Trips Around the Sun

Time reveals a lot, it shows us how where we thought we were going and where we end up can be blessedly out of synch, it tells us more about ourselves, and it also uncovers who really matters.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes with who I have chosen to trust, who I have doubted, and how much I’ve given. I wish I could say that it’s been an internal revelation or decision that has set me straight, that somehow I have had the instinct to ferret out the truth from the lies.  Nope. Good old fashioned before and after has done that, with a bit of help from forgotten texts and someone telling the truth.

There are things in my life I would take back—don’t walk out to that car, Amanda.

Don’t say yes to that request, Manda.

Sweet girl, don’t say what you are about to say.

Splinters.

I can’t go back. I can’t change the way things played out and I won’t change who I am. There are people I could track down and confront, there are apology letters that I could write. There are also people I’d like to spit in the face and kick in the shins.

 

 

I won’t spend my days worrying about what was and what isn’t. I won’t rehash another misconception, a group I don’t belong to, or a friendship that fell apart. There was a scene in the movie The Way Way Back when Sam Rockwell’s character sets a teenage boy straight about something cruel his mom’s boyfriend had said to him. It’s along the lines of, “That was never about you, that was about him.”

Somewhere between getting it all right and being completely wrong, there is an expanse where you let go of the people who were never true and you actively hold tight to who and what matters.

For me it is family, the traditional kind and the serendipitous, unpredictable band of kindreds we collect along the way.

A year ago.

Love Postponed—Feeling My Own Love

My hands were resting in my lap as I waited in the X-ray room. It was 8:30 in the morning and I’d already been through two orthodontist appointments with the girls. I was trying squeeze in a chest X-ray my doctor had ordered weeks before.

The technician came in, she wore raspberry scrubs and had a warm smile. “Good morning, hun. I’m going to have you undress to your waist, everything up top comes off, then you put on the robe, ok?”

I nodded. The door closed behind her and I looked around. The austere and dated room was jarring— no pastoral scenes taped to the ceiling over where you might lie down like in a gynecologist’s office, no signs to read or magazines to flip through to pass the time. My nerves began to ping and I tried to keep my breathing steady, I laughed in spite of myself because I was there to probe deeper into a shortness of breath issue.

I took my layers off, hesitating before removing my bra. There was a door in the corner that was wide open, through the threshold the dark corners of another room. It felt strange to stand there with it open. Despite the woman’s kindness, I realized how little who we are matters in these rooms. I am:

Magee, 42y F White—Chest Lab

I looked at the robe, frozen. I never know which way they go. I put it on like a jacket and fumbled with the ties. I sat with my hands in my lap. I thought about how long overdue I am for my pap. My doctor’s death has been an excuse for me. It’s not ok that I have postponed my health. I clasped my hands together.

I felt something as my hands touched, I couldn’t identify it at first. My skin felt soft and warm. As I rubbed my hands and then squeezed it felt as if someone was there with me. I felt comforted and loved. I took a long, deep breath. It was effortless and before I knew it there was a sound in the room.

“I love you.”

I was saying it to myself and the most startling part was that I believed it. I looked at my hands as if I’d never seen them before. I held one out in front of me, turning it forward and back while my other hand rested on my wrist.

There was a knock at the door and the technician came in. She walked me through the process of standing against the wall, filling my lungs and holding the air inside. We did this four times and then she said, “Ok, hun, we’re all set. You can get dressed and scoot straight out.” I thanked her and watched her leave.

I took the robe off and ran my hands over my arms, I pressed my right hand in to my belly. I traced my finger in my belly button like I used to do when I was a little girl. I thought about who I am beyond the numbers on the paper and the statistics of this political cycle, I cupped my face in my hands and closed my eyes. I imagined being able to kiss my own forehead like I do with Sean and the girls.

Once I was dressed I looked around the room once more, the small area where the technician had stood beamed with a soft light. Two images of my lungs glowed. I looked over my shoulder and then crossed the room to look closer.

I thought about the years I spent smoking, the miles I’ve run, and the deep sobs that have filled those lungs. I wondered if I’d hurt myself or if the bolt of shit happens lightening would strike me with a terrifying prognosis. Hours later I would answer the phone at close to 6 to have my doctor say that it is asthma.

As I waited it wasn’t terror or whispered promises to a higher power in exchange for my health that happened. There was an exchange but it was entirely between who I am and who I have been. It feels in some ways that I was in a delivery room, allowing something to come into the world that I’d never known before. I felt love for myself that had nothing to do with weight, accomplishment, beauty, or mood. It was not vanity, it was compassion for self. Imagine that!

I love you.

 

Love

Marriage, Hurt Egos, & Good Intentions

Last year Sean and I collaborated on several posts about marriage—it’s been a while and it felt like it was time. Here is how I introduced this 2-part, I write/he writes approach before: I usually keep marriage along the periphery of the stories I tell. The silos of parenting and life are not as concise as they can seem in storytelling, they aren’t silos at all; they’re brush strokes sharing space on one canvas. Marriage, two sides, a post in two parts—first, what you’ve come to expect here, my words and emotional take on something that happened; second, words from Sean, his perspective on the same thingIt’s personal and revealing. 

Effort

Sometimes marriage feels like…

 


T

he fresh snow squeaked beneath me as I walked to the back of the car in the robotic heel-toe, heel-toe way of ski boots. I was a self-avowed ski hater for decades, retracting that is still strange. The sky overhead was a brilliant blue and the sun shone bright despite a bite in the air. I smiled behind my goggles and took a deep breath.

 

The effort to get everyone geared up, not to mention fueled up, tangles me in sweaty, frustrated knots. Rationally I know that we will get through it and that after the grunting and sweating, and pinching of fingers in buckles, we’ll sit on that lift, take a deep breath of fresh mountain air and everything will be all right. Sometimes it just takes so damn long to get there.

 

Sean was retrieving the skis and poles from the case he made for my car after one particularly brutal episode of “If I can just get this one—“ CRASH. I was keeping one eye on the girls; no matter how many times I say, “Stay close to the car. People aren’t paying attention or expecting kids and it’s hard to stop on ice,” they drift away from the car in utter oblivion to the world around them. I was trying to get my foot in a boot, looking very much like a cross between Lucille Ball and Bambi on ice.

 

“Here, let me get you,” Sean said bending down to hold the boot. I shook my head and muttered, “Fourth daughter.” He looked up at me with a twinkle, “I’ve got you.”

 

Once my boots were on I helped the girls tighten their gloves, arrange their goggles, and buckle their boots. Sean helped too, but no sooner had we gotten one girl set then another said, “Can you redo this? I had to scratch my ear.” We’d begin again.

 

I waited until everyone was set before I snapped the chin-strap on my helmet. Pinpricks of sweat stung in my armpits and my neck hurt. “Hold it together,” I said to myself, “Almost there.”

 

Sean had begun to walk toward the mountain with the girls as I went to close the hatch door of my car. I reached up and then tried to pull down the gate. I cannot explain how it happened, but I brought the corner of the door down on the edge of my helmet. My goggles flipped off, my teeth crashed together, and my head knocked into my shoulder. I shrieked.

 

Sean turned in my direction. “What happened?” I was so angry and frustrated I wanted to bag the whole thing.

 

“I slammed the door into my head.” He paused for a second and then said, “Good thing you had your helmet on.”

 

I tilted my head. I may have actually imagined him as a bullfighter waving an annoying, red, silk scarf at me. He waited in that unmistakable married with kids stand off—you really going to do this now?

 

“It really hurt. Jesus,” I spat as I stared back. The girls fidgeted. Sean just looked at me.

 

“It’s ok, I’ll shake it.” He started walking away with the girls in tow.

 

I was seething, the layers of resentment that hover on a daily basis, waiting for a weak moment, leapt at me. Laundry, lunches, cat litter, pet food, coffee, bills, rehearsal schedules and permission slips.

 

I knew, even as the flurry of I-do-it-alls danced around me, that the tally of unrecognized details that I manage is matched by a litany of things that he does without thanks from me, or recognition from any of us. There is no barb that could ever make me feel better for having thrown it.

 

Trudging behind them I actively worked to stifle my foul mood. I wrinkled my nose as I realized all the things I was so ready to spit at him were things that I insist on doing. As I caught up to them I tried to separate my skis, they stuck stubbornly. I shook them and my finger got pinched so hard my eyes watered. I heard the click of each girl’s boots locking into skis. I felt Sean looking at me. “You ok?” his face read.

 

“Yup,” I said as I thought, “No, I’m not.”

 

There are moments when a marriage ending or continuing seems based on the sum of the times we’ve sucked it up, said fuck off, or realized that sometimes we both need to hold our tongue while the other one figures their shit out.

 

Friday night we sat at a table with a divorced friend who said, “Jesus, you’re married like 11 years and you hold hands at the table. Unbelievable.” Twelve hours later we’re having a spat on the side of a mountain.

 

I think marriage is a mixed bag of fine, white sand and jagged, cut glass. Nights like Friday are reminding me that from the outside we all look like it’s all smooth sailing. Days like Saturday are helping me get a handle on when I’m intentionally stomping on the shards of glass, reveling in anger. I don’t think the saying should be love conquers all, maybe try conquering it all for love.

 

 

 


 

 

I thought for certain I’d heard her wrong.

 

We were all but finished with the pre-ski gauntlet of gloves, helmets, zippers and latches. I’d even started toward the mountain with the kids, and after outfitting the three of them—which amounts to about nine minutes of request, rinse and repeat— I was ready to start moving.

 

“You what?” I asked, wondering if it was the insulated ski helmet or early hearing loss that made it sound like my wife had said that she’d shut her head in the car door.

 

“I just shut my head in the car door.” She said. Again.

 

My first thought was: “I’m not going deaf and that’s good.” Second thought: “How does that happen?” Immediately followed by a third thought: “Do. Not. Laugh.” Amanda was rattled, clearly. And after having just met everyone’s mitten-based demands I doubt a concussion was what she’d hoped for.

 

I didn’t laugh.

 

I tried to make her laugh—still uncertain about whether she was really hurt or had just surprised herself. “Good thing you had your helmet on!” I pointed out—knowing that if that comment resulted in a nod, or a laugh, it would mean she was fine. If it got no response, or an angry look, the plan for a morning on the slopes might change very quickly.

 

As it was, her response was somewhere in-between. Which wasn’t much help at all.

 

I wonder if other married couples develop their own sort of communication shorthand: throwing out a statement that begs for a qualified response. Test the waters. Proceed with caution.

 

I stood there, 20 feet away from her, slowly understanding in that tortoise-like, husband way, that it was serious. She was hurt or—possibly worse—angry.

 

I had all three kids with me, in a busy parking lot, and both arms were full of poles, skis and layers of Gore-Tex. A modern-day Saturday Evening Post cover. I should have dropped it all on the gravel and run over to her, but I didn’t. Amanda was embarrassed and already out of her element at a ski resort. She’s a gifted athlete and in perfect shape, and a respectable skier, yet she claims to be in over her head on the mountain. I didn’t want to make a bad situation worse by, well, being myself.

 

Husbands and fathers want to take care of their own. Keep their family safe and sound. Fix whatever’s broken. The longer I’m a dad the more I realize that I can’t fix everything, and, after 11 years of marriage, I know that space can sometimes be as beneficial as attention, when the situation is right. Er, wrong. Whatever.

 

She sighed and said “Go ahead, I’ll catch up.”

 

I turned toward the sound of cranking chairlifts and faced the girls, who had miraculously remained fully suited for battle. Their goggles and gaiters were in place. With ski poles at their sides they seemed like tiny knights ready for a crusade. I explained that Mom needed a minute, and that we’d get our gear on and meet her by the lodge.

 

Really, what mother doesn’t need a minute? Honestly, they put everyone else’s needs first, pack lunches, find the match to that darn sock, correct homework, remember the extra bag of coffee in the freezer, tie shoes, empty litterboxes, chew nails and spit tacks.

 

After all that, I’d want to slam my head in the door, too.

 

We’re trying to carve out time. To provide one another with a respite from family chaos, and work stress, but we need to keep trying, apparently. Physically closing the door on yourself is a pretty literal indication that things are moving just a little too quickly.

 

She caught up with us in time to see the older girls schralp off toward their first run. I clicked Fin into her bindings and stood to face her. There were tears in her eyes, but her jaw was set in a way that said, “We’re here now and we’re going to have fun, Goddammit.”

 

That’s as good a marriage mantra as any, I suppose. Have fun, Goddammit.

 

Just watch your head.

 

 

Travel Travails Triumph

If it weren’t for suspicious luggage and whispers of a bomb scare and a subsequent lockdown in the baggage claim at Orlando’s airport, I’d have written a proper post. Instead, there is this: a post with two images that capture the most important things about today—the anticipation of an adventure as seen from the window seat and then, after so many hiccups…

Wing&APrayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a trip to the beach to do cartwheels and scream as they leapt in the surf hours after bedtime had passed.

 

BeachBliss

 

Sometimes dwelling on the goo in between isn’t worth the time.

That isn’t me

I don’t like to think of myself as being susceptible to envy, but I am, in fact I’m really good at feeling envy. I like to think of myself as being accepting and generous, but it’s there, the green eyed monster. In spanish they call it envidia. Isn’t that nice, almost like a name?

Envidia. It reminds me of an evil character in one of the loathsome Barbie books that found its way onto our bookshelves.

I have often separated my envious side in my mind as being a sort of alter ego. I’m not really envious, I just have moments of being Envidia. Whatever gets you through, right? It turns out that as I travel through 40 I am more ready to see what doesn’t work. I know that I have tendencies in the way I work through things with Sean, whether it’s hashing out household responsibilities or communicating a perceived slight, that are not fair. There are things that I get frustrated with in the workplace that are not going to go away, but time and again I allow them to get me riled up beyond reason.

I  can hunker down in ruts that are unproductive and self-defeating in the name of being right, but I’m not right, I’m just wasting time. I get myself backed into a corner and spiteful for things that just don’t matter.

My friend Chibi shared a link to Anne Lamott’s piece on Self-Acceptance, and it made me take a look beyond self-acceptance, because I think my bigger issue has always been failure to accept other people’s choices. I have judged others for what they have done, resented them for their joy. As I really examine it, this was mostly because I have been afraid to do what they have.

Imagine that, resenting someone else for what you don’t have the courage to do. Facing that down  and saying it out loud is huge for me. It doesn’t just take away the unproductive fury over what other people do, it refocuses my energy on thinking about what I want and what I am willing to do for myself.

I want to be at peace with how others live, because it means that I am living my own life with less regret and fear. By actively un-clenching what has become a reflexive muscle, I am feeling stronger and happier. When I see headlines calling for “Real Women” or “Real Bodies” I feel a mix of compassion and sadness. We all want to be represented, or at least I think we do. I know that I want to feel heard and seen, and considered, but just because another woman is built differently or has a metabolism that allows her to stay whippet thin doesn’t mean that she isn’t real. Curves, no curves, muscles or sinew, our bodies are real, all of them.

My arms are cut, always have been. People ask me what exercises I do. I don’t really know what to say, I just live my life with these shoulders and arms that look chiseled. Some people have washboard stomachs or perfect hair. It isn’t unreal or less real. I also don’t think wanting those things is awful. We’re human.

I think that in our rush to be the purest, kindest, most forgiving, most accepting, we forget that we’re people. We deny that our personalities and emotions are made like the drawing of a child, little bits go outside of the lines and the colors aren’t always predictable. It’s what makes us wonderful. The irreverent friend who can always say just the thing to break the ice, the unflappable business partner who can ease the most jagged tension, or the friend who welcomes you back after you’ve been bratty. If our lines were perfect, if we were all this sought after “real” I just don’t think we’d have the improbable and imperfectly beautiful jig saw puzzle that we do.

I wish 40 didn’t include break outs or the instinct to carry tweezers with me everywhere. I wish that I didn’t care quite so much about how I look, but I do and that is ok. It’s ok that you want more money or that you are willing to inject a little something in your forehead to help you feel less drawn. It’s ok to not shave or to wear clogs.

IMG_1010

We get a life and so long as we aim not to intentionally harm others, the pursuit of joy should be ok. Eat GMOs, decry Common Core, refuse to give up your favorite reality tv show, or use your savings to go to Bali instead of replacing the furnace. You should be able to make those decisions for yourself. It’s ok if we don’t agree. My downfall is being consumed by envy, when the Envidia character comes along and blinds me to another person’s right to walk their own path.

I’m ready to work as hard at being me as I have been at worrying about how other people live.

What do you think? Does envy distract you from joy?