Category Archives: Middle-Age

I’m not worthy! Or am I …

Vote before I lose bowel control, please.

Dear Meat & Potatoes of Life reader,

Here’s the thing: I’m totally out of my league. Or at least that’s what goes through my mind when things like this happen to me. Call me whiney, insecure, crazy, certifiable, clinically psychotic with latent violent tendencies, WHATEVER…. but any time other people say I am “good” at something, I panic and think I’m a total fraud.

So, when I got an e-mail from CircleofMoms.com yesterday, indicating that I was nominated for their Top 25 Funny Mom Bloggers for 2013, I got that nervous feeling like my bowels were about to let loose. Thankfully, that did not happen, but I was a little queasy knowing that I’d have to ask people to vote for ME, a talentless, lousy housewife, as Top 25 of anything.

However, there is a deep, dark, dank, moldy, repressed corner of my psyche that thinks that I might actually be worthy.  The rest of my mind says I can’t hold a candle to the myriad of other Mom Bloggers out there because they have custom graphics, badges, advertising, Instagram, thousands of social media posts, excess use of alcohol, and cuss words. I don’t have any of that.

But that dark corner reminds me that I’ve got meat and potatoes …

A long time ago, before my brain atrophied from lack of use, before Francis had ear hair, before I had ever lifted a baby up to smell its diaper, I was working as a research attorney at a litigation firm in Monterey, California while my husband was getting his masters at the Naval Postgraduate School. While searching for something in the file room, a senior partner’s son, who was working there for the summer, was jabbering away about his love of Starbucks. I commented that I preferred plain old diner coffee to Starbucks, which I thought tasted a bit burnt. I was not sure if his reply was an insult or a compliment, but it’s something which has always stayed with me:

[Heavy sigh.] “Oh, Lisa, you’re a real meat and potatoes kind of gal.” [Sashays dramatically out of the file room in a semi-huff.]

The ambiguous comment came back to haunt me on many occasions. What did it mean?

It was not until I started writing newspaper columns in 2010 that the comment began to take meaning. I wrote randomly about parenting, marriage, family and military life, and I soon realized that there was a common thread which bound my essays together.

From my first published piece – “Tired, boring, predictable — true marital romance is a gas” (Washington Post, January 23, 2010) – to my latest columns on winter and work outs, everything I’ve written peels back the layers of nonsense to get to the heart of the matter, the essence, what’s really important in life.  I realized that, not only was I a meat and potatoes kind of gal, I was proud to be one.

So, for now, I’ll listen to the voice in that neglected corner of my brain that says I’m worthy of Circle of Moms’ list of the Top 25 Funny Mom Bloggers of 2013.  If you think so too, please click here and cast a vote every day from now until the contest ends on February 13th.

Eternally grateful,

Lisa, a.k.a., A Real Meat and Potatoes Kind of Gal

The Armchair Olympian

“I used to be a sprinter,” my husband said recently while lying prone on our couch, watching the Olympics with a bag of tortilla chips placed conveniently on his middle-aged gut as if it was some kind of living chip-dip platter.

Is he being serious? I thought to myself incredulously. “Are you being serious?” my daughter asked from her seat on the floor. “Oh, sure. Back in ’88 when I was in Officer Candidate School down in Pensacola, they recruited me to be a sprinter for Field Day.”

I somehow kept my Diet Coke from shooting out of my nose, and gave my skeptical daughter a knowing wink.

Ever since the 2012 London Summer Olympics began three weeks ago, parents everywhere have been waiting for the opportunity to reveal their inner athlete. Despite our relatively sedentary middle-aged lifestyles, we all yearn to relive our youth, our athleticism, our virility, and our former waistlines. We want to tap into the time when we drove a used Chevette, didn’t pay taxes, ate cold pizza for breakfast on a regular basis, found no use for fiber supplements, and said things like, “Decent.” Ah, those were the Good Old Days.

Thank God, our children didn’t know us back then — they make the perfect audience for our little trip down memory lane . . . or fantasyland, as it were.

“Now, you see,” my husband bellowed from his Barcalounger in our TV room during the Men’s Quadruple Sculls final, “in my crew days back at GW, we had to be in tip top condition to be able to withstand the rigors of the sport.” The kids looked on doubtfully.

I knew the truth, but I didn’t want to burst my husband’s bubble. I knew that crew was something he did in college to enhance his image as the wrinkled-khaki-button-down-oxford-penny-loafer-preppy-frat-boy, in hopes that it might score him a few decent chicks. He milked that gig until graduation, and then never set foot in a crew shell again.

But as he analyzes the sport from his armchair today, you’d think he’d been an Olympic contender. “You see, that one there is the ‘coxswain’ who needs to be small and light — I was far too muscular for that position,” he said between sips of beer.

I must admit, I too, have claimed former athletic prowess while watching this Olympics from the comfort of my well-worn spot on the couch. “You see kids, what you don’t know about your mother is that I swam in college. Yup. We were Mid-American Conference Champions, so it was a pretty big deal.”

I conveniently left out the fact that I was one of only two walk ons to try out for my college swim team. There were only two open spots, so the coach had to take us both. The other girl was way better than me, but she quit after two weeks. That effectively made me the only walk on, and the worst swimmer on the team by a mile. My teammates never really knew my name, and the coach forgot to order me a pair of team sweats. Yea. It was great.

The kids didn’t need to know that part.

With the 2012 London Summer Olympics coming to an end, we parents will have to get up from our lounge furniture and face the reality of our middle-aged lives. That is, until the 2014 Russia Winter Olympics.

My husband will most likely relive the winter he mastered the rope tow on the bunny slope during ski lessons in Maryland. And I will revive the burgeoning talent I exhibited at the Mack Park ice skating rink during those snowy Pennsylvania winters so long ago.

We won’t mention that my husband hated ski lessons, and only agreed to go because his mother promised to buy him hot cocoa. And we will keep it our little secret that I never made a complete rotation around the skating rink without falling.

Why spoil a good story for the kids, right?

If you are an Armchair Olympian, take time out of your rigorous athletic training to please click on the little pink circle and VOTE for The Meat and Potatoes of Life as Top Military Mom Blog!

A Different Kind of Super Bowl Party

Today, while everyone is gorging on hot chicken wings, icy cold beers, creamy dips, and spicy chili slathered in onions and cheese, I’ll be guzzling 64 ounces of a pharmaceutical concoction intended to cleanse my bowels in preparation for surgery tomorrow.

Yup, you read that right. Surgery. Tomorrow. Lucky me.

Nothing puts a damper on Super Bowl Festivities quite like pre-operative bowel cleansing, but alas, I am a middle-aged woman who has given birth to three large babies. Internal organs and tissues are not quite where they used to be, and my doctor says it’s time to put them back where they belong.

When I informed my husband of the procedure, he cringed, shook his head, and finally waved me off, saying, “I don’t need to know the details!” Now, he merely explains the procedure as, “Yea, my wife’s going to the hospital to get her female plumbing all buttoned up.”

Apparently, my husband’s reaction is typical of similarly situated men.

Recently I was catching up with my brother on the phone, and asked what my sister-in-law was up to these days. My brother replied, “Well, I guess she’s going to have some surgery done….” Concerned, I interjected, “Surgery? What kind of surgery?” After an uncomfortable pause, my brother responded, “You know, ‘Lady Surgery.’”

‘Nuff said.

Now, when I explain why I’ll be laid up for the next couple weeks, I just say I’m having “Lady Surgery.” If the person I am talking to is female, she usually says “Oh,” tilts her head sympathetically to the side, then offers to cook something for me. Men universally cringe and look for the nearest escape. Either way, no further details are necessary or desired.

I never imagined I’d ever be one of those middle-aged women who needs “Lady Surgery.” In fact, throughout my 20s and 30s, I thought I was invincible.

I was proud of pushing 9-pound babies out of my 5 foot 4 inch frame without drugs (stupid, I know.) I figured I was Western PA “hearty stock” and could handle childbirth, heavy lifting, gutter cleaning, power washing, lawn mowing, and other strenuous activities completely unscathed.

But then, somewhere in my early 40s, I started to notice that women my age behaved quite strangely in certain circumstances.

When the aerobics instructor at our local YMCA demanded that we do jumping jacks, I noticed that, three or four jumps into the exercise, all the 40-something women ran to the restroom. And I was soon fighting them for an empty stall.

I didn’t feel old, and brushed these incidents off as minor inconveniences. But then, a year or two down the road, I noticed the same embarrassing phenomenon happening in other situations.

I used to really enjoy a good sneeze. That tickly feeling in your nose, the slow inhale as you surrender to the natural forces of your own body, and then the spontaneous blast that leaves you feeling cleansed.

However, sneezing in your mid-40s is a whole other ball game. When the tickly sensation hits, I can usually be heard saying “Uh oh” as I scramble to clench my legs together in a defensive posture. Inevitably the sneeze cannot be stopped, and I utter “Terrific” or “Lovely” as I am left to deal with the consequences.

Soon, hearty laughter, coughing, and other normal body movements became risky business. I started to think about my actions like never before. Mowing the lawn? Sure, why not. Moving the couch? Hmm, maybe. Jumping on the trampoline with the kids? Definitely not.

Suddenly, I was accessing my daily activities in terms of whether or not they might cause my internal organs to drop out onto the floor. It was definitely time to get a medical professional involved.

My doctor allayed my fears by clearly explaining the surgical procedure with both words and rubber gloves. That man could take an ordinary surgical glove, and with a few twists and turns, form it into any one of the assorted female reproductive organs in order to explain my condition. It was truly amazing. I started to wonder if he worked at kids’ birthday parties on the side.

So today, while my doctor and every other red-blooded American is out there gobbling gallons of queso dip, I’ll be having an entirely different kind of super bowl party getting ready for tomorrow’s surgery. Unfortunately, the bowl that will have my attention is located in my powder room.

But it’s OK, I’m ready for The Show. I’m at the line of scrimmage, prepared for the blitz, and I’ll go into overtime if necessary. I just hope I’ll make the conversion from Wide Receiver to Tight End without too many stitches.

Putting the PC out to pasture

I keep things forever.

I have my seventh grade yearbook with the Smurf puffy stickers I stuck on it still decorating the back cover. I have my 2005 Toyota Sienna minivan with 82,000 miles on it, a dent in the hood, and Goldfish still under the seats from when the kids were little. I still have a pair of Lee overalls that I have not worn since 9th grade when they were, believe it or not, in style in my hometown.

And I still, until quite recently, contentedly tapped away at our old 2004 computer.

I knew that old PC like the back of my hand, both of which, lately, have been showing obvious signs of old age.

When we first got her, we were amazed by her state-of-the-art 80-gigabyte hard drive. We couldn’t believe that she could connect with the “world wide web” in a matter of seconds, and without the annoying dial up screech-ping-dings we were so accustomed to hearing. We felt exhilarated when scrolling around her desktop icons and multiple open windows with a click of her newfangled mouse.

Seven years, two hard drive crashes, and an added memory board later, our old PC is ready to call it a day. Despite my meticulous maintenance, her keyboard is gummed up and some of the letters have rubbed off. The mouse has lost its get up and go, especially after we’ve banged it on the desk one too many times when the cursor got stuck. And, her antiquated floppy drive slot is packed with dust from years of neglect.

Try as she might, she can’t handle today’s barrage of data. We don’t dare get on Facebook and Googlemail at the same time, for fear that our screen will freeze up. We can’t upload photos, unless we can wait the rest of the day while she takes her sweet time. And we certainly can’t expect to watch a YouTube video without it pausing every four seconds while she tries to process chunks of information in manageable bites, like spoonfulls of tapioca pudding.

As much as we loved our old PC, we knew it was time.

It’s always good to know a computer geek, and recently, my husband befriended one at work. His name was Jimmy, and, like all techno-dweebs, he was more than happy to give us advice on buying a new computer.

Although he started out using the technical jargon of his field, he learned very quickly that he needed to dumb it down for us.

“I personally recommend switching to an Apple iMac for a number of reasons, the least of which is the Thunderbolt data-transfer technology, and of course there’s the four gigabyte memory, AMD graphics processors, and one terabyte hard drive. You can stream half a dozen HD videos simultaneously from an external RAID array, no problem.”

He might as well have been speaking Cantonese. We thought a “terabyte” was something like a “gazillion”, or perhaps it was some prehistoric creature, and all the acronyms had our simpleton brains yearning for remedial assistance.

“Listen, Jimmy, we just want a magic box that will let us type up stuff, look at pretty pictures, and we want it to go real fast and not give us any grief. If the one you are talking about can do all that, we’ll buy it. Now, can you set it up for us and teach us how to use it?” we asked, shamelessly.

With the promise of free food, Jimmy accepted our proposal, and over the course of the next couple weeks, he became a regular at our family dinner table.

As amazed as we were at the capabilities of our new computer, Jimmy was equally amazed at our almost complete lack of computer knowledge.

“So do you guys want me to set up your apps?” he asked one night after a pork loin dinner. “Heck yea, but first tell us what an app is?” I asked, and Jimmy shook his head.

Another night as Jimmy was giving us a printer tutorial after chicken enchiladas, we asked when he was going to connect up the half a dozen cords and wires that seemed to be missing. Jimmy shook his head again, and explained that our mouse, keyboard and printer were all wireless.

We stared into space for a moment, overcome by that weird feeling you get when you contemplate the vastness of the universe.

My husband snapped out of it and inquired with feigned seriousness, “Have you installed the multiplexer yet?” Jimmy shook his head again and laughed, both at my husband’s joke and at our unabashed stupidity.

Despite his frustration with our ignorance, Jimmy continued to subject himself to our requests for his help. For the price of hoagies and chips, he set up our television. For pizza and beer, he programed our DVR. For spaghetti and meatballs, he installed Microsoft Office.

In the end, we put our dusty old PC and her tangle of outdated wires out to pasture, and with Jimmy’s help, we are learning about our new magic box with her state of the art terabytes and microchips.

Too bad that it will only take a nanosecond for her to become obsolete too.

The Flakey Layers of Motherhood

I was running late, as usual.

While checking my outfit in the window’s reflection, I smashed my frizzy bangs down with the palm of my hand.

I heard chatter inside and opened the door to find a dozen or so of my neighborhood acquaintances seated around a large table holding the usual brunch fare.

At the hostess’s urging, I poured myself a cup of joe, slipped into a chair, and motioned across the table for one neighbor to slice me a piece of what looked like a dense blueberry Bundt. I grabbed a slice of quiche too, hoping no one would notice.

“The elementary school’s gifted program is just not adequate to meet Timmy’s needs,” explained one mother as she nibbled a pumpkin muffin.

Another mom, spandexed legs crossed, asked, “Does anyone want to go to Spin class with me after this?”

“I already did P90X this morning,” another answered, “but I’ll go running tomorrow if anyone is up for it.”

A nearby splinter group was discussing the fall soccer finals.  “Coach told Joseph that he should play up an age bracket next year because he’s not being challenged,” one woman said between bites of cantaloupe.  “Megan did that last year, so this year she’s trying out for the travel team,” another countered.

While the tête-à-têtes continued, I inconspicuously slid another piece of quiche onto my plate.

“Would you like a little fruit with that second piece, Lisa?” the hostess shouted loudly across the table so that everyone in the vicinity could hear.

“Oh, yes, that would be great.” I lied in humiliation, and forked a slice of pineapple off the platter.

An hour later, my second cup of coffee had gone cold, and my waistband felt tight.  Using some cockamamie excuse like expecting an urgent call from an editor, I thanked the hostess and left.

Relieved to be removed from the social pressures of this circle of thirty-something elementary and middle school moms, I hurried back home to the unconditional love and understanding of my matted mixed-breed dog.

The next day, I was invited to another coffee, this time hosted by one of the high school football team moms.  We were new to the team and this new social group of forty-something high school moms. Despite my uneasiness with the previous day’s event, I accepted the invitation.

I was relieved when the football mom welcomed me at the door without giving me the usual “once over.” She led me past unpretentious family photos and piles of boxes to her dining room, crammed full of cackling women, food and warm sunlight.

The buffet was heaped with homemade cinnamon rolls slathered with sugary glaze, dense coffee cake packed with meaty nuts, flakey croissants with jam, smoky ham and egg casserole, juice and coffee.

I grabbed a cinnamon roll and found a seat as the chatter raged on.  The roll was to die for (literally, with all that delicious sugar and fat) so I got up to snag another one.

Before digging the delectable dough from the dish, I paused a moment to think of an excuse to give for my gluttony, but I noticed that no one here really cared. In fact, indulgence seemed to be encouraged.

In a thick Brooklyn accent, our hostess repeated the advice she had recently given her college kid, “Never drink those sugary college drinks that make you sick, just nurse a nice scotch and water like I do.” The mom beside her doubled over with hooting laughter, setting off a chain reaction with the others.

Moments later, chuckles erupted as another mom described her embarrassment over seeing her son’s most recent soccer injury.  “He came home and said, ‘Mom, I got kicked down there…can you please take a look at it?’ One glance and I knew this was something his father needed to handle!”

I was laughing out loud with a mouthful of croissant at one woman’s comical description of her recent hormonal changes, when the mom across from me started demonstrating a facial exercise for double chins. Contorting our jaws so that we all looked like bullfrogs, we found ourselves laughing hysterically again.

As the politically incorrect, inappropriate, and self-deprecating humor raged on, I lost track of time and finally went home well into the afternoon.

Why I was so comfortable at one coffee and so tense at the other? After a little thought, I realized that the elementary/middle school moms still have strict expectations of themselves and their children. They are trying to mold their children and themselves into what they want to be, and their topics of conversation – academic and athletic ability, diet and exercise, fashion trends — reflect these lofty aspirations.

Conversely, the high school moms have been there, done that, and have a laundry basket full of smelly t-shirts to prove it. As they approach menopause, their kids approach adulthood. These moms have learned that the struggle for perfection is futile, because their children’s personalities are pretty much set.

Finally, as a high school mom, I can leave competitive social pressures behind, grab a second slice of coffee cake, and have a good laugh about the reality of raising kids. I didn’t just gain five pounds from attending the two coffees, I gained the new realization that, in a weird sort of way, it’s good to be old.

My Hips Don’t Swing That Way, But My Stomach Does

Out of sheer boredom and motivation to reduce my ever-expanding waistline, I somehow found myself trying a Zumba class at the gym this week. An old veteran of the now out-of-style step aerobics craze, I figured, “How hard could it be?”

“Zumba,” a Latin-inspired dance aerobics program, is the latest thing to hit the fitness world. Gyms across the nation are now offering Zumba classes, which incorporate salsa, meringue, hip-hop, African beats, samba, reggaeton, cumbia, Bollywood and belly dance moves into group fitness routines.

I had seen a Zumba DVD infomercial once, with spandexed men and women writhing and jumping to Latin, Caribbean and tribal beats, claiming that you could “party yourself into shape.” It made exercise look more like a wild night out in Tijuana than a workout, so I was intrigued.

After placing my keys and water bottle in the corner of the cramped little exercise room, I tried to find a spot where I could remain anonymous. The rest of the participants, which ran the gamut from a buxom African American teen to a tiny Filipino lady in her seventies, seemed to know what they were doing. I, on the other hand, did not.

I was relieved to find that our instructor looked like a middle-aged mom just like me, and did not have a figure that screamed, “I am obsessed with fitness and I am about to kill you.”

She put on some catchy Latin music, and next thing you know I was kick-ball-changing, single-single-doubling, and body rolling my way around the room as if I had been doing it all my life.

But after about 30 minutes, the mild-mannered instructor bid us all adieu and told us that our “warm up” was finished. The real Zumba class was about to begin, and the real instructor would arrive momentarily. What?!

I had only a moment to wipe the sweat from my brow and slurp some water from my bottle, when in walked our torturer, er, I mean, our instructor. She had Beyonce’s muscular thighs, Pamela Anderson’s generous bust, and Charo’s wild hair and rolling “R.”

Suddenly, driving African beats blared from the sound system and, using only crazed facial expressions and minimal hand motions, Charo ordered us to rhythmically gyrate and flail our arms while in a semi-squat position.

A few minutes later we had moved on to reggaeton, whatever that is, and were ordered to stick out our rear ends and rotate our hips in complete circles from right to left while pumping our hands out in front of us. For some unknown reason, I was able to rotate my hips counter clockwise, but as soon as we were asked to go the opposite direction, I was unable to maintain the fluid roll of my hips, and could only swing them jerkily from side to side.

I thought, maybe this was due to the magnetism of the Earth’s polls – and perhaps, like the water in the toilet bowls, I can only swirl one way in the Northern Hemisphere, and would have to go south of the equator to be able to rotate my hips in the other direction.

Halfway through the class I was soaked with sweat and we hadn’t even gotten to salsa and meringue. The rest of the participants seemed excited to move on to these classic Latin beats. I thought maybe I’d fare better with something that I’d at least heard of before.

Despite the fact that everyone around me seemed to have the basic salsa steps down pat, I was so confused I just started marching in place. We moved on to meringue, which for me, was more of a lesson in how to sprain one’s ankle. I prayed that it would all be over soon.

Somewhere between the Brazilian samba and the Colombian cumbia, Charo started jumping three feet into the air. Like lemmings, we followed. Finally happy to have a dance move I could understand, I leapt like a gazelle. But then I remembered – I am 45 years old and have given birth to three large babies. My innards are not where they used to be, and might decide to drop out onto the floor at any moment.

Thankfully, the jumping routine ended before my uterus broke loose, and we moved onto our final dance – a Bollywood belly dance. At first, it seemed that Charo was merely putting us through a cruel endurance test when she demanded that we get into a deep plie squat while holding our arms out in a sort of King Tut position. Just as my quads were about to snap, she began to twist and turn her torso back and forth, rising like a cobra from a basket.

I left the class feeling exhausted, sweaty, and somewhat humiliated. My northern European genes had made it nearly impossible for me to perform the sexy writhing movements required to do Zumba correctly, but I was proud that my stomach, at least, performed its own wiggling dance, all by itself, and had kept perfect time to the beat.

When Strangers Marry

On this day, eighteen years ago, I promised to love, honor and cherish a man I really didn’t know all that well at the time.

In fact, prior to committing ourselves to each other until death, my husband and I were pretty much clueless. We had no idea what kind of husband or wife we might turn out to be. As long as we were in love, we thought, nothing else mattered, right?

Time marched on, and with each passing year, we made new realizations about each other and our relationship.

Most significantly, our vastly different childhood experiences forced us to redefine our pre-conceived notions of “man” and “woman.”

My husband grew up going to private school as the son of a neurologist in the affluent DC suburb of Chevy Chase. At weekend cocktail parties and crew regattas, parents chatted over canapés about politics, world events, and their children’s prep schools. They drank bottled water and bought their food from overpriced grocery stores. They had things like capers and pate in their refrigerators, and drove imported cars.

I, on the other hand, grew up in a town with only one high school, where we thought every one in the world had two days off for hunting season. To the people of my small town, “Chevy Chase” was not necessarily an affluent neighborhood, and it was perfectly normal to get your water from a well and your meat from the woods. Our refrigerators frequently contained bricks of Velveeta, cans of Hershey’s syrup, and in the spring, fish with the heads still on. My parents’ vehicles were pre-owned, and other than one Volkswagen Beetle, none of them were imported.

My husband grew up believing that all women can throw sophisticated dinner parties at the drop of a hat, while being charming and looking fabulous in the latest styles from Lord & Taylor or Talbot’s. He did not realize that he had made a lifetime commitment to someone who shops at Target and whose idea of a party is opening a bag of Fritos and watching a Steelers’ game. My poor husband has had to redefine “woman” to include those, like me, who would prefer a hot poker in the eye than the obligatory social events required of a navy officer’s wife.

Similarly, I have had to adjust my definition of “man” to include those who don’t own any thing that is fluorescent orange. I’ve had to realize that there are men out there who actually prefer white wine to beer, and not all men demand space in the garage for a work bench. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my husband is afraid of tools, guns and knives, and shudders at the mere thought of putting a worm on a hook, much less eating a fish with the head still on it.

I’ll admit – I have felt somewhat guilty that I’ve never fulfilled my husband’s expectations of what his wife might be. I’ve often wished that I was more sophisticated, more formal, more “fancy.”

And I’ve seen self-consciousness in his eyes too, like the time I had to put the barbecue grill together because he couldn’t understand the instructions, or the time I snorkeled on a beach vacation for four hours alone while he sipped a Pink Squirrel and read an Oprah Winfrey book selection under an umbrella.

If we knew back then what we know now, would we have eternally promised ourselves to each other before the altar of Graystone Church eighteen years ago today?

Without a doubt, I say “Yes.”

When we first met, the one thing we knew for certain was that neither of us was perfect, but we instantly gave each other the pure and unconditional acceptance that had been missing in our lives. Unless one later discovers that one’s betrothed is actually an axe murderer or a spy for the Russians, unconditional love and acceptance is a powerful thing that can transcend unknown personality quirks.

Besides, I’ve also discovered along the way that my husband is incredibly disciplined, dedicated, and hard-working. Better yet, he is fiercely loyal and his love for our family is deep and sincere. Best of all, he makes me laugh.

We may not be the husband and wife we thought we’d be eighteen years ago, but deep in our hearts is the underlying truth that we love and accept each other just the way we are.

So, Happy Anniversary, Honey. Always be yourself, and I will always love you for it.

The Sandwich Queen

About a million years ago, I had a career. I had a briefcase, an office, a secretary, and a view from the 24th floor. I did research, argued motions, interviewed clients and attended the firm holiday party. My name was on the wall in the lobby.

But then, when I least expected it, something happened.

That something was an incessant, unrelenting thing called life.

Two years after being unexpectedly blindsided by love, I found myself sitting on my Navy husband’s bachelor couch in our dumpy base house, in a state that did not recognize my law license, nursing our new baby while watching Maury Povich interview people who’d been abducted by aliens.

At first it was kind of fun, getting to relive all the times I played house as a kid, except that the babies really filled their diapers and I also had to do the boring stuff like making sandwiches and cleaning toilets. I never really thought it all through, and truly believed that I’d get back to my career at some point.

Fifteen years, seven moves, and two more babies later, I’m still making sandwiches and cleaning toilets, and the opportunity to get my career back simply never came.

In the meantime, I’ve discovered that long term housewifery does not always provide one with the obvious sense of achievement that a career offers. In fact, the daily drudgery of housework and mothering is highly susceptible to being completely taken for granted. We do not get bonuses for sparkling floors, pay raises for fresh laundry, or promotions for perfectly steamed green beans.

So, we veteran housewives must seize our ego boosts where we can get them.

Recently, my son, Hayden, started his sophomore year at his new high school, and I pack his lunch every day as usual. But this time, I decided to bump it up a notch.

My usual routine was to roll up three slices of deli chicken breast and place them onto two slices of whole wheat with a leaf of lettuce and a slice of Swiss cheese. To reward my son for working hard at football practice, I decided to double the meat, adding tender slices of ham and roast beef to the chicken. Two slices of pepper jack and extra lettuce made the sandwich so thick that I had to put it into a quart-sized storage bag.

On our way home from football practice that evening, Hayden, who is firmly entrenched in that infuriating stage of teenagedom characterized by an almost complete lack of normal conversation, said, “Hey Mom, I really liked that sandwich.”

My heart nearly skipped a beat.

Over the next couple weeks, I continued crafting thick, meaty sandwiches, sometimes substituting cheeses, adding spicy slices of pepperoni, or a fresh sub roll. Instead of waiting for accolades, I had taken to eagerly asking him how he liked the sandwich on our ride home from football practice. He would answer in typical teenage brevity, but always communicated his appreciation.

Then one day, Hayden told me that his football buddy commented on how meaty his sandwich was, and that he wished his mom made sandwiches like that. I couldn’t believe my ears and was exhilarated by my new sense of culinary superiority.

Call me pathetic, but the seemingly insignificant compliments gave me a renewed sense of purpose, and a slight spring in my middle-aged step as I packed the lunches each morning.

Sometimes, I’d receive a bonus with my son’s usual mumbled words of praise. Like the day he told me that the school security guard noticed how thick his sandwich was, and ordered Hayden to bring in an extra one for him sometime. And the time his JV football coach called him over during practice and said, “Hey, I heard your mother makes you a big deli sandwich every day for lunch; so when are you going to bring one in for me?”

Sure, it’s true that the closest thing I have to an office has a washer and dryer in it. And yes, it is rather ironic that I used to have a secretary but am now Secretary of the Football Boosters Club. And even though my name is no longer posted in an office lobby, my name is the one my kids utter when they want a tissue, help with their homework, a snack, someone to hear about their day at school, or a hug.

While I may never make Senior Partner of a Law firm as I had planned over 20 years ago, I’ve attained a status I never expected. I’m Head Nurse, Accountant, General Manager, Commander in Chief of the House, and thanks to recent events, The Sandwich Queen. Sure, my scepter may be a toilet bowl brush and my carriage a mini-van, but I don’t mind, because I know I am loved by my people.

Farewell to Rinse and Spit

I placed the magazine nonchalantly in my lap and covered it with my purse. With one hand pretending to grope for a tissue, and the other hand secretly holding the desired page, I began to tug.

I stopped, fearing the man across from me heard the initial tear, but just then, the doors to the waiting room opened, and a bulky woman entered in a boisterous rush. “Sorry I’m late!” she bellowed in the direction of the receptionist’s window. I took the noisy opportunity to finish the deed.

In one fell swoop, I tore the page out of the magazine and slipped it into my bag. Grabbing lip balm to give supposed purpose to my shifty movements, I tried to look bored.

Yes! I always wanted a good recipe for peach cobbler and now I’ve got it, I thought. Feeling a little guilty as I always do when I compulsively tear recipes out of waiting room magazines, I tried to accept this tiny tendency toward kleptomania as a minor personality flaw.

A few minutes later, a young hygienist with a fluorescent white smile called my name. The exam room had the usual dental décor – reclining chair, rolling instrument cart, torturously bright light suspended from robotic hinged arm, pamphlet rack, and poster with ghastly photos of gum disease.

She adorned me with a paper bib and laid the lead x-ray vest over my torso. One after the other, she jammed those uncomfortable little x-ray slides into my gums, each time asking me to open wider. After a dozen or more x-rays, I felt as if my lips had exceeded their elasticity and might droop down past my chin like one of those Ethiopian tribal women.

The hygienist then gave me the run down: first I’d meet the dentist [how nice of him to grace me with his presence,] then he’d take a look at my gums [poke me with a sharp object while shouting secret codes,] then she’d clean my teeth [most likely with a chisel, ice pick and sledge hammer,] then he’d come back [and try to sell me some expensive cosmetic procedure I don’t need.]

Soon, the dentist loped into the room and flashed a huge toothy white grin. “Hi there, I’m Dr. Altenbach!” He was wearing blue scrubs as if he’d just performed heart surgery in the other room and looked to be all of about 19. During some initial chit chat, he noticed my Smart Phone beside my purse and blurted, “Hey, my dad has the same phone; do you like the keyboard? Cuz if not, I can show you an app that he really likes.”

First of all, I am still not quite sure what an app is, but more importantly, why is this guy putting me in the same category as his father?

As Dr. Altenbach poked my gums with his fish hook on a stick, my mind wandered back to my childhood dental exams. I recalled the taste of soap in my mouth from Dr. Petras’ freshly washed bare hands as he cleaned my teeth using the sterile instruments laid out on a blue paper towel on top of a rolling metal tray. He polished my teeth with the ticklish little rotating pencil eraser tool. I had to rinse and spit many times into a swirling sink that looked like a miniature toilet bowl, and always had trouble disconnecting myself from a long string of saliva.

The goggle-protected hygienist woke me out of my daydreams to jab me with her own set of weapons. I could not help but marvel at her sparkling white straight teeth. Dr. Petras had his share of coffee stains and fillings, but today, everyone in a dentist’s office has unnaturally white, perfect teeth. It’s nothing but a high pressure sales tactic, I thought.

At a pause in the cleaning, I looked around for the little toilet bowl, but there was no where to rinse and spit. Instead, the hygienist hooked me like a catfish with a curved plastic tube that magically sucked my mouth dry.

When it was all done, I sat up and tried to put my lips back into place. As promised, Dr. Altenbach showed me how to download the new app, and while he was demonstrating, I noticed that his phone’s home screen had a running surf report. Also, I thought I saw him wiggle his hand with his thumb and pinkie extended in a “hang loose” motion a couple times when he was telling me where to get good fish tacos.

As I checked my teeth in the rear view mirror on the way home, I realized I’ve entered that phase of life when doctors, news casters, and even presidents are younger than I am. I learned that, although may be difficult to take direction from someone who you are older but not wiser than, it’s part of the natural progression of life. Besides, I thought, who’s the one with the peach cobbler recipe, hu?

Labor Daydreams

Today is Labor Day, a day dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. But who are these so called “American workers” anyway?

The current US unemployment rate is the worst this country has seen in over 25 years, with 9.1 percent of our workforce out of work. This dismal state of affairs takes a bit of the celebratory feel out of the holiday, and lessens the compensatory nature of a day off work.

But perhaps the meaning of this traditional American holiday should be expanded during these difficult economic times to pay tribute to those Americans who are simply hard workers. Today should honor those people who get up each day and work to the best of their ability at whatever they do. The quality that should be celebrated and admired is hard work, not paid employment.

Today should be for anyone who works hard, from cocktail waitresses to computer consultants, from plumbers to paper boys, from homemakers to heart surgeons, and even those people who are currently unemployed but are working very hard to find a job.

I didn’t walk five miles uphill to school and back or anything like that, but no matter what my endeavor, I have always been a hard worker. Like most people already in the throes of middle age, I was raised to understand the meaning of hard work, and was expected to apply it in a variety of situations.

Back in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, kids had real chores and I was no exception. I’m not talking about clearing the table after dinner, mind you. To my parents, chores were only worthwhile if they involved hours of tedious detail or backbreaking labor. My friends were used to me being tied up on the weekends with “yard work,” “gardening” or “house cleaning.”  But these typical childhood chores were different in our home.

For example, cutting my parents’ three and a half acres of grass involved a Yanmar tractor with a mower deck attached, supplemented by a push mower to get around trees and tight angles, and at least two days.  And “gardening” really should have been called “crop tending” because of the hours of weeding, watering and fertilizing needed to cultivate my parents’ gargantuan 40 by 15 foot vegetable garden.

Growing up in a small brick ranch house meant that housework was lighter duty, but in keeping with my parents’ work ethic, these chores were also quite time consuming. I recall my mother teaching me the proper way to dust a room, starting from the angle where the wall meets the ceiling and working one’s way down to the baseboards, wiping all flat surfaces and moving all objects along the way, so that one can start cleaning the floors. Needless to say, I hate dusting to this very day.

And then there was the dreaded silver polishing. Despite the fact that we lived in a 1950s brick ranch on a dead end road off Route 286 in a small Western PA town, my mother had enough silver serving dishes to host the Duke and Duchess of York and their royal entourage for brunch. I toiled for hours rubbing silver polishing creams and pastes into the intricate nooks and crannies of my mothers pieces, which included three large trays; a full tea set with pot, sugar, creamer and biscuit dish; water pitcher; ladle, covered butter dish; candlesticks; fruit bowl; wine cooler; rectangular chaffing dish; and round chaffing dish.

I’m not really sure what a chaffing dish is or why my mother needed two of them, but suffice it to say that the only thing getting chaffed in my mother’s dining room was my hands. Once silver was properly cleaned, rinsed and polished to a bright shine, it would sit on my mother’s buffet, slowly collecting dust and turning yellow until the next time I polished.

After I went off to college, my mother got rid of much of her silver, and the remaining pieces still sit on her buffet today, looking more like brass than silver, because I am not around anymore to take on the unenviable job of polishing it.

My three kids, on the other hand, wouldn’t know a hard day’s work if it hit them in the head with a toilet bowl brush. I tried to start them off right, by making intricate laminated chore charts with velcroed stars and X’es to indicate job completion. When that didn’t work, I resorted to store bought Spongebob chore charts with little yellow stampers. When that didn’t work I tried ranting and raving. Then we tried withholding allowance. And on it went until I was threatening to send them all to military school if they did not make their beds.

Why is it so hard these days to teach the meaning of hard work? Did we work harder when we were kids because we got spanked? Or was it just that there wasn’t anything better to do because the only thing on TV was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?

Whatever it was, I, for one, am ready to once again recognize the value of an honest day’s work. In fact, even though I am still wearing my pajama pants and haven’t brushed my hair at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, I actually used my Labor Day off to get a hell of a lot done.

I got up at 7:30 am, emptied the dishwasher, loaded the dishwasher, mopped the floors, vacuumed the carpets, dusted the family room (still hate it), cleaned the toilets, stripped the sheets, tried to install a printer disk on my son’s laptop, folded laundry while I was on hold for 45 minutes with Dell Tech Support, put in another load of laundry while I told the Dell Tech Support representative from New Delhi to take a hike for trying to charge me $129 for asking a question, made lunch for the kids, watered my tomato plants, prepared the hamburger patties for tonight’s barbecue, called my mother so we could reminisce about her silver, and wrote this column.

So here’s to hard work whatever form it takes. In the home, at the office, or on the construction site, an honest day’s work is to be appreciated, whether one receives a paycheck for it or not.

As American actress Bette Davis once said, “To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy.”

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