Thursday, August 30, 2007

In the Interests of Balance....Or....What You Learn After You Say I Do

Some of the comments on my last post......which never set out to depict a smarmy, holding-hands-in-the-moonlight couple......made me squirm, as that seems to be how it was interpreted. I probably should just move on and do a post about butterflies, or playing on the beach with grandkids, but,in the interests of fair and balanced reporting, I need to shake it some more, like a dog with a bone. So here’s a glimpse between the lines, where nobody but the canny, if sarcastic Rise, thought to look.

Love in the early years is all dewy eyes and worshipful devotion. Which lasts a while. Then, after you’ve washed his underwear, and listened to him belch, and worse, and he has endured the raging, monthly hormone storms, you slowly float back down to terra firma, to a comfortable level of fondness and tolerance. You think you’ve got it all figured out. But you’re wrong.

Along come the babies. Who demand all of your time, deprive you of sleep, and render you comatose by nine every night. While he is in the throes of advancing in the work world. All those long, involved discussions, late into the night when you were the girlfriend? Devolve into grunts and monosyllables and vague “hmmms?”

When he comes home at the end of the day [he’s been at work with grownups], and you’re so happy to see another adult [you’ve been tripping over toddlers all day], and he asks “How was your day, dear?” he’s looking for the five-words-or-less answer, NOT the dissertation. The glassy eyes are the giveaway. Them and the furtive glances towards the living room, the TV, the newspaper, the sofa, and the dog, whose only demand is to be scratched behind the ears.

But nobody goes hungry, except, perhaps, for the onset of intellectual starvation brought on by hours of scrubbing [cloth] diapers and mopping up pureed peas. Neither is anyone outside, shivering in the cold. We’re all inside with warm beds and stories to read. He’s steady and reliable as a rock, and makes it possible for you to be a full time mom. Which is good. Because if you had to go out and work, as well as raise five children, they might as well shoot you now and be done with it.

Toddlers turn into children, who variously turn into soccer players, swimmers, runners, dancers, martial arts practitioners, artists, musicians, bikers, hikers, bookworms, comedians, scholars, and at last, into teenagers. Oy. With opinions of their own. Often counter to the party line. They believe that their parents are SO out of step. So pathetically uncool. Oblivious to our wisdom, they must try everything out for themselves, and in the process, turn our hair white. Mine much faster than his. Because there is no justice in the world.

To our amazement we produce a gaggle of free thinkers. Our dreams for them are not necessarily the same as their dreams for them. Hmmm. Back to the drawing board. When they‘re babies you can’t wait for them to be toddlers. When they can’t talk, you can’t wait for them to start. When they start, you hold your head in your hands and wonder what was your hurry. You wish you had more time for each one, but hope they’ll be there for each other. The in-laws are appalled. Five children! Those Irish are like rabbits. What was he thinking?

Hot tempers and cold shoulders and extended sojourns in the guest room. But always, eventually, back to cooler heads and calmer waters. Laughter saves us from ourselves. It's tough to keep your seat on your high horse when you’re laughing helplessly. It all adds up to life, feverishly lived, without a script, making it up as you go along, ad libbing to beat the band, so no-one will find out you're groping in the dark. Not exactly a Cinderella story. But Cinderella is hogwash. Living happily ever after is only the beginning.

There. I feel better now.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Seems like a lifetime.....

As charming and delightful as munchkins are, they are also exhausting! They left last Monday, and on Tuesday I was winging it north to visit the OC, who got me into this munchkin business in the first place. It's been thirty seven years since, in our hopeful youth and blissful ignorance, we blithely said "I do." As he is fond of saying, at least once a year, with a grin to soften it----"Seems like a lifetime!" which may be because it is....

One summer, when I was in college, and facing the prospect of three months of boredom at Shannon Airport, I made a bold move, and got hired, with a little help from my Dad, by Aer Lingus at Kennedy Airport. I didn't know a soul in NY. When I arrived, a friend of Dad's organised an hotel room for me----and, having deposited me safely therein, airily waved goodbye! Seeing my horror-struck expression,[you're leaving me? Here?? Alone??? Waaah!] he assured me he'd see me at work the next day. When I got to my room I couldn't find the key to my suitcase. Consternation. I lay down on top of it and bawled my eyes out. And wondered why nobody had thought to dissuade me from such a hare-brained scheme. And thought longingly of the deadly boring job I'd had at deadly boring Shannon Airport the deadly boring previous summer. And bawled a little louder. And cursed my big mouth for ever asking my Dad to help me get a job in NY.

But I had to stifle my sniffles and show up for work. It was fun meeting and checking in passengers, and most of the summer hires were college students too. But Americans my age seemed so relaxed and at ease. I felt like a country bumpkin. Being of limited means, after that first night in the hotel, I spent the next few nights on the couch at Heather's apartment. Heather was a ground hostess from Dublin, another of Dad's friends. She was pretty and single, and to my bumpkin eyes, very glamorous and sophisticated. The second night I was there, a handsome pilot she knew was going to be in town. Oh dear. What a dilemma. A romantic evening in the offing for sure. With only one fly in the ointment. What to do about the Irish bumpkin on the couch, who didn't have a life? Or, more specifically, anywhere else to go, or anyone to go there with? Oy vey.

Heather was a rare bird, a Jewish Irishwoman. With Jewish friends. One of whom was pressed into service for the evening. He was male. And ugly. And free with his hands. And I hated him on sight. And Heather too, for so unceremoniously dumping me on him. And for whatever unfounded promises of ribald Irish sex she must have made to him. Because he certainly gave the impression he expected to be thusly compensated for babysitting me. All I remember of the evening is feeling the desperation of a hunted animal, fending off his persistent and slobbery advances, and deciding then and there that ugly, sex-crazed Jewish men were not my cup of tea.

Heather helped me find a room to rent in the house of an elderly Jewish woman. So I moved off her couch, leaving her free to entertain all the handsome pilots she could find. Mrs. Eliafson was a harmless old bird. Strict in her insistence that no young men were to darken the door of my room. They were to wait decorously in the entrance hall. Since hordes of lovesick suitors weren't exactly banging down the door, that presented no problem. Her only other requirements, apart from prompt payment of the rent, were that I do small chores for her, such as switching on the lights on the Sabbath! I was fascinated that even such a simple thing was forbidden, but happy to oblige.

Meanwhile, back at the airport, I'd made friends with two co-workers, MaryAnn and O. On our days off we had fun together. We went to Manhattan, shopping, or to Jones' beach, or to parties after work. Sometimes O's father, when he came to take her home, would give me a lift to my digs. He bragged a lot about his brainy son, O's twin brother, who was away at AF summer camp. In the fullness of time this prodigy returned, and got a summer job with Lufthansa, next door to Irish.

One day O's father came in to chat with us at the check-in counter. We were planning to go to a party that evening after work, and he wondered if his son could come with us. Since O had a date, this suggestion was aimed mainly at me. Being an agreeable, easy going person I said it would be fine. Besides, "party" gives such a jolly impression. The party venue was a nearby pub, where the music was usually deafening. I didn't exactly enjoy them. They were just a better alternative than going back to my lonely room to pick lint from my navel.

The last flight of the evening left for Shannon. Work was done. Time to party. People and cars started leaving. No sign of the prodigy. Not wanting to be stranded alone at the airport, I made a call to O's house. The prodigy answered. Was he coming? Or should I catch a lift in the last remaining car?

I later learned he'd been sitting in his boxer shorts watching sports on TV. He had blown off his father's plans for him, thinking I had probably agreed just to placate the old man. He didn't know that I wasn't some bored, blase American cheerleader type; that if I'd said I'd go to the party with him, I'd be waiting until he showed up; that if he didn't show up it would confirm my status as a social outcast.

Ten minutes later a car screeched to the curb outside Irish. Out jumped a guy of slender build and average height. He had short dark hair and was wearing AF issue 'birth control glasses' [so dubbed because they were SO ugly!] But behind the glasses were the most beautiful dark brown eyes I had ever seen. He was wearing god-awful greenish pants [his mother still dressed him in those days] and falling over himself apologizing.

When he dropped me off at my digs that night he asked if I'd like to go to the beach the following week. I said I'd love to. To me, a finely tuned brain was the sexiest attribute a guy could have. Especially if it was covered with dark brown curly hair. And looked out on the world from soulful dark brown eyes. Only much later did I find out that this also surprised him. Only much, much later did I find out why. He had recently been dumped by one of the aforementioned cheerleader types and was still nursing a wounded ego. I might have been slower to fall if I'd known I was catching him on the rebound. But I didn't know that. And I drowned in those deep brown pools.

That was forty tempestuous years ago. Who knew forty years could go by so fast? Five children and eleven moves, and when my head stopped spinning we were in Florida. Why Florida? To be close to the out-,I mean in-,laws, to help them in their declining years. Hmmph. Turned out it was too close for the OC. He lasted three years before an old friend lured him north with an irresistible job in rocket science. But I know the truth.

It's a little bit weird, it's a little bit lonesome. But I enjoy my own company; I putter convincingly; I have a cheerful telephone voice. I visit the AO's regularly. And gamely listen to all the new and interesting aches and pains. And the same stories over and OVER. If I were my MIL I'd have shot my FIL long ago, and hang the consequences.

But I digress. I miss those come hither brown pools. And so I come hither every now and then. We've weathered a lot in thirty seven years. It's tough enough for two stubborn people to live together in relative peace. Throw in five more cut from a blend of those two cloths and you're not looking at a Norman Rockwell painting. We've sailed through turbulent waters and weathered severe storms. Sometimes the boat was on the verge of sinking. But the sun always came out again, eventually, and we always got back to calmer waters. As each of our five set off to chart their own courses we've crossed our fingers and held our breath, and spent time on our knees negotiating with the Guy in the Sky.

As one of my blogfriends so wisely said----"The only person we can really do anything about is ourselves... we can help and guide others, but when it comes to the crunch they have to make their own way. We can be there, we can love, we can hope. To thine own self be true. We all have to keep moving...." A wise woman, that. I knew it, of course, just needed a reminder. Thanks Ali!

So. Thirty seven years---a lifetime---and still hangin'. They say men marry women hoping they'll never change, and women marry men hoping they will! That's a bit simplistic. If nothing and nobody ever changed, I'd die of boredom. The OC is a rock. On which I have often bashed my stubborn head. My attempts to change him perished on the rocks of futility. But time wrought what I could not! He is now as mellow as he's probably ever going to be. And, finally, I'm fine with that. He has stoically withstood the emotional, illogical, and often incoherent onslaught of me. For which he should probably be awarded a medal. He is the clearest thinker, the best problem solver [which is fortuitous, since I am probably the best problem maker] and the most logical person I know. But better than all that--- he still has the power to make me laugh. And that's what keeps the boat afloat.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bloggers....In My Living Room!

It was such a lovely surprise. I came home to find my living room blogger-clogged. They were everywhere! Stuffed side by side on the sofa. Perched on armchair arms. Squatting cross-legged on the floor. Each with a laptop. Each in a different pose---raptly typing; finger to lip, thinking; chin in hand, musing. It was surprisingly quiet.

Across the room I spied a pleasingly plump lady with a creamy Celtic complexion and long raven locks. When she glanced up the twinkle in her eye left no doubt.
"Isabelle!" I cried, delightedly. She didn't look a day over thirty five. There was a scholarly looking gentleman with a thick mop of iron gray hair and John Lennon spectacles sitting on the floor in front of her. She had obviously brought Mr. Life along. Another blogger called to him from across the room.
"Tell us who's got a bad reputation in OUR House of Lords!" [I never said this was going to make any sense!]

I looked eagerly around the room, feverishly trying to match faces with blog friends.
With dread I realised that my bladder was going to spoil my fun. As usual. I got up to go, glumly aware that by the time I came back they'd all have vanished into the gloaming.

That happens with my dreams a lot. I wanted so badly to dream on, and chat with you all, and serve you tea and cake......That bladder of mine is one malicious organ.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Missing: My Super Powers

I think I’m done with bugs and critters for a while. I’m even starting to bore myself. It’s a great tool for denial though. If you’re busy concentrating on four- and more-legged critters, you’ve much less time for obsessing about more worrisome matters. And lord knows, worrying about problems doesn’t solve them or make them go away. It just gives you a headache.

What I tell myself is that these are just more advanced, more complicated steps in this dance called life. If I don’t twist away, just go with it, lean into the rhythm, I can learn these steps too.

Maybe what I loved about being a mom was the super power. When children are small and get hurt, you can gather them into your arms and kiss it all better. You can hold them close and whisper love into their little ears until the sobbing stops.
You can snuggle them in your lap and read a story to distract them from the harsh realities they’re finding out there in the sandbox and on the school playground.

You taught them about love and honour, and truth and integrity. You sent them out into the world and hoped it would be gentle with them. But the world is not gentle. And you see the bright eyed trust, in those eyes you love more than life itself, replaced by hurt and disillusionment. And why were you not able to protect them? Could it be that you’re not really a superhero? That it was all just a game of make-believe?

I’ve been demoted. I no longer play a lead role in my childrens’ lives. I'm a bit player now. Have to be content with watching helplessly from the sidelines. And when it is good it is very, very good. But when it is not......I can’t fix the hurts anymore; can’t kiss away the tears; can’t scare away the monsters from under the bed. All I can do, while my heart is breaking, is hope they’ll be strong enough to learn from each challenge life tosses their way. And come out stronger on the other side.

I may have sworn off grasshoppers and spiders for a while, but tonight I’ll be collecting another kind of wildlife from the airport. Five year old granddaughter and three year old grandson are coming to visit, along with their darling dad. So if it’s more quiet around here than usual, you’ll understand it’s because I’m off dancing with munchkins.

Monday, August 06, 2007

"Step Into My Parlor....."

....... said the spider to the fly.

I don’t think he meant me exactly, but I blundered in anyway, as we hiked through the woods yesterday afternoon. His parlor was strung across the path, between two trees. I didn’t know it was there until I felt its sticky walls wrapped 'round my face. Extracting myself, I fervently hoped that HE was not in my hair too.

I needn’t have worried. He was sitting, inscrutable, in an undisturbed corner, waiting for more palatable tidbits.

We kept moving, since standing still was understood, by the hordes of blood thirsty mosquitoes, as an invitation to belly up to the bar. It was hot and muggy and there was thunder in the air.

There are deer in these woods but, no matter how stealthily we step, they always hear us coming. As I fumble frantically to focus, they flick their tails and bounce away.

Once we saw a diamond backed rattler, slithering quietly through the dried leaves. I won’t mind if I don’t see him again. And there was the time we happened upon a family of armadillos, so intent on snuffling through the undergrowth for supper that they hardly noticed us.

With thunderclouds threatening, and the persistent whine of mosquitoes in our ears, we traipsed through the trees in record time. There’s always some little surprise though, to make you glad you came, even on a dull day. Yesterday it was this pristine beauty...

And these fine fellows.....

.....who were happier than we about the bounteous selection of frogs and mosquitoes.......

And, of course, the surreptious pictures I took of Spiderman's parlor.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ugly Bugs and Cranky Codgers

Look who I ran into in the driveway this morning. My first impulse was to chase him away, since he and his voracious ilk are not welcome in the garden. But wait! I know that he has beautiful scarlet wings. Maybe I could get a picture of them.....Looks like he could be in a monster movie, doesn't he? Even if he couldn't act. The sum of his parts are ugly, but the parts themselves beautiful. Just zoom in close, if you need proof.

He wasn't happy that I was persuing him. A lens bigger than his eye, aimed at him, may have made him think I was a predator with less than honourable intentions. What passersby thought, at seeing me lying in the middle of the driveway, is anybody's guess.....He didn't seem inclined to humour me by spreading his wings. He appeared to be injured. He seemed to have all his legs and all his antennae, so why he couldn't fly away remained a mystery.

I wasn't too sympathetic. I knew that, given back his flying ability, he would think nothing of dining on my flowers. I didn't call the insect ambulance. Just followed him around, clicking. Since he wasn't co-operating on the wing thing, I gave him a little push. He toppled over, exposing his yellow belly, thusly:

Not a very flattering shot. So I helped him to his several feet again, to save him further humiliation. Seeing him like that, flailing helplessly on his back, reminded me of something.

When we lived in Belgium,I was driving home from church one Sunday morning. I came to a traffic circle near where we lived. It was quiet. Sunday. Very few cars about. As I came around the circle I spotted a man wobbling on a bicycle, coming towards me, but on the sidewalk. As I watched in horror, he gave one last quavery wobble and fell off, with the bike on top of him. Being a compassionate person, I pulled over and got out of my car to help him.

He was an elderly gentleman---for want of a better term. He didn't seem hurt, just a little disoriented. I was talking to him in English and he was muttering to himself in Flemish. Obviously we weren't going to be communicating verbally. But the concern in my voice should have been apparent no matter the language. While he lay there, looking bemused, a cyclist came zooming along. One of the serious kind, complete with helmet and skin tight lycra. He stopped to see what had happened. The man on the ground spoke to him in Flemish. He looked at me. It wasn't a friendly look.

"He says you knocked him off his bicycle," he told me.

I was incredulous. The "gentleman" on the ground was proving to be no gentleman. He was in fact proving to be an unscrupulous liar. The biker dude ignored my protests, seeming to think the old codger was telling the truth. But he had a bicycle to ride. And miles to go. And a lack of interest in further involvement. I sputtered my outrage. Probably swore never to stop and help a Belgian in distress again. Biker Dude shrugged and left. Old Codger struggled to his feet, dusted himself off and was still muttering to himself in Flemish as I flounced back to my car, and drove away.

That ugly bug was lucky I let him limp off into the grass instead of squashing him under my crocs.