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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Why Aren't I Married? Heck If I Know



I've been sitting on this blog post by Tracy McMillan, 'Why You're Not Married," for weeks now, knowing I wanted to write a response, and wondering what it would be.

When I read her post I was perplexed - I'm not a bitch, slut, selfish (I'm the mother of three, it's pretty hard to be selfish and be a decent mom). I'm also not shallow, a liar nor do I think I'm not good enough. I don't think I have any of these (dis)attributes she mentions.

I've been married. Once. For twenty years. Hence the three children. I'm not bitter, angry, scared or still hung up on my ex. I just haven't married again.

So I wonder, (and you may too) why am I not married again? I think the bigger, million dollar question may be, do I want to be? The honest answer is, I don't know.

My friend KC might say it's because I'm a "bad chooser." She might be right. Or it may be that I haven't met the right guy at the right time.

Or, it could be that after having met my first husband at 17, marrying him at 20 and having my first child at 21 I needed to be on my own. But somehow, being on your own in our culture is code for defective.

When my marriage ended I had never been alone. When my last child left for college I was terrified to live alone. I compensated by going back to school, starting a novel, taking on a newspaper internship, joining a writing group and trying to rarely be home. Especially at dinner time. The thing I didn't do was glom on to a guy.

I needed my husband way too much. I never want to do that again. Maybe that's part of the reason I am still single. Perhaps like Liz Gilbert in "Eat Pray Love," there's a bit of a fear of losing that balance that I've found. I didn't venture to Italy, India and Indonesia to find it, but it's been hard-fought for.

Just because I haven't remarried doesn't mean I haven't been in love. I have been. Very much so. I'm just not sure if I need or want marriage to be the end game.

I may not know why I'm not married, or if I ever will be. But what I do know is it's not because there's anything inherently wrong with me. And I'm pretty sure the same could be said about many of the women who read that blog post.

What I do know is that during the time I haven't been married I've raised three kids who are now all amazing adults, I've created a career as a writer, written a novel and built a life that is mostly pretty happy.

Maybe someday a husband will be part of my equation, but I'd rather want that than need it. Of course I want love in my life, most people do. To love and be loved is wonderful. I don't know if I will ever marry again, though someone who can fix things and kill the scary bugs might be kind of nice...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

To Be Resolute Or Not...




To Be Resolute or Not

In the past couple of days several people have asked me, “Do you make New Year’s Resolutions?” The truth is, no, not really.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a consummate goal setter. I always have something new to achieve, something I’m striving for. I just don’t believe in arbitrary start dates. For me. Maybe they work for you, if so, go for it.

What are some of the ever-shifting goals I’m working on, you might ask? Or maybe you won’t ask, but I’m telling you ten anyway.

1. To be grateful every day. It’s easy to get caught up in what isn’t, I’d like to focus on what is and be okay with it. It doesn’t mean I can’t want more, but being grateful for what I have and who I am is a good place to start.
2. Move my body every day. There’s something that calms me and yet also energizes me in working up a sweat every single day.
3. To love with abandon and never regret it. Loving someone is a gift that you shouldn’t keep to yourself. Tell the people you love how you feel, even if it’s awkward and scary. It’s something you won’t regret. Even if it’s not reciprocated, you will survive. Love is funny that way.
4. Always be true to myself, and never try to be someone else.
5. To realize I am wonderful, just as I am. I don’t need to be thinner, smarter, funnier or better at math to be loved. (this is the hardest goal for me)
6. Never lose my optimism and rose colored glasses. I am teased about my naiveté sometimes, and I don’t care. I’d rather believe in good and everyone’s potential than not.
7. Never stop striving, creating and trying even when it seems impossible. Hope truly does spring eternal.
8. Never stop being excited by life and all it has to offer.
9. Never apologize for the fact that I love adorable things, clothes and shoes. I can be smart, ambitious, talented and still rock a pair of heels and a really cute dress while talking on an iPhone with a panda sticking out of it.
10. Worry less, trust more. Things always work out as they’re supposed to, despite us.

When Alcohol and Drugs No Longer Work



There are a couple of reasons I've been hesitant to write about this topic. Partly because of the anonymous part of AA, and I hate to say, partly because I know a lot of people who are frankly, a little snotty about AA. In the end, I decided that since I'm not mentioning anyone, except my son, whose permission I have to write about, I am not divulging anything I shouldn't. And,though I have experienced a lot of teasing and judgement about AA, I decided I don't care what anyone else thinks, and perhaps those who criticize the loudest could perhaps stand to reevaluate their own relationship with various substances.

I am not an alcoholic or drug addict. I have certainly faced my own challenges, but addiction is not one of them. I have however spent my entire life surrounded by people who are. From my father, to a plethora of relatives, friends and eventually my son, I have witnessed a very ugly side of alcohol and drug use and abuse. Of course there are many who drink responsibly for whom it does not impact their lives or that of their loved ones, but when it turns that corner, AA is an incredible resource for those who chose to take a different path.

This past week I ventured out to where my oldest son lives to see him celebrate four years of sobriety. My younger son, his brother, came with me for the second year in a row. I have only been to four AA meetings in my life having attended each year of my son's sobriety, and each time am moved to tears.

My son celebrates at the rehab center he went to, twice, and I am always humbled by the people fresh out of detoxing getting a 24 hour chip. Often they're very young, looking shell-shocked, sick and like this is the last place they want to be. Often they don't get it yet, they are angry, resentful and not yet willing to take that first step - admitting powerlessness to drugs and alcohol to heart.

It took my son years to get that, and this is where I see the disconnect for people who dub themselves too smart, too cool, too anti-spirituality to buy into the 12 Steps. I've known many people who continue to slowly kill themselves and ravage the lives of those around them because they are way too smart to need AA. I've seen well-educated people in my own family who snub their nose at the folks who read the Big Book and attend meetings, they're too wise for that. Meanwhile they end up destroying their health, careers and lives of the people they supposedly love.

My son, by the admission of his sponsor and the director of this center, was destined for jail, a mental hospital (both of which he spent time in) or death. Toward the end of his run he was living in a moving van with a raccoon, panhandling for drug money. When he went from a psych ward after an overdose, back to rehab, he tells the story of letting go of thinking he was smarter than everyone else and just decided to do whatever they told him.

So, on Christmas that year he shoveled snow. For hours. He studied the Big Book, he listened to people who had come out on the other side and he slowly began to get it.

AA is not a cult, nor it is a group of religious fervents who try to indoctrinate people into their fold. It is a group that is dedicated to helping others overcome an affliction that is controlling their lives. My son said it well that night as he spoke to the group, "Using drugs or alcohol to deal with your emotions is never a good thing." And he's right.

The people I have met through him who are in AA are some of the most amazing people I've ever met. They are open, honest and working to live their lives to the fullest. They are no longer hiding from their feelings and fears, and they know they are never alone. Twenty four hours a day they can call someone who will listen and give them good advice. The most important of which is the solution is never in a bottle or a needle.

My son is now living a life he never could have before. He is an avid rock climber, in the process of starting a business, and getting ready to leave on a five week trip to Bali and Thailand to rock climb with a friend. He overdosed more times than I care to know, and by all rights he should be dead. But he's not, and now he lives his life with more passion and energy than ten others put together. He's no longer living a life where he's dulling his discomfort with drugs and alcohol, and while it's not always easy, he's wide awake and excited by what's next.

We are all so much stronger than we think we are, and we're even stronger when we stand together, supporting each other. Life can be damn hard and scary. Of course it's tempting to turn to something to dull the pain, to lessen the feelings of discomfort, but that's never a good long-term solution. Sooner or later the bill comes due, and how much better it is if you're not facing it alone.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Not Every Present Is A Gift

I have a bit of a history when it comes to Christmas gifts. Both giving and receiving. Some gifts have been really wonderful, like the year I got this amazing doll house that had people with magnets on the bottom that you moved around their super modern house with a long magnetic wand. I loved this toy. My dad and I spent a long time putting it together, well, I was 4, and I doubt I was much help, but I loved it.

When I was five I loved the show "Beany and Cecil." That Christmas I received a stuffed Cecil the sea serpent. He was big, and plush and soft, and even better? He talked! He had one of those pull cords and he would say things like “Hold on Beany, I’m coming!” I only had this precious toy for about an hour before I tripped and spilled milk all over it. After that Cecil’s speech was slurred and his soft, green coat was matted and coarse. He was more like a drunk and degenerate sea serpent from that point on, but being the frugal family we were, we didn’t replace him. I still played with him, but he was just a sad reminder of what could have been.

Two Christmas’s ago I agonized over what to get my then boyfriend for a gift. We’d been dating for a while and I wanted to do something really special for him. Finally, one night it came to me. I was going to take him to his favorite author’s home in Connecticut, in the interest of privacy, let’s call it the Schmark Wayne House. I even found an incredible inn where we could spend a romantic night; it was going to be perfect.

He couldn’t get together ON Christmas, which in hindsight should have been a big clue; somehow his campaigning for how totally awesome Boxing Day was didn’t really cut it. But I was so excited about his present I let it go.

When he came over on Boxing Day, which, by the way if you don’t live in England is just the day after Christmas, I presented him with his gift. I’d printed out the information about the Schmark Wayne House and the super romantic inn. I could barely contain my excitement. I’d never had much money to spend, but that Christmas I was able to splurge and was beyond thrilled to be able to give him a big gift. I presented him with the large envelope I’d decorated. He opened it and then, he just didn’t seem as excited as I thought he would be. My heart sank, but I just smiled and I opened my gifts from him. A picture frame, a T-shirt and a candle. It was then that I began to realize we were not having the same relationship. We broke up a couple of months later never having made that trip. I still have the shirt, the frame and the candle though, so it wasn’t a complete loss. And, I never had to spend the money on the trip, so I got to look generous and not spend a dime.

But, I have to say, the hall of fame of gift disasters happened about seven years ago. I never had much of a relationship with my father. He’d left our family and moved to Maryland when I was about 6. I’ve always wondered if it was the Cecil incident, but since Cecil could barely talk I never got anything out of him. Our contact was spotty at best through the years. He’d grudgingly come to my wedding in 1977, but I hadn’t seen him since. At one point I found out he’d moved to Ireland via a wife I’d never met. He’d me call every few years and ask me how much I weighed. Yes, this is true. And we’d have intellectual banter that was exhausting and usually humiliating since I’d seldom kept up with reading he deemed appropriate. He was a bit of an intellectual snob.

He seemed proud however that I had become a writer, even though I was writing about pop culture and not hard news. In his eyes I was supposed to be thin and pretty, anything I did beyond that was a bonus.

During my adult years it was rare to ever get gifts from him, but after he’d married his third wife – yes, it took three wives, each progressively closer to my age to see him through, he started to sometimes send something.

So when a package arrived that Christmas I was surprised, but touched. I’d sent him some photos of my three kids and myself, sans the 1977 husband, and was trying to do my best to be a good daughter.

I didn’t wait until Christmas to open his package. The day it came I had brought it up to my desk, sat down and opened it. I had to first make it through the copious amount of tape on the shipping envelope, and then made it to the brightly wrapped package, which by its shape and feel I could tell was a book. I was happy, I love books!

I tore open the wrapping paper, and when faced with the back of the book, turned it over. I sat there stunned for a second or two, and then burst out laughing. My father, the man who left when I was little, who was never a part of my life had decided the perfect Christmas gift to give me, his only daughter, was a copy of, “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fashion Gifts For the Fashionista on Your List!

When all else fails a gift certificate can be perfect.

Keep receipts in case returns are desired

Keep the gift recipient in the forefront of your mind. Don’t buy skinny jeans for your grandmother who prefers sweat pants, or a Christmas-themed sweater for your hipster daughter.

Size can be hard to assess. So think accessories. Stick to classics and keep it simple. Give a pair of great hoop earrings in the person’s favorite of gold or silver, a beautiful, simple bracelet, or perhaps a clutch that can go with everything.

Everyone loves a soft pashmina. These cozy wraps can be used as stoles, scarves or even a blanket on a plane. Pick a color that compliments the palette you most often see them in. I own about a dozen in all sorts of colors and patterns, almost all gifts from my world traveling daughter, and this time of year wear them almost every day.

Giving local is always a great idea. Small boutiques and jewelry stores are great places to find one-of-a-kind items that are original and unique.

A subscription to a fashion magazine like Elle, InStyle or Vogue can be a gift that is appreciated all year.

Be careful when it comes to lingerie since for the most part it can’t be returned. If you aren’t 100 percent about size or personal preference, a gift certificate to a local shop or online store like Wolfordshop.com can be a great gift for someone special.

Don’t forget the guys! A super-soft cashmere scarf is always great. A very manly leather messenger bag can make carrying his assortment of devices much easier. A pair of leather

Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers are hip, yet far from grungy. And there’s always a cool watch. From super pricey to affordable, you can find something that will suit his style, whether he’s classic or edgy.

Going eco-friendly at shops like Shift in Hyannis is very fashionable and can make both you and the receiver of your gift feel good about what they’re wearing. There’s nothing softer than bamboo, or more comfortable than organic cotton.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Forget About "White Man Privilege," What About Blond Girl Privilege?

I hear women lament all the time about "white man privilege" and how the cards are stacked against us. Yes, in some ways they are. Sadly, women still don't earn as much as men in many occupations, and we are due to size and strength, often more vulnerable. We are more apt to be raped, attacked or otherwise taken advantage of.

But... yes, you knew there was a but coming, didn't you? As women we are much more powerful than we give ourselves credit for.

Over the last week or so I've kept track of how often people are nice to me, go out of their way for me, and do things for me, often completely unbidden. Men don't have that advantage. I've seen this with my own sons - how they are treated one way, and I another. I smile, I make a joke and I'm being given the free cookie. There is power in our gender that I think we don't even realize. In many ways, being less intimidating is better.

I'm not talking damsel in distress and needing to be rescued. Of course there are times all of us (male and female) need a rescue. I'm also not talking about manipulating people. I'm talking being aware of just how powerful you are, and not playing the victim card of thinking you're somehow disadvantaged because you weren't born with a penis.

In general these oft-referenced powerful white males die younger, have more stress-related illnesses, and end up spending their lives toiling in jobs they hate as they keep seeking the almighty dollar, never encouraged by family or society to think outside that restrictive box to follow a passion. It's why as a mother I've encouraged my sons (and daughter) to do just that - to find what they love to do and then create a way to make it their life.

I may not make a six figure income (yet) and I may not make co-workers tremble in fear of my wrath, But I, and other women, harbor a power that only our gender employs and we should never forget that.

I may not be able to wield a sword like Beatirx Kiddoe, and I may not have the money of Warren Buffett, but that doesn't mean I am not strong and yes, powerful. I am. We all are.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Even if You Need Someone - Whatever You Do, Don't!

Last night I read this post on Jezebel, one of my favorite sites. The headline caught my eye, "The 'N' Word For Women is Need and Needy." Now some commenters took umbrage with the headline, but I have to say, it got me to keep reading.

In general I would rather be called almost anything other than "needy." That word connotes the above photo - clingy and desperate, and far from appealing.

But there's a down side to trying to be need free -mostly because it's impossible. We all have needs, the obvious physical ones like for food and shelter, but we also have emotional needs - to be loved, cared for and appreciated.

Sadly, women have been schooled in the never-let-them-think-you-need-them-lest-you-appear-clingy-and-needy mindset. Well, I know I have. As a single woman I find it easier to count on no one, save the close women friends who I know will be there for me if I call out in desperation - and desperation is what it takes.

At this point, the thought of telling a man I need him fills me with angst, dread and makes my palms sweat. I met my former husband when I was 17, moved in with him at 18, married at 20 and had my first child at 21. Over the years I lost myself in that relationship. I didn't know who I was without him, and when he left, when I was 40, I was completely adrift. It took me a long time to find my balance on my own, and now I'm terrified, wondering - how do you keep that sense of self and let yourself need someone? And there's always the terrifying possibility of being disappointed by someone. So it sometimes seems it's easier to just not go there.

Trying to not need anyone is hard. And frankly kind of unnatural. We all have needs, and we all deserve to have them met. And perhaps being in balance with yourself shouldn't always the end goal. Maybe being a little off-balance is good.

Elizabeth Gilbert encountered the same conundrum on her journey in "Eat Pray Love," finally realizing, “To lose balance sometimes for love is part of living a balanced life.”

Perhaps it's time for me, and everyone else who struggles with this push and pull of to need or not to need, to realize that needing someone is good, needing someone means you've opened your heart up and let them in. It doesn't mean you can't still be strong and be yourself. Perhaps what it means is that you get to be even more than you could have been all alone. I think I need to think about that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Four Years Can Make A Huge Difference

Four years ago today I was in a very different place than I am now.

In the middle of the night on December 7 I received a phone call from a friend of my oldest son telling me they had taken him to an ER. He told me that when he and their other roommate had returned home from an AA meeting, they found my son chopping wood. In the living room. He was unable to communicate with them, and when he moved on to chopping the furniture his roommates trundled him into the car and to the hospital.

This was far from the first emergency phone call I'd received about him. He had been a somewhat functional alcoholic for a long time, but over that year, when he was 27, he had also been battling heroin addiction. This call was the culmination of months of relapses, overdoses and arrests. I had come to sleep with a cordless phone on my pillow. A state of hyper-vigilance left me with a constant knot in my stomach and a sense of dread I couldn't shake. My other children suffered from the attention their crisis-ridden brother took away from them as they attended college and were making far less dangerous choices.

When I spoke to a doctor in the ER he said they were concerned that my son had suffered a psychotic break and that he may either be bi-polar or have schizophrenia. Strangely, drug addiction was a world I had grown to have a certain knowledge of and knew how to navigate. After fighting for my uninsured son to get into a decent detoxes and rehab centers, I'd become savvy about advocating for an addict, and always had hope he could recover. In my mind mental illness didn't offer that same possibility.

By the next day he was doing much better. He was in a locked ward and couldn't have visitors, but his dad, a medical professional, was able to see him. He had overdosed on a cocktail of prescription drugs and over the counter medications,creating a disastrous reaction that had thankfully worn off.

That was the last day he used drugs. As of December 7, he has been clean and sober for four years.

It hasn't been easy. A month after getting clean he awoke to the sober house where he was living surrounded by state police. An outstanding warrant stemming from a possession charge in Colorado brought them to his door. A week in jail for him, and countless hours dealing with lawyers and advocates for him later, and he was out.

Since then there's been no more drama. His commitment to his sobriety is inspiring, as is the help and support he constantly gives to others. He is the embodiment of what recovery can be if you commit to it.

I have always told my son I hit my bottom way before he did. Looking back I do not know how I made it through that time. There are times in life where you just put one foot in front of another. This was one of those. I'm someone who never gives up on people I love, and that determination is rewarded every single time I talk to him and know he's alive. Heroin takes people out fast. There are very few old addicts. I know I am incredibly lucky to have my son. Too many parents aren't so blessed.

Going through this changed me in many ways. I know what's important and what isn't. When you've watched someone you love come close to dying, many times, most everything else pales in comparison.

I would never say I'm glad for this experience, but I am happy to have made it to the other side with a strength and wisdom that is hard earned, and can perhaps help others. That's a pretty good gift to get, and even better to give.