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April 2015

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Have Your Midlife Crisis Together

There comes a point in every marriage when that feeling slips away.

Your heart does not skip a beat when he enters the room. He does not smile knowingly when he hears your voice. The things you used to love about each other start to grate — his naps and mismatched socks, your refusal to vacuum on even a semi-regular basis. Your jammies morph from silk to flannel, and the magic you pocketed from those early days just…runs…out.

Part of the problem is comfort. When we date, we look for a person who takes an awkward situation, an outing with a relative stranger, and makes it seem natural. We seek out the individual with whom we feel most at ease. I married my husband because of his intellect, spontaneity, and zest for life. He made complicated undertakings seem manageable. He married me because I was his emotional center and his closest friend. Also, he says, because of my boobs. But the point is, I made him feel comfortable.

Comfort can be awesome. He knows the music I like, and whether I want my steak rare or well done. I know which seat he prefers on an airplane, and what kind of books he enjoys. Being known is nice.

Except when it isn’t. I only have about 3 ½ decent stories to tell at a cocktail party. Which means my husband has heard them 272 times. He only has 2 ½ good stories, so now I am as sick of his anecdotes as he is of mine. We have come to the point in our marriage when we feel like we know all there is to know about one another.

I have never cheated on my husband. But if I was going to, now is about the time it might make sense. Because falling in love is fun. Ninety-three percent of the greatest movies ever made pay homage to it. But staying in love…well, that’s something altogether different.

The truth is that being married to someone for a lot of years can be kind of boring. And boredom can be scary. What if the magic is gone for good? What if I don’t love him any more? Which is, of course, the scariest thought of all.

But boredom is not a reason to leave. It is not a reason to cheat or settle or eat ice cream straight from the carton.

If you play it right, boredom is the moment when the real magic begins.

I had a prof in college who always told us to “make the familiar strange.” He asked us to consider age-old questions in academia with new eyes and a fresh perspective. I think this holds true for marriage, too. We call it a midlife crisis when a man buys a red convertible or a woman pierces her navel after the age of thirty-five. But relationships need triage from time to time. If the two of you are in a rut, maybe it is time to take a risk, and do something you might regret. Just do it together.

As part of our shared midlife crisis, my husband and I remodeled a bathroom, quit jobs, sold our dream house, built a website, moved across the country, joined a choir, formed our own book club (of two people), and auditioned for community theater. We have taken surfing lessons, yoga classes, and piano. We have eaten ostrich, eel, cow’s tongue and bull testicles, and washed it all down with absinthe.

At least half of these adventures, we have come close to regretting. Especially the balls. But the point was that we undertook them together, and shared new experiences that have changed how we look at each other. I will never forget my husband’s jitters as he went to audition for the part of “Man in Pink Pants.” It was a side of him I had never seen before. Thankfully, they cast someone else, but now we have a new story to tell at parties, and new fondness for one another.

So the next time boredom creeps in, go watch a horror movie, take salsa lessons, join a dodge ball league. Let ennui nudge you towards new adventures. You don’t have to climb Kilimanjaro to find them. Go hiking and have a long talk. Have the kind of wandering, rambling, full-of-possibility conversation that led you to fall in love in the first place. What dream do you still want to pursue? What parts of yourselves do you value, but never take the time to share? What steps can you take together to make some of these aspirations a reality?

My husband and I have taken a few of these walks lately. We laugh about the mini-regrets we have shared over the past fifteen years, and plot and scheme about the next fifteen. The next thirty. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable together. And dare to believe that the best years are yet to come.

New DadvMom on New York Observer today.

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Middle Skool

Back in my day, middle school was called junior high. But it was still just as middling and miserable.  A whole building full of kids too big to be little and too young to be old.  When I turned thirteen, I told my mother I would no longer be appearing in public with her, and I told a total stranger I loved him.  Middle school = major mixed-up, in-between-land.

One of the English teachers had a standing rule that if we were having a bad day, we could put a copy of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day on our desk, and put our head down. No questions would be asked.  People fought for that book every single day.

As an adult, I do not encounter many middle schoolers. They do not sneak into the bars I frequent and I am careful to attend movies when they will not be in attendance. I even avoid my local coffee shop between 2pm and 3 on weekdays because it is teeming with twelve-year-olds ordering frappucinos.

However, I have had two encounters with middle schoolers lately that have given me pause.  The first was a prank.  Two young boys knocked on our door and asked whether we “to win a million dollars.”  When we said, “No thanks,” they plead and entreated until we said, “Okay.”  Then they asked us a series of three nonsense questions. (i.e. “If a plane crashes directly on the border between the United States and Canada, where do they bury the survivors?”) Lucky for me, I must have had the same dumb riddle book when I was a kid, because my daughter and I answered all three questions correctly.  Upon our successful completion of the pop quiz, the boys opened a briefcase and handed us a piece of paper labeled, “ONE MILLION DOLLARS.”  Then, they ran away.

These two boneheads reminded me of my own junior high shenanigans.  My friend and I used to phone boys and ask them to take a survey about the music of “a hip new band called Americana.”  We would then sing invented lyrics and accompany ourselves with a harmonica and my kid brother’s drum kit.  I need you, like the flowers need the rain.  I need you, to save me from my pain.  Most guys usually hung up.

My second encounter with a middle schooler was this afternoon when I was working in the yard.  As most who know me can attest, I dislike yard work.  I love the notion of growing flowers and vegetables, but I hate weeding, mowing, trimming, mulching, and any of the hundred other tasks of keeping up with neighborhood joneses.  If I had it my way, I would pave my front yard with concrete.  I was swearing under my breath about the thorns on the shrub I was pruning when a boy called to me from the sidewalk.  “Excuse me. Do you need help with your yard?”  He explained that he had a service and that he could, “mow lawns, pull weeds, and do a little chainsaw work.”

I asked the boy where he went to school and how he liked it.  “I go to the middle school. And it’s, you know, middle school….” His voice trailed off and he looked visibly pained by merely reflecting upon the misery of school.  I recognized that suffering.  I remembered it.

“Middle school can be pretty rough,” I said. “But people don’t stay jerky forever.  Hang in there.”  He smiled, and asked whether we knew each other from church.

“No,” I said, “but you came and played a prank on me and my daughter a few weeks ago.” He smiled, shyly, and his cheeks colored red. I was afraid he might turn and run away again.

“It’s okay,” I said.  “It was kind of funny.  My five-year-old liked your nonsense riddles. She wanted to know if you had any more.”

Middle school children can be hard to like.  They are too noisy at movies, too rambunctious on playgrounds, too big for trick-or-treating, and too sneaky in the 7-11.

But when I think back to my fractured pre-teen self – the girl who wore way too much make-up in an attempt to feel beautiful, who faithfully watched General Hospital, and called milkshakes “lunch,” the moron who used to watch fights in the parking lot at the funeral home, who snuck into rated-R movies, and learned to French kiss in the back of a school bus – well, I think that kid could have used all the help she could get.

So to commemorate the lousy human beings most of us were between the ages of twelve and fourteen, I’m declaring this Be Nice to Middle Schoolers week.  Go to a carwash.  Buy something at the baseball team bake sale.  Engage one of them in conversation at the gas station.  Remember: they are not evil.  Just scared.  And posturing. And enduring a fair share of terrible, horrible, no good days.

To kick things off, I have hired my twelve-year-old neighbor to mow the lawn and pull weeds next week.  He has agreed, reluctantly, to leave his chainsaw at home.

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Bad Choices

New DadvMom post at Fatherly.com.  For all of us who make bad parenting choices and still have great kids to show for it.

Green Horses

Health & Fitness & Oreos

Running Nowhere Slowly

My town’s annual 5K was last week. I started at the back of the pack. This was strategic. I prefer to pass slower runners than be overtaken by quicker ones. It’s a mental thing. So I lined up between a grandma in jogging culottes and a teenager drinking a smoothie. Granny, I wasn’t so sure about, but I figured I could outpace Jamba Juice.

The race started with the usual cheers and hoopla, and adrenaline carried me the first half-mile. As weariness set in, humiliation quickly followed. Had I really become the kind of grown-up who could not run a 5K? I shrugged off the doubt and picked human pace cars to keep me moving. For a while, I followed a guy with a dragon tattoo on his calf. I fantasized that this was ninja training and he was my sensei. But Ralph Macchio slowed to answer his cell phone, and as I passed him, I noticed the dragon was actually a hefty mermaid.

Next, I set my sights on a woman with the most beautiful butt I had ever seen — round, strong, jiggle-free. As I matched her pace, I believed that with every stride my own backside was firming up. When she and her running companion slowed to walk, I realized she was about eleven, and running with her dad.

EdRun2015

But mostly, I was passed. Passed by a woman dressed as Minnie Mouse. Passed by a gentleman in a grape soda costume. Passed by a three-year-old pushing her own stroller.

Part of the problem was my soundtrack. At the start of the race, I clicked on an old playlist titled “Exercise” that should have done the trick. Def Leppard kicked things off. I flashed back to high school and channeled my younger, more athletic self. But as I started to fade, so did the playlist. Eminem gave way to the title song from a Barbie movie, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and excerpts from The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews can do no wrong, except when it comes to motivating a tired person to run. I tried to click away from “Do-Re-Mi,” but my fingers were too sweaty.

I used to be a runner, before the kids. I started jogging in college as an attempt to curb the Freshman 15, then kept it up because I loved the way running made me feel. Since the children, it has been harder. Harder to train. Harder to enjoy. Harder to fall into any sort of rhythm. I do other things, but I miss the way I used to slip on my shoes and lope out the door.

The last time I ran a 5K was two children ago. I ran it with my Dad on the 4th of July. That time, I was the pace car for him. But, of course, I had trained, gone out a couple times, practiced the course. Why hadn’t I prepared better for this?  

I lurched past a port-o-potty and briefly considered hiding in it. If it had seemed better ventilated, I surely would have. But a woman entered as I got closer, so I kept moving.

At the beginning of the first big hill, I gave up and walked, chiding myself with every step. Why had I just quit? Isn’t that always the way with me? Why do I stop things just when they are getting hard? As I caught my breath, I got even angrier at myself. Why does it matter? You are here. Just do your best. Jogging was easier than listening to arguments in my head, so I picked up the pace again and let gravity send me down the next hill.

One of the things I have always loved about running is how you can settle into its discomfort. The second and third miles were not as tough as the beginning. I found my working breath. It did not sound pretty, but luckily, nobody was running with me, and if I cranked up “The Lonely Goatherd” loud enough, I did not have to listen to my gasping either.

Other folks seemed to have goals that involved time and pacing. I’d like to run 8-minute miles. I want to finish in under 30 minutes. I had fuzzier objectives. They were more about personal dignity than physical achievement. And I dumbed them down as the race progressed.

Just don’t walk.

Just don’t walk too much.

Just be sure to run when you cross the finish line.

Just don’t be last.

Just don’t be last by too much.

By the time I approached the finish line, Billy Joel and I were in a bit of delirium. As I crossed, I fought the temptation to look behind me. I felt fairly certain I was not the only straggler. But I realized that was not the point. I felt lucky. Lucky to have the use of my legs, the health of my lungs, the gift of my mind to swirl with nonsense as I trotted the streets of my town. I stopped thinking about how many people had passed me, and instead gave thanks. Then, I slumped on the grass and drank a smoothie.

I know plenty of friends who have given up. This is the way I will always look. This is the way I will always feel. Parenting, aging, a lot of things can do that to you. But it does not have to be true. I saw folks along this course, ages two to eighty-two. But he is younger. She was in better shape. Hogwash. The only person I raced today was me. And though I very nearly lost, Julie Andrews carried me through. Just start at the very beginning…a very good place to start….

 

New DadvMom on New York Observer today.

 

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12D

This shout-out is for Tom who, on the Denver to Cleveland flight, gave up seat 12D — an awesome aisle seat with extra leg room — and switched to a middle seat that did not recline, in order to accommodate my kids and I when our boarding passes called for us to sit apart. You just told me, “No problem. Life is too short to worry about airplane seating,” and went on your way.  I wanted to kiss you.

And as someone who worries quite a bit about airplane seating, I thank you for your perspective.

You see, I seldom fly the friendly skies. My children and I travel pretty frequently. But, all too often, we fly the hostile why-can’t-you-keep-your-kids-in-line-you-slacker-of-a-parent? skies. People do not want to sit by us on airplanes. We always spill our drinks. Sometimes we smell like poop. My son kicks the seat. Of course, I stop him, but he usually gets in a few solid thwacks before I hold his feet still.

And, I am embarrassed to say that, up until fairly recently, I thought my carry-on area was under my own seat.  So I never understood why people complained about the lack of leg room on airplanes. I always had plenty.  And none of my obviously put-upon travelers ever told me what an irritating traveling companion I was.

So thank you, Tom, on the Denver flight, for making it feel like no big deal that my noisy, smelly kids and I were on an airplane. Even though we are a hassle, it is nice to not always feel like one.

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Engendering Hope

When your daughter comes to you to say she is different, say I love you no matter what. When your son comes to you to say he is questioning, say I love you no matter what.

New DadvMom at the New York Observer today.

 

 

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Wonders of Nature

Katie and Dad hiked the Grand Canyon yesterday.  On the way back up, Dad had to take a nap.  It turns out that it is much harder climbing out than it is going in.  Tomorrow, canoeing (and napping) on the Colorado River!

Katie at Grand Canyon