Monthly Archives: May 2014

Flashback Friday: Bridget Jones Has a Baby (and I Feel Fine)



[Since this was written eight years ago, some attitudes have changed. Also, Helen Fielding has given us an installment wherein Bridget Jones becomes a mother, and from all reports, it isn’t pretty. I’ve refused to read it because I prefer the Bridget Jones of my late youth.]

Monday, May 29, 2006

It’s Memorial Day and I’m tired of thinking about the war dead, the high cost of crappy plastic cemetery flowers, and why it is everyone else I know has cookouts but I mostly have bowls of Fruit Loops.
So let’s talk about babies. It seems timely. The media can finally quit telling us that Baby Jolie-Pitt is about to be born, has been born, has been given the name of a Golden Retriever, has been made an honorary Namibian princess, etc. (The downside, of course, is that we’ll be back on Britney-watch.)

Also, in other celebrity baby news, it seems Helen Fielding, the author of _Bridget Jones’s Diary_, has just had her second child at 48. I like this story because it gives me almost a decade to  keep motherhood on the table. I keep a list of “older” mothers just in case–at some later date–I need a role model.

That said, today I visited a friend who recently had her first baby. A little over a year ago the two of us got together for the ballet and dinner, where she confessed that she was thinking of having a baby but she really wasn’t sure she wanted to, had never wanted kids, had never seen herself as a mother, etc. (I encouraged her, for the record. It seems like a thing you are supposed to do if you can.) Then about three weeks later she wrote that she was pregnant and so she guessed the decision had been made. Before Baby, we met in bars and talked about men and what we wanted to do with our lives. Today we met at Bob Evans. On the surface, she looked as fresh and well-organized as she always has, but something was off. She seemed scattered and a little unsure of herself. She kept apologizing. She confessed that she knows nothing about babies and so still has no idea if he is exceptional or below average in what he does, though what he does mostly is chew things and smile. She said that while she used to think about climbing the corporate ladder, she now suddenly wants a job where she can work less than 40 hours a week and wear comfortable shoes. I felt both sorry for her and a wickedly envious. There’s this cocoon around a mother and a new baby that third parties  can’t quite penetrate.

She’s younger than I am and I (being so very old and so very jaded) have lived through several of these get-togethers in the first six months of Baby’s life and it is wrist-slittingly tedious while the two of you try to re-navigate your friendship since you are no longer in the same boat…or floating on the same body of water. I’m sympathetic to how hard this transition must be for the parents. In fact, on a couple of occasions with close friends, I’ve enjoyed watching the transformation and hearing about the feeding schedule and quality of diaper contents and the features on the Bebecar Stroller (which costs more than my first vehicle) and how really, you just can’t be a GOOD parent without a Diaper Genie. I take mental notes so I can have rational discussions about things I know nothing about with whomever has the next baby. And maybe I take notes in case my ovaries are as hearty as Helen Fielding’s. Maybe.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those cool single people who “understands” the trials and tribulations of marriage and a childless one who totally “gets” what it is to be a mother, so admitting any of this is like blowing my own cover, but here it is: when friends have babies it totally sucks. At least it does in the early days because suddenly the glow of the spotlight shining on the baby is just wide enough to shine a bit on you and expose something you’ve never known before about your own life, which is this: it is silly and insignificant. I want to be clear: this has nothing to do with the mothers’ attitude. For instance, my friend today generously praised my writing and asked several questions about my life, but then when I went to tell her, the baby would coo or shake his stuffed cow and we would both stop mid-sentence and grin at him like a couple of idiots. She asked what I’d been up to, and nothing I’ve been up to seemed noteworthy. Perhaps if I was making scientific discoveries or brokering peace in the Middle East I wouldn’t feel this way, but mainly what I’ve been doing is eating Fruit Loops on Memorial Day and that hardly qualifies as news. I’ve been to Ireland. I’ve taught some classes. I’ve flirted with some men. But how can we discuss that when she so recently brought new life into the world and here it is sitting before us, filling its diaper?

We gave up after awhile. We made faces and weird sounds at the baby and assured each other regularly that he really is the most beautiful, smartest, and most cheerful baby ever. When I pulled away, he was screaming at the top of his lungs, his mother looked pained at the thought of the hour long drive she had in front of her.

I cranked up the Pearl Jam in my own car where there were no little eardrums to worry about, which is another kind of satisfying.

Getting in on the Ground Floor



"Love & Loss," Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

“Love & Loss,” Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle

On the flight to Indiana, the woman sitting next to me asked me to watch a video about a company she works for because she felt like it could change my life. She was young, friendly, dressed to the nines, and I liked her watch, so I agreed. The product itself was intriguing—it was some sort of natural compound that has been scientifically proven (and even talked about on a network investigative news show) to improve health and longevity—but the point of the video was not to sell me the product so much as to sell me the company. Just as my brain was thinking, This is a pyramid scheme, the video said yes, this could be called a pyramid scheme, but then insisted that all business is a pyramid scheme with a CEO at the top raking in the big money and the peons at the ground floor doing the grunt work, and it was said so enthusiastically that I was momentarily forced to believe it was true and that I should get in on the ground floor. Everything is a pyramid scheme. Pyramids are awesome! Fortunately, my better sense prevailed (around the time Donny Osmond appeared on screen, though he was looking remarkably well-preserved) and I was able to muster up the courage to tell her I wasn’t interested. Pyramid schemes only work if you get in on the ground floor, and it was pretty clear to me that this pyramid was already 3/4 built.

She turned her attention to the guy sitting next to her. I spent the remainder of the flight bouncing between pity for a woman gullible enough to believe she’s going to become independently wealthy shilling snake oil, and pity for myself because I never can wholeheartedly buy in to a cause or a product or a belief system. I might attend services, but I never drink the Kool-Aid, and while some might say this is smart, what it really means is that I’m riddled with doubt on a lot of levels.


On the return flight to Seattle, I was relieved not to be sitting next to someone trying to sell me something. My seatmate looked like a high school senior and was expressing annoyance that the fleece she’d ordered hadn’t arrived in time for her trip. She told me she would be spending the next two weekends with friends, hiking around the Pacific Northwest, and during the week she’d be at a conference. She looked like maybe she was a dolphin trainer or something, so I was surprised when she told me she had an MBA from Carnegie-Mellon, lived in D.C., and did something that sounded vaguely important and international. I’d love to tell you what her job was, but I didn’t understand what she was talking about. She was speaking clearly and wasn’t using polysyllabic jargon, but the words that she strung together made no sense to me, and what’s more, I couldn’t get my brain to shut off while she was talking. Instead, inside my head was a roar, This is just a girl and she knows more about the world than you do. This girl is going places. This girl has a plan for her life.


She told me about this artist community in Mexico where she’d done an internship and where a lot of Americans emigrate, and my brain roared, This girl knows about a place you should know about but don’t. I asked where she’d done her undergraduate work, and it was a college that I’d considered for about 15 minutes when I was 15 before I knew about things like “out of state tuition”. I asked how she liked it, why she chose it, and she explained that she’d picked it solely because of its excellent intern program in D.C. because she knew she was interested in international business and the nation’s capitol would be a good place to do that. My brain roared, When you were thinking about that college, it was only because you liked the way the campus looked in the brochure photos. What’s wrong with you?



She wasn’t intimidating. She didn’t seem particularly wise. She asked me if I thought it was crazy that she’d come to Seattle without a raincoat or an umbrella. (Answer: duh, yes.) She was just a person, young enough to be my daughter probably, but full of information about the world that I don’t have. I was relieved when she plugged in her earphones  and started watching the in-flight movie, which was Spiderman, if for no other reason than so my brain would quit roaring at me.


It was a weird way to bookend my trip home. I went in feeling smarter than the posh, pyramid sales person, and I left feeling old and dumb (and pessimistic about a stranger’s choice of outerwear for nine days in the Pacific Northwest). As I walk around Seattle, where the average age is something like 30, I’m feeling past my prime and not nearly clever enough. I’m going to have to spend this first week back in the city Googling things like “Gen X” and “generational beliefs” and “multiple intelligences” and figuring out all the ways I’ve still got it going on.


Hopefully, after the research is in, I won’t come to the conclusion that I made an error in not signing up for a new career with Donnie Osmond and the anti-aging pyramid sales woman.

Now is the Springtime of Our Discontent: A Dog Story




Seattle Beth always has big, big plans for Indiana Beth. When she’s in Seattle, she makes lists of all the people she will see and the boxes she will rifle through in her parents’ attic and the epiphanies she will have while she is in her natural habitat. But Indiana Beth always has other ideas. Indiana Beth mostly wants to sit around staring out the window, chatting with her family, reading books that got left behind in the Great Move. Inexplicably, on this trip, Indiana Beth has been obsessively doing jigsaw puzzles on her iPad. Like an old person.


Seattle Beth is disappointed in Indiana Beth.


Frankly, I’m disappointed in both of them: the one for not realizing the limitations and proclivities and the other for being so incredibly lazy.


I was supposed to fly back to Z on Tuesday, but had an unwelcome 24-hour bug that made air travel seem like a bad idea. I was disappointed not to see Z on schedule and disappointed not to get to claim the first class seat to which I’d been upgraded. But I’m never sad to spend more time at home. Luckily, Mom has taken over my pet sitting gigs with Mac the Wonder Scottie, and so the bonus days in Richmond were spent with him at his gorgeous house. What’s a little stomach discomfort when you get to sit on a screened porch staring at a pond and woods with a little Scottish Terrier under your chair?


As soon as I realized that I needed to skip the flight and rebooked for three days later, Seattle Beth started making plans again. Maybe I could still clean out a closet, write a book proposal, post a blog a day, go on hour long walks of a vigorous nature, meditate, do yoga, find inner peace, come up with an idea for world peace.


It’s a lot to accomplish in three days, especially when there is a lovely view and a porch.


Mac is always initially excited to see me. He does his happy dance and his special growl-talk and we’re both overjoyed to be together again, and so we love on each other and then fight over his scruffy hedgehog. I’ve been watching him since he was a puppy and now he has a beard that makes him look like a wizard, so it is safe to say we know each other well. I know that if I say “Get the monkeys” when I open the door to let him out, he will go tearing into the yard set on chasing away the imaginary beasts even though he should know by now that there are no monkeys. (Mac hates monkeys even though he’s yet to come face to face with one.) He should also know that I am not what you’d call an energetic person.


Like Seattle Beth, he becomes discontent, and I can only assume that the source of this discontentment is me. I read too much. I sit and stare too much. Mom and I talk too long about things like the influx of buzzards. Finally, he sighs and turns his back on the pair of us and has a nap. I’d kind of like to teach him to play Words with Friends to take some of the pressure off of me. I’m not a good entertainment director. Once you have the walk and the hedgehog tug-of-war and the meal and the snacks, what else is there really? I’ve long been convinced that if I could show him how to read, he’d be so much more content.


Other sources of discontentment on this my last day in Indiana: a Ku Klux Klan rally in neighboring Centerville. I’m horrified and disgusted. And frankly, Mac is too. He seems to have a strong desire to sneak into the rally and tug white sheets off of participants, exposing them for the cowards and fools that they are. Maybe this explains the buzzard problem.

On Grail Quests and My Hometown

Mittrione's Italian Market

Mittrione’s Italian Market


What I’m noticing on this trip back to Indiana is the astonishing number of buzzards. They scope out their dinner options, catch currents and circle over cornfields, often in clusters of three. It’s eerie. When I was a kid, I might occasionally see a lone vulture feasting on some road kill, but now the sheer number of these things is otherworldly, as if they are trying to tell us something. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.


As I drive through this town of my youth, I think about the recent spate of shootings and burglaries and drug busts, the derelict properties, the businesses that have closed. My outlook on this trip is grim, though I have no real reason for it other than summer is coming and heat always makes me think the world is about to end. May has not always been the kindest month to me, but I haven’t been obsessing about the diagnoses, the deaths, the goodbyes, or last summer’s broken toe, so that’s no answer either.


The buzzards circle and I see one more thing that doesn’t look the way it did in 1978, and my eye twitches.


These particular creatures are reminding me a little too much of the second half of Excalibur when King Arthur is wasting away, his kingdom crumbling around him, because he’s just found out that Lancelot and Guinevere have betrayed him, and the external landscape matches his mood: grapes wither on the vine, pastures turn brown, and the corpses of knights who have failed at the grail quest line the roads of mythic England. This is my least favorite part of the movie (and that is saying a lot considering the rape, incest, sorcery, grisly battle scenes, and truly horrible Irish accents with the exception of Liam Neeson’s). More than once, I have hit the fast forward button to skip these depressing scenes in order to get to the part where Perceval discovers that the grail is not a thing after all, but is, instead, an idea: the king and the land are one. He rides through the countryside, a sort of Medieval Paul Revere, shouting his discovery, Arthur gets the message, perks up, and, and voilà, the crops start growing and everything greens up. (If you like your stories to end on a happy note, I recommend that you quit watching as soon as the land begins to blossom.)


I don’t like looking at my hometown with this lens.


I’ve been living in Seattle for four years come August, and because I’m gone for four or five months at a time, when I come back, I notice subtle differences and I have strong, internal reactions to these changes. It can be anything from a closed business, bulldozed 19th century mansion, or a stoplight that is now set permanently on blink. I have this irrational sense that Richmond should have written and asked my permission before proceeding with the alterations.


I also bristle at changes that my people make themselves. I will never get used to Leibovitz’s kitchen remodel. It’s lovely, but I miss the now-dated, fruity wallpaper border that I watched her hang one night before her daughters were born—daughters who refuse to remain in footy pajamas and are, instead, teenagers now, one of whom will insist on driving.


Two days ago Mom and I were at the post office mailing a package and she addressed a box with the city on a single line and the state on another, and I found myself spluttering, an action that heretofore I’d only seen in comic strips and had no idea I was capable of. This is the woman who taught me how to address things properly, and now, suddenly, she’s putting Indiana on it’s own line, like she’s unilaterally decided it is its a country. I demanded that she tell me why she’d done this, and she gave me a brief history of the different ways packages have been officially addressed in the course of her lifetime, but no real explanation as to why she’s made this change. She said something like, “This is how I’ve always done it,” and I was shaking my head because I know it is not how she’s “always” done it. I pursed my lips in disapproval. I didn’t mean to, but I could feel them pursing and once they start pursing, I can’t stop them. Mom has always been a rule follower and now suddenly she’s going against USPS addressing guidelines to put her own flourish on packages? All the way out to the car I had to give myself a talking to about how I need to be more malleable, that I can’t expect things to stay exactly as they were when I left in 2010. Businesses close. Traffic patterns change. Mom is a free agent and can address a package as creatively as she wants and as long as that zip code is on there, chances are the package will get delivered.


Clearly the problem is not with Richmond or my people, but instead, a problem with my perspective. Sure, the crime and the economy, but there are good things happening here too. If nothing else (and there is plenty “else”), Richmond should win major awards for the awesome historical murals that dot the downtown and illustrate its glorious past and contributions to American culture. It’s much more colorful than it was in my youth. The roads are uncongested. People spend a lot more time and energy on lawn care here than they do in the Pacific Northwest, so there is plenty of lovely. People are friendly. Nobody questions my food choices here and insists I must eat quinoa instead of mashed potatoes. Nobody forces me to hear all the reasons I should do a little hiking on the side of a live volcano in Indiana. (In fact, “lack of live volcanoes” should be put on the tourist brochures as a selling point for this place.) Richmond has changed, yes, but it is just like other towns–and people–around the country trying to find its place in world.


If Arthur had adapted more graciously instead of moping when the loyalty of those closest to him shifted, Camelot would have stayed paradise. If I’d adapt to the notion that nothing is static, I wouldn’t have to write frantic blog posts about how my own sense of history is disappearing before my eyes or how my people have gone right on living their lives in my absence.


When Jane’s husband graduated from our alma mater our junior year, he said mournfully, “I want them to laminate this place after I’m gone.” At the time, I thought he was joking, but now, I think maybe that’s all any of us want, including King Arthur: lamination of all the places and people we love, exactly when we loved them most.


For me, I’d choose the period of time before the buzzards were circling Wayne County so frequently.

Flashback Friday: The Cheerleader and the Bookworm


Sunday, May 21, 2006


Once a month when the bill is due, I go to the gym. I can’t say it does much for muscle tone or weight loss, but I am dedicated even though I don’t see results. Once a month. Like clock work. I go to the gym at 10:00. This is the perfect time to go because the only people who are there are usually older people who have either had strokes and are rehabilitating or older people who are healthy and trying to ward off the strokes. Nobody is there who looks like they’ll be on the next series of Real World in other words. There is no spandex or neon. The older people don’t really work the machines right. They do things in a lopsided fashion. I say this not to make fun of them but to point out that in order for me to feel good about the hour I sometimes spend in a gym requires me to be surrounded by people bent over with osteoporosis and propping themselves up with canes. I am not what you would call a natural.

When I was in high school, I was one of those girls who always had her nose stuck in a book and who was always the last one in from the mile run around the track in gym class. Because there were no books involved with gym, I considered it a waste of my time. I didn’t particularly like my body (though I would certainly like to have access to that version of myself again) and so tended towards maximum coverage in oversized Amy Grant sweatshirts and army jackets. Gay men loved me. Boys who read The Lord of the Rings found me a worthy enough companion.

On the other end of the mind/body spectrum was a girl, let’s call her Trixie, who wore her parachute pants so tight that little was left to the imagination. She was spoiled and cute with a horrible reputation though I was never clear if it was warranted or created by jealous girls and hopeful boys. She was just someone in general math and English classes whose wardrobe and body were enviable, who had gone out with a lot of different guys, and who had a contagious laugh. Also, she was a cheerleader.

Yesterday when I got the gym, there on the steppy-uppy machine I haven’t the stamina to use, was not one of the geriatric regulars, but Trixie, chewing gum, reading a celebrity gossip magazine, and talking to a trainer. She saw me and greeted me warmly, as she always does though we were never friends, and we talked about school and old acquaintances and life. She was sheepish because the last time I saw her was at a restaurant where her eleven-year-old son announced across the aisle separating us that she’d been married and divorced twice and that he and his brother had different fathers. This announcement caused her to clam up and me to eat the rest of my deep friend dinner in uncomfortable silence.

At the gym, we were able to laugh this off. Obviously, this is her domain. She effortlessly talked to me as she climbed an invisible K-2 while I huffed and puffed on the 0% incline of the treadmill. She told me how good her boys are—how they are so much better than she was. She said she wished I had a kid that would spill MY secrets to her in restaurants, and it struck me how sad it is that we humans go through our lives worrying about what other people think of us. Trixie thinks I sit in judgment of her because she’s been married twice, didn’t go to college, and knew how to have a good time. Meanwhile, I think Trixie is judging the size of my treadmilling backside, judging me for my lack of mate or children, and poverty of fashionable workout clothes.

Why do we torture ourselves this way? I allowed myself about 120 seconds of masochism (Why don’t I go to the gym more so I too can speak without huffing and puffing? Why don’t I wear something more attractive than my relaxi pants and “Guinness is Good for You” T-shirt?) and then forced myself to focus on her and what she is: a thing of beauty. Not just because she is firm or tan or has long blond hair or looks ten years younger than I do, but because she still cracks her gum and giggles and tells you she likes your shoes instead of mentioning how you look fatter or older or more single than you did in 1985.

As we were getting ready to leave, the trainer she had been talking to earlier was rubbing a kink out of her back. In six years of semi-irregular gym attendance, no trainer has bothered to smile at me let alone rub a kink out of any of my muscles, but here was Trixie, getting a post-workout backrub and telling the trainer that she thought perhaps she was so tense because she hadn’t had sex for so long.

Gum crack. Gigggle.