This is your crappy childhood

This is how I imagined my son’s childhood when he was just a twinkle in my eye: we live in a big house with a huge yard, maybe a pool. There’s family around us, lots of family. He has two younger siblings. He rides his bike with the neighborhood kids and likes school well enough. He is easygoing and adventurous. In the evenings he hides under his blanket with a flashlight to read history books until it’s way past his bedtime. Everyone’s healthy.

Here is the reality: Sam is an only child. His father is in frail health. He had a heart attack when he was 39 and we worry that he has passed on to our son a serious form of rheumatoid arthritis that makes his shoulders slope, his joints stiff and sensitive to weather changes. We have a small family and we live far away from most of them. We are about to move into a condo, with no yard, no pool, so that we don’t have to worry about maintenance. The neighborhood kids leave him out of football games and call him a baby when he gets upset. He is afraid to ride his bike. He struggles with anxiety at school and bad dreams keep him up at night.

My latest on Motherwell Magazine

Writing with Sam

DSC_0017It was a throwaway assignment. The teacher even told the kids that they didn’t have to complete it over winter break if they didn’t feel like it. And so that left me to decide whether I thought it was worth the hassle, the haggle, the headache of getting my kindergartener to sit down and write in his journal.

Each page the teacher sent home had a title—Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Family Time—with a cheerful drawing at the top, a space for the kids to draw, then solid and dotted lines on the rest of the page to guide upper- and lower-case letters.

Sam had just started to write by himself a few weeks earlier. I caught him sounding out words—slow and drawn-out like an old record player—as he was drawing and labeling a diagram of the Titanic.

Somehow I was always excited about or expecting reading to come first, to be the first big, thrilling achievement. Writing was sort of subsidiary, right before math.

I have no idea why I thought that.

Read the rest of the essay on Literary Mama

A Year of Revisiting Old Loves

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It is so easy to get into a rut. The toenail clipping, burping, morning-breath kind of rut of busy days and exhausted evenings. The no-sex rut, the no-talking rut, the not-holding-hands rut follow quickly behind. It doesn’t take long to get there—not as long as you’d like to think.

I am sort of baffled by this. I married for love. I married for great sex. For friendship. For a deep connection. We were mature and intelligent and in love. Isn’t that all you need?

But now it all seems muddled and not so easy. I feel like it’s unfair, because I can’t even put a finger on that nagging feeling between us. It’s everything. It’s nothing. I remember that sweet tingle, the antsy anticipation, the burning lust.  But now love just feels like a promise we made a long, long time ago that we’ll stick with this, even when it’s so, so hard. And it’s hard on most days.

So we work at it, because that’s what we are supposed to do—and because we want to. I buy the lingerie and wear makeup and we schedule date nights. But it all feels forced and not like the real thing. So we settle into that feeling—that the real thing will never be ours again. And I start to wonder: would it be different with someone else? With the young men I knew way back when? Are they still sweet and caring and romantic? Are they still funny and horny?  Am I? Or is it inevitable that we are all tired and comfortable and settled into life with soft bellies and graying hair?

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It is a bit of a joke between us. Drew likes to tease me about “my men”—all of the former lovers I still stay in touch with and talk to on a regular basis. I have to admit—I ask a lot from my husband to understand and tolerate these connections. I didn’t end up marrying these men, but I easily could have. Time and circumstances made these relationships fizzle and go from romantic affairs to occasional friendships.

But still, there’s something there. Love doesn’t just disappear into thin air. It doesn’t just leave the heart on command—that’s not how it works. Little bits and pieces of love linger. What do you do with that love when you are only supposed to be in love with one person?

Read the full essay on The Manifest-Station

Now That I’m a Mother, I Want Things

Monika Olszewska / iStock

Monika Olszewska / iStock

I never really wanted anything in life.

Not really, not passionately. Maybe I wanted a new Barbie doll when I was a child, or wanted to stay up later to watch TV, or wanted to skip school, or stay out longer with my boyfriend. I “wanted” to be a stewardess and an Egyptologist, but only with a child’s understanding of what those things are. But I never really felt a drive to be something. I was never drawn to a profession, or a certain kind of life, or felt a calling. I wanted things that were easy, that weren’t risky, that didn’t call any attention to me.

I used to drive my mother crazy by saying “it doesn’t matter” or “whatever” to everything: where I went to college, what I studied, where we went for dinner, where I got married, the color of the napkins at the wedding reception. “It all matters,” she would say, and I would just roll my eyes. Saying “it doesn’t matter” made me look cool, easy, flexible, I thought. And I was, sure. But I also allowed decisions to be made for me—by life, by circumstances, by the people around me. I moved, gave up graduate school, bought cars and houses with that attitude, and while they all sort of worked out in the end, my cool indifference made me feel powerless.

And then I had a baby. I hate to admit it, but initially even that decision was sort of “meh” for me. I don’t remember an overwhelming urge to become a mother—it just seemed like the next logical thing to do.

Read the full story on Scary Mommy

This Body

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Photo by Gina Easley

By Zsofi McMullin

The first time the trainer tells me to put my hands on my side and feel my abdominal muscles work, I can’t help but laugh. The only thing I feel are rolls of fat and loose skin. This is not really a surprise—I haven’t exercised in a good decade or more and expecting any muscle activity in my middle region seems silly. For weeks on end, I don’t even feel the effects of doing sit-ups or crunches. It’s like there are no muscles there to feel sore.

Recently I’ve been pushing my body—I am not even sure why. I’ve always hated exercise. I never felt the rush of adrenaline, I never enjoyed the sweat, the effort, the hassle. But something clicks this time around—is it turning forty? Is it fear that the achy knee every morning will lead to more serious issues? Is it wanting to run and swim and climb with my six-year-old? I suppose it is a bit of everything.

I feel my body go into that zone—not entirely under my control, pushing beyond what my mind would encourage under normal circumstances. My mind is more likely to whisper “go, sit on that couch, and have a piece of chocolate and a glass of wine.” But this body pushes on, struggling, jiggling, losing balance, and unglamorously dripping in sweat.

I still hate the sweat and the hassle. But the trainer on the videos is not entirely hateful and her mantras soon take on meanings beyond exercise: “If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.” “Don’t wish for it, work for it.”

Read the full essay on Full Grown People

Having Kids Strengthened My Marriage/Having a Kid Strained My Marriage: Two Perspectives

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Having a Kid Strained My Marriage

The story I like to tell about how having a child strained my marriage takes place on the third day of our son’s life. We had just arrived home from the hospital with our tiny, precious baby. My parents were waiting for us with dinner and a house warmed against the snowstorm winding down outside. All I wanted to do was eat a bowl of soup and go to bed.

But we had bills to pay. As in, some of our utility bills were due soon and when my mom offered to help us, my husband immediately accepted and asked her to take them to the post office. But first, I had to write those bills—we’ve always done it this way, because my husband has horrible handwriting and is distrustful of online payment.

So there I was, ripped and bleeding and sore and so, so incredibly tired, writing checks to the electric company. I remember sitting there, thinking that this was absurd, that I should really just tell my husband to cut me some slack and deal with the bills on his own while I took a shower. But I think I was even too tired to do that.

Five years later, I am sort of able to laugh about this. But at the same time I know that first moment at home has come to symbolize how our marriage changed almost instantly when our son was born. All of a sudden, I had needs and wants and priorities that were completely different from what they were just mere days earlier. My husband’s world jiggled a little with the new arrival, but then it settled right back to where it was before.

Read the full story on Brain, Child