Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Year's

Today we went to IKEA.  We moved into our little house a year ago tomorrow and to mark the occasion we thought we’d refresh the place a little.  A new sisal in the kitchen, fresh duvet covers; minor changes that feel major.

Mihiretu has been feeling a little barfy the last couple days.  This isn’t necessarily unusual.  He was malnourished until he came to America.  He overeats and then his stomach rebels.  But it seems that he is bonafide sick at the moment.  His energy is low, he was up in the night spitting into a bowl. 

But we – ok, the girls and I - were excited about the IKEA idea.  I lured Mihiretu into the car with an iPad and a quilt.  Once at the Swedish Marketplace (as my Garage friends euphemistically title it), we settled him into the cart with a borrowed pillow.

Within an hour we were falling apart at the seams.  We couldn’t agree, the girls were competing over who got more stuff for their respective rooms (always a metaphor for parental love), everyone was hungry.  We took a break, waited in the crazy long line and got ourselves some meatballs.

Mihiretu ate everything in front of him in three minutes and then said, mournfully, eyes big, “Mama…”

I placed an almost empty plate under his mouth just in time to catch the torrent of barely digested ligonberry-mashed-potato mayhem.

When that plate was exhausted, I grabbed another.  And then another.  Around us, people kept eating, oblivious.  We were all laughing, even Mihiretu.

“Well,” I said as we hastily exited the cafeteria, “That certainly cheered us up.”

We somehow made it home with our booty.  Mihiretu promptly crashed on the couch.  And our plans of going to our friend Megan’s house for the evening were revised.

And so I sit on this blue leather couch that I found (and haggled for) on craigslist a year ago, listening to Death Cab for Cutie covering Yaz, a fire in the stove.  Something I’ve spent a lot of time doing this year.    I’ll ring in the new year alone, in the presence of sleeping children – something else I’ve spent a lot of time doing.  And it all feels right. 

This was one fuck of a year, 2014.  I wouldn’t trade it but it wasn’t easy.  I’m so, so curious about what 2015 has to offer.   If this year has been anything, it’s been unpredictable.  I expect the same for the next.  There’s a beauty in that.

Monday, December 29, 2014

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

So I’ve been thinking lately about love.  Romantic love.  If it exists.  If I’ll find it.  Why I’ve lost it on the rare occasions I’ve stumbled across it.

I’m a proclaimer.  If I feel something, you’re going to know.  When it comes to love, I’m big, I’m brave, I’m foolish.  I believe in grand romantic gestures.  I ask men out.  I tell them exactly what I’m feeling.  And while this is the only way I can imagine living, almost every time in my life I’ve gone big and loved, gone big and said as much, it hasn’t worked.  The relationship, for one reason or another, hasn’t lasted (as, granted, most relationships don’t).  And it’s cost me, this huge exposure of myself, my heart out there on my sleeve getting bumped and bashed.  There is a part of me, not the big brave part, but a small delicate part, that feels unlovable.  A girl somewhere deep in there that believes that this handful of men she’s adored didn’t love her back, didn’t return the grand gestures, because she’s unworthy.

I had a conversation recently with one of this handful.  The first one of the handful.  And he told me something mind-blowing.  He said that he did indeed feel that for me.  The timing was off, the situation was off, we were too young to do right by what we felt but – shocking, shocking! – I wasn’t the only one in love-land.  I had company.

Which leads me to think that I might need to rewrite my internal script.  Instead of that old line “He isn’t with me because I’m not good enough”, maybe it should read “He isn’t with me because, well, because he’s just not”.  Maybe he loves me, maybe he doesn’t.  Maybe the picture is so much bigger than I can see.  Maybe it’s not entirely my fault, maybe the moral of the story isn’t YOU SUCK.

Of course it all goes back to my dad.  A man I’m certain loved me but whom I always had trouble connecting with.  A man that always left me feeling unworthy, not quite enough, never able to truly please him.   A man that left this world long before I could begin to try to heal the relationship, before I was even truly an adult.

Sometimes this shit, this vast psychological morass that is my emotional life, seems insurmountable.  It seems absolutely impossible that I will find a long-term truly satisfying love relationship. 

I went and saw a psychic in the last dark days of my marriage.  She said, yes, my marriage was not long for this world.  And, yes, (and this surprised me) that I would find love, big love, beyond it.  She said a man would walk into my life, a “warm” man was the only way she could describe him.  I would know him the moment I saw him.  She said she could see the way I’ll look at him.  Like Bambi, she said.  And that feeling will last, the Bambi-eye phenomenon.  She said I don’t need to go look for him, he’ll arrive when I’m ready.

So ok, Warm Man.  I’m probably not ready yet.  I need to rest this big, brave heart of mine.  But I have great, terrific hope that you exist.   I’m going to hold onto that.  Maybe that small delicate girl inside me will someday meet her match.

Friday, November 14, 2014


It’s a week of anniversaries.  Three years ago, my mom died.  One year ago, my marriage broke up.  How did those two things end up in the same week of the calendar?  Good fucking question.

Anniversaries get me every time.  There’s something about the slant of the sunlight, the earth in the same spot of its orbit, that brings everything rushing back.  The smell of whatever’s blooming or whatever’s rotting.  The feel of the air.

It’s a week of loss for me.  And in this week of loss, in my darkest moments, I’ve thought of my mom.  Of a very specific day with my mom.

I was probably nine, I’m guessing. I grew up on a short dead-end street named Friars Lane up high on Mount Tam.  We few kids that populated it called it the Lane.  We were isolated from the rest of the world (okay, Mill Valley) and we were close-knit.  Closest to me was my best friend, Casey.  Her first memory is of looking in my crib.  My first memory is crying when she had to leave my house to go home.  Today, though, on this very specific day, Casey and I were out on the Lane fighting.  It didn’t happen much but we were arguing over my new Big Wheel, one of those three-wheeled plastic vehicles.  I don’t remember the details but I do remember Casey cutting the ribbons on my handlebars.  And I remember swearing at her – someone had a potty mouth even then.

I ran home crying, threw open the front door and yelped, “Mom!”  She came running, she sat me on her lap, she stroked my hair, she let me cry.

All this week I’ve been wishing myself back into her lap that day.  What I realized today was that was probably the last time I ever cried in her lap.  I was a little old for it, a little big for it, and though I wanted her to make my problems disappear, they were my problems to solve.   I was swearing at my friend, for Christ's sake; this did not fall under a mother's purview.

And now, when I want to sit with her, just let go and have her take over, I know that even if she were here, even if she was mentally and physically intact, she couldn’t do much for me.

Maybe what I’m feeling is a helplessness.  A desired and momentary helplessness.  I’ve been working so hard to solve almost insurmountable problems.  I am, for better or worse, captain of my own ship.  And sometimes I want a moment of “I can’t do it”, my mother’s arms around me, her fingers in my hair, the sound of her voice saying, “Shhhhh.  It’s going to be all right.”

They say that every woman wants her mother when she’s in labor, no matter the state of the mother-daughter relationship.  They say that every man wants his mother when he’s dying on the battlefield.  This week, I really want my mother.   I want my mother because I miss her.  I want my mother because I’m feeling the magnitude and solitude of divorce.  I just want my mother.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

At Sea

I’ve been seeing someone for the past few months.  Fairly seriously for a girl who’s still technically married.  We just broke up.  Like a half hour ago.

So many good things about that relationship, so many good things about that man.  What ended the party was his fear that I’m not ready to dive into love again, that I’ll break his heart.  And, damn it, he’s probably right.

So here I sit.  Alone.  When I get shitty news, or great news, or have a free night, it will not be a man I’ll be calling.  It’ll be my girlfriends.  Probably one hundred percent appropriate for this almost-divorced phase but, man, I feel like I’m back in the rowboat in the middle of the hurricane.  It was so nice to sit in the cruise ship for a while.  To feel partnered is so lovely. 

It’s a conundrum.  I’ve probably never been more open and ready for a deep love relationship.  I crave it, I want it. And yet, while I’m creeping towards that spot of connecting deeply with someone, I’m not there yet.  I should sit on my couch and watch “Jerry McGuire” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and cry.  When really I want to be rolling around with some beautiful man.  Death and divorce, both will make you feel alive, feel that the moment is possibly all there is.  It’s such a shame spending that moment sorting through feelings in a puddle of tears instead of all the other glorious, delicious, life-y things there are to do (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.  But, Jesus, even just having dinner with someone who lights you up makes you feel alive).

Okay, so I’m in the rowboat.  Luckily that rowboat has a popcorn maker, Roku, and an adorable, terrible dog named Sunny.  And, most vital, a cell phone to text my girlfriends.  I’m at sea, but it’s my sea, it’s my boat.  And I sense there’s land ahead.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ass Class

Divorce, maybe even more than a death of someone you love (unless maybe that someone is your spouse), cracks you wide open.  Suddenly, everything (beyond my love and dedication to my children) seems up for grabs.  At times, that endless possibility is terrifying, because it includes poverty, misery and loneliness.   Generally, though, it means I’m saying yes to just about everything.

One of the things to which I’ve recently said yes is something called The Dailey Method.  It’s an exercise class, a barre class, a combination of ballet, yoga, aerobics, pilates and weight-training.  It hurts.  It makes me mad.  And nauseous.  And I love it.  And, quite frankly, I love what it does for my ass.  In fact, privately, I call it “ass class”.  All the wear and tear my babies put on my body, ass class helps reverse.  That rounded belly?  Flatter.  That sagging tush?  Lifted, firmed, rounded.  Arms and legs, long and lean.  All in one intense hour.  I love how strong I feel.  And my ass, not what I ever thought of as my best feature, is, in this new age of dating, much admired.

I’ve been doing class for years, actually, but I recently said yes to instructing.  Though The Dailey Method is now all over the U.S. and even as far-flung as France, somehow I’m lucky enough to have its founder, Jill Dailey, as my neighbor, mama comrade and friend.  She’s been bugging me for years to teach.  I always said no.  And then last month I said yes.

Jill, because she’s an ass-kicker, because she knows I’m an ass-kicker (though much her junior in that department) put me on the teaching schedule for July.  Which means that I’m cramming six months of training into this gorgeous month of June.  Which, frankly, I prefer.  I’m not one to dither.  I’m one to jump in.

And so, lately, you might find me at the Dailey Method studio around the block from my house, music blasting, microphone head-set in place, shouting directions (“up an inch, down an inch, ladies, you can go lower, come on!”) to an empty room.  Practicing.  Learning something new.  Another something new in this time of complete possibility.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Bachelorette

I’ve been watching The Bachelorette for the last couple seasons and it’s occurred to me, more than once, how excellent and hilarious it would be to cast forty and fifty-somethings instead of the fresh young twenty-somethings the show favors.  Less bikini time, probably, but so much more interesting for all that mileage on the odometer.

And, when the ad comes on, “If you want to be the next Bachelorette…”, I’ve always thought, oh, I should call.  And then I’d remember I was forty-something.  And then I’d remember I was married.

I’m still forty-something (forty-three, I’m forty-three, you can’t shame me, ol’ forty-three) but I’m not married anymore (well, okay, technically I am, but logistically I’m single).  And so I’m conducting my own untelevised version of  The Middle-Aged Bachelorette.

I met Ben in 1998, long before online dating was ubiquitous.  From my smug married perspective, it always seemed like such a weird idea.  When Ben and I broke up, one of my first questions for my girlfriend/sisters was “Please don’t tell me I have to online date.”

Cut to…I’m now not on one, not on two, but on three dating sites.  One of them, Tinder, is especially ridiculous/delightful.  It’s a phone app, and it’s mostly pictures.  You swipe right if you like them, left if you don’t.  If you both like each other, then you’re free to communicate.  I swipe at odd times – school parking lots, walking my dog, at work.  I’m like the proverbial kid in the candy store (“I’ll take one of those, two of these…”).

I’m interviewing applicants for the boyfriend position.  Who knows how long that job will last given my year of upheaval, but I’m sure it’ll be highly rewarding while it does.  I’m perfecting my selection process, getting efficient, as I always do:

Rule #1:  Text back and forth enough that you’re confident you have sufficient commonalities but not so long that you feel like you really know each other before you’ve met face-to-face (high expectations, vast disappointment).

Rule #2: Talk on the phone before the first date.  You then know if you can feasibly talk for an hour once in the same room.  You can tell a lot from a person’s voice.

Rule #3: Keep the first date to an hour in duration.  Warn them ahead of time you have somewhere else to be.  If it’s bad, you’re out of there without a lot of awkwardness or wasted time.  Even if it’s good, you avoid propelling the relationship too far, too fast.

Rule #4: No kissing on the first date.  I’ve broken this rule almost every time.  I like to kiss, I can’t help myself.  My friend, Jane, developed “The Kissing Test” when she was single, the basic premise being that if there’s any attraction at all, kiss them.  Kissing is very informative.  But if you can at all help your slutty self, no kissing until date #2.

Rule #5: Do not horizontal with anyone you haven’t spent a lot of time with.  It just causes heartache (at least for me, emotional girl that I am).  Your bodies get ahead of your brains and hearts.  You think you know each other and then you turn the lights on and it’s like, “Oh, who are you again?”

Rule #6: Throw all the rules out the window if you so choose.  Because, really, how long is this phase going to last?

Something that always baffled me about The Bachelorette was how she could kiss so many different men, carry on all these relationships at the same time.  Now, in my own bachelorette phase, I get it.  This week I have five dinner dates five nights in a row with five different men and I’m looking forward to each and every one.  Nuts but true.

Okay, yes, I hear you out there.  She’s escaping the hard realities of divorce, distracting herself with men.  You are absolutely right.  And at least for right now, it’s fun.  A brand of fun I barely remember.

And once Mr. Right rounds the corner, or at least someone I want to dive deep with, I’ll let this nonsense go.  And free up a whole lot more time for reading.  Until then, would you please accept this rose?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

This Old Heart

Life is full these days.  I’m working four different fledgling careers (if you count this one, which hasn’t been getting much sunlight lately), disentangling my financial/legal/emotional life from Ben’s, learning the ropes of single motherhood and, oh my lord, starting to date.  First kiss after a fifteen-year relationship?  I could write a book.

But mostly what I’ve been doing is thinking about the nature of love.  Nothing like a break-up to make you look at yourself, how you give love, how you accept it, what’s working and more pointedly, what’s not.

And here’s what I’m finding when I look back on my forty-three years of offering and receiving love: my default, most basic, deepest truth is that I feel unlovable.  Terrible but true.  Hard to take in love from that place.  Easy to extend too far in the other direction, giving everything to try to achieve what seems impossible.  Will you love me if?

And, yes, I know this belief is false.  In my brain, my fine, functional brain, I know I’m as lovable as anyone.  I’m a good person, there’s no doubt.  In my best moments, I can be selfless, I can certainly be fun, I’m bright, I’m kind, I’m very much myself.  There’s a lot to love.  I know that.

But my heart, my heart needs convincing.  And I have no idea how to do that.  Somebody else’s love?  That’s probably not going to do the trick.  Not until I’ve somehow healed this battle-scarred heart – it’s not broken, I won’t say that, because I have great hope that I can fix it.

And so every time lately I find myself back on my couch, staring out the window, certain that my heart will never fill, never be filled, at least not completely, I grab my phone and send a text – a group text to my two oldest friends, my sisters, in spirit if not in blood.

I write: “I’ll find love, right?  I am lovable, right?’

And they, however entrenched they are in their own full and complicated lives, however many times they’ve answered these very same questions, will say, “Yes.  You will.  You are.  You don’t have to believe it right now, we’ll believe it for you.”

So I’m going to let them carry that one.  I’m going to keep stretching this old heart, I’m going to do my self-love calisthenics.  Open and open and open.  In the words of E.M. Forster: “Courage, Miss Honeychurch, courage and faith.”

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


As Ben and I dismantle our marriage, I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents.  And, this is awful, but I’m glad they’re dead.  Let me rephrase, I’m glad they’re not alive to see this.  

My parents were married for 39 years until my dad died at 60.  While their marriage wasn’t easy, she an extreme introvert, he an extreme extrovert, she depressive, he explosive, they managed to go the distance.  I know that if they were here they’d have some choice words for me about letting my marriage dissolve.

When my father died and then again, almost twenty years later when my mother followed him, as well as being devastated and heartbroken, I was also freed.  There’s something about being the oldest generation in your family that’s empowering.  Your choices are your own, for better or worse.

Yesterday was an incredibly difficult day.  I won’t go into detail but suffice it to say, I spent a good two hours on the couch sobbing, crumpled tissue piling up on the coffee table.  Last night as I was trying to go to sleep in my new bed in my new house, the day rushing around in my head, completely exhausted but unable to sleep, feeling very small in a big world, it struck me that maybe my folks wouldn’t have been as hard on me as I’m imagining, if they were here now.  Laying there, under layers of quilts, I felt as unguarded and tiny as I was when I was their little girl.  Back then, even if they disapproved, they still put their arms around me.  I have a feeling it would be the same now.

I woke up this morning in the dark, a new day.  As I was driving to my ridiculously early barre class, I watched the sun come up and I thought about my parents.  I thought about them reaching out from wherever they are and somehow holding me up.  It made me cry, of course, I’m crying now, but it helps.  We’re allowed to fail, I suppose, and still be loved.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Changes, Changes

The first book I ever read, a tattered paperback picture book called “Changes, Changes”, now sits on Mihiretu’s bookshelf.  It has no words so that made the reading easy.

Every picture is made of colored building blocks, different sizes, shapes and colors.  You know, early seventies, you make a wobbly tower and then knock it down.

The book begins with a man and a woman, both made of blocks, standing facing the reader.  The next page they begin to build a house with more blocks.  Soon they’re living in the house then, whoops, the next page a fire has started.  They take blocks from the house and build a fire engine and hose, which they use to extinguish the fire in what remains of the house.  But, oh no, too much water, soon they’ve created a sea.  No worries, they use their blocks to build a boat.  And on and on.

So now I’m imagining my life in blocks.  I start as a small block person but add blocks to become a grown-up.  I build a stage set and take my place in front of it.  Then Ben, made of blocks, enters stage right and together we build a little house. We add a little block baby, then another.  We take the blocks from the little house and make a bigger house in which the four of us live.  Then we build an airplane, fly to Africa, and build a jumping, running, soccer-ball-kicking Mihiretu.  And so it goes, one thing building to the next, always changing.

The last few years would find the block Ben and the block Liz back-to-back tending block children.  Then maybe eye-to-eye, one block finger raised, one block hand on hip.  Then, finally, after many pages, the two disassembling part of the big house, Liz carrying blocks away, making a smaller house.

I’m here in that smaller house now.  I moved on New Year’s Day - fitting, I suppose.  We are separated, Ben and I.  We are, each of us, all five of us, taking the blocks we have and building something new.  These changes, sometimes they’re a fire, sometimes they’re a sea.  But you keep on building.  You take what you’ve got and keep on going, making whatever you can.