Tuesday, December 22, 2015

You should be dancing

So, yeah.  Yesterday.

Shitty day.

I did a lot of weepy crying (as opposed to ugly crying), much of it sitting in my office at work.  I missed my kids and missed my family and missed my friends and felt adrift and unmoored and sorry for myself.

Days like that happen from time to time.

And in a previous iteration of myself, I would have struggled to figure out how to pull myself out of the mire.  But now, I know the drill.

Part of it is to just let myself feel what I was feeling  Given that there were concrete reasons for my mood, rather than the amorphous free-floating anxiety and despondency that accompanies a depressive cycle, I knew that I wasn't in any serious mental or emotional distress.  When it's something definable that's making you sad, sometimes you just need to feel shitty until you don't feel shitty anymore.

Part of it is connecting with friends near and far.  And man, do I have some wonderful people in my life - people who love me and care about me and who hold me up when I'm struggling to do it on my own.  It's humbling and gratifying.

Part of it is calling my mother, who always manages to talk me off the ledge and make me laugh, even when the thing we're laughing about is her bewilderment at how she managed to raise such a crazy daughter.

Part of it is getting off my ass and getting some really strenuous exercise in.  The day before the Shitty Day, I sat around and napped and watched sports and did nothing physical of note, and it left me feeling grumpy and gross.  So when I came home from work yesterday, I did a super hard weightlifting session that required so much focus - and resulted in such a lovely release of seratonin and endorphins - that I immediately felt a million times better.

Today was a good day.  I had a great lunch with friends.  I got a massage.  I bought myself a new personal journal, for non-bloggy writing - stuff that is either too intensely personal or too intensely boring (to anyone but me) to publish here.

My new journal. I'm in love with it.
And then I came home and put away laundry while dancing around my room in my underwear.

Which got me thinking about how much dancing I used to do, and how little I do now.

Throughout high school, college, law school, and my 20s living in Atlanta, I danced on the regular.  In India, it was at the Ghungroo, the night club in the Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi.  In college, it was fraternity mixers and bars and formals and Bahamas parties and every other kind of party we attended.  Same with law school.  And in Atlanta, it was most weekends, at clubs in Buckhead and Midtown and downtown.

I love to dance, and I used to do it all the time.  It's fun and it's great exercise and it's expressive and cathartic. And now I barely do it ever.

Occasionally I'll dance around with the kids, but they're already at the age when they're rolling their eyes with an exasperated "Mama! Stop!"

So tonight, I put my exercise playlist on, broadcast it through the house via Bluetooth, and boogied my ass off.  It felt kind of fabulous.

Monday, December 21, 2015

You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles

I've written quite a bit about my sense of what home is, or rather, my difficulty with the concept of home as a particular place.  I tend to feel most at home with certain people, like my India friends, or my UVa friends, or my family, than I do in any given location.

And of course, home is my children.  Who I now only see half of the time.  And having alone time to recharge after single-parenting can be a godsend.  But when I think about the reality of what the custody schedule means - that I will be there to raise them and enjoy their company and bear witness to their development for only half of their lives - it overwhelms me with sadness and regret.  It is one of the few things that can reduce me to a puddle of tears in an instant.  As typing that sentence has now done.

Thank goodness for waterproof mascara.

The custody agreement provides that I will get them for a week every Thanksgiving, and dad will get them for a week every Christmas.  It makes sense - Thanksgiving is the major holiday that my family celebrates every year, whereas we don't get together or do anything for Christmas, it not being our Tribe's gig.

But they are gone right now for nine days, through Christmas.  And I'm by myself, and my friends here all have families and obligations and plans for the holidays, whereas my family and good friends are far away, scattered around the country (and the world).  I do have some family here, but I don't see them often.

I generally don't have a hard time being by myself.  Solitude can be peaceful and wonderful, and there are always things to do around here - I can go skiing, or go for a walk, or go to the art museum, or read.  I really do love Denver, and I have a hard time imagining another place that I would enjoy as much.  And my children and their dad are here, so I couldn't leave if I wanted to.

But right now, it's feeling very lonely, and far from any home I know or understand.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

But now, I'm taking the game up, and the ace of hearts is high

We are conditioned to play hard to get, to act as if we are a prize to be won, to be unattainable and in doing so, make our attainment that much more desirable.  It's an age-old lesson, handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, distilled and condensed in books like The Rules (which came out when I was in my mid 20s), and probably every other advice article in magazines like Teen Temptress.*

Play your cards close to the vest.

Don't call him; make him call you.

Be aloof; don't act like you like him, or he'll lose interest.  If you ignore him, he'll come running.

Make him jump through hoops to land you.

It's actually an awful way of thinking - it takes the humanity out of the equation. It ignores that what's involved, on both sides, is people who have feelings and desires and hopes. People who want to both love and be loved, to admire and be admired, to value and feel valued.  Instead, it boils things down to strategy and cunning, like an emotional game of Risk.

But nonetheless, it gets hammered home from an early age, through high school, through being in a sorority in college, through the post-college craziness of figuring out how to be a functioning adult in the world.

It gets exacerbated by disappointments and heartbreak.  When you've had your heart broken, there's a natural hesitation, a natural reticence, a natural caution that sets in - if you don't put yourself out there, then you're not at risk.  

And when you've spent years in a relationship feeling ignored and invisible and unworthy of love or admiration, a part of you starts to believe it, to internalize those feelings of unworthiness, even as your intellect says, "don't be ridiculous - of course you're worthy, of course you are desirable."  

It takes time, and some serious soul searching, and some cheerleading from your family and your close girlfriends, to start to feel deserving of love and affection again.  

And it takes wisdom, and experience, and maybe some suffering, to reject all of the conditioned attitudes about how you have to be, how you have to act, in order for someone to want you again.  To throw off the bullshit and embrace honesty and be open and plain about who you are and what you want.

Even though it has terrified me, I have broken every Rule.  I have been more straightforward, at this point in the dance, about my interest and desires than I have ever been in my life.  Partly because I don't have the energy or patience anymore to be coy or equivocal, and partly because I know that it's not just about me.  I'm not the only one who was in a relationship that made me feel ignored and invisible and unloved.  I'm not the only one who wants to feel desired and worthy.  I'm not the only one who doesn't want to be rejected.

I have to be willing to give as much, or more, than I get.

It's so fucking scary.  

*not an actual magazine

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Model U.N.

Later, as we stood in the hallway with no adults to greet us, in a house that seemed to be devoid of furniture - except for a hair dryer in the living room - I had a better sense of her apprehension.  But at the time, after logging a "oh, so that's where they've been," I couldn't figure out what Josie's problem was.

The house in Virginia that my parents live in, and where we go for Thanksgiving every year, has been their home since I was 14.  Which may not seem like a big deal to people who grew up in one city and live in close proximity to their extended family, but with my peripatetic upbringing, having a single location that has been something of a home base for over 30 years is huge.  Even though I only actually lived there for a year and a half - the time after Israel and before India, when I attended Langley High School for 10th grade and half of 11th grade - it's as much of a "where I'm from" as I've got.

The house is in a quiet, wooded neighborhood and sits up at the end of a pipestem.  There's another house across the pipestem, and until last year, the same family lived in the house since we moved here.  They were a lovely family, with three kids close in age to Josh and Sam and me.  We chatted when we saw each other coming and going and kept up with each others' lives in a general sense.  We were friendly and neighborly, but not really friends.  Their daughter is around my age, but we never hung out - my natural reticence and introversion would never have allowed me to just approach her about getting together.  As much as I can be social and outgoing, it's always been an effort (particularly as a teenager), and I don't approach the world as if I assume that people have any interest in wanting to hang out with me.

My children are another story, however.  Zeke will introduce himself to anyone, and Josie, while slightly more reserved, isn't too far behind him.

The confusion started when Josie came downstairs yesterday morning and announced, "I want to have a playdate with Johnston and Winston."

I didn't have a fucking clue what she was talking about.  In my head, the associations those words brought up were first Brookstone (the gadget store) and then Masters and Johnson, neither of which made any sense.

"Who are Johnston and Winston?"  I asked.

"Our friends across the street."

I looked at my mother for help.

"There's a new family that moved in after Ann sold her house last year.  They've got two kids, I think they're around 7 and 9."

"Ah.  And their names are Johnston and Winston?"

"Justin and Wilson, actually.  The family is Chinese, grandmother lives with them and doesn't speak much English, the parents are both doctors, and the kids go to Spring Hill Elementary."

"Oh, OK.  And you and Zeke have met them?"  I asked Josie.

She looked at me as if I were demented.  "Noooo!  Not yet!  But we're going to."

Fairfax County Public Schools aren't closed all week (the way Denver's are), so Johnston and Winston were still in school, but the plan was to wait until they got home and go across the pipestem, say hello, and play.

Hours later, after we went and got mani-pedis, hiked at Great Falls, and the kids went to the park with my dad, Zeke, Josie and Hazel disappeared.  A while later, Josie came back looking very serious.

"Hi, honey.  Where have you been?  Are you ok?"

"We were at Justin's house.  But I don't want to stay because I don't speak Chinese."

"But Justin speaks English, right?"  I asked.

"Yeah, but nobody else does."

So she stayed with me and colored for a while, and then went to watch Tinkerbell and take a nap.

Zeke came over a while later.

"I had dinner there," he said.

"What did you have?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?  Was it a sandwich?  A hot dog? Was there meat of some kind?  What did you have?"

"I don't know.  Anyway, I'm just getting my Kindle and I'm going back."

"Is Hazel still over there?"

"Yes.  We're playing."

He left.

My mother and I looked at each other.  "We should go over there and say hello and thank the parents," I said.

As we stepped outside, we saw Zeke walk up to their front door and just let himself in.


We walked across the way and knocked on the door.  Through the little side windows, we could see the kids hanging out on the floor right in front of the front door.  The downstairs seemed very bare - no discernible furniture, no rugs on the floor, no pictures on the walls.  Hazel was sitting on the bottom step of the staircase, and Zeke and another boy were inspecting a Rubik's cube.  There was a kids' plate of food sitting on a stool.

We knocked some more.  The kids looked blankly at us through the window, but didn't move to open the door.  We couldn't hear any footsteps or see any sign that there were adults interested in talking to us.

So I just turned the doorknob and we walked in.

A little Chinese boy who I assume was Justin looked at me.

"Hi," I said, offering my hand.  "I'm Wendy, Zeke's mom."

He held his hand out and limply shook mine, but appeared so painfully shy that it was as if his personality had been pulled into a black hole.

My mom and I stood there some more.  Nobody said anything.

I could hear some activity in the kitchen, so I just walked back there saying, "hellooooo??"

We found Justin's tiny little white-haired grandparents, bustling around and cooking at a wok.  They smiled when they saw us, said, "hello! hello!"  They gave my mother a huge hug, pointed at me and said in extremely broken English, "you daughter?"  When she said, "yes," they smiled and said, "very beautiful!"  Mom said, "thank you, are the little children behaving?"  They said, "oh, yes, very nice!"

There was some more back-and-forth which led me to believe that nobody really understood what the other was saying.  But it was all good.

So we said thank you, walked back to the door, told Zeke and Hazel to behave, and left.

As soon as the door closed behind us, we looked at each other and said at the same time, "what the hell was that?"

Whatever it was, I understood why Josie felt a little weird.  Nothing was wrong.  Everybody was very nice.  But it was just an odd scene.

Zeke, being Zeke, stayed for another hour.  Of course, this is the kid who can meet kids at a Passover seder in Reykjavik and become best friends with them without knowing their names or having a common language.

I don't understand it, but I admire it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Double life

I don't think I realized initially how splitting child custody would result in an extraordinary feeling of my life being so compartmentalized.

Ever since we shifted to our current schedule, every two weeks I'll have five days with the kids followed by five days off, then two days with them and two more days without them.  The five days-five days are significant chunks of time, and the respective five days are so extreme in their differences that it's like I'm living two different lives.

My 5 day mama life involves me being on and in caretaker mode all the time.  I get up, exercise, shower, get dressed, get them up, get them dressed, make their lunches, put their extracurricular accoutrement into their backpacks (drum sticks, karate uniforms, etc.), hustle them to school, park the car back at the house, and walk to work.  After work I pick them up, make dinner, play with them, make sure they're bathed, read, sing songs, and put them to bed.  I referee fights, put band-aids on ouchies, dry tears, figure out how to fix wayward Kindles, locate errant stuffed animals.

And I clean.  Holy shit, do I clean.  Doing dishes, putting them away, wiping down tables, sweeping popcorn off the floor, putting toys and clothes and books away, sorting mail.

I do get the kids to help out, but the truth is, they're pigs and they suck at it, so I still end up cleaning after they "clean."  It's fucking endless.

Throughout the five days of mama time, it gets progressively worse.  For a couple of days, I'm able to maintain some semblance of order.  And then at some point, we reach a tipping point, and then I've lost all control and it's a total shit show.

And the shittier the house gets, the higher my level of agita.  With every passing mess - and my children's ability to generate creative new ways of making astounding messes is reaching epic levels - I become more and more short tempered, and sometimes lose it altogether.

The other night, the tipping point was reached via the following incident.

I was in my room practicing the banjo.  Zeke was playing Wii in the playroom, and Josie was in the bathtub.  At some point I heard him go into the bathroom with a big empty cardboard box that his giant Lego set had come in.  It sounded like the two of them were playing.  They chattered and giggled as they do.

Then at some point, the chatter became more frantic and nervous, and I heard a "we need to fix it before Mama sees."


I walked into the bathroom and proceeded to lose my fucking mind.

Because what I saw was the bathroom floor, sink, and parts of the bathtub covered with water, clothes, toys, and little shredded pieces of wet, soggy cardboard.  I can't even imagine what could have possibly possessed them to think that whatever they had done to leave the bathroom like that was a good idea.

The aftermath was not pretty.  It involved a lot of yelling on my part and crying on their part.  I threw an empty garbage bag in the bathroom, closed the door, and told them they were not to come out until every speck of cardboard was in the bag, every drop of water was mopped up, and the dirty clothes were in the laundry.

They got it done, crying the whole time.  I heard Josie repeatedly sobbing, "we need to tell Mama we're sorry!!"

After everyone had calmed down, we had a talk about how they needed to be better about not making terrible messes like that, and about helping out more generally.

"When you guys are playing or sitting on the couch watching TV or something, what is it that you see me doing most of the time?"

"Cleaning," they responded.

"Exactly.  And is it usually my own mess that I'm cleaning up?"

"No."  They were sheepish.

"No, it's not.  And that needs to change."

And they agreed and we hugged it out and everything was harmonious again.

And I reminded them of that incident when they were making pom-poms out of yarn, leaving little bits of fuzzy yarn all over the place, and when they were eating popcorn while watching a movie and much of it didn't make its way into their mouths, and when they found the bag of Halloween candy and were depositing candy wrappers around the house.

"Remember how much trouble you got in the other day?  You don't want that to happen again, do you?"

Their eyes would grow wide and they would shake their heads vigorously.

This morning I dropped them off at school, ending my five days with them.  I will see them again on Monday morning, when we leave for Virginia to spend Thanksgiving with my family.

I walked out of the house as the cleaning ladies were walking in.  There were dishes in the sink and pieces of popcorn and yarn and god knows what else on the floor.  Beds that needed to be made and rooms that needed to be tidied up and bathrooms that needed to be scrubbed.

I went to work, got a massage after work, and walked into a quiet, clean house at the end of the day. I'm drinking wine and watching hockey and enjoying the solitude.  And for the next five days, I will live a different life, with a clean house and free time and no one to wait on but myself.

After that, I'll be ready for the messiness again.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Be kind to yourself, girl

Josie is long and very thin, and always has been.  Even as a baby, she never had typical baby chub, never had the fat rolls on her neck or legs or wrists that so many babies sport so beautifully.

I remember I was at an indoor playground with her and Zeke when she was only a couple of months old.  Zeke was off playing, and I was sitting with Josie on a bench.  A Hispanic woman started talking to me (I've never quite been able to figure out how some people just know that I can speak Spanish, but on more than one occasion, people have started talking to me in Spanish, and done so with an attitude that implies that they absolutely believe that I will respond in kind).  She asked me how old Josie was, what her name was.  And she looked at Josie and then back at me with a critical gaze.

"Ella es tan delgada," she said, with more than a hint of disapproval in her voice.  She's so thin.

"Sí, pero también es muy saludable," I countered.  Yes, but she's also very healthy.

And she is.  She has a ton of energy, bright eyes, clear skin, shiny hair.  She's a terrific athlete, strong and coordinated.  Her doctor thinks she's perfectly healthy.  She doesn't eat a huge amount, but she eats, and she eats as much good food as she needs to.  She likes vegetables and salad and healthy snacks, and I let her indulge in ice cream and cookies when she wants them.

As my own pediatrician expressed to my mother when I didn't have the hugest appetite as a little kid, you don't hear much about middle class children starving to death.  Kids generally eat when they need to eat, and don't when they don't.

So I've never worried about her being thin.

I've also never dwelled on it with her.  I'll joke with her about how I don't understand how her legs have gotten so long, but I don't call her "skinny" or make any comments about her body except to praise her athleticism or strength when she takes herself hand-over-hand across the monkey bars or makes a great play in soccer or something like that.  Or maybe to tell her, when she's running around the house naked, that I think she has a cute booty.

And as for myself, notwithstanding my own efforts to stay relatively fit/thin, I never talk about feeling fat or wanting to lose weight - I don't even own a scale.  The kids see me exercise every day, but we only talk about it as a way to stay healthy and strong.  Whatever shitty things I say to myself in my own head about my own appearance, however much I pick myself apart every day when I look in the mirror, I never say them out loud, in front of my children.

Which made it particularly alarming when I was informed that when she is at her dad's house, she consistently expresses concern about getting fat, and she will routinely forego things like cake or cookies or other treats out of a concern of gaining weight.

This scares the shit out of me.  She never does this with me, but the fact that she does it at all is terrifying.  I've been terrified of this since the beginning, in fact.  First of all, she seriously doesn't have an ounce to lose.  Her BMI is probably in the 10th percentile, if that, and for a long time, it was so low it wasn't even on the charts.  Second of all, I've read enough articles and seen enough documentaries about body dysmorphia and disordered eating to know that it's something that is incredibly difficult to fight, once it takes root.

As much as I can try to set a healthy example, as much as I can make food and exercise all about health and moderation and strength, every day I drop her off at school where there are 6-year-olds worried about being fat.  There are 8-year-olds on diets.  There are gaggles of 7-year-old mean girls already talking shit about other girls who aren't as cool, who maybe don't look exactly the way these mean girls think girls should look.

So I'm terrified, and I don't know how to stop the onslaught.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Games people play, you take it or you leave it

It's not the fake drinking I mind so much as the fake food.  At least with the fake drinking, when we have to change the pretend diapers, it's just water.  But the fake food comes out the other end as fake poop, and it's this colorful slime that is just gross.

But Josie loves her Baby Alive doll (or she calls it, Alive Baby), so I tolerate it.  And when she ran out of the stupidly expensive diapers that came with the doll, I bought her a box of regular preemie diapers that she could use instead, and that fit just fine.

I refused, however, to buy more packets of the fake food, because it's disgusting.

I was faked out, though, because she was hoarding some.

I was sitting at my desk in the alcove off my bedroom trying to figure out how to get iTunes to automatically search for and import the various music files scattered around my computer.  I ended up figuring it out by accident, and if a gun were held to my head, I couldn't duplicate my efforts, but in the meantime, I was focused on my task while the kids played in their room.  I could hear bits and pieces of their happy chatter.

First it was playing with a sticker book.  Knowing that they tend to deposit stickers on walls and furniture, I was thankful that most of the stuff in their room comes from IKEA, and that I painted their walls with a semi-gloss paint that releases stickers painlessly.

Then I heard Zeke say, "Josie, let's play 'Mamas and Babies.'"

I don't know exactly what this entails, but it sounded innocuous.

A while later, I wandered down the hall to check on them.  When I poked my head into their bedroom, I found Zeke on all fours while Josie stood in front of him, feeding him green goop from a small plastic spoon.

To myself, I said, what the hell??

Out loud, I said, "what on earth are you guys doing?"

"Zeke is the baby," Josie explained. "I'm feeding him."

"Is that the Baby Alive food?"


"Guys, come on. That is gnarly. Don't eat that stuff. It's nasty."

"It's good, Mama!" Zeke insisted.

"Ugh." I responded.  But I figured, whatever.  It's not going to hurt them.

I went back to my computer.

A little while later, Josie came in.  On all fours, panting like a dog.

"Mama, Zeke and I want to play a game with you."

"OK.  What kind of game?"

"A game when me and Zeke are dogs and you are our owner."

I started to laugh.  "You guys are nuts.  OK, how do we play this game?"

"Tell us what to do."  She pointed to an overturned laundry basket.  "That's my kennel.  When you want me to go in it, say, 'kennel.'"

"OK.  Kennel."

She crawled under the laundry basket, and happily curled up on the floor and pretended to sleep.

"Do you want to come out of the kennel?"  I asked after a minute.

"No.  I'm a puppy.  Puppies need naps."

My children are fucking weird.

Friday, November 13, 2015

You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might find you get what you need

One of the things about having gone through a divorce and then embarking on efforts to date is that it forces you to figure out what went wrong before and how to make sure not to repeat old mistakes.

It feels almost strange to go through the process so deliberately and analytically.  When I was younger, my feeling - which was reinforced by the social and cultural ethos - was that love is something that just happens and you just have to let it happen and go with it.  Opposites attract.  Love conquers all.  Blah blah.

It's kind of bullshit.

On the one hand, some of it is luck.  My parents were 22 and 25, respectively, when they got married.  When I was 22, the idea of marrying someone was absurd to me.  Even though I was in law school, I still felt like a kid, completely incapable of making that kind of life-long decision.  But it worked for my mom and dad - they remain happily married because they have similar interests, they enjoy each others' company and conversation, my mother continues to find my father hilarious and to laugh at his jokes, my father recognizes that my mother is the delightful, sane antidote to his particular brand of crazy. In the infamous words of Cher Horowitz, they mesh well together.

Still, they had no way of knowing, when they were 22 and 25, how it would turn out.  On a certain level, it was a leap of faith, and it happened to work.  Other people similarly situated might grow apart, stop enjoying each others' company and conversation, become bitter or disengaged or disillusioned, and end up divorced or just miserable in their marriages.

It's all a question of quantum physics, molecular attraction, and timing.

I'm not 22 anymore.  Hell, I didn't get married until I was 35, and I still got it spectacularly wrong.  I think part of it was that my biological clock was ticking, and I ignored warning signs, and I just assumed that love would conquer all.  I didn't realize that love couldn't be a substitute for compatibility, and that compatibility is the key to making love or a relationship last.

Of course, there are different areas of compatibility.  I've been trying to figure out which are the really important ones for me, and which aren't.

There's the cultural compatibility, which can take a number of forms. Being brought up with similar traditions, similar frames of reference.  Religion can be one, but there are also others like educational or socio-economic background.  I don't particularly care if I'm with someone who is Jewish, but it doesn't hurt to have someone who speaks that same cultural language.  Education is very important to me, socio-economic background to a lesser extent.  Not because I'm a snob, but because I spent a long time with someone who was very different from me in those areas, and it resulted in a lack of shared interests, as well as a sense of intense discomfort and insecurity on his part about those differences.

There's the compatibility of values - a sense of the importance of family, and how family dynamics should work.  Values like kindness, compassion, tolerance, open-mindedness.  A curiosity about the world, a sense of adventure. An ability to go with the flow.

There are relational compatibilities - how you are or behave with a partner.  I am affectionate and passionate and can be a bit intense. I tell people I love them and I'm physically demonstrative and I need a certain heat.  I like to feel respected and adored and desired.  I need someone who has strong opinions about things, who has a sense of humor.

I have to be with someone who appreciates the importance of sex in a relationship - not just from the perspective of wanting to get laid, because it's not really about that, but because it fosters intimacy and closeness. I've done my time in a sexless relationship, and I'm not doing it again.

It feels almost clinical to try to come up with a list of qualities to be ticked off.  As I said, it runs counter to the romantic notion that love just is, and you just have to be ready for it and go with it.  But experience provides a counter to that notion.

Obviously, there's no accounting for chemistry.  It's either there or it's not.  But I think it's important to figure out what you want and need.*

And then, when you think you've found it, all that's left to do is take a leap of faith.

*In reading over this, I realize it sounds like I think a successful relationship is all about me - what I want and need.  It's obviously not at all - it's so much more, including the need to make the other person feel loved and supported and desired; the importance of fun and frivolity from time to time; the realization that you can't change the other person, so don't try; not every fight needs to be picked and not every mistake needs to be highlighted; and that many perceived slights aren't personal, so don't take them as such.  Just wanted to point out that I'm not a complete self-centered asshole.   

Monday, November 09, 2015

Let the music in tonight

It was the night I learned what it meant for the moon to be in "perigee" - the point at which it's closest to the Earth in its rotation and thus incredibly bright and big.  That night it was both full and in perigee, reminding me of the huge bright moon in Moonstruck when Cher's grandfather is out walking his dogs and tells them to guarda la bella luna.

I was out in the woods by the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, at a party in a big log cabin that one of my friends was allowed to use.  It was a crisp fall night with a cloudless sky.  Outside the cabin there was a roaring bonfire, and inside there was a big group of bluegrass musicians drinking bourbon and playing music.  The picking circle expanded and contracted as people joined in and then left to get a drink or hang by the fire or go for a walk in the woods.

Dog were allowed, so I had Max and Floyd with me.  When I joined the circle with my banjo, my dogs would get in the middle of the circle and lie on the floor listening to the music.  Or sometimes I would put my banjo down and stand in the circle singing - stuff like Angel Band and Will the Circle Be Unbroken and Driftin' Too Far From the Shore.  I was always a better singer than a banjo player, so it was nice to be able to contribute to the music in multiple ways.

It was a period in my life when I was playing bluegrass a lot, and was friends with a big group of people who did the same.  Playing music was a huge part of my social life.

And man, I loved it so much.  It's such an amazing way to interact with people - it's fun and creative and collaborative and beautiful.

But then I got married and left Atlanta and stopped playing with any regularity.  Every once in a while I would take it out and practice some old tunes that I knew, but I wasn't consistent with it.

On Saturday night I was hanging out at home and saw that the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou was on HBO. I've always loved that movie and loved the soundtrack, so I watched it.  At the end, as the credits are rolling, Angel Band plays.  Which reminded me of singing that song at that party when the moon was in perigee.  Which made me want to play.

So I got out the banjo and tuned it by ear, because the battery in my electric tuner had been dead for years.  I couldn't find my picks, so I just played with my bare fingers.  I sang Angel Band and I Am Weary and I'll Fly Away.  I found my notebook of sheet music and tabs and practiced different picking rolls and banjo breaks.

It was so much fun, and made me so happy.

The next day, I bought new finger picks and a battery for my tuner.  I bought a new book of music for old bluegrass standards.  I cut my nails, because they were too long to fret effectively.  I practiced and played some more.

The tips of the fingers on my left hand are tender and sore today.  But it's a good pain.

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Single Line

There's something really cool about skiing on opening day.  I'd never done it before, but the stars aligned and a flex day coincided with opening day at Keystone.

It's more of a badge of honor than a great day of skiing - there was literally only one run open in the entire resort.  But it was a long run, and the conditions were actually not bad at all - soft powdery snow, only a couple of icy patches, nothing too skied off.  It was cloudy and snowing, so the drive over Loveland Pass was of the white-knuckle variety, but no one was in a hurry and everyone got over the mountain in one piece.

And the conditions meant that the light was kind of flat, making it difficult to see the snow clearly.  But still, it was great to be out skiing again.  I didn't do too many runs - I didn't want to burn my legs out on the first day, plus after a certain point, skiing the same run over and over again gets kind of old.  But it was really fun.

Catching snowflakes
I was skiing alone, which I love.  When you ski alone, you get to go at your own pace, take the runs you want as fast as you want, eat when you want, and use the "single" line to get on the lift.  Meaning if it's a four-person chair and there's a group of three in the main line, the liftie will send a single in to fill out the group.  So you get to ride up with different people who are also excited to be at Keystone on opening day.

The view from the chairlift
One of my rides was with a group of guys who looked to be in their 30s and who, based on their conversation, had known each other since at least college.  In a nice touch, they had cans of Keystone Ice beer that they were happy to share with me.  I never drink when I ski, but I figured a little bit of beer wasn't going to kill me.  And it didn't.

The lift was moving slowly, so I got to listen to their stories.

We were talking about wanting to have fun doing things like skiing and biking, but without being a total adrenaline junkie about it.  It's good to have a great time, but nobody wants to die.

Andy said, "all I want to do is stuff like ski long fast runs, drink beer, play some PlayStation, have sex."

We all nodded.  Sounded good to us.

"And if you can do some of those things at the same time, all the better, right?"  he added.

I chuckled.  Hanging with bros is always entertaining.

Andy kept going.  "Well, y'all know I'm a big World War II buff, right?""

"Yeah," said Dave.

"One night in college, I was having sex with my girlfriend, but I was over her facing the TV, which she couldn't see because it was kind of behind her, and there was a World War II documentary playing on the History Channel. So I got to have sex while watching a World War II documentary. It was awesome."

I laughed out loud.  "Oh, that poor woman," I said.

"Any woman having sex with Andy can be called a 'poor woman,'" joked Dave.

"You joke, but who wouldn't want to combine some of their favorite things like that?"

He had a point.

I'm not a huge World War II buff.  So for me, it would have to be having sex while somehow simultaneously singing blues standards in a smoky club and also watching Ted Olson argue a civil rights case at the Supreme Court.

That would be totally hot.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Our house it has a crowd, there's always something happening and it's usually quite loud

I was really worried that the noise was going to prompt the neighbors to call the police.

It was about 3 in the morning and we were outside in the driveway with a circular saw, cutting pipe and ceramic tile and pieces of hardwood flooring.  And it was so, so, gratingly loud.  Crazy loud.  How was it not keeping everyone on the street awake??

I had returned from the Home Depot in Decatur a little while earlier (back when it was open 24 hours) to buy copper piping and a soldering kit so that we could extend the gas line to where the stove was supposed to be - I had been informed that it was already in place, but when one of the guys crawled under the house to check, there was nothing there.  So I handed tools through a hole in the floor to Tim, a 20 year old kid who was lying on his back in the crawl-space dirt under the house in 30 degree weather, while he used fire to connect pipe to more pipe so that I would have gas to cook with .  And then I handed him a spray bottle with soapy water in it, so he could spray the line and see if bubbles were forming, indicating a gas leak that could potentially blow us all up.

Good times.

A bunch of the other guys - who I had begged and pleaded, with all of the feminine wiles I could muster, to come and work through the night in order put enough of the kitchen in place to allow me to cook dinner the following night - were hanging cabinets and doors and tiling the counter-tops and putting down the flooring.  But someone had sneaked in a bottle of bourbon, so most of them were working while they were drunk.  And despite my repeated and increasingly frantic phone calls, the general contractor was totally incommunicado.

Oh, and in about 10 hours, I was due at the airport to pick up members of my family, who were coming to Atlanta to spend Thanksgiving at my house.  My mother was serving in Papua New Guinea, so I thought it would be nice to host the family in her stead.  My maternal grandparents were on their way, my dad, Josh and Lori and Emma (who was 2), Sam - everyone.  And if the kitchen - which was being built from scratch out of my old carport - wasn't done enough for me to cook Thanksgiving dinner in it, I was completely screwed.

I worked with the guys until about 5:30 in the morning, and miraculously, we got it done.  The stove was installed and hooked up to the gas line, the cabinet doors were hung, the plates and cookware and utensils were put away, there was a countertop on which I could chop vegetables and make pie crusts.

There was only one small problem, other than the fact that I had been training to run the Atlanta Half Marathon, and now wouldn't be able to because I was too exhausted.

In installing the stove, the guys had somehow lost the caps to the gas burners - those little flat disc doohickeys that sit on top of the burner and direct the gas around the sides of the disc to create a flame circle.  Without those caps, the gas wasn't directed over the igniter and the burners wouldn't light and no stovetop cooking could be accomplished.

The drive to the airport from my house took about 40 minutes.  And I spent every second of that 40 minutes on the phone with the head of the contracting company I had hired, going absolutely ripshit about how if he didn't find new caps and get them on the burners by the end of the day, I was going to take the check for the remaining $10,000 I owed him and burn it and he could sue me and no jury in the world would rule against me because of what he and his company had put me through, between the AWOL contractor and the drunk workers and me helping them connect gas lines and lay down hardwood flooring at 4 in the fucking morning.

He believed me.  And found new burner caps.  And I cooked Thanksgiving dinner and it all went off without a hitch, except for the part when I made cranberry jello mold but forgot to cook the cranberries first, so it was jello with hard, sour berries mixed in, which made it pretty much inedible. Live and learn, right?

The kitchen ended up being beautiful.  The layout was amazing and I loved cooking in it.  The walls were painted a gorgeous dusty orange, the color of a Colorado sunset.  But the process of building it left me scarred.  I still have PTSD-ish flashbacks thinking about it.

Which makes me nervous about embarking on a kitchen renovation in my 120-year-old Victorian, which has lathe-and-plaster walls (that emit dust if you look at them funny), no square corners and no straight lines.  It's going to be a mess.

But the kitchen is awful - the layout is horrible, the cabinets and counter tops are old and gross, the wallpaper is seriously fug, and it doesn't even have a dishwasher (or room for one, as currently configured).  It needs to be redone.

So I will stock up on bourbon, which will be used to maintain my own sanity, and will not be shared with any workers.  And I will have extra burner caps on hand, just in case.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Come on dance on the freedom train

Even when it's technically over, there are always bits and pieces to finish up.  Schedules to finalize, someone else's stuff to clear out of the cellar.  And the final divvying up of the money.

The house was marital property, and the refinance took awhile because of various and sundry reasons.  I had to spend additional time and money getting it done, and obstacles kept popping up, and it felt like it was never going to be over.

But it is, finally.  The funds have been divided, the deeds have been signed, the joint debt that I was carrying single-handedly is gone, and I now own my house and everything in it, all on my own. Financially, I can breathe again.  I now support only myself and my children, and it feels incredibly liberating.

I am free, in so many ways, and it is a wonderful thing.

I'm not one to spend a lot of money on things.  I couldn't care less about jewelry or designer handbags.  Most of my clothes come from TJ Maxx or H&M or Nordstrom Rack.  Given unlimited funds, I'd spend my time traveling and learning and experiencing things - plane tickets, lift tickets, surf lessons, language lessons.  And some of the money will go to that - I've already got spring break plans to visit friends in Europe.

But sometimes I do like to treat myself.

I wanted my bed to be only mine again, without any link to any other occupant.  So I bought a thick, luxurious new memory foam mattress topper, and deep pocket, high thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets.  I never splurge on stuff like that, and it felt really good.

I put on the new sheets and threw away the old ones and was lying on the bed, listening to music and feeling content, when Josie ran in and jumped on me.  So we started wrestling and giggling and goofing off, attempting cheerleader-type maneuvers in which I would lie on my back and she would put her feet in my hands and she would try to stand and balance while I lifted her up.  Invariably, one of us would start cracking up and she would lose her balance and fall with her butt right on my face, which would cause us to laugh harder.

Then we would collect ourselves and try again.  And again.  We were laughing so hard we could scarcely breathe.

At one point she lay down on top of me and I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a kiss.  And she pulled her head back and looked down at me and said, "are you happy?"

"Am I happy?"

"Yeah.  Are you happy?"

"Yes, I am happy.  Are you happy?"

"Yes!" she exclaimed.  She sat up and smiled and looked blissful.  "I'm more than 100 happy!!"

Me too, baby girl.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

When I'm out in the street, I walk the way I wanna walk

I was reading a book in which the protagonist found self-awareness (and self-forgiveness and really, his ultimate self) through, among other things, focusing every day on six core needs:  physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and sexual.

And while the demons he needed to slay are much more intense than mine - he had a seriously fucked up childhood and spent chunks of his life engaging in incredibly soul-crushing, destructive behaviors - his path resonated with me.  Do I attend to these needs?

For me, some of them are interconnected.

I get plenty of exercise, plus many of my hobbies and favorite pursuits are physical - skiing, hiking, running around outside with the kids, surfing when I'm at the beach.

And except for my solo workouts at 5:30 in the morning, those physical pursuits are social.  Sometimes I ski alone, but my best ski days are often with friends or family.  I do big hikes with my friend Christin.   Plus I have a solid group of friends that I love and make an effort to spend time with.

My job is fairly intellectual, plus I'm always in the middle of a book, so I think I'm OK there.

Emotionally, I'm always working on letting myself feel what I'm feeling without letting it overwhelm me, and lately I feel like I've gotten better at it.  There have been some things in my life that have been major stressors lately, but attending to other core needs (doing a hard workout when I'm feeling overly anxious, hanging with friends who make me happy, that sort of thing) have helped me work through them.  This one will always be a work in progress, but I feel like I'm making a solid effort.

Sexually... well.  We'll see.

The one that really got me thinking was the spiritual need.  Though there are definitely lessons and principles in Judaism that I appreciate and internalize, I'm not really religious at all.  And I sometimes wonder what it even means to be "spiritual" - according to dictionary.com, it relates to or affects the human spirit or soul, rather than the physical or material.  Which can still be confusing and amorphous.  But I've also seen other explanations that emphasize a search for inner peace with yourself and your place in the world, and achieving love and respect for yourself and really, love and respect for everybody.

Those are certainly not things that I have understood or even worked towards during many parts of my life.  But being in an unhappy, unfulfilling relationship for years, going through a divorce, experiencing the death of a beloved child, figuring out how to function in the face of all that - it's forced me to approach life in a more focused way, and to do everything I can to shed old baggage and seek peace and beauty and love in the here and now.

And walking has been a huge part of that.

It's been a year since I started walking to work, as a part of healing after Emma died, and really, as a part of a daily meditation of sorts. As a daily act of spirituality, I guess.

At first, there were so many different routes - different streets on which to head north, different streets to head west, that it was all new and exciting.  I could take 12th Avenue, through Cheesman Park and through a largely residential area, with lots of interesting old houses and funky apartment buildings with charming names like the Rob Roy or the BluEtte or the Malden Arms.  I can admire people's flower gardens and look at pretty trees.

I could take 13th or 14th Avenues, both of which are slightly more commercial than 12th, with cool coffee shops and urban schools and mechanic's garages.  I can cut north past St. John's Cathedral, which is beautiful.

But after doing it for a year, I find myself gravitating to Colfax Avenue more and more.  Colfax is a little bit rough and dirty and gritty.  It's got liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries and bakeries and homeless shelters and bodegas and art galleries and dive bars and not-so-dive bars and pubs.  Thrift stores and head shops.  Tattoo parlors and natural grocery stores and a cathedral.  The state capitol building with its magnificent gold dome and used book stores and music venues.  People going to work and people who are a little bit out there.

A photo posted by Wendy Jacobs (@wendyalisonjacobs) on

Given the choice between hanging out on Colfax and hanging out in a place like Cherry Creek, with it's chi-chi boutiques and plastic people, I'll take Colfax every time.  Maybe it's the same reason I love big, noisy, chaotic cities like New Delhi or Bangkok - to me, it represents life and humanity, in all of its forms.  It's interesting and real.

And walking it every day, it gives me a sense of connection to the world, a sense of calmness and peace  - ironically, for all of its craziness, it fills me with love.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

You're the soul of me (wonder number eight)

Dear Zekey,

Yesterday you turned eight years old.  You were with your dad this weekend, so I didn't get to wake you up with hugs and kisses, but I saw you at your birthday party and stole a couple of minutes to tell you how much I love you and to tell you the story of the day you were born.

dressed as a vampire at your Halloween-themed birthday party, whacking at the pinata
It seems a lifetime ago that I was at Kapiolani, laboring and waiting for you to make your appearance. And I guess it was - so much has happened since then.  Everything about my life has changed, and you have changed along with it.

You continue to remind me of your Uncle Sam as a little boy - thoughtful, sensitive, a tad self-righteous, exhibiting both left-brained and right-brained tendencies.  You ask interesting questions and force me to look at the world in a new way.

You continue to grow bigger and stronger, and to exhibit more and more of your dad's strength and athleticism.  You have developed a bit of an obsession with obtaining six-pack abs, which I find hilarious.  You excel at soccer and flag football and you crawl around the monkey bars with incredible dexterity and flexibility.  You jump off of high surfaces and bounce around and have more energy than I can comprehend.

One of the characteristics that I have noticed increasingly is your earnestness. You take people at face value and absorb the messages and lessons of your teachers with great seriousness. I see other kids your age who are already a little bit jaded, but you still have a certain innocence about you that I find so endearing.  If I utter a curse word, you scold me and insist that children shouldn't hear such things.

This year, when you started second grade, I would ask you how your day at school went and what you were learning, and you would tell me about the "character trait of the week."

"This week I'm learning about determination, Mama."

"And what does determination mean?"

"It means you keep trying at something and don't give up.  So I've been trying to practice determination."

So sweet.  So earnest.

And yet, you have an endless fascination with talking about butts and farts and penises and vaginas. You are increasingly curious about women, often figuring out how to google "boobs" and then looking on the internet at images you shouldn't be looking at.

This past year hasn't been easy for you and Josie.  I will always feel guilty about putting you through the trauma and forced changes of divorce, even though the divorce was necessary for everyone.  But through getting adjusted to splitting time between Daddy and me, and getting adjusted to new living situations, you have shown such remarkable grace and resiliency.  You remain loving and optimistic and able to see the good in people and situations.  You set an example that I try to emulate.

You remain a mama's boy, for which I am so grateful.  I know that we're getting closer to the age at which you will start to pull away from me and try to figure out how to seek your own path.  But for now, you still greet me with hugs and kisses, you still want to sit on me when we're watching a movie, you still want to lie in bed with me and snuggle me as close as you can.

Bedtime with you is one of my favorite rituals.  I put you and Josie in your bunks, and we talk and I sing or play soft music for you.  Every night, you ask me to rub your back.  So I will stand there in the dark, rubbing your back and singing to you, feeling you relax and hearing your breathing get slow and heavy.  And just before you drop off, you say, "I love you, Mama."

And I love you, my sweetest boy.  So, so much.

Love love love,


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Southern exposure

I feel like I spend a lot of time exposing myself to strangers.

Well, not a *lot* of time, I guess.  Certainly not in proportion to my time generally.  I wear clothes to work and to take the kids to school and to the grocery store.  When I walk up to the market to get popcorn for movie night, I'm generally covered up.  So in terms of naked-time percentages, the actual amount of time is probably very small.

But still.

Between my regularly scheduled massages and bikini waxes, the occasional facial (which involves a partial massage, so I take off my clothes for that as well), the one time I got a spray tan because I didn't want to go to the beach looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost - let's just say that I'm not fazed by walking into a business establishment and disrobing for a total stranger.

It's a lot of naked.

The massages are relatively benign.  I mean, yes, I'm naked under the sheet, but the sheet is there for a reason.  Although I've been going to the same massage guy for so long, and we're so friendly and comfortable with each other, that I think we've both gotten a little blasé about sheet placement. What's crazy is that I don't see it as a big deal.  It's just more nakedness.

The most extreme example (other than the OB/GYN, who will literally sit with her face 12 inches from my naked crotch, while I've got my feet up in stirrups) is the bikini wax experience.  For this one, I am totally naked from the waist down while a 24-year-old cutie from New Mexico tells me about her latest crush on a guy who's trying to become an MMA fighter - it's kind of serious because she's added him to her Snapchat, y'all. Meanwhile, she's got her (latex-gloved) hands right in my ladyparts, applying hot wax and then ripping it off, moving things around...  It's ridiculously intimate, and yet she and I chat as if she's not doing anything more than filing my nails.

My sense is that this is something women experience and are inured to much more than men. Between the gynecologist and the obstetrician and all of the various beauty and grooming treatments we subject ourselves to, we get pretty used to having to drop trou and lie back and think of England while someone we are neither related to nor having sex with pokes around the undercarriage.

Men, on the other hand, might get the occasional "turn your head and cough" treatment, plus whatever happens when you're having your prostate checked.

But it's definitely not on the same level.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

A friend and I were recently talking about friendships and love affairs, and whether you can ever truly know someone.  Oftentimes, when you hear on the news about heinous crimes being committed, there's that neighbor or even the family member who insists that there's no way the perpetrator could have done it - that they knew him and that it was impossible that he or she could have done something so heinous or evil.

But it most cases, they were conspicuously wrong.  People reveal what they want to reveal, and it's never everything.

It always makes me wonder what it even means to know someone.  Is it knowing about them, or knowing things that they've done?  I think that can be part of it, but there are also plenty of people who I think know me fairly well, but who will never know about certain events in my life because I will never tell them to anyone.  But that doesn't mean that they don't know me, have a good sense of me, or appreciate my good qualities and bad qualities.  It doesn't mean they can't predict, to a certain extent, how I will react to or feel about a certain situation, or read me when I'm not being particularly forthcoming.

My mother, for example, can start a conversation with me on the phone in which I will go through the  routine how-are-yous, and without me saying another word, she can immediately tell if there's something wrong or if I'm exuberantly happy or something in between. Of course, you would expect that if anyone knows you, it's going to be your mother.  But that's not the case for everyone.

Is knowing someone knowing how they grew up and what they like or dislike, and how those things shaped them? Knowing their strengths and weaknesses?  Knowing their approach to life?  Having a sense of their soul, if such a thing exists?

It's unanswerable questions like these that kept me from being a philosophy major in college.  I can't stand endless consideration of questions that ultimately have no resolution - it's just mental masturbation to me.  I like answers and certainty, or at least I can appreciate that a question has an answer, even if I don't personally know it.

There was a relatively recent article in the New York Times that someone sent me about an old psychological study in which strangers discussed a series of increasingly personal questions designed to foster closeness by having each person expose their vulnerabilities to the other.  According to the study and its characterization by various articles, going through the 36 questions can make total strangers fall in love, though the skeptic in me calls bullshit on that. 

It's still fascinating, though.  And suggests to me that truly getting to know someone is just a matter of timing, luck, wanting to know them, and making an effort.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

We're gonna have a good day, and all my homies gonna ride today, and all these mommies look fly today, and all we wanna do is get by today

Stress and depression and physical malaise are like a self-fulfilling prophesy.  You feel down and you lose motivation to do anything so you stop doing anything and then you feel lethargic and shitty and soft and that makes you feel worse and you continue to do nothing and it just builds upon itself and it totally sucks.

And you've been down the road a million goddamn times.  Through the troughs and the valleys, and the attendant characterizations of each.  You know that part of pulling yourself out of the abyss is to simply decide to do it, and then taking steps to move your body and eat decent food and get outside and look up at the sky.  You know that just as the descent builds on itself, so does the ascent - you feel a little better so that makes you want to keep doing the good things that are helping, which makes you feel better, and you continue to gain momentum, and on and on.

But even with that experience and knowledge - the ability to have that intellectual conversation with yourself in which you tell yourself that you KNOW that these are the things you need to do, so why don't you just DO them -- when you're down in that hole, it's hard to hear anything but the voices that tell you you're worthless and a loser and ugly and gross, so why bother?

And yet.

At a certain point, you start to claw your way out because the alternative is unacceptable.  And the progress is of the stop-and-start variety, because there are still stressors in your life causing little hiccups and keeping your cortisol levels elevated.  But you respond well to structure and routine, so you stick to your program, checking days off the calendar, one by one.

Then, at some point, there's a discernible shift.  

You realize that you're surviving the seemingly unsurvivable.  And the other woman in your children's lives recognizes that maybe she didn't make things so easy early on, and she apologizes and is gracious and now you're almost friends. And you put on pants that you bought for work a few months ago and realize they're hanging off of you, because you've stuck to exercising and eating well, and now it shows.  You feel pretty, which makes other people think so too. You walk around smiling, and people smile back.

You bound out of bed with incredible energy, and find joy in every old song that comes on the radio, and walk to work to the beat of the music, swinging your hips a little more than usual.  You wish you could bottle this feeling, because it's fucking amazing.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The one that got away

From the old pictures, I can see that he was a handsome young man.  Tall, clear-eyed, with a kind face.  A good athlete, particularly adept at tennis.  Smart, with an aptitude for math and sciences.

The picture of potential.  

He did well at college and had friends and girlfriends.  Despite having grown up in a somewhat dysfunctional family, with a mother who was uninterested and unloving and selfish and who, by all accounts, fit the DSM criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, he displayed less of the meanness and depressiveness that ran on his mother's side, and more of the sweetness and benevolence of his father.  

In his early 20s, he had adventures in Europe with friends.  He wore the customary red neckerchief to run with the bulls in Pamplona.  In an age before cellphones, he and his buddies wandered on their own and then reconnected by having faith in the inexorable pull of every major foreign city's American Express office, where they always found each other again.

He lived with a certain verve.

At some point in his late 20s, he married a woman, because it was time to get married.  She must have held a certain exotic appeal for him - he was always drawn to Latin American women - but that appeal wore off quickly.  

He ran a successful business and made money, which she promptly spent on frivolity - expensive European cars that she would insist on sending back to Europe to be serviced, high end designer couture purchased from Nieman Marcus, jewelry.  He made more money, she spent more money. Notwithstanding this apparently high standard of living, no one ever goes to their house because she is a hoarder.  She feigns depth by adopting different religions and different names to go with them, but at bottom, she is shallow and silly and mean.

To the outside world, they demonstrate no love or passion or even interest in each other.  They coexist on small talk.

They had one daughter who, despite being educated in an expensive Swiss boarding school (at her mother's insistence), has never shown any drive or motivation to do anything beyond work a series of administrative jobs in plastic surgery practices.  

He has no grandchildren, and thus has nothing to add while he watches and listens to his siblings and cousins rave about theirs.

For as long as I have known him, he has shown none of the verve of his youth - he is  physically soft, weak-chinned, socially awkward, nonconfrontational to the point of allowing others to bully him a little bit.  In family gatherings, he is overwhelmed by his louder, more assertive siblings, who, over the years, have encouraged him to leave his wife.  But he never did or could.

I'm reminded of Tony Soprano's description of his mother's effect on his father - that she wore him down to a little nub.  

My brother points out that if you stop talking and listen, you can learn all sorts of interesting things.  

And so we ask him about his life and he talks and we listen.  

We listen to him describe a great love he had for a young woman he was with when he was 25 and she was 18.  She was an exchange student from South America, and by all accounts, was beautiful and lovely and sweet.  He was in love, and would have married her had she stayed in the United States, but she was young and heading back to her home country for school.  

Before she went back, her school group took a trip to Washington, DC, to see the nation's capitol. She called him and said, come down and spend the weekend.  Meet me at the Washington Monument.

He caught a flight.  He waited for her at the Washington Monument.  She surprised him by coming up behind him and throwing her arms around him.  His description of this incident makes it clear that it was one of the most blissful moments of his life.

She returned home and eventually married and became a psychologist.  She has children and grandchildren.

But she has kept in touch over 50 years.  First through letters, and then through email.  She emails him every year on his birthday, and always has kind, fond words for him.

About 25 years ago, when he was traveling on business, he reconnected with her.  The feelings and chemistry were there.  He tells us that he tried to make love with her, but was so nervous and overwhelmed by the situation that he couldn't do it.

Our eyes bug out upon hearing this extraordinarily personal, intimate revelation.  But he seems impervious to embarrassment about it.  As if he's so beaten down, what's one more thing?  It is heartbreaking on so many levels.

Today is his 77th birthday.  He will experience the flush of joy that accompanies the annual missive representing everything he wanted but never got.

And then he will continue with the life he has.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach

These days, I have a feeling of momentum.

For a few years, at least, it seems like it's been one trauma or stressor after another, whether it was my marriage ending or financial woes or bouts of depression or custody drama.  And, of course, Emma's death overshadowing all of it.  It's been relentless and awful.

But the craziness of the summer is resolved. I'm feeling great physically. The kids are beautiful and healthy and loving life.

While I won't ever get over Emma's death, surviving the "year of firsts," as crushing as it was, means that I know can survive going forward.

The worst that could happen did happen, and we're all still alive, and perhaps distilled down to our purer essences.  Cleansed by the fire, which, at least for me, burned away any capacity for bullshit or any desire to carry around the baggage of pettiness or silly power struggles or superficial judgment.  I want to love and enjoy my children and love and enjoy my friends and love and enjoy my life.  I have no patience for meanness or rudeness or snobbery.

I was talking with a friend about this, and he said, "but what about when life creeps in?  How do you sustain that when the mundane irritations and frustrations of life get in the way?"

My brother asked a similar question the other day - even when things are going well, he's always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Optimism as a weltanschauung is not something that comes naturally to him.  As he said, "I can't help it.  I'm a Jew."

I obviously don't profess to have all the answers.  I only know what I can tolerate and what I can't, and how I want to feel at the end of each day.  But in the face of these questions, my response was that all you can do is try, every day, to be deliberately and conspicuously kind to people.  To seek out and appreciate beauty in the ordinary.

You just have to work the muscle every day, and then hope for the best.

It can be spending time outside, looking at the sky and documenting something beautiful or unusual or interesting.

It can be making the decision to be polite to telemarketers or customer service reps, even when they piss you off.

It can be walking late at night down a dark street, holding hands and stealing kisses, a little drunk on bourbon and the heady prospect of something new and exciting, and stopping to admire a gorgeous tree with twinkly stars visible through its branches.

You hold on to the happiness of the moment, appreciating the wonder of the world around you.

And you keep holding on to those moments, every day.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Love and football

The irony of moving around from country to country as a kid is that it left me feeling like I had great experiences in various locations, but not much in the way of a strong sense of place.  As much as I love the way I grew up and wouldn't change it for anything, I'm always a little envious of people who Are From Somewhere - they grew up there, maybe they went away to college but they came back, they're settled in a place that is intimately familiar to them, they have family there. There is a physical place that is home to them and a part of them.

But when people ask me where I'm from, the answer isn't a place.  It's a description of the way I grew up.

I don't feel like I'm really from anywhere.  I was born in Cyprus, but I haven't been there since I was two years old and I don't remember it at all.  Greek was my first language, but I couldn't tell you a single word in Greek right now.  It's not where I'm from.  Same with pretty much every other place I lived.  I'm not from Venezuela.  I'm not from Israel. I'm not from India.

I loved India, and I would love to go back, but it wouldn't be the same without the people I experienced it with.  It's those people that feel like home to me, whether we're at the embassy compound playing pool between classes or whether we're in a generic hotel ballroom in Crystal City, Virginia. But I'm not from India.

Same with northern Virginia.  I lived there for a few years in elementary school and then later in high school for a short time, and it's been my parents' home base for 30 years.  I have great friends there, and I like going back.  I bought my plane tickets to take the kids to my parents' house for the annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Virginia with the family, which always makes me happy.  But I'm not from there.

In a weird twist, if there's any place that I associate with a familial home, it would be Detroit.  I never lived there - I lived in East Lansing, Michigan for a year when I was seven - but Detroit was where my grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins were.  When I flew back to Denver after my Grandpa Leo's funeral, it was the strangest feeling that I was leaving a place to which I felt incredibly strong ties, but which I didn't really ever have any cause to go back to.

In addition to the family ties to Detroit itself, my family has strong ties to the University of Michigan. Particularly its football team.  Both my parents graduated from there, as did uncles and aunts and cousins.  I don't remember a time in my life when I didn't know the words to Hail to the Victors, or when I didn't cheer along with my parents and brothers for the Maize and Blue. We were such superfans that when we were stationed in Israel, my dad got one of his buddies at an Israeli TV station to pull the satellite feed for the Rose Bowl when Michigan was in it, and let us come to the TV station to watch the game in the middle of the fucking night.  And I was happy to go.  It was Michigan football, after all.  Playing in the freaking Rose Bowl.  Of course we were going to be there.

Yet, for all my Michigan fandom, I've never been to a game in Michigan Stadium, a place of legend that holds 115,000 people and is the second largest stadium in the world.  Well, that all changes this weekend, when my wonderful, generous father is taking my brothers and me to Ann Arbor to see the Michigan-Northwestern game.  We will have quality time and recharge our familial batteries and, we're hoping, watch a rejuvenated Michigan team play balls-out and beat Northwestern.  I love being with my father.  I love being with my brothers. For all the physical distance between us, we feel incredibly connected.  I would do anything for them.  They are home to me.

So for a weekend, this place I have never been to, with its ties to football and family, will feel like home, because that's how it works for me.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

But as I walked through the foggy streets alone, it turned out to be the luckiest day I've known

One of the things that kind of cracks me up about Colorado is that there is no gradual change of seasons.  It changes in a day, and that's it.  Last year, the weather was lovely and temperate and then one Monday in early November, all of a sudden it was 10 degrees out and it was winter.  Done and done.

Same this past weekend.  It's been warm and sunny and beautiful, and then on Friday Mother Nature decided it was fall, and so it was.  Chilly and windy and foggy.

I love fog.  There's something protective and ethereal and mysterious about it.  Wide open blue skies are beautiful, but they don't provide for any hiding places.  But in the fog, your little secrets feel safe.

A photo posted by Wendy Jacobs (@wendyalisonjacobs) on

Friday, October 02, 2015

Adventures in Online Dating: "Yikes" Edition; or, From the "How Not To Proceed" file

I've been writing quite a bit about this stuff, but it's on my mind, because suddenly I'm communicating with a bunch of guys and going out on a number of dates.

Setting aside the "isn't this a gas" aspect of having crazy or funny stories to tell, the communications I get increasingly remind me that for some people, online dating creates a scenario in which reading someone's dating profile leads to wish fulfillment fantasies that usually (if not always) bear no relationship to reality.  It can be a dangerous game - you interact with someone online and build them up in your mind before you've met them, filling in the gaps in what you know about them with what you want those gaps to be, and then you've become infatuated with a unicorn.  A phantom.  A reverie.  And it never ends well.

This is why I approach it extremely cautiously, assuming nothing, expecting the worst.  When I go on a first date, I'm hopeful, but I expect nothing.  That way I can be pleasantly surprised if he isn't a total troll.

It's also why, if I'm making the first move and reaching out to a guy after reading his profile, I am the embodiment of chill.  An initial message will never be any more provocative than, "Hey SoAndSo, you have an great profile. I dig your picture on the summit of Longs Peak. And I'm also a huge Michael Chabon fan - what's your favorite book of his?  Cheers, W."

Friendly, indicative that I've paid attention and actually read his profile, but casual and breezy enough that I don't come off like a crazy-ass stalker type.

Which is why it's a little bit alarming - and a lot sad - when I receive this message from a 61-year-old guy (well outside my stated age range).  I've excerpted portions of it, but beyond that, I've left the language and punctuation intact:
our words are defination of what is inside us , from your words i have a positive feelings about you, you will bring out the best in me, i see us together for ever , i dont speak when i am not sure, we have a lot of people who's words cant holds waters but for me my words are my bounds, we have to commit to each other and give in everything that we make us strike a spark and live happily.  ... I know what my heart tells me and I am not in a rush, i saw a lot of other people here but my instincts tells me you are a great, good hearted and the best woman any man can have as a mate. We're all human and not perfect but you appear to be different from the heart. Since i've spent the night dreaming about you, i want to spend the day cuddling up with you. 
A)  What. The. Fuck.

B)  Oh, honey.  No.  Just no.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why I'm glad I didn't get sick in Elizabeth Bennet's time, plus where to find guys hunting for cougars

It started around the middle of the afternoon on Friday: sore throat, swollen and tender lymph nodes in my neck, fever-chill.  I figured it was tonsillitis.

With the exception of getting up on Saturday to go to Josie's soccer game and birthday party (a mistake, though it would have been awful to miss it), and then going to the doctor on Sunday, I was in bed from Friday afternoon through Monday morning.  The fever seemed to peak at night - I was so overheated Friday and Saturday nights that I took to sprinkling water on my sheets and lying with freezer bags full of ice on my neck and head, and even then, I couldn't cool off.

At the doctor's office, they gave me a throat culture and the test for strep, which came back positive in seven minutes.  The doctor prescribed oral antibiotics, but was alarmed by the size (huge) and condition (covered with white abscess-looking spots) of my tonsils, so she also gave me a shot (in the ass) of a powerful medication generally used to fight bacterial infections, including life-threatening diseases like meningitis. Doc wasn't fucking around.

I appreciated her aggressiveness from the get-go, but particularly when, within about 7 or 8 hours, I was feeling so much better that I could hardly believe it.  Huzzah for western medicine, y'all.

Naturally, all of this got me to thinking about Jane Austen.

One of the things I always notice about Jane Austen novels - other than how fantastic they are - is how the characters are always inquiring into the health of other characters.

"And how is your family?  Are they in good health?  Are they well?"

Illness was greatly feared in those times, and rightly so.  Medicine was primitive, and illnesses that would temporarily knock you or me on our asses, to lie in bed drinking chicken soup and binge-watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix while waiting for the antibiotics to kick in, were often life-threatening.  Like Jane in Pride and Prejudice, when she gets caught in the rain going to Netherfield and ends up horribly sick in bed for days.  Or Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, who almost dies near the end because she gets really sick after neglecting her health upon hearing about Willoughby's marriage.  It was some serious shit.

Meanwhile, 200+ years later, I felt awful for a few days, but the fact that I would get medicine and recover quickly was never in dispute.  I didn't spend my time in bed worrying.  I spent my time in bed watching everything in my DVR and a jillion other movies, and trolling online dating sites.

Speaking of, it continues to be a fascinating process.  I've had a couple of pleasant dates with guys who were interesting and smart, but with whom there was no chemistry.  I've had a couple of dates that were utter fucking disasters - the best I can say is that they make for a good story when I'm out with my girlfriends.

I've learned that if you're a woman in your 40s and need a confidence boost, get your ass onto OKCupid, pronto.  Within 6 hours of putting up a profile, I had been propositioned by at least 15 men in their 20s and 30s (including one guy whose screen name was, no lie, "Hunting_Cougars69") telling me how gorgeous and sexy I am and begging me to overlook the age difference and would I consider something on a purely physical level pretty pretty please? Please?  I swear I never do anything like this and I'm nervous about even contacting you but you're so preeeettttyyyyyy...

Um, no.  But thank you for your kind words.

I also got a message from some poor schlub in Kansas who all but proposed marriage, a dude in England who insisted we could make it work because he's moving back to the States, a military guy who just moved to Colorado and asked if I would be his "first friend," and about 50 that were some form of "hey your (sic) hot."  I guess I should be thankful that no one sent me a picture of his dick.

But it is a numbers game.  For every 25 or 30 "ur sexy" messages, there's one from someone who is cute and smart and interesting and age-appropriate, and who knows how to write.  And sometimes there's a connection, and sometimes there isn't, but it keeps the hope alive.

It's a wild time to be 45 and dating again, that's for sure.