Making a Man Out of an Ant Hill

As a parent I instinctively look for signs that my 22-year-old son is on the path to becoming a compassionate, independent, mature and responsible adult. Sometimes I judge him too harshly, applying my own dysfunctional childhood-accelerated pace to independence as a measuring stick. At other times evidence of his progress is obscured by my big picture worries about him and I fail to see the trees for the forest, if I may highjack a well-known colloquialism.

In less optimistic moments, I tell myself that as a class of 2008 high school graduate, my son should be graduating from a 4-year university with his peers at this point; instead he appears to be on the six-year plan for his Bachelor’s, not yet having discerned his life’s passion. He’s sometimes lazier than I’d prefer him to be, lounging in his basement bedroom-cum-man cave for hours despite my pleadings for him to tackle an assigned household task. And he is sometimes seemingly less appreciative and respectful than I think he ought to be, particularly during those moments when our mutually strong wills cause us to clash.

In instances of more positive reflection, I count my blessings that he is seemingly blessed with an abundance of common sense, possesses sufficient social skills so to have cultivated a large and diverse group of friends, has successfully demonstrated his strong work ethic through a number of part-time jobs he’s held since age 15, and has never wrecked a car, gotten arrested or made me a grandmother.

Yesterday, he gave me yet another reason to remain hopeful regarding his ultimate fate. Though it’s not the stuff of which world leaders and Nobel Prize winners are made, I’m proud enough of his considerate and industrious act to share it with you.

“We have a huge ant problem.”  The text message from my son Kevin succinctly characterized the state of affairs which would greet me as I arrived home already exhausted from a demanding week at the office and laden with a car trunk full of groceries.

“Crap. I need to go get ant stuff,” I responded, knowing that I first needed to swing by the house to unburden myself of the delicate refrigerated items which I doubted would survive an unscheduled trek to Home Depot in the 90 degree temps of a Washington D.C.-area late spring.

I swung into the driveway, hastily unloaded the groceries into the garage as Kevin shuttled them to the kitchen, and reluctantly but unavoidably headed back out to purchase the weapons of war that would be necessary to defeat the tiny pests. I hadn’t queried Kevin about the extent of the problem nor provided him with any direction or request in regard to addressing it, so as I returned home bearing my assortment of anti-ant agents, I wasn’t expecting him to have done anything more than get the milk, eggs and ice cream into the refrigerator.

They say the key to happiness is having low expectations; one can never be disappointed if she anticipates nothing. That adage proved entirely accurate as I stood at the top of the basement stairs, overloaded with pesticides, and surveyed the scene in my kitchen, for in an epic display of industriousness rivlaled only by that of the ants themselves, Kevin had not only gotten all of the groceries put away, but had waged a one-man shock and awe campaign against the insidious insects.

Rugs and towels had been relocated to the basement for laundering; sponges had been discarded and replaced; every counter-top appliance had been removed to permit a thorough scrubbing of all surfaces; and the vast majority of ants had made their way to insect heaven in the form of a Dyson vacuum cleaner canister. Insisting on completing the task himself, Kevin took possession of the newly procured weapons of massive ant destruction and set about coating the entire perimeter of the house with organic pesticide before returning inside to effect strategic placement of ant traps throughout the main level of our townhouse.

Had I been in a different mood I might have overlooked Kevin’s efforts, robbing him of my appreciation and myself of an opportunity to step back and take inventory on the man my son is becoming.  He could have easily made a perfunctory pass at the ants, dampening a paper towel or two to scoop them up, and then returned to his NBA 2012 video game, leaving me to deal with the source of the issue and stragglers scurrying about.  Instead, through this one relatively small act he demonstrated initiative (tackling the problem without being asked to do so), empathy (he knew I was beat after a demanding week at work), and problem-solving skills (despite the initial lack of weaponry, he had virtually eradicated the invaders nonetheless). These traits will serve him well in life.

Again, while such occurrences are not necessarily the stuff of which legends are made, instances like these give me a view to my son’s future and the man he’ll be one day, and I can’t help but like what I see. So thank you, Kevin. Thank you for reminding me that I need not so often make a mountain out of a molehill, but rather be grateful for the ant hill that will one day be part of what made my son a man.

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Few and Far Between

I’ve been in love only twice to this point in my life. Granted, I’ve been in additional relationships and uttered the words, “I love you,” in a romantic context to a handful more people in my 50 years, but “in love” as I presently define it is a rare emotion for me. I’ve never been intentionally insincere in my declarations, proclaiming my affection as a disingenuous means to an end, but in Monday morning quarterbacking my romantic history I know there have only been two instances where my emotions ascended to a level to which only Jeanette Winterson (one of my favorite authors) can ascribe words:

“Love demands expression. It will not stay still, stay silent, be good, be modest, be seen and not heard, no. It will break out in tongues of praise, the high note that smashes the glass and spills the liquid.”

“When I say ‘I will be true to you’ I am drawing a quiet space beyond the reach of other desires. No one can legislate love; it cannot be given orders or cajoled into service. Love belongs to itself, deaf to pleading and unmoved by violence. Love is not something you can negotiate. Love is the one thing stronger than desire and the only proper reason to resist temptation.”

“You said, ‘I love you.’ Why is it that the most unoriginal thing we can say to one another is still the thing we long to hear? ‘I love you’ is always a quotation. You did not say it first and neither did I, yet when you say it and when I say it we speak like savages who have found three words and worship them.”

“I say I’m in love with her. What does that mean?

It means I review my future and my past in the light of this feeling. It is as though I wrote in a foreign language that I am suddenly able to read. Wordlessly, she explains me to myself. Like genius she is ignorant of what she does.”

“Wherever love is, I want to be, I will follow it as surely as the land-locked salmon finds the sea.”

“Love’s lengthways splits the heart in two – the heart where you are, the heart where you want to be.”

“I think of love as a force of nature-as strong as the sun, as necessary, as impersonal, as gigantic, as impossible, as scorching as it is warming, as drought-making as it is life-giving.”

“Where did love begin? What human being looked at another and saw in their face the forests and the sea? Was there a day, exhausted and weary, dragging home food, arms cut and scarred, that you saw yellow flowers and, not knowing what you did, picked them because I love you?”

And, finally, my favorite:

“While I can’t have you, I long for you. I am the kind of person who would miss a train or a plane to meet you for coffee. I’d take a taxi across town to see you for ten minutes. I’d wait outside all night if I thought you would open the door in the morning. If you call me and say ‘Will you…’ my answer is ‘Yes’, before your sentence is out. I spin worlds where we could be together. I dream you. For me, imagination and desire are very close.”

Call me quixotic, but despite the fact that my heart has proven itself unreliable I continue to believe in romantic, passionate, lasting love – and that it will find me in my lifetime. Note that I say it will find me, rather than I find it, as I believe that actively looking for love is about as productive as staring at the mailbox waiting for the postman to arrive or watching a pot of water in anticipation of its reaching a boil. These things happen in their own time and cannot be timed or planned for.

Even a crush is a rarity for me. I am drawn to a woman with approximately the same frequency as our presidential elections take place (though it rarely occurs on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November). I’m not the hook-up or friends-with-benefits type; not a judgment, simply a reality. I suppose it’d be pleasurable to engage in a dalliance or two devoid of emotion, but the damned romantic in me can’t separate the two.

At present, I’ve been single for ~ 2 ½ years by standard calculations. (There exists a complicated circumstance which would allow one to argue that I’ve been unattached for only 10 months, but that’s another story for another time.) In any event, over the course of those 2 ½ years, I’ve managed to develop but one hardcore, albeit doomed, crush; that on a woman who resides six states away (perhaps more, depending on which way the wind is blowing on one’s Tom Tom at the time). No, my fixation isn’t the product of a desperate country-wide Match.com search, but rather a chance meeting on vacation a few months ago. What follows is the tale of this latest, and undeniably persistent, crush.

I owe my present fate to a late flight from DC to Miami, as by the time I arrived at my hotel, checked in, and tossed my bag in my room, the group with which I was traveling had already made their way to dinner. I arrived at the restaurant an hour late with a couple I’d met in the hotel lobby, my orientation apparently so evident that I was asked if I was with the group traveling with Sweet, a company which arranges vacation excursions for lesbians. My affirmative response drew an invitation to make the trek to the restaurant with them and we were greeted by four tables full of women, all noticeably giddy on the eve of our scheduled Bahamas cruise.

We claimed the three remaining seats and settled in, the newest strangers among a group of mostly strangers. Virtually immediately, I was trading barbs and exchanging wisecracks with the woman seated to my immediate left who had introduced herself as Kelly. We played off each other so effortlessly that when she excused herself at one point, the couple I’d met at the hotel asked how long Kelly and I had known each other. I glanced at my make-believe watch and answered, “About 25 minutes.”

While engaged primarily with Kelly and the couple who’d befriended me, I couldn’t help but notice the demure woman seated directly across from Kelly. Stylish, with an easy smile and fresh, natural beauty, she was undeniably physically attractive. I scanned those seated around us; who was the lucky woman who would be introducing this woman as her girlfriend? Observing the interactions at the table, I couldn’t solve the riddle, and eventually I drew her into the conversation by feigning frustration with her “boisterous” (NOT!) behavior.

I scolded her, “Listen. We’re trying to have a conversation here, so you’re gonna have to keep it down. You’re just a little too loud and it’s makin’ it difficult for the rest of us to converse.”

If the moment had been recorded, I’m quite certain the video would reveal my face turning a previously undiscovered shade of crimson as she smiled at me, clearly appreciating the irony of my lecture. In that moment I was instantly smitten.

As fate would have it, she was Kelly’s best friend AND she was single. As fate would further have it, she was also only 32 years old and lived approximately 2,347 miles from my home just outside of Washington DC. Nonetheless, as the night wore on and dinner gave way to a group outing to a South Beach nightclub, I continued to engage with her at every opportunity, and attempted to demonstrate my chivalrous nature, retrieving drinks not only for her, but others in our crowd.

That night I ended up leaving the club earlier than most, hitching a taxi ride back with several Sweet staff who were benevolently looking after me. After having borne witness to my skull-crushing fall several months prior on another vacation, they were determined to save me from myself and, at a minimum, ensure my safe embarkation on the ship the next morning.

Back at the hotel, but not yet ready to call it a night, I befriended the bartender who, when queried, informed me that he’d be leaving his post at midnight, a scant 20 minutes later. I asked what I’d have to do to keep him there and the bar open and he told me I’d just have to keep people drinking. Never one to fear a challenge and determined to keep the bar open until Kelly and her intriguing friend returned, I re-positioned myself on a barstool next to the only other patrons in the place, a gay male couple whose adult beverages appeared to be in need of replenishment.

Before the night was over, I’d dragged people in off the street to down shots with me, become new best friends with a guy from Venezuela (much to the annoyance of his male date), been invited to go clubbing with a P-Diddy look-a-like and his harem, and succeeded in my quest to keep Keith, the bartender, at his post until Kelly and Marie returned. I later learned that we’d closed the bar at 3a.m., a fact that eluded me in my happily inebriated state.

The Sweet crew set sail the next morning, and though I boarded the ship alone I was hoping to run into Kelly and Marie as quickly as possible. That hope dimmed as the immensity of the ship was revealed and rather than wandering the 11 decks aimlessly searching, I met for lunch with Tammy, a friend I’d made on the prior vacation, she being the one who kept me awake and held ice to my head after the previously mentioned fall.

The afternoon passed pleasantly enough, but when Kelly and Marie didn’t appear at the Sweet happy hour event at 5p.m., I worried I might not see them again the entire trip, a concern which was abated later that night as several Sweeties (as Sweet’s travelers are known) gathered in one of the ship’s nightclubs. I spotted Marie across the room and pointed her out to Tammy.

“That’s the woman I was telling you about. You gotta help me out here. I have such a crush on her,” I shared.

Always willing to help a friend, Tammy responded, “You got it! What do you want to do? You wanna hook-up?”

It was in that moment I realized that no one could truly “help me” in that situation. I sat there thinking about Tammy’s question and looking at Marie still making her way across the club to our group and then shook my head “no.”

“Nah, never mind; I don’t know what I want. I don’t hook-up,” I admitted. “What I want is to talk to her, get to know everything about her and let her get to know everything about me, then fall in love and get married. And that ain’t happening on a weekend cruise.”

And that about sums up my romantic – and some could argue self-defeating – nature…

Marie and I didn’t hook-up on the cruise, nor did I propose marriage. But I did spend a lot of time with her and the more I learned about the person she is – her kindness and generosity; her work ethic; her intelligence – the more I grew to genuinely like her. We had several conversations and spent some very memorable – though completely innocent – time together that I won’t detail here, as I respect her, and our fledgling friendship, enough to hold the finer points as our own.

It’s been three months since I stood just inside the ship’s casino the last night of the cruise and said what ended up being my final goodbye of the voyage to Marie. In the ensuing months we’ve kept in touch, primarily via sporadic text messages when her demanding professional life and active social life permit. I’ve confessed my crush to her on more than one occasion, typically in my characteristically self-deprecating manner, and though she is ever-gracious, I am quite certain our relationship will never advance beyond friendship. Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to my next Sweet vacation as Marie will, indeed, be making the trip, as well. And I am anxious to spend as much time with her as events and she will allow, as this proximity-defying crush has me yearning to get to know her in more than a superficial way.

As I’ve said, it’s not often I feel that way about someone, but the ever-hopeful romantic in me continues to dream that someday I may be laying on a blanket on a beach somewhere next to Marie or someone like her, reading aloud from Winterson’s “Written on the Body.”

Dare to dream, right?

The Week on Twitter – Week ended 5/12/12

As part of my world domination plan for Warped Rainbow, I also created a companion Twitter account where I can showcase my snarkier, less prolific side.  Each week, I’ll summarize the week in Tweets and post it here on the blog.

There was ample fodder for Week 1 with North Carolina voting to amend their state constitution to ban gay marriage, Obama following up the next day with an endorsement of gay marriage, several accusations of improper behavior being lodged against one Mr. John Travolta, and TIME magazine running its creepiest cover ever featuring a defiant mother breast-feeding her 10-year-old son. (Okay, okay – I know they say that kid was only three, but if that’s the case, every NFL team in the league will be tracking him the next 18 years ’cause he’s HUGE!)

5/8/12

I’d not say I’m getting desperate, but I am considering increasing the number of pets a potential date is permitted to have to six.

An underwear bomb? Where is Al Qaeda getting its ideas – old “Get Smart” episodes?

I’m no matchmaker, but I’m thinkin’ Gotye and Adele just might be perfect for each other.

Don’t I feel stupid? Just learned “Fifty Shades of Grey” ISN’T Clairol’s new line of hair color for women over 60.

Why is it so hard to wipe out homophobia? Can’t Lysol develop a towelette for that?

I’m a lesbian. The only time size matters is when I’m buying a television or a latte.

North Carolina, who do you think you are -South Carolina?

I’m tired of people whining about txt msg break-ups. My last g/f dumped me via Draw Something & I had to buy extra bombs to figure it out.

 5/9/12

So they’ve made a movie called “Battleship.” What’s next – “Jenga: Before the Fall”?

 “Grease” is the word, indeed, Mr. Travolta.

That does it! After this whole NC thing, I’ve decided to educate myself re: politics. 1st stop: Schoolhouse Rock “I’m just a bill” video.

Thanks a lot, Obama; as if I wasn’t already feeling enough pressure to find a girlfriend.

Wow. I’ve not seen the gays this excited since Astroglide went on sale at Walgreens last month.

 5/10/12

What’s the big deal w/ the Time mag photos? I mean, those kids won’t walk down the wedding aisle breast feeding will they – OR WILL THEY?!?

I think that whole “breast feeding a kid ’til he’s 12” thing will lead to lots of great Twitter material ~ 15 years from now.

It’s been over 24 hours since Obama came out in favor of gay marriage and my lesbian mail order bride STILL hasn’t arrived!

5/12/12

So it’s too late to order my mom flowers for Mothers’ Day; I guess it’s back to Plan A – restraining order, it is!

TV or Not TV – That is the Question (Part 1)

As I mentioned in my last blog [see “A Writer’s (Block) Life”], I am considering some rather drastic changes in my lifestyle. The most impactful of these, and the most inconceivable for me to contemplate, would be a decision to either significantly reduce – or completely eliminate – television viewing. (Give me a minute while I wipe my palms; I have an involuntary physiological reaction at the mere suggestion of a life without television.)

Most of you would be horrified if I told you how many hours of television I watch each week.  So instead of directly stating this information, I’m providing those of you with at least a vague recollection of your fifth-grade math skills the data from which you may make the calculation yourselves. I’ve prepared this graph which depicts the percentage of time I spend on various activities during a typical 168-hour week.  I’ll pause as you do the math.

If you answered, “What is 54 hours, Alex?” I’ll remind you that you’re not on Jeopardy, but only as a diversionary tactic because you, my friend, are 100% correct. (If you responded with another number or sat staring at the screen for more than 60 seconds contemplating how to even begin to approach the problem, I suggest you visit Khan Academy online for a quick refresher in arithmetic.)

In my defense, or as further evidence against me depending on one’s perspective, I’ll offer that the percentages are not an entirely accurate representation as I am the queen of multi-tasking.  No, I can’t shower and dress while I sleep, but I can be on the internet whilst watching TV, working, or even eating for that matter.  And it’s been months since I attended a meeting at the office without my iPhone in hand just in case there’s an opportunity to catch up on Words With Friends or peruse my Facebook wall or timeline or whatever Mark Zuckerberg has decided to call it this week.

Those qualifiers aside, I have to admit that 54 hours of television per week is an astounding figure.  I arrived at that number by assuming that on weekdays the television is on at my house from the time I get home from the office in the evening (usually ~ 6pm) until I head upstairs to bed (typically ~ midnight).  On weekends, the luminous glow emanates for approximately 12 hours each day, provided that I don’t go out on a Friday or Saturday night, which I may do a couple of times a month.

Again, in my defense, I am getting other stuff done while the TV is on – laundry, emptying trashcans, brushing the dog, cooking, browsing dating sites and updating my profile, cleaning up the kitchen, changing cat litter boxes, taking or placing the occasional phone call (hello, “mute” button), or, yes, perhaps even adding to my sleep tally by napping on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon.  But there’s no way I could pass the straight-face test in trying to convince you (or myself) that I am productive in a meaningful way during the majority of the hours the television blazes.

While initially paralyzed by the thought that I spend approximately 14 more hours per week watching television than I do earning my paycheck, it eventually got me thinking about all the things I could be doing if I turned off the television. I won’t pretend that I’d use the time to devise a cure for cancer or organize Obama’s reelection campaign in my northern Virginia town. But I know for certain that if I eliminated television from my day, if for no other reason than sheer boredom, I’d be exponentially more likely to read, write, walk the dog, organize the kitchen junk drawer or the spare room closet, see a movie (that’s NOT cheating), or take in a minor league baseball game, all activities in which I partake at times, but not on as frequent a basis as would be ideal.

I actually considered attempting a “No TV Week” starting this Saturday, but the Washington Capitals just beat the NY Rangers, forcing a Game 7 playoff which will be played Saturday.  And then, of course, American Idol is getting down to the final handful of contestants and I just HAVE to know if Phillip Phillips prevails.  Oh, and then there’s that new show on Bravo that’s kicking off tonight, Around the World in 80 Plates which presumably will add to both my culinary and geographical knowledge – and I’ll get to ogle Iron Chef and host Cat Cora whose knife skills in the kitchen are unnervingly appealing to me.

Clearly, I have some thinking to do and some cost/benefit analysis to conduct.  Is it worth trading in my status as the go-to pop culture question guru amongst my friends in order to bring greater balance to my life?  Can the benefits of improved physical health and creative flow replace the enjoyment gleaned from holding my own in a conversation in which co-workers linger in the hallway dissecting the big game played the previous evening?  The answer to those questions appears obvious, and I’m sure I’ll get there in time, but right this minute I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to post this blog entry, move some laundry from the washer to the dryer, then queue up tonight’s episode of American Idol on the DVR.

Look for Part 2 of “TV or Not TV – That is the Question” after the Capitals either win the Stanley Cup or are eliminated from the playoffs.  My heart races at the thought, but I’m fairly certain I could get through a week with no television at that point, and from there, well, the possibilities are endless!

A Writer’s (Block) Life

Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. Wikipedia

Virtually everyone who has ever attempted to take pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) in an attempt to write is familiar with the miserable phenomenon that is writer’s block.  Whether lacking in creative concepts about which to write or, in turn, finding it impossible to translate those thoughts to prose, nearly everyone who fancies herself a writer has endured such a period. 

Literature on the topic typically implores the writer to continue plying her craft, in effect writing her way out of the drought in much the same way a major league baseball player continues taking his at-bats while suffering through a hitting slump.  In most cases, the writer stricken with the ailment is addressed in a sympathetic manner and offered encouragement; she is, after all, a victim of this well-known unavoidable predicament.

ImageAs a writer, or rather as someone who enjoys writing as a leisurely pursuit, I have often found it convenient to “own” that victim status so opportunely offered up to me.  When friends ask if I’ve written anything lately or push me to exercise what they view as my “gift”, I rebuff their queries and pleas – I’ve not been able to write; damn writer’s block!  In truth, the ugly reality of the situation is that I have been incredibly lazy and extraordinarily lackadaisical about my writing.  This is a reality which I am now staring down toe-to-toe as I initiate – and commit to – Warped Rainbow.  For while it was my mother’s recent text rant that served as a creative catalyst for the blog (see “Text Messaging Rates May Apply”), it was a recent conversation with a co-worker that got me really thinking about my life and how I spend, and don’t spend, my time.

Barron Spence shuffled across the hall to my office to grouse about the fact that he’d soon be turning 40.  Insofar as an almost-40-year-old straight guy and a 50-year-old lesbian could be considered twins separated at birth, my co-worker and I are just that – at least according to those whose misfortune it is to spend 8+ hours per day working with us.  It’s not unusual for Barron and I to become embroiled in conversation and lose an hour of the day in what seems to be the blink of an eye (that is, unless you’re my boss reading this and then I’d say it’s an exceedingly rare occurrence). His entrée to my office was welcome fare at 4:30pm on a Friday and it was no surprise that by the time we’d finished bantering and bemoaning it was nearly 6pm.

As one might surmise about a guy who, when asked to select a pseudonym for use in this blog, employed the time-tested pick-a-porn-name formula of “first dog’s name + the name of the street you grew up on,” Barron has never been married, nor does he have any kids (that he knows of *insert rim shot here*). Professionally, despite a double major in English and psychology, he has ascended only to a position which he views as low man on a four-man totem pole in the Contracts group at our environmental consulting firm and it was only within the last year that he got an apartment of his own after evacuating yet another single family home basement, a cliché and somewhat comical living situation that provided ample story-telling fare.

Barron is taking 40 like I took 50 a scant eight months ago – hard!  While earlier decades of non-achievement left neither of us nonplused, these most recent milestone birthdays hit each of us like former Redskin defensive back Sean Taylor lit up that punter in the NFL Pro Bowl game several years back, leaving us dizzy, breathless, and wondering how in the hell we’d gotten here.  We are both presently single, average in appearance, and have little-to-no game (or initiative, for that matter) when it comes to attracting the opposite (in Barron’s case) or the same (in my case) sex and while we each consider ourselves to be social and socially adept individuals, we take pride in Monday morning exchanges during which we try to out-do the other’s tale of “How Little I Managed to Accomplish Over the Weekend.”  We compare wake-up vs. get-up-out-of-bed times, Barron arguing that his waking at 9 a.m. on Saturday and moving to his sofa to fall back to sleep is just as Imagenotable an accomplishment in the annals of indolence as my not having left my bed until 1 p.m. We compare notes on Discovery Channel and TLC marathons upon which we stumbled and premium channel series we devoured in back-to-back-to-back episodes, trade strategies for stretching the wardrobe so as to avoid doing laundry, and otherwise amuse each other with similar tales of slothful behavior.

Another, and thankfully more attractive, common denominator Barron and I share is that we fancy ourselves writers, albeit largely unaccomplished writers at that.  On Friday as he mourned his almost reaching the age of 40 without having penned the great American novel, or even having completed a really bad American novel, I commiserated that I’d not yet achieved my desired status as the lesbian David Sedaris and I was already 50!  As the discussion progressed, we shared, openly and honestly as we are wont to do, our pathetic excuses for our respective literary failures.  It was through this exchange that I realized that the writer’s block from which I have so eagerly claimed victim status is not really writer’s block at all.  To the contrary, the paucity in my writing output is simply another symptom of the half-hearted way in which I have approached that aspect of my life.

I tell myself I have nothing to write about, though given my favored genre (biographical essay) and the fact that I am rarely lacking in opinions on just about everything, that excuse rings hollow.  I say I don’t have time, yet I spend untold hours fixated on various forms of reality and/or competition television, the benefit of which I’d be hard-pressed to identify.  The fact is I have plenty to write about and more than enough time to do it.  My failure to write has about as much to do with writer’s block as my overweidght status has to do with me having “big bones.” Owning that new reality has me contemplating some fairly drastic lifestyle changes, but for now I’m taking the baby step of committing to blog on a regular basis. So watch out, David Sedaris – there’s a new middle-aged gay humorist in town.

Text Messaging Rates May Apply

My mother and me in more concilliatory times.

My mother and I are not particularly close. To lend context, allow me to clarify that I make this assertion in the same sense that one might say that the political views of Rick Santorum and Rachel Maddow “are not particularly close”.   I am day to her night, black to her white, a Disney Cruise to her Costa Concordia.

I can’t pinpoint the period when the continental drift in our relationship began, primarily because I have absolutely zero recollection of a time when we were intimate in a traditional mother/daughter way. It’s as if I was a fortunate baby beta fish who somehow managed to flourish to adulthood despite having been born and bred in the same tank as my mother. Even at age 70, she continues to bemoan the sacrifices she’s made – everything from her having married my father at age 18, abandoning her dreams of leaving the coal-dusted roads of  southern West Virginia to find fame and fortune in Hollywood, to her difficult labor with me in a sweltering Army hospital in Arizona at age 20. (Mind you, she was the second runner-up in the Miss McDowell County beauty pageant in 1959, so it stands to reason that celebrity was a forgone conclusion had she not followed the more traditional path that ultimately lead to my existence.)

These are the resentments that my mother carries with her 50+ years later, the initial laments that have continued to smolder as new regrets fed the flames of frustration through the years.  She is an extremely unhappy woman whose only joy seems to come from criticizing anything in which my sister and I, despite all odds, find happiness.

My most vivid childhood memories are those in which she put her own interests ahead of those of her children.  I was seven when she left my dad in order to date (and eventually marry) a co-worker of hers who appeared to offer a more exciting lifestyle than that provided by a ramp services supervisor for Eastern Airlines, as my dad was at the time.  I can recall standing on a chair at the kitchen stove, conjuring up Kraft Macaroni & Cheese for dinner as my mom was out presumably dancing the night away with the man I now affectionately describe as “that fucking alcoholic psychopath my mom was married to for five years.” You have no idea how difficult it was to find a “For Someone Special” Fathers’ Day card for someone like that, particularly in the ‘70’s before Hallmark introduced their Shoebox greetings line.

In any event, even a seemingly benevolent act on my mother’s part was always tainted by ulterior motives, each grade school “homeroom mother” visit followed by a lengthy inquisition as to whether my teacher or fellow students had commented on how young-looking/beautiful she was.

“Did anyone say anything about me?” narcissistic, self-absorbed mother.

“Not really. I don’t remember,” eight-year-old Candy.

“Could they believe I was old enough to have an eight-year-old?”

“No.”

“What did they say?”

“They couldn’t believe how young and pretty you were.”

Yes, by third grade I was already conditioned to initially withhold, and ultimately begrudgingly bestow, the adulation that she demanded – regardless of whether that praise was, in fact, accurate.  I learned early on that the quickest route to returning uninterrupted to an episode of my beloved “Adam 12” or “Dragnet” was to simply heap the compliments and keep the eye-rolling to myself, though as I grew older and the pattern repeated, the lack of sincerity with which I delivered the words was evident via my monotone – think “robotic recitations at a Catholic mass” and you might just nail the timbre in which my words were conveyed.

Granted, virtually every woman I know has some sort of eye-rolling “you wouldn’t believe what a pain in the ass my mom can be” story to tell.  But somehow my mom has always managed to take it to another level, one which is difficult for me to get across in casual conversation.  Leaving seven- and six-year-olds home alone overnight to get your freak on on a regular basis is but a minor transgression in the long list of parental violations my mom has committed, but I won’t bore – or horrify – you with them now.  Rather, I provide this relatively benign initial background solely to set the scene for my most recent encounter with the disagreeable, and sadly comical, woman whom I am forced to call my mother.

It all began as I was minding my own business this past Saturday evening, making dinner for my college-aged son, watching television, and obsessively checking email on my cell phone as I am oft disposed to do. When the familiar tri-tone text alert of my iPhone sounded, the last person I expected it to be was my mom, as we were ~ three weeks into one of our “no contact” periods on the heels of her recent hospitalization for congestive heart failure.

Now before you go all moans and groans and “how could you, Candy?” on me, know that while she was in the hospital, I visited her everyday, serving as dutiful daughter, and suffering through endless hours of her inane banter with any hospital staff member who was misfortunate enough to have wandered in to deliver a meal or take her blood pressure.  Even with her heart functioning at a reduced 25% of capacity, she managed to regale them with stories of her long ago ballroom dancing glory, describe in painful detail her method for cooking green beans, and paint a picture of our relationship that was more than a bit disingenuous. Nonetheless, I made the trek to see her every day, tolerated her hateful rants when I didn’t smooth out the blanket around her feet just so or placed her slippers too far from the edge of the bed, and, most importantly, conferred with her doctor on the best path forward for her.

Though seemingly impossible, the state of affairs between us deteriorated even further on her fifth and last day in the hospital, as the doctor pressed for her to enter a rehabilitation facility to ensure her best chance at recovery.  This doctor knew that mom had been hospitalized four years prior for the same ailment, yet had failed to do anything to improve her condition in the ensuing timeframe.  The doctor reasoned that mom’s medication, diet, and physical therapy could be managed in a short-term rehabilitation facility, all key if she were to have any chance of restoring her health and mobility.

Mom was adamant that she wanted to return home and made no secret of her aggravation with me for advocating otherwise and siding with the doctor. Ultimately, she kicked both the doctor and me out of her room and returned home to her routine of lounging and sleeping in a recliner all day and night, refusing to take her prescribed psychological and other medications, canceling physical therapy and doctor’s appointments, unable to get around without aid of her Hoveround-type scooter. 

I tested the waters after about a week, sending her a text message to let her know I was thinking about her, wished her well, and, most of all, hoped that she understood I’d taken the position I had because I wanted what was best for her.  In return I received a message reading simply, “Ok.”  No stranger to her prolonged silent treatments, I returned to my routine and figured she’d reach out when she either calmed down or got bored enough.

Well, this past Saturday she apparently got bored enough, as, picking back up on our story, she sent the following message:

“YOU CAN GET A NEW MUSTANG TO ATTRACT MORE OF THE SAME SEX BUT YOU AND JACK WON’T GET YOUR ONLY CHILD A VEHICLE.”

At first, the familiar anger and frustration boiled within me.  Where the hell did THAT come from? Yes, I’d recently traded in my 2011 Ford Focus on a 2012 Ford Mustang as I’d missed the 2005 ‘stang I’d gotten rid of ~ a year-and-a-half prior, but the payment was exactly the same – and my insurance was actually lower.  And my son has always had a car, albeit courtesy of my mom and, more so, her third husband who owns four vehicles at the present time.  They have long showered my son with money, gifts, and a mode of transportation, despite my pleas for them to do otherwise during his academically challenging high school years, and he has always maintained a separate and, honestly, somewhat secretive, relationship with them given the absence of communication between my mother and me.

And what the heck did my ex-husband of 15-plus years, Jack, have to do with anything?  He’d been off the radar since my son graduated high school and I had absolutely zero control over his behavior.

I responded accordingly, asking where the question was suddenly coming from, attempting to explain the financial realities of the situation, and reminding her that I didn’t recall anyone buying ME a car when I was a teenager/young adult, and continued to simmer as I awaited her next salvo.  I reckoned that she’d likely heard about the car from my son when they spoke earlier in the day – no big deal – and had proceeded to sit in her recliner and stew about it until the anger overflowed in text form.

Make no mistake; I am sadly familiar such guerilla attacks.  In my twenties and thirties, it wasn’t uncommon to be working on the computer at my office and have an email pop up from her assailing everything from my parenting skills to my intelligence to my appearance to my worthiness as a daughter.  Such strikes would leave me crumpled and crying, essentially useless the balance of the day.  But those days have passed, and at age 50 I no longer view myself in the reflection she casts for me.  So it didn’t take more than five minutes for my anger to dissipate and for me to recognize the absurdity of her rage.

“YOU CAN GET A NEW MUSTANG TO ATTRACT MORE OF THE SAME SEX…”

Hilarious.  I chuckle now even typing the line as I imagine a scene where I cruise the streets of DuPont Circle in DC, windows down, music cranked, lesbians flailing themselves at the car like teenyboppers who’ve just spotted Justin Bieber’s limo.  I also came to appreciate the inadvertent compliment she’d paid me via her rant – “…ATTRACT MORE OF THE SAME SEX…,” the implication being that I’m already doing somewhat well for myself in that regard. Gee, thanks, Mom!

The chick magnet

So when mom responded in her predictably angry fashion a few minutes later, I simply wrote, “I’m not wasting my time on this. Bye,” and crossed “Buy a Mothers’ Day card” off my mental to-do list.  Instead, I decided to start a new blog to share the unintentionally comedic pathos that is my life.  It’s not always pretty, but it’s damned real and I’m at peace with it.