Tag Archives: marriage

Mothers are Forever

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Charlotte and Oliver’s romance was rocky from the start.

“Where did you meet this guy again?” Charlotte’s sister Rhonda asked over fajitas and margaritas. “Wasn’t it horseback riding or something weird like that?”

“Rock climbing,” Charlotte answered abruptly.  “I joined a Facebook club. It wasn’t weird. My friend Lydia and I did it together.”

Rhonda smirked. “Well, Lydia’s pretty weird, but I won’t say anything else negative if that’s what you’d prefer.” She sawed off a piece of tortilla with her fork, doused it in a glob of salsa on the edge of her plate and shoved it into her mouth.

“Yes, that’s what I’d prefer,” sighed Charlotte. She was 40, and although she felt she looked good, she was getting tired of hearing ‘for your age tacked onto the end of every compliment she received lately.  She was also sick of conversations with other women who felt the need to interject ‘good for you!’ as a way to express their ‘support’ for her life choices. ‘Never married at 40? Good for you!’ ‘No kids to worry about, eh? Good for you!’ they would smile, as they clutched their own babies slightly tighter on their hips and sashayed down the frozen food aisle to pick up some family –sized bags of tater tots.

The truth was that Charlotte desperately wanted to buy the family-sized bags of tater tots, rather than the individual portions of Lean Cuisine that filled her supermarket cart week after week.  A successful CFO at an up-and-coming architectural firm, she’d put certain things on the back burner as she focused on her career.  She bought a house at 35, by herself, and filled it with art and Faberge eggs – not real ones, but very high-quality facsimiles. She was certain a marriage and family would follow eventually, but woke up one morning on her 39th birthday in a panic.  She downloaded a book titled ‘Find Mr. Right, Right Now!’, which was recommended by four out of the five urban sophisticate bloggers she followed and read about how best to catch up on achieving the domestic bliss she suddenly sensed was overdue.

Quickly, and with the fastidious type-A personality that had allowed her as a child to out-sell every other roadside lemonade stand within three miles of her house through an ingenious marketing campaign involving a rented pony named Mellow Yellow, Charlotte began restructuring her life in order to best acquire a husband. She replaced her yoga classes with kickboxing. She joined several dating web sites connecting local white-collar singles based on a unique algorithm combining astrological data and Goodreads recommendations . She studied micro-brewery and watched Martin Scorsese films. She replaced her signature raspberry champagne cocktail with a vodka tonic and grew out her hair from a sensible bob to a long and layered mane of come hither curls.

Charlotte gave herself 12 months to meet someone suitable and it was almost to the day of that self-imposed deadline that she met Oliver.   The Facebook group through which they connected called itself ‘Adventures in Romance’ and boasted a 45% successful marriage rate amongst the ten or so couples who had met online in the group and eventually gone on to exclusively date one another. Charlotte was dragged along on a rock-climbing expedition by her friend Lydia, who promptly tripped over a loose harness on the ground and twisted her ankle before even getting to the cliff.

It was this fortuitous accident that allowed Charlotte to find herself strapped to a tall, dark-haired replacement climbing partner with piercing blue eyes who introduced himself as Oliver.   He seemed as charming in person as he was satisfactory on paper, which she had already ascertained when she Googled every member of the group weeks earlier. Her online investigative skills had led to the following knowledge: she knew he was a cardiologist with a healthy Instagram following.  She also knew how much his old house had sold for three years ago. She had not known he collected ukuleles, volunteered at a food bank and wrote poetry, but discovered it over the course of the three hour cliff climbing expedition. She also didn’t know he was engaged twice, and had his heart broken each time, a solemn confession Oliver delivered in hushed tones while holding her hands delicately in his own, over fried calamari and martinis on their third date.

“So, what’s wrong with him?” Rhonda swiped her finger around the inside of her margarita glass and licked off the salt.

“There’s nothing wrong with him….” Charlotte paused. “Except. I think he lives with his mother.”

Rhonda shrugged. “I dated a musician last year who lived with his mother.”

Charlotte grimaced. “That musician was 19!”

“Oh, right…” Rhonda grinned. “Well, have you met the old battle axe, yet?”

“Tomorrow for brunch.” Charlotte sighed. “They are coming over for crepes.”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you,” Rhonda said, holding and twisting them together as she spoke. She noticed a grain of salt on her index finger and licked it off.

****

“I thought we were having pancakes.” Eunice stared at her plate, which Charlotte had delicately garnished with three layers of home-made crepes and an assortment of fillings.

“They are crepes,” Charlotte said brightly, “Kind of like pancakes, but more upscale.” She smiled and looked at Oliver, who nodded his approval at her little joke.

Eunice looked at Charlotte blankly for a minute, and then turned her eyes back to the plate. “Ollie, where’s the Mrs. Butterworth?”

Ollie? Charlotte winced at the nickname, but Oliver looked pleadingly as if to say ‘just indulge her, please…’

Charlotte pulled the syrup out of the fridge and handed it over, sitting back down to study Eunice. With a figure Charlotte would refer to as ‘squat’, she had a typical post-menopause look; choppy short haircut with obvious streaky highlights. She wore too much powder on her face which had fallen into a layer of dust around her turtleneck collar. Her thin lips were a gash of garish red lipstick, and with every sip of her coffee, she left another ring of it on Charlotte’s stone white china. She seemed as coarse and unrefined as Oliver seemed stylish and graceful, and Charlotte briefly thought to ask whether he’d been adopted.

The one bright spot hidden away amongst Eunice’s overall tackiness was an elegant diamond ring she wore on her stubby left hand. It was in a simple setting of platinum filigree and stood out from the rest of Eunice like a white rose in a field of crabgrass. Charlotte’s eyes were immediately drawn to the size of the stone and even from across the table, she could see its quality.  The thing had to be at least 2 karats.

“Never married?” Eunice jolted Charlotte out of her reflections. “What’s that?” Charlotte asked.

“I said – have you ever been married?,” Eunice’s nasal tone was amplified as she wrapped a yellowed handkerchief around her nose and milked it a few times.

“Not yet!” Charlotte grinned and shot another look in Oliver’s direction. He smiled and winked in response.

Eunice noticed the exchange and wrinkled her face in disapproval. She checked her watch. “Ollie, don’t forget you’re driving me to the podiatrist this afternoon.” She looked at Charlotte. “I’m getting my calluses shaved,” she added unnecessarily.

Charlotte reluctantly swallowed a piece of crepe she had just placed in her mouth and pushed her plate away. “Well, don’t let me keep you two,” she smiled coldly.

Oliver gathered his mother’s things and gave Charlotte a quick peck on the cheek as they exited. “The crepes were delicious,” he almost whispered as he followed his mother out the door.

“40 year old women who have never been married are desperate,” she heard Eunice’s nasal-y voice trail off as she shoved herself into the car.

Charlotte watched them drive off and reconsidered Oliver’s suitability. She would give him three months, she decided, before going back to square one.

****

Over the course of the next several weeks, Eunice proved herself to be a major obstacle in Charlotte’s short-term trajectory towards matrimony. Mostly because she was always there. Oliver seemed incapable of refusing her constant suggestions that she invite herself along on any number of hopeful romantic occasions, quickly turning them into errand runs, as Eunice had a habit of suddenly remembering she needed more Epsom salts or hemorrhoid cream.  It was always a product that created an awkward air of embarrassing silence amongst the three of them, which certainly seemed by Eunice’s design, as she sat smugly in the front seat of the car.

The few times they were able to be alone, Eunice would call or text at a rate that was well past intrusive.

“Just call her back,” Charlotte pleaded, as her gazpacho soup actually warmed while she waited for Oliver to finish directing his mother through the simple process of setting up an online Zoc Doc appointment.

“Just one more minute,” Oliver promised, “She’s got a rash.”

Despite the meddling, Charlotte found herself increasingly drawn to Oliver’s quiet, almost passive behaviors. As she projected into their future lives, she saw herself easily taking the reins and guiding him into the marriage and family she coveted. Oliver seemed quite willing to acquiesce to any decision she decreed; he was born to play a supporting role and Charlotte was eager to star in his show. There was only one problem. Someone else was already the star.

****

“God, I really wish she would just disappear!” Charlotte violently stabbed her fork into a piece of grilled chicken in her Caesar salad over lunch with Rhonda.

“I know a guy,” Rhonda winked. She slowly sawed through her eggplant parmesan with her butter knife for effect.

“Ugh, I wish it were that easy,” Charlotte smiled.

“If he’s such a momma’s boy, why are you hanging around?” Rhonda spoke through a mouthful of eggplant.

Charlotte sighed. “I don’t know….” She trailed off. “I hate losing,” she gritted her teeth.

“You might lose this one, kiddo,” Rhonda intoned sagely, “You know, a boy’s best friend is his mother….” She did her best Norman Bates voice.

Charlotte groaned and ordered a glass of Chardonnay.

*****

A week later, Charlotte had what she would later describe to her sister as a show-down with Eunice. She had arrived several minutes early to pick up Oliver for an art gallery opening and found herself sitting on the couch picking individual black cat hairs off her velvet pant suit. Eunice’s cat’s hairs. Charlotte made a mental note never to own a pet.

“I know what you’re thinking about,” Eunice’s nasal-ey voice drifted through the front room as she descended the stairs in a housecoat with the cat in her arms. She looked like a frumpier version of a James Bond villain.

Charlotte rose from her seat and smiled. “You couldn’t possibly,” she said warmly.

“You think you can replace me,” Eunice accused darkly, glaring down from her vantage point two steps above the floor.

“Eunice, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’ll never have my Ollie,” Eunice said defiantly, “Or this, either.”  She gesticulated wildly into the air with the hand that wore the diamond ring.

“Eunice, please….”

“As God is my witness,” Eunice trumpeted dramatically, “I won’t let you replace me!”

******

One week later, there was an answer from above.

Initially, Oliver seemed inconsolable over the death of his mother, which apparently happened during an overly strenuous Jane Fonda work-out session. The doctor explained that one of her leg-warmers got caught on a nearby lamp during a scissor-kick, flipping her head over and onto the smooth marble floor.  “She probably never felt a thing,” the doctor assured Oliver, “besides the impression that she looked great in her leotard.”

Charlotte remained by Oliver’s side throughout the funeral and bided her time during an appropriate grieving period.  She felt the months she had invested may have finally paid off when Oliver asked her to join him for dinner at very expensive and exclusive restaurant for what he deemed ‘a special occasion.’

It was between the soup course and the mini egg roll appetizers when Oliver pulled a small box from his pocket and placed it on the table. Charlotte’s heart leapt and she pictured Eunice’s ring on her own slender finger. Getting my cake and eating it too, she smirked to herself.

“Charlotte, you should know, my mother was everything to me,” Oliver began, and Charlotte looked down quickly to conceal her eye-roll.  “…Until you came into my life,” Oliver finished.  “I was hoping to keep both of you in it, but when my moth-“ he stopped himself for a moment, choking back a sob.

Charlotte patted his hand and urged him to go on with a carefully constructed facial expression of concern and support.

“Well,” Oliver continued, “I think I have found a way to hold onto both of you.”

He pushed the box toward Charlotte, who tried not to rip it apart with her impatience.

Inside was a diamond ring, but not THE diamond ring.  In fact, for a moment, in the dim light of the restaurant, the shape of the gem looked off. She couldn’t quite make out the cut. Was it an emerald cut? Or a pear-shaped? As she squinted harder, the diamond almost looked…..squat.

“What is this?” Charlotte’s voice lowered a full octave. “This is not your mother’s diamond ring.”

Oliver waved away her question. “Of course not. My mother was cremated in her ring, per her will.”

“This gem is much more special….”  Oliver took a deep breath.   “Charlotte.  I wanted the spirit of my mother in something we could hold and admire for our entire lives. Something I could put on your hand and marry you with, so that a part of my mother would always be there on your finger.  Every single second of every single day, with you….with US, forever.”

“Charlotte,” Oliver smiled, “This diamond isn’t my mother’s…..this diamond IS my mother!”

******

“The thing about Lean Cuisine,” Charlotte said to her sister Rhonda on the phone as she walked briskly through the frozen food aisle, and pulled several individually-sized portions off the shelf and into her cart, “Is that it tastes best while watching a marathon session of John Hughes movies while wearing sweatpants,  comfortable slippers and a Snuggie and followed by a large tub of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate brownie ice cream….by myself.”

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Filed under humor, Stories, Writing

Jew-ish.

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My journey from borderline atheist to teaching first grade Hebrew School classes was a much shorter trip than one might expect.  But, rather than dwelling on the notion that I could radically change my thinking about my own religiosity, I invite you to ponder how easy it can be to alter one’s perspective and allow what might be considered mutually exclusive philosophies to co-exist within one’s brain.

I have always been what I would refer to as a ‘cultural New York Jew’. Much more ‘Woody Allen’ than ‘Fiddler On the Roof’. Growing up, I enjoyed eating bagels with a schmear and matzah ball soup.   I liked to say ‘oy vey’ and explain the rules of playing Driedel to gentiles each Hanukkah. (Or Chanukah, if you prefer.)  I had older relatives who used Yiddish words that have made their way into more mainstream vernacular; ‘kvetching’ about someone’s  sense of ‘chutzpah’ and occasionally helped me wipe ‘schmutz’ off my face, by licking their thumb and dragging it across my cheek.

My family would occasionally and half-heartedly observe major Jewish holidays, with less of a sense of tradition than a need to remind ourselves we were indeed Hebrews. Once every few years, my father’s family would host a Passover Seder which I looked forward to only in anticipation of the copious glasses of grape juice I would be allowed to drink during the numerous wine toasts that occurred throughout the evening. We celebrated Hanukkah, when we remembered exactly what date it was due to start, but typically ran out of candles, and shrugged off the rest of the holiday after we had exchanged socks or books, always saving the more exciting gifts for Christmas. (“We’re celebrating the Santa Claus part, not the Jesus part,” my mother would insist when queried.)

What I definitely did not have is a traditional religious Jewish upbringing. I did not have a a Bat Mitzvah, the rite of passage for girls aged 12-13 as they pass into adulthood. I did not learn Hebrew or the Torah.  In fact, I had barely been inside a synagogue by the age of 30, and ironically, any Bible stories I learned were smuggled into my house by my mother’s parents, both of whom had converted to become Jehovah’s Witnesses later in life.

The only official Jewish education I received was several years of attendance at the Workman’s Circle Yiddish School, a socialist organization more focused on culture than religion, which translated locally to weekly Sunday classes that took place in the basement of a Baptist church and featured age-inappropriate and nightmare-inducing lectures about the Holocaust, which we were forced to endure while munching on cheese doodles, a decidedly non-kosher snack.

Despite a sense of informality, I was content with my level of ‘Jewishness’. I enjoyed the notion that I was part of a minority group known for great New York delis, Catskill comedy legends and gesticulating wildly with their hands. Where I grew up in Westchester, outside of New York City, Jews were much more common, but even after I moved into neighborhoods where I became more of a novelty, I didn’t mind. I was different, unique, an underdog; a dark, swarthy ethnic ‘yang’ to the many blond goyim ‘yins’ I worked and played with.

My dating pool wasn’t limited either. After a brief, unsuccessful stint in a Jewish Youth Group during high school (“There are, like, a TON of super-cute Jewish guys there,” I’m sure someone promised me), I vowed not to let religion stand in the way of potential happiness. Who was I to discriminate against anyone based on their beliefs? ‘I’m O.K., you’re O.K.’, was my relationship mantra, as I took up with a myriad of Catholics, Protestants, Hindus and Quakers. In fact, as time went on, I began to downplay certain cultural mannerisms in order to better suit whoever happened to be wearing the suit.

“What I really like about you is that you don’t act Jewish,” a friend from my past once told me. “I mean I wouldn’t have even known if you hadn’t told me.”

Many people, like my mildly bigoted friend, believe that Jews are their own race, and in fact the Supreme Court would agree, ruling in such a manner for purposes of anti-discrimination laws in this country during the 1980’s. This would mean that I couldn’t separate myself from my Jewishness even if I wanted to. And, although my brushes with real anti-Semitism have been few and far between, I began to wonder whether it was because I didn’t advertise who I was as blatantly as I might have.

By the time I was 30, I was married to a non-Jew, living in the South celebrating Easter, which was as far off the map from eating knishes on the Upper East Side as I could be. I dutifully hauled out a few Hannukah candles once a year, corrected my husband’s pronunciation of Challah bread (“You have to feel the ‘cchhh’ in the back of your throat”), and made sure my son was circumcised (albeit in the back room of the hospital somewhere), but my sense of Jewish pride had taken a back seat.  I didn’t miss it per se, but what I did miss was the connection it had to my family, who I had left back north with the knishes.

There were many reasons why my first husband and I divorced, and not a single one of those reasons included religious differences. Yet, I would argue that our cultural dissimilarities made a significance impact on our relationship. I am a conversationalist, a debater, a ‘let’s sit here and hash this out until it’s been talked to death and we can move on from it’-er. I grew up in a family of shouters and yellers. My husband would happily let months go by without dipping below the superficial surface of small talk. He and his parents hailed from the land of ‘if we don’t acknowledge the problem, it doesn’t exist,’ a place where my passport had never been stamped. I thought of all my beloved yentas back home and I began to wonder whether my personality WAS more suited to someone who grew up in a similar atmosphere. Did I miss that slightly more nasal tone my voice took on when I talked to my grandparents on the phone? Would I be happier with someone who did that too?

When I reconnected with an old friend who grew up down the street from me, the fact that he was a Jew from New York was on my mental checklist of pros.  And, I had to admit as we began dating, there was a certain sense of familiar about the way we conversed, reminisced, and even argued. Perhaps embracing my roots instead of refusing to acknowledge them was indeed a key to relationship success. As I soon discovered, however, it’s one thing to embrace your roots, it’s another to have to grow new ones.

It was no secret to me that my new boyfriend was a bit more ‘Jewish-y’ than I had ever been. He had received a Bar Mitzvah in a fairly religious Congregation. He regularly attended services. He was keeping Kosher when we met and had even considered becoming a rabbi at some point. He didn’t celebrate Christmas – not even the Santa Claus part.

But, I honestly enjoyed the idea of being with someone Jewish. Celebrating holidays, starting traditions, eating more lox, and…..er, doing other Jewish stuff.   I even looked forward to hosting my son’s Bar Mitzvah – an occasion I had always secretly felt denied. And, like every other person since the dawn of time enjoying the first blissful months of a romance that felt right in so many more ways than it felt wrong, I was eager to compromise. When he proposed, I said ‘yes’ and his parents said ‘Mazal Tov.’

As much as I would like to end this story with “Dear Reader, I blew the shofar with him,” it soon became clear to me I had bitten off more matzah than I could chew. My new husband’s idea of Jewish family traditions included weekly Shabbat, holidays I had never heard of, Friday night services I didn’t want to attend with Hebrew prayers I didn’t understand. I sat in the new member section of the Reformed Temple during Rosh Hashanah, trying to follow along through the words and motions and felt as much like a phony as I had during any Mass I had attended on the arm of a former Catholic paramour.

My husband reasoned that I would become more comfortable with religious aspects of Judaism, as I became familiar with them. I did not want to become familiar with them, I reasoned, rather loudly, back, but eventually acquiesced by signing up for a new parent orientation at the Hebrew School in which we were enrolling my son. During the course of the discussion amongst the parents assembled there, some with more religious backgrounds, some not, some not even Jewish, one thing became clear – no one was there for the prayers. After several older men in the back admitted that they probably didn’t even believe in God, and I moved my chair forward to avoid any resulting lightning bolts – just in case – the notion that there were as many definitions of being Jewish as there were Jews settled over me like a thick comforting cloud of matzah brei. Many of these people were there for the same reason as I was – to hold onto that piece of themselves that they identify as Jewish and figure out how to help their children do the same.  Whatever that might mean to them.

Over the past few years, some of my ideas on what it means to be Jewish have reverted back to the way I was raised, with the understanding that many of my fellow parishioners might feel similarly. My husband’s ideals on the Jewish family he always wanted have relaxed a bit as well.  I attend certain religious services, because I know it’s important to him, but I will probably take more pleasure in planning the party at my son’s Bar Mitzvah than pride in seeing him called to the bimah. Two years ago I had a serious discussion with my husband about my desire to celebrate Christmas with my children, something I had not done since we were married. If his sense of Judaism was so strongly tied to the idea of traditions, why are my own traditions any less important? He agreed to indulge me, proving we’d both moved beyond our old definitions of what it means to be a Jew.

I still take tremendous pride in being a Jewish person and to that end, whether or not I was technically qualified for the job, I took on teaching First Grade on Sunday mornings. I enjoy reading and explaining Torah stories, but have been known to use the phrase ‘Well, that’s what some people think,’ when posed with a slightly more complicated religious question. Ironically, I’ve had less of a problem dealing with God in my classroom than with glitter-glue. Glitter-glue is pretty powerful stuff.

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Not My Department

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I have long been of the opinion that domestic partnerships should be run like organizations, with clear divisions of labor and mutually-agreed upon but separate departments of responsibility. Any job that falls outside those departments should be debated and assigned, perhaps outsourced, or eventually pink-slipped. For example, I make school lunches for our children. My husband mows the lawn.  Cleaning the floors gets outsourced, though probably not often enough. And, after a couple of re-orgs, we pink-slipped washing windows.

Although it’s the hallmark of poor customer service, the phrase ‘Not my department’ is increasingly used as a valid explanation in our house, while our domestic corporation has evolved into an ever more sharply-defined conglomerate of varied available amenities.

“Mom, can you play a video game with me?”

“Sorry, that’s not my department.”

“Dad, can you help me find matching socks?”

“That black hole of a dresser drawer is not my department – ask your mother.”

Recently, a corporate cog has been thrown into the works of the finely-tuned machine that has perpetuated a stable level of relative domestic bliss, or at least kept us from a hostile takeover: my husband has taken a position overseas for a year.

Thus, temporarily, I am now managing ALL departments, and never have I been so keenly aware of the need for division of labor to maintain efficiency. Now, instead of passing the buck on tasks that do not fall within my area of expertise, I must add them to my project roster, investing my time and energy, with only a faint hope of being reimbursed at some future date.

Shoveling snow? Not my department…. until now.

Burying family pets? Definitely not my department, but not the sort of task that can be put on hold.

Dealing with frozen pipes? This is actually a new department – that apparently now belongs to me.

Catching rodents in the house? Looks like I’ve just been promoted.

In fact, these new pest control skills were put to the test over the past week; a project that launched less than auspiciously with the damning words uttered by my nine-year-old son, “I think I just saw something crawl under that door.”  I fought my initial urge to actually scream ‘Eeek’, like some comic book character and instead presented a facade of calm. After all, this was now my department. 

We determined it must be a mouse, although my son insisted he had not seen a long tail. Ironically, until their recent passing, we had been the proud pet owners of two large male rats; one would have thought my sons and I would have possessed softer hearts toward a tiny trespasser looking to take shelter from the cold. 

However, one would have been wrong.  “Kill it! Kill it!” my nine-year-old chanted, perched precariously on top of the dining room table so as not to cross paths with whatever was in our utility closet.

I immediately piled everyone into the car to drive to Home Depot (a destination that could not be further outside my jurisdiction) to procure the necessary tools for success – a two-pack of Tomcat-branded ‘snap traps’, guaranteed ‘effective, reusable and easy to set’. Sadly, none of these marketing promises were to be delivered on.

Although I was not previously aware that a dollop of poorly placed peanut butter can render a mouse trap ineffective, I tucked away this helpful tidbit of information for future use, or perhaps to include in my summary report when I transferred this position to somebody else, which I hoped would be as soon as possible. Several days, two traps and no mouse later, I began to wonder whether our guest had moved on to better accommodations down the street.

It wasn’t until that weekend during a visit from my mother, her husband and my sister, did the mouse make itself known again. Hearing a faint rustling from within a cabinet beneath the sink in my kitchen, I opened the door to reveal several small piles of rodent droppings….all over the fine china and silverware we keep for special occasions; occasions quite different than this one was turning out to be.  As I made a mental note to burn everything in this now obviously contaminated cabinet, I noticed a slight movement within my field of vision. A half empty box of k-cup coffees was shaking. There was definitely something inside it besides coffee.

Had I been alone in my house, I would have had no choice but to find a way to remove the mouse-in-the-box, likely by donning my rubber oven mitts over my husband’s heavy snow gloves over my own gloves and carefully placing the box into several layers of shopping bags and holding the resulting bundle as far away from my body as possible to be disposed of over the fence on my unsuspecting neighbor’s lawn.  Either that or permanently move. But, with other adults in the house, it dawned on me that I had another option.

I decided to outsource.

After my sister disposed of the box in the dark of my backyard – in a much more regal and sophisticated manner than I could have mustered – I was certain we had seen the last of the tiny trespasser. So, it was all the more frustrating when my sister informed me the next afternoon that she just saw ‘something slip under the closet door’.  “No tail,” she added. Could it be the same creature? Or a similarly handicapped friend?

Although I feared multiple trips to Home Depot within the same week might damage my reputation, we had no choice but to return for more ammunition. I was quickly becoming an experienced purveyor of pest control contraptions – something I did not plan on including in my resume. Along with the additional snap traps and high frequency sonar rodent repellers, I grabbed two humane traps, mostly to prove to my mother’s vegetarian, PETA card-carrying husband that I’m not a cold-blooded killer. 

My sister and I arrived back at my house to a scene that would have been comical were it not so rife with panic: my mother’s husband and my older son yelling at my bookcase. “We caught it!” my son squealed, and I realized they had trapped the mouse behind it.  Each time the mouse poked its quivering nose out beyond the shadows, my son barked it back. “Hey! Hey! Heeeyy!”

“Quick, get one of the traps out!”

The project had become an outsourced team effort. A team made up of my mother’s husband, my sister and my son. A team that did not require my full participation. I baited the trap, handed it over and took a step back. Any guilt I felt at not taking a bigger role in the capture of a small mammal in my own living room was superseded by the tremendous relief of not having to handle this alone. After months of overseeing all the departments, I was grateful to transition something to someone else in the room and take the equivalent of an emotional coffee break.

As if purporting some evil (but tiny) plans of domestic espionage, our mouse turned out to be a mole, despite the insistence of numerous Google searches that moles do not like to be above ground, scurrying about living rooms and nibbling on peanut butter. We reasoned he was confused, or perhaps was having an identity crisis. (“Maybe he hangs out with mice,” I suggested, “Or covets the life of cockroaches.”)

My sister and I took no more chances and drove several miles away from my house before freeing the tiny mole into the snow. Thankfully, we haven’t seen him (or any co-patriots) since. Unfortunately, without other visiting family members, I’ll be forced to take on the position of pest control alone should additional mice, moles, ferrets or small Chihuahuas invade.  But, only on a temporary basis.  Because it’s definitely not my department.

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Familiarity Breeds Contempt

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Back in my grunge days, when wide-lapelled polyester shirts made a brief resurgence in popularity, I found myself routinely scouring the racks of the Salvation Army to secure what, at the time, was the height of fashion. As I rummaged through the one dollar impulse bin near the register, I came across a t-shirt that made me pause. It was a red shirt with a black imprint of two Edwardian-era young people standing apart on two sides of a fence, the young woman looking longingly at the man, who was casting his eyes off in the opposite direction. The phrase beneath the picture, written in block lettering read ‘FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTEMPT’. As I held it up I noticed the print had been set on the shirt slightly askew, as if constructed in a slapdash manner by a scorned woman herself, hot tears in her eyes blurring her vision and preventing her from making out a straight line on which to place the design.

Of course I bought the shirt, both for its unusual design and for the fact that it was a dollar, and wore it for many years throughout my grungy/Goth twenties. Each time I put it on, I would examine the faces of the couple in the picture – simple black printed expressions with little detail, fading with each washing but still remarkably expressive about the lost love that at one time existed between them. Lovers once with open eager hearts, but now practically strangers – their hearts and minds covered with cold, hard shellac that had grown slowly and steadily during their relationship. I had heard the phrase too, used in some adult context that I can’t now recall, but it had meant nothing at the time for a young girl with ideas in her head about love that were drawn with straight but somewhat fuzzy lines.

In fact, I might have already thrown the shirt away by the time its concept became more familiar and contemptible to me. It lingered in the back of my mind as I began relationships, always with the thrill and novelty that only new love can provide, and eventually ended them – sometimes my idea, sometimes his, always with bitterness and anger and the seemingly never-ending examination of perceived personality flaws and despicable behaviors.  How could I expect to find long-term happiness when it seemed impossible to quell this need to fulfill a fantasy that only seemed to be sustainable by the unknown ambiguity of initial liaisons? In other words, the more I knew about the real person, the more insecurities, imperfections, and idiosyncrasies that revealed themselves, the less interested I was in hanging around.

To be fair, I expected no less than perfection from myself as well, which added to my dilemma. The idea of someone growing tired of me terrified me and I struggled to transform my behaviors to suit my suitor at the time, sometimes to the point of alienating friends and family. Connecting with a significant other seemed paramount – nothing else mattered as much. My parents’ unhappy marriage and eventual divorce seemed to heighten my awareness of the importance of doing it right.  But, my expectations of love were too high and impossible to meet and therefore…weren’t.

Eventually I decided that I could not have it all and attempted to separate fantasy from a reality that I hoped I could live with.  Ironically, I think my first husband suffered from a similar ailment and our marriage was even more of a disillusion to him than to me in many ways. I had never imagined myself divorced (I suppose brides never do), but starting over gave me an opportunity to re-examine my life, now with a child, and force me to put fantasies aside for good.  Or so I thought.

Reconnecting with my current husband, a childhood friend, was as close as I thought I could get to the vision in my head of the perfect mate. We shared a foundation of knowledge, culture and morality. He was handsome without being annoyingly so, educated and ambitious and seemed to become more physically attracted to me the longer we dated. I was confident I had found what I was searching for.

And if we had moved to a tropical island to spend our days lounging beachside and sipping Mai Tais, I’m sure I would have remained as rapturously in love as I was the first few years we were together.

But, we didn’t.

We combined our families of children and were determined to raise them as siblings despite visitation schedules and challenging exes. We had another child fairly quickly after we were married and began the long sleepless nights of feedings and diaper changes. We suffered financial setbacks and legal woes and argued about money and cleaned up vomit and poop and watched each other get sick and ooze with mucus, bruises and rashes. I spent too much money on frivolous purchases. He lost his temper too quickly. I grew discontent and struggled to find myself creatively. He wrestled with his love of travel and adventure and his responsibilities as a father and husband. In short, we are imperfect. There are days that we struggle through to make it to dinner and moments when we wonder why anyone would get married at all, but my definition of love has evolved and I am the better for it. I am a stronger, wiser and more self-aware person and my relationship with my husband has helped to define who I am today.

I still think the familiarity of a close relationship breeds a certain definition of contempt….sometimes, but it’s up to me to move past it. I could choose to live my life attempting to avoid that predicament, enjoying that first blush of lust, anticipation and excitement before it fades into the mundane and sometimes exasperating series of disagreements, divergences and dissents. But, what I would lose is much more important. The progressing and solidifying of another kind of relationship – one that allows you to release that breath that you have been holding for years, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The feeling of having a partner, an equal, someone who has seen you at your worst and doesn’t look away. You force yourself to tolerate someone sometimes because someone is forcing themselves to tolerate you. Not because they just want to tolerate you, but because they love you.

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Filed under Essays, marriage, relationships, Ruminations, Writing