Tag Archives: marriage

Tortured Tenderness

st valentineI really don’t mean to be a bummer, but I just googled Saint Valentine and learned that, not only was he not the patron saint of lovers, February 14th marks the date that he was imprisoned, tortured and beheaded in Rome in 269 A.D.

Real romantic, hu?

Apparently, the Feast of St. Valentine (a.k.a. Valentine’s Day) was not intended to celebrate romantic love until some crusty old fourteenth century English historians began propagating the legend that Saint Valentine was martyred because he was caught secretly marrying persecuted Christians behind Emperor Claudius’ back.

So, as much as we want to point the finger at Hallmark, Brachs, Whitman’s Samplers, The Melting Pot, FTD and the rest of the blood-sucking consumer industry, apparently they are not to blame for inventing Valentine’s Day.

Regardless, there’s certainly nothing wrong with reserving one day a year to recognize love, right?

As a little kid, Valentine’s Day was a fun affair filled with construction paper hearts, lace doilies, cards imprinted with Ziggy, and red heart lollipops with white edible paint.

In high school, the mere chance of getting a $1 Valentine carnation from a secret admirer was thrilling. Just in case, my best friend and I always sent each other a “secret” carnation, which was smart, considering our dating track records. It wasn’t until my senior year that I received a Valentine flower from an actual boy, but unfortunately, it was from a kid nicknamed “Goober.”

Mercifully, I was finally able to experience Valentine’s Day bliss after meeting my Navy husband. There is nothing quite like the feeling of true love, and in the early years, we spent hours picking out cards for each other, covering every square millimeter with hand written words professing how doggone happy we were to have found our soul mates.

And we meant every sappy word of it. Still do.

However, after twenty years of marriage, the mandatory traditions of this manufactured holiday can seem like the torture endured by St. Valentine back in Rome. I know, I know, buying a card and planning a romantic evening with a loved one shouldn’t be compared to being stoned and beheaded. But when you’ve got the afternoon carpool, the minivan is caked with black snow, you have to get a stool sample for the vet, and the water heater is on the fritz again; Valentine’s Day can seem more like a day in hell.

Unfortunately, middle aged couples get so bogged down with the relentless demands of life — teen angst, mortgage payments, slowing metabolisms, routine oil changes, lost retainers, low water pressure, stray chin hairs — extraneous holidays become just another item on our already unmanageable To Do lists.

These days, despite our best intentions, we do a lousy job of taking a day out to celebrate love on Valentine’s Day. My husband hurriedly runs into the 7-11 to grab any old card on his way home from work. Before getting out of the car, he finds a pen between the seats and scribbles a generic sentiment such as “Love ya bunches, Honey! XOXO” in large writing to take up space.

He finds me in the kitchen, frantically trying to feed the kids and dog, while folding the laundry and helping our daughter study for her Chemistry test. We exchange a quick kiss and our hastily scribbled cards inside envelopes with still-wet glue. He rushes to change out of his military uniform, and I spritz on perfume to hide the scent of frozen tater tots.

We dole out the requisite bedtime threats to the kids, climb into our dirty minivan, and fight the traffic to make our reservation. At the restaurant, we make our best effort at romance, ordering wine, canoodling and sharing dessert. But thanks to middle-aged fluctuations in blood sugar, we start yawning before the clock strikes nine.

I don’t think that this “hurry-up-and-be-romantic-before-I-fall-asleep” routine is what the Pope had in mind when he crowned poor St. Valentine the patron saint of love, but it’s the best we can muster on a weeknight. Besides, even the most tortured schedule should include a little time for tenderness.

Bowl Day: A Play by Play

My favorite spot.

My favorite spot.

Football-shaped bowl of nuts is on the coffee table. Starter log is sputtering in the fireplace. Dog has been walked. Wings are in the oven. Official play begins.

My husband, ensconced in his tattered college sweatshirt, cargo pants he bought himself off the sale rack at Target, and ratty old sheepskin slippers, surveys the field, attempting to locate the best seating formation for maximum game-viewing comfort. Capped beer in hand, he glances around to be sure that I am not in the room, then positions himself in front of my favorite spot on the couch.

My husband doesn’t utilize his quadriceps to gradually lower his weight into a seat like most human beings; instead, the instant he feels his knees break their upright locked position, he disengages all muscles, allowing his entire torso to free-fall toward his desired location. Interestingly, my husband, all three of his brothers, and their father are infamous chair wreckers, leaving snapped legs, warped springs, and crooked recliners in their wakes.

As if seized with temporary paralysis of his lower extremities, my husband’s knees buckle, sending his girth plummeting toward our aging couch with violent impact. *GUH-GLUNK*

Entering the room, I see my son sitting on the floor munching a bag of tortilla chips, and my husband in my seat. Hoping a bit of nagging will roust him, I harp, “Hey Hon, if you insist on watching the game from my favorite spot, could you at least sit down gently? Every time you sit there, I hear that spring clunk under you like it’s broken or something.”

“God help me,” he grumbles under his breath.

I settle temporarily for the other end of our couch, and realize that my husband’s offensive move required a smarter defense. “You know, I think you’d better poke that fire Honey, you know how unpredictable those starter logs can be.”

My husband looks at me suspiciously, but I feign ignorance, “Have the Seahawks colors changed? Didn’t they have royal blue jerseys a few years ago?” As my husband steps toward the fireplace, I inconspicuously employ a slide-lift-blitz maneuver to regain territory. But just as I reach the center cushion, our dog appears, licking my face. Nice block.

*GUH-GLUNK* “Alright guys, c’mon, let’s get some real points on the board!” my husband yells after swiftly retaking my rightful seat. To add insult to injury, he lobs his ratty sheepskin-slippered foot into my lap and slurps the last of his beer. Unsportsmanlike conduct.

“Hey Mom.”

“Yes,” I mutter, trying to hide my gritting teeth.

“Are those wings done yet?”

“Not yet,” I look over just as my son tips the bag of chips over his open mouth, triggering a mini-avalanche of corner crumbs which cascades into his mouth, eyes, shirt, and the freshly-vacuumed family room carpet, “but I’m fairly certain you’ll survive.”

Just then, the cells of my brain call a huddle, and a new play is formed. Time out.

While my husband and son laugh at silly beer commercials like simpletons, I disappear to the kitchen, returning a few minutes later with a heaping tray of hot wings.  Like some kind of modern day June Cleaver, I smilingly dole out platefuls to my unsuspecting husband and son.

And then I wait, nibbling patiently on a stalk of celery.

As expected, they dig right in, my son meticulously dissecting each tiny radius, ulna and humerus, then sucking each finger from base to tip. My husband on the other hand, plops whole wings into his open mouth, and after manipulation with teeth and tongue, pulls the bones out from his pursed lips, stripped clean of meat, fat, skin and cartilage.

“Whew!” my husband exclaims, wiping his brow with a saucy napkin, “Spicy, hu?!”

My son is the first casualty, running for a soda, while my husband tenaciously sweats through another wing or two before abandoning his position in search of cold beer to sooth his burning lips.

Thanks to a few extra shakes of hot sauce, my play worked. With the coast finally clear, I muster what’s left of my middle aged agility. Hail Mary.

Reentering the room, my husband sees me, firmly seated in my favorite spot on our couch. I pump my upturned hands in the air while wiggling my knees back and forth, in a pompous victory dance.

Score.

The Geobachelor’s Wife

Screen Shot 2013-09-17 at 9.19.18 AMAfter nearly 20 years of marriage, my husband and I decided to separate.

No, he wasn’t having a midlife crisis, although he had become quite heavy-handed with his cologne lately. I wasn’t feeling neglected, although his idea of a fun Saturday night was Dominoes and House Hunters reruns. No one was drinking excessively, although we were buying more lite beer than milk these days. There were no irreconcilable differences, although he never did learn how to use the remote.

Really, we were quite happy. We just thought it would be best for the kids if we went our separate ways for a while.

You see, we’re a Navy family. And like all military families, we’re often faced with logistical dilemmas that force us to consider separation to preserve stability through transitions. In such circumstances, the entire family experiences the hardships of temporary separation.

However, the fringe benefits of such an arrangement are often unfairly dispersed. In other words — the husband totally makes out on this deal, every time.

The last time we separated, I stayed in Germany to let the kids finish the school year, while my husband moved ahead of us to Florida to start his new job. For four months before we flew to Florida to join him, my husband was a “Geobachelor.”

Sure, the Geobachelor’s life can be a bit lonely, all holed up in the base hotel for weeks on end with nothing but work, gym, books, television, and take out; but this temporary period of solitude offers the husband complete and utter freedom from the trappings of marriage and family life.

While the wife and kids are locked into a typical hectic family routine, the Geobachelor faces tough decisions such as, “Hmm, maid service again today, or shall I make my own bed for a change? Sports bar with the guys, or eat dinner at my workmate’s house (his wife does make great lasagna after all)? Read another book, or watch the premium channels we don’t have at home?”

Recently, my husband called from Florida. I left him there on June 10th so the kids and I could take the summer to get settled at our new duty station in Rhode Island before school started.

“It’s hotter than blazes down here,” he said between sips of cold beer, “… so, what have you and the kids been up to?” In excruciating detail, I vented to my husband about repairs being done to our base house, about needing money for our son’s textbooks, about trying to fit in with the neighbors, about the cable bill, about the dog having diarrhea at 3:00 am, about the mouse that ran across the family room.

“Hold on Honey,” he interrupted, “Sure, I’ll take another one of these, and how about the Buffalo Chicken Wrap with Onion Rings?” As I heard him ask the waitress what she thought of the coleslaw, I wondered whether I could convince the kids to eat popcorn again for dinner.

“Where are you, anyway?” I inquired, knowing that he had been staying with friends since he moved out of our old house. “Well, I wanted to get out of Calvin’s hair for the day, so I got a new book, went to the spa, and have been wandering around Fernandina Beach all afternoon.”

“Wait, what? You went to a spa?” I said, looking at my nails, which were mangled from all the unpacking.

“You knew I was planning to get my back waxed, Honey,” he said defensively, “and I decided to treat myself to a massage too. . . . Honey? You still there?”

I was too busy wondering if I’d ever get to extract myself from the never-ending hamster wheel of motherhood and family life, and feel the unbridled, rollicking, deliciously reclusive, self-indulgently relaxing experience of being a Geobachelor.

After a long pause, I finally responded, “Do they have chocolate cake on the dessert menu at that restaurant?”

“Yea, why?” my husband wondered.

“Nevermind, just order it, with a big scoop of ice cream on top.”

I guess someone’s gotta do it.

My sailor won’t batten down the hatches!

My column in the June issue of Military Spouse magazine!

My column in the June issue of Military Spouse magazine!

Ahoy, fellow Milspouses! Are you tethered to a soldier who doesn’t know how to hang a ceiling fan? Does your airman plead ignorance when it’s time to program the remote? Are you anchored to a sailor who can’t assemble the baby’s crib? Does your marine call the plumber when the faucet leaks?

If you answered, “Aye,” to any of these questions, then I’ve got the scuttlebutt for you! Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful sailor’s wife who got stuck doing ALL the home repairs….

SO, SO NAIVE

A couple decades ago, I left home to marry a Navy man. A true greenhorn, I assumed that military men were all “manly” types who tinkered with cars, hooked up stereos, and fixed stuff around the house.

For the first few tours, we rented or lived on base, so my misconceptions about my husband’s fix-it skills persisted. It wasn’t until we bought our first home in 1998 that the truth was revealed. I soon realized that, not only did my husband have no fix-it skills, he also didn’t feel an ounce of embarrassment if I handled the bulk of the yard work and home repairs.

In denial at first, I believed he’d change as the demands of our growing family increased. I decided to set a good example, and bought a manual on DIY. With a baby on my hip and a toddler at my feet, I replaced the kitchen faucet. I hung new ceiling fans. I assembled the baby’s crib. I aerated the lawn. I replaced the sprinkler heads.

LITTLE DID I KNOW…

Ladies, I even jig sawed my son’s soap box derby car — and loved it.

The feeling of accomplishment was so exhilarating, I forgot to notice that my husband hadn’t joined in my DIY efforts. He even stood idly by as I embarked on a two month project to build shelving along one 15’ wall of our playroom. I couldn’t see past the sawdust to notice that my husband hadn’t lifted a finger to help.

One night while simultaneously nursing our third baby and chopping onions for dinner, I asked my husband to assemble a simple table-top grill. Half an hour later, my husband sat looking cross-eyed and annoyed at the instructions. “I’m telling you Honey, you could strand me on a deserted island with this thing, and I’d never figure it out.”

A few days later, I was relaying my frustrations to another Navy wife while we watched our kids on the playground. Expecting compassion, I was surprised when she told me it was all my fault.

RUDE AWAKENING

At first I thought she had no idea what she was talking about, because her aviator husband was super-handy; whereas, my husband was still uncertain about the term “Phillip’s head” and referred to the hardware store as “a haunted house.”

However, she explained: “I grew up on a ranch and am no stranger to a tool box, but that has always been my little secret. Try being helpless,” she whispered, “trust me, it works.”

Tragically, it was way too late. My husband had already seen me chop onions, nurse a baby, and assemble a grill all at the same time. There was no going back. And now, as a salty ol’ navy wife in my “roaring forties,” I’m still the one who programs the remote and assembles the IKEA dressers.

BE WARNED!

It might be too late for me, but if this is your maiden voyage as a milspouse, there’s still time! You may be perfectly capable of skippering your own boat, but don’t go overboard. Stow those fix-it skills in your ditty bag and play the roll of landlubber Ginger or sidekick Gilligan while hubby takes the helm. He’ll figure out how to replace the toilet tank float or fix the cabinet hinge in no time.

Be ye in a Navy port or on an Army fort, heed this whale of a tale and your DIY projects will always be smooth sailing.

5 TIPS FOR GROWING YOUR OWN HANDYMAN

  1. First printed in 1991, The Reader’s Digest New Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual is the veritable bible of home improvement projects. Order it on Amazon and give it to him as a birthday gift. [Hint, hint.]
  2. If your husband flounders in the hardware store, don’t be his safety net. Give him time to get his bearings, and he’ll navigate his own way.
  3. Be his crew: offer to assist without trying to take over the project.
  4. Rather than nagging hubby to be Cap’n Fix-It, positively reinforce his DIY efforts. He may not want sea biscuits, salt pork, and a jigger of rum; but a homemade lasagna dinner is a motivating reward for tinkering with the plumbing or car.
  5. Spread out your suggested projects, maybe motivating your sweetheart to tackle one home improvement project per month. He’s busy defending America, after all, so the boy does need an occasional break.
Pick up your own copy of Military Spouse Magazine today!

Pick up your own copy of Military Spouse Magazine today!

To heel or not to heel, that is the sandwich

Image via eatingbender.files.wordpress.com

Image via eatingbender.files.wordpress.com

“Welcome to Subway, may I take your order?”

“Sure, I’ll take a tuna on wheat, toasted, please.” While the polite but pierced teen prepared my favorite sub, I chatted with my husband, who was next up. “So Hon, did you like that new club deli meat I put in your lunch today?”

“That sandwich had meat in it?” he asked sarcastically.

“What are you talking about? I made you a nice big sandwich with that new club deli meat I got at the commissary. You know, the one made of both ham and turkey with bacon wrapped around it. Geeze, I thought you’d like it!” I declared incredulously.

“Well, Hon, it was kind of hard to taste anything inside the sandwich because the strong flavor of the two heels of bread you gave me overpowered everything else.”

I grumbled, but he was right. After making the kids’ sandwiches that morning, I noticed that two heels of bread were left. I could’ve opened a new loaf and thrown the heels away, but my mother had instilled a certain frugality in me.

I thought my husband would appreciate the fact that I was not wasting two perfectly edible bread heels that his hard-earned military salary had purchased. Besides, I thought, he must be grateful that I’m the kind of wife that gets up every morning and packs him a nice lunch, right?

“What would you like on your tuna, Ma’am?” As I selected toppings that were salty, sour, crunchy and spicy, all I could taste was bitterness. “That’s it,” I ruminated. “He can make his own stinking sandwiches from now on.

As my sub was being salt-and-peppered, I remembered a conversation I’d had with a salt-and-pepper-haired lady in the YMCA locker room two tours ago in Virginia. We had just finished our morning exercise classes – I, advanced step; she, senior water aerobics – and the women’s locker room was steamy and abuzz with conversation.

I regularly got a chuckle out of listening to the water aerobics group as they pulled on their support hose, stretch gabardine pants and embroidered tops. All the old women would cackle away about their ailments, medications, aches and pains. I always noticed that the salt-and-pepper-haired lady would listen and show concern for her friends’ self-absorbed grievances, but never complained herself.

I thought she was a real class act, and made a mental note to myself to try to become that kind of old lady, rather than the kind that went on and on about things like glucosamine and condroitin.

On this particular day, she and I found ourselves simultaneously brushing our hair at the shared vanity. “Are there any decent car washes around here?” I asked, after some cursory remarks about the weather.

“Well,” she started, with that Old World throw-back southern accent common in Richmond and Norfolk, “I must admit I’m not very familiar with automotive services around here.”

“You see,” she went on, “my husband died last fall, and don’t you know, during our entire 45 years together, I never once put gas in my own car.”

It took me a minute to process the significance of what this tasteful elderly lady had just said. “Wait, you mean he always put gas in the car for you?”

“Why yes, he certainly did,” she said, somewhat melancholy.

Of course, my immediate reaction was to get mad at my own husband, who never put gas in my minivan. Just as I was mentally making plans for real doozy of a husband-wife argument, the salt-and-pepper-haired lady continued:

“I never asked him; he wanted to do that for me, so he did. And there were things I always did for him – cooking his meals, gardening, and such. I must say, we loved taking care of each other.”

I stood, mouth half agape, staring at the lady in the shared mirror. Like a scene from “Cocoon,” it was as if she had just bestowed upon me the secret to a happy marriage.

“Will that be all?” the bolt-studded Subway employee said, jolting me back to the present. I realized that making my husband’s sandwich every day didn’t render me subservient to him. It was something I did to take care of him because he takes care of me.

With a fresh outlook on my marriage and a fresh tuna sub in my hand, I decided that there was no reason for me to dig my heels in. I’d continue making my husband sandwiches for the rest of our lives, and hopefully he’ll endure a heel or two along the way.

The Chains of Love

My husband is deeply in love with someone. Someone with a great personality. Someone that makes him feel like a real man. Someone with a really nice tush.

That someone is my husband, himself.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not poking fun. In fact, I’m quite jealous that my husband has so much self-respect and confidence. I’ve been trying my entire life to simply be mildly satisfied with myself, and all I can seem to muster is the fleeting thought that I’m kinda funny for a frumpy housewife.

By contrast, my husband’s ego is ironclad, and completely undiminished by hereditary balding, an ample spare tire, and no mechanical skills. He can’t even walk by a mirror or other reflective object without admiring his image. Every time he catches a glimpse of himself, he stretches his neck out a bit, sucks in his gut, and twists to the side to sneak a peek at his backside. It seems to reassure him that, “Yup, I’m as good looking as I think I am.”

My husband’s self-admiration has reached new heights this fall, thanks to our high school football team. On Friday nights, my husband slips into his Blue Devils replica jersey, double knots his sneakers, and gives himself a wink in the mirror before heading to the high school stadium.

At the ticket booth, he proudly says loud enough for everyone in line to hear, “I’m on the list – Chain Gang.” As a sacred volunteer, he saunters through the gate without paying, as if he is Snoop Dog being ushered through the velvet ropes at Studio 54.

He and the other chain gang dads gather near concessions for their weekly pre-game pow-wow. After handshakes and back slaps, they haggle over team stats and joke loudly, glancing around to see who’s watching.

Just before kick off, my husband slips to the back door of the concession booth to obtain the first of three cheeseburgers he will consume throughout the course of the night. Unfortunately, the volunteer coordinator offered the chain gang dads free food, and my husband takes full advantage, deeming it absolutely necessary for sustenance.

Cheeseburger #1 goes down in four chomps, and my husband disposes of the wrapper in one manly whip at the trashcans before marching purposefully across the lighted field to take his coveted position on the chains. As he approaches the opposing team’s side, he relishes his elevated status. Not everyone can walk onto the field minutes before kick off, but he can because he was chosen to be in the inner circle of football volunteers. Not just any volunteer, but the kind that get in free, can walk on the field, and eat anything they want. My husband has reached the top echelon, the pinnacle, the upper crust of the football volunteer hierarchy, and he knows it.

After a grueling half of standing while holding a pole, my husband makes a shamelessly public display of running back across the field at half time in search of more refreshments. He chugs a can of soda as if he’s just finished a marathon in Death Valley, and tosses the can with a masculine belch. Cheeseburger #2 is consumed with a serious demeanor – there’s still work to be done.

Thankfully, the 600-calorie burger gives my husband the strength he needs to endure standing with a pole for the last half of the game. When the final whistle is blown and the game is called, my husband parades his weary body back across the field one last time, waving and winking on the way as if he was an integral member of the coaching staff.

Despite his exhaustion, he moves swiftly because he knows he must get to concessions before it shuts down. Cheeseburger #3 in hand, he takes his place on the track to allow exiting spectators to get a good look at the illustrious chain gang.

Back at home, my husband carefully hangs his replica jersey back in the closet to await the next game, and readies himself for bed. Another glance in the mirror confirms what he already knows – he’s everything he ever wanted, and more.

 

 

The Skin and Bones of Contention

The wild things that go on in our bedroom.

At some point or another in a marriage, a wife faces a delicate dilemma: How to incorporate her husband’s deer head, bowling trophy, concert poster, stereo speakers, bar lamp or autographed sporting equipment into the home décor. In nineteen years of marriage to my Navy husband, I’ve learned that solving this domestic quandary involves compromise, diplomacy, tact, and sometimes, trickery.

After each of our eight moves, I set about making each new house our home. The vast majority of the unpacking and home decorating has been left to my discretion as the wife, and I always make a sincere effort to find spots for the treasured belongings that will provide a comfortable and secure environment for our family.

Sometimes, however, I must prioritize. After our most recent move, I was unpacking a box labeled “master bedroom” and came upon an item that my husband had purchased during our last tour of duty in Germany.

Despite the fact that he is squeamish about blood, has never hunted, and is afraid of my kitchen cutlery; he bought himself a full-sized reindeer pelt one night at a German Christmas festival. He’s not quite sure why he made the purchase, and admits that it may have been motivated by the half-dozen mugs of mulled wine he consumed that frosty winter evening. But, he insists, he must’ve had a perfectly good reason at the time.

After finding the pelt in the moving box along with our prissy floral bedroom linens, I wondered, How will this thing fit into our new bedroom’s decor?

On one hand, displaying the enormous hide might have added the Nordic charm of an igloo – all we needed was an ice machine and a dog sled to give our bedroom a real Tundra vibe. On the other hand, my husband might take the Eskimo theme a bit too far – turning the thermostat below 50, sleeping in a Caribou parka, and offering to massage me with whale blubber oil.

I shuddered at the thought and stuffed the reindeer pelt under our bed.

A few days later, I found the hide spread out in the middle of our bedroom floor like a fresh kill. The dog took a few sniffs and resolved to stay at least two feet away from the strange flattened beast in case it might suddenly attack.

A couple times, I hid the pelt from my husband in hopes that he wouldn’t notice, but he always did, and put the wild animal skin right back in the middle of our bedroom floor. If I tried to reason with him, he declared quite simply, “I like it,” and would not discuss the matter further.

While there have been many battles worth fighting in our marriage, I knew that this was not one of them. In my husband’s travels with the Navy, he has brought home countless souvenirs and memorabilia. Some items were special enough to become a permanent part of our home décor. Others had only a short time on display, before being relegated to a cardboard box in the garage.

There was the airplane propeller, the English cricket bat, the Yemeni sword, the German beer stein, the Middle Eastern vase, the Norwegian whale bone, the Korean chess set, dozens of Navy plaques and framed certificates, and scores of African items – wildebeest horns, warthog tusks, bowls, woven baskets, tribal warrior figures, Masai clubs, fertility masks, bongos, and carved wooden animals.

For husbands like mine, these items become more than just clunky, dust-gathering, tacky souvenirs. The items represent their athletic superiority, power, virility, and youth. Despite the fact that my husband has no sober memory of its purchase, that reindeer pelt is his manhood splayed out on our bedroom floor for the whole world to see.

I wouldn’t want to take away my husband’s manhood just because it doesn’t match the bedspread. And besides, the reindeer pelt reminds me a little of my husband – it doesn’t say much, lays around a lot, and sheds.

An edited version of this essay was published in the August 2012 issue of Military Spouse magazine as my new column, “Things that drive us CRAZY! ” This is the uncut original version, but if you missed the August issue, here’s my column as a PDF: MSMAugColumn

Don’t forget to pick up the September issue of Military Spouse magazine, where I am highlighted as a contributor, and my column “Things that drive us CRAZY!” tells a funny story of the challenges milspouses face when trying to find employment.

All I want for my birthday

Thanks to some terrific neighbors and my sweet kids,
my birthday was not a total wash.
Not that I care or anything . . . really.

My husband totally forgot it was my birthday this year. But you know, I’m so easy going, it really didn’t bother me in the slightest. As long as everyone else is happy, I’m completely content. I wouldn’t even think of putting anyone out for my silly old birthday. I wrote about my selflessness a couple years ago, and thought my forgotten 46th birthday was the perfect occasion to repost an updated version. Not that I’m upset or anything. Really.

It’s my birthday today. I really don’t want anything. Really.

I just want to relax.  That’s all. Maybe a little sunshine. But that’s it. I just want to sit out on my patio in the sun and relax.

Sure, I might want a cocktail while I sit out there. Nothing fancy. Maybe a beer. Maybe a wine spritzer.  No big deal. Ooo, or maybe some sangria, but not that yucky mix or the fake ones that people make with 7-Up and bad wine. One of the real ones that has been soaking in fruit all day long. Yea, that would be good.

But I do like frozen drinks when it’s sunny too. Like a strawberry daiquiri or a frozen margarita. Oh, I know what would be good – a Lemon Drop with real squeezed lemon or a Mojito with the fresh mint and crushed limes. I love those things. Or maybe one of those Pink Lemonades made out of cold Limón cello and cranberry juice. Oo, now that’s the ticket.

But I wouldn’t want to be pathetic sitting out there in the sun all by myself, so maybe it would be good if a friend sat with me. I wouldn’t want to put anyone out or make them feel obligated. Just a good friend who isn’t just trying to get the check in the box. Someone who really appreciates me and likes to listen to my stories. That’s all. And of course it would be good if she brought the drinks so I wouldn’t have to make them myself.

Actually, it would be neat if other friends got word it was my birthday and were like, “It’s Lisa’s birthday! She’s so funny and cool, we need to go celebrate with her!” Not the friends that think, “Oh crap, it’s Lisa’s birthday . . . I’ll just run over and regift that candle I got for Mother’s Day.”

Just a few sincere friends on the patio with drinks, that’s all. Although, it would be nice if they all chipped in without me knowing and bought me something special. Nothing expensive, just something really meaningful that they all knew I would appreciate. That would be awesome.

But seriously, I really don’t want anything. However, I hope I don’t have to cook tonight. It would be great if my husband just picked up some take out so the kids get fed. I really don’t care what it is. Just something light to go with the cocktails. A big Greek salad would taste good. Maybe with a bit of crumbled feta.  Tzatziki with fresh dill and some kalmata olives would be fantastic. Oo, and some of that really soft flat bread warmed up on the grill to give it that smoky taste. I know what would be tasty — marinated grilled chicken breasts, thinly sliced. That would go great with the Pink Lemonades.

I don’t even need a cake today. But if a friend brings a little cupcake with a candle in it, I’ll be totally appreciative. I’d even be happy if the kids cooked a pan of brownies. They would like that. Personally, like them nice a gooey, and they taste so good when they are warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Drizzle some Baileys on top with a few dark chocolate curls and that’s a real dessert.

Seriously though, as long as the kids get fed tonight, I’ll be happy. I just hope they clean the kitchen when they’re done. I’m so sick of cleaning. Just the basics – put the dishes in the dishwasher and wipe the crumbs up. It’s not that hard. It would only take a few minutes. Wouldn’t it be outstanding, though, if my husband secretly hired a cleaning person to clean the whole house? It would be unbelievable if I came up from my birthday cocktail party/Greek dinner and found a sparkling clean house.

I really don’t need anything from the kids. Maybe just a card. Just one that they made themselves, and took the time to write something touching inside with cute handwriting. One that they hid under their bed every night and worked on while I was cooking dinner. One that will bring a little tear to my eye. That would be nice.

But no gifts. Other than little things they made in art class. Like a little beaded bracelet or a key chain. Or maybe they snuck away with their father a while ago and went shopping for me. I’ll bet they all picked out something together, something I would have never thought to ask for because I never demand anything. Like some piece of jewelry that is stylish but meaningful or symbolic in some way. Or maybe an iPad. Or a Mediterranean cruise.

But any old thing will do, really. Like I said, I don’t really want anything. I just want to relax.

I better go plug in the video camera. It would really stink if all my friends came with the cocktails and surprise gift for the Greek dinner and no one had a camera to catch me on tape when I cry over the kids’ homemade cards and the necklace, and when I open the new iPad and the cruise tickets.

Just in case. You never know.

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I only have eyes for you, Dear. Whether you like it or not.

One busy weeknight while chewing the last bites of pork chops and boxed macaroni and cheese, I asked my husband, “Did I tell you about my conversation with the sixth grade math teacher today?”

Gnawing a particularly tough piece of meat, my husband shook his head with a familiar glazed look in his eyes. After 18 years of marriage, he knew that I could take a good 20 minutes to describe cleaning the fuzz out of the lint trap, so he settled into his seat and braced himself for excruciating detail and superfluous analysis.

“Well, I called him about the semester project,” I continued, “and do you know what he said?”

“No. What.” my husband robotically replied, staring blankly into space.

I went on, in great detail, to describe a mundane event in my daily life as a stay-at-home Navy wife and mother of three. However, many years of housewivery had taught me that I could give our regular dinner conversations a stimulating dose of drama and suspense if I merely embellished my otherwise ordinary stories with exhaustive descriptions, exaggerated voice intonation, and vivid facial expressions.

I told my husband all about my phone call with the math teacher, but it came off more like a thrilling off-Broadway play. During a particularly expressive point in my story, my husband, tired and irritated after a long day and a mediocre dinner, interjected sardonically, “Oh, please, do that again with the bulgy eyes. That’s really attractive.” Fully intending to add insult to injury, he mocked me by imitating my Marty Feldman-like eyes, while I sat, stone-faced, glaring at him.

Although his deep-set eyeballs could never mimic the natural prominence of mine, my husband nonetheless contorted his face to look as ridiculous as possible. As I watched his discourteous display and doggedly gripped my fork on that weeknight at the dinner table, our entire marriage passed before my genetically protuberant eyes.

What’s happened to us? I wondered. We used to be so lovey dovey, and here we are pelting each other with insults over Shake & Bake. Is our marriage hopeless? Does he think I’ve become unattractive and annoying? Well, I don’t recall anyone dying and making him God’s gift to women. Hrmph.

Bitter, I finally interrupted his facial contortions, “So, who are you over there, Robert Redford or something?” With blatant hypocrisy, my husband took immediate offense to my sarcasm and scowled.

We sat in silence, sucking the macaroni from our teeth and avoiding eye contact.

Unable to remain mute for more than a minute, I spoke weakly without looking up from my plate, “I can’t help that my eyes bulge, you know.”

My husband’s irritation was suddenly replaced with sincere remorse. “Oh, Honey, I’m sorry,” he said, moving in closer and placing his hand on mine. “I don’t think your eyes bulge. I think you’re bulgy in all the right places.”

His awkward flattery softened my ire, and I released the death grip I had on my fork. Glancing up from the remains of my pork chop and into his deep-set eyes, I realized that, even if we get a little mad from time to time, we’ll always be madly in love.

Sentimental Sofa

When I met my husband almost 20 years ago, he had a couch. It was his “bachelor couch,” and even though it may have looked cool back in 1990 when he bought it to furnish his bachelor pad, the upholstery pattern on that piece of furniture can only be described as a cross between a Bill Cosby sweater and the wallpaper in a gynecologist’s office.

However, I came into the marriage without a couch, so on our limited budget, I was thankful to have one at all. For the first couple years of marriage, the couch was a useful piece of furniture, despite her crisscrossing shades of teal, gray and mauve, and the outdated honey oak embellishments on the armrests.

Moving with the military every few years, I thought my husband’s bachelor couch would eventually be jettisoned like other outdated items from our past – my black and white TV, his old girlfriend’s wine glasses, the kids’ worn out stuffed animals, my stirrup pants – somehow that old bachelor couch just never went away. Sure, we bought other furniture, but the old bachelor couch stuck around in a spare bedroom, or waited in a storage unit until we could find another use for her.

More than a decade into the marriage, I suggested that we donate my husband’s bachelor couch to charity. “But she is so well built and still has so much use  – we can’t get rid of her!” he replied, incredulously. I never brought it up again, and as I sit here in my office writing this column at my desk, that 22-year-old bachelor couch sits just two feet away, made tolerable with a striped slipcover.

I could feel threatened by the fact that my husband has had a longer relationship with his bachelor couch than with his own wife; in fact, when I am alone in the room with his couch, I sometimes feel her mocking me.  But I have learned that, as much as I dislike her distasteful appearance, my husband’s bachelor couch symbolizes something for him, something with which he is not yet willing to part.

Perhaps, the couch that my husband purchased in his mid-20s reminds him of his youth, his virility, his long-gone full head of hair and former waistline. Or perhaps, she reminds my husband of buddies from his squadron days, who sat upon its sturdy cushions to watch football in unspoken camaraderie.

And as much as I don’t like to think about it, perhaps she reminds my husband of old girlfriends, who were probably tacky, wore too much make up, drank wine coolers and did God-knows-what with him while lying on her garish upholstery.

I guess I can’t blame him for grasping onto bygone virtues. Heck, I have two file boxes out in the garage that contain a useless jumble of high school yearbooks, photos, diaries, artwork, playbills, swimming ribbons, and even the bronze Junior Firefighter Badge I sent away for from a Smokey the Bear advertisement in the back of Highlights magazine. If anyone tried to throw those file boxes away, I’d turn from middle-aged housewife into vicious cage fighter faster than you can say “aggravated assault.”

Why? Because those scraps of crumpled paper and corroding metal symbolize a simple, carefree time. A time when my greatest worry was curling my bangs right or whether my parents were going to let me have the car on Friday night. So, on days when the minutia of my middle-aged life as a housewife and mother of three bogs me down, it’s nice to know that I still have in my possession, in two moldy file boxes in the garage, the hope that life can be simple and carefree again.

So, I will not begrudge my husband his reminder of days gone by, even if his “little memento” has had a longer relationship with him than I have and takes up eight feet of wall space in my office.  Besides, she has provided the rest of the family some consolation by facilitating many an afternoon nap.

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