Where I’m Blogging From

Nov 19, 2015PTSD: A Break-up Story

I fell in love. Briefly. “That was three months?!” my ten-year-old said, her heart broken too. “Felt more like a year.”

Bad times can distort time, and this period was extremely intense. They say it takes twice a long as a relationship lasts to get over it, which makes me wonder how people ever get beyond, say, a twenty-year relationship. Ours was a case of condensed trauma. By three months, my emotional torture level had been reached. I became so thin I didn’t recognize my own skin, and yet, had it not been for my child’s need of me, I probably would have stayed longer in the quagmire that was supposed to be love.

It’s been over eight months since the inevitable disastrous conclusion. We think we’re over it, and then my daughter will say things like, “If I see him again, I’m going to kick him in the balls.”

We nearly did see him at the Safeway. I was heading toward the door with my shopping cart. I froze, then backed up like an opossum, hoping he wouldn’t see me. My daughter was behind me, mesmerized by her new purchase, missed seeing him entirely. Meanwhile, I was sweating and trembling, my heart pounding.

The woman with him had to be someone new, I conjectured, or he wouldn’t have been so jovial. It was 5:15, however, Miller Time, and no doubt they were heading to the beer aisle. “She was fair-haired, not the woman I’d seen him with the other two times,” I told my coworker the next day. Molly is the dark-haired girlfriend he goes to church with on Sundays, my coworker informs me. “So maybe he’s turning a new leaf,” she says.

“Or maybe he finally got medication,” I said, angered that she—the one who sat next to me for the last eight months and saw my suffering first-hand—could be so willing to believe church on Sundays was enough to counter the terrorism he inflicted upon me and my child. More like it’s a requirement for the roof over his head, I wanted to tell her. Granted, she doesn’t know every gory detail. But still!

I’ve been known to say that humans can live through anything temporarily—like concentration camps, or retail jobs at the holidays. We are resilient, but the bounce-back can take a while, or a lifetime. It’s all relative to a person’s past experiences and the level of trauma encountered. The ability to survive in a concentration camp is due to one’s will to live, Frankl summated in his survivalist memoir, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

That’s right; I’m likening my three-month relationship to a concentration camp.

It may sound extreme, but I have to ask myself how else I could have allowed the emotional abuse that ensued. Okay, maybe not a concentration camp—perhaps it was more like Stockholm Syndrome, only I wasn’t captured. I was captive, though, because I let him move in with me. With us.

I understand now that what he really wanted was a roof over his head. Someone to feed him and house him and worship his dick so he could go out and find the real love of his life, or at least someone he liked better and might treat with respect. Someone he wouldn’t lie to about his whereabouts.

Writing about this experience has proved impossible, until now. I heard myself say the other day, “I haven’t written in a year because I lost my sense of humor.” To let this guy steal my self-worth is one thing, but to be bereft of one’s humor is to let the robber keep robbing.

What’s my part in this? (We love to blame the victim, so let’s get it over with.) A brief history: I was, when we met, a single mom of seven years; 47 with a nine-year-old. This lady was vulnerable. (My doctor called him a predator.) I will admit to a lack of trust, a lack of faith in male-kind. I was a bit closed off in the heart department after falling for a man who cheated on me multiple times with multiple partners. And, sure, I wasn’t always out there making a sincere effort to attract a mate. A year could easily pass without a flicker of male attention. I wasn’t blind to the good guys; I simply hadn’t met any. I can think of a couple of great ones, but there was never anyone I was totally into. I was not turning away Mr. Right. But let me clarify one thing: I was not desperate. Contrary to my common refrain at parties, I had not become asexual. My vagina had not closed up like a pierced ear after years with no earring. I’d had a few lovers, a few two-month affairs that dissolved with little or no injury. I had met men online or out in the world, but couldn’t find anyone I liked. It had been a decade since I last fell.

I was recovering from the death of two close friends, and I was choosing to focus on my job, which was heading into the busy season, which was where we met. In my mind, he was never an option. A temporary hire who was hoping to make it permanent,12 years younger, strong and well-built. Charming in the way charmers are. A heavy drinker. And he wore a FUCKING FEDORA.*

How did I let this man into my vagina, my bed, my home, my child’s life? I shake my head with lack of comprehension, even as I type.

I didn’t see it coming. I was side swiped.

He reminded me of my first love, physically and energetically. He hit me over the head—a caveman with a club and he knew how to use it. Coincidentally, my first husband and my second husband used a similar approach. They came on strong, said what I wanted to hear, forced me to take notice. Because here’s what I’ve learned about me: In order for a relationship to happen, it had to happen TO me. I wasn’t going to put myself out there and be rejected. I have some issues with rejection, you see.

An actively drinking alcoholic and not particularly intelligent, but we had the fire down below. That part was impossible to deny. I did try. I told him to stop flirting with me at work. “It’s not nice to tease an old lady. She might believe you,” I said. The next week, I pulled him aside, but in order to have a private conversation we had to be alone. We tried the basement, we tried the staff lounge, and we ended up in the empty third floor lobby. Later he would tell me he thought he was going to be fired right then, so no wonder he chose that moment to proclaim the depths of his affection for me. He seemed almost angry about it, like it was something he wanted to deny but couldn’t. That thing, that magnetism you feel from inside your vagina, it isn’t necessarily something people should act upon. We were both thinking with our dicks, so to speak. My goal was to shut him down, but the best I could muster was, “It’s not that it’s not mutual. It’s just that it’s not possible.”

But side swiped I was, and I became vulnerable enough to say the words I love you in a romantic context after seven-plus years of not. My defenses were so down as to be M.I.A.

I love you. I want to marry you. I want to have a baby with you. How many times did he say these words? And that was the big draw—it wasn’t just hot sex. It was that he (said he) wanted all of me. He wanted to be in my world and in my daughter’s life; he didn’t want me compartmentalized like the seven years of men before him. He was all in, for the long haul. His enthusiasm was attractive. It was also bullshit, and I should have known better.

He moved in three months after we met, but right after we became lovers. The enemy between the sheets. Well, at least he was on the nights he didn’t yell at me. Those nights I went to bed early and closed my door and he slept downstairs. “This is what basements are for,” he’d yell. He yelled a lot.

The first time it happened, he was making dinner. (He offered). I said my daughter might not like her turkey burger with onion and bleu cheese, gently proposed he make hers plain, sure to use a question mark at the end of my suggestion-clothed-as-inquiry. Whatever it was he said in reply—the way he said it— was so mean. My daughter in her decade-old wisdom, said, “He needs to apologize to you.” But I could only weep and shudder, because his yelling, his anger, his outburst over nothing—it was all too familiar. My father was a yeller, my first husband, too. I knew we were in for a bumpy ride, and somehow went along with for it.

He’d been living with us about two months the night he wanted to surprise-visit me after work. (His temporary employment there had ended the month prior.) He texted to say he’d meet me on Alder Street. I was giddy when I saw the silhouette of a tall man in a fedora walking toward me, backlit, shimmering in the darkness. But it wasn’t him. So I called him up. When he found out I’d gone all the way to the river—a mere eight blocks—he was so enraged he hung up. Later he came home drunk and proceeded to tell me—my daughter two rooms away—that I needed to wake the fuck up. So I kind of did, and I moved him out. I was feeling strong then, certain I’d made the right decision. But after he cried on the phone and swore his adoration, somehow I let him move back in a week later. He said he wanted to work on his communication skills, drink less. We were going to be so solid! My daughter was thrilled! They had their own relationship to build upon. Hopes and dreams were pinned. Oh, the things we were going to do together—as a family.

The night after he moved back in, I treated (as usual) to a movie at the second run theater. The guy who gave us our popcorn happened to be someone I knew.

“David, is it?”

“John.”

“Right! John! How are you? This is my daughter and this—” I turn around and see Shit-Face hanging back. He’s not going to be introduced to this male person whom I sort of know.

We take our beers into the theater, but he won’t sit next to me. “Did you date that guy?”

“I met him on OkCupid, but we never kissed or anything.” I reached out to take his hand, but got nothing but disdain and bile in return.

After the movie I dropped him in front of Safeway so he could pick up something, and said I’d meet him in the parking garage down below. We were in the car, right near the escalator, when he came down. He was so pissed. “I tried calling you. I was waiting upstairs. Why you always gotta be in control?” I calmly explained that if we exit via the parking garage, I can cross the busy street at the light. He was beyond what you’d call ‘quick to anger,’ and I could sense my daughter shutting down. Like I was.

It didn’t last another month.

Here’s the moment where everything turned:
I’m in my daughter’s bedroom, we’re in bed, spending our last hour of the day alone together—a promise I’d made to her when he moved in. There we are, under the covers on a mattress low to the ground, and comes barging in holding a loaf of bread in one hand, a bread tie in the other. “Why you gotta tie the bag in a knot? Then I find the bread tie in the drawer!” We cowered in a huddle while he spewed more bread-tie related nonsense—something about him buying the bread. The horrified look on my face finally caused him to retreat. Next we spoke, he cited the look on my face as the problem, not his bursting into the room, because nothing was ever his fault. I tied the bread bag in a knot, after all.

When I described such anecdotes to my new and necessary therapist, he said, “Clearly this man has a personality disorder.” I felt somewhat relieved by this news. Toward the end, I had begun sleeping with a chair in front of my bedroom door, my backpack next to me. I trembled a lot.

I managed to get him out with as little trauma to my daughter as possible. We stayed away. He stayed away. It got much worse, but she didn’t have to witness it. She witnessed the aftermath. “Mom, are you crying again?”

“I know it’s been hard, honey. I know you miss him, and that you’re disappointed.”

“No, Mom, you don’t understand. The person I love most in the world is hurting. That’s the hard part.”
I had to see the therapist. I had to take anti-depressants, for her sake.

At Safeway, I recognized his silhouette, the jaunty walk, the expressive hand gestures. The fucking fedora. The young, beautiful woman was smiling at him as they entered—from the parking garage.

I imagine yelling up at him as they ascend the escalator, “Does she know how you feel about bread ties?” I see him turn toward me in anger, unable to run down an up-escalator without looking ridiculous. His actions thwarted, his easy rage triggered, I add, “She knows about the personality disorder though, right? The alcoholism? She knows you have a girlfriend.”

Even if my daughter hadn’t been there, I probably would have done exactly as I did—retreated. And she probably wouldn’t have kicked him in the balls. We think we’re over it, but I find myself shopping elsewhere.

It’s easy to see how this thing ended. How it came to be is where I dwell. I’m embarrassed. I wish I’d done things differently, but I won’t beat myself up here on these pages. I’ve done plenty of that. I’ve apologized, I’ve done good work, and I’ve come out the other side.

My daughter has seen me down-for-the-count in love, and she’s seen me rise from the depths of heartbreak, because even if he was a shitty boyfriend, it’s still a loss—of what we thought we had and of what we dreamed it could become. I can only hope she learns from my mistakes—and that loving someone isn’t necessarily one of them.

I’ve sworn off alcoholics, but also this: I will not close down again. He cracked me open, and I intend to remain so. He broke the seal that kept me invulnerable for seven years. It took that jerk to hit me over the head so hard that some light got in, and with that, light also gets out.

*An homage to Lena Dunham and her essay “Girls and Jerks”

Oct 31, 2015Manosaurus the Vegan. An OkCupid Excerpt.

I present this conversation in its entirety and have refrained from adding my own commentary (with a great deal of restraint).

Manosaurus: Hi Ella! I’m practically out the door, but I didn’t want the opportunity to pass to reach out and say, ‘Hi Ella!’

Quickly, I give great massages happily, I prefer women my own age, intellectual conversations? YES PLEASE!, I prefer Bananagrams to Scrabble, maybe you and I will play it together someday. I do not have any tattoos and I do not want them, I laugh at myself all the time, I bike commuted for 16 years without owning a car. I bought a new car a couple of months ago, so I’m a car person again. Too many bike wrecks. I enjoy Downton Abbey, my mother and father and I are very close,

You sound amazing and I’d love to communicate with you more to see if we might meet in person.

Have a lovely evening and I’ll check back with great optimism that you will have replied in turn. BTW: I got an email that said you “Liked” me. This is why I’m emailing.

Christopher

p.s. Sorry if there are any grammatical errors since I didn’t have the time to proof read.

Smile and laugh for yourself and the rest of the world!

Sent Aug 12

Me: Christopher. You’re on. I was a professional masseuse. More later. xo –dana

Mano: I got delayed, but now I’m very nearly out the door. I’m very happy to hear this!
e-hugs! And yes, indeed, more later.

Mano: I’m back, Dana. A friend of mine is going through a divorce and I’m being a sounding board as of late.

You sound marvelous, truly!

I’m a Portland native as are my parents. They live at the coast and I visit them about three times per month. They shaped me as a man and I admire and love them very much.

Bananagrams, if you haven’t already played it, be prepared to completely dig a new table game. It’s like Scrabble, but you can constantly change the tiles to make up new words and word configurations.

It’s difficult for me to say I’m sexy, but I do know I’m sensual and not in a feminine way. I’m romantic and lavish my trusted lover with devotion and all aspects of love making. I’m extremely generous in this sense and I put the one I love above myself.

I am warm and compassionate. I care about the world around me and treat everyone like a sibling. I’m generous with my time and with what I have. It’s a family trait. I’m intelligent enough to know I know nothing. The multiverse is full and my mind is empty, but starving for more and more.

I’m not into hooking up. My goal is to meet the woman I will spend the rest of my life with. Monogamy is the sexiest thing I can think of. Being true to the one who is true back is so romantic and special in a world indiscretion and cheap thrills. I’m a keeper and I want a keeper. Once I find her, I’m going to be off Social Media forever. I’m very much looking forward to that.

Never concern yourself with brushing your hair. Disheveled hair is not only for men. Sexy, sexy!
*
Mano: I trust you had a great night sleep. At this moment, I’m headed off to the sheets. Sweetest of dreams!

Sent Aug 13

Mano: Please let me know if I said something wrong.

Sent Aug 13

Me: Oh gosh no. Today is my birthday. And my father is visiting. And I worked today. :)

I changed my profile pic which was all I had time for. 😉

Other than being a vegan, you seem like the ideal man.

😉

And I am looking forward to responding at length when I have some privacy and a real keyboard at my fingertips.

Sent from the OkCupid app.

Mano: Oh my! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DEAR DANA!! Have a marvelous time with your father.
Yes, I’m vegan, but I do not impose my lifestyle on others.

Me: Thanks! We are going to a steakhouse. 😉

Mano: Yikes, steakhouse. I didn’t think that one through.
I’m not the guy for you. Great happiness and good luck!

Oct 11, 2014Dating Stories

My dear friend from high school recently asked me what online dating was like. We graduated in 1985 and he’s been married ever since—almost. Long enough to have missed online dating altogether, that’s for sure. He wants to try it, but he’s sure his wife would complain. This is where I come in. I let those who’ve never tried online dating live vicariously through me, because I’ve been online dating off and on (mostly off!) since before there were pictures attached to the profiles. Since Yahoo Personals. I even recall the days before that when we would post our photo and a short bio on the wall at the coffee shop. If someone saw something they liked in your Polaroid and two sentences, they dropped a note in the locked box and you’d collect your notes next time you were in. Talk about early adopters!

As my friend and I were sharing a brief online chat, I summarized online dating like this: Men like it for its constant novelty. Women don’t like it unless they’re slutty. To which my friend replied, “Men like it because women are slutty.”

An oversimplification? Perhaps . . .

But having just read A Billion Wicked Thoughts, oversimplification is fairly accurate. Brains are hard-wired. Men are visual creatures, and they’re programmed to receive new stimuli. Even women have to work to keep the romance alive, but they do it differently—they seek romantic stories, and the most popular story lines involve a bad boy falling for his female protagonist and becoming good. But not that good.

A large percentage of females fantasize about stranger sex—which is not to say they want to be raped. But if the idea of sex with a stranger is a turn-on, you can see where online dating would be pretty popular. And sure, you can happen to meet a stranger in a bar or in line at the DMV, but you wouldn’t have his data handy: does he want long-term or short-term dating? Or casual sex? Does he have children, etc.? The thing is, if you only want him for an hour or two, details like his income won’t matter. But as the saying goes, a woman can get laid any night of the week. The challenge is in finding the one you want to see the rest of the nights.

I’ve been online dating off and on (mostly off!) since the demise of my marriage when I was 33 years old. I am now 47. Over the years, I see some of the same men who clearly haven’t met their matches either, because they are still online. Like me, they keep seeking. One could say online dating isn’t working for us. Or perhaps it’s working perfectly for some of these men—because it is a constant supply of first dates.

I’m looking for my last first date.

Sociologically speaking, it has been interesting. I enjoy meeting people and hearing their stories, but I’m no closer to finding love. And I do work at it. I do my best to weed out men who only want “one thing.” My profile says I’m not interested in casual sex, but it never ceases to amaze me how what I write in my profile does not compute in their brains. This past season, I had a first date with a guy who kept asking for a second date. We never got there because I wasn’t attracted to him and kept trying to find ways to say so. I thought I was pretty clear: “I think you’re my people, but not my person.” To which he replied: “Perhaps you don’t think I am your person, but you are attracted to me for a more casual relationship. I would be open to that if you are. I like you and I’m safe and tested. I’m also free this weekend.”

I told him to stop writing to me.

Another date, well . . . I knew I wasn’t going to be interested but, in the spirit of open-mindedness, I agreed to meet for a beer after work. And I was right. And I emailed him afterward and said we were no love connection but that I enjoyed talking with him and hoped the second beer didn’t lead him in the wrong direction. (I even spoke about ways he could improve his dating profile during that second beer.) He wrote back that he wasn’t sure what he wanted—even used the word “confused,”—but said he found himself wanting to have sex with me and the second beverage was an attempt to pave that road.

Pretty much any guy is going to choose the just sex option. Ultimately they may think they want a girlfriend, but getting laid until they find her is fine too. I’m sure many women feel the same way—or maybe they hope sex will turn into love?

On OkCupid you have the following boxes to check: Long-term dating, Short-term dating, Casual sex, or New friends. I can sort for men seeking only Long-term dating. Or I can sort by weeding out any that are seeking Casual sex. Many serial online daters have gotten around this strategy by checking only the New friends box. “New friends” is the new “Casual Sex.” It is code—one that doesn’t take long to crack.

And by the way, everyone has their own answer for what Short-term dating means. I think of it as Long-term dating that didn’t work out. For others, Short-term dating is Casual sex. Longer than a one-night stand, but not a real relationship.

The fact is, no matter what I put in my profile to try to weed out what I don’t want, I get plenty of responses from men who see what they want to see. They like the picture, or they like that I watch Jeopardy! and think, “Now there’s a gal for me!” I may say I want a man who has command of the English language—trying not to sound too negative, of course—but it doesn’t matter. I’ll get replies that are the grammatical equivalent of a grunt.

My profile says I’m looking for long-term only, that I’m looking to grow old with someone. I get a lot of older men writing to me.

Nothing about my profile says I would like to go fishing, but there are plenty of men with fish pictures who write to me. One of them asked me why I was single. I gave him what I deemed a thoughtful reply. “Not enough good guys to go around? Busy single mom? Over 40 with a child? Not picky enough in the past, therefore really picky now? Who can say, in truth, the reason?”

He could be a deep thinker, I thought. All that time spent fishing might be time spent in contemplation. So I asked him if he wouldn’t mind answering a question for me. I asked, “Why is your profile picture one of you holding a fish?” I wanted to see what the thought process was behind the fish profile picture; was it the biggest fish they ever caught, were they hoping to find a fishergal, or was it the only good picture of them taken recently? I got one very choppy paragraph back, full of partial sentences and punctuation nightmares, that I believe was meant to tell me that he very simply loves to fish.

Oohhh.

Well I don’t love to fish. To me, fishing would be a waste of time unless I were multi-tasking. Like working on my tan or reading a great book. Or letting my kid fish. Or, okay, spending time with someone I really really liked.

Anyway, fishing aside, I am not meeting people in real life. Fewer as the years go on. A date from two days ago said the same thing. He isn’t meeting people in the real world. I asked if he thought this was due to online dating. He said he had no idea. I see people looking at their smart phones as they walk down the street. Are they on OkCupid right now, I wonder?

One guy on OkC emailed and said he was on the corner of Broadway and Washington when he laughed out loud at something I wrote in my profile.

Alright. I’m glad I made someone laugh out loud. Maybe all this online dating isn’t a waste of time? Or maybe I need to get me to the nearest fishing hole. I am not going to go to bars alone—unless I’m stood up. Ha!

So why not leave my profile up and hope for the best? It’s Pascal’s Wager applied to online dating. Why not believe that love could find me here on the Internet? I may be closer to finding love, but I simply won’t know until I’ve found it.

Sep 21, 2014Time

When asked about death and aging, Cormac McCarthy said, “The future gets shorter. And you recognize that.” He wants to spend the rest of his time working, and with his son. Though I can’t relate to his success, I can relate to this sentiment.

Those who have yet to age, who have not crested that hill over which you can see the other side, the shorter side, perhaps cannot relate. I remember being in my early 20’s, feeling like I’d live forever. I didn’t accomplish a great deal. It took me eight years to get a BA.

Now, at 47, I clearly recognize Time’s elusive essence. And not only is the future shorter, there seems to be less time available in each day.

As a single parent and homeowner, working full-time outside the home, when I get home, I’m kind of done. Once dinner’s prepared, ingested, and perhaps even cleaned up after, depending, there is little time or energy for much else. On the weeks when I have my daughter, all domestic efforts and weekend errands and social gatherings leave zero time left over for me.

You’d think I’d be able to make up for lost time on the weeks I don’t have her, but it doesn’t  work that way. I’m making up for lost hours at work, and getting a bit more sleep—if things going according to plan, catching up on chores, exercising–never mind something as time consuming as a day trip. Suppose I’m making an effort to meet my life mate via OkCupid; coffee dates take up valuable time as well.

Since I can’t give up on my health altogether, exercise has to be a focus.

It’s been almost a year since my last post here, and nine months since I’ve written anything at all. Because a lack of time to write became a source of frustration, I tried removing the frustration by removing the writing itself. I didn’t even journal for a time.

The writer Nick Hornby once advised me to quit writing. “If you can quit, then you know you’re not a writer.”

So I’m trying to quit.

I want to see if I’ll be happier without writing in my life–or lack of it. But I’ve yet to stop writing in my head.

In January I gave myself a list of things I’ve needed to get done for years: a new passport, a living will, a new roof, finish the second bathroom, among other things. I said I wouldn’t let myself write again until I’d accomplished these and other things. The bathroom isn’t a “room” per se, but there’s a toilet and a tub installed! I got the passport card instead of the passport book by accident, but the will is a will–signed by a notary. And now there are words on this page and the sun is streaming onto my desk and there’s still coffee in my cup and the dog’s asleep by my feet and there is utter silence except for my fingers hitting the keys, rapid fire. Is this my bliss?

A Room of One’s Own, was the title of Virgina Woolf’s essay on writing. Stephen King took it a step further: A room with a door that closes. A writer also needs time to be in that room. All I want to do is write and spend time with my people. But the 40+hour-a-week job help pays for the new roof that keeps the rain from leaking onto my computer.

I’ll trudge on into this shrinking future of mine, cherishing the moments that are part of a whole, and add up to what is far better than the alternative. And perhaps the writing time will increase, no matter the distance.

Oct 26, 2013Warning: Some Content May Not Be Suitable for Children

I’m afraid I’ve exposed my child to bad language and adult themes. Not as in, I might have. I have. And I’m afraid of the consequences. Her exposure comes from fiction and real life, our life. Madeleine puts it in plain terms, “I say hell because Ron says hell.” Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s best pal. Sometimes when I curse, she’ll just repeat after me, a mimicry in both content and tone. I want to say, “Do as I say not as I do,” but I know how well that went over when I was on the receiving end as a teenager. My daughter is not a teenager. She is only eight.

I know I’m not her only bad influence. I’ve been told about the curse words deployed at her dad’s house. At least—and here is where I’ll begin defending myself—at least we’re not cursing at her.

And by adult themes, I mean things as seemingly benign as, “The IRS isn’t receiving my monthly payments. [Curse word here].” I’m telling her this news because A) She wants me to interact with her constantly, in whatever way, like watching her repeated attempts at yo-yoing, for example, and I have to explain why I can’t. Somehow, “Mommy’s searching for some important documents, dear,” doesn’t come out of my mouth, and to her that explanation would not suffice. I have to blurt out my worries using detail, which leads me to B) She’s the only other person in the house. Perhaps if I had a partner, these worries would land on sympathetic adult ears. My attempt to provide my daughter with context only confuses her. The IRS? What’s that?

Sometimes she hears me talking on the phone about, oh, say, how the neighbors might sue me because my bamboo is encroaching on (taking over, really) their yard. What does my daughter know about being sued? She knows Mommy went to small claims court once, and was pretty stressed out about it. She knows what it means to go to jail, if the IRS thinks you aren’t paying them, for example. She has seen courtrooms on television. She found me in the midst of a Drop Dead Diva episode once, after she was supposed to be in bed. I explained how the skinny blond model died and then entered body of a plus-sized lawyer. I used the word “soul,” which required some explaining.

Like I said, I’m not the only one to blame. She came home from her dad’s a few weeks ago with this announcement: “I’m an atheist! Like my dad!”

“Right. We can talk about that when you’re older.” My response pissed her off. She felt demeaned. When I began even the simplest explanation, she accused me of trying to confuse her.

Hmph.

Movies are a great way to expose your kid to bad language and adult themes. We don’t have cable, but we do stream Netflix and rent videos. Last week I was felled by a terrible cold. Despite the summer-like weather in October, I couldn’t muster the energy to go anywhere or do anything. We resorted to the couch and to Netflix’s offerings. Tin Tin seemed a good choice. She reads the books, which consist of tiny pictures of a red headed boy and his dog. I was shocked and offended by the amount of violence in the movie, which is, I now know, consistent with the books. Tin Tin had acquired a gun and was using it. Ouch! We didn’t witness actual death—and even if we had, it would have been cartoon death. Even live action film deaths aren’t real, and therein lies the problem of violence in film: its ubiquity deadens us to the real thing. (I have a theory that showing older children/young adults real dead bodies would quell their desire to play violent video games. It’s just a theory, but seeing dead bodies at that age myself, one thrown by a car, made an indelible impression.)

My daughter appeared to be unscathed by Tin Tin’s use of violence, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. She couldn’t sit through Coraline, which I now know was a bad parenting choice made by me, her terrible mother. Madeleine thought Coraline was too scary—we turned it off once the parents were locked in the netherworld behind the mirror, but my daughter had read several Harry Potter books then, and had seen at least the first movie. Remember the gigantic snake in the basement of Hogwart’s? Scary!

She’s currently on book seven. I did not get her interested in Harry Potter. That we can blame on her father’s side of the family. The books were handed down to her by her great-grandmother, a woman pushing 90 who must not have read the books herself. Or maybe she intended for Madeleine to read them when she got older. The thing about Harry is, he started out young—age 11. So did his audience. As Harry aged, so did the readership. Today’s kids can binge-read the series the way I just devoured the third season Louis CK’s Louie. My daughter doesn’t have to wait for the next book. She started them when she was seven and will finish when she is eight—and Harry’s already in love. A caveat: we read them to her, so we are available to discuss the adult themes. (I’m the one in tears when Dumbledore is killed. When Dobby the house elf is killed, she’s comforting me! She isn’t saddened by the deaths, but she is pissed at Snape and hates Bellatrix Lestrange.) I tell myself we can’t be ruining her too badly if her well-adjusted friend at school has read all seven books—to herself—and her parents are still happily married and one of them is a psychologist. If not for their family as a reference, I might not have delved into books six and seven.

Still, delve I did, and there is some dark shit in there. (Note the Louis CK influence.) I’m not only fearful for the lives of other beloved characters, I’m afraid my child will have nightmares.

Last weekend, when I was sick, I did try to get a play date scheduled at someone else’s house, but my darling girl didn’t want to leave me. We searched for something to watch. An episode of Drop Dead Diva turned out to be a poor choice as it was about a rape case. We tried some kids’ movie about soccer but it was really bad. Nearly all of the “family friendly” movies are excruciatingly bad. I can’t watch. We have to find some common ground if we’re going to watch a film together. I can say with near certainty that we have watched all of the good titles currently available on Netflix, so I chose one I enjoyed from my own childhood, a musical with singing and dancing, a comedy: Grease.

Now, when Grease came out on HBO, I was in the eighth grade. Still a young kid, right? Watching it with my eight-year-old was not a great choice. Some of the sexual overtones may have slipped past my 12-year-old mind, but I watched the movie about ten times and had a sense of what was going on. Boys had made passes at me by then. Mom had explained they only want one thing. I knew way more than my daughter does.

“Bite the weenie, Riz. What does that mean?” she asked.

“With relish. You know . . . like, buzz off. Go eat a hot dog.”

During the “Greased Lightening” dance number, Madeleine wanted to know what they were singing about. “Oh, you know, about all the things they are going to do with the car once they fix it up.” They are singing, dear audience, about making out in the car! She’s a real pussy wagon. Making out in a car is something we parents never want our daughters to do! I was thankful she couldn’t figure out the words. But, soon enough, these supposed teens are making out in the car.

“See, he just gave her his ring, so she thinks he really respects her. But really, he just wants to . . .” Oh, god. What have I gotten myself into? Next thing I know, she’s rehearsing the phrase “Ssson-of-a-bitch.”

I should have known not to let her watch a PG-13. Even with my parental guidance. I let her watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, too, a while back. She loved it. We tried to ignore the bad language. “I’ve heard it before,” she said. “From you.”

Great.

I wish we could turn back the clock, to a time before Ferris and Harry, a more perfect world wherein I have enough forethought (and time) to pre-view such content. A time before her ruin.

While she’s rehearsing “son-of-a-bitch,” I remind her, “You don’t get to use bad language. Don’t make me regret showing you that movie.”

“I hate it when you regret stuff,” she says. “You always regret stuff. I hate that.”

I hate it when I regret stuff too. My regretting stuff is one of my worse traits, and she’s already got me figured out.

She is wise beyond her years, and grow up fast she will. She already thinks she’s smarter than me. In book seven, when the Deathly Hallows first came up, I said, “Deathly Hallows? Isn’t that he title of book one?” If you could see the eye-roll on my daughter’s face; it was the eye-roll of a 16-year-old. She picked up the book jacket of book seven—this was the Deathly Hallows we were reading! How could I possibly explain to her that it was a book that came out years ago, and that I remember hearing the title back then, when it hit the store shelves? I am already uncool.

Maybe I can find a way to hold some influence over her, not let her peers take over completely. She’s already trying to hide my kissing her good-bye at school. She’s already resistant to wearing clothes purchased at the Goodwill. She thinks she wants to be a grownup, because she thinks grownups get to stay up late and watch movies. We do, but we also have to pay the IRS and fight lawsuits. I tell her she should stay a kid as long as she can. “Childhood is brief, and you’ll be an adult for the rest of your life.” Then, that same day, I say, “You’re eight years old. Why are your pajamas still on the floor?”

At school, her teacher told the students to put the balls back in the ball sack. My child was the only one who laughed.

What? Our dog was neutered. It came up!

I am in big trouble.

Oct 18, 2013Online Dating Revisited

I recently got together with friends I hadn’t seen in years. Before brunch was served, Brion launched his first question, in true Brion-like fashion. “So, are you seeing anyone?” Then, “Why not?” Then, “Match dot com. That’s how everybody meets these days.” Brion and his partner Wayne are around 40. They are also childless gay males in a committed co-habitational relationship. And they did not meet online.

I nodded.

The gap I then politely attempted to fill in was how online dating for females-over-40-with-children is a very different game. The over-40 part is readily apparent if you scan any online dating site where there are an inordinate number of 38 and 39 year-olds. Online daters sort by age. They type in the age range they’re looking for. Forty is a round number at the end of a decade. I am 46.

Two of my best female friends met their matches online and, I must add—without judgment—both lied about their ages. Both met men younger than them, which wasn’t necessarily their intent. Their intent was to be found in more searches, to cast a wider net. To up their chances in a numbers game. Who can blame them? Both got lucky, and had paid their online dues as single women for years.

To continue, both of these now happily coupled girlfriends are without child. (One has a child who’s already left home.) Not only are they more available for fun times, and mentally/emotionally less encumbered, they also didn’t have to factor children into their side of the negotiations. The with-child factor is not problematic for all men, mostly just for the ones who do not have children. There is not a huge population of single men who wish to be fathers overnight. Just saying. Even ones with kids don’t necessarily want more. And trying to line up parenting schedules so that you can line up a date can be so challenging that it’s easy to project that very issue into the fictional future, convince yourself, “If it’s hard now, it won’t get easier when we’re co-parenting.”

The other detail I wanted to differentiate for Brion, my being a female, is related to the over-40 factor like so: we live in a sexist, ageist society that favors youth where female beauty is concerned. We like our women under 40. Actresses in Hollywood receive fewer scripts the older they get. Even the most famous will tell you there is a shortage of good roles, but that’s true for actresses at any age. Female actresses my age: Julia Roberts, Salma Hayek, Halle Berry, Robin Wright, Helena Bonham Carter, Parker Posey, Nicole Kidman . . . What guy in his right mind would kick any of them out of bed for eating cookies? Now for hot male actors my age: John Cusack, Patrick Dempsey, Mark Ruffalo, Guy Pearce, Benicio Del Toro, Daniel Day Lewis, Owen Wilson, Billy Crudup . . . We are talking romantic leads here. They are . . . distinguished.

There is a shift away from female ageism, and I think that’s in part due to these awesome actresses. (Fifty-year-old Julianne Moore received highest accolades for her romantic tryst opposite Mark Ruffalo.) But we have to at least nod to the fact that these beauties aren’t slinging hash for a living. They can afford personal trainers and plastic surgery. I cannot live up to their beauty standards, nor do I try. And they haven’t tried online dating. I wager the playing field online is still an ageist one.

Even online, the “older woman” has experienced a renaissance of late, especially if she has embraced the cougar role. (Mrs. Robinson was hot too, back in the day, but she was also a nutter, manipulative, jealous, and rich. And Anne Bancroft was only 36 at the time.) I got several hits online from males in their early 20s who wanted to play that way. I’m not interested in playing. I don’t want a young lover for a month or a year. I’m interested in meeting my person. My one and only. My soul mate, if you will. All or nothing. It’s a lot to ask of a dating site.

Lastly, online dating requires effort. The more people you meet, yes, the wider your net is cast, but the whole endeavor can be a real time sink. You have to reply to emails (fewer the older you get), you have to do some searching of your own, and then there are the dates. In thirteen years of online dating, off and on, I’ve been on a lot of first dates. Fewer second dates. Maybe one in ten. The men were much more likely to want a second date than I was. I’m not fat. I’m not ugly. Sure, many men (and presumably many a female) simply want to get laid. You know—have fun with Mr. Right Now until Mr. Right comes along. I realize these men are not necessarily asking me on Date #2 because they believe me to be their soul mate. Or, shall I clarify: “were not.” I didn’t even stay online a year this last stretch. I met some great guys, but I didn’t fall for them.

One was a father. It took us four months to get to a third date, and that never happened. Another, though childless, was willing to jump into the co-parent role, not that I’d asked. The other asked, on our first date, if I was looking for a father for my child. I told him she already had a father, but that I didn’t want to compartmentalize my life. As the dating ensued, I could see our worlds would never collide. His was tidy and calm, and when we were together, so was mine. When I wasn’t with him, when I was with my daughter, my life was loud and hectic. He had no concept of what my full life was like. I knew he wasn’t willing to take the plunge into all that I am, all that I have. My girlfriends thought I’d won the lottery finding this handsome man, but our passion wasn’t accruing. There was no depth of feeling. All three men were fit, attractive, my age, whatever. Just not my person.

Another friend of mine, a hot 65-year-old woman, told me she is content being single. She had a marriage, raised a child, and enjoyed the swinging ‘70s, when birth control was plentiful and AIDS wasn’t an epidemic. She has lived a satisfying life as a sexual being. To her, having a relationship would mean giving up her freedom. Her solitude. She’d have to share her time and plan trips and meals as part of a team. She’d have someone needing her, expecting things of her. She decided in her late 50’s she didn’t want a partner. I’m inclined to agree with that sentiment. Young, she says, to have come to that conclusion.

The soul mate I could not refuse, but if he doesn’t show up, I’m fine in the interim—so long as I don’t think of it as a temporary waiting period. I’m embracing the life I’ve created. Living it. A male counterpart, a partner, would have to add to it, not detract.

I would have outlined that for Brion, too, if I hadn’t already seemed defensive. Because I know it sounds like I’m giving up, but I’m only giving up the online dating part. Online dating creates a sense of dissatisfaction, a searching mentality that makes contentment impossible. Offline, I’m just living my life. The number 46 is truly relative, my photos are not up for scrutiny, and I’m not selling anything.

The truthful online ad would go something like this:  “I like leaving dishes in the sink. In the winter, I rarely shave my legs. I enjoy time spent on the couch watching romantic comedies in my pajamas. Favorite pastimes include reading in bed and eating chocolate. I can’t cook a chicken. Come! Grow old with me!”

Brion and Wayne bickered over each other’s driving habits. I found it endearing, but then again I have no one to bicker with. I like hiring my handyman, and there’s never any pressure to perform oral sex.

Truthfully, I don’t know what it’s like to have a soul mate, unless my pets and my daughter and my mother count. I have a best friend of 33 years, but we’ve never lived together. No doubt we’d bicker if we did. I’ve not been a relationship longer than four years. There have been three of those, another couple of shorter ones . . . so, since the age of 18, I have been single as much as not.

I am the new old maid, cresting the hill I’ll soon be over, and I see the view from both sides. If I’m being honest with all the players, I’m getting good at being alone. Actually liking being single? That’s the real triumph. It may not trump true love, but it sure as hell beats loneliness.

Aug 9, 2013What Not to Wear

At the gas station, I went inside to pay, came back out and sat in the driver’s seat. I could feel the guy across the pump aisle staring at me. I had seen him out the corner of my eye, enough to know he was a he.

I closed my car door, which cut his gaze. I wasn’t wearing short-shorts and a halter top. I wore a knee-length billowy skirt and a shirt. Nothing provocative. I heard an old man’s voice say, “I’d like to fill her up,” followed by his own sniggering.

The old man was talking to the staring guy. He was talking about me. And I ended up right behind their ancient pickup truck in the single-file onramp that would eventually put us onto the freeway and into traffic.

The old guy, white hair and beard, caught me in his side view mirror a couple of times. I knew he was saying something about me again. I didn’t care. I wasn’t upset by it, but I wasn’t pleased. I’m 45 years old and men are men, that is to say boys at times—usually when they’re together, outnumbering their subject matter. Those time when they haven’t any manners, no respect for women.

I suspect they think that kind of comment is respect. I doubt these men know the definition of misogyny.

The day before this incident, I went to the grocery store with my mother. It wasn’t until afterward she happened to say all the men in the store were staring at me. I hadn’t noticed. What I wore: a billowy, knee-length skirt, high-heeled Bjorn slip-on sandals, and a tight-fitting sleeveless t-shirt. I looked womanly. “It must have been the heels,” I told my mother. “Maybe the boobs.”

“You weren’t wearing anything low-cut,” she said in solidarity.

Heels and boobs, a bit of skin. That’ll do it.

Normally I wear very loose fitting clothes. More often pants than skirts. Almost never wear a heel of any kind. And I’m known to downplay the boobage. Mom mentioned the men at the store when I told her I planned to wear to dinner what I already had on. Walking to the restaurant, I became exceedingly self-conscious. I had to concentrate to walk in my high-heeled sandals as it was, but now I was aware of being watched. As John Berger wrote in his seminal work Ways of Seeing, “Men watch women. Women watch themselves being watched.”

A lineup of moviegoers at the theatre watched me go by—from across the street. I could feel it, see it, them seeing me. But I can’t explain it—that feeling of knowing I was being watched. After I turned around, crossing to the same side of the street as the theatre, I had to walk past again. From behind my sunglasses, I watched their eyes. About half of the people watched me go by. The men looked at me differently than the women, but both sexes looked. Perhaps I was the only moving object, an object nonetheless. At the restaurant, men on dates looked at me. I am not what you’d call a looker. Not particularly tall, not exactly thin, I don’t wear makeup. But I had something going on that night, and I have not wished to recreate it. I prefer my invisibility cloak—the clothes I usually wear.

I have always had a full figure, and I have not been keen to promote it. In my youth, the figure had its own draw without my having to advertise. And mostly the attention wasn’t favorable. In my 20s I found catcalls and the like extremely degrading. Infuriating. Sometimes I would holler back some insult. Men might reply with something creative like, “You know you want it.” No, buddy. You know YOU want it. And I got it. Problem was, I wasn’t crazy about having it.

The other day I was walking home over a windy bridge wearing a knee-length billowy skirt. I had to hold the skirt to my legs for fear the wind would lift it and reveal my dimpled ass to the eastbound lanes. I’d be mortified if that happened. Some women—women I know—would be fine with it. At a recent party, a gal with a famously large rear-end was so drunk as to lift her skirt and show her butt on purpose. Her girlfriends covered her, telling others not to look. Drunk or no, this woman wants the attention and is proud of her body.

On the bridge, I took the hair clip I was wearing and used it to keep my skirt down. This freed up one hand to hold my bags. The wind pushed my hair into my face. I looked what I was: a wind-challenged female. It made me feel vulnerable, and I didn’t like it.

Three skater dudes, late teens/early 20s, were heading westbound towards me. As they got closer, I could see they looked more like druggies more than skaters—and they weren’t carrying boards. One said, “How you doing?” I said, “Fine, thanks.”

Yes, I gave an auto-reply.

Yes, I actually thanked him.

I learned (in my 20s) it was easier to be polite than to incite a scene. No, I don’t have to say anything, but why push my luck.

One man actually said to me once, “Smile! It’s okay!” What he doesn’t know is that a woman’s smile, to a complete stranger, might be misconstrued as an invitation. I am not walking here to make your day. I am not required to return your gesture. I am not obligated to show you my teeth.

I struggle, often, with what to wear. As a single woman, it would behoove me to look feminine, to smile more, to “make an effort,” as my mom says. Maybe even wear some lipstick. I’m sure I don’t exactly send the flirtatious vibe. And, funnily enough, if I so much as speak to a strange man, he oftentimes assumes I want something—as though talking equals flirting.

We have our social constructs, our walls we move within. We hide behind them, most of us. Some stand on theirs, using them as a stage or a soapbox. But I can’t help thinking my wall was built for protection, brick by manmade brick, created every time I learned to cover my skin.

In this way, I look forward to being old. With my sunglasses on you can’t necessarily tell I’m mid-forties. But to many who see the evidence, I’m already invisible.

I’ve never been perfect and I don’t attempt to achieve perfection now, but I would like to feel attractive—despite what others think. I want to feel attractive. I also want to feel safe. Natural. My self and not a dolled up version.

Yes, we live in a high rape profile society, and a girl’s got to know that. Got to have her wits about her. And I say wear shoes you can run in—or at least use them to gouge an eye out if need be. Ogle if you must, Mister, and I’ll do my best not to watch.

Jul 15, 2013Happiness Is.

Lately, when people ask how I’m doing, I say, “I’m doing really well.” The extraordinary part of that very ordinary transaction is that I’m doing really well. I’m not just “not bad.” I’m actually good. If you had asked me that question, say, eight months ago, I would have nodded unconvincingly, maybe given a shrug or a “meh,” with the so-so hand gesture. I may have said something like, “Oh, I’m muddling through,” or “Things are better,” perhaps followed by one small piece of good news, as though it were a bit of hope to cling to.

Hearing myself respond in a positive way has got me thinking about how long I’ve been “unwell” and wondering what’s changed. It would seem I broke a mirror seven years ago. This new positivity has me pondering, Is there such a thing as a seven-year cycle wherein your life switches gears every seven years? I don’t think that’s it, because then half of us would be experiencing what I just experienced: a shitty seven years.

My daughter turned eight in December so, basically, I’ve been unhappy since she’s been here. But I know that can’t be entirely true because she brings me so much joy—even when she’s misbehaving! I know my daughter sensed and even expected my state of malaise, saying things like, “I just want you to smile,” or worse: “If you didn’t have me you wouldn’t be so tired all the time.”

It all started on Christmas Eve, when my daughter was three weeks old. I fell out of love with her father (some revelations can happen in a flash) and I spent two years trying to fall back in, knowing what the consequences would be if I couldn’t. I’d have to miss out on part of my daughter’s childhood. I’m not sure if that’s what caused the depression, or if it was the chronic insomnia that so often accompanies a baby. Or if it was truly post-partum depression, like the doctor said, so that she could prescribe anti-depressants. But once the decision to divorce became action, the descent was all down hill.

My daughter began living away from me half the time when she was almost three. I agonized. She often wailed at separation. I went into worse depression–debt, too, since I had no job when her father and I split. And I was in graduate school, so make that Debt with a capital ‘d’.

A year later I was served divorce papers and probably should have given up without a fight, considering I had no money. I considered selling my house to pay for a lawyer but that would have meant more change for my daughter, more uprooting for no probable gain.

And then there was that drinking habit. It started right after the break-up. The summer of my separation, my best friend of 26 years moved across the country. Shitty timing indeed. We liked to smoke cigarettes when we drank. Her leaving meant I had to buy my own cigarettes, but I only smoked when I drank so, if I had cigarettes in the house, I’d have to open a bottle of red wine in order to smoke one. A year later, not a night had gone by without a drink and a smoke.

So what’s changed?

The anti-depressants were a temporary measure, lasting only a year.

I quit smoking—that was several years ago now.

I mostly don’t drink and can easily go ten days without thinking of it.

I got a full time job well over a year ago. I’m not out of debt, and the college Debt will probably always be there, but I enjoy my job and have experienced many small triumphs there.

I got a little raise this year, but to put the money part in perspective, I make half of what I did before I had my daughter.

My sleep is better, and this makes all the difference. I’ve had better sleep for the better part of two years, though I still have issues on occasion.

Okay . . . what else?

Well, people ask how my daughter’s doing. I tell them she’s really happy. Her dad’s marrying a great gal. He bought a house nearby. And we got a dog a few months ago, which makes me the best mom ever.

My daughter is happy, too, because I’m happy.

But is that all? More money, a full-time job, good sleep, and a dog? Is that the recipe for happiness?

I ran into a friend at the grocery store some weeks back. He said, “I heard you’re doing really well.” He also heard I was dating someone. I had to clarify: I was happy before I met the guy. In fact, I’m no longer dating the guy and I’m still happy.

There is one small thing, however. One small, good thing I’ve been doing differently in the last eight months, and it may be just a coincidence that my sense of well-being just happens to coincide with this new habit.

I started meditating.

Meditation is a traditionally Buddhist practice; the world’s greatest meditators are all Buddhist monks. I have no intention of moving to Tibet to meditate full time, but ten to twenty minutes here or there, most days, and . . . I don’t know. It could be nothing.

Maybe the positive life-changes have added up to enough, but the timing is off. The anti-depressants I quit years ago, the smoking, years ago. I started meditation last November—the timing is right.

I Googled ‘happiness’ in search of proof and came across a TED talk by Matthieu Ricard. Son of a prominent French intellectual, Ricard was a molecular geneticist who gave it all up to meditate full time in Tibet. He’s bald and wears the traditional red and gold robes, the whole nine yards.

Ricard says happiness is not the pursuit of pleasure, because pleasure is contingent upon time, place, an object. Happiness, he says, is a state of wellbeing. Serenity. Fulfillment. And it pervades and underlies all other emotional states. He showed pictures of full-time meditators, Buddhists who meditate for up to 14 hours a day, with wire electrodes attached to their skulls. One photo showed a monk smiling after a session in an MRI machine. Ricard claims meditation can transform the mind.

He showed a bar graph that looked like a mountain. Each angle represented the two hemispheres of the brain’s frontal lobe. The left frontal lobe activity is greater in these monks. The greater left frontal lobe activity you have, the greater your happiness. How’s that for proof? A bar graph!

* * *

When my daughter happens upon me in mediation, she always stops herself from interrupting. One, when I stopped, opening my arms to her, she said, “But Mommy, you need to do that.” How does she know this? I’ve never said anything about it.

When I was first getting into it, back in November, I remember yelling at her to please go to bed! Mommy had to meditate! Sheesh. Some days I was totally stressed out about where to find 15 minutes to meditate. It has since become effortless to find the time to sit in stillness. I find I look forward to it. A brief pause. A reset button. It beats the lost twenty minutes I might otherwise spend scrolling through Facebook posts.

The dog almost always sits in my lap while I’m sitting quietly in the lotus positions, aka “Indian style,” hands on my knees, palms up. I’ve even done it at work, when I need a break.

Friends say they can’t quiet their minds enough to meditate, as though they will meditate only after they are capable of quieting their minds. Meditation is in the doing. “It’s like riding a bike,” I tell them, “with no hands. You’re only flying free for a few seconds, but those seconds keep adding up.” And it’s like riding a bike in this way too: the more you do it, the quicker and easier you fall into the meditative state.

Sometimes I feel like I’m forgetting something, until I realize what it is I’m forgetting: to be unhappy. The neural pathways that had been carved by misery have seemingly been repaved. Ricard believes meditation can change my brain and he’ll get no argument from me. The pursuit of unconditional compassion and loving-kindness may be as attainable as winning the lottery, but the benefits in the meantime are like dividends, paying out along the way.

I don’t know. Maybe it is the dog.

Apr 27, 2013Parenting Error #263

There’s a reason why you don’t let your kids meet the person you’re dating. Single parents know this advice. I knew a guy who didn’t introduce his girlfriend to his kids for a year. Is that the standard waiting period? A year? Sounds great. If you’re still dating a year from now. This guy happened to be unsure of the relationship—and that relationship didn’t last. That girlfriend met another guy who introduced her to his kids right away. He was certain of his feelings for this loveable gal, but that relationship ended too. In both situations, there was attachment on the part of the children, so the impact of the break-ups were triple-fold.

We wait because we want to make sure the relationship is going to stick. We wait because we want to protect our children from the loss, should things go that way.

I learned during my divorce—sitting in the front row of Multnomah County’s required parenting class for divorcing parents—that the end of either parent’s subsequent relationship is harder on children than the divorce of their own parents.

Why? Because the children will see the beginnings of a trend: People go away. Once they make this connection, they may have difficulty attaching. Or, if they’re still open to the possibility of loving, they may attach and suffer the loss alongside their once-again single parent.

Perhaps there’s yet another reason to keep new loves a secret: children may simply fear their lives will change. They’ll have to share Mommy. They may have to move when the couple merges homes. They could acquire a third (or fourth) parent to tolerate.

I remember the day Mom introduced me to my future stepfather. I was twelve. Mom had been single only a few months, though it turned out she’d not been single at all. He came over to the apartment we’d moved into, and he was interested in everything I had to say. Strange behavior for an adult. He sat me on his lap and told me he loved my mother. This event—his telling me, upon my meeting him—that he was going to be involved in my life from this moment forward—his telling me, not her, felt like a betrayal. He knew before I did, so that meant he came first in my mother’s matters of the heart. I had been duped into complacency. I was not allowed, in that moment, to have an authentic emotional reaction, though I recall exactly what truth lay beneath my false exterior.

Knowing all this, I still managed—after five years of being single—to make this serious single-parent dating error.

But I have several excuses.

The first time my daughter, M, an eight-year-old, met the man I was seeing, it happened completely by accident. We were sitting in my kitchen, the phone rang, and M said, “Hi Mommy, I’m coming over right now to see Jude. Bye.” Click. It was our third date. We’d just exchanged our first kiss. I figured, well, we’re not really in a relationship. We’re just two human beings who are somewhat acquainted with one another. What’s the harm?

Jude is our dog, by the way. M lives with Jude and me half the time, so she sometimes stops by to visit the dog.

Well, what better way to see what he’s in for, I thought. He’ll meet the kid, the ex, and he’ll see the new puppy-dog in crazy mode.

M ignored him.

My date. Not the dog.

Date three led to dates four, five and six. One day, he showed up at my work to bring me flowers. M happened to be with me. This turned into a short visit, after which I gave him a ride home. After dropping him off, Madeleine wrote on the window, “Dana plus Don.” Don is her father. She was still trying to put her biological parents back together. Despite the fact the she adores her soon-to-be step-mom, and is quite happy with the arrangement at her father’s house, her rejection of my potentially dating someone had been clearly expressed; a tiny rebellion.

She knew—let’s call him Boyfriend—she knew Boyfriend existed before they met, because she’d found me talking to him on the phone after bedtime on several occasions. She’d get out of bed (a standard delay tactic to prevent the inevitable daily event known as bedtime), come into my room, and interrupt my phone call, which she often does anyway. She’d say, “Are you talking to Boyfriend?” in a really coy way, loud enough to be heard on the other end of the line. She had fun with this multi-torture of teasing mixed with the not-going-to-bed-ritual AND the interruption of Mom’s phone call.

Once they’d been introduced, I still kept everything above-board. No kissing. No touching. No using of the word “boyfriend,” etcetera. But once past the introduction, why not have Boyfriend around, I reasoned. So, for example, when Madeleine was having a friend sleep over, I invited Boyfriend to join us for dinner. I’m like chopped liver when Madeleine’s friends are over; she may not even notice he was there at all, and I’d have someone to talk to while cooking and serving and cleaning up after the girls. Makes sense, right?

I don’t know if Madeleine and her father discussed Mommy having Boyfriend, but she soon began promoting the idea. We’d have conversations like:

M: You should marry him.

Me: What???

M: You need a husband.

Me: ???

M: You’re always busy and you’re always tired. You’re always doing dishes and you just want to lie on the couch but don’t have time. You need a husband.

(I quite enjoy her notion of a husband’s role. I’m just not sure how she got to it.)

She would also promote the idea right in front of Boyfriend.

She’d turn on the charm and say things like, “Are you going to move in? You should move in.”

I’d beseech him with a silent “not sure where this is coming from,” look, then confront her later. “Why would you say that?”

“Mom, you need help. His job is to help people.”

He’s a social worker. I began questioning my parenting skills. Why did she perceive me as struggling so much?

I asked my mom her opinion. “She probably just wants you to be happy,” she said.

Madeleine said to Boyfriend, “If you married my mom, I’d have two moms and two dads.”

Are two dads better than one? What was going on in her head?

“Maybe having two parents just feels more complete. Safer,” my mom said.

Children who lose one parent are considered—in technical terms—orphans. They have a developed sense of loss, but they also feel life’s fragility more. Because if their one parent dies, then they have zero parents. You’ll see this in numerous children’s films and stories, where the child is orphaned either by one or both parents. This is because the adventure begins when the parents aren’t around, and single parents are often busy single-parenting; the adventure begins when their backs are turned. Doing dishes, perhaps.

My daughter’s father began dating someone else around the time he left our house. “Play dates” he’d called them. The woman had a son a year older than Madeleine. Within a year, they were all four cohabitating. Madeleine shared a bedroom with the boy when she was at her father’s. She shared her father’s attention, too, divided as it was between the boy and the boy’s mother, and when Don and the mom broke up, Madeleine experienced a deep emotional reaction. She was ultimately pleased by the situation, but we know she was distraught because her pre-school teacher came to us and asked, “Have there been any changes at home? Madeleine has been acting out. She’s not herself lately.” This news was disturbing indeed. And the undoing of her reaction took some time—mostly, time was the only medicine. And, fortunately, the next girlfriend is Madeleine’s soon-to-be step-mom. Perhaps her good example has trumped the traumatic ending of the last one. I can only pray they don’t divorce.

One day Madeleine was telling me that her and her Second Grade girlfriends all have boys of their own this year. She shoulder shrugged, found it lightly amusing. I asked her why she liked her boy, and she said, “Because he laughs at my jokes . . .”

“He’s a keeper,” I insisted. “He gets you. That’s half the battle.”

Another day she said, “And you like Boyfriend because he makes you laugh.”

“He does?” I asked. “Yeah, like when you’re talking on the phone.” And that’s when it hit me. He didn’t make me laugh. I was laughing at her when I was on the phone. “Actually, I make him laugh,” I told her.

“Oh,” she said gravely.

Another day, Madeleine said, “And you and Boyfriend broke up . . . ”

“We did?”

“Yeah. Because he didn’t make you laugh.”

“He’s been out of town,” I reminded her, but I could see, for Madeleine, the veil had lifted. The relationship was over. She had already receded from the notion of Mommy-in-Relationship. She had progressed into self-preservation mode.

So, the next time Boyfriend was over, Madeleine was playing with her girlfriend and she basically ignored Boyfriend. When her girlfriend left, Boyfriend was also leaving. “Say goodbye, Madeleine,” I said.

“I did!” she said, all pertinence and defiance, before disappearing upstairs. She said goodbye to her girlfriend, true. Girlfriend was long gone, but Boyfriend was still standing there by the door. He wasn’t chopped liver. He simply did not exist.

The next day, Boyfriend and I ended the relationship, less than three months in, citing a lack of compatibility. I’m sure Madeleine will be surprised when I tell her this news, because in her mind, it was over weeks ago.

Apr 9, 2013Sex Scene – or – How I Became a Mother

We’d been hiking in the gorge that spring day. Someone said to go to see the flowers, so we went there, to the place with the flowers. It was May. We’d been living together since November, and I’d been traveling most of the new year. He’d been alone in my house. So when the spring sun came, and the flowers, we were eager for each other . . . sexually.

On the hike, he’d wanted to find a place to lie down. Or to stand against a tree, perhaps. We’d done that once when snowshoeing near Mt. Hood, two mostly dressed animals. For an intellectual, his inner caveman was very much intact. But flower viewing was a popular sport, and we had no luck finding a private place. I barely found a place to pee, before another human wandered along.

So the minute we got home, we were on the couch. This couch has a bench that butts up to it, creating a kind of double bed handily located in the living room. One thing led to another, as that tends to go, and soon enough I was headed upstairs for the device. The device is a cervical cap, that rarely used birth control method I had to convince my doctor to get for me. And she’s a rare doctor that will.

There are two reasons for the rarity. One being that no money is made off of cervical caps. You buy one, you use it hundreds of times. There is no monthly fee. The second reason is that they have lower efficacy—because of human error. The human fails to install the device. Or fails to install it properly. Or doesn’t want to touch her own vagina. Or doesn’t want to properly wash and dry the thing. Or fails to properly wash and dry the thing and it becomes moldy and thereby unfit for use.

Anyway, I got up off the couch, bare from the waist down, to get the device and I said so. But he stopped me. He pulled me by the hand back to the couch and proceeded, knowing full well the device had not been inserted.

He did not want to have children.

I was pretty sure I did want one child. And he knew—because I’d told him so, in no uncertain terms—that if I got pregnant, I’d be having his baby.

After he’d moved in, I saw our therapist and asked, “What am I doing moving in with someone who says he doesn’t want children?”

So when he was lying on top of me, behind and on top of me, whispering in my ear in sexy-speak, “What do you want, Dana?” I didn’t respond in sexy-speak. I didn’t answer his question verbally in any way, but inside my head I heard myself say, “A baby.”

I had to stop myself, stop us, and check in with him to see if I’d said it out loud. The far-away look on his face, eyes mostly closed, told me no words had been uttered. And, as I’ve been known to be a “quiet lover,” he had long forgotten to get an answer out of me.

Afterward—after he came inside of me without any effort whatsoever to interruptus coitus—he said, “You know what just happened.” And I said, “Yeah, I just got pregnant.”

Weird thing was, it was true. I was pregnant. And I knew it. Even weirder, I think he subconsciously wanted a baby too. Even though he asked me to abort. Twice. (I said if he said it a third time, his child would be born in California and he’d never have to know her name.)

About a week later, I saw a dermatologist for this crazy rash that had consumed most of my right thigh. The doctor, a gray-haired, large-nosed man who probably should have already retired, saw me in his office. I was fairly certain I had a flesh-eating disease. My fear of death and disease mixed with my pregnancy fear—that I had yet to voice again since that day on the couch—caused me to babble at length to this nice doctor as he peered at my leg. He wore that silver reflector on a head band. He said, “Let me see if I got this right. You went hiking last weekend, you peed in the bushes, and you think you might be pregnant.”

“Did I say that? Did I say I think I might be pregnant? I don’t remember saying that.” Apparently I had said that. Out loud.

It was a bad case of poison oak, to which I was apparently allergic. I was given some ointment, which I shared with my partner, because he’d been itchy and red on his upper inner thighs, where he’d rubbed against me that day.

I gave him poison oak, and he gave me his seed.

Ah . . . nature.

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