Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The toll road not taken

Yesterday I was out in Virginia, and my GPS told me to take a turn that took me to the toll road.

The toll wasn't a big deal, and I even have one of those toll-payer things on my windshield. But the toll road? Instead of just trusting my GPS, I was all,"The toll road? That can't be right!"

So there I was with no other options, and then just before the booths I noticed a ramp heading into some sort of parking lot, like a Metro lot in the suburbs. I took a sharp right and heard this THUNKGRONK kind of sound, which coincided with a jarring feeling that made me sure I'd hit something very hard like maybe a chunk of cement or piece of curb or some such.

Whatever it was, it was very not good.

So I drove along this driveway entry with the certainty that my front tire was flat. I got into a lot, which did look like Metro but was not. It was under construction, and there were all these men there in reflective vests and work clothes.

I got out to inspect my tire because perhaps fingers crossed maybe I was overreacting? And not only was my tire indeed flat, there was a gaping hole in the side of it. And the metal inside didn't look perfect either.

Very. Not. Good.

Whyyyyyy hadn't I learned to change a tire? I mean besides the fact that I don't drive all that often and it doesn't remotely interest me?

Naturally, the first thing I did was begin to hyperventilate. The next was to call my husband. Who didn't answer. At which point I started to cry just a little.

I told myself to hold it together. Breathe. I could call my insurance. They would fix it. Except what if they couldn't come out in time for me to get back and get my son from school?

Panic. Hysteria rising in throat. Tears creeping to corners of eyes. Because here I was with a car I couldn't drive in a random parking lot in Virginia with a whole lot of men...

Wait a minute!

Surely one of these men in work clothing would know how to change my tire. I know for a fact, from having seen other people change tires (not mine! except that one other time...), that it doesn't take very long. And I could thank them with cash and be on my way.

So I strolled over to the nearest cluster and said, "I know this is totally stereotypical and I should know how...but do any of you know how to change a tire? I have a flat and I was wondering if you could help me."

They smiled and nodded. One of them said, "I'd be happy to. But we're convicts. So you'll have to get permission from the sheriff's deputy. He's in the van." He pointed.

Convicts! This threw me, even though I do quite Piper Chapman, self-absorbed as she may be. I'd driven into a lot filled with convicts! Convicts meaning men in prison! For something! Possibly very bad!

"See what happens," I said to myself, "when you go to Virginia?"

I thanked them and headed for the van, and as I got close, the door opened, and the sheriff's deputy got out and raised his eyebrows and said, "Can I help you?"


So I explained that I'd gotten this flat tire and I'd asked these men but then they said they were convicts and I'd have to ask him and I didn't suppose they might be able to help me?

No, no unfortunately they couldn't. Did I have AAA or something of the sort?

And I said yes, yes I do, and I will call them, and thank you and I'm so sorry to bother you (and your prisoners).

So I walked back to the car while calling my insurance and it took forever to get through the electronic prompts and as I was doing this, repeating things like "IMMEDIATE ASSISTANCE" or whatever that option was, the sheriff's deputy was walking along with me, listening and then asking how long they thought it would take.

And I was all, "It's still all the electronic prompts!"

So he began poking around in my trunk and pulling things out. I took this as a good sign.

Finally I got a person and they asked if I was with the vehicle. Yes. And if I was safe. I wanted to say, "I'm in a parking lot filled with convicts! and sheriff's deputies! I am freaking the fuck out! And also I really really have to pee!" I said none of this. I said yes.

Since everything car trouble-y flusters me, when they asked for the make and model and year I was all, "Uh. I can't find the card. Isn't my car in your system?"

And the woman, who was very nice, asked if I could possibly give her two out of three. Just so she might know which of our two cars I was driving. Which, duh. Yes, I do actually know what kind of car I drive, and anyway, I'm looking right at it so I could just read the name on the trunk if I had to.

At this point the sheriff's deputy had admired the impressive job I'd done on both the tire and the rim. And had deemed my spare totally decent.

Finally the insurance woman asked where I was. So then I had to ask this very nice man, who by this time had my spare and the jack on the ground next to the tire, where my car and I might be located.

And he said, "Don't worry. I'll just change it for you."

He proceeded to do just that, while another guy got the work crew loaded onto the bus.

He put on the spare, told me it needed air before I could drive it into DC, suggested I drive slowly, pointed me to the nearest gas station, and, at my request, gave me his card so I can send him a thank you.

I have to admit, I've always relied on the kindness of strangers. And my judgment has not always been stellar. In my old neighborhood, I accepted several offers from strangers to parallel park my car for me. (Not since way before I met you, Nick!) Nobody ever stole my car, and it actually got squozen into some tight spaces, so, you know, it all worked out. I'm a way better parallel parker now, in case you're wondering.

Anyway, back to the convicts. One of my friends said, if they were out on a work crew they were probably in prison for stuff like drugs. So the lot was probably not filled with rapey murdery types.

Everyone was very nice.

Then at the auto-body place one of the guys asked what kind of an accident I'd been in and I said, "I did all that by myself. I thought I was going the wrong way and so I turned and ran into something very solid and then I drove into a parking lot full of convicts and a sheriff's deputy changed my tire for me and now I'm here buying a whole new wheel."

Oh.

So there you have it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

We're heading out to where the sun goes down...

Sometimes I get asked for relationship advice, which always both flatters and surprises me.

Flatters because, who doesn't like being asked for advice? It makes you feel like you know things. And surprises because, me? I've fucked so very many things up along the way.

A friend of mine said that while that may be true, it doesn't mean that I don't have a helpful perspective on life. Which I appreciated.

So, after I posted about meeting Nick seven years ago and getting engaged in 10 weeks, I got a question about how I knew? How was I certain that he was the person and this was right?

I'd been asked this before, because really, 10 weeks?

And so this time, I responded to the question with the absolute truth, which was something I hadn't told Nick (but now have).

I didn't. I wasn't.

I knew that being with him felt really good, and that me made me laugh, and that he was smart in ways I found intriguing, and that I felt safe. Not boring safe, but certain that he would not abandon me. And also protected, like no harm could come to me if I were with him. I still feel this way.

(Plus, he had a lot of power tools. But this was just a bonus.)

But I didn't actually know. I wasn't sure. But he was. He was dead certain that I was his person and he was mine. So I rode on his certainty.

Actually, this is how we tend to be as people. He will make big decisions very quickly without ever questioning them. And then there I am, perusing the drinks section for 20 minutes because do I want Gatorade? Water? Maybe lemonade? Hmm.

Yah.

I knew that I had let go of some very good, solid men, because I could not commit. I pushed them away and I ran and then I had regrets. In retrospect, I broke my own heart a few times. And then there were times that I knew, oh, I knew. And then it turned out that really, I knew nothing, Jon Snow.

I mean, by the time you're 38, you've lived a lot of ups and downs.

So there we were.

He was certain and I went with it. I kind of thought, what the hell am I waiting for? Why don't I just try marriage? If it doesn't work out, at least I'll have tried.

I'm not offering this up as advice, because what do I know?

I'm just saying, so far, so good.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I mean, really.

I have now had three pregnancies, even though the third was short-lived.

But it reminded me, particularly having a miscarriage, of how strongly I believe that women should be in charge of their own bodies, in control of their fertility, and able to make their own choices about whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term.

Because even with a loving, supportive husband, I was really quite alone in my pregnancies. Not just this last, brief one. All of them.

It wasn't deliberate and I wasn't neglected. It just wasn't happening to his body, and there was only so far he could be involved.

In fact, with the most recent one, he said, "Tell me what I can do."

And I said, "I think you've done quite enough already."

But what if you were actually alone? Really and truly alone? It is overwhelming enough feeling psychologically alone and knowing you're supported emotionally and financially.

What if you had none of those supports?

As a woman, you are living pregnancy every single minute of every single day. Sometimes you feel terrible. Hormones make you a crazy person. You might be exhausted. Nauseated and vomiting in the bushes on the way to work or in your trash can at work. Any and all of these things at once.

They're totally out of your control.

When I filled my prescription for the little pills that would start the miscarriage process, I started thinking about what women have done and will continue to do if they do not have access to safe abortion.

It conjured up images of home abortions. The wire coat hanger is an enduring and powerful symbol for that. But woman who do not have access to clean and safe abortions have done and will continue to find means to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

I mean, honestly. Can you actually imagine how desperate you must be in order to stick a piece of wire into yourself, hoping to thread it through your cervix, and also hoping not to rip your uterus or damage anything else inside.

Imagine getting your best friend to do this for you, because you are too terrified to tell anyone else.

I'm going to tell you now that I have friends I trust with my life, but hell if I'd trust them to try to find my cervix and poke anything into it.

I mean, really.

I am not a political person. But this is where I get fired up.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Anger

I didn't grow up in a yelling household.

In fact, even my dad, who was volatile and easily enraged, did not yell. My mother did not mete out punishment. You would have to wait until Dad got home to be in trouble.

It was terrifying, the waiting for Dad.

His blue-blue eyes would glow with rage, and you knew you were in Big Trouble. Sometimes he spanked. Sometimes he grounded. I was grounded a lot. A really lot.

I was a first-born rule follower, a people pleaser, but I would fight with my mom. And I would fight with my brother. I think these are the main reasons I got in trouble. Oh, yeah, and that one time when we lived in Egypt and Debbie Bangs and I took my mom's matches and lit a fire in the street in front of someone's house.

The lady came out and screamed at us and we ran, forgetting our bikes. We were easily identified.

But for the most party, my crimes were fighting with family members.

My parents did not yell at each other. I don't even know that they fought much. I remember one fight from when I was a kid, and they went into the other room.

I think the big thing was that we were not allowed to get mad. Maybe my brother was as a teen, because I know he was punching walls in high school, but not me. I doubt Betty really was either. Anyway, expressing anger was not within her comfort zone.

But there was a tremendous gap between Acceptable Male Behavior and Acceptable Female Behavior.

I remember this one particular incident when I was a college sophomore. My parents had driven me to school, leaving my brother, a 10th grader, home alone. He'd told me he was going to throw a party, which I promptly told my parents - partly because their house had been trashed the year prior when they left him alone. And partly because they had never let me do anything in high school, never left me alone, never trusted me at all.

Now these things seem so small and petty. But when they are your whole world, and you've always been the rule follower but never trusted (It's not you. We trust YOU. We just don't trust boys...), everything seems wildly unfair.

I was furious, absolutely beside myself with the unfairness of everything leading up to this moment in my life. And my father said, "Lisa, you look really unattractive when you're angry."

Lemme tell you how much attractiveness mattered to me at that moment. And how much more enraged I was by the statement.

Anger? I had anger. I had years of anger. I had his two suicide attempts and years of his crazy arbitrary behavior worth of anger. And I dumped every single jot of trauma and unfairness and what-have-you into his lap. It was terrible. And liberating.

Afterwards, I felt a whole lot better. The next day I couldn't even remember what I'd been so mad about for so long.

But prior to that, I don't think I'd ever expressed any real anger to him. What we did in our household - all except my dad - was tamp it down. Choke on it. Pretend we were fine. We were not allowed to not be fine.

I didn't even know how to speak about being angry until I'd had a lot of therapy. Being angry never felt valid. When you raised not being allowed, it is hard to feel justified in getting angry and expressing it.

But now, now I have a five-year old who enrages me, and I find that I yell.

I do not want to yell. But I get so angry. So very very angry. And I lose my mind. My head melts, and I yell.

Sometimes I don't even yell something at him. I just made a loud YEAAAAAAARRRRGGGHHHH kind of noise. Because I don't know what else to do.

It doesn't help. It terrifies him, and makes him cry. It makes me feel like a terrible human being. It gets him to do what I've been asking him to do in that moment, but it doesn't help for the next moment or for tomorrow.

And in fact, from the reading I've been doing, I understand that not only does it not help, it actually harms in the long term.

So it turns out that I need to learn how to constructively manage my own anger in the face of these triggers. So that I can be a better parent and can help my son learn to manage his anger. Because otherwise I will raise another human being without good emotional coping skills.

It's a cycle I would like to break.

This sounds stupid, but I am going to start taping up big pieces of paper with things like: STOP AND BREATHE! DO NOT YELL! IT IS NOT AN EMERGENCY. LEAVE THE ROOM AND CALM DOWN.

Really. Because in the moment, I cannot remember anything. My head empties of all reason and fills with anger.

I need and want to be a good parent. Even on my bad days, I need to be a good parent. Some days I manage, and other days I believe I do a good job. But some days I know for a fact that I suck at parenting.

And still these little people, these relentless little people, look to me for, well, everything. Even when I yell. Even when I yell and scare them and let them down.

I don't want to let them down. I love them more than my life.

It's all so fucking complicated. Who knew it would be this hard?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

It was a dark and stormy night

On November 13, seven years ago tonight, I met Nick at the Tabard Inn on what turned out to be my last first date.

I've said before that this anniversary is much more important to me than our wedding, because it's when my life changed. I loved our wedding, but by that point we actually knew each other pretty well and were firmly walking down a path till death do us part.

But not this night.

Some of you were with me leading up to that point, and you'd read about endless wretched dates, and dates leading to hope, and then dashed hope, and ultimately pointing to me dying alone. I've written about how at this point my luck turned.

By this point seven years ago I had, thank goodness, learned when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, and so on.

You know our story, and you know it has involved challenges and joyous highs and crushing lows. I mean, it's life, and marriage is hard and parenting is not a picnic. There are moments of such riotous joy with kids - the kind of joy that you get nowhere else.

But dear lord so much of it is please put on your underwear, no, everyone needs to wear underwear, nobody wants to see your penis at the dinner table, please pick your cup up to drink, yes, I know dogs drink like that but you're not a dog, yes you can have a treat IF you eat dinner no you can't have one now no you can't have two now MY GOD JUST PUT ON YOUR UNDERWEAR AND EAT YOUR DINNER!!!

These little humans, just going about their day, suck much of the life out of you.

I somehow thought I'd get married and just because of that I'd be happy and my life would be great. Kind of like when I was a kid and I thought at 16 I would look just like Barbie. Or at least Teen Skipper, whose arm you twirled to make grow boobs.

What I've come to realize is you are who you are, life is life. It is hard to cooperate with someone else all the time, but the alternative is being alone, which is not as much fun. And it's all even harder when you also have to convince completely irrational little beings to cooperate with you. But the alternative is not having the little beasts, and that is unimaginable at this juncture.

It is difficult to maintain any space for yourself. And it's been even more challenging to hold onto our relationship - our just-the-two-of-us relationship, much less nurture it. And there may be people who can coparent, leading parallel rather than intertwined emotional lives, but we are not two of them.

This has been one of the biggest challenges. Everyone says it will get easier as the kids get older, and we are starting to see glimmers of this. We hit a point this year where we realized that we have to work on being us again, and loving and appreciating the person we married, because otherwise us will go away.

What I suppose I'm saying is, seven years has not been easy, and there have been some very precarious points along the way. Relationships are hard, duh. You forget this when you walk into a charming bar and meet a stranger and put your hand in his and get all giddy in your heart and breathless in your stomach.

Nick and I did not know each other when we got engaged at 10 weeks, but here and now, at seven years in, we most certainly do. But there's still room to grow.

And now I'm trying to figure out what to wear to look all pretty when I meet him at the Tabard this evening. Because I know I'm going to walk in all giddy in my heart and breathless in my stomach.