Sunday, May 31, 2009

Old Enough to Be Your Mother

Saturday night I went out for drinks with my girlfriend after oh I don’t know about eight hundred and fifty years. I honestly can’t remember the last time I went out for girls’ night in LA. Clearly, it’s been too long. So I was quite excited by the prospect of it.

We went to Father’s Office in Culver City first, enjoying a beer and some sweet potato fries. Then it was off to Saints & Sinners, a charming retro little spot with 60s décor, a bizarre vintage horror flick being projected on the wall, and bartenders who dimmed the lights and blew fire and one another a couple times while we were there.

As my girlfriend and I discussed the latest film her company has been working on, a young chap in a too-big trucker cap that covered his ears interrupted us with a drunken salutation. He introduced himself as Richard, so I of course said, “Richie, how old are you?” Twenty-three. Practically a newborn.

“I’m old enough to be your mother,” I told him.

My girlfriend laughed and asked if that would have been physically possible. Considering I didn’t hit puberty until about 25, the answer to that was no.

“You don’t seem 33, but you do seem tense,” Richard slurred back at me. “You need to laugh more! You need to learn to have fun.”

“Oh, I know how to have fun,” I corrected him. “You should see the rugburns on my back.”

And those, mom if you’re reading this, are only there because I slipped on a banana peel in Tampa and scraped my back on the carpet when I fell down.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Naïve about the Norm

During the years I lived at home with my parents, both houses on either side of theirs got robbed at different points. I remember thinking it was sort of incredible theirs never got hit. Not once in 40 years. Somehow, our house was impervious.

And the older I get, the more I think our family was, too.

Our immediate family unit never had any scandal. No infidelity, no addictions, no abuse, no illness. We were like the Keatons, the Huxtables, the Seavers. And I thought that was the norm—that every family was like us. There were kids around me whose parents were divorced, but I just thought they were oddities. Mutations within my bubbled population of perfection.

Then I grew up.

And watched my siblings and their friends get married and start families. And watched my friends get married and start families. And learned secrets about my own extended family, and the relatives of all the various guys I dated. And I realized that my own immediate family was an anomaly.

The majority is not scandal-free. It seems like more people are born—or end up—in homes colored by cheating, drinking, gambling, abuse, or physical or mental illness. It’s the norm.

And I have to wonder why. Is it because people don’t know how to take care of themselves? How to cultivate and protect their self esteem so that they don’t rely on others for it and then punish them when they don’t deliver? Is it because we don’t have the capacity to develop healthy coping mechanisms when things get tough? Is it because we don’t really communicate? Or we’re incapable of moving past pain created by our predecessors? Or is it just human nature? Is it just in our DNA to cheat, lie, overindulge, disregard our own health and wellbeing and that of those around us?

Whatever it is, it’s so much more prevalent than I ever realized. And although it sends me spinning a bit, it also amazes me the way people can rise from the ashes of hardship and heartache to go on and produce grounded, functional families.

It sort of begs the question: Is it all just a crapshoot in the end?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Naked Truth

In every relationship I’ve ever had, I’ve found it intriguing and satisfying to study the way my men act with the different people in their lives. It always seemed to me that there was some new facet being revealed, some side of them that only came out in the presence of their old friend from childhood or their big brother.

Mr. Wonderful has not let me down once in this capacity. Every time I meet a new family member or friend, I feel like I know him a little better. And every time, it makes me love him a little bit more. It’s amazing how I keep thinking my Mr. W cup is full and he just keeps dripping more drops into it.

When his stepdad picked us up from the airport, it was my first clue-in to his feelings for this man, and what lay ahead for us over the weekend. He was so affectionate, it melted my heart. I hadn’t seen him that way with anyone but me and his nieces. He was equally cute with his mom, teasing her and nodding reluctantly every time she called him “her baby.” (She loved me, by the way).

What a treat it is to fill in the gaps surrounding the person you love. To make them more real, maybe a little more vulnerable. And realize that the more you learn, the more you adore them.

Mr. W’s mom gave me the lowdown on the entire family history, so I feel like I’m coming away knowing so much more about him. It’s funny how you can spend a year and a half with someone, and still not know everything.

She got to know me a little better too…not just through our many conversations out on the lanai, but carnally. Yes kids, I was kneeling on the floor (thankfully in the dark) with only my underwear on (yes, it was a thong) before I got in the shower. It was the day we were leaving, so I was quickly checking my flight itinerary before skipping into the bathroom. And suddenly, the bedroom door whipped open and she said, “Just making sure you guys were awake,” and I just froze and tried to cover as much areola as I could, smiling and replying, “Yes, we’re up!”

When Mr. W came back into the room, I told him his mom had just seen me naked. He chuckled and said, “Better you than me!”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Because the Boy Has Needs

I’m meeting Mr. Wonderful in Tampa, Florida this weekend. At his mom’s house. Yes, I’m meeting the woman who not only birthed a strong-calved, sexy-haired culmination of smarts, sweets, and stellar cooking abilities—but the woman who, I hope, will one day be my mother-in-law.

And here, during this first meeting, I’m going to be doing it in her house.

It’s so wrong. SO wrong. But poor, darling Mr. W has gone for almost 6 weeks without any love. So I’m really just cutting him a break. It’s not about me at all. I am pure and chaste. He’s the coital villain here, folks.

What’s most upsetting about this situation is that his mom has to be thinking there’s a possibility of this sort of action in her house. Or maybe she has some sort of mental mom force field that prohibits her from having these kinds of thoughts. I sure hope that’s the case.

When I graduated from college, I took a trip to the east coast with my boyfriend and his mom, and she told him she knew we’d had sex in the NY hotel room the three of us stayed in. I was mortified. Especially because we didn’t lay a finger on each other (no pun intended) during that part of the trip!

On a happier note, when Mr. W and I were discussing the weekend, our conversation went something like this:

Mr. W: I’m a little worried about it.
Me: Why?! I was on my best behavior in St. Louis with the rest of the family! You know you can trust me now!
Mr. W: I’m not worried about you.
Me: Well what do you think she’s going to do, embarrass you?
Mr. W: No, I’m afraid she’s going to write you into the will.

Here’s to hoping I inherit the family fortune, kids!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Minding the Gap

I recently finished a fantastic book called Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World. For anyone who read and enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love, you have to pick up Nomad. It chronicles the travels of author Rita Golden Gelman—a woman who fifteen years prior to writing the book gave up her permanent address and set out to live abroad in communities spanning Mexico, Bali, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Canada, New Zealand and more. With each new village, home, and continent she experiences, she learns about herself and her world. And what a small world it is.

I visited her website today and saw that she’s advocating something I had never heard of before: the Gap Year.

According to Wikipedia, a gap year “refers to a prolonged period (often, but not always, a year) between a life stage.” The most popular timing for the gap year seems to be between high school and college or college and graduate school.

Gelman is pushing to get the word out to students, encouraging them to take a gap year and experience life before stepping into their next phase of education. I think this is brilliant.

When I was twenty, attending community college and dreaming of having grown-up adventures, I picked up some information about studying abroad in Germany. I had an “important job” at a coffeehouse, so a journey like that just felt like a pipe dream. Then at my first advertising job, one of our receptionists took six months to go live in Edinburgh, Scotland and travel through Europe—again stoking my dreams of living elsewhere, but leading me to realize it “just wasn’t practical.” The middle-class society I grew up in didn’t advocate trips like these.

I only remember one of my close high school friends going abroad during college—and that was through school. Nobody took a year to travel and volunteer or find themselves because no one was encouraging any of us to do that. It would be too irresponsible.

But what might the world be like if we had taken time to get to know other cultures? Might we all be a little closer? Might we not only understand other people better, but perhaps also be more warmly regarded around the world as Americans?

I can’t imagine how far reaching the benefits of a gap year could be. Those days abroad wouldn’t just expand horizons and modes of thinking, but would likely build self esteem and problem-solving skills. I think it would help kids grow into stronger adults.

My 14-year old niece travels to do volunteer work with her church and I think this is a perfect starting place. I hope at some point in her school career, she careens off the straight and narrow a bit, and sets out on a faraway adventure. I also hope that if she chooses to do this, I can come visit.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Good Things to Come

I know a good thing when I see it. I’m not one to take people or situations for granted; I try to regularly express my gratitude. I try to give as much as I receive.

My job is a good thing. Sure, it’s been a rocky year for the company, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love what I do and truly enjoy the people I work with. When I started four years ago, I was on a 3-month contract, and told my boss I wasn’t interested on joining the team permanently. My contract got renewed another 3 months, and it wasn’t long before I realized I did want to be a permanent fixture in the department. I recognized that the job

Since then, I’ve tried to not just make the place enjoyable for myself but for those around me. I stay on top of my work, meet my deadlines and contribute as many ideas as I can, but I also try to make jokes, bring treats and generally just spread goodwill throughout our little cubicle village. The balance I’ve struck between discipline and fun has been praised and rewarded by the people around me. They treat me great. They like me. And that’s why this past week was so incredibly hard.

I made the official announcement that I’m leaving for England in July. I assembled a “work abroad proposal” for my boss, but let him know that I understood he might have to just let me go if it was best for the team. Unfortunately, his decision isn’t an easy one and I seem to have turned my department on its ear. My coworkers are vacillating between intrigue at the idea of me following a dream, and disgust that I would dare put them into this difficult situation. I’ve been hitting the bottle of TUMS like nobody’s business. I literally feel sick that I’ve caused such an uproar.

But I also know that no matter what the final decision is, everything will work out. It will work out for me because I will have an experience I’ve dreamed about for nearly 15 years. Sure, it’s only 7 weeks, but I’ll get to go live in another country and travel on weekends and experience a slightly different culture. And I’ll get to do it all for free, with the guy I’m head over heels in love with. Seriously, does it get any better than that?

I leave July 10th and return August 22nd. Mr. Wonderful and I are going to attempt to visit Dublin, Brussels, Barcelona, the English countryside, Bordeaux, Munich, Berlin and Prague. Lofty goals, I know. But we have a week of vacation built into the end of the schedule, so hopefully we’ll make good headway then.

I may be in limbo on the job front for the better part of this week. But at least I know that I have a ticket to Heathrow. I’m going. And maybe in the near future you’ll be reading this blog with a British accent…

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Dynamic Duo Strikes Again

You would think after forty-five years of marriage, my parents might be boring or so intertwined with one another that they’d never shock or entertain each other. But their relationship is quite the contrary. They still act like goofy teenagers together, as though their relationship stopped aging when they were married at 18 and 21.

On Mother’s Day, they were sharing stories with us—each imitating the other, which may have been the most entertaining part of all.

My mom started out, making fun of my dad for dramatically telling her he needed her to come look at something in the garage recently. She was still in her nightgown and when she said, “what is it?” my dad told her he didn’t know. He didn’t have his glasses on, so he couldn’t tell. Naturally, my mom said she thought it might be a person with no arms and legs. Because that’s a common thing to find in your garage. My dad told her he thought it might be a duck-billed platypus. Seriously…I can’t make this stuff up.

So my mom went outside with him, and peered into a bucket where there was a baby opossum curled up and probably very scared. “I don’t know how your father thought it was some sort of a bird!” she laughed. Then I told her that duck-billed platypuses weren’t actually birds…

Apparently my dad’s fuzzy vision had construed the opossum’s ear as a bill. And then, because we live in California, which is only an ocean away from Australia, he naturally thought it was a platypus.

Sometimes I wonder how these two raised three children…

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Third Run's a Charm

Saturday, I completed the Santa Ynez Half Marathon with my girlfriends...and I beat my Nike Women's Run time by 10 minutes! Two hours and sixteen minutes were spent busting my butt, and basking in the beauty that is the Santa Ynez valley. We wound through vineyard-striped hillsides, quaint neighborhoods, and gorgeous farmland. There were crickets chirping and locals cheering, and a nice breeze to cool our damp, salty faces. It was really the best setting I could imagine for a race...aside from maybe Napa or Tuscany.

Although I was anxious to secure a good finish time, I couldn't resist stopping to capture some of the sights. These baby cows were too cute to not stop for.

And these flowers were just too pretty to ignore...

After we rocked our way across the finish line, we took advantage of the wine-tasting (which was extremely disorganized and may warrant an angry email...) in Solvang's park, then headed to lunch in Los Olivos, followed by a very cute tasting room in Santa Ynez called Artiste.

The shop offers a lovely array of blended wines, paired with works from local artists. All of their labels are replicas of paintings. The label above was actually painted with wine. I wanted to buy a print but couldn't justify the fat price tag. So instead, I drew a picture with crayons in one of the many journal/coloring books they offered. And I couldn't help but write a little poem as I swirled and sipped...

After Artiste, we hit one of my favorite spots in the area, Sunstone. They have pretty tasty whites and rosés, and I just love the grounds.

My night ended with an attempt to make a dent in this ginormous artichoke that I bought at the Ranch Market outside Solvang. I only got through about a quarter of it. That's okay, though, I accomplished enough yesterday...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I'll Never Do a Full Marathon

I've done 2 half marathons and have another coming this weekend. And that's plenty. I continually say that I will never run a full marathon...but I believe anyone can do it.

I'm a huge fan of the show The Biggest Loser, and tonight the final 4 contestants completed 26.2 miles each. One finished in what seemed to be "real runner" time, just under 5 hours. Another came in around 6. The next walked the entire thing in 9 hours. And the final walked—and almost had to be taken to the hospital on the way—but finished in 13 hours.

I bawled my eyes out the entire time I watched them.

These incredible people probably thought they'd never even run around the block, let alone complete 26 miles. And they did it. All of them. What an inspiration.

One of the best parts of training for my upcoming half has been cheering on and praising my novice runner friend. It's really exciting to watch people as they realize they can do things they never thought they were capable of.

So maybe I shouldn't say "I'll never" anymore...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Flying (and Sighing) Solo

Last night, I had to go to a wedding. With my parents.

Climbing into the car with them and a pair of their high school friends took me right back to the pre-teen days when I was dragged out to dinner with them every Friday night. Except last night, I was allowed to listen to the dirty jokes.

They made for quite entertaining dates… We hadn’t even reached the car after the ceremony when my mom was locked at the knees doing her silent, going-to-pee-the-pants laugh. My dad had realized his new pants were way too long and he was stepping on the backs of them, so he hiked them up like a Victorian woman crossing a puddle. The sight of his skinny little black-socked ankles poking out under the billows of pantleg sent my mom straight over the edge. We joked that we’d better stop for some Depends on the way to the reception and she decided that maybe if we got some for my dad too, his pants would stay up. This, of course, led her into another fit of silent, bladder-rupturing laughter…

Thankfully we made it to the venue without any “accidents.” However, when we picked up our table assignments at the door, I discovered I wasn’t sitting with the silly old people. Was that an accident? I’d been placed at a table of young couples, only one of whom I really knew—but hadn’t talked to in years. You might think this was my big opportunity to catch up with an old friend… Not so much. They weren't talkers. So it turned out to be more like my opportunity to sit awkwardly, stuffing my face with cheese, wine, dinner and cake, pretending to watch little kids break dancing in front of us.

At one point, around the second glass of wine, I broke down and told another guy at the table he looked really familiar. I couldn’t place him, but I knew I’d seen him somewhere… We grew up in neighboring towns. He asked my name… And then it hit me. I asked if he knew my girlfriend, Jugs. He said, “Awe yeah she and I went to the same gym.” That’s not exactly what I remembered…

What I remember is that Jugs had a little fling with this fellow, and when she took me out for my 27th birthday, we ran into him and his friend Tad. (Short for Tadpole. Seriously. That's what he told me.) I’d had plenty to drink and decided that Tad was the man of my dreams for the night. I made out with him on the dance floor and brought him back to Jug’s guest room where I talked with and kissed (it was innocent, I promise) him until 5 in the morning. I recall things going south as I sobered up and he told me he not only lived at home with his parents, but was working as a “private investigator…”

As the other couples, Familiar Guy included, talked about their newborns and lack of sleep, all I could think about was how much I wished Mr. W was there with me. We would’ve been talking about cheese and calling people “tools” under our breaths.

I tried to fill his void with continual visits to my parents’ table. During one trip, I watched a complete stranger drag my mom away and try to swing dance with her while my dad and I pointed and laughed. Then there was the slow dance my dad and I shared, which I followed up with a phone call to my sister to rub it in that I got to dance with Dad and was having fun without her. Dad was a good distraction…but he wasn’t Mr. W.

At several points throughout the night, people asked me when I was going to get married. My go-to line was “I’m working on it.” But right now, I’d love nothing more than to just meet him for a cup of coffee or run my hand through his curls. When I think about marrying him, it’s not the wedding I want, it’s the everyday life.