual athleticism, things very basic and banal have been washed over.  So I sat at graduation, pretending to listen to someone else’s child speak, and made a mental list of all the things I will review with her this summer: how to do laundry, the proper way to make a bed, the best tips for college grocery shopping and what to keep in the little dorm fridge, how much aspirin and vitamin B to take to avoid a hangover (though its unlikely this will be her issue).  I make this list and know she knows all of these things.  But I do it anyway as it soothes me and makes me feel somehow useful.  

Tomorrow we’ll wake at the crack of dawn to get back on the road for the last day of the ALC ride.  But today we are parents of a high school graduate.  Proud and a little melancholy.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Road from Paso Robles to Santa Maria. Day Four.

Pismo Beach

Off the beaten path - Guadalupe, CA


Las Alamos, CA - south of Santa Maria


Wildflowers in Los Alamos

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I left my heart...


In King City?  

Really?

Oddly, since peeling out early yesterday morning, I’ve been thinking about King City.  One street, peuce hotel room, dusty little King City.  At 6:35am I kissed it goodbye in my rearview mirror.  Couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  But somehow, I can’t stop thinking about it – can’t stop thinking about how I mastered the town in three hours – how delicious the food was at the Guadalajara restaurant on the main drag – how perfect the smell of freshly popped popcorn in the tiny movie theater across the street – how singularly disgusting the restaurant/curio shop was next to the hotel.  Weirdly, I sort of fell in love with the place in less than 24 hours. 

Sig Other and I talked about this briefly – why it is that such a place should harbor such fondness.  Why I will drive back to Bradley, CA (population 120) to take photographs later today before heading out for the next stop.  Perhaps, we mused, it’s because places like Bradley and King City pretend to be nothing other than what they are – small, a little depressed, a little proud.  King City is authentic to its true self.  And that is what I liked about it.

I feel the same about big cities.  I’ve always been comfortable and happy in big cities – particularly a prideful, boasting, self-adoring city.  I adore London (which is advantageous as am there every other month or so).  And my love affair with Manhattan – loud, crazy, dirty, beautiful, bustling Manhattan - may never end, in spite of an acute awareness that the movie business fell out of love long ago and made its way west, abandoning the apple to Wall Street and its sycophantic cousins. 

I was, however, born with an aversion to suburbs – indecisive sprawls putting on airs of the big city but grasping for small town quaintness.  This is truly a case of nature vs nurture.  I was born in a suburb, raised in suburbs, had nothing horrific happen to me in suburbs.  My siblings don’t share my aversion.  Nor does my mother.  But I loathe them.  Loathe the middle-ness of it all, hovering someplace between the bustle and crackling energy of any big city and the quiet melody of true small town life. 

And yet I live – have lived for almost 25 years – in the greatest sprawl in the country.  I’ve never been in love with Los Angeles – not like Sig Other.  Sig Other LOVES Los Angeles – it is his home, his passion, his city.  I live there because I must.  My work is there.  My home is there.  I have found great things about my city – great food and culture and tucked away corners, great friends and hidden treasures and ways to get around traffic when I truly must. But deep down, if I could live anywhere, if Sig Other would pick up and leave with me, I wouldn’t choose LA.  I wouldn’t choose to live smack in the middle of indecisive sprawl.  I’d choose the city.  I’d choose the country.  I’d choose a place that sings in bold colors and proudly wears its identity whether great or small.  

And so I come back to thinking about King City as I head out on Day Four of the ride.  I’m in a sort of suburb now – a city grasping to hang on to its small town roots but losing the battle to housing developments and shopping malls.  And I’ll make my way to the next town – one caught between two worlds as this one is.  But I think I’ll take the back roads – think I’ll cling to the rural routes and keep the illusion a little longer that I’m on a road trip to a thousand King Cities and Bradleys and such…

Oh Mary!


5:02am on Day Four.  Sig Other is a bit sore and achy in anticipation of yet another century – the ride from Paso Robles to Santa Maria has two long, sloggy hills at the very beginning.  He layers well - the sun is well hidden behind a bank of coastal sludge and will likely remain so. He prepares for the day and I hear him mutter under his breath.  I lean in to hear him, worried that perhaps he’s getting run down from the ride or is in pain and not admitting it – worried I’ll hear about an aching back or pulled muscle.  But what I hear is this: “that bitch better leave me a lone today.”

I know what “bitch” he means. He means the rider who thinks his friend Mark is his lover and feels that Mark somehow dissed him. I know this because yesterday, when I met Sig Other on the road for lunch, I overheard the following:

 “That queen is after you, my friend.”  “I know.  She is way into my shit.” “Oh yeah, girl.  You know she is.”  “If she comes after me…”

Its true that Sig Other has always had a gift for acclimating – you can take him anywhere – cocktail party, football game, museum or campground and whether he is actually comfortable or not, he will find a way to speak the vernacular, to fit right in, to become the hit of the party.  So I’m not SURPRISED really that he’s found both friends and enemies on the ride.  But it’s a little weird to hear your 6’4” tough Israeli husband refer to another man as “her” or “that bitch” or “Mary.”  It's a little weird to hear other men refer to your husband as "girl" and watch them flirt with him.  It's a little weird to hear them offer to loan him an outfit for red tutu day tomorrow.  Or maybe it's not.  Maybe it’s just another day on the road…

Day Three - King City to Paso Robles







The day began at 4:30am in great haste to depart King City for greener pastures.  Long day meant late posts so apologies for posting images from Day Three on Day Four...  More to come.

State park in King City - just before rideout.  6:15am

Lunch on the road.  BBQ in Bradley, CA.  Population 120.

Road between Bradley and Paso Robles

Paso farm.

Post ride visit to the beach.

Seagulls at San Simeon

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Princess Plan


AIDS Lifecycle riders fall into two basic categories: those who are on the regular program who check their bikes, eat meals with the group and sleep in camp in tents like this:







Tents sleep two people each – tent mates are assigned at check-in unless you’re traveling as a couple or with a friend.  You pack your own gear, are responsible for set up each day after the ride and break down each morning before ride out.  Shower facilities are portable trucks that travel from camp to camp.

And then there's the Princess Plan.  The Princess Plan allows riders who are a little more, um, persnickety, to stay in the hotel of their choice along the route.  Obviously at additional cost and slight additional hassle as the P-Plan requires someone willing to pick you up from camp, take you to your hotel, drive you back in the morning, etc.  In some cases, riders use taxis.  In some, they have friends in each town who are thrilled to see them and support their efforts.  And in Sig Other’s case, there’s me - his personal soigner.

The Princess Plan started perfect enough.  No complaints from rider OR soigner about the bed at the Four Seasons.  Santa Cruz proved equally pleasant though in a sort of funky beach motel sort of way:





And then came King City.

This is the stop I’d been dreading all ride – the stop I knew would be challenging both in terms of accommodations and cuisine.  I was prepared for Deliverance.  But somehow, even the anticipation of a dingy fleabag motel could not prepare me for the smell – the smell of disinfectant on musty carpet and lit up by fluorescence.  There is no smell like the smell of a cheap motel.  No color like the green of a shiny cotton bedspread under buzzing ceiling lights that turn on and off with motion detector timers.  And no sound like the sound of a room facing the highway with only a gas station between to cut the hum of cars speeding by, headed for destinations better than this. 

Somehow, the Princess Plan landed me in the middle of a Sam Shepard play – sort of sweaty and dirty and not at all sexy though I do have a craving for long pull off a frosty bottle of beer and a sudden urge to suck mightily on a cigarette.  Perhaps Sig Other can skip the showers and throw on a wife-beater and a pair of torn Levis to complete the picture.

Welcome to King City.  Welcome to the Princess Plan.  What I would give to be in camp, cozy in a sleeping bag, sharing a tent with a snoring stranger…


Day Two Continued - Salinas to King City

Farm outside of Salinas

Road to King City - slightly off the beaten path

Tonight's entertainment

Day Two - Santa Cruz to King City

Santa Cruz Pier at dawn.

Santa Cruz coastline

Santa Cruz - Natural Bridges State Beach

6:23am - Camp before rideout

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Day One - San Francisco to Santa Cruz

Boardwalk - Santa Cruz


Santa Cruz Pier

On the road...

Sig Other Rides Out...

There is a preponderance of homosexuals here...





Our regularly scheduled program of introspection and musings regarding step-parenting and middle-aged sex is interrupted in honor of the tenth annual AIDS/Lifecycle ride and my chronicling thereof.  Sig Other announced several months ago that he would be embarking on this weeklong adventure and it never occurred to me at the time that either a) it would actually come about or b) I’d be roped in.  But suddenly there we were, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco – standing in line after line to prepare Sig Other for the 545-mile ride. I will not be joining on two wheels.  Rather, I will follow on four – playing unofficial “soigner” on Sig Other’s ride.  We walk toward registration and Sig Other notes with some surprise, “there is a preponderance of homosexuals here.”  Yes, I remind him.  This is, after all, an AIDS ride.

Sig Other is not homophobic.  But he is filter free.  Five minutes in and already he is wandering around the Cow Palace saying things like, “this is SO gay” and “there are a lot of gays here.” Generally, Sig Other likes to think of himself as living in a “post gay world” – a world in which labels are unnecessary and equal rights prevail for all.  Of course, that is NOT the world we live in.  And in our world, our gay friends are denied basic rights – the right to get married, etc.  So Sig Other is riding in support of a cure for a disease that, without activism, would have otherwise gone unexplored.   Sig Other was aggressive and successful in his fundraising – he’s in the top 10 percent of donors on the ride.  He cares about justice and ethical behavior and feels a responsibility to do tzedakah.  But what he LOVES is riding.  What he loves is the bond between bikers, the obsession of the road.  I remind him, as he wanders and makes his comments, that in fact he would have been just as happy riding in support of virulent toe fungus were that a cause he could raise money for.  But as this is for AIDS, he should be aware that there will in fact be a number of gay people present and not all will share my deep appreciation of his filter-free style.

As much as Sig Other loves riding, he has an equal and opposite response to large groups – large groups make him a bit queasy.  Large groups of people ordered from one area to another, standing in lines and shuffling about make him feel that he’s reliving a scene out of Schindler’s List.  He bore up well through the first hour or so of registration - 2500 people going from medical check to e-ticket to the waiting area for the orientation/safety video.  I, on the other hand, was starting to feel like one of the cows for which the palace (a misnomer if ever there was one) was named.  We waited on cold concrete in what looks like a cavernous metal barn, were herded from one line to the next, from waiting area into the video room.  Doors closed, we were seated, asked to turn off our cell phones and told that if we left the room for any reason during the video we’d forfeit the bright orange wristbands proving we’d seen the video and have to start over from the beginning.  That’s when Sig Other leaned over to me and whispered, “See - this is when they turn the gas on.” 

Sig Other rode out first thing this morning.  With his friends Mark and Max and 2500 others.  I’ll meet them at their first stop in Santa Cruz later today.  More then…

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Berries and cream please.


Child One did not like me when we first met.  Child Two takes every opportunity to remind me of this.  It gives him great pleasure.  “Maybe,” Child One said to me last night, ”it was because you tried to serve me strawberries with balsamic and basil instead of sugar and whipped cream.  I was only ten.  Who serves a ten year old their strawberries with balsamic?”  I remind her then she was not exactly a typical ten year old and already had a remarkably sophisticated palate.  She considers a moment, agrees and says perhaps she’ll try it again soon.

This observation did not come out of nowhere.  We had come home late from a movie, both starving, and I’d whipped up a quick dinner of scrambled eggs with shaved ricotta salata and sautéed baby zucchini with fresh sage.  For dessert, she grabbed a nectarine from the fruit bowl and asked if I thought it would be good.  “Better,” I said, “with a drizzle of thick balsamic and some chopped mint.”  That’s when she wrinkled her sweet nose and reminded me of the berries.

Once or twice, when the reminder comes that Child One did not, in fact, like me when we first met, I suggest that perhaps her not liking me had nothing to do with me.  She did not like the girlfriend that came before me (nor did I for that matter), or the one before that.  I suggest that perhaps ANY girlfriend who would come into her father’s life would not be received with open arms – that the girlfriend would be a threat to her own relationship with her father and a threat to the possibility that Sig Other and Ex Wife would reunite.  Child One dismisses this without a thought, “No,” she says, “I didn’t like you but that’s not why.  Maybe because you were bossy and I was afraid of you.”  She pauses there.  I agree with her.  I tell her I agree with her.  And then she continues, “But now I’m sort of bossy too and I love you so much!”  We laugh and leave it at that.

But I know – I will always know – why Child One didn’t like me.  I know and will always know why, even now that she truly does love me, she will remember those first years as difficult and fraught.  No child wants a third parent.  No girl child wants a woman to threaten her special relationship with daddy.  No boy child wants a woman to take his mother’s place.  These delicate relationships – the tenuous spiderweb dance we do as blended families – take constant attention – constant observation – which child is comfortable – which is feeling insecure – which is taking advantage, and which simply does not like balsamic on her strawberries and would prefer a simple serving with sugar and cream…

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Buy you a drink?


As the 45th year rapidly approaches, I find myself increasingly frustrated with my own physical limitations.  In sheer defiance of aging cells and waning hormones, I want nothing more than to kick-start my sex drive and recapture the vivacity of my 30s.  I wouldn’t mind ironing out some wrinkles and subtly lifting parts of my anatomy, but really I’m much more focused on revving up my energy level and turning up a slightly dimmed porch light.  I want this for myself, I want it for Sig Other, I want it for my marriage. 

So what’s a girl to do?  Where is the magical elixir meant to rocket body and soul back a decade?  In search of answers, I went to various shrinks and doctors, had hormone checks and blood work done and started talking to girlfriends of similar age.  My malady, it turns out, is not at all unique.  And there is no magic pill, no special formula.  Almost every woman in her 40s feels the exact same way – we like the idea of sex.  We just like the idea of sleep more.

But surely this has to be resolvable.  Surely, I can overcome.  And so, a hit and miss combo of potions and pills, trial and error have become part of a life spent trying to recapture something I likely wasted years ago.  Mornings now begin with massive handfuls of vitamins and supplements, washed down with a vile shake of protein powder, super greens, flax seeds, chia seeds and a magic potion called “maca powder” which is meant to kick start the libido.  I try to work out regularly and fail miserably as something else (anything else really) always gets in the way.  I’ve seen shrinks to determine what deep-rooted pathological disturbance is clearly hampering my sex drive.  But frustratingly, head doctors, vagina doctors and general doctors all agree – there is nothing wrong with me.  I love my husband.  I’m attracted to my husband.  I like sex.  I’m like sex with my husband.  I’m just tired.  And middle aged.  And overworked, overwhelmed and overscheduled.  Even more frustratingly, these shrinks and doctors and soothsayers all have the same advice: make a date night, check into a hotel, get away for the weekend.  Are they kidding? When would I possibly find time for any of those things?  Sig Other and I are lucky enough if we get to spend one whole day on the weekends together.  Between his travel schedule and mine, between schlepping children and realizing our precious time with them is ticking away, between being engaged in the world in a way we feel both responsible and life affirming, WHO HAS TIME FOR DATE NIGHT?  Add to this the special cherry on top of my particular situation: a career spent sublimating my femininity in a business gone deaf and blind to women of a certain age.  I am neuter – a sexless dame in a young man's game. 

I never understood women who were offended by wolf whistles and catcalls.  One of the things I miss most about living in New York is walking down the street and getting a look or a smile or even a whistle from a construction worker, a truck driver, a guy in a three piece suit.  I don’t mind having a door opened for me.  I don’t mind a jeer every now and then.  I’m a girl and want to be treated like one.  I am certainly the girl at home.  Sig Other is flawless in his recognition of my femininity and never fails to notice, to compliment, to support me as a woman. 

But every now and then, a girl needs to feel cute to someone other than her husband.  Every now and then we need to be reminded that we are sexual objects to someone who still finds us mysterious and alluring and doesn’t know what we look like when we sleep or that we snore or don’t look cute when we cry at bad movies.  Every now and then, we need a flirt.

So it is with great gratitude that I send a thank you to the young man who offered to buy me a drink in a bar – who wasn’t daunted that I was waiting for a male friend, or that I’m married or that I’m much, much older than he and who, in spite of my protests handed me his card.  I will find him a girlfriend – an age appropriate, single girlfriend – as a token of my appreciation.  But he will never know that, at least for a day or two, he was much, much better than a cocktail of maca powder or a facelift could ever be…