Friday, May 25, 2007


I don’t know what’s going on with me lately. I used to be so…I don’t know…capable. If life were a circus act, I would be the clown on the unicycle, spinning dishes on sticks with a hula-hoop around my neck, all while juggling flaming bowling pins with my left foot. Now, it seems as though I’m having trouble even riding a tricycle and honking my nose at the same time.

What happens to us when we approach…dare I say it…middle age? Why do we become so overwhelmed? Why do we waste time questioning our past choices, our past decisions, and our present selves? Or—as much as I hate to admit it—what if it’s just me? What if I’m in my own pre-perimenopausal world of cynicism, my very own planet filled with mountains of hurdles and oceans of doubt?

Back in September, when I entered the “MORE” magazine modeling contest—purely on a lark, and not expecting anything more than something interesting and fun to blog about—I felt fairly comfortable with myself, my career, and the choices that I’ve had to make throughout the years that led me to where I was at that time. But when I peered through the latest copy of the magazine—the issue that listed all ten finalists, and the three top winners—I felt like such a loser. Not because I wasn’t a finalist in a so-called “beauty” contest. I felt discouraged because the women who won were all successful, self-assured, and at peace with themselves. Out of the ten finalists, four of them were doctors. Count it—four. And one of those four was also an officer in the Air National Guard. Another woman was a world-champion equestrienne who owned her own stables and took breaks by riding her Harley Davidson Sportster (a “beautiful white” one, at that). One was a CEO of a corporate image group; another was a beautiful actress and successful artist. Yet another was the director of a rape care center that she founded in New Jersey, and the grand-prize winner was a former sales director. Oh…and how can I forget…one of the women was the Executive Vice President of Fox Searchlight Pictures—silly me.

I’m not envious of these women. I’m really not. I’m actually proud of them. I’m happy that I’m part of a generation that doesn’t put limits on a woman's ability to achieve her goals. I guess what I feel is a certain amount of frustration. How does one follow their dream when they have a mortgage to pay and they’re responsible for carrying the health insurance for their family through their job? How does a woman continue her education when she works full-time and still has to come home and be a caretaker? You know the routine; making dinners, washing clothes, and doing any of the other eight million blood-sucking, life-force draining errands that we feel responsible for in order to make the house run in a somewhat efficient manner.

Maybe someone in their twenties or even their thirties would be able to handle a balancing act like that. However, following one's dream is usually easier when one does it right out of high school. Admittedly, I spend a lot of wasteful time rehashing the past choices of my parents. I wanted to go to school for art—I was gifted with the ability to copy most anything that I laid my eyes on from a very young age, especially cartoons. My parents felt differently; having been a part of the World War 2 generation, they felt that the only way that I could be successful was to be a legal secretary, a career that I loathed to even think about. My mother actually told me that I would never make any money “doing art." This notion was based solely on her vision of artists as being poor souls who sat on the side of the road selling their paintings, not because she didn't think that I had any talent. How reassuring.

Now, I know that they meant well. They truly wanted me to be a success, even if success meant that the highest promotion I could get would still always keep me beneath someone else. I went to school for business, but of course, dropped out before the semester ended. I was given a choice; either stay in school for business, or go to dental assisting school.

Please, mom, let me take art courses. This is what I want to do.

But of course, the answer was no. I was going to have a steady career if it killed them. I went on to become a dental assistant, a “career” that lasted two short years. In the interim, my mother became very sick. Toward the end of her life, she agreed to let me go back to school—for art. She actually encouraged me to go. Sadly, it took the realization of her own mortality and her own missed dreams to finally understand how important it was for me to try to achieve my goals, not anyone else’s.

I started school in January of 1985. The first semester, I pulled a 3.5 average; sadly, my mother took a turn for the worse, and died August 1st. Heartbroken, my father wanted to sell the house. I quit school, took a full-time job working for a finance company, and moved out. A few years later, I married and became a full-time mother. Subsequently, I divorced and floundered around in various careers; none of them satisfying, but all of them allowing me to pay my mortgage and bills.

When I was married to my first husband, I had everything I could ever dream of; he was successful, we had a beautiful house, and I had two wonderful children whom I adored. However, I always felt that something was missing; so much so, that I used to cry about it quite often, wondering what was wrong with me. Suffice it to say, when I met and married my second husband, I found that I no longer felt this emptiness—not in my relationship, anyway. Now, there seems to be some kind of drive inside of me. I know I need to be doing something, creating something…working toward some kind of personal success that will get us out of our financial hole and satisfy my desire to be acknowledged for my achievements. The only trouble is that I'm overwhelmed on a daily basis just trying to live life. Not that I'm complaining--I love my life--but I'm not sure how any creative ideas are going to surface if they're constantly being buried by the pressures of work, home, and the fact that there are just not enough hours in one day.
For months, I had been looking at a wayward maple sapling that had grown in the most unlikely of spots. It abutted a cement wall that has stairs behind it going down to my stepson's room in our basement, and was growing sideways through other, more established bushes just to get some sunlight. I knew that this determined little tree was going to eventually break the cement, and I told myself over and over to take it out and replant it in a more desirable spot (like right in back of my deck so I wouln't have to look at my neighbor's crumbling roof anymore). One day, I finally found the time (and energy) to embark on this project. It was even more difficult than I had imagined. At one point, I was hanging over the cement wall with my feet dangling toward the bottom steps just to try to dig the roots out. When I tried to dig out the roots on the other side, I had to crawl under the buggy bushes and got scratched up and itchy. I eventually loosened the roots enough so that my husband, who had just gotten home from an estimate (and thought I was out of my mind) was able to give it the final tug that pulled it out, as he balanced with ease on the top of the wall. The point of telling this story is that when I finally replanted the tree--as I had dreamed for months that I would--I felt such a sense of accomplishment. Yes, it was very difficult, and at times I was almost tempted to chop it down instead of continuing to dig it out. But now I have a strong sapling that will someday grow into a beautiful tree that will provide shade for my deck in the summer and block the undesirable view from my back door in the winter. And it will no longer cause the foundation to crack.
God knows, I don't want my foundation to crack.

Quite possibly, this experience is a metaphor for my future; the future that lives in my dreams and seems impossible in the natural to acheive. But if I remain determined, if I remain hopeful...then maybe I can replant my desires, my abilities, and my spirit in more productive soil. I just have to pray for the clarity of mind to remain focused on higher ground.

(Footnote: My blogger is being very weird. I have re-edited it a hundred times, and it keeps doing what it won't let me put spaces where I want to put spaces. I give up!!)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Mom's Lament

Today is Mother’s Day.

I awoke this morning to watch a pastor on television discuss how it’s unfair to judge people from what’s on the outside, and I immediately think of my husband’s sister, who has a terrible habit of doing just this. Although we used to be like true sisters, there was never a time when I left her presence that I wasn’t wondering what she would find about me on that day to knit-pick on. She, of course, is perfect. Perfect face, perfect teeth, perfect body. She lives in a perfectly decorated house in a perfectly expensive neighborhood. After my husband and I had a falling-out with her husband (who in my opinion is the farthest thing from perfect, except for maybe being a perfect sociopath), she outwardly decided to tell me whatever she was feeling at any given moment, no matter where we were. A comment was made by her husband and backed up by her that my house was disgusting, and we should clean it up. Now, I admit; I am not the world’s best housekeeper, but there is never a time when anyone is invited here that this house is not as perfect as it’s going to get. It may not be big, but it is charming and cute, and more importantly—it’s happy. When people come over, they never leave. I’d rather visit a comfortable small house and feel welcomed than walk into a museum and not be allowed to sit in the living room. But I digress.

After watching the pastor, I went to church with my kids. This is a new church that they attend with their dad and his wife, and after visiting it on Easter, I found that I enjoyed the general atmosphere and message, and decided to start going on a more regular basis. My ex and his wife were there, as expected. We all kissed hello, and my kids and I sat next to them three rows back from the pulpit. The pastor spoke of prayer and of faith, and toward the end of the service, we were directed to either sit in our seats or go to one of the four stations that they had set up for specific prayer, something they don’t usually do. I walked with my kids over to the “relationship” station, and listened to one of the women of the church as she led a prayer. “Dear Lord, help us to give this problem to You once and for all. Let us understand that we no longer have to carry the burden of it on our shoulders; that You are there to carry it for us and see us through. And dear Lord, if we need to forgive someone, please help us to do so.” I immediately thought of the relationship with my sister-in-law, and prayed to God once more to take this encumbrance from me and to give me the strength and grace to behave like a Christian when I saw her later today for Mother’s Day.

To make a long story short, we all had a pleasant brunch at a local restaurant. My sister-in-law and I sat across from each other, sipping casually on mimosas and making innocuous chatter throughout our meal. As we were all leaving, we stood in a small group by the bar and chatted about upcoming dates and events. My sister-in-law got a look of horror on her face, and said, “We never had a cake for Al today! That’s not right; we were told that we’d have a cake for his birthday on Mother’s Day!”

Okay, I admit it. My house was a mess on May 2nd, my husband Al’s birthday. There is no way on God's green earth that I would've had someone who once told me my house was "disgusting" over in the state that it was in, not to mention the fact that we all had work and school the next day. We decided to keep our celebration to just us and the kids that night, at my husband’s request. After not being able to come up with an alternative date to have a cake for the rest of his family (who were very insulted that they weren’t invited to our little ceremony), we had settled on just bringing one to the restaurant on Mother’s Day. But alas, that was almost two weeks ago, and I suffer from a terrible brain cloud.

Yes, it was my fault. I forgot the cake. I forgot we were even supposed to have a cake. In my mind, we had already had a cake, and his birthday was over and done with. But in my husband’s family, this is some sort of mortal sin. You just don’t forget the cake. Period.

My sister-in-law turned to her mother to continue her rant. “The person who said that they would have a cake for him on Mother’s Day should’ve made sure that they brought a cake for us to sing to him with!” She then turned and glared at me with pursed lips and chevron eyebrows. I stammered a reply, shrugging my shoulders and forcing a giggle as “…I can’t believe I forgot!” dribbled out of my mouth. She rolled her eyes, turned to her other brother and shook her head.

…I decided to leave before behaving like a good Christian was not an option.

Later in the evening, my stepdaughter came home from spending the day with her mom. I was in the kitchen when she came in; she made no effort to come in and say hello to me, so when I saw her sitting at her computer, I offered a greeting. Without turning around, she said, “Oh, hi! Happy Mother’s Day.”

That was it.

Our home is far from your average American household. From what I can tell, we are the only “Brady Bunch” family living in our town. I’m sure that my neighbors have gotten plenty of earfuls and eyefuls when our ex-spouses come to visit the children. Several times a week, my stepdaughter’s mom will come inside my home to spend some time with her. On occasion, she has actually plopped herself down in my stepdaughter’s bed and gone to sleep. More often than not, they just fight as most 14 year old girls will do with their mothers. The only difference is that I’m in the house listening to their argumentative banter, wishing that I was in Bermuda or Belize. Brooklyn will even do on most days.

Recently, when my stepdaughter and her mom came into the house after being in Florida together for five days, the girl stormed right into her room and the mom gave me instructions that she was to be punished until Friday. As I looked at this woman with her new tan, her long blonde hair and her slight body, I felt a twinge of envy. As she left the house to go do whatever in the world it was that she wanted to do with no obligations, I fell into a downright jealous rage. But for the sake of the child and in order to keep the peace, I swallowed my feelings and reminded myself that there were worse problems in the world than me not being able to go wherever I wanted to at the drop of a hat.

Suffice it to say that I am the one who takes care of the motherly duties every day with this child. I pick her up from school. I sign tests. I cook dinner. I fold her clothes. If she needs to be picked up from anywhere, I drop whatever it is that I’m doing and I go pick her up. Yet with all of this, she did not feel the need to get me a card.

I hate to admit it. But I’m hurt…and sad. Her 20 year-old brother called me and told me he loved me. I don't really do much of anything for him. But my stepdaughter didn't even give me a hug.

And so, once again--as I have done so many times--I will take a deep breath and try to reason away why people are the way they are. And with a little luck, I will come to a conclusion that is probably not true, but makes me feel better, anyway.