The News

“Mom, I have some news for you.”

I gulped, holding the phone.  It was a cold day in March, and I wondered what my boy, standing in his apartment seven hundred miles away in college was about to tell me.

I remembered uttering those words to my mother as well, from my dorm room 100 miles from home.  They were life changing words.  I was 18 years old.  A lifetime, my son’s lifetime, flashed before my eyes in the pause before I said, “Sure honey, what’s up?” as if I wasn’t shaking a little.

“Well, I have a girlfriend.”

A girlfriend.  This was indeed news.  Poor Z had never really had a serious relationship in high school; there were some crushes back and forth, and a long distance thing he’d carried on via the Internet with some girl out west, but he’d never really had anyone special enough to confidently give that designation to.

“Wow, that’s great news,” I responded cautiously.  “How long have you been seeing each other?”

“Two weeks,” responded my son with the seriousness that only a 21 year old can muster when speaking of a relationship.

I sighed.  I remembered the days when two weeks seemed like a lifetime.  When you thought you knew that your entire world had changed and that you could confidently say that this person was going to be there for you, forever, after only two weeks.  I stifled the matronly words that leapt into my head and spoke:  “Wow, OK.  What’s her name?”

And just like that, things were different.  My son had a girlfriend.  My son was an adult, graduating from college, looking for a job, and had a serious girlfriend.  I have friends that are married to the people that they met when they were where my son is.  More than one.  As if I wasn’t quite sure that my son was growing up, moving on, getting ready to start a real life, the news brought it all into very sharp focus.  And that’s a good thing.  This is what parents work towards, hope for, make sacrifices for their whole lives for.  To see their children happy and moving forward.

Fast forward six months and my son has come home with his girlfriend for the weekend.  They are still together, they are still serious, and they hold hands under the table at dinner.  She is polite, she is respectful and she loves our younger children and our dogs.  Her parents are closer to my father’s age than my own, but I suppose that is to be expected.  I can’t tell who is more nervous:  her at staying with us or us worried that she’ll find us somehow less than her own experiences.

Either way, we’re all trying.  Who knows where it all will lead, but for now, it’s good.

Still Going

I wondered as I lay there in bed that cool, winter morning, where this all was headed.

R snored noisily next to me on “his” side of the bed as I lay there, watching the clock, knowing I’d have to get up from my cocoon of warmth and comfort in a few minutes.  No sense in sleeping any more, but I couldn’t motivate myself to get up from my warm nest any earlier than was necessary.  I let my mind wander lazily as I watched the minutes tick down.  Listening to the noises next to me, my mind conjured up him and I.

We’d spent Thanksgiving with my father’s family out East and Christmas with R’s family in Canada.  My own family thought R was warm and friendly; they accepted our living together as a matter of course.   More than anything, I think my family was relieved to see me in a stable relationship that would provide some groundedness for my son.  I suddenly was now officially Just Like Everyone Else, with a partner and a child and a job to go to every day.  I was an adult.  My grandmother smiled broadly as she looked up at the man I’d chosen, noting his dark eyes and hair were similar enough to that of my son.

At Christmas, R’s large extended family was kind and over the top in their attempts to make Zach and I welcome.  Overwhelmed to find no less than four different languages spoken amongst the more than dozen of visitors to the holiday celebration, Z and I curled up together on the sofa playing I Spy to calm both of ourselves down. R’s traditional, non English speaking grandmother was allowed to believe I was a widow, and she congratulated R on his kindness in taking me on.   I worried endlessly what they all must think of us, but the demeanor of all couldn’t have been more gracious.

So now that the holidays were over, and we had both passed muster with each other’s families, I wondered.  Was this what I wanted to have?  Was I ready for the long term ramifications of what we were doing here?  Because this was no longer dating, by any stretch of the imagination.   This wasn’t an overnight stay or a few too many glasses of wine one weekend.  This was serious commitment of a level I’d never experienced before.  I’d never intertwined my life so much with someone else’s before.  I felt like I was in a car going 85 miles an hour without being entirely sure where the brakes were.

Being a worrier, I started picking apart the man who slumbered unawares next to me.  There were certainly things that concerned me about him.  He had a sarcastic wit that cut just a little too deep, often.  He clearly had some differences in opinion on child rearing than I did.  He’d already made very clear to me that he’d prefer a mother at home with her children should we ever reach that point in our relationship.   He seemed rigid about certain habits and routines.   I wondered how much each of us would have to smooth off our edges to fit a little more neatly together.

I was willing to find out.  I had dismissed so many nice boys based on little things.  I had a chance here to have the life I wanted to deliver to myself and my son.  I was ready to not have to be the one who gathered up Z’s things every morning to take him to daycare.  I was ready to not have to sit down alone each month and wonder where I was going to pull the money out of to pay the Visa bill.  I was eager to have real meals at my kitchen table with bread and wine and phone calls from extended family wondering how we all were that day.

As I rolled over and looked at R again in the gathering morning light, I sighed.  He was not perfect.   Not by a long shot.  But so far, in all the ways that mattered to me, he was exactly what I wanted.

I decided to let it ride; maybe this time, my gamble would finally pay off.

Meeting the Parents

Panic rose fast in my chest as I saw R get out of the car and walk around to my side of the vehicle.  His parents?   I was mentally unprepared for the occasion.

R opened my door.  “See?  I can already see you’re freaking out.  Think of it this way; if you had known about this, you’d have spent the last hour freaking out.  Now you’ve only got thirty more seconds of it before you’re done.  I’ve done you a favor by not telling you ahead of time.”

Unamused by his logic, I slowly rose out of my seat and accompanied him to the back door of the house he’d apparently grown up in.

“Welcome!”  An older gentleman swung open the door and reached out to hug me.  Before I knew it, both of my cheeks were being kissed, European style.  I remembered that R had told me that his father had emigrated from Eastern Europe in his late teens; I could hear an accent in his words as he walked us in and led us into the kitchen.

R’s mother was waiting for us in the smallish kitchen, all sorts of dinner preparations clearly in full force around her.  Cutting boards full of chopped vegetables, pots simmering on the stove; it was a full out dinner from scratch being pulled together.  “Well, finally, we meet!”  R’s mother exclaimed, gathering me in a warm embrace, but keeping her hands carefully off of my clothes so as to not stain them.  “It’s so nice to have you here.  Did he let the cat out of the bag at all?  Judging by your face, no.”  She smiled warmly, in a clear attempt to ease my obvious discomfort.

“No, I’m still in shock, actually.  This was a complete surprise,” I stammered, slowly easing into the warm atmosphere.

From the dining room, another face emerged, a woman.  “R, you are so cruel.  I can’t believe you wouldn’t warn her ahead of time that she was coming to meet  your family.  I’m this jerk’s crazy sister.”   I laughed at the obvious sibling rivalry as she gave R an easy punch to his upper arm.  “Papa, let’s get this poor girl a drink before he does anything else to make her want to run far and fast.”

I laughed and relaxed a bit.  They were trying very hard to make me feel comfortable, so I forced myself to swallow down the anxious fear that had brought a bright red glow to my cheeks.  “A drink would be great,”  I answered, trying for casual as I surreptitiously wiped a sheen of sweat from my palms.

R’s parents served us appetizers and before dinner drinks along with easy conversation.  I learned that R had grown up in this charming 1920s bungalow in Canada, attending Catholic schools and enjoying a large extended family that all lived within a four hour radius.   R’s sister regaled me with funny, self depracating stories about their childhood, giving R the starring role in some of them, telling me embarassing tales in others.  Before I knew it, we were sitting down to a restaurant quality meal in a well appointed dining room, served with the same bread and wine that R had put on our own shared table ever since he moved in six weeks ago.  Classical music played quietly in the background.

I was entranced by the whole experience.  What would it have been like to grow up in a place like this, with family dinners around a dining room table, two parents who worked together to create a meal, talking of exotic places (R’s parents had met in Spain) or rehashing family adventures together.   I tried to picture how this man who I was now sharing my life with would react to sitting down to a meal with my own family.  Our experiences were as different as night and day.  I craved knowing more about this family and being a part of this wonderful, relaxed atmosphere with people who clearly liked and respected each other.  As I answered R’s family’s questions about my own family, I found myself glossing over the sharp edges and painting a quieter, more palatable picture than reality provided.   I didn’t need to give out the gory details on the first night; I wanted these people to like me.

And they seemed to.  I sat back as R’s mother and sister brought baklava, dark chocolate squares and orange slices to the table for dessert.  R’s father poured a dessert wine; the raspy voice of worry in the back of my consciousness faded as I took sip after sip until it finally melted away.

Sweetest Day Surprise

“But where are we going?” I persisted when R put the car in gear and pulled out of my sister’s driveway.  We’d just dropped off my son for the evening, because it was “Sweetest Day”.

In the years since, I’ve discovered that Sweetest Day is a Midwest version of Valentine’s Day that occurs on the third Saturday in October.  It’s an excuse for people to buy more cards and fancy dinners and flowers than they normally would in the fall.  Having grown up in Michigan, I took Sweetest Day at face value, a given:  a time to celebrate if you were part of a couple, a day to be bitchy as hell if you weren’t.  I’d been part of a couple exactly one other Sweetest Day in my life:  1988.   Joe had bought me flowers and enclosed a card that said, “Flowers for My Sweetest, Today and Every Day.  Love, Joe.”  We’d been at Michigan State then, and he’d bought them at the florist near the semi off campus drug store that I would later purchase my pregnancy test at.

So I was kind of looking forward to this year’s Sweetest Day.  I was not only dating, but actually living with R, which I figured would merit a really special recognition of the day.  Sure enough, R asked me to have my sister babysit for us that evening, but told me nothing else about how we would be spending our precious child-free hours.  I hated surprises, so I was carefully keeping track of every turn the car made.  “The freeway?  Are we going somewhere downtown?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” R responded, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth as he drove south and west.  “You’re not really very good with surprises, are you?”

“No,” I answered.  “I am a planner.  I like to have everything laid out in advance, be prepared for contingencies.  Surprises don’t go very well with that part of my nature.”

“Well, I hate to break this to you, but I love surprises.”

I glared from the passenger seat while R continued to drive.  “Am I dressed appropriately for this place?” I asked.  I was dressed in clothes I would have worn to work:  a pair of khaki slacks and a long sleeved, knit top.  If it was a nicer restaurant, I probably should have worn a skirt.

“It should be fine,” R answered, noncommittal.  “Nice try, though.”

“Crap.”  I looked around.  R was taking the turnoff for the Tunnel to Canada.  “Oooh, Canada?  Fun!”

Michiganders like me who live just a short drive from Canada always think of the foreign country next door as a fun place to visit.  For one, most of us spend our 19th birthdays there since their drinking age is lower, and then the next two years frequenting their bars.  You can also watch male strippers (and female, I supposed, though I’d never done it) take it “all” off there, something that apparently isn’t allowed in the States.  Plus your money is worth more (or it was, traditionally, back in the 80s and 90s).  All in all, going to Canada nearly always meant a good time.

We passed through customs, R handling the agent like he’d done it a million times before.  I remembered, somewhere in the back of my head, that R had told me that he’d worked in some of the same bars I’d gone to in this town.  That was where he’d been bitten by the DJ bug, back in college.

R drove down the main drag, parallel to the Detroit River.  I watched down the road trying to guess which place he’d finally turn into.  But the restaurants slowly peeled away and the area became more residential.  I shot my confused face at R, who studiously kept his eyes on the road while pretending not to look at me.

The car came to a stop at a 1920s bungalow on a quiet boulevard of well kept homes.  “Where are we?” I asked, panic starting to rise in my chest.

R looked at me, turning off the car.  “My parents’ house.  You kept saying how you thought it was strange that you hadn’t met them yet, right?  Well, Happy Sweetest Day!”

I gulped.

Ready or Not

“What’s up?” I asked R, perched on the sofa that August evening.  I had just returned from my annual trip to the beach with my father’s family, ten days of fun and surf and family time for me and Zach.  We’d rented a new place in a more family friendly area this year, and everything had been perfect.   I loved nothing more than than the huge, sloppy room I shared with my cousin, my grandmother and all of our boys.  My dad and aunt stayed down the hall in quieter space.  We cooked meals in the tiny kitchen, ate them out on the quiet back porch, and slung a hammock between the trees in the back of our condo.  We spent hours at the beach while the kids played in the pounding surf.   I was tan, I was content, and I was happy to be back home, seeing R again.

R had sounded serious when he’d called and asked to come over this evening, but then it was easy to mistake his moods on the phone, I discovered.  He was one of those with whom body language and facial expression counted for much; sometimes his words didn’t exactly match his intent.  He could have just been wanting to see me after me having been away for so long.

“Well, I have some news,” he said, his face exactly matching the vibe I’d caught earlier in the day.  “It looks like my job is being transferred to Texas.”   He stopped there, waiting to see my reaction.

We’d been dating three months.  I’d quickly stopped seeing the other man I’d’ been dating at the start of our relationship, which had been exclusive ever since.  I was now completely comfortable with him spending time with me and Zach, and our weekends were often filled with activities that centered around the three of us.

“Oh,” I responded quietly.  “Wow.  I didn’t see that one coming.”  My head was swimming.  Were we going to go for a long distance relationship here, or was he trying to tell me it was over?  “What exactly does that mean, for us?”

“Okay, okay, I can’t do that to you.  I’m joking.  My job isn’t getting transferred.”  A smile played around his lips as I reached behind me for a sofa cushion to bat him with.

“That wasn’t funny!  Why would you do that to me?” I didn’t care for that kind of sarcastic joking, the kind that made the recipient the fool for believing what was purported to be the truth.

“Well, it’s not 100 % false either.  My job isn’t being transferred…but my roommate’s is.”

I waited for the punchline that didn’t come a second time.  His roommate had received a job offer with a big raise and better position in San Antonio.  R hadn’t told me about the possibility because his roommate wasn’t sure he would even be considered for the position; the company was smaller than the one he was currently at, and he wasn’t sure that he wasn’t going to get the “overqualified” stamp and sent on his way.  But he wasn’t.  And here was R telling me that he couldn’t possibly afford the rent of their riverside apartment with the lovely balcony on the water without his roommate.

“I’m not sure what you’re getting at,” I said blankly.  He wasn’t actually asking me to move in with him, was he?  There was no way I could move into the city.  Whatever I saved on commuting costs would be more than offset by the private school tuition I’d have to pay for Zachary.   Plus, I didn’t love the city.  There were wonderful things about visiting R there of course; always having parking to sporting events, the great restaurants that were a short ride away.  But still.  I’d lived in my condo for fifteen years now; I couldn’t imagine packing up all of that to move into a smaller place in the city.

“Well, I’m just trying to sort out my options.   I could rent another apartment somewhere, of course.  Or…” he paused.

“Or you could move in here,” I suggested, filling in what I thought were his blanks.  He was already spending a few nights a week here anyway, I reasoned.  “Wouldn’t it make sense to save on the rent?”

“Do you think we’re ready for that?”  he asked.  “I mean, I love the idea, I do.  But it does seem kind of early.”

“It does,” I answered.  “If your roommate wasn’t leaving, probably neither of us would suggest moving in together just yet.  We’re still kind of figuring everything out.  But you need a place to go, and we’re already together anyway.   If it doesn’t work out, you can always get a place.  But doesn’t it make some sense to at least…try?”

And just like that, I’d gone from having a relationship to having a live in boyfriend.

Sunny Days

“Well, where do you want to go?”   R was at the helm of the boat, leading us out of the marina and into the river.

Not just any boat.  His boat.  It wasn’t a fancy boat, or a brand new boat, but it was a 27 foot cabin cruiser with two bedrooms and a kitchen area.  I had tried not to be too blown away by the fact that someone our age could own a boat, but R explained that it was really just like buying a house or a car; you took out a loan and made monthly payments, like anything else.  He’d found the used boat through a friend for a great price, gotten financing, and stored it at the marina at his apartment complex.

Z and I were nestled together on the back bench, both sporting our required life vests.  Normally I didn’t let Z meet men I was dating this soon in a relationship; R and I had only been dating for about a month and a half.   But Z and I had been on several friends’ boats before, when I wasn’t dating anyone, so he simply thought this was another outing with someone Mommy knew.  He was gleefully letting the cool breeze hit his face, respite from the 85 degree day we were having onshore.

“Maybe let’s go up towards the north.  It would be neat for Z to see the beach that we go to sometimes from this angle, don’t you think?”

“Good idea.  We can stop on the way back at some of the restaurants on the water.  There are some good ones between here and there.”  R smiled at both of us and then turned his attention back to the myriad of instruments that told him location, water depth, speed and I didn’t know what else in front of him.

I was having fun dating R.   It was all very adult; we went on real dates (Dawn was forever indebted to me and offered to babysit often), we ate at nice restaurants, we hung out on his balcony with his roommate.   R was easy company and completely willing to see where it all went.   He was five years older than me, and therefore relatively unfazed when I talked about being a single parent.   He had been eager to meet Z today for the first time, and pulled out all of the stops by planning a fun day on the boat for the three of us.  We’d swim, we’d eat, we’d sunbathe.  If Z got tired, there was a nest all ready and made up in the smaller cabin down below.

I watched R as he turned the boat towards the north and pulled his baseball cap on tighter to keep it steady on his head with the breeze.   I wasn’t feeling the same as I had at this point with any of my other big relationships; by a month plus in, I’d been so incredibly sure of Ray, Joe and Tom.  With R, I didn’t feel that same certainty; I kept looking forward to see if he fit, without really giving the here and now a chance.  I kept trying to tell myself to just enjoy the moment, to push past all of that crazy head talk, because just look at how all of those relationships had turned out.  Every time I started questioning it,  R seemed to sense it and pulled me back to the present.   So here we were.  A couple.  I smiled back at R as he threw a glance over his shoulder to see if Z and I were enjoying ourselves.

“This is fun!  Wheee!” Z shouted as R pushed the boat faster now that we were in open water.

I needed to just go with it and enjoy the ride, moment by moment.

Twice as Nice

“Where do you want this box?” I asked Dawn.  It was moving day for Dawn, out of my condo and into her own apartment, on her own with her kids.  It came just soon enough to save our friendship, which had been hanging on by the skin of its teeth for the last few weeks.  For now, I was grateful that she was going to find a time and place to just live on her own and figure out her place in the world.  She had never lived on her own before; my mother used to always say that women should always live on their own before committing to living with a partner of any sort.  She should have known; she went straight from her parents’ home to living with my father.

“Put it down there, in the dining area.  I think that might be the stuff for my table.”  Dawn was positively gleeful upon finding her new place.  True, it meant that she was getting what was colloquially known as “welfare” in the form of public housing payments to the landlord.  She’d been lucky enough to find a regular apartment complex in our area that reserved a certain number of units for public housing recipients; no one in the area would know she was one of them.  This would allow her to use the support money that Todd gave her to finish out her degree and pay for childcare while she did so, instead of having to abandon the whole thing in order to find a job to pay the bills.  I wondered, watching her as she moved into her place, what turns my life would have taken if I’d chosen that route instead.

‘It’s a great place, Dawn.  The area is really nice, the apartment is actually a decent size, and the school system is good, if you’re still here next year when A is ready for kindergarten.”

Dawn sat down for a minute to rest.  “I know.  I feel pretty lucky, all things considering.”

I didn’t ask about Todd.  I knew that they were speaking again, that he’d actually helped her choose her place, and that things were on a much better footing with him of late.  That being said, she was still moving into her place alone.  He’d stopped by with her one crucial piece of furniture from home:  their personal computer, to which she’d become addicted to at my home during the days when I’d been working.  I discovered when the credit card bill came that Dawn had racked up a seriously impressive number of hours “online”.  Back in those days, if you exceeded your monthly allotment of minutes (I want to say it was 180 minutes, but I honestly can’t remember), you paid…by the minute.

“So,” Dawn said, as she started pulling things out of the box I’d just set down, “How’s it going in the wild world of online dating?”

I chuckled.  I knew Dawn would appreciate the fact that I was now dating two men courtesy of my own time spent online.   One was R, with whom I’d shared a lovely first date with a few weeks back.  He had me follow him back to his apartment downtown; he shared a place downtown with a roommate.  The view was overlooking the Detroit River, and it was in a word, intoxicating.  However, I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t just dating R for all of his access to nice things.  So when a man named Tom started talking about all of the things we had in common, I agreed to go out with him as well.

“Well they are as different as could be.  Tom, for example, took me roller skating.  Blading, as a matter of fact.”  Roller blading was a hot, new trend.  The idea was that you were really on roller skates, but they were shaped more like ice skates…so you were gliding, so to speak.  It had been embarassingly hard.  “I can’t imagine R doing anything like that.  He doesn’t seem at all athletic.”

“Okay…what else?’ Dawn prompted.

“Well, Tom is not a college graduate.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.  He works in his family’s business.  They own a print shop not far from here.  R is a college graduate and clearly poised to climb as far up the corporate ladder as he can.  It’s a very curious dichotomy.”

“Uh huh…” she continued as she pulled out a napkin holder and salt and pepper shakers.

“Tom moonlights in a cover band at night while R used to be a DJ to earn extra cash while in school, and still does it sometimes when the local radio station needs a fill in guy.”

“That sounds more like a similarity than a difference.  Not surprised to hear though that they both have a music angle.”

I blushed.  “Yeah, I like that about both of them.”

“So what are you thinking?”

I paused, conjuring both of them up in my mind.  Both men were outside of my comfort zone, neither really physically “my type”.  I felt equally comfortable with both of them.  “Well, Tom is nicer than R.”

Dawn groaned.  “Ugh, the kiss of death.  You’ve already made your choice, right there.”

I rolled my eyes, but inside, I knew she was right.  I had a long history of dismissing nice boys who treated me well and going after the ones that weren’t nearly as nice to me.  “I am willing to push past it and see if something comes of it,” I answered evenly.

“We’ll see,” Dawn answered lightly, emptying the box and collapsing it.  “We’ll see.”

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