purseMy mom had a mantra whether she realized I was counting the repetition of her words or not. It was variations of “Girls, don’t fight.”

I was the youngest of three daughters by nearly eight years. I was the runt. The entertainer. The least invested in decisions. An only child at times.

My mom got sick the year after my father passed away. During the last 10 years of her life, my sisters, Lauren and Allison, and I grew closer. But a common gripe was that no one would tell me anything, from what was going on with my mom’s health to when my sisters were free to hang out.

“Mom, they treat me like I’m eight years old!” My mom would calm me down and tell me that no one was trying to leave me out.

It reminded me of a movie clip we have (on VHS, of course) of me at two years old in a two-piece bathing suit, chasing a nine-year old Allison who is teasing me by running off with my kiddie pool over her head. What if I’m forever struggling to get time, answers, or my damn kiddie pool, regardless of their intentions?

After my mom passed away, her presence was felt in all of our interactions. We shared what was leftover from her estate and my sisters gave me the money from her condo to buy one of my own. It was a gift of independence and security, one my mom would have stamped with her seal of approval.

We only had a smattering of cousins left and surprisingly, my mom’s strong-like-bull mother, Grandma Esther.

Esther came to live with my mom who had hoped to take care of her as she was getting older. Though it ended up being my mom who needed the caregiving. Watching your child succumb to cancer for years takes a toll. By the time my mom passed away, Esther couldn’t live on her own. We found a nursing home where she could get assistance as needed.

Esther was feisty. She decided that either her time had come or that she was a force to be reckoned with and when crossing the street, she would throw up her arms as if parting the Dead Sea to get cars to stop. When we asked her to be more careful, we hoped she would comply. Later that year, she began getting lost on walks in the neighborhood and we had to find a facility to provide more supervision.

Dementia set in and slowly worsened. My sisters and I took turns visiting, just as we had done with my mom when she was sick. At times, it felt like an insulting round two. Esther went from agreeable to angry in seconds and would take swipes at us and at the staff. When she became consistently less amicable, my sisters and I began doubling up on our visits instead of alternating. Visits drastically improved. I did craft projects with Allison. I built Lego monuments with Lauren. The three of us would visit on holidays and attempt some normalcy of traditions. We brought funny hats and decorations. Our mom would have loved it. Esther wasn’t all that amused. But we tried and it was all we could do to not feel futile in this relationship.

My guilty pleasure in all of this was that visiting Esther was the best way to see my sisters. It’s not that I needed an excuse, but we made her a priority and thus, each other. While we sat with her and searched for moments of the old, spunky, butt-pinching grandma we used to know, we caught up on each others lives and we did a lot of bits.

On lone visits, when I ran out of ways to entertain my grandmother, I found odd ways to pique her interest. I began pulling contents from my purse and doing a show and tell. She just sat and watched. I called this game, “What’s in my purse?”

Last Saturday I met Allison at the nursing home as we do on most weekends. Lauren moved out of town last year, otherwise she would have joined. In fact, we Facetimed her so she could be part of our new two-player version of “What’s in my purse?” Not only did we display our items, we traded them. I got a mascara for a rubber glove. Allison got a purple pen for a mini emory board. And so on. We told Lauren that next week, she should “play at home” and we would make virtual trades over Facetime and then mail her the stuff. She said, “I’m going to have to start collecting some good stuff.” She was ready to load her purse full of fun treats for us. We explained, “No, you can’t stack the results. It just has to be shit in your purse.” It’s fun because it’s random. It’s fun because we’re just naturally the type of people who collect packets of lemon juice, Hello Kitty lip balm and car air fresheners in daily life. This game was a celebration of our collective weirdness. My mom would have played for sure. Esther was in and out of sleep for it. But maybe the at-home game the following week would re-engage her.

I was already excited to play this dumb game. Because over our last swap, we talked about important things like where I might live after I sell my place and not as important things like why Lauren still has a house phone. We even called her on her home phone during our Facetime call just to see her run out of the room and come back saying, “YOU GUYS. Stop it.” So we did it again.

This week, I have been paying special attention to not paying attention what’s going in and out of my purse. I want to be surprised at my own results. Oh the mystery of what treasure I could walk away with on Saturday morning!

Today I received an email from my uncle, Esther’s son, who lives in Florida. The email said that Esther had passed away this morning.

I fell apart.

Not because it wasn’t expected. She was 100 years old. But because I always thought it would be a call from Lauren, the head of our trio. Or from Allison, the middle of our sister sandwich. It was an email, right between an open house alert from Trulia and a drink invite from a friend. It wasn’t supposed to be there. Not after years of trying not to feel hurt when Esther didn’t recognize us or when she tried to kick me or pull my hair. And not after only a few weeks ago, when she finally looked right at me, reached out and put her finger on my nose as if to say, “You have such a small nose”, something she used to tell me when she was still capable of speaking.

To make the hurt worse, I had to be the one to call my sisters and let them know. Lauren is a woman of both action and comfort. She asked me for details and calmed me down. We ended up catching up on a myriad of topics. Allison has meetings all day but I was able to give her the quick word in between them. She said, “I knew. That’s why I went back again Sunday.” I was glad to hear that Esther got more time with the collective “us” before leaving.

We are constantly pulled away from our original family tree by work, new family and other priorities. But Esther really kept us together. Sitting, locally and virtually, with my sisters on Esther’s bed at the nursing home this past Saturday, I thought, “I have never been as close to these two women as I am today.”

I feel devastated that we couldn’t have been there today. But I also feel relieved that Esther is done suffering in a debilitated mental and physical state. And I am grateful for her parting gift- the reconnection to the most special women in my life.

My heart, and my purse, will forever be full.

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diceWhen people ask me how I’m doing, the first words out of my mouth, for the last few months, have been “I’m selling my house.”

It is the most logical way I can convey all the activity in my life. When it’s not physical- reorganizing, packing, storing and cleaning, it’s emotional. “How can I leave this place?” “Where will I go?” In fact, the latter is the logical next question people ask. I tell them the truth. “I don’t know.”

Next week, there will be strangers touring my home. Potential buyers sizing up the the living room for a sectional and peering out the window to see the snow covered deck. They’ll be walking through new finishes, lighting and accessories that have taken months to find, purchase and install.

There may be an offer as early as next Monday. And just like that, this place will have an expiration. I have no plan for the next step. There are so many possibilities that I have no clear direction. The future is uncertain.

In January, the looming uncertainty started getting to me. It felt irresponsible to just accept not knowing what might happen. So I began creating possible scenarios, from best to worst. I thought it would make me more comfortable. But then I had to remember all the scenarios in a virtual playlist- a collection of future memories. It became needlessly more complicated.

So I stopped.

I stopped trying to nail down the future. I stopped trying to know what I can’t possibly know. Instead, I began putting all my energy into being more present today. And being grateful for the people who are helping move forward. And the rest of the time, I’m just a big sap of nostalgia. This home is where I figured it all out. HERE. In this house. It’s where I left to get married. It’s where I came back when I got divorced. It’s where I had no furniture and won my living room set in a raffle. And where countless friends and family members gave me what I needed to feel whole again. It’s where I quit my job and wrote for six months. It was my comfort during that strange jobless time and during a mess of bad grammar, bad break ups and bad work commutes. And also celebrations. So many parties and meals and drinks both spilled and consumed. So much happiness. HERE.

I still don’t know where I’ll be living this spring. For now, what I want most is to soak up all the love and memories with the hope of keeping them close and taking them with me. If I can manage that, it doesn’t really matter where I end up.

LeftTurnGrowing up in the city, I didn’t have a strong desire to drive but I really wanted my drivers license. I took drivers ed at Lane Tech and while I was great on paper, I was not as stellar behind the wheel. One time I got so nervous in class, I accidentally switched on the windshield wipers and in my preoccupation with trying to turn them off, I drove into a fence.

My mom would not take me out in her car to practice.

Luckily my dad had a tougher stomach for these things and wanted to help me gain confidence on the road. He was a Chicago police officer, so of course he knew the roads better than anyone. We ventured out in his bronze yacht-sized Lincoln Town Car and shuttled around the city.

I passed the written test and because I had gotten above a B+ in drivers ed, I didn’t have to take a driving exam. Though even if I did, I think I would have gotten the CPD wave-through on that one. Once I was 16 and licensed, nothing really changed. It’s one thing to have a license. It’s quite another to have use of a car, which I didn’t. I still took the CTA everywhere and bummed a lot of rides. And because I didn’t need to drive, I didn’t. Ever.

I didn’t think about driving until 12 years later when my mom was battling cancer. She couldn’t drive any longer so it made sense for me to use her car to commute to her suburban condo instead of taking the train. Luckily, my sister was a drivers ed teacher in high school so once again, I got into the car with a trained adult and drove around a parking lot. Then we drove on actual roads, graduating to the expressway. It was like being 16 again; I white knuckled it the whole way. And when we got back to my mom’s house, she said, “Ok, now drive home.” I was finally kicked out of the nest.

This is when all my father’s driving lessons came back to me:

“Never hesitate.” Pick a direction and stay with it. Don’t waffle. Don’t second guess. Just go.

“It’s just a curb”, he would tell me, as I got discouraged when misjudging the distance on the right side of the car. He would reassure me, “Just do your best. That’s all you can do.”

“What does it mean when the car ahead of you has its left turn signal on”
, my dad used to ask me. Well, duh, I learned that in driving school. They’re turning left! “Wrong”, he would say. “It means they have their left turn signal on.” Never make assumptions.

“It doesn’t matter that you’re right, if you’re dead”
, he used to say when I would argue about the right of way. Sometimes you have to let that jerk in the BMW blow through a stop sign. It sucks but I’m alive to tell about it.

“You never know who might have a gun.” Avoid raising middle fingers, swearing, tailgating or using any other revenge tactics. There are strangers out there. And they might kill you. Be kind to everyone.

I’m still driving my mom’s car. I’m still not the best driver. I’m still holding on to my dad’s pearls of wisdom, on and off the road.

winter_loveI was recently at a party and the topic of dating came up. I overheard one of my close friends telling a woman, “You should talk to Rachael. She’s a dating EXPERT.” I was quick to interject, “I’m not an expert.” Though I have dated a lot and documented my experiences. So I’m at least a “dating enthusiast.”

What I found in my “research” was that the best time to meet potential suitors is during winter. One of the coldest nights of my dating project resulted in three phone number acquisitions. So it’s not just a hunch. Winter means opportunity.

I say this because winter also means cold and slush and despair and overeating and guilt about not going to the gym enough. It’s boots and chapped lips and google searches for “Mexico all-inclusive.” But it is also bars with twinkle lights, fireplaces, cashmere sweaters, and drinks that warm and replenish. Most importantly, winter inspires a longing for togetherness.

You may argue, “But summer is romance and walks on the beach and kisses at midnight and margaritas on decks.” And I will argue that summer is more lust than love. It is carefree and barefoot and sex with the door open (as my neighbor across the alley has decided) and a time for abundance of people and plans. It is not about focus and it is not about monogamy. It is festivals and parties and that lazy nostalgic summer vacation feeling where we haven’t a care in the world. A care like wanting to have a partner, pursuing a meaningful connection and building a future. I’m not saying it’s impossible to find love in the summer, it’s just more likely in the winter.

Here is my winter vision: Men who love the way your scarf grazes your face and and how your cheeks get rosy from the wind. Sitting close, talking for hours and prolonging the inevitable chilly trip home. Walking arms entwined. Snowflakes. A skating date around the ribbon. A trip to the aquarium. Hot chocolate. Beer flights. Sharing warm chocolate lava cake.

Take it or leave it- winter is the shit for love.

nightlightThere are many things I love about my significant other. But most of all, it’s his commitment. Not just to me or our relationship, but to everything. When he says he’s going to do something, he does it. And not someday or next week or tomorrow. Right. Now. He’s smart and decisive and does only the appropriate research before diving in. I learned this pretty quickly on in our relationship when he said he was going to buy a new car. In less than a month, he sold his car and had a new one. If it were up to me, I would have taken years of test drives, watched the market and all sorts of shenanigans that don’t produce results. I know this because it took me one month to pick out the right NIGHT LIGHT. This is an $8 decision. One month. Two returns. Finally found it on Amazon. (Trust me, this one is the best.)

I’m surprised he hasn’t stabbed me over things like this, hearing me ask for his serious opinion, “What do you think of this one? Is it too bright? Is it the right color? I have a pack of two. Do you need one?” No, of course he doesn’t need one. Because you know what he does at night? HE SLEEPS. But I have all sorts of anxiety and it keeps me up. Pacing. And using the bathroom, which is why I need the nightlight; less light helps me stay at least half asleep-ish.

And in those late night moments, I look over at my sleeping beauty and think, “Thank God for him.”

But even more amazing than his commitment to action is his commitment to bits. From accepting a challenge to say random inappropriate phrases at his family gathering to making a guitar pedal with a half dick/half horse drawing I created, I couldn’t wish for a better human partner in my life. Bits connect us in the best possible way. We have many – some longstanding and always new ones added to the mix. Our newest bit may result in some weight gain but we’re not budging.

The only food I love more than hot dogs are tacos. I could eat tacos every day. So when two “best tacos in Chicago” lists came out this week, I emailed them to him,”Let’s do this.” I was thinking we could take 2015 to casually visit one or two a month. Nope. By Thursday we were visiting our first taco place on the list. Then Saturday (last night) he picked out another taco place near the show we were attending. He is not fucking around.

Over carne asada and carnitas I told him, “When we’re together, we should only eat tacos.” Without hesitation and with similar excitement, he responded “ok.” I make breakfast on Sunday mornings which usually consists of eggs, bacon and pancakes. Today, I made egg tacos. Because when you decide that every meal you’re going to have together is going to be tacos, you can’t leave out breakfast. And tonight, we’re going to another show and guess what we’re eating beforehand.

We discussed documenting our taco tour so of course, as the writer in this duo, I”ll be doing that here. And as the efficient decision maker, he’ll always choose our next stop. When will we get sick of tacos? Who will call it off first? Will we have to make any exceptions? Will one of us get sick (probably me)? I guess we’ll find out on Taco Tour 2014.

https://screen.yahoo.com/taco-town-000000333.html?format=embed

carcass

This is my sixth go at the beginning of my memoir. It’s become like changing clothes multiple times before work and in this case, I have no mirror. I’m not looking for “Bravos!”, just for constructive criticism. Yes, the truth can hurt but it would hurt way worse after printing 1000 copies. Thank you!

CHAPTER 1

“I don’t want you to go”, I softly tell him.

This kind of talk is premature. Maybe. We’ve gone on exactly one date. Officially one first date prompted by my need to fulfill a year-long dating experiment where I have challenged myself to meet 50 prospects. I affectionately call it “Project 50”. A year after my divorce, this is the only way I can kick myself out of the warm nest of solitude and force myself to take a real look at what’s out there. I had always played to win, dated to wed. If I had a dollar for every time I said, “I think this is the one,” I would retire right now as a sugar mama with a hot 25-yr old at my side. The goal of the experiment is to prove to myself that there are indeed 50 eligible men out there. 50 possibilities. 50 reasons why it’s not my fault.

I should back up. But how far?

I met my husband, ex-husband, in a way I hoped to someday tell our children about. “Your father and I both attended a party where guests were told to bring a single friend to mix with other singles. The party was called, ‘Restocking your Inventory’. My platonic single male offering to the party cancelled that day so I came alone. I was shy, not sure who to talk to and then I saw a girl I knew who I could strike up a conversation with. She happened to be talking to a guy and I figured I would just join them. Well, it turns out the guy and I had more to talk about than she and I did. She left in a huff. Perhaps she thought I was trying to steal her catch, which I wasn’t. In fact, I thought, ‘What am I going to do now? I’m just stuck here standing with this stranger.’ He was a shiny new consultant, fresh out of a Brooks Brothers catalog. Perfectly-coiffed wavy light brown hair. Blue eyes. Pale skin. Belt looped tightly around his skinny waist. Lips stained from the red wine he was drinking. He asked for my number. Four years later, we were married.”

Four years is a long time to court- we were on again, off again, though more on than off. With all that time invested, I was even more determined to make it work. I would win. This might have caused me to turn a blind eye to some incompatibility issues. I was clouded by the fantasy- the proposal, the wedding, the comfort. I wanted things that had nothing to do with him as a person. When trying to figure out what I wanted for our future, I read books on relationships. I asked my friends and family for their thoughts. Is this the right thing? Then I got a sign. Two years into my relationship, my mother, literally on her deathbed, said, “it’s a shame I never got to meet his mother.” Yes, mom. I wished you could have been at our wedding two years later, when my sisters walked me down the aisle, which happened to be a hiking trail in Big Sky, Montana. On our way down this aisle, we spotted a carcass in the grass just feet away. A dead animal. At my wedding. We burst into laughter. Like, crying laughter, the kind that makes guests who are 100 feet away just think that you are really overcome with emotion. The sun was shining. The August air was warm but breezy. The wind died down during the six-minute ceremony that he and I had written ourselves. We were both writers and very particular; we had a vice grip on the details. But more than anything, he was the yin to my yang, the clean to my messy, the analytic to my free spirit, the calm to my crazy. Getting married just made sense. Why wouldn’t I want this balance in my life?

But getting married isn’t the thing you do to make sense. Or at least, that’s my best guess at where I made a wrong turn. I’m worried it was all me. Maybe his criticism of my eating habits and inability to wear eye make up was valid. Maybe I should have cleaned the bathroom more often. Maybe I should have been excited to be a stay at home mom with the kids, even though we never made it as far as having them.

This dating experiment will open up a lot more than menus at restaurants with new men. It is the only way I can find out what went wrong by seeing if anything could go right.

Back to the man who is about to leave. He accepted a job in another state- Austin, not quite driving distance from Chicago. What if this is the one and he is slipping away? Ugh, I’m doing it again. But WHAT IF?

“Do you think you’ll ever be back?” I ask in the most non-desperate tone I can muster in a moment of desperation.

“I’ll be back for photo assignments occasionally. Maybe also to visit friends,” he responds.

I hold back a smile but it leaks out my eyes. He hugs me. He is the best hugger. He hugs with every part of himself and I want to live there. And he doesn’t let go first. I want to believe that this is about us but this is just who he is. And I want to keep him here, even if we are only friends. I guess for now, it’s all we can be, because there are 49 other men on the horizon.

ornamentLabor Day Weekend is approaching and I will be joining a Labor Day tradition as a +1. In lieu of a winter gathering for Christmas, my boyfriend’s family takes advantage of the long Labor Day weekend for their annual holiday celebration. It’s Labor Day. It’s Christmas. It’s… Labordaymas. And to entertain themselves, they pack the weekend full of activities and more specifically competition where points can be gained and victors can be made.

For me this weekend isn’t just two holidays, it’s two movies– Meet the Parents and Hunger Games.

The thought of being trapped in a large group of people I don’t know is the stuff of nightmares. Even around my own family I’m pretty introverted. I should get a point for just showing up. In fact, points were offered early on for various feats such as writing the best bio and for emailing the event grand marshal a photo of something inappropriate done at work. Inappropriate is my middle name so I racked up an easy point. I sent a photo of a mythical beast I drew- half horse, half penis, AKA “Dicktaur.” This is how I’m starting out.  And I have a feeling this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The more nervous I get, the more I chatter. And the more I chatter, the more likely it is that the words I say have not passed through any type of filter. There is simply no one at the tower. It is a verbal free fall. I can’t even imagine what will surface this weekend.

My biggest accomplishment thus far is that I’m packed. I packed on Monday night. For a U.S. trip. Five days in advance. I have never done this. Usually I just make a list and then procrastinate til the night before. When I told a friend about it, she responded, “Wow. You must be nervous.” OR AWESOMELY PREPARED TO GO INTO BATTLE. I have a small backpack- the one I used in college. And as small as it is, there is STILL room. I’ve packed bigger bags just to go to the gym. If there is some cold front in Nebraska this weekend, I will be freezing and most likely overserving myself for warmth.

Here’s my personal point tally so far:

  1. First real trip together
  2. First family function together
  3. First time I sent a photo of a dick to someone I don’t yet know
  4. First time I packed like a champion (or a lunatic- could go either way)
  5. First of many challenges to come, I hope

cradleI always thought I’d be a mom. There was never any doubt. Though if experience was necessary for the job, I was screwed. I’m the youngest with two older sisters. Essentially I grew up with three moms. And I was mom to no one. Not to younger cousins, though I did some babysitting. Not to neighbors, friend’s siblings or even my sisters’ eventual kids. I am not a mom type, I guess. My arms don’t instantly conform to a cradle position when infants are present. I see children and have no idea how old they are. And even when I find out, I don’t remember what that means for their development or preferences in toys. I don’t understand their logic. I only have a few child-pleasing tricks up my sleeve and even less patience.

I always thought I’d be a mom. It fueled my dating in my 20’s, then even more so in my 30’s. Must find partner. Must procreate. Must have at least two children, but preferably three. I was like Johnny Five in Short Circuit, “Need input. Need input. Need input.” So when I found an appropriate suitor and married, the hard part was over. I bought a book called, “The Motherhood of Pregnancy Books” so I could get ready. My gynecologist suggested taking prenatal vitamins when I decided to try, maybe even earlier. Need input.

I always thought being a mom was inevitable. I told myself this as a comfort urging myself not to try so hard. Not to look so hard after my short marriage ended. It will happen. I’ll have it all. Despite having this end goal, I never considered having a child on my own, freezing eggs or adopting. It would either be the sum of a great love or not at all. Years later, I entered the high risk zone, though I was already high risk because of a stroke I had at 28. High risk felt more like high anxiety. I worried I would have an unhealthy baby because of the stress I had about possibly having an unhealthy baby. What if this? And what if that? Then an important relationship came along. We named all the kids we would have- first, the twins, Rose and Reed. Then our rambunctious third, Scarlet. It’s what I needed to get into the right mindset. He was family minded, excited to develop this team with me. But love changes. Lives change. And with it the dream of this family.

I was more determined than ever to have these children. They had names. They weren’t just ideas. I wanted to love them. I wanted them to love me. I had relationship after relationship with incredibly kind and loving men. The kind of men who would love and support me always. The kind who would be great fathers. And despite all this potential awesomeness, it turned out to be me who was dragging my feet. In fact, it always was.

I always thought I’d be a mom. From the marketing of motherhood, it is pretty sweet. Unique limitless love. Tiny clothes. Tiny shoes. Tiny voices. Big dreams. Countless moments. And even more pictures. But there’s another side to it. Responsibility. Sacrifice. Being pulled in multiple directions. Strain on relationships. Limited self care. Stepping on legos. And “mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom…” I grew up with the fantasy. We all did. And it’s not like moms in our day ever said, “Honey, you don’t have to be a mom.” Being a mom is part of life so if you’re not a mom, then something is missing. Need input.

I’m nearly 39. I’ve made the decision not to have children. This is the first time I’ve written these words. There are days I feel like a failure. There are also days I feel like life could not be more perfect. I struggle to embrace other people’s kids. I want to like them just enough. But not too much. Not so much that it slaps me in the ovary and asks, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you want this?” Not so much that it hurts because no one will embrace me the way kids embrace moms. The kind of hug that means, “You are my entire world.” I worry I will go through life looking for this love, haunted by this longing. I worry I will overlove my partners just trying to feel a piece of what this must feel like.

I always thought I would have dogs. After I got married, I found out that my husband hated dogs. How was this possible? We would surely never have a dog. This was nearly a deal breaker. As I got older, my allergies worsened. Perhaps I would never have a dog and it was because of me. A few years ago, I dated a man with an iguana. After I got over the sheer ickyness, I sort of loved it. I would pick it up and rock it back and forth in my arms (it was big- four feet, head to tail). I fed it by hand and then with an eye dropper when it was sick. I gave it baths. I wrapped it in a towel. I watched tv with it on my lap. The relationship failed and I was bummed to lose my reptilian baby.

I always hoped I could care for something of my own. A friend took me to the pet store. We looked at lizards. I tried to see a future but something was missing. And then a dog came into my life. Well, a man and a dog. I was severely allergic at first but for the sake of the man, I was willing to do anything to conquer my allergies. All it took were two nasal sprays. The doctor said it would take weeks to feel the effects. It worked the same day.

I grew up with dogs but it had been a while since I took care of one. The first time I dog-sat for a weekend, I was worried I would forget something or not be prepared in some way. I already had recurring nightmares of forgetting to feed an array of animals and they die. How can he trust me with his dog? It’s only been a month! But it was fine. Uneventful. And in the last year, she has taken up part-time residence with me. Neighbors, local businesses and some friends assume she is mine. On Saturdays, we walk to the flower shop to buy a bouquet for the week. After getting to know the store owner, I let her off the leash so she can run around the store, behind the desk and generally places most customers can’t go. One afternoon, I was picking out loose flowers for my bouquet and the owner remarked, “She keeps coming out front looking for her mama.”

I smiled inside.

I would have corrected her. But explaining the dog was not mine was not a conversation I needed to have. It’s not like I was masquerading as a human mom. Just a dog mom. The more I thought about it, the more it felt like the right thing. In all my travels, I always go where the animals are. And no, an animal won’t grow up to be your caregiver. Or prompt the tooth fairy. Or give you tears of joy on graduation day. But you can overlove them. And you can spoil them. And when you’re sick, they comfort you. When you’re cold, they lie down next to you. They never complain. Never need new clothes. Never neglect their homework. And never demand anything but love. And maybe food and walks.

I’d always thought I’d be a mom. And for me, it’s now a love that is redistributed to friends, family, coworkers and even this dog (and her owner). Being a mom doesn’t have to be fulfilled in the most obvious ways. My childless friends and I have a unique bond. A bond uninterrupted by kids and obligations that can trump social connection. I’m not saying having kids is a bad thing. I’m just saying, I wish not having them was an acceptable option earlier in my life so I wouldn’t have beat myself up trying to settle down. In all the feminist messages out there – you can be an astronaut, you can be a boxer, you can be the president, I wish there were a new message – you can just be you, even if that means decorating your home with hand-me-down furniture, enjoying cake and wine for dinner on a whim, not rushing to the altar and just curling up with the animal of your choice. Do great things. Invent some cool shit. Break personal records. Buy more shoes. Find your perfect place in this life. 

 

laundry“Relationships are hard” they say.

“I’m determined to do it right this time” I say.

A few years ago I was in a relationship that absolutely depleted me. I could say it was because he took and took. But more importantly, I gave and gave. “I can buy you groceries.” “I can come to YOUR house.” “I can wait for you to be free because I know how hard it is for you to plan.” I thought if I gave extraordinarily, I could force it to succeed. But that’s crazy. And it ended. And I swore I would never give so much again.

Then I dated a man who gave and gave. And gave some more. “I can fix your brakes.” “I can rub your back.” “I can carry you and place you on the raft so you don’t have to get wet or cold in the lake.” Sounds ideal, right? To be treasured? Put on a pedestal? To be on the receiving side? But it was awful. It wasn’t healthy and felt like I had an adolescent girl fan club. And in return for all he gave, he was needy. Time. Acknowledgement. Affection. Acceptance. He needed what he couldn’t give himself or get in any other way. He was so deeply caring but I felt incredibly trapped.

Well played, universe. I could now see the same error in both relationships by sitting on opposing sides. Both the “over-givers” used giving to mask their insecurities. Both the “recipients” wound up feeling guilty and overwhelmed. Neither extreme was ideal.

“I’m going to do it right from now on”, I exclaim. “I’m not going to give. I’m not going to take. I’m going to be damn near impossible. Good luck to the next guy.”

I just finished folding laundry. HIS laundry.

Is this just a familiar act of desperation? Will I never learn? Am I hard-wired for GIVE?

I found with the right person, there’s a delicate and amazing balance. Nothing orchestrated. Nothing complicated. Just a little give from both sides. Some mornings I take the dog out and make breakfast. Some nights he makes dinner and empties the dishwasher. But everyday, we take care of ourselves first. Because we can’t be anything for each other if we can’t be what we need on our own. That’s the difference. This time, I’m not a moron because I choose to match his socks and fold his manties. And he’s not losing my heart for repairing loose boards on the deck (he’s winning it actually). It’s not done with desperation and despair but rather with vulnerability and love.

I think I’m finally doing it right this time.

It’s taken a couple weeks but I’ve gotten through more than 50% of my storage space. While the first cuts were fairly easy, they got progressively harder. To move the process along, I asked myself one question:

If the basement went up in flames, what would I be upset to lose?

I couldn’t thing of anything except for one drawing from art school. I realized I keep a lot of things because I feel like I should, not because I want to. I should chuck it all right now! But release is a process and I’m tackling one Christmas colored storage bin at a time. Here’s what else I’ve learned:

1. Fast-forward through Craigslist: I had a light table I loved but haven’t used for more than ten years. I ran through the possible back and forth scenario with potential Craigslist buyers and realized, I’d rather not waste my breath haggling. This table will keep its dignity if I donate it. I carried it to the Brown Elephant and it was welcomed with open arms.

2. Use it or lose it:crystal It’s a stepped process- 1. Take object from plastic tub and bring upstairs. 2. Find a place or a use for it. 3. If it doesn’t have one, donate it.

3. Stare it cold:
stare it cold I have packed and repacked a glass jars and bottles, some with rocks and shells. One has a great story. The others are just decorative. They are now on display, staring, demanding a decision. It’s judgment day. Some will get repacked. Some will be asked to leave.

4. It’s just a thing
cosmetic trayWhen my parents died, I held on to every tiny thing as if it were a piece of them. But life happens and things go missing. Or worse, they break- like my mom’s glass cosmetic tray. It’s still intact, it’s just missing a glass bar from the front. I was sad when this happened in a move six years ago but I reminded myself, it’s not her. It’s just a thing. Letting go of the stuff is ok.

5. Space is freedom
I now have three huge empty plastic bins (need any?) and a spacious storage room. I have new momentum and an unexpected joy in the open space. It’s not over yet but I already feel lighter, less burdened and a little more in control.