Thursday, July 25, 2013

Working Despite the Sunshine; Reflections from a Grayer Time

Okay, so I don't know about you, but all this consistent sunshine in Seattle is making me a little grumpy. I mean, if I wanted to see the same blue sky and bright glare from streaming through my still-unwashed windows from 7am until 9pm, I would have lived in California, right?! 

And as an aspiring writer, I can tell you that these beautiful summer days do not provide the perfect conditions for the soul-searching and self-reflection necessary for insightful writing. Maybe that's why so many writers live in Seattle or the San Juans. Rain, fog and marine layers just go much better with strong coffee and brooding, don't you think?

Not to mention you just feel like you should be outside doing summery things everyday when the sun is out. Who wants to clean their bathrooms, clean out the kids' rooms, or even shop in the artificially bright heaven of Target when you've got the real stuff outside beckoning you to sit outside with friends dining al fresco and chatting and laughing, or jogging along the trail feeling healthy and happy about all the good things in your life, or marveling at the eclectic life that teems both in and out of the water at Madison Beach! It's no wonder that the warmest, most beautiful seaside countries are not exactly the most productive or highest GDP's; now I get it!

So I guess I'll have to just stare at my to-do list that grows increasingly long and overwhelming in hopes that we will soon get our Seattle gloom back and I can get some things done! In the meantime, I wanted to let you know that I have officially given up my Real Estate license and have gotten a job as the Elementary Assistant at my kids' school. Yes, I'll be wiping lunch tables, helping kids and their parents with their hurts and anxieties and coordinating schedules, mail, schedules. Not much different than home, but now I'll get paid for it! And I'll also continue to pursue the serious writer that my husband swears lingers just beneath my surface...

To that end, it was on one of those beautiful, gloomy days that I wrote the following story for a contest that I wanted to share with you. No, I didn't win, but I still like it. I'll warn you that it's dark. Think gray clouds, rain, Coldplay in the background and a phase of mid-life existential angst. I call it my "Everywoman" story, for all of us women who sometimes wonder who they have become...

Please let me know what you think, but please be kind. We aspiring writers have very fragile egos! 


Anne woke up on Monday and decided to take down all the mirrors in her house. Now 47, she had decided that her reflection no longer told her who she was, only who she wasn’t. And she could not bear to look at herself anymore without a growing sense of loneliness and despair, lacking the will or energy to pluck, cover or grieve over the signs of an extending life to which she no longer felt connected.

As she carefully laid each mirror in a stack, she remembered when her youthful beauty had helped define who she was. “You have such beautiful eyes,” strangers say as they look down at her young daughter, barely noticing Anne, her own eyes behind sunglasses she now wore each day to hide her exhausted and fading sense of herself. These same words were once uttered to me, she thinks sadly, perhaps in a boyfriend’s basement, softly lit in television darkness.

“Mom, where are all the mirrors?!” her daughter asks with a voice full of sleepy teenage attitude and curious fear as she walks out of the bathroom.
“I took them all down. I don’t want to look at myself anymore,” she answers. Her daughter stares at her for a moment, not quite understanding the depth behind her mother’s answer.

Who am I, Anne asks silently as she smiles softly back at her. Do you know? Are you, in your young, fearless, adolescent lust for the life you wake up to each day, who only knows disappointment as a friend’s unkind word or privilege lost, a perfect reflection of who I once was? Or a damaged extension of who I have tried to become?

“Don’t worry, you are beautiful,” Anne tells her quietly, eager for a moment of closeness to a bond that seems to have broken.
“Your mustache is growing in again, mom,” she answers angrily, hard footsteps storming past to the solace of her soft, pink room. Her door slams shut against Anne’s unwanted image.

She gazes through her transparent self in the window, watching her daughter walk away. The leaves were changing colors and the morning sky had taken on the milky tone of Autumn’s filtered sunlight as Summer slipped further away. Her role as wife and mother always wrapped up neatly each day by 9:00 a.m. when the kids left for school and her husband drove away in a car she feels he now loves more than her. The only definite plan I have today is to make my bed, she realizes once again.

That afternoon, while she waits for her daughter in the school yard, Anne sees the other mothers huddle in their groups of twos and threes, chatting about teachers and setting up play dates, exclusive and long-standing friendships that appear closed off to anyone without a shared history of local sorority to offer.

Standing alone, she catches sight of a hollow version of her face looking back from the blackness of her phone before she turns it on, eager for its digital companionship, the perfect camouflage to hide her untethered self. Why doesn’t my phone ever ring with friendly invitations to coffee or the idle chit chat of motherly worries or wifely boredom, she wonders. I have no friend requests on Facebook, no emails to answer, no invitations to book club or dinner.

Here in the middle space of this life I have created, I feel that I no longer matter. My relationships have become like cameo appearances in the lives of others, always skimming the surface of my protective bubble made of judgmental solitude and protected hurts, afraid to show anyone that I am not all that I pretend to be and unwilling to open wounds from pain buried deep and unresolved, long ago.

“Mom, why are you here?” her daughter asks as she walks toward her. Anne looks into her unsmiling face, not knowing how to answer.
“I don’t know anymore, my love.” She quickly turns around and walks away to the circle of friends that wait for her. Her own history now being created, leaving Anne behind.

Home again, she admires the golden, liquid image of herself in her wine glass and remembers when her children were much younger. They could never seem to get enough of her, following her from room to room until she felt she would scream from suffocation. Who have I become, she silently pleads with them. No longer the mother of parks and picnics, stories and zoos, playmate and safe haven from all that could hurt you. Do you know that I now cry tears for the loss of your attention in the same bathroom I once used to escape your insatiable need for my love? Why have you left me behind?

That evening, she looks deeply into her husband’s eyes as he tells her the details of his day without her at work. I have waited for you all day, she thinks, and now you are here and I can not bear to listen to your voice anymore.

Who am I, she silently asks him as he continues on. Who do you see when you look at me? I gave you my life more than 20 years ago and then I gave you the lives from within me that became our children and now I have nothing left of me. Do you still find me attractive and interesting even though I am no longer measured by the beauty of my eyes or promotions in my discarded career, but now only by baskets of laundry, soccer goals scored by my daughter and pounds of unwanted flesh that linger from children who refuse to need me? Why have I not become what I once thought I would?

He absently asks about her day. “I made the bed and put a picture of it on Facebook.” She gets up to pour another glass of wine, in search of the domestic bliss promised at the end of the bottle. She feels him staring at her back, soft and impenetrable. “I’m going to bed,” she says without turning around. She climbs the stairs with her wine glass, heavy footsteps echoing her departure.

She calls her mother as she slides under the blanket. She recently read that hearing a mother’s voice, even on the phone, is just as good as being hugged. Yet when the cold voice of the machine picks up, the hope of spoken warmth is replaced by the sad memories of her unhappy life as a teenager. A time of dark and empty spaces that never seemed to get filled. She hangs up quickly and turns off her phone, sinking deeper into her blanket for comfort.

The next morning Anne wakes up from a dream where she has been swimming deep underwater, able to breathe, young, beautiful and connected to a life in which she is once again loved. “You have beautiful eyes,” the schools of angel fish chant as they swim by, voices singing in soft and perfect chorus.

The house is silent as Anne gets up to dress. Quietly, she opens the front door. The sky is wet and thick with the morning marine layer, any warmth or light the sun has to offer covered in gray. She slips into her husband’s car and drives away, certain that no one has awakened to her leaving.

She bends over the railing of the bridge and sees her shadowy reflection smiling up at herself. The water looks so deep from here, she thinks, her tears echoing soft splashes of her life’s emptiness to the anticipated warmth below.

“I know who I am,” she whispers softly to herself. “I am a fish out of water. And I must go home.” 

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Cup of Coffee and a Defining Moment...

Despite the fact that my New Year's Resolutions included posting a new blog entry every two weeks, here it is, almost May (!) and I haven't posted since yes, New Years! Okay, so here it is, like everyone, my life seems to be one big cycle of "well, once I get this done, I can focus on that" Or, "once we get past this weekend of 3 tournaments, a science fair project, soccer tryouts and a cub scout camp out, we can focus on that other project we've been putting off" Sound familiar? And before you know it, yet another "that" has turned into "this" and so on and so on, and then, well, like I said, it's May already!

So what exactly have I accomplished in the past 5 months, I ask myself? Let's put it this way. You know those cute family and pet caricature window decals you see on the back of mini-van and SUV windows? You know, the ones where everyone in the family is doing their "thing" like giving a speech, playing golf, kicking a soccer ball, playing frisbee or relaxing in a pony-tailed beach pose reading a novel?

Well, in case you haven't yet seen these and are now curious, keep in mind that you rarely find them on cars, since this is, of course, the next step after the "Baby on Board" sun screen has turned into a "I'm a busy mom, so get the hell out of my way because I'm late" stage of parenthood...

Anyway, I decided that I want one for my own SUV because I, too, am at this crazy stage of parenthood. And since I thought this would make a good birthday present for myself, naturally, I had to find the site, put the family together just the way I wanted, and then email it to my husband to make sure that I indeed would get it for my birthday, as planned! (Yes, this also takes up a lot of my time...) So I, of course, googled the website (more of my time...) and found the company that I'm sure is now making a mint from women like me who want to have some kind of visual validation of who they now are or have become, either transcendental phrase would work here.

So as I scrolled up and down the pages of possibilities I had to really ask myself, okay, what am I good at, enjoy or spend the most time doing? In other words, what exactly have I been doing since January?! Let's see, there were no perky, pony-tailed choices for agonizing over math homework, doing dishes or laundry, cleaning the toilet, or driving the kids to a million different kinds of practice (maybe the sticker on the SUV implies that...) Likewise, there were no representations for cleverly saving money or stressfully paying the bills, shopping for the same groceries every week, or completing a month's worth of to-do's for the whole family. And, surprisingly, there weren't any bleary-eyed moms in bed trying to read 2 paragraphs of an unfinished book at 10 o'clock at night before passing out...

Well, as you know, there are those defining moments in your life that hit you unexpectedly and little did I know that choosing my own birthday present was going to be one of them! Because I'm telling you that I went through those mom selections at least three times, and as I scrolled through the many rows of women either sitting at an office desk, dressed in a lab coat with a stethoscope, playing tennis or running a marathon, I realized with much dismay that I no longer pursue any of my old hobbies, interests or career dreams either because I am no longer physically able to, don't want to, or the big one: c'mon, I stepped off the career ladder so I could raise three kids and I'm too old!

So do you know what I ended up choosing myself doing? Holding a cup of coffee! Because, hey, I'm good at making it, drinking it brings me joy, it's what I look forward to as soon as I get up in the morning and apparently it has become one of my few daily accomplishments that is worth being represented by a car decal! (There were no moms with a wine glass in their hand, but I guess that would have been a worse life statement, right?!)

I think you can guess that my defining moment became the moment that I realized that at this point in my life, it might be time to create a new life! So what have I been doing? Well, aside from the above, and probably because of the above, I have decided to begin a career change so that I can reinvent myself (again?!) into a new "me" that will no longer be defined only by a large coffee mug. And hopefully that uses all the skills I have gained while drinking it...

Skills like: being a great communicator by writing tongue-in-cheek blogs with lots of trailing periods, question marks and exclamation points. Having strong negotiation skills from convincing my husband and kids why they should do something or why I'm right. Being a great micro-manager of other people's lives, (husband and 13-year old are very good references here). Effective time management gained by over-volunteering and over-scheduling in order to gain more expertise in creating to-do lists. Financial expertise gained by successfully managing frustratingly small and large (depending on the year) annual budgets and by searching the internet for the best price on any item needed. And finally, consistent creativity and resourcefulness acquired by finally learning how to use my crock pot and putting "fresh" outfits together from a boring closet...

Pretty good, right?! So with a respectful Mother's Day nod to all the other moms out there with similar experience and expertise who may also be searching for their next perfect career and/or re-defining car decal, please give me a call if you hear of any opportunities that seem like a good fit. As you know, I would love to buy you a cup of coffee and chat!

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Ghost of Christmases Past

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed your holiday and/or were not too stressed out trying to enjoy it... In between this Thanksgiving, for which I spent four times as much per pound on a Kosher, brined vegetarian-fed and assumingly relaxed-before-his-execution turkey, only to find out that after painstakingly basting it all day it still tasted like, surprise, turkey! and overspending my Christmas budget yet again, we took a family vacation to Cancun, Mexico to meet up with my side of the family for an early holiday reunion.

And it was after this warm, relaxing and sunny trip to an all-inclusive resort that met every possible need and eliminated all of my mundane household chores (except picking my kids' clothes up off the floor; guess you can't have everything!) that I realized that I have to admit, at the risk of shocking all who love the annual winter traditions of fattening feasts and the call to shop at all crazy hours of the night when we used to just be nestled in our beds lest we miss the half-price markdowns, that given a choice, I would now gladly escape the entire holiday season this way each year and let Santa cast off his heavy suit for a red Speedo to find us somewhere on the beach celebrating in a more simple fashion with family and fruity drinks for all. (Actually, I think I saw him there with said Speedo, but that's another story!)

Now if you're anywhere around my age, you'll remember that many, many, many years ago. when stores weren't even open on Sundays at all, let alone Thanksgiving night, and the toy section was maybe two aisles long instead of a quarter of the store or the whole store itself, that the big event was when the Sears holiday catalog came in the mail and we laid around for hours, not in our Juicy, Lululemons and Uggs but in our Garanimals, 7-pocket white painters pants and toe socks, longingly poring over the 3 or 4 pages dedicated to the most beautiful inert toys we could ever imagine.

I fondly remember imagining myself brushing the hair of the life-sized Barbie head that would suction cup itself to my desk so that I could turn the knob to grow her ponytail. Or picturing myself with beautiful Stewardess Barbie in her soft plastic airplane that folded in half, pushing her orange cart and offering her passengers pillows, blanket and magazines without even asking for anyone's credit card!

Today, in my own grown-up Lululemons handed down to me from my niece, I have fallen into the common trap of urban mom/parenthood of overspending on my kids who already have everything they could possibly need and then spending even more the days following Christmas as it seems like each gift carefully picked out on the infinite number of internet shopping pages requires about 5 more tasks and a minimum of 20 more dollars to get everything working right, especially as your kids get older.

Gone are the days when you could just sit there on Christmas morning and happily watch them play with the colorful toys it took half an hour and hedge clippers to get out of their steel-like plastic packaging and that took up half your living space like kitchen appliance and cabinet sets bigger than your own, early educational "centers" that included seating areas, the introduction to Beethoven and a pre-school algebra center and Thomas the Train villages that seemed to grow exponentially from their home base of Sodor, threatening to overtake all the coveted spaces of your small Seattle bungalow.

In fact, having recently moved from the battery-age to the digital age in most of our kids' toy life, Santa, generously got all my kids the Kindle Fire to promote their love of reading without a real book. What Santa or any of his Gamestop elves forgot to tell us was that the Kindle does not come with a charger, which is one of the reasons it is less expensive, so you need to add that to your newly-formed post-Christmas budget and run to the store on the second busiest shopping and return day of the year to get at least one along with the $20 motion adaptors we didn't have for our two Wii remotes in order to operate the Wii Resort Sports game my parents got for my oldest son, whose idea of playing outside in Seattle is, sadly, as an avatar on our basement TV...

Then, having survived the modern-day version of "I don't have any D cell batteries!" horror, we spent most of Christmas morning using up what little charge the Kindles came with trying to remember the password to our router for the wireless internet connection or to any of the applications that they wanted to load on the device, our library card number for free ebooks that (surprise!) still have a waiting period for popular titles, and then our Netflix password long-forgotten because I never need it which then forced me to spend another half hour calling them because the email address I used to set it up years ago is no longer valid. And in order for them to buy any apps, "free" or not, or any books in the future, I had to then supply each Kindle with our our credit card number which is in itself scary as I now more fully understand the genius marketing behind the Amazon business model based on all the blades you have to purchase in order for the razor to work! 

So needless to say it was not until the next day after we had charged everyone and everything up that we realized that there were 20 devices connected to our free Comcast router now so overloaded with technology that it was preventing anyone from staying connected to anything in the house! So, once again we dutifully made our trip to the store to spend a more shocking $150 on the fastest and strongest router model with enough bandwidth to handle all the wireless fun we, and Santa, had promised to deliver! So is it any wonder that we all don't want to flee from this craziness to sunny and disconnected, carefree beaches in lieu of an exhausting season trying to make our children happy?! 

Today, as the flurry of holidays has passed and the new year is spread out before us like a still-unopened present and I'm pretty sure we now own all of the electronic devices we could possibly need, (unless they invent the mommy-robot that does all my cooking and cleaning, of course!), I plan on finding the time to reconnect with myself and my family on a less digital and more personal level in an attempt to resurrect that more simpler spirit of Christmases past. And who knows, once the myth of Santa is finally gone and my daughter recognizes that her stocking stuffers look just like the items in the Target dollar section, maybe I'll even ask the kids if instead of getting gifts, they'd rather go somewhere as a family that was warm, sunny, and router-free for Christmas. After all, I think it would cost the same!