Archive for May, 2009

While I was shaking my fist at middle age and rambling on about poetry and peonies, here’s what really happened: Caroline had the flu, Elizabeth cried because we had to cancel her sleepover, and my husband was out-of-town.

After the tequila, the chocolate-chip ice cream came out. After that, it’s all a blur.

In the end, I’m just glad it’s over.


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When I was in college, I had a summer job at a big (but not grand) hotel on Mackinac Island. I lived with a bunch of other waitresses in an apartment above a bike shop. We had incredible fun – making piles of money, sunbathing on the dock, and going out for gin and tonics. It was the perfect summer – until Barrie Lee showed up. Barrie Lee was a new waitress, who arrived in the middle of the season to live with us. I hated her on sight.

We were completely different. While I tap-danced and people-pleased, Barrie Lee stood still and said whatever she thought – unfiltered. She spoke directly, staring you down and cocking her head as if to say “oh yeah, what’re you gonna do about it?” She was tough and pushy and certain. I was insecure and deferent and moody. It was not good.

Whenever we were in the same room, I silently seethed. She just pissed me off; she didn’t even have to say anything. I, of course, was afraid to say anything. I became obsessed with wanting her off the Island.

One day when the other waitresses were at work, I called my Dad on the common-area payphone. We got in an argument over his paying (or rather, not paying) for my school. I was yelling and crying before I hung up the phone and ran sobbing to my room.

Though I didn’t know it, Barrie Lee was also in the bikehouse and had overheard everything. She wandered into my room and sat at the end of my bed while I wiped my face. When she asked if I was okay, I unleashed an explosive rant about my father, my parent’s divorce, my stepmother and their money. Barrie Lee matched my rant with one of her own – turns out, her childhood had been rife with divorce and drama too.

We went back and forth, trading stories of divorced-parent offenses until we were both laughing hysterically. From that day on, she was my best friend on the Island. I found her audacity liberating. I learned I could stand up to her without any consequence. She told spicy stories and made me laugh. After we left the Island, we remained long-distance friends. Eleven years later, she stood up in my wedding.

We still talk every once in a while but we haven’t seen each other in years. We have things in common that keep us connected: we’re both stay-at-home moms, we both love to read, and we both wander through the world feeling things far too deeply.

But while I’m navigating Stepford, clad in Jcrew knock-off’s — she’s out in San Francisco raising three boys, hiking, going to hear live music and eating locally grown produce. I call her whenever I crave something different. During one recent “is-this-really-my-life?” phone calls, Barrie Lee argued that mid-life is a reminder to keep learning new things. It’s why she recently started a drawing class and listens to classic literature on her iPod.

Last year she wandered on to my blog and left this poem buried as a comment. I really don’t get poetry. It’s one of those things, like the cello, I keep saying I’ll tackle one day. But I love this little poem she left for me — it’s like finding a surprise chocolate-chip muffin on your desk. Something about the poem makes me think of the Clarissa character in Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours.” I can’t explain why – but maybe that’s the thing with poetry – you just respond to it?

Meanwhile today is my 44th birthday. Rather than mourn the depressing slide into my mid-forties (MID! forties), I am going to try and stand up to it Barrie Lee-style. I’m going to raise a fist to the wisdom of unexpected friends and all good things still left to discover in the second half of life.

So let us pour ouselves a glass of wine, eat cake, and crave something different as we (or rather, I) start Chapter 2 – but first, take a moment to enjoy Barrie Lee’s beautiful poem:


Peonies (peaked already) ants run out long
before they were discovered leaning
listessly into plastic-wrapped laundered suits
in the trunk of my mini-van

Baked slightly, forgotten
yet supple still, ok for the sojourn
will make it though the day

Set in water, they opened graciously
ready to serve as centerpiece

The company enjoyed the brunch.

Peonies, peaked already (not surprising)
now exhausted, limp
cast long shadows on the table
bacon grease, smelly afterglow clings
to petals that drift
and land
like washed-out ballet slippers

– BLZ, 2004

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I don’t normally like to be alone. I’ve been that way as long as I can remember. It’s made for some whiny and desperate moments that made boyfriends run and girlfriends sigh. But as any mother knows, having kids changes everything.

This weekend, my husband’s family was having a birthday party at a cottage two hours away. The first three hours of the party were titled “Sportsmania.” I am so not a sportsmaniac — plus, I woke up with pain in my back that would make two hours in a car (and three hours of playing sports) total misery.

So in an unusual move because I love my husband’s family, I opted out. In the middle of a sunny holiday weekend packed with barbeques and parties, I chose complete solitude.

After I shook off the guilt, I spent the afternoon in my garden. I planted herbs, I pulled weeds, I filled my patios pots with flowers we can’t afford. I took my time making a gorgeous salad and a pitcher of mint iced-tea for lunch.

Then I suited-up in my iPod and sunscreen and got back out to the sunshine to pull more dandelions. Strangely, the dandelions did not make me hate the world like they usually do.


When it was time for dinner, I grilled some salmon and ripped open a bag of salad and sat in front of the TV. My neighbor, who knew I was home alone, invited me over for a glass of wine. I declined. I was having too much fun.

After dinner, I walked to the movie store and noticed little flowers popping up everywhere. In the summer, JCrewville can seduce even the most urban cynic of small-town living. It’s one check on the plus side of living here.


At the movie store, I got the biggest, most shameful chick-movie I could find (“Bride Wars”). It was pure cheese, but that’s okay. Tonight, I answer to no one. While I was watching it, I sat in my pj’s and painted my toenails bright red.

Before bed, I called my family. Sportsmania and an abundance of brownies had my girls completely wiped out. Their voices sounded so little on the phone. They were weepy. “We miss you Mommy.” Selfishly, it made for the most incredible ending to the most perfect day.

I slept fitfully. Despite having all the covers to myself, it was kind-of creepy sleeping alone in the house. This morning I brewed an extra huge pot of coffee, made myself a vegggie omlette and ate it while lingering over the paper. Maybe I’ll take a nap before they get home — that is, if I can get over my giddiness.

I should get back to the garden, but I decided to stop here first (because I can!) and comment that sometimes being alone is a beautiful thing.


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Yesterday I went to see the dermatologist. I have this suspicious mole-ish thing on my temple that I wanted checked out. It’s small, but I’m a fair-skinned blonde who spent decades laughing at the sun. Now in my forties, I take anything remotely mole-ish very seriously.

After some routine questions from a kind, empathetic nurse, I stripped down to my carefully chosen, un-sexy but still very nice (i.e. not from Cosco) bra and undies, and put on the paper bib and waited for Dr. Ang.

I didn’t wait long. Dr. Ang and her crispy white coat were right on time. After an efficient greeting and handshake, she got right to business. She looked at my mole-ish thing, touched it and quickly proclaimed it was not a mole but a wart to which I winced and jerked my head away and said “Ewww, it is not.”

She said she could remove it, talking rapidly about some bruising and a needle (in my temple?). I cut her off, “Ahh, maybe some other time.”

She then proceeded with a full-body mole-check, which went well. She found nothing suspicious (or wart-ish, thank you very much) and concluded I should see her in another year. I smiled, thanked her and waited for her to leave.

But she didn’t. She just stood there looking down at me in my underwear. Then she said, “Sooo how’s your energy level been? (pause) And your appetite?”

I mumbled something like “fine – yeah, it’s all good.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Hmmm. Okay, then. Have a good day” she said. Then she smiled (condescendingly?) and left.

It took me a minute. Wait – did she just call me fat? I think she did. I think she totally just called me I’m fat. What does my appetite have to do with my (wart-less) skin? Why else would she say that?


Blogger’s Note: Because you can’t see me, let’s just say, I might need to lose 10 pounds — okay, maybe 13 after this winter, or 20 if I ever moved to Manhattan. As far as I know, that is not enough to prompt a dermatologist to be concerned. See? I told you — that bitch called me fat.

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I caved. I deleted. The post I published yesterday is gone.

Call me chicken, call me weak, but I realized that was her space…and this is mine. It relfects who I am. All my karmic dog-walking and weed-pulling don’t mean squat if I’m one of those people who talks about someone once she’s left the room. I don’t want to be one of those people.



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Things are getting weird around me. At first there were a few isolated incidences, but enough of them have accumulated that I’m starting to notice a trend. I think something might be amuck.

Consider a small sampling –

At a birthday party, a mother from my daughter’s kindergarten class confided in me about her divorce. I barely know her. In fact, I’ve always dismissed her as kinda crazy. But she seemed to need someone to just listen, so I did. I learned that aside from being smart and strong-minded, she’s actually pretty cool.

My next door neighbor is recovering from an illness and is pretty weak. In an unusual move, I offered to walk her dog. I don’t like dogs, especially hers. It barks and jumps and pees on my daylilies. But she said yes, and so now every afternoon, the beast and I troll the neighborhood. I haven’t miraculously turned into a dog-person or anything, but I have to admit, it’s been kind of nice.

Then there’s this perennial bed near the elementary school that has been neglected for at least ten years. It’s an overgrown mess. For some reason, after walking the beast, I decided I couldn’t look at it any more. I packed my wheel barrel with a spade, rake and pruners and spent the next three afternoons clearing debris, pruning rosebushes and pulling out thistle.

Finally, after years of my piano gathering dust, I’ve started playing again. I remember my mom playing Moonlight Sonata, and now I find myself playing it while my girls do their homework. Sometimes my youngest will wander over and sit by me while I play.

These are all small things with nothing particularly strange about them. But strung together, I’ve felt an awareness that something within me is deepening. I know that when you do things for others, you feel better yourself. But this is more than that. It’s like my days are taking on a sort of richness. Previously empty spaces are filling in with new friends, rosebushes and Beethoven.

Of course, I can’t escape being me. I’m still self-involved, cranky and whiny (see post below). But something is subtly shifting. I don’t want to get all crazy and claim to be happy. But lately, I’ve had glimpses…

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I’m at the bookstore again. It’s a beautiful day outside and I’m inside, chewing pieces off a mega chocolate chunk cookie which will make me even fatter, but I don’t care because at this moment, I need a little pleasure. A little buzz. I’m hunched over my laptop in the Barnes and Noble Café forcing myself to write something, anything… just so I have something to do.

Can we just talk about how boring it is being a stay-at-home mom? I’ve spent the last eight years dying for them to be in school so I could finally be alone – and now I’m finally alone, and I have nothing to do.

I don’t volunteer at the school because when I’m finally away from my kids, I don’t want to be wrangling someone else’s. I don’t do the PTA thing because it’s just not my thing. Since my diagnosis, I don’t run or go to the gym every afternoon, which I used to do (to burn time, not calories). I should volunteer somewhere, but I only have 2 1/2 hours of free time a day and honestly, right now, I don’t have the energy.

I just can’t face cleaning my kitchen again or planning tonight’s dinner (which I’ve already done anyway: grilled chicken and salad). We don’t have money, so I can’t go spend it. I’m pretty organized, so I’ve finished all of my errands.


I called my good friend to chat, but she was too busy ironing her sheets and had to go. I’ve tried calling a few others, but I just keep getting their voicemails. Where is everybody? What ARE they doing?

I wish more mothers would own up to how boring it is to be at home. Or at least give me a hint of what else there is to do. I once whined to one of my friends about how depressed I was because I was so bored. She told me when she needs a pick-me-up, she organizes a drawer. It gives her a sense of accomplishment.


I asked another friend for advice. She looked at me like I was stupid. “Haven’t you ever heard of shopping?” she said.

When I worked, I always thought I would love being at home so I could do the things I always wanted. I thought I would learn to play the cello, write a book, lose weight, listen to NPR, meet interesting people and take up tennis. Uh, I guess I forgot there would be kids. So after years of sweeping the kitchen floor, fixing meals, wiping butts, brushing hair, grocery shopping, paying bills and making beds, my energy for the cello is diminuendo. I’m too depleted to lose weight. And the interesting people are apparently already doing something — else.


I need a cause. I need a purpose. I need a job. I can only browse the isles of Target so many times. I think the people at the B&N Café are beginning to worry about me. I might need to find another bookstore.

Somebody better give me some ideas soon or I”ll be writing more posts as boring and whiny as this one.


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