I’m facing down an unwelcome assortment of fives and zeroes at the moment. This season marks my fifth year of being un-married, and I will turn 50 in the fall. So 05 and 50—neat, huh? Why do numbers that end in fives and zeroes always force one to take stock? (I just noticed that stock is a five-letter word with an 0 in the middle!) I hate to buy into the whole midlife-crisis hype, but I can’t stop thinking about where I am vs. where I was, where I want to be, should be, could be or might possibly be one day.
I recently tossed my collection of surviving-divorce books and have discovered that there is no manual for how to get through the phase I’m in now. The self-help books give you 3-5 years, max, to get it together and then you’re on your own. And most of the divorce memoirs follow a predictable script: distraught woman loses it completely, then rebuilds her life bit by bit. By the last chapter, she has found a richly rewarding new life and a new mate with whom she shares a deeper, more extraordinary love than she could ever have imagined possible (a midlife fairy tale—The Sleeping Divorcee!) She has also managed to publish a memoir, for f*ck’s sake.
In the divorce olympics, I am clearly not getting the gold. I’m a competitive person (did you know I won my 5th and 6th grade spelling bees?) so this does not sit well with me, especially as the forties are shoving me out the door. Fifty is actually not the new 37 or 43— just ask those decades.
And, lest I seem too Eeyore-ish, I do know that I have many, many things to be grateful for–amazing daughters, fabulous friends, Fresh Direct, a job with benefits (which entails editing publications that cover the numerous ghastly health problems that assault you upon turning 50. Just saying). Plus, it turns out I am kind of a little plucky. I’ve lived in a falling-apart house without completely falling apart. I’ve disposed of more than 30 dead mice and one dead car, dealt with two sewer-line back-ups without crying, and one burst pipe in my linen closet (with the kind of crying that scared my kids). I’ve done the dating thing, which is not for sissies. I’ve gone on approximately 16 first dates (god, no, have I really?), five of which resulted in second dates; two of those turned into brief relationships. (I’m currently less than optimistic on that front and pretty certain that my next great task is to make peace with being single for the rest of my remaining years. Fortunately, Netflix is really stepping up to the plate. And there’s always bridge.)
Not much more to say right now. I just felt like sending this little blog postcard while I stand here, slightly dazed, at the intersection of Half Century and New Decade.
So my block recently had a stoop sale, which is the Brooklyn equivalent of a yard sale. We’ve half-heartedly participated in these before, but this time I was determined to do a major house purge. Up from the basement came the massive plastic dollhouse with life-like doorbell sound, the de rigueur girly purple bike, pounds of clothes–including many darling toddler-sized dresses–and a stack of self-help paperbacks that have given it their very best. My 11-year-old and I arranged everything artfully and greedily awaited our customers.
Within a couple of hours, we’d sold the bike and all the cute dresses (over which a few moms almost came to blows). Talk about a win-win! People were handing over U.S. dollars to relieve me of burdensome crap. It was so intoxicating that I kept running into the house, frantically grabbing more things to sell–old chairs, redundant tank tops and jeans that never fit right and never will, bent forks, tired tablecloths. At the height of my frenzy, I almost dragged out our pets (2 guinea pigs; 2 cockatiels) and hung a price tag on them. (How about wedding photos, baby pix, kindergarten art work, my high school lab notebooks? Buy one, get one free!)
In the end, we made almost $120 (which I stupidly promised my kids we’d put toward a new TV), bonded a bit with our block-mates, and managed to spend only $10.50 on our neighbors’ cast-offs (ice cream maker, hand vacuum and kitschy angel statue).
But now I want more–I mean, less. Much less. I’ve become allergic to quantity. Opening my shirt drawer makes me feel ill. Who needs that many crappy t-shirts, all that dyed cotton? Even the word plethora repels me. I want to invest in a few “classic” pieces of clothing and essentially wear a uniform like the truly elegant older women do. I want to be loyal to one tasteful, beautifully-packaged organic brand of soap and shampoo and ditch the 30 or so half-empty bottles of gooey drugstore hair products that infect our bathroom. (Two teen/tween girls = Not going to happen) I look at everything in my house with a new eye toward goodbye. I am the anti-hoarder.
And then there’s that emotionally-loaded subset of stuff known as memorabilia. I am hyper-aware, almost phobic in fact, about the things my kids might find if something were to “happen” to me, as the euphemism goes. I have thrown out some old journals and photos, but there are more. Do my kids really need to read about that night at CBGB’s when I was 20? Do I? Would I feel more complete or less so if I tossed all of that in an effort to lose weight from my psyche?
Maybe our next event should be a bonfire.
I always feel like The Prodigal Blogger when I go for weeks without posting–a little sheepish, like I have to acknowledge my absence. Which is sort of the point of this post—i.e., the inherent self-absorption in being human.
So. More about me: The last couple of weeks of blog neglect were due to my being paralyzed with fear. I had a routine mammogram in late February, and, for the first time ever, I got a call from the clinic telling me I had to come back for more images because of a suspicious “area of density.” So, naturally, I googled every possible combination of “abnormal,” “density,” “mammogram,” “common,” “percentage,” “of,” “ghastly,” and “death.” I learned that 10 percent of women who get routine mammograms are called back for repeats and that the vast majority of them turn out to be fine. And most of my friends have been through this and it was nothing.
But this was me, and I am really, really, realllllllly bad at this kind of thing. Worse than most people. When in doubt, I assume Murphy’s Law will prevail. When I was pregnant, I worried that my child would be an albino, if only because it’s so unlikely, because it’s one of the few things you’re not tested for, the thing no one would think to think of–so, ha!–I thought of it first. (The fact is, I have been handed stuff in my life, both good and bad, that is statistically very unlikely to happen to anyone, which may explain my glass-half-emptiness. But we shan’t go there.)
I’ve been quietly but very effectively freaking myself out, imagining hideous scenarios, superstitious that because people blithely told me they had the same thing happen and insisted that “Oh, it will be fine,” that guaranteed it wouldn’t be; that because I saw a “Support the Fight Against Breast Cancer” poster in the window of the post office, I was doomed. I was also assigned an article on breast cancer at work this week AND I learned that a colleague’s wife died of it. Signs, signs everywhere! And then, of course, why not me? People DO get the worst news possible, all the time. Entire countries are swept away in tsunamis, taking other women with “areas of density” with them. I’m sure everyone reading this has partaken of at least one appetizer from life’s misery menu, if not several entrees (and I certainly don’t mean to trivialize anyone else’s suffering by making light of my own hypochondriac tendencies; also, please excuse the overwrought menu metaphor).
I fretted that maybe my “area of density” was in fact a grumpy, pissed-off little knot of unresolved anger. That led me to the predictable bargaining and promising my personal Almighty (whom I bring out on these occasions) that I would forgive all–no, really, everything, especially the still-smarting fact of my children’s seemingly sitcom-worthy other life—one that could only have been custom-designed for me by a vengeful, unholy being. I promised I would abandon all negativity and never again say or even think “No fair!” if only, only, only the mammogram would turn out to be benign.
So, yeah, it was benign. In fact, when the radiologist said “It’s nothing. Come back in a year,” I sat there in disbelief, waiting for her to shut the door, assume a grave demeanor and level with me. But yes, this time, I was spared. This time. The high of the relief I felt on the way home was almost worth the agony I put myself through for the previous two weeks.
Now, the big challenge: To keep that promise to my personal Almighty.
… a thousand words or so. God bless America, no?
Of all the challenges that working full time has thrown my way, I am most plagued by the getting of groceries—where to get them, when to get them, and how to get them into my home from wherever they originate.
For almost a decade, I’ve been a member of a fabulous food co-op. The prices are amazing, the produce is amazing–but the amount of time, effort and psychic distress involved in membership is also, well, amazing. In order to reap the financial and health rewards the co-op offers, you pay in other ways. You have to work there for 2 hours and 45 minutes every four weeks; if you’re me, you have to figure out how to get there now that you rarely have use of a car, because the co-op is over a mile away. And the process of shopping can take hours, especially if the checkout person is new and doesn’t know her celeriac from her lacinato kale.
When I was a freelancer, I shopped at off-hours and it was manageable, but now that I work full time, it’s impossible to continue as a co-op member. Letting go is not easy. There’s a cult-like quality to belonging that makes it hard to leave the fold. I feel like an Amish teenager in rumspringa. But it had to happen. I had to leave, to experience food shopping as most of the country does.
As with any loss, the first phase was denial–which manifested itself in me as an inability to shop anywhere. I found it hard to buy food, period. I felt dirty shopping at a regular supermarket, with its clogging trans fats, its cheap-whore-like red delicious apples, its plethora of plastic bags. Where was the bok choy—the beautiful bouncing baby bok choy like they have at the co-op? Even worse, the supermarket has the exact same feta cheese we got at the co-op, only it costs two dollars more. Two. Dollars. More.
I decided that the girls and I would forego food completely. I mean, really, it’s such a time suck—the shopping, the cooking, the endless chewing and digesting. Couldn’t we just consume very nutritious shakes and vitamins and leave it at that? I was annoyed every time the girls asked me for a snack. “Well, there’s that sprouting potato on the counter, or–hello–what about the mulberry tree out back? Anyway, do you really need to keep eating, again and again and again? It’s so common. Get over it.”
Supported by takeout, I moved through that phase and, for a few weeks, I was able to shop at the supermarket, though only in an aggressive co-op backlash mode. When I came home with Reese’s Puffs cereal and Tostitos, the girls were thrilled, though clearly worried about me. Eventually, even they confessed to missing the healthy, wheaty, crunchy stuff.
During this difficult time, ads for Fresh Direct seemed to lurk everywhere, promising to deliver freakishly photogenic foodstuffs right to my door. Naturally, I was suspicious. It seemed too good to be true.
And then, last week, it all came to a head. The potato on the countertop was growing branches worthy of a treehouse. The ancient capers in the side of the fridge door seemed like viable dinner fixins. Finally, I caved and placed an order online with FD. And it was a revelation–no lines, no car, no store to think about! If I have to live on supermarket food, this is the way to do it. I can shop online whenever I want and the food is brought to my door–in 100% recycled boxes, no less, which almost makes up for the lack of exotic vegetables.
Yesterday, our second Fresh Direct order arrived, just as we were finishing up a legitimate dinner whipped up with ingredients from the first one. When I saw the delivery guy at the door, it was as though Prince Charming had arrived on his horse (or in this case, a white refrigerated truck).
My daughter, noticing my glee, said, “Chill, Mom. It’s not Santa Claus.”
Oh, but for a single mother who works full time, it is. It is!
(Fyi, I was not paid by Fresh Direct or anyone else to write this.)
This week I am officially blog blocked (blogcked?). It’s never that easy to come up with ideas for posts, but usually something strikes me in time for my Monday deadline.
And here it is, Wednesday already, and I’m still sadly sans inspiration.
Here’s why I think I’m having a harder-than-usual time forming a post this week:
Thanks for letting me ramble (not that you had a choice). I’d love some thoughtful feedback on that last dilemma. If you write about personal stuff, how do you decide where to draw the line?
So it’s Monday afternoon and I’m at work, which means my laptop and I are cuddled up in bed together. I’m wearing jeans, a tank top and socks with Christmas trees on them; messy hair, no make-up. It is 2:43pm and I have not yet interacted with soap and water today.
This is the professional lifestyle I’ve been leading since before my 13-year-old was born. Way back when, I did the thing where you set an alarm clock, shower in the morning and head to an office, but then I snagged a breadwinner-type husband, became a mother, and settled into what, for a long time, was an ideal arrangement: I was part-time stay-at-home-mom, part-time freelance journalist–able to interview Gloria Steinem or research rheumatoid arthritis in the morning and spend the afternoon hosting playdates or going to the playground.
And then, as we know, my life changed a little. The relatively warm, fluffy loaf of bread that R provided for a family of four living under one roof became a thin smattering of crumbs when that family started living under two roofs. (Doesn’t it seem like it should be rooves?) Add the fact that the recession has put many publications out of business or eliminated their freelance budgets, and my semi-luxurious work-from-home existence went poof. (If Gloria Steinem needs to be interviewed now, they’ll make her do it herself.)
So, big news here in the land of the midlife makeover: Two weeks from now, I am going back to work full time in an office, where I will write about health for a series of consumer-friendly booklets and–get this–be given a regular paycheck for doing so. Apparently that means I’ll get paid even if I don’t call the accounting department 7 or 8 times first, which boggles the mind in such a good way. (Fellow freelancers, I know you hear me.)
I. Am. So. Psyched.
True, there are trade-offs. I won’t be able to take my sweaty yoga class at noon or grocery shop anytime I feel like it, and my younger daughter, especially, will not see me as much, which makes me sad. I might have to dust off my Crock-Pot so that a nutritious dinner is ready when I get home. (Got recipes? I want them.) I won’t work lying in bed in a tank top anymore, and when I wear my Christmas-tree socks, no one will know, because, well, Mama needs a new pair of shoes, and now it looks like she might get them.
Last weekend, my daughters and I got our Christmas tree. Pulling out the decorations had a similar effect as the one I described in my post about my country house, where the familiar backdrop forces you to acknowledge the things that have changed in the intervening months.
Two Christmases ago (my, but it still seems like yesterday sometimes), R & I knew our separation was inevitable, but he was still living with us and the kids had no idea that our cozy foursome was on un-cozy ground. Not surprisingly, it was hard for me to enjoy Christmas that year. Everything we did–getting the tree, decorating the tree, hanging up our four stockings–was laden with the awareness of it being the last time we’ll ever do this. The last time we will all four decorate the same tree and wake up on Xmas morning together. The last time for this, for that. I happen to be especially bad at last times. When we took down the tree and packed up the ornaments into their usual boxes, I wondered which ones had spent the holiday in my house for the last time.
Last Christmas was difficult for the opposite reason: It was full of firsts. The first time I bungee-corded the tree on top of the car (may she RIP), the first time only three stockings hung on our mantel, the first time the girls woke up on Xmas morning and came into a bed that was mine alone. R joined us for breakfast, which felt absurdly normal and also miserably not so. I felt incredible pressure to hold myself together, to exude a see-everything-is-OK! attitude for the girls. The minute they left with R to visit his family, I sobbed for an hour (maybe two). Then, for the first time ever, I spent Xmas day alone, reading a new book–sad, but also, secretly, guiltily enjoying the solitude just a little bit.
And here we are one whole year later already. The girls and I decided we didn’t really need to drive to get a Christmas tree, so we got one around the corner and brought it home in the shopping cart. When we discovered that the trunk was too wide for our tree stand, I cursed, but at least I didn’t feel helpless or cry. I went into Mom-saves-the-day mode, grabbed the bread knife and shaved the trunk ’til it fit.
I can’t say that everything has come up roses (one look at my checking-account balance will quickly convince you of that), but a few aspects of my life are indeed much rosier than they’ve been for a while. For one thing, the gap on our mantel where the fourth stocking used to hang is not nearly as glaring.
On Xmas day, R will again join us for breakfast and I imagine it won’t feel as awkward as it did last year or as poignant as it did the year before that. To quote an old friend, it will feel, as so much now does, like the new normal.
And I won’t be spending the rest of the day alone this year either. What a merry thought.
I abandoned costume-wearing on Halloween when I was around 16 and remained completely uninterested in the holiday until my older daughter turned two; at that point, my urge to dress her as the world’s cutest pumpkin overcame my vague disdain for October 31.
But we were never one of those zany families where the whole gang gets in on the act—mom and dad as Princess Leah and Luke Skywalker, the kids as Yoda and R2D2—or everyone as a different-colored M & M. In fact, I’ve always rolled my eyes a little at adults who go all out on Halloween. (I’m not sure why, but there it is.) As parents, our role was merely to provide the ordinary, everyday backdrop against which our adorably-clad little darlings could stand out.
And then, last year, on my first post-separation Halloween, I felt an overwhelming urge to dress up. But I wasn’t going to wear just any costume–no fat suits or cardboard boxes for me. Inventiveness was the last thing on my mind. I just wanted an excuse to parade around in public looking sexy.
I’ve been tsk-tsking for years over how girls use Halloween for this purpose at increasingly young ages. I was not at all happy to see my 13-year-old strut out of here on Saturday evening looking like Minnie “She Works Hard for the Money” Mouse. And I would never wear those truly slutty costumes sold at Ricky’s—you know, like Nurse Kandi or Pocahottie. (Well, I might, but not in public.)
So at the last minute, I was trying to throw together a costume. Since we had an assortment of ears and tails left over from Halloweens past, I decided to go as a cat (look, I told you I was not trying to win an originality contest.) This would require me to wear black leggings tucked into my black pointy boots and lots of eye makeup. Perfecto!
In retrospect, Halloween ’08 was a pivotal moment in my midlife makeover, one in which I started to shed my somewhat-neutered married persona and began to embrace a somewhat-sexier, available one. Maybe donning kitty-cat ears and a tail wasn’t the most liberated way to get my groove back, but it worked. I felt a resurgence of a side of me I had lost touch with. Whether it was the cat costume that brought it on, or vice versa, I don’t know–but, curiously, just around a week later, I had embarked on my rebound fling.
I hadn’t planned to dress up again this year, but by the time the trick-or-treaters got going at around 4pm, I was infected with Halloween spirit. I ran to my closet, remembering a long red dress I’d forgotten about, grabbed the extra set of devil horns and the pitchfork we had lying around, and turned myself into a rather elegant devil.
I felt less invested in how I looked than I did last year, but maybe that’s a good sign. Maybe it means I’ve gotten used to having my groove back.
My conflicted relationship with my car came to an abrupt and tragic end on Thursday when the engine spontaneously burst into flames.
I did not make that up just to get attention.
I parked the Saab (which had passed inspection the day before) as usual on a nearby block on Thursday morning. Then I went home and began my daily procrastination routine. About an hour later, a neighbor rang the doorbell and asked:
“Did you park your car on the corner of 16th St, near the church?”
Me: “Um, yes.”
Neighbor: “It just burst into flames.”
Me, chuckling, certain that neighbor is delusional or has nothing better to do on a Thursday afternoon than pull jokes on gullible females: “Excuse me?”
Turns out the neighbor was not delusional and walked me over to my green vehicle, which was surrounded by two big red vehicles, also known as freaking fire trucks! The fire had been extinguished and the hood of my car sported a big burned bruised boo-boo (see photo, above). The engine was a charred black melty mess. Totally weird and shocking, right?
So that’s it; experts believe there was an undiagnosed electrical problem aggravated by a possible oil leak.
After all we’ve been through–the drive to Maine, the numerous breakdowns–and after just sinking six hundred !@#$%^&* dollars into it a couple of weeks ago, my car officially totaled itself, resulting in more family shape-shifting. You see, the Saab was originally R’s baby; in fact, he was so taken with it when we first got it that he spent hours on a nerdy website for Saab owners. We had joint custody of it for a few months after the separation, and then I got solo custody when R downgraded to a used Geo Prizm (one might say downgrading became a global aspiration for R, in fact, if one couldn’t resist being catty just once.)
Honestly, I think the car never got over losing its preferred driver, because it has been kicking and screaming ever since. Last summer, it broke down on the West Side Highway during our first R-less drive to the Adirondacks and, as chronicled in previous posts, has found every possible way to let me know things are not OK.
For now, I’ll be sharing R’s Prizm, which is not nearly as lovely as the Saab, but seems to have a more stable personality. Beyond that, my vehicular future remains unknown.