Back in my twenties, it seemed to make a sort of sense.  When I was searching for The One With Whom I Would Share My Life, I sort of got it.  You know, the idea that one person could just not possibly be enough for a person throughout their whole life.

At that point in my life I’d seen one too many movies in the ilk of “Sleepless In Seattle”, giving me that storybook fairytale belief that there was just one person in the world that would fit perfectly with me. But after years of dating people who weren’t even close, and after that one affair, I started to suspect that maybe it was true.  Maybe one person couldn’t be that all inclusive “Soul Mate” that Hollywood was trying to sell me on.  Instead of one person being everything, maybe all it was supposed to be was that one person was “enough”.

And enough has been good to me, don’t get me wrong.  Throughout my thirties, in my married haze of raising three children, enough was just right.  I was happy and glad to be settled, raising my family, with a strong man who cared deeply for me and provided well for our family.  I’m not trying to paint an idyllic picture here; there were years and years of hard times in my early marriage.  We still fight and argue, and he still drives me crazy.  I still envy the people I know who seem to have chosen better, found a better “fit”, more of the “enough”.  But overall, the fifteen years of my marriage has never caused me to revisit the concept again of More Than One.

But now that I am in my forties, I do sometimes wonder….is this it?  If this is it, is enough truly going to be enough for the rest of my life?  Because now that I’m in my forties, I’m well aware that there aren’t unlimited tomorrows ahead of me, ripe with possibility.  What I have now, this is all it is going to be.  And there are times when I wonder if enough really is enough anymore.

There are things that don’t exist in my marriage, that I wish were there.  We don’t hold hands.  We don’t sit together on the sofa.  We don’t go out to dinner, just the two of us.  We don’t have deep conversations about what I’m doing or his work, or anything really but the children.  He doesn’t massage my shoulders at the end of a day, or ask me what I’m reading next to him in bed, or any of the myriad intimacies I don’t even realize I’m missing most of the time.

This is where so many people my age stumble.  The men, they start to see some of those things they’re missing in the younger women they meet at work, the ones who are starry eyed (as I was) at the thought of a grown up person who has already figured it all out.  The women, they change their careers, they lose the baby weight, and they find maybe in their haste to be married and settled that they didn’t think through their choice as carefully as they should have.  And then one day, they rethink the whole thing.

I think back to what I was to that married man, now that I am his age.  And believe me, I am in no way considering having an affair, at all.  But I wonder sometimes, how amazing it would be to have someone so excited to be with me, to see me, to just spend an evening enjoying my company.  To have that awe and amazement.  That fire.

I kind of get it now.  I don’t want to leave my husband.  I love him.  I love our life.  I know all of these things with absolute certainty.  But to have a chance to fill some of the holes that have worn through the fabric of our marriage over the years?

It’s a dizzying thought.


Put Your Head Down and Focus

As anyone who has read this blog for more than a minute knows, I’m no athlete.  Field day was my least favorite day in the school calendar year; I was a scholar and a musician.  I got my geek on and enjoyed it, all the way through school.  It’s why I became a teacher, I loved school so much.  When I think of most of my favorite people in my life, outside of my family (not that all of them count amongst my favorites….), most of them I either met while I was in school or were involved with school somehow.  Well, except Rick Springfield, but otherwise the statement stands.  It’s no accident that most of my husband’s family are teachers; I immediately felt a kinship with all of them.

In fact, I was so nonathletic that when I wanted to become involved with the track team in high school, the only option available to me was the manager role.  Coach Tymrak (hey, didn’t I mention him in my last post?) was polite and all, but me and my short legs just weren’t going to be an asset to his team. In fact, I ended up bailing on the position because it made me just so damn uncomfortable to be around all of those people in such amazing shape (again, see my last post regarding my insane ability to compare myself to EVERYONE and not in a good way).  My favorite quote of all about running came from the 1980s flick “Real Genius” and went like this:  Q:  “Do you run?”  A:  “Only when chased.”

But listen…my inner high school athlete wanna be is kind of cheering these days, because guess what?  I’m a runner.

I’ve been attempting to run since last September.  I started off slowly with the Couch to 5K program.  I was religious.  I was diligent.  I told all of my friends so I couldn’t be let off the hook.  When one asked me how far I could run, three weeks into the program, I sheepishly answered…”Um, about three minutes.”  Because honestly, the program builds you up so slowly that that was the furthest I’d gone without stopping at that point.  And I was proud of it, because I’d never been able to run before, in my life.

I kept going.  I finished the program in November and ran my first race.  This was the critical juncture, because I knew that lots of people just fall off the grid at this point.  They finish, they do the race, they’re done.  They don’t know what to do next.  How to proceed.  How to keep progressing.  But I told myself that wouldn’t be me.  I signed up for another race to keep me in the training loop.  And then another.

I’m not going to lie.  The three races all kind of sucked.  It was hard.  It was still really hard, even after I’d done two of them.  Wasn’t it supposed to be easier?  When was I going to hit that easy groove people tell you about, and get that runner’s high?

I decided to start a new program.  Bridge to 10K.  I never had any real desire to run 6.2 miles, and certainly not in front of Other People and all, but what the hell.  The program would keep me going and force me not to stop.   The six week program ends when you can run an hour straight.  A freaking hour.  Sixty whole minutes.  That’s insanity, right?

Today, I did it.  I ran for 60 minutes without stopping.

There’s a moment that happens for me, in these long runs, usually somewhere just before the halfway point, where I want to give up.  It’s hard, too hard, and I want to let go.  I want to walk.  I want my heart to stop racing.  I want to stop sweating.  But somehow, I force myself to slow down, lose myself in the music piping through my earbuds, and carry on.  And always, always, in a few minutes, things seem easier.  And before too long, there’s only ten more minutes, or five, or two, and I know I’m going to make it.  I’m going to have run sixty minutes, over five miles.  And that knowledge is amazing, liberating, enlightening.  Running is just like every hard thing I’ve ever done.  It’s awful, it’s difficult, it’s something you think you can’t handle.  But you put your head down and focus, and you do it.  You get through it.  And you’re better for it.

So, look at that.  I’m a runner.  Take that, Coach Tymrak.

Compare and Contrast

Compare and contrast.  If there was a theme to Mr. Tymrak’s tenth grade Honors History class, it was that.  Compare and contrast.

Every assignment could be boiled down to those two simple words.  Every lesson required us to compare and contrast people, situations, policies.  Find the similarities and the differences.  Lay them out.  Intertwine them, link two dissimilar things together, and then find a way afterwards to tear them apart.

I find that I do that a lot.  Compare and contrast.  Except what I am comparing isn’t the social, political or economic ramifications of the Dred Scott decision or the Anti Trust Act.  No, I’m comparing myself to others.  And true to the insecurity that has always been bubbling up inside of me, I tend to find myself on the short end of the comparison.

I’m an equal opportunity comparer.  I will spend ten minutes on Facebook or Google comparing myself with girls I went to high school with.  Did they achieve more than me?  Are they thinner than me?  Do their posts show a happier marriage or more contentment with their lives?  Almost always the answer is yes, because when I’m engaging in self flagellation, I’m going for the gold.  I’m not going to look at the girl who moved down south and just divorced husband number three.  No, I’m going to look after my friend that started her own publishing company or the one that successfully runs her own insurance agency while balancing several kids and a husband and all that entails.

Or, I’ll compare myself with the other bloggers I follow.  I initially went to Roni’s site for information and motivation about how to lose weight, but now I look at her, six whole years younger than myself, and feel like I’ve missed a step or five.  She’s working from home making a living writing, has a supportive husband, two cute kids and has managed to keep most of the weight she became famous for losing off.  Or Katie, who has suffered major tragedy, but through it all has built a successful career and has a wonderful, insanely happy marriage.  Or Sprogblogger, who not only writes but is married to a writer, and is adequately in awe of all of her blessings.  Every time I read their wonderful writing, I compare myself….what did they do that I didn’t?  Which thing did they do that I didn’t that made them so much more where I wish I was?

And of course I compare myself with my girlfriends.  Who has a bigger house, a happier marriage, better behaved children, better time management.  This is the worst of all of my comparisons, because then I find myself withdrawing myself from them, just a bit.  Not entirely, not completely, but sometimes for a day or a week until my funk passes.  Or until one of them picks up a phone or stops by, because they know me.  And they love me, despite my insecurity, my comparing, my melancholy.

It’s a bad habit, this comparing.  I know it is.   I know that there are wonderful things about me, and that the only person I should be comparing myself to is myself.  To improve.  To move forward.  To appreciate all that I have, and am. Because I have grown, over time.  I have accomplished, and achieved, and learned, and survived.  A million times, in ways large and small.  So what’s with all the insecurity I still engage myself in?

What if I didn’t compare and contrast?  What if instead I could try and learn from all of those people who have inspired my envy?

It’s a goal worth striving for.

The Family You Have

My sister emailed me over the weekend; she asked if it would be possible for me to visit Michigan next month for her daughter’s birthday and an event at her son’s school.

Her email initially bugged.  I’m not going to lie.  I’ve lived in the Northeast for seven years, and I can count on two fingers the amount of times she’s been to see me and my family here.  Yes, you read that right.  Two.   If I want to see my family, which I try to do once a year or so, it’s generally up to me to make the trip.

It’s not like I haven’t asked, or invited, or even begged her and her family to make the trip out here.  We’re so close to New York City, I tell them.  We can go in and eat great food and see a Broadway show.  Or visit Ground Zero.  Or Times Square.  Or we could go to Boston.  Boston is so great with all of the historical things you can do.  Or, we can visit my grandparents, who live just three and a half hours to my south.  There’s a lot here.

But no.  It never happens.  My daughter’s First Communion, my son’s college graduation, my son’s First Communion….all went by without her (or her family’s) presence.  And don’t even mention my brother….he’s never even been to the place I’ve called home for seven years.  Not once.  One year I organized a trip for us to all meet in Pittsburgh to celebrate my father’s 70th birthday, all three of us.  This way they could meet in the middle, it wouldn’t be expensive for them, and everyone could be together.  You would have thought I’d asked them for the moon.  Their drive clocked in at five hours, ours was nearly eight.  But whatever.

It’s made me bitter, frankly, and at least on my end, put a wedge in the relationship.  Because it all feels very much like a one way street.  I’m sure they would beg off, saying that we’re better off financially and in more of a position to do the visiting.  And in some ways, they’re right, which is why I have put myself in the car for the last several summers.  Summer trips that have been punctuated by knock down drag out fights between my brother and I.  Trips that make me angrier and angrier with each mile I travel on each side of the trip.

I am trying very hard to accept that this is my family.  They’ve always been this way, and they’re not going to change any time soon.  My being able to visit shouldn’t be about anything but whether or not I can swing all of the arrangements that need to be made to allow me away from my life for three days.  It shouldn’t be about the mental scorecard I’m guilty of keeping, or any bitterness I feel.  It should just be about the fact that these people are my blood, the only people in the world who have known me since I was born.  It certainly isn’t my niece or nephew’s fault that their parents haven’t made visiting us a priority in their world.  If I want to see them, it’s clear that this mountain has to go to Muhammed.

There are days, though, that I wonder truly how it is I ended up related to these people.  Truly.

I Don’t Have a Problem….Do I?

So, the drinking.

I never was a huge drinker.  Only socially.  I wasn’t one of those girls who went to parties in high school and got wasted; so much so, I thought the parties depicted in movies like “Sixteen Candles” were just Hollywood figments of someone’s imagination.  It wasn’t until I got on Facebook and reconnected with some people from high school that I found out that those parties did happen, I just never seemed to snag an invitation to one.

I drank a few times to excess in high school, and college, probably less than you could count on two hands (but probably more than you could count on one).  I was a mother, I was a serious student, and then later I was taking care of my mom.  It just wasn’t something I had the time to do.  But eventually, as I lived on my own, I gained an appreciation for the warm, fuzzy feeling that a few glasses of white zinfandel could give me.  It became my drink of choice, which was a fine step up from the Zimas and wine coolers I had been drinking.

My husband introduced me to drinking wine with meals at home.  I’d heard of people who did that, but it certainly wasn’t an experience I’d had growing up in my solidly American lower middle class household.  Hell, sitting down all together at the dinner table wasn’t exactly a common experience for us, much less pairing alcohol with it.  But he grew up in a European family, and they all drink, all of the time, every night with dinner.  It became a ritual I enjoyed several times a week, this having wine with dinner.  Sometimes even a before dinner drink, on the weekends.

But it wasn’t until recently that my drinking took an uptick.

First it was my one girlfriend who offered wine at her pool in the summer. It seemed completely awesome to enjoy a crisp chardonnay on a summer day by the pool.  And the more she extended the invitation, the more it seemed completely normal to have some.  And frankly, with my son on the spectrum and my husband traveling a great deal, it was a welcome respite from the stress that was laced intricately throughout my days.

Then it was my husband’s cousins.  They moved nearby, the only family we have within hundreds of miles.  So we would often exchange dinners; once at their house, once at ours.  Back and forth.  Their kids and our kids would play out of the way while the adults talked in the kitchen. And drank.  And drank.  And drank some more.  Before long it was common place for us to go through three or even four bottles of wine in an evening between the four of us.

The drinking became more and more common place in my life.  And so one night, when R was out of town, I opened a bottle of wine at home.  I used to joke about how pathetic it was for someone to drink alone, but here I was doing it.  I poured a glass of Cabernet while watching television in the evening.  And then after the kids went to bed, another.

Before long, I was looking forward to the drinking alone.  I liked the way the glass felt in my hand, the pretty color of the wine, the taste of it.  And too, the warmth and comfort of it.  These days, I drink a glass or two most every night.

I can’t decide, though, if I have a problem with that level of drinking.  My grandfather died of alcholism, and I know it lurks there, in my DNA.  I don’t feel like I can’t live without it or I have to hide my drinking.  But I also know that I probably drink more than most of the people I consider my peers.  It’s something I think about, sometimes.  It’s hard to know what is normal, what is acceptable, what is typical.   I suppose it varies.

For now, I’m just trying to be aware of it.

Meanwhile, it’s five o’clock….and we all know what that means.

Kidding!  Well….

Life With My Girl

I can still remember the moment when I learned I was going to have a daughter.  I was flat on my back in the ultrasound room of my doctor’s office in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  R was with me waiting with baited breath as the technician measured the femur, checked the heart chambers, and did the full anatomy scan that the 20 week check up entailed.  Me being me, I was listening hyperintently for any signs of hesitation or distress on the part of the tech, a sure sign that there was something wrong with my baby.  But there was none of that.  On that warm, October day, the news was only wonderful and happy.  The tech told us we were having a little girl.

I had always wanted a girl.  I remembered when I was pregnant with my eldest, thinking a girl would be easier for me to raise as a single mother.  My mother as well had hoped for that, wanting a pretty little thing to dress up in frilly frocks and dainty headbands.  Of course we loved my boy as fiercely as anyone could when he arrived.  Things happen for a reason.  I was given a boy.  And my boy was amazing.  But in the back of my head, of course, I had always hoped I’d have another chance.  A chance for a girl.

Laying there that October day, the news hit me like the hot summer wind of the state we were living in.  It washed over me, stinging a little, heating me up.  “We’ll name her after my mother,” I said quietly to my husband.  And in that moment, I had visions of the perfect, sweet little girl who would be the perfect tribute to my wonderful mother who was taken from life too soon.

Be careful what you wish for.

My mother was many wonderful things:  strong, determined, independent.  She was also insecure, addictive and hypersensitive.  And so it should be no surprise to me that my daughter, her namesake is all of those things.  Her spirit is unshakeable; it is what I love and hate about her. Can you say that about your own child?  You’re not supposed to, right?

As my precious girl gets closer and closer to her teen years, I ache more and more often to talk to my mother about how to handle her.  I have heard over and over that preteen and teen girls are like oil and water with their mothers.  I have a vague memory of my own mother telling me that they were tough years for her and her own mother; wounds inflicted by each of them didn’t heal until my mother had her own children.  I have friends who tell me that they barely spoke to their girls from age 12 to 17. Really?  Can that be possible?

But I can see it, really.  Because while I love my daughter, there are days that I don’t like her.  Even that doesn’t sound strong enough.  There are days when I truly dislike her, or worse.  She screams at me.  She grunts at me.  She takes me for granted.  She doesn’t see anything outside of her own wants and needs.  She is horrible to her brother sometimes more often than not.  She fails to see at all how lucky and blessed she is to live in a relatively wealthy suburb with two parents and two cars and a stable life. I get angry and upset and wonder how on earth I have raised such an ungrateful, selfish person.

But then something happens.  Last week, for example, I went to her sixth grade parent teacher conference.  And I heard two teachers describe the wonderful, smart, helpful, generous girl that I send off to school every day.  I listened to them enthuse about how curious she is and thoughtful of the other students when they need help or advice. And I kick myself internally, because my first thought is:  “they can’t possibly be talking about the same girl that screamed at me this morning because we were out of cream cheese.”

But they were.

I guess it’s time I learned how to ride the roller coaster of Life With A Nearly Teenage Girl.  Because I’m finding myself dizzy all of the time with the twists and turns.

Knocking On the Door

It took me several days.  Days of mulling over the what ifs and the if onlys and the why the hell nots.  I looked through the window online a few more times, trying to envision my friend Dennis and what his life would be like now.  He’s older, of course.  Would he have grandchildren?  I was sure he’d retired from teaching already, and clearly was making music in a band.  But what else?  What else?

I went back and reread all of what I’d written about him here, trying to form in my head his possible responses if he heard my voice on the other end of the phone.  In every case I couldn’t imagine him not wanting to catch up or talk to me; we’d left things on very good terms.  In fact, truth be told, it has been me all these years that has stopped keeping in contact;  I guess I had never been quite sure how to merge a part of my former life into the new one I was trying to build for myself.  My marriage, my pregnancies, my children….did I really want to muddle that all up with someone whom I’d loved once upon a time?

But then I realized, the love part of it, the romantic love part of it, was only a small piece of the puzzle.  If the puzzle was the entirety of what Dennis had meant to me and his place in the story of my life, the part where we were involved with each other was just the top right corner.  The rest of it was a wonderful care and concern of a man who saw a young girl in harm’s way and did a million little and not so little things to make sure that harm didn’t take her into its dark being.  He held my hand as I cried over my absent father, my abusive brother, my crushing insecurities and my suicide attempt.  Later he offered a shoulder as I navigated becoming a single mother at age 19 and my mother’s cancer at age 21.  I wondered, sometimes out loud to him, what on earth he received on his end of the relationship; it felt often like I was taking, taking, taking.  But somehow, he never made me feel anything less than a valued friend, a person important to him in the most equal sense.

And when I added all of those things up, I couldn’t think of any reason not to open the door.  So yesterday afternoon, with my heart racing, I picked up the phone and dialed.  He answered the phone, and it felt as if the 13 years we hadn’t spoken to each other hardly existed.  The conversation was easy and genuine, the casual back and forth banter that I had always loved between us.  My curiosity slowly ebbed as he talked about his life since we’d last been in touch.  He admitted to thinking of me and consulting Dr. Google as well when his questions had reached a critical level a few years back.  His chuckle at hearing about my Rick Springfield adventures sounded exactly the same as it was twenty five years ago when he read the essays I wrote about that far away rock star.  “I wasn’t at all surprised to find that you’d found a way to him,” he laughed.

An hour and twenty minutes later, I looked at the clock and realized it was likely time for me to hang up and let him get on with his day.  After all, my children would be home soon and there was plenty I needed to do as well.  We exchanged email addresses and promised to connect in person the next time I go out to visit my family.  Just like that, the conversation ended, and I went about my daily tasks of children and cooking and chauffeuring as if nothing had changed at all in the world.

But something is different, of course.  Something is very different.  A piece of my former life, the person I used to be, a piece that had long since gone missing and left a tiny hole in me, was put back in place.

It feels good.

I’m glad I knocked on the door.


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