What are your Priorities? or Next Question, Please.

I'm out of ink.

I'm out of ink.

You can find lots of stuff on how to focus on the things that are fulfilling to you. If you want to stay focused on your priorities, you should whisper them to yourself in the morning, schedule them in, big rocks first, practice every day, summarize them at night, and so on and so on and so on.

Priorities. You mean MY priorities? Um, yeah yeah, ok. Let me just do the dishes and the laundry, tend to the kids, get to the dry cleaners, manage these three projects at work, check social media, check social media, check social media…

Latest craze, the 36 questions that lead to true love, #4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

For me? You know I have small kids and a depressive husband, right? I don’t think I qualify for a perfect day. Like, my husband will be happy and enthusiastic and the kids won’t whine even once? What would I even do? Just weep? And if they continue to be whiny or depressed, how can I have a perfect day? So either they have to be different or I have to not care about them? Next question.

Even thinking about thinking about what my priorities are—other than this Sisyphean to-do list I live under, doing many things but getting little done—just causes me to short-circuit. A lovely living environment? Writing? Teaching my children to be useful members of society? Painting? Connecting to my body and caring for it? Becoming the go-to person professionally? It’s just another farging list!

My husband is a good father and a kind man, and beyond that he will do as little as he can to get by, probably because he’s pretty focused on just staying alive. I’m not going to change that, and I need to stop hoping that something will change in him and stop trying to come up with a cure. It’s time to focus on myself and growing, taking myself to the next level. I just don’t know the path.

The good news is, because I’ve been taking a look at my life, I’ve been relatively dismayed, which means I’ve been working on my home. Because who lives like this? It’s busy work that distracts me from trying to figure out how I want to live my life.

Next question?

Thank You! or The Grateful Ingrate


Of all the things I do not make enough time for, thanking my friends and family for their generosity is probably the most egregious omission.

I don’t write Thank You notes, and I should. Oh my how I should. People who care about me have shown it in showers of generosity that I should set aside time for daily to pen personal notes about.

I don’t do it. 

I have a friend who gives me the most thoughtful gifts. Jewelry that is unusual and lovely. Cloth playtime books for my children she had specially made for us. Tickets to and companionship at great concerts. Wrapped beautifully with streaming ribbon she has to fight her cats for. I haven’t sent a note. I am confounded when I try to think of just the right gift in return, as if I haven’t known her for a decade.

I have a sister-in-law and a brother who make it rain with clothes and toys for my kids in regular waves—good things, too. When the weather turns cold, I reach into the next box and pull out a really nice coat that fits perfectly, with matching snow pants and boots ready for the first snowfall. Any given day, I can dress them in oxford-cloth shirts, khakis, sweater vests. I can’t imagine how much money we’ve saved on these clothes, and how much time and energy I’ve saved not shopping. It’s amazing and we are so fortunate. I’ve thanked them, but it’s not enough. They definitely deserve a something. Nothing comes to mind. I’m sure something will come to mind.

Friends and family and neighbors have brought gifts for the kids’ birthdays, baptisms, or even just because they went to an apple orchard that day. Time passes. No notes. I know I’m supposed to. I have boxes of thank-you cards just waiting for ink. So many pens. I even have stamps.

Nice hand-me-downs clothes sent from Indiana. Did I send a note? I can’t remember. Not likely. The postage alone they didn’t have to do. But they did. And I just went ahead with my life. Their awesome clothes got mixed in with other awesome clothes and my kids look great, and the shame wears me down.

Gifts from longtime friends for me, for the kids at holidays. Unbelievable, really. Like the charming couple from Australia, old friends of my husband’s parents, who send gifts every Christmas for children they have never met and will never meet. I forget which outfits are from them before the torn wrapping paper is thrown away. I’m a terrible person.

Hand-crocheted hats and blankets from a friend. Really terrific stuff, and who has hand-made anything from a friend anymore? These are special, and the dinosaur hat never fails to impress. Sure, I say thank you and show her some pictures on my phone, but do I send a note? Do I send photos? Yeah… no. Come on! She made them with her own hands!

My mother has given me tons of things over the years. From her, I have furniture, life, jewelry, clothes… and she’s generous to a fault every Christmas and birthday. She would probably love a note of thanks, even an annual summary of thanks. I’ve squeezed out a note or two over 44 years.

In short, I am so grateful and ashamed. Thanks to so many people, my life is a lot easier and more pleasant than it would be otherwise. 

Thank you.png

Thank you. 

Okay, so I know this doesn’t cover it. This is just an extra thank you, on top of the notes and gifts that are coming. Soon. I’m sure my future self will be a better person than my current self is. I’m going to go get some sleep now, to help my future self have the energy to get on that.

The Damn Doctor Cleared Me to Exercise, or Wasting the Doctor’s Time

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I had a full checkup today. Pending lab results from the pint of blood they took and the photos from boob-smooshing machine, I’m in great shape for the mileage on the odometer. I’m overweight, my sight and hearing are starting to fade, and walking up an incline gets me to my peak heart rate faster than ever. Pretty much what you would expect.

Between January 2008 and May 2012, I had three abdominal surgeries. The second two were to transition me from pregnancy to nursing mother. The first one, well… it was partly to make the second two possible. I haven’t had a general checkup since 2007. Don’t ask me about the dentist.

This has been on my calendar for a while. I had never had a stress test before, and I wanted to do really well on it. I prepared for weeks in advance by eating constantly and sitting at my desk for hours at a time. When I walk with the children down to the Farmer’s Market, I make sure they walk most of the time, which for me is essentially standing still. I was highly confident that the doctor would declare me painfully thin and suggest I nap more.

The whole event was courtesy of my job, which helps you arrange these preventative checkups because they don’t want you out sick. It was a very fancy doctor place. Between exams, we got to hang around in blue scrubs and pink terrycloth robes and little socks with treads on them, sit in comfy chairs, and watch TV in a sunlit room. There was a buffet of food for when they let you stop fasting. 

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They even gave me a gift bag when I was leaving. Not sure it was necessary, but it’s always nice to get a little present. This gift bag contains one piece of tissue paper, a pack of Kleenex, a little emery board, a little hand sanitizer, a little hand lotion, two throat lozenges, two band-aids, and the smallest chapstick I have ever seen — a little bullet-shaped thing, about the same size as the throat lozenges. It’s adorable, but I think it’s a choking hazard for my kids.

So here’s what they did to me:
•    Took boob-smooshing photos
•    Weighed me
•    Measured me
•    Took my blood pressure
•    Took 5 vials of blood
•    Wired me up for an EKG
•    Checked my eyesight
•    Puffed air at my eyes (My reaction: DAFUQ?! All four times.)
•    Checked my hearing
•    Listened to me breathe
•    Felt my neck
•    Wired me up again
•    Made me do jumping jacks
•    Walked me on a treadmill
•    Took my blood pressure a bunch more times

My eyesight’s going. Nobody cares. I’m losing some of the outer range of my hearing. Group shrug. I’m a bit overweight. That alone is not a problem. I have been officially approved to engage in whatever kind of exercise suits my fancy. I hope that wasn't the point of this whole thing, because I could have saved us all some time.

After all that, I still owe the lady doctor a visit. And the dentist.

Myth Busted, or What "No" Really Means

If he only knew...

If he only knew...

Fellas, ever wonder why she really said no? 

Ladies, ever wish you could tell him without (a) grossing him out or (b) hurting his feelings? 

I wrote all about it, and the Epistolarians posted it. Hop on over and take a look.

Spoiler: No still means no. 

I Hate Returning Things, or The Exchange Rate

I spent $146 and three hours of my life on a $20 tablecloth.

I found the tablecloth I wanted online. I didn’t want to pay the $6 shipping, so I drove to the store with an 18-month-old child who has very recently gotten extremely long arms.

I had measured the table. I carried the measurements with me on a little post-it note. I carefully compared the numbers on the post-it to the measurements on the packaging. I bought the tablecloth for the size table I have.

Between my long arms and the baby’s, I spent another $100 while I was there.

I got it all home. I saved the shipping costs. Yay me! Very proudly, I decked out the table with my lovely, bright, stain-resistant, microfiber tablecloth.

It was too small.

Because it wasn’t FOR a 52” x 70” table. It was actually 52” x 70”. So it hangs over the edge like an inch.

Yeah, I’m an idiot. And now I have one more thing in my house that I do not want or need.

I can hear you saying “just return it.” As if “just” made it a non-effort. As if I could “just” hop in the car and run to the store. I’m guessing you don’t have two children under the age of four, a full-time job, and an hour-long commute. You can probably decide to go to the store and actually pull that off the very same day.

For me, getting to a real store takes several days of planning and close coordination with spousal counterparts. Just getting out the door takes an hour. So if I manage to pull off a trip to the anything, I had better get it right.

And I didn’t get it right.

They will bring it right to your house!

They will bring it right to your house!

So I went online and ordered one in a bigger size.

The first tablecloth cost me $20. The second tablecloth cost another $20 plus $6 shipping. So I’m spending $26 so I do not have to spend another two hours in the car and a narrow-aisled store with a long-armed baby during my few non-working hours. Because screw it. I have to be done with this now.

The first tablecloth? In a few years, I may donate it to charity, write off $6, and save $2 in taxes. But I will not spend the rest of my weekend chasing around the perfect tablecloth. 

How to Procrastinate, or...

to do lst.jpg

Busy busy busy, I am so busy. Busy all the time. New job, two kids, a million things to do.

Every once in a while, I get a few minutes to myself. Between the kids’ bedtime and mine, perhaps. Or everyone’s taking a nap on the weekend but me for an hour.

And then it’s gone.

Not one single thing got done, and I was busy the whole time. And the window is closed. It’s off to the next thing.

What happened? I am a master procrastinator is what happened. I’m so good at it, I barely have to think about it anymore. I can waste time with amazing efficiency.

The key is to mix in old, tried-and-true procrastination methods with new ones that you’re still learning about. No need to jump on every social media train that comes down the tracks. There’s a lot of life left in the old ones, but throw in a trending game to keep you updated.

Maybe you’re still doing book after book of Sudoku, like it's 2005. Or maybe you’re still playing minesweeper. Hey, who am I to judge? Here’s how I am currently killing what little free time I have available:  

So angry.

So angry.

  • Candy Crush, duh
  • Angry Birds, Angry Birds HD, Angry Birds Seasons, Angry Birds Rio, Angry Birds Space, Angry Birds Star Wars, Angry Birds whatever’s next, bring it!
  • Endorse people on LinkedIn
  • Upload/download pictures of your kids, sort them, pick the best ones, weed them out, then post a few on Facebook
  • Browse through your news feed to find stuff that would look good on your blog’s Facebook page
  • Tweak your blog (it sounds dirty, I know, but it’s oddly refreshing)
  • Write out your to-do list
  • Rewrite your to-do list
  • Format your to-do list
  • Prioritize your to-do list
  • Add things to your to-do list that you’ve already done and cross them off
  • Write this

Oh crap, I’ve been neglecting my Pinterest boards! I gotta go…


Things I Can’t See, or I Probably Don't Need to Know What That Says

Have you passed your prime? Here’s your sign.

Have you passed your prime? Here’s your sign.

I had 20/20 vision when I was younger. When I turned about 40, I got an eye exam. I bought reading glasses.

It’s not a big deal, I told myself. I don’t need them much. In fact, it kind of bothers my eyes to wear them too much. I can see most things fine. I can see to drive. I can differentiate between my children.

But every once in a while, I would dig out my glasses. You know, when I was tired. Then a little more often. Then I started making sure a pair was always in my purse, like an extra maxi pad. You know, just in case. After a while, I realized that there’s just certain things that I can’t read.

Most of the time, I try to ride it out. I don’t think of myself as someone who wears glasses. But without them, here’s the list of things I can no longer see:

  • The knot on my necklace chain. This was one of the first things to go. I felt so talented when I untangled my mother’s necklaces. That goes away like the high notes on the scale. You don’t even notice it’s missing until you’re tested.
  • Ingredient lists in the grocery stores. I lost that battle years ago. That’s why I started carrying the glasses in my purse in the first place.
  • The small print.
  • The default font on Lotus Notes email. Can anybody tell me how to make that bigger?
  • Clothing tags. Forget about laundry instructions, I’m talking about the size label. 14? 16? Wait, 10?! I carried this all the way to the changing room! Well I’m NOT putting it back on the hanger.
  • The phone number on your business card. Nope. Need a magnifying glass. Nice formatting, though. The text looks like a sailboat.
  • The menu. Romantic restaurant? Why don’t you order for me, big guy? It’s so sexy. You know what I like.
  • That bumper sticker on your car with the full sentence on it. I’m going to tailgate you until I can read that damn thing. Yes, I suppose I am too close if I can read that.

Funny thing is, I can usually read books okay. Especially on my reader — the one with the adjustable font.


Safe at Home, or Bombs Bursting in Air

As I hear the Fourth of July fireworks exploding in the distance, here at home with my children sleeping in their beds, I am so grateful that I have never heard to true sounds of battle in my own country.

I could have been born anywhere. My home could have mortar shells in the side of it, through no fault or doing of my own. Everyone around me could be living with PTSD and in mourning. We are lucky, so unbelievably lucky, to have been born here.

How is it that this land has been so protected for so long? Big oceans, mostly. Only Mexico or Canada could literally drive into our country, and not many more could fly here without us knowing they were coming. We also have a fair amount of artillery that might dissuade some of the smaller countries from giving it a go. 

BOOM! In the distance. One of the loud, deep ones that you can feel. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Pow!

It’s all a light show. Not when Francis Scott Key saw the battle over Baltimore Harbor in 1814. He saw and heard and felt that battle. He saw the flag after the fighting had raged all night, still flying over Fort McHenry, showing that we had not been defeated.

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Then he wrote that song, which like three people can sing well in any given crowd.

The fireworks in New York are on the TV. It’s pretty. But I can actually feel the shudder from the ones here. I know they’re from a town nearby, on the outskirts of DC, but our proximity to the Capitol makes it more unsettling.

BOOM boom boom boom POW boom boom BOOM POP POW BOOM!

If we were under attack, the anti-aircraft guns would come up on the National Mall — oh, come on, you know they’re around there somewhere, dormant and camouflaged, like airbags. We would likely hear the explosions up here, just inside the Beltway. The only difference is we would hear airplanes, too. And sirens. And the sounds of five million people fleeing.

Fourth of July fireworks displays are designed to mimic the sights and sounds of the battles that were waged to make us free from our oppressors/parents (sorry about that, England. So glad we can be besties now). We fought here, again, during the tragic Civil War. Hawaii was hit so hard, it brought us together as a country more single-mindedly than anything else in our history. We took that fight, and others, to other countries.

Will we wage full-on war on our own soil again? God, I hope not. 

Here's the finale: 






Then the sounds of other, not-so-distant explosions, coming from the National Mall.


Triumph Trophy, or I Did Not Kill Jim Today

Triumph Ttophy[6].png

I have received a challenge from Workin Man Mama a ways back, and finally got it together to respond. There are only 3 rules to this trophy. 

1. Display the trophy in your post.

2. Write a short piece that starts with this: I did not kill _____ today. It does not have to be a person, it can be an appliance, a business or anything else you choose. 

3. Nominate a few people to pass the trophy on to and let them know it's their turn to vent. (I nominateCut My Milk and Mommy_Massacre.) 

So here goes.

I did not kill a troll named Jim today. He wasn't writing on my site or Facebook page. He wasn't even writing at a person or a blogger that I am fond of. It was a random publication’s page. First he said something incendiary and then he just started insulting everyone.

If Shallow Hal had seen Jim, Jim would have looked something like this. 

If Shallow Hal had seen Jim, Jim would have looked something like this. 

After seeing him joyfully flinging crap at everyone who tried to reason with him, like a very bad monkey, I wanted him to sit down, shut up, open his mind, and stop being such a rude asshole. But I knew, intellectually, that it was a losing battle. I finally regressed to our true level of maturity and wrote "I know you are, but what am I? I'm a mirror, you're glue. What you say bounces off of me and sticks to you. nyah. : P ' '"

And I closed the browser tab. 

Now the trick is NOT to go back and see what he replied. The trick is, and always was, not to care. The guy was not open to new ideas, and there would be no winning.

We each want to move a little bit closer to a utopian future, most of us, but people have dramatically different ideas of what that means. For some people, it means everyone making the same life choices, based on a common moral code or religion. For others, it means accommodating all the varied life choices that make people’s lives meaningful in their own ways. For some, it just means feeling personally valued and affirmed.

Every time we get a step closer to our own idea of this better world, it’s a little bit of a thrill. Seeing a study that confirms what you've thought, and seeing it published by a respectable news source and going viral can make you think we might take a step closer to a better world. Until someone with a different view comes slashing through with their fears a-blazing, screaming Slippery Slope! Slippery Slope!

How do we get to sleep at night, knowing how slowly things change for the better and how quickly things can change for the worse? We’re afraid of our own Slippery Slopes. If we give ground on guns or birth control or military spending or social programs or regulating free enterprise etc. etc. etc., we can see where it leads, where it could end.

History proves that the will of the strong can overpower the will of the weak, and it has again and again. It’s scary to think you might be seen as powerless in that situation. Many resort to insults and expressing extreme stances in order to push the line as far back as possible, to give themselves some breathing room.  

Is someone else out there fighting the good fight for my utopia? I hope so, because the best part of my utopia is sleeping well. I won’t let the trolls take away from me, and it's late.

So Jim the Troll, bless your heart. I hope you feel happy and secure all the days of your life so you can stop acting like such a prick.

Last Day on the Cape, or What Would You Have Done?

There's nothing like the panic of a vacation ending.

The first few days are decompression. Then you get into the groove of things. If you're vacationing with kids, you manage to exhaust yourself each day, carting them around.

The last day or two is tough. You suddenly realize that you didn't get to all the things you wanted to do, that you did too many things and not enough relaxing, and that you have to face your actual life.

What would you do with your last day? I chose to take a few photos at the beach and then do nothing. I didn't actually get to do that, however.

My husband chose to take the 3-year-old boating. We had a “discussion” about the day's schedule, way led to way, things came to a head with my mother, and I was emotionally wrecked by 10am. My “nothing” time was invaded by hostile emotions. 

Clean cottage, because  #)*&$@(%.

Clean cottage, because #)*&$@(%.

I spent the next two hours scrubbing the cottage clean. I vacuumed, dusted, mopped, raked, swept, washed, packed, and organized with a vigor that can only be driven by barely repressed emotions seeking an outlet that won't land me in prison. 

I have a secret fear that Husband will figure this out and piss me off on a regular basis just so I'll clean the house every once in a while.

At 2pm, the troops came home with the car, and I abandoned them right away. At first I drove to the sweet little downtown with its candy shoppes, art stores, and overpriced casual wear. I stopped the car, but lacked the will to get interested in any of these. So I drove on to Brewster.

Brewster is home to the Brewster Flats. At high tide, the Breakwater Beach is a couple dozen feet to the water. At low tide, it's over a mile to the water of the bay. 

View of the flats from the beach. The bay is that thin, dark blue line at the horizon.

View of the flats from the beach. The bay is that thin, dark blue line at the horizon.

I've always wanted to walk all the way out to the bay at low tide; but I had only been there with my kids, and I can't bear the guilt burden of letting Husband deal with them all alone.

Just couldn't look at one more stock portfolio. No, sir. Not today.

Just couldn't look at one more stock portfolio. No, sir. Not today.

The kids love the beach; they just don't like the sand... or the wind... or the water. The 3-year old prefers shoes, socks, and long pants. He looks like an investment banker who decided one day to drive to the beach instead of the office.

Today I was by myself. I set up an umbrella and read a whole chapter of a book without interruption. And then I decided to walk the flats. The whole way.

I headed out as the tide was going out, about 4pm. I walked for 45 minutes in a straight line. Sometimes the water came up to my knees. I carried a smallish beach umbrella for a bit, until it started to collapse under the pressure of the wind. I wasn't wearing any sun block, but I pressed on. 

I thought I saw people off in the distance. I didn't know how they had gotten so far out so quickly. Eventually they revealed themselves to be seagulls on the outermost flats. There was nobody out there. I pressed on.

When I finally got to the seagulls, I looked around. There was nobody for miles in any direction. I was right where the waves of the bay crested across the first flats. 

I don't think I've ever been so far from another human as at that moment. And boy was I happy about that! As the wind roared in my ears and the seagulls gave me sideways glances, I pulled my drawers down and peed right there.

Greatly relieved and feeling much better, I set off to burn the other side of my face on the way back to the car. Most of the water had receded, and it only took 1/2 hour to get back. I drove home and rejoined my family with a sense of perspective and a feeling that I had gotten in a lot of good exercise today.

Oh, and after dinner, we went out for ice cream. I'm ready to go home now.  

The view of the shore, looking back from the edge of the bay waters.

The view of the shore, looking back from the edge of the bay waters.

The Changing Face of the Place You Love, or The Cape Through the Years

"A man may stand there and put all America behind him." - Henry Thoreau

I’ve been to Cape Cod some 12-15 times over the last 32 years. Each time I’ve been here, it’s been a different experience.

I came up as a child with family, when the cottage was still owned by my grandfather, and got myself disgustingly salty on the beach.

I came up with family on the tail of Hurricane Bob. We had no power or running water. A fire truck went house to house and filled garbage cans with pond water so we could flush the toilets. My kid sister and I literally bathed in the ocean. I bought ice on the black market and was a minor hero for the day. It was all very exciting.

I came up alone and literally burned my ass on the front porch due to a thong bathing suit experience gone very wrong. First and last time my butt ever saw the sun. A friend’s cousin took me out to a couple of local places, where I sat very tenderly.

I came up with a boyfriend who was very into the great outdoors. We went on nature walks in marshes and beaches. We went whale watching. It seemed like the entire Cape was a nature wonderland.

I came up with a friend who was into fun and partying. We went to Provincetown and to bars nearby. It seemed like Cape Cod was all about fun and frolic.

I came up and went to a wedding in Nantucket. I walked with my grandfather on the beach, trying to tire him out like a toddler during the early days of his Alzheimer’s.

I came up with a couple of friends, and we went to Martha’s Vineyard and rode bicycles all over. We bought Black Dog gear from the Black Dog Tavern, a tavern in a dry town that survives, I imagine, on t-shirt sales. Today, you can buy their gear online or at stores on the Cape. There is now absolutely no reason to go to the Black Dog Tavern.

I came up with my mother to keep her company when she buried her father one spring. That was … not a vacation.

I came up with extended family when my sister graduated from college.

I came up with another boyfriend. He had come to Truro every summer when he was a child. He took his first steps here. We visited a cemetery where some of his ancestors are buried. I experienced the wonder of the tidal flats. We went to the Drive-In. We ate good lobster and bad pizza. We threw 20s through a window and they gave us fried seafood in return.  


Now that we are married, we visit each of our favorite places. We stay at the cottage, which is cozy and lovely and feels like home. We go down the street to the beach. We drive up to Truro. We go to the Harwich flats. We skip the bad pizza but go for the big lobsters. Friends have come to visit from Boston. We look for fun new things to do and new places to eat fried seafood.

Once we had kids, we stopped flying in. It’s easier to drive the nine hours, mostly due to the sheer volume of crap that we tow with us. The day after we arrive we spend in a kind of stupor, and then our plans include story time at a library and a really good playground. As they get older, we'll be able to add things like good restaurants and sailing.

We hope that the boys both feel the same connection for the Cape as we do. Maybe their experience will include parasailing and campfires, but they can make the Cape their own. There are a lot of places that are closer, but we love it here. 

Before the Vacation, or You Mean We Can Just Go?


I accepted a job offer. It starts in three weeks. Once I start, I won’t be able to take time off until October, earliest.

I’ve already been aniticishopping. My to-do list is, whatever. Three weeks. Hm. I wonder…

I have a secret. I have access to a vacation home. Decadent, no? It’s not grand, it’s not mine, but it is in the family, and it’s just a quick nine-hour drive from here. I put in a call, and it turns out that it’s available next week!

I don’t change direction that quickly, so I asked Husband what he thought. It’s awfully short notice. My brain churned with packing and prepping and details. Maybe it was too much to just, you know… go.

He wanted to know if we could leave right away. His eyes sparkled with happy. Could it really be that easy? Just go?

I took a breath and sent a late-night email saying yes please. I’d worry about the details in the morning.

Sure enough, this morning, it all seemed easy. We’re going on vacation! We pack today and leave tomorrow. So, um, see ya!


Co-Depression, or Helping is Not Helping


Imagine, if you will, that you want to sleep. Just sleep. You’ve answered Hamlet’s question: You want not to be. You want to lie down in the bed and be unconscious. Everything you see passes through a shit-ifier so everything you see is shitty. Like a flu of the brain, there’s no shaking it off. Your only hope is that you might out-sleep it.

A toddler is whining your name. He just hit the baby, who is crying. It’s your day to watch the kids, and your spouse is at the computer, possibly being productive, possibly not. Your spouse took the kids for a while this morning, to help you out, but now is doing something else. The toddler is whining. The baby is crying. Shit.

Depression is the focus of many blogs, such as post-partum depression and depression while parenting. And that’s a good thing. I’m impressed by their ability to blog in the first place, and the community of support has helped a lot of people.

But this is not about being depressed. This is about being the one at the computer. The spouse.

I’m married to a man who manages chronic depression. He has a good doctor and knows what helps him. I’m not writing to drum up ideas for him. I’m a spouse, not a caregiver.

It took me a while to accept what I could and could not do to help. Depression makes self-care an enormous effort. It also doesn’t let in a lot of care from the outside. I can’t ignore his suffering; but I can’t resolve it either.

I tried pushing him to exercise. It was like picking up a cow and carrying it somewhere that it didn’t want to go. It can’t be done, it’s exhausting to try, and it pisses off the cow. I’ve tried taking over everything else to give him the space to deal with the depression; but that just wears me out. In fact, removing him from activities seems to work against him.

He walks past me as I type, scowling. His face relaxes into an “I’m not mad at you” look for a moment as he passes by. I’m grateful for that little bit of mind-reading. He’s been struggling with a down-swing this week, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t piss him off on top of it.

What I can do is what spouses might normally do when they care about each other. I am present for him, I support him, I encourage him to engage in the things that make him feel better, and I try to get him to share what’s going on with him so we can be more connected.

And I tend to my own priorities. I work and I blog and I help take care of the kids and home and I shower sometimes. And I love him. And I look forward to the next upswing.

(Note: When it comes to mental health, we often don’t want to talk about it. This comic reminded me of that. It’s not my depression, but it is part of my life. Yet, it’s still his condition, and I did get his permission to post this.)

Back to Reality, or 75 Pounds of Luggage

How long do you leave your suitcases packed after a trip? Five minutes? Until the weekend? Until the next trip?

How long do you leave your suitcases packed after a trip? Five minutes? Until the weekend? Until the next trip?

We just got back from a four-day trip with two small children, and I’m seriously wondering if we’re going to need those clothes again or if we can just throw them out and buy new luggage for our next trip.

Before the trip, it was all about getting ready for the trip. Everything else went on the back burner in the flaming glory of travel anxiety. I planned and shopped. I packed with amazing efficiency, thanks to this video. Now I have 75 pounds of clothes and gear gathered by the front door. Mocking me.

Here’s what’s on my list of things to do now that this trip is over, just to wrap up the trip:

  • Unpack and wash and put away 30 pounds of damp and dirty clothing.
  • Unpack and put away 15 pounds of shoes, 10 pounds of clean clothes that weren't worn, and 20 pounds of other crap.
  • Buy a new baby car mirror to replace the one we left in the rental.
  • Return the rejects from last week’s shopping spree.
  • Post and/or email photos from the trip.
  • Write thank-you notes. No, seriously, I mean it this time.

Once I deal with the post-trip hangover, there are some fairly significant things queued up, waiting for my attention:

  • Potty train my oldest, which means getting used to a new way of wiping ass. And floor.
  • Wean my youngest, which will make me crabby. Husband confirms this.
  • Oh yeah, get a job. Shouldn’t be too hard, in this economy.
  • Mow the lawn (you should see it).

If I don’t unpack the bags, maybe I’m not really back. Maybe I’ll kind of ease into it, unpack a small bag tomorrow. After a nap. 

Dressing the New Me, or The Extra Large Petite Long

My grandfather once said that my mother goes through a store like a thief leaving one. That was me today. I bought from petites, women’s, and regular sections. That store KNOWS it’s been shopped.

I went shopping today because I’m going on a trip and most of my clothes no longer fit me. My maternity clothes are too big, including the shoes I wore. Pre-pregnancy clothes are too small for me, including the shoes.

I didn't have a lot of time, so I pillaged a department store instead of looking for bargains. I’m not sure where I would go for bargains in bulk in “my size”. It’s not just that I’m a bad shopper. As an Extra Large Petite Long with belly issues, I really do need an entire department store to find what I need.

Here’s me.

• Large size: I’m relatively tall, and I've never been smaller than a size 10 in my adult life. I have averaged a 12. Not Abercrombie’s target audience, but that’s ok: Just keep putting up those pictures of half-naked men and hush.

• Big Belly: I've had 2 kids in the last 3 years. So now I’m a 14-16/XL. Mostly due to the belly, whose skin elasticity is now minimal. 

I should shave.

I should shave.

• Muffin Top: It's not that I wear too-small clothes. If the waistband so much as touches the waist, the belly puffs over it like undercooked bread dough. 

• Long legs: Regular pants are often too short. I need “longs”.

• Long arms: Regular shirts often don’t hit the wrists. ¾ sleeves hit the elbow.

• Short-Waisted: Regular shirts sit funny on the waist and puff out in the back. Petites fit nicely, if they are not long-sleeved. Because of the long arms.

I can’t help but think that I just described an orangutan.

Now I need shoes. Size 11.


Don't Praise a Work in Progress, or The Up-Side to Being Hard-Headed

I found an article recently that affirmed my choice to be a bitch to people a few years ago. I love when that happens.

I smoked, very well and very consistently, for a long time. I smoked Marlboro reds for years, finally ramping down to Marlborough lights, which I smoked for more years. When I was 34, I quit.

I’m not the kind of person who “quits” something repeatedly. I was unapologetic about my smoking, and didn’t try to change it. I was pretty polite about it, making sure not to blow smoke at people, respecting the signs, and so forth. But I was also so stubborn about not being told what to do that I would light up every time an anti-smoking public service advertisement came on television.

I lived in Virginia for the last few years of this, a tobacco state, which held off the financial implications of sin taxes a little longer than elsewhere. I didn’t have any related health alarms. I wasn’t dating a nonsmoker. Three things came together, though, to change my mind about smoking.

First, people stopped telling me to quit. I guess they gave up on me.

Second, I took myself off the Pill, which I think had been making me mildly depressed. I think this led me to start to feel like I could change something for the better.

Third, I started to recognize that the tobacco companies were controlling me through the addictive nature of the cigarettes. I was their bitch. That started to bother me.

So I quit. I used the patch, I worked out, I set a goal, and I quit. It took a long time. First you have to quit the mechanical attachment of smoking all the time. Then you have to break the chemical addiction, which the patch helps. Then you have to figure out how to manage your emotions when you can’t dope yourself every hour with the soothing cloud. I’d say the whole process took me six months.

A smoker not smoking is something that gets noticed after a while. I didn’t bring it up, but people noticed that I wasn’t smoking. And here’s the part where I pissed people off: I wouldn’t talk about it, and I didn’t want to hear anything out of them on the subject, either.

They could barely help themselves. People who cared about me were so happy to see me quit, were trying to cheer me on, were trying to engage me about something that was important to me, were trying to help, and I just shot them down, all of them.

People would ask me how it was going. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

People would try to give me advice, like eating carrot sticks. “Seriously, I just don’t want to discuss it at all.”

People would try to give me positive feedback. “I don’t want to talk about it. Please. Really. Not even a little.”

I growled and scowled and frowned like they were challenging me to a fight and I didn’t know how long I could hold off from fighting them. Friends would jump in when someone started and warn other people, saying with wide eyes “She REALLY doesn’t want to talk about it.”

As far as I was concerned, I was using one of my more difficult character traits for a good cause for a change. I’m stubborn. This is not a mystery about me. Knowing this, I figured that as soon as I was encouraged to quit, even though I was already quitting, I would resent it so much that I would want to smoke.

I have since read this article that says, in short, that if you’re working toward a goal, keep it to yourself. Once you get positive feedback, it feels like you’ve accomplished a goal when you really haven’t. That pat on the back can actually derail you if it’s delivered too soon.

So I did the right thing, by knowing what I needed. I guess I didn’t have to be a bitch about it, but I’m not sure I would know how.

That’s One, or A Nesting Doll Joke

Don't get too attached.

Don't get too attached.

The following takes place some 500 years ago, and I am home for a visit. I sit down to dinner with my mother, step-father, and sister.

My mother says to my step-father: “I heard a joke today that I didn't think was so terribly funny, but I thought YOU might enjoy it.”

Daddy-o says: “Okay, shoot.”

Mom’s not known for telling traditional jokes, but she seems confident, and we tune in, but continue eating.

     It goes like this: A hunter brings home a new retriever puppy. The first day, he brings it out into the yard to start training it.

She has his complete attention. Daddy-o is an avid game bird hunter, and has spent a great deal of time and effort trying to train his dogs to be excellent hunting retrievers. Success or failure typically comes down to the dog’s natural retrieving instincts and willingness to respond to his whistle, which can be heard for miles.

     He sits the puppy down beside him, holds him, throws a training dummy out a little way, lets go of the dog, and says “fetch!”

Daddy-o rolls his eyes. We gather from this that only house pets are told to “fetch.” She sees the eye roll and plows on.

     Whatever. So the dog runs off a bit and rolls around in the grass. The man says “That’s one.”
     He brings the puppy and the dummy back, sits the dog down, throws out the dummy, and says “fetch!” or “go get it!” or whatever you’re supposed to say. The puppy looks up at him and licks his nose. The man says “That’s two.”
     He brings the dummy back again, lines up the dog, throws out the dummy, and says “fetch!” The puppy makes a beeline for the dummy, goes past it, and starts chasing a butterfly. The man says “That’s three.” He takes out his shotgun and shoots the dog.
     His wife has been watching this whole thing from the porch, and she freaks out “Oh no! Why did you do that?! He was just a puppy! You have to be patient! Are you nuts?!”
     The man says “That’s one.”

Daddy-o leans back and starts laughing, hard. Mom looks chagrined. Sister and I are howling with laughter, mostly at their reactions.

Mom says: “Personally, Iiiii don’t see the humor in it, but of course, I figured youuuu would find it funny.”

Daddy-o smiles a huge smile, like this is his moment. He puts up a single finger, and says:

“That’s one.”

The Amish Wedding, or A Chrysler Among Carriages

I've been to several weddings: Catholic, Jewish, Multi-Faith, and a long time ago, I even went to an Amish wedding. Have you ever been to an Amish wedding? I thought I would tell you about it, in case you've never been to one.

The father of the bride, Mr. Chris Petersheim, fulfills a very functional role in the Amish community, building and repairing carriages. He is a pleasant man, and nimble with making people feel at ease. He is an artisan outside the community, repairing antique finishes and carriages for that small group of privilege who own antique cars and carriages (like this). There aren't very many non-Amish who do this kind of work, and he does it very well.

He met my grandfather at a car show. They became good friends. When Mr. Petersheim’s daughter got married, Pop-Pop was invited, and he brought me and my little sister. I was very unsure of myself, dressed as plainly as possible, long dark grey skirt and matching plain jacket, with buttons.

I had been to the shop before. As we pulled up to the Nickel Mine Coach Shop, we saw that a new barn had been built recently, probably within a couple of days.

As we rolled down the driveway in Pop-Pop’s big Chrysler, five Amish men quietly stepped outside and started to apologize that Mr. Petersheim was not open for business today. Then they saw who it was and said “John! So glad you could come!” Ours was the only motorized vehicle amongst the dozens of carriages.

Something like this, plus more carriages, plus a Chrysler. I suppose the horses were in the new barn.

Something like this, plus more carriages, plus a Chrysler. I suppose the horses were in the new barn.

We walked in and found a seat in the back. The men and women were seated separately. The women bustled back and forth from the benches to where they were preparing a meal behind a sheet hung on a cord. The men had all taken off their hats and hung them on pegs around the barn. With their Prince Valiant haircuts, it was the largest concentration of hat-head I would ever see in my life.

The service was in High German, I was told. Like all the weddings I've been to, it was beautiful. They even chanted, which we were later told was definitely not singing. After the service, the sheet came down, the men flipped and reconfigured the benches, and presto: lines of picnic tables.

After a solid meal, we were allowed to look at the wedding jujubes. It was a table covered with little houses, trees, globes, all covered with jujubes. I don’t know if these were wedding presents or dessert, but we didn't stay much longer. Mr. Petersheim spoke with Pop-Pop a bit, was very pleasant to me and my sister, and we climbed in to the car for the long trip home.

It wasn't the last time I would see Mr. Petersheim. Pop-Pop drove him to see his father in a faraway hospital, and they stopped in to visit on the way. I guess exceptions are made for this kind of thing, but Mr. Petersheim made a point of riding in the back seat. Until they had left the Amish community. Then he leaned forward and said “John, pull over here.” He got out, and got into the front eat, so he could share that time with his friend. When they returned, he did the same in reverse. “John, pull over here.” He got into the back for the rest of the ride home.

I don’t suppose I’ll ever see him again.

Note: I haven’t gotten Mr. Petersheim’s permission to discuss him here because, well, he’s Amish, and I’m not sure how to reach him. I’m making a rather grand assumption that his friends will not come across this, but if you’re ever in the neighborhood, you can tell him that John Carney’s granddaughter sent you. Just don’t mention the thing about riding in the front seat.

Between Photographs, or Remembering a Time When There Was Magic in the World


Driving down Constitution Avenue after seeing Sarah Silverman at the Warner Theatre made me a bit nostalgic. As we passed the statue of Einstein, I told my friend about this one time…

I was working on campus over the summer, scooping ice cream and cleaning dorm rooms. The ice cream store closed after midnight, and a couple of times, I went home, had some coffee, got on my bike, and rode down to the Mall.

It was moody at night, back then, when there was still magic in the world. I peddled down empty streets at 4am. It felt like this:

I could hear sirens in the distance, pause at an intersection, and watch emergency vehicles zip across intersections a dozen blocks away — a sudden madness of flashing lights — and disappear. 

I biked down to the Lincoln Memorial. I remember climbing into Lincoln’s lap, using a ladder someone had left there. I sometimes doubt that part, but I still remember it. The sun rose right over the Capitol Dome, at the other end of the mall. Pink sky and amazing. The city was only mine, and everything was beauty and loneliness.

…my friend asked me did I get a photo?

Huh? No. We didn’t document everything back then. God, I sound like I’m 1,000 years old. But no, you didn’t lug a camera around the city. Photos didn’t get uploaded or downloaded or tinted or refocused after they were taken. Very often, we just lived life, oblivious to the fact that the moment would pass and we might not remember it.

How will our children remember things? Will they remember more because there are so many photos, so many cues to jog our memories? I hope so. I hope they will be able to embrace their lives and remember it in full Technicolor, at least the good things.

I won’t. Each day, I am farther away from most of my life. I see it through a 35mm lens. Things that are far away are tiny and indistinct.

In some cases, I am grateful for what I have forgotten. When a bad memory comes, I have a hard time reconciling it with the person I am today, but I know it has shaped me. When a good memory comes, I’m delighted, but saddened that it will not stay. It will just go away again. Maybe for good this time.

If you liked this post,.jpg

This is why I’m writing; for the cues to those memories and to these new ones. As my mind slips from me, as minds do, maybe some of the past will survive, recreated from flawed memories and incomplete descriptions, but still serve as snapshots of a time and a place and a life lived in the long pauses between photos.