Tag Archives: mid-life

Bucketful of Love

My 5th grader’s Harriet Tubman Project is due this week. The car is encrusted in salt and grime and needs new wiper blades. The dog ate an entire jumbo rawhide bone in 20 minutes, and now has a bad case of the runs. Two days ago, I sprouted a cold sore.

And tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.

Every year, it’s the same thing. We’re engrossed in the hectic pace of normal family life. We’re paying bills, deciphering homework assignments, cheating on diets, reprimanding teenagers, grocery shopping, car pooling, and shoveling snow.

When February 14th rolls around, you can almost hear a collective exclamation — “Oh crap, it’s Valentines Day!” And we rush around to get the proverbial check in the box.

Mustering fresh romance after 17 years of marriage can be tough. Even if we manage to pop open a bottle of bubbly and exchange the obligatory cards with meaningful sentiments (scribbled in the car outside the 7-Eleven,) we still have to fight back the urge to yawn once the clock strikes nine.

It all seems so contrived. As if some corporate conglomerates who market greeting cards and heart-shaped balloons conspired to add more tasks to our daily “To Do” lists, all in the name of Valentine’s Day profits.

A few years ago, I was complaining to a friend of mine about Valentine’s Day messing up my schedule, when she told me about her tradition with her husband. They forgo the convenience store cards, and skip giving nick-nacky gifts like picture frames, teddy bears and Whitman’s Samplers.

She never cooks a nice dinner. He never buys flowers.

Instead, they get out the Hanky Panky Party Pail.

Nothing more than a cheap purple plastic sand bucket, they unceremoniously throw in a few items relating to “hanky panky” – an adult beverage, lingere, anything that will facilitate a Valentine’s Day romp in the hay.

At first I thought, “Well, that’s just disgusting. No hearts? No candles? No flowers? What kind of marriage is that?” But I soon realized that there are really only two reasons our husbands buy us cards, flowers and chocolates on Valentines Day: 1. So we won’t get mad at them, and 2. On the off chance they will get lucky.

And the only reason wives cook and buy cards and ties for our husbands is so that we can say we gave them something, even though we know it’s not what they really want.

So why rush into our salt-encrusted cars to buy silly pre-printed cards and new ties just so we can dash back home to wrack our brains for something meaningful to write inside the cards and search our closets for old gift bags that they have most likely seen before?

Why go through the rigmarole and expense of getting babysitters so we can stand in line for the Valentine’s Day Chicken Quesadilla special at Ruby Tuesday?

Why pressure our husbands to give us flowers when we know they will eventually wilt, drop petals and pollen everywhere, and leave that grody green slimy ring on the inside of the vase?

Why expect heart-shaped boxes of chocolates when half of them are filled with nondescript fruity fluff anyway?

Why not skip all the unnecessary holiday commercialism and get right down to business?

It’s a win-win for both parties. Wives don’t have to cook, clean or find time between orthodontist appointments and school projects, and husbands get what they always wanted.

And if you are my husband, it only takes a few minutes.

My Life on the Middle-Age B-List

We all remember the popular crowd in high school. They were the fortunate ones with just the right amount of athleticism, good looks, fashion sense or coolness to gain them a coveted spot in an elite group of teenagers to whom life seemed to come easily. The rest of us could only look on helplessly, and pretend that we didn’t care. But secretly, we did. A lot.

 Throughout high school and college, I attempted to gain entrance into the popular crowd, but always failed. The harder I tried, the more pathetic I became. Not possessing the requisite “popular” qualities, I resorted to humor, and although I was voted Class Clown of my 1984 graduating class, it didn’t get me a good date to the prom.

 Despite these hardships, I thought an end to the social competition would be in sight if I could just snag a mate. Little did I realize that years after finding someone with standards flexible enough to accommodate my eccentricities, I would continue to face the same peer pressure and popularity issues that plagued me in my youth.

 About 10 years ago, my husband and I bought a house and settled in with our three children to a nice suburban life. While I was quite content putting my career aside to raise our children, I soon realized that Mr. Rodgers and the mailman were my only regular companions. In a somewhat pathetic effort to find friends, I lingered a bit in the school parking lot, hung out at the neighborhood playground, and started taking classes at the gym. With perseverance, I acquired a small group of married acquaintances to see on weekends or to chitchat with in the driveway. 

My solitary schedule perked up with the addition of these friends, but as the years passed, things got complicated. Somewhere between chitchatting at PTA functions and backyard barbeques, social competition reared its ugly head again.

It all started innocently enough: I was at Bunco and saw a friend wearing a fantastic pair of new boots. Next thing you know, I was hell bent on getting rid of my old clunkers so I would look so good. I brought my famous taco dip to book club and heard others raving over another friend’s fabulous dish containing a trendy combination of pine nuts, fresh herbs, and some kind of cheese I’d never heard of. While picking up the kids in my practical, well-worn minivan, filled with Happy Meal toys and old French fries, a self-conscious feeling came over me when I saw another cool friend, trendy coffee in hand, pulling up in a shining SUV, flashing a confident grin.

Suddenly, my previous state of ignorant self-contentment was shattered and I began to question my lifestyle. I listened more intently to the chatter, and discovered that it wasn’t cool to admit that “Wife Swap” was one of my favorite shows. I wondered if I should forgo my annual full-page Christmas letter, detailing the activities of our kids as well as the family dog, and go with a simple black and white photo of my kids on the beach in winter wearing Gap sweaters. I felt the pressure to give up the comfort of my cotton Jockey’s For Her in favor of the annoying thong so that everyone would think I’ve “still got it.”

 I also discovered the cardinal rule: you simply must whiten your teeth in order to be a full-fledged member of the mid-life popular crowd. The old standards have changed; when our parents were raising us, it was more important to have a nice cigarette lighter and trousers with a good poly blend than to have white teeth. Black coffee and tobacco-stained teeth crammed with silver fillings were the norm back then. Today, you must have sparkling white teeth at all times; only the occasional pino noir stain is acceptable.

 At my age, it should be easy to avoid falling prey to such shallow meaningless pressures, but like most victims of the mid-life social scene, I was not aware that I had been sucked into the maelstrom until it was too late. I had already purchased the Gap sweaters, filled my pantry with miso sauce and olive tapenade, and painted my walls with Sherwin Williams’ Cappucino No.7.

 So what am I saying? Should I resign myself to a life of mom jeans, spray cheese and economical boxed wine just so I won’t fall victim to the social pressures of middle-age? Probably not a good idea. A little updating can be fun, and let’s face it, trendy boots are fabulous.

 Nevertheless, those of us who never had it in us to be “popular” must discover who we are and just be real. This may sound too “Dr. Phil,” but it’s true nonetheless. At the end of the day, the only people we should try to impress are those that reside within the four walls of our own homes.

 As for me, I drive a mini van, a doughnut franchise makes my favorite coffee, I wear comfortable undies, and I’m still not quite sure how my cell phone works. I’m the real article. No apologies. Take it or leave it.

Are We There Yet?



I talk too much. 

Countless thoughts are spawned in the fertile recesses of my mind, and are only given a few moments of incubation time before I give in to the irresistible impulse to birth them into the world in the form of unsolicited speech.

The poor people who happen to be within earshot of me tend to get that glazed-over look in their eye, the tell-tale sign that they are bored, praying for the end of the story, trying to find a point, or just simply thinking, “She never shuts up.”

Recently, I decided to channel my thoughts into something worthwhile and less annoying, so I took up writing and dove into my new hobby with vim and vigor.

However, my excitement quickly turned to self-doubt when I realized – who wants to read the mundane rants of a middle-aged housewife? Surprisingly, the clutter of my mind parted like the Red Sea to reveal the answer: My mundane middle-aged life is exactly what thousands of readers want to know about. I mean, who doesn’t wonder, what specifically is “middle age”? Are we there yet? Is there any way to turn around and go back?

We throw the term “middle age” around like so many other vague phrases common in daily vernacular, without really understanding what the words really mean. The definition of middle age is definitely debatable – some believe that statistical life-expectancy charts dictate that one is middle-aged when one is between 40 and 60 years old. But this view is almost universally met with resistance . . . “What? I’m not middle-aged!”

Such non-believers opine that they are only as old as they look, act or feel. But if this vague standard was the basis for determining middle age, I would bet my pricey wrinkle cream that the only people who would admit to being middle age would be standing in the early bird line on senior citizens night at the local Country Buffet, likely wearing pants well above their waistlines and orthopedic shoes, and definitely planning on getting seconds of the tapioca. 

What are we so afraid of? For many of us, middle age represents the real “meat and potatoes” of life, when selfish interests are put on hold for hard work in the form of home buying, bill paying, child rearing, taxes, the struggle to ward off the physical effects of aging, and the battle to keep marriages intact through it all. Gone are the days of carefree self-discovery and unbridled fun-seeking – it’s time to get serious and figure out what the hell we are doing before we screw things up. 

Middle age probably plays the most significant role in determining our long-term happiness. It is during this time that marriages are either cemented or broken, our children are forming their personalities (or criminal tendencies), and we either become comfortable with ourselves or we experience the proverbial mid-life crisis. 

How on earth are we supposed to perform this tight rope act without falling into a deep dark abyss? Truthfully, I have no clue; however, I cannot help but think that if we just sit back and relax, we might just enjoy the ride. Why spend our substantive years pathetically fighting what nature and instinct have dictated for us? I’m not saying we should stop plucking our chin hairs and burn our extra supportive bras, I just think that the key to surviving middle age must be based at least partially on our willingness to give in and embrace the natural progression of our lives with a fun-loving spirit and the ability to laugh at it all.

Tired? Boring? Predictable? True marital romance is a gas.

See this article as it appeared in The Washington Post on January 24, 2010:  


One busy night after the kids had gone to bed, I settled into my well-worn spot on the sofa for some mind-numbing television.

“Can you believe this guy?” I asked my husband, seated in his favorite recliner beside me. When no answer was forthcoming, I glanced over to witness an all-too-familiar scene: Deeply embedded in the recliner’s cushions was my husband of 17 years, sound asleep.

Normally, I would giggle, turn the lights out around him and go to bed — a sort of revenge for being “abandoned” for the umpteenth time. He’d eventually wake up alone in the dark and trudge upstairs to find me tee-heeing under the covers.

But on this particular night, I gawked at my dreaming husband as if I were seeing this for the first time. Is this the man I married?

Panic gripped my soul as I realized: We’ve changed. We’re tired, boring, predictable. We’re doomed.

One evening in 1992, my husband-to-be and I were at an Italian café in Pittsburgh, sipping wine and falling in love.

“I really want to travel,” I said. “Me, too,” he said. “I want to live near the ocean,” he said. “Me, too,” I said. “I don’t care about money, I just want happiness,” he said. “Me, too!” I said. It was a match made in heaven.

But maybe if we understood the reality of marriage our conversation would have been different: “I might have a lot of stretch marks,” I should’ve said. “That’s OK, we’ll just dim the lights,” he might’ve said. “I’m going to go bald, but ironically, hair will sprout out of my ears and nose,” he should’ve said. “I’m good with tweezers,” I might’ve said. “I have no mechanical ability whatsoever and will feel no embarrassment if my wife handles all the home repairs,” he should’ve said. “I won’t have a problem with that for the first 10 years or so, but then I’ll get really fed up,” I really wish I’d said.

But back then, we weren’t thinking about annoying habits, taxes and clogged drains. We were too busy planning our perfect life to be bothered with reality.

Our unrealistic expectations persisted after we were engaged. “Oh, pardon me!” my fiancé yelped after accidentally belching. Although he insisted that he would never expel any kind of gas in front of me, it didn’t take long to erode his steely resolve. Today, expelling gas is almost commonplace and happens as soon as the urge beckons. Mid-sentence, under the covers, in the recliner. “Why do you have to burp while I am talking to you?” I’ve said. “I didn’t burp,” he’s said, sincerely oblivious.

Before marriage, I preened and pampered my fiancé like a primate, manicuring nails and plucking stray hairs to maintain his ruggedly handsome good looks. I thought this giddy nurturing stage would last forever; I had no idea that those stray hairs would later multiply so profusely that our grooming sessions now take place in the garage and involve the leaf blower. The pedicures have become completely intolerable, because my husband’s left piggie toe now resembles a tiny hoof. One of the kids recently asked him if it was made of wood. I had to draw the line somewhere.

So what am I saying? Are we doomed because we haven’t met our premarital expectations?

That night, as I watched my husband dozing, I realized something very important: We did not meet our original expectations — we’ve exceeded them. Back when we were dreaming of a life of romance uninhibited by responsibility, stress and aging, we couldn’t fully comprehend the complexity and depth of the marital relationship.

What we didn’t understand then is that romance is more than candlelight dinners and adventurous travel. The foundation of long-term romance is really commitment, companionship and comfort.

Realizing this, my initial repulsion at the sight of my sleeping husband turned to adoration. And as I turned out the lights and sneaked upstairs to wait for him to wake up alone in the dark, I felt happy that our marriage is on an unexpected course to paradise.


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