Tag Archives: middle-age

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.

My Freudian Half-slip

Tell me about your dreams....

Tell me about your dreams….

When I was seven, the scariest place in the world was under my bed.

It was a double, so there was plenty of space under there for demon-possessed Muppets with evil grins to hide amongst the dust bunnies. I kept my back turned to the edge of the bed, so as to protect myself from any fuzzy claw that might reach up and graze my cheek.

When my self-induced reign of terror eventually relented, allowing me to drift off to sleep, I had the typical dreams of a chubby little elementary school girl. All my childhood wishes, fears, impulses and insecurities found a place on the playground of my sleeping id.

On happy nights, I dreamt of puppies and kittens that were all mine, getting locked in the toy store all night, and flying just above the trees without wings. When I felt insecure, I dreamt of being at school wearing only saddle shoes and a belt. When I was afraid, I dreamt of Muppets who were nice at first, and then turned mad and tried to get me.

As the years went by, my dreams stayed pretty much the same, with a few minor adjustments, like a grocery store instead of a toy store – my mother never bought sugared cereals or Twinkies — and the cast of Happy Days instead of the Muppets. Nothing out of the ordinary.

But as a young adult, I began to form a deeper sense of myself and how I fit into the world around me. I became hyper aware of my social status, struggled to chose between right and wrong, and developed fresh fears of my burgeoning independence.

And my dreams started getting bizarre. Really bizarre.

Suddenly, I was trying to run from vicious wolves, but my legs were stuck in molasses. I was in huge sprawling houses that seemed cool at first, but then I got lost amongst the endless doors and rooms. I found myself taking exams for which I had forgotten to purchase the textbook.

And I made out with people. Weird people. Like Marshall Westover, a kid who smelled funny and was in Mrs. Rowley’s kindergarten class with me at East Pike Elementary School; and Sean Monroe, a frat boy who I saw throwing up one night in the campus dive bar.

What’s up with that?

In my late 20s, I met and married my Navy husband. We had babies, bought a couch, wrote Christmas update letters, raised a puppy, cut grass, and moved around a lot – just like other military families.

During the past two decades, my dreams have been what you might expect for this meaty stage of life. I dreamt of disappointing my old boss, losing my kids in a crowd, falling off cliffs, moving into new houses, and realizing that I had a funky new mole on my body.

And now, I’m firmly entrenched in that stage of life commonly known as “middle-age.” With three teenagers and my husband in his 25th year in the Navy, we are experiencing that intense fear-excitement mix that comes with having no idea what the future holds and whether or not we can afford it.

Suddenly, every dream I ever had is competing for airtime, along with some new money-related scenarios. The wolves are chasing, Twinkies are being devoured, I’m making out with Ralph Malph, I’m finding winning lottery tickets, and I’m showing up to a new job wearing only a half-slip and mittens.

Freud might say that my middle-aged dreams indicate latent personality disorder and disguised sexual deviance, and order immediate inpatient psychotherapy. But after 17,245 nights of sleep, I’ve learned that life is filled with hope, sorrow, fear and joy. It’s not important that our brains get it all a little muddled when we snooze.

The important thing is to just keep on dreaming.


Easy Street Detour

When I was 26 years old, I thought 46 was ancient. That 20-year span of life seemed like eons back then – more than enough time to live life to the fullest before I turned into an old hag.

Now that I’m 46, I don’t have enough time to be an old hag. In fact, the last 20 years seems to have flown by like some kind of runaway train, and just when we thought we’d be on Easy Street, life is more hectic than ever.

What happened? Did we take a wrong turn? Will we ever reach our destination?

Obviously, when I was in my 20s, I was naïve. I knew that we’d have to work hard for the next 20 years to establish careers, buy a house, raise children, and save for college and retirement. But I thought by the time we reached our 40s, our life would look like one of those trendy wine commercials with handsome middle-aged post-yuppies lounging in Adirondack chairs at their lake house after 18 holes of golf, secure in the knowledge that they’re saving far more than they spend.

The eldest child, smartly garbed in a J. Crew sweater which compliments his sun kissed hair and excellent orthodontic work, asks to borrow the keys to the imported European car, which was purchased new with cash. With a chuckle, they toss him the keys. After all, the college acceptance letters are rolling in and he’s becoming a fine upstanding young man — it’s time to let him spread his wings and fly. They nibble overpriced smoked Gouda and toast to their beautiful life.

“California Chardonnay from XYZ Vinyards . . . because you’ve earned it.”

Fade to black.

Unfortunately, my life at 40-something is nothing like a chardonnay commercial. Maybe an ad for laundry detergent, or antacids, or Hamburger Helper, but definitely not fine wine.

Although we have two plastic Adirondack chairs my husband picked up at the grocery for $9.99 each while buying dog food, we don’t own a lake house. We faithfully contribute to our college and retirement funds, but have not attained the kind of financial security that enables one to casually nibble expensive specialty cheese after 18 holes of golf. Despite the fact that every molecule of our energy, attention, and financial planning goes into raising our kids to become independent, we aren’t ready to lend our eldest the keys to our dirty white minivan, much less an expensive foreign import.

To the contrary, our days are filled with work, running the kids to and from school and activities, monitoring homework, checking grades, paying bills, incessant errands, endless laundry, and throwing dinner together at the last minute. Rather than golf, our free time these days is largely spent collapsing. Collapsing onto the couch to zone out into a mindless television show, or onto the bed to sleep so we can wake up and do it all over again the next day.

On weekends, we treat ourselves to pizza and TWO movie rentals. Now that’s livin’.

What have we done wrong? Does life get any easier? When can we sit back and enjoy what we’ve worked so hard for? Will we ever casually nibble expensive specialty cheese after 18 holes of golf?

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I figure, if we can manage to make it through this gauntlet of child rearing without losing our minds and our neglected friends, we will reach our destination one of these days.


We may never find Easy Street, but as long as we keep going, we’ll find our own way. The ride may have ups and downs and twists and turns, and we may get lost every once in a while, but sometimes it’s the detours that make the trip interesting.

No matter how we get there, when we finally arrive, there will surely be a chair for us to sit – not collapse, but sit – in and relax. It may not be an Adirondack chair overlooking a lake, it may just be a lawn chair overlooking the back yard sprinkler. The point is – someday, we will be able to stop and smell the proverbial roses, or dandelions as the case may be.

No one ever said life was easy, but when you consider the richness of the journey, it’s easy to see why we took this trip in the first place.


Redefining Hang Ten

My mom and sister-in-law doing what we do best at the beach.

Whether it was pouring cold from the garden hose, stagnating in a blow up pool, or sparkling blue below the high dive at the community park, when I was a kid I tried to be in water all summer long. Especially on our summer beach vacations, where my brother and I spent the vast majority of our waking hours in the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite my portly frame, I had a certain natural grace in the water, slicing through waves with effortless fluidity. I dove, hands outstretched, head tucked, toes pointed, into oncoming waves, and with one dolphin kick burst through to the surface, unscathed, hair slicked. On calm days, I explored the depths weightlessly, hands at my sides, eyes open, propelling myself with “Man from Atlantis” undulations.

Before Boogie boards were invented, we rode the waves on inflatable canvas rafts. Paddling “Hawaii Five-0” style, I flew high on the crest in an exhilarating rush toward the towels and umbrellas. If I got dumped, I tumbled helplessly like a rag doll in a washing machine, over and over, head over heels, until I was released, choking, with a snoot full of water, grit in my teeth, and a scrape on the end of my nose.

My daughter emerging from the surf’s spin cycle.

I’d wait a minute for that sneezy tickle in my sinuses to subside, and run back to the water, swimming, slicing, flying.

Thirty years later, I find myself at the beach with my brother again. But now, we watch our own kids, six in all, romping in the waves, from the comfort of our beach chairs. An hour goes by and I have an unflattering moustache of beaded sweat under my nose. The cold beverages from the cooler have been going down quite nicely, but now my bladder is full. Walking back to the cottage just to go to the bathroom seems such a waste of relaxation time.

I resolve to go for a swim. Why not. I used to spend the entire day in the ocean, 10am to 4pm, with one stop for a quick lunch – usually a cheese sandwich and some Tang. I swam like a fish, and rode waves like a dolphin. Nothin’ to it.

I try to stand up but lurch forward only a couple inches before falling back into the chair. The low center of gravity, along with my middle aged stomach muscles, forces me to try a new approach. Gripping the armrests, I swing my head forward, hoping my torso’s momentum will lift my rear high enough out of the seat for my legs to take over.

It works, and I march into the water, smiling and waving to the kids. Knee deep, I see a formidable trough where waves are thudding solidly onto the sand. I realize that I have to somehow get through a ditch of spinning, sandblasting current without making a total idiot out of myself.

I want to turn back, but nature calls. Miraculously, the churning roll of water and sand in the ditch doesn’t suck me in, and I struggle through without getting my hair wet. Ha! I’ve still got it, I think, and swim toward the kids triumphantly.

“Watch out, Mom!” my daughter yells, as a huge breaker barrels in. So much for keeping my hair dry. I dive under the wave, and it feels as though my body has just been fed through the wringer of an old Horton washing machine. I pop up looking like a drowned rat, but feeling somewhat athletic, as another beautiful teal green wave rises up ahead of me.

“Let’s ride this one!” I yell to the kids. No sooner do I experience the thrill of being carried on the top of the wave, than my face hits the sandy bottom. I hear a tiny crunch as my legs are thrown over my head. I’m not sure how many times I tumble, but I eventually struggle to my feet in the foamy surf, with my suit cocked sideways and drooping with ten pounds of sand.

Staggering back to find a towel, I realize that I’m not a kid anymore. Like years, the waves keep rolling by, and although the water still calls to me, I’m perfectly happy to sit back and watch from the comfort of my beach chair.

Now THAT’s what I’m talking about.

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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Never lose your cool

My brother grabbed the chrome knob of our Buick’s radio and cranked it up, hoping Mom wouldn’t complain. From the back seat, I could hear the grinding voice of Ted Nugent and see my brother’s elbow jerk to the rhythm of his air guitar.

“I just don’t get it,” Mom piped up over the screeching sounds, “Why on Earth would a ‘cat scratch a beaver?’ That just doesn’t make sense ecologically.”

My brother and I were mortal enemies, but he grinned at me to share our mutual opinion that Mom was totally uncool.

She was notorious for embarrassing us by botching lyrics and doing cheesy “mom dances” to our favorite songs. My brother and I shriveled in humiliation when Mom pointed her thumbs alternately into the air to the beat, or did the Mashed Potato to Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy” or KC & The Sunshine Band’s “Shake, Shake, Shake Your Booty.”

She must’ve been born uncool, we thought, and were thankful that we would never suffer the same fate.

But then, life played its cruel joke, and I became a middle-aged mom.

Although fully entrenched in denial, I sometimes get the feeling that, much like my mother before me, I have no idea what’s cool anymore. I reluctantly allow my kids to control the radio on our way to school, and am forced to listen to the repertoire of new rock alternative and pop tunes that only serve to keep me from hearing the news and weather. As cool as I think I am, I’m just realizing who Foo Fighters and Train are. It’ll take me another five years before I can wrap my mind around Mumford & Sons, Fun and Young the Giant.

Recently, our kids wanted to go to a nearby outdoor concert featuring a band named Switchfoot. All our friends were going, so despite the fact that we couldn’t identify the music off the top of our heads, we jumped on the bandwagon like groupies. The morning of the concert, my husband and I figured we’d better do our research. With the assistance of our teenage daughter, we played snippets of Switchfoot’s songs on iTunes.

“Hey, I’ve heard this one before!” I said, and my husband and I gyrated to the beat while our kids rolled their eyes. “Oooo, this one’s actually pretty good,” my husband exclaimed upon hearing another familiar song. “’Yea, hmmm, uhuh, da, da — HEY, we are the Dark Horses!!’” he belted at the top of his lungs.

Later at the concert, my husband and I were ready to prove that we hadn’t lost our cool. Pairing middle-aged dance moves with inaccurate lyrics, we appeared to be having a blast. An hour later, my husband asked me to search my purse for ibuprophen for a pain in his lower back. Another hour later, we began to yawn and complain about the noise. Finally, in the last hour of the concert, we just wanted to go home, take our fiber tablets, and go to bed.

No matter how obvious it is that we’re not cool anymore, we middle-aged parents never want to face reality.

“Sounds like a xylophone. What’s the name of this band, Honey?” I asked my teenage daughter last week while driving our minivan to school.

“Gotye,” she answered with a slight eye roll.

Sheesh. Kids these days just don’t know good music. Why would anyone name a band ‘Goiter’ anyway? I thought to myself, secure in the knowledge that I’d always be cool.

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