Will you be mine?

Tomorrow is one of those days that some love, some hate. It is hard to find someone who has no opinion on it. I guess that makes sense.

Forced displays of affection + lots of advertising dollars + media-driven fantacies = impossible expectations/inevitable disappointment.

Love is great….mostly, and not great. Valentine’s Day is not necessarily so great.

imperfect-love

I remember studying love in philosophy class as a college student. Plato went on and on about the different types of love. I was intensely invested in the class, not because of any unique philosophical prowess, because I had a major crush on the professor. I can put myself right back in that desk chair and can feel the cramp in my hand as I wrote down every word that came out of his mouth, praying that he noticed that I cared more about Plato than any of the other students in that class and being convinced that my eyes were the ones that he met the most as his curly hair bounced with every gesture and his voice raised with excitement as he shared…..I digress….Here are the categorizations that he suggests:

  • Eros, or sexual passion
  • Philia, or deep friendship
  • Ludus, or playful love
  • Agape, or love for everyone
  • Pragma, or longstanding love
  • Philautia, or love of the self

I’m no Plato but I have a working list of love-categories too:

  • Dutiful love, or the kind of love that gets you out of bed at the sound of puking, keeps your arm asleep under a heavy head, lets your shirt be used as a kleenex, shows up, stays and swallows deeply.
  • Growing love, or that which comes in waves as you get to know someone more and more and find that they have etched themselves permanently into your heart. This love is open to seeing more, to peeling back the layers, to being caught off guard by the wonder of another.
  • Begrudging love, or the one that you give when you know that you have to but you don’t particularly feel it…but you do it anyway…no matter what…maybe not with a smile but you do it.
  • Tender love, or this stuff that seeps out of your pores, changes you, catches you by surprise, leaves you speechless, takes your breath away and brings you to tears.
  • Loaded love,  or the push and pull that guilts you and twists you and bashes you about inside of your head… sometimes on purpose
  • Belly-laugh love, the reflex that comes when you made it through the hard thing and are at the other side of it so you can look back at it together and give that knowing glance that erupts into laughter in the way that can only happen between folks who deeply know one another and have been through some stuff
  • Naked love,  a lens which makes bodily functions ok, sees parts as connected to function, as well as worthy of objectifying, doesn’t look away, doesn’t stare too long but also hooks a gaze deeply
  • Reflected love, all the ways that you see yourself that you would never have seen if the one who loves you didn’t point them out and remind you again and again of what you look like through their eyes
  • Gracious love, this is the one that forgives. This is the one that is prepared to have another go, to give a second chance, to offer the gift of seeing the big picture and understanding the context. This is the love that you never earn or lose because it just is. This is the one that we get and give glimpses. This is the one that is divine.

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There are probably more. None can stand alone. For you to be mine or me to be yours, we need the spectrum. I have gotten lots of love in my life. I have gotten to give lots of it too. This Valentine’s Day, I want to relish that. I want to honor that. I want to lift it up and wave it in the air for everyone to see.  I want to name that while love is patient, its also impatient. Love is kind but sometimes it can be not so nice. It is all the things that we are.

How could it not be?

It is us. It is us. It is us.

 

Do you like me?

In the dark, in the quiet of my room, when all the kids are in bed, when all the guests have left, when all the chores are done, when it is just us…that’s when the voice in the back of my head gets the loudest. We tag-teamed life all day. We parented. We friended. We served. On a good day, we laughed. We move through life closely but sometimes, we interact more with those around us than we do with one another. At the end of the day, it is just us….yep, that voice…loudly and clearly fills me with doubt about how he feels about me. I know he loves me but does he like me?

I’m just going to say it.

I lie perfectly still and wait for him to come to bed. I listen to him take off his shoes, slip out of his clothes and climb into bed. Will he turn toward me or away? I hold my breath. I don’t say anything. Me!  The confident, assertive, grounded person who has a great marriage is crossing fingers and making wwpid-c5c7464961d440d6b7d3c3a2ed32c40c1ishes like a five year old who wants a bike for her birthday. I am truly willing him to pull toward me in silence. It is pathetic! It is embarrassing! It is the truth…

Today, I felt him move his pillow over toward my side of the bed and felt his arm come around my waist. I felt that touch deeply. I need him but I don’t want to sound needy. I want him but I don’t want to seem foolish. It is so silly.

We talked about it because I could not help but start crying. There is nothing worse than knowing that you are being rediculous and not being able to make yourself stop. Thankfully, the one person who I let see all my dark and ugly parts does like me. Yeah, of course he loves me but….for some reason, he even likes me. I got myself all worked up because of that stupid-loud- sneaky voice squeezed itself into my head and pushed out all the truth. I held my breath and waited for the worst case scenario to play out so that all the fears I had about not-being-liked-by-him could  come true and I could roll over and tell myself that that voice was right.

It’s not.

He likes me.

#BeforeGettingMarried

This hashtag took the prize in twitter-land today. Careful who may be peeking over your shoulder if you pull it up because some of the wisdom that folks are sharing about what you should check off of your bucket list before shackling yourself to another person for eternity…is…well…you can guess what it’s like. Nothing like the internet to bring out the inner thoughts that you may have preferred to not know.

2 hours ago
  1. #BeforeGettingMarried
  2. #TwinPeaks
  3. #LawEnforcementAppreciationDay
  4. Doug Marrone
  5. #WhyGiveUpWhen
  6. Jared Kushner
  7. #PaulRyanMovies
  8. Scalebound
  9. Altaba
  10. Chuck Johnson

This was the top-tweet list from 2 hours ago. I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about 4,7,8,9 or 10. I should have known about 9. I wish I could go back to not knowing about 10. 8 is outside of my scope of understanding. 7 was really funny…if you want a laugh, check that one out. 4 is about sports.

I was trying to guess why the marriage one was so big today and wondered if it comes up because lots of folks get engaged over the holidays or might be about to propose for Valentine’s Day. I am not sure how it floated to the tops of the collective minds of tweeters but it got me thinking.

The first time I married, I was 21. There was nothing that I wanted to do #beforegettingmarried. That was the thing I wanted to do. I could not wait to be a whole grown up, a mom, someone’s wife. Dreams. Plans. Fantasies. Drive. Blissful ignorance.

The second time I married, I was 31. Boy do 10 years make a difference. I did still want to be someone’s wife. I already was a mom. I felt as grown up as I think that I ever will. Mostly, I knew the things that I had done before getting married this time and I hoped that  it would not doom me to failure. Disney movies don’t usually show a pregnant bride with four kids hanging onto her in their happily-ever-after movies. I never saw one bride’s magazine that had 10 guaranteed remedies for honeymoon-morning-sickness. Arranging for your ex to watch the kids while you go to the justice of the peace is not something you hire a wedding planner for. Marriage was no longer mysterious and a tapestry of fantasies built by hollywood. I had done it. Here I was heading into it again but with way-more stacked against me. Baggage. Complications. History. Scars. Fears. But what a powerful hope…that’s what I brought to the table.

Before getting married, I hoped. I trusted. I tried again. I took a risk. He did too….not the trying-again part because he had not been married before…but he hoped. He trusted. He took a risk.

The first time, I thought my rough parts could be kept quiet. My waist could be sucked in. My smells could be covered up. My persistent-chin-hair could be secretly plucked.

The second time, rough was loud and clear. 4 babies had their way with my body. Butt paste, wet wipes, poop, sour milk and smashed cheerios covered any of my own smells and the chin hair had  grown friends. Nothing was hide-able. That’s really the best way to prep for marriage. #beforegettingmarried, get real. Pull out all you are and lay it on the table.

The first Christmas that we spent as Mr and Mrs was the year that children 1-4 got the stomach flu. It was as bad as you might imagine. We lived in a two-flat in Chicago with one coin-washer in the grungy basement. He didn’t get sick. I did. He got a front row seat to the real. I remember thinking…he isn’t going to run away…..he really meant all that in-sickness stuff. He was dragged into the muck-of-what-real-marriage is and he pushed up his sleeves to dig right in. It is one of my favorite holiday memories. There was no doubt that this man loved me. We had done enough of the honest #beforegettingmarried stuff so none of this shocked him or scared him off.

Another decade and a half have passed and two more kids left their mark on my flesh. Our smells have mingled and become familiar. I shave my face now. Being the Mrs to his Mr looks nothing like anything I imagined when being a grown-up-wife was a dream.

It is sweeter. It is harder. It is more lovely. It is uglier. It is better. It is the happily-ever-after that I did not even know to wish for. It is grace-filled and bumpy all at once.

I may not know much about 50% of the hot tweets of today but I know that most of the suggestions for what you must do or must have or must squeeze in #beforegettingmarried are baloney.  Find a way to be real together. Real sorry. Real grateful. Real scared. Real patient. Real tired. Real happy. Real sad. Real. Forever. There you go.

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Bedtime story

I have not laid out the story of meeting our houseguest. It’s a good one..it all starts with some really fantastic crawfish hushpuppies from the Handsome Hogmg_1621-e1461532094189. Well…I guess those came after…

Once upon a time, a friend and I planned to meet for a lunch at one of my favorite spots. I got there early and found myself staring at the lunch-seekers  who came in and out as I waited.  A tiny woman and child came through the door. They looked very out of place. She was holding her phone up and he was clutching her other hand.

I smiled at her. She did not smile back.

I asked if she needed any help. She held up her phone and said ‘you will help me’ with a heavy accent. It was a strange sort of question/order that came from her. There was a screenshot of an address that would have been right around the corner from where we were. I tried to explain where she should go to get to that spot but she insisted again ‘you will help me’. Well, ok… I walked them out of the building and texted my friend to say that I would be delayed a little and we moved around the corner to the address. It was one of those strange buildings with cars parked on the main floor  as if they were on display but really, they are stored or something. I thought it seemed like a weird destination. She started to cry. She said ‘I need apartment. One day vacation to find. This no apartment. I need place live with my son.’ I could feel her desperation. I tried to tell her that someone must have given her a wrong address but she just did not understand.

I felt so helpless. It is awkward to be in the middle of someone’s pain when you don’t really know what it is about or how to help to alleviate it. I tried to talk to the boy and he spoke english. He told me that she was speaking Russian. I asked him to tell her that I would give her my number and she could call me later when I would have someone with me to help translate…because…amazingly, we know people who speak russian. She nodded and I just was not sure if she totally got what I was trying to say to her. I asked if I could take her phone and then I typed in my phone number and my address. I said that she could call or come to me that evening and that I would have someone there to interpret. She walked away.

That could easily be the end of the story. My friend patiently waited for me and we ordered the yummy hushpuppies. He laughed when I told him the story and said that he couldn’t wait to know what was going to happen next. He wasn’t surprised. He knows me.

That evening, we were changing our phone service. It took forever to get new numbers, new service, transfer data…all the steps that I really do not understand. I get a call on the almost-traded-in-phone from an unknown number and I answer. It is her. She says, painstakingly, that she will come to my house that night. Quickly I call a friend and she agrees to have her son come flex his russian-language skills for us. I arrange for child #3 to go to fetch him with not much time to spare. This is the moment when I start to try to lay out the story for my husband. Poor guy…I am a hard one to keep up with.

Now, if you know me, you will know that talking to strangers is  par-for-the-course in my world. Learning about their lives digging deep with them is also pretty common. My sweet husband is used to odd stories from my day and random folks showing up like old friends at the most unusual spots. My inviting a total stranger whom I could not even talk to over to our house was a new level. He, as any normal person would, had a couple of concerns. I, being fairly untypical, had not considered any of them…..not really surprising.

I call a friend and ask him to come to our house so that he would be there with our kids when the stranger was set to arrive. We would walk home as quickly as we could. In steps Verizon-Guy! He has been diligently working on our account and has heard much of the phone dealings and plans for this encounter. This guy was also a stranger to us…Graciously, he offered to give us a lift home. I know…sounds weird. Most people don’t find themselves in the back of their cell-phone dealer’s car racing home to try to get there. Wanna hear something else…he had a book from the library on Putin on the backseat! Right??!!!  Surreal!

He pulls into our driveway at the same moment that child #2 is heading out of the house with her friend, child #3 pulls up with translating-friend, friend-called-to-come-over as reinforcements opens our front door since he has just arrived as well, on the street…a tiny blue car is parked. She is in there watching this crazy scene. She has a man with her. They both get out of the car and walk toward the house. I really wish we could have filmed this moment. No one could have dreamt up a more bizarre cast of characters and scene.

We all sit in the living room.

She needs somewhere to live. She needs something right away. We don’t hear her story at this point but it is becoming clearer and clearer that she is not sitting in our living room because she has the same habit of striking up friendships with strangers. She is desperate and that makes people do things that go against their nature. All of us could feel it: me, husband, child#3, translator, friend-of-ours, verizon-guy…it seems random but I start showing her around the house and telling her she can stay here as long as she needs. It went so smoothly, you would think that we do this all the time. She follows. She nods as if she understands the blather I am saying. I smile as if I know that I am understood.

We come back to sit in the living room.

She tells the translator that she can pay. We say no, no, we don’t want any rent from her. We just want her to feel comfortable here. We have lots of extra space and it really is not any trouble. He translates that to her and she frowns. She asks him something and he replies. ‘What did you say to her?’ ‘I told her that you are a very strange family…but a good one’. Yep. That is pretty much the nicest thing that anyone has ever said about us. I was touched. She speaks up again and he translates for us ‘No one in America does anything for free.’ Bam! Nailed to the wall….she didn’t mean to say anything unkind or even evocative but it rang so loudly to me of a truth that she had come to learn here in a very hard way. I wondered what prices she had been paying since she came here. My mind filled in all sorts of blanks and I pictured my daughters at the sort of edge of life that would have them in a total stranger’s house deciding if they could trust them enough to stay with them for a while. I wanted to scoop her up and tell her that her story was about to change. We did not want anything from her. Life crossed our paths and we were going to honor that. I’m a God person and for me… this was a grace-filled moment. A miracle.

Two weeks later, she moved in… in the dark…after she worked all day…after she left her son with us for three days with a leap-of-faith that I can’t imagine making. Her friend helped her. Our kids helped her. That’s how it happened. That’s the end of that story and the beginning of a new one that is still being written. We now get to have a life with a few new friends all because of that chance meeting. We have her, her son, her friend, and verizon-guy and we are all living happily ever after.

The end.

Crawfish hushpuppies are good but they don’t top that. Not even close.

The road less travelled…post-divorce happiness

Child number six is memorizing Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken for school and i am typically her spotter as she recites it. This has always been a personal favorite and revisiting it through her eyes is a nice reminder of how its meaning changes as one ages. If you are not familiar with it, or even if you are, i would like to share it because it is well worth sharing.

The Road Not Taken  by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, 
And sorry I could not travel both 
And be one traveler, long I stood 
And looked down one as far as I could 
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 
Then took the other, as just as fair, 
And having perhaps the better claim, 
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 
Though as for that the passing there 
Had worn them really about the same, 
And both that morning equally lay 
In leaves no step had trodden black. 
Oh, I kept the first for another day! 
Yet knowing how way leads on to way, 
I doubted if I should ever come back. 
I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference.
At different stages of my life, this has borne different meaning. As a child, it was all about adventure. Finding a secret path or hidden door was deeply planted in my imagination from The Secret Garden and the Narnia series. As a young adult, i remember stumbling across it and was struck by the expanse of choices in life and how they were all in front of me sort of like the choose your own adventure novels. Now, i smile to myself and think of the last stanza and how true that has been as i scroll back through the past forty years of full-throttle living.  Taking the road less traveled has been a tremendous blessing. i see this as i look at my divorce in particular.
Somehow, divorce has a script attached to it where you are positioned in an adversarial role with each other, then friends and family are cast as supporters of you or him, depending where their loyalty falls. It is kind of drawn along the same lines that seating at a wedding happens: you are either a guest of the groom or the bride for the we-are-so-mad-at him-or-her ride for the foreseeable future. It is easy to find people to be on your team if you want to bash your ex or complain about him. it is harder, i have found, for people to be comfortable with you remaining friends with him, much less entwined in his life. The less-travelled road that i have been fortunate enough to be on is one of new relationship with my ex-spouce that is rooted in our friendship and fueled by our commitment to each other as co-parents. We are further gifted with my husband’s support of our relationship and commitment to parent with both of us. This is not a path which has gotten as much space in the movies or TV shows or novels (that i know of), and catches people very much by surprise when they encounter it in us.
It has, however, made all the difference. 
You know the phrase that states that it takes far more muscles to frown than it does to smile, right? i don’t know if it is true or not, but the message is one that i resonate with. i know that it feels better when i am happy and definitely feels nicer to be at peace than to be angry. To a small degree, at least, one can choose to travel down the angry road and get wrapped up in negativity instead or moving toward forgiveness and contentedness which promotes positivity. For me, i have found veering away from the all-too-familiar path of marinating in negativity post-divorce has been the gift that just keeps on giving. i get to have another adult who has my back, can be trusted with my kids, shares my load, has known me forever, calls me on my crap, and wishes me well. i know that this is not possible for all but suspect that it is possible for far more than are taking advantage of it.
If you see, ahead in your journey, two roads diverged in a wood, i highly recommend taking the one that moves you toward compassion, reconciliation, and peacefulness even though it is not the popular route…it’s just nicer…i promise…