Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Webs...and the breaking thereof.

“On this doorstep I stand, year after year and watch you leaving.

And think:

May you not skin your knees; May you not catch your fingers in car doors;

May your hearts not break; May tide & weather wait for your coming.

And may you grow strong to break the webs of my weaving.”

Several years ago, I referenced this simple and perfect poem by Evangeline Peterson in a column I wrote to mark the passage of time as my boys were growing up. They were about 11, 11 and 12 years old and living through those exploratory years that build the bridge between the end of childhood and the beginning of adolescence.

What I didn’t quite recognize at the time – even though the poem references it so beautifully - is that they were in the early stages of stretching their webs, creating the tension and the tugging that would eventually lead to breaking them. In my mind, we had so many more years together. It didn’t feel possible that they were starting to grow stronger – and away from me - already.

Did I really believe in that last line in the poem? Hat tip to Evangeline if she truly did: she’s a braver mother than I. Did I want them to break those webs I had been weaving for more than a decade?

Intellectually, I think I believed it. I knew that realistically, barring no true heartbreak for any of us, they would eventually break their ties to me and to our home and make their way into the world. And if all went very, very well, they would do so with “tide and weather” waiting for their coming. In my mind, I understood that even from babyhood, our children break or at least stretch the webs we weave almost daily.

Emotionally, I didn’t really mean it. I wanted nothing to change and no webs of any kind to be so much as tested, much less broken. It’s not that I yearned for their baby days or the preschool boys who melted my heart daily. I accepted the passing years because I found the boys relentlessly fascinating and stimulating and challenging at every age. I accepted those years for one other main reason: the boys were right there. Right upstairs, or across the table or next to me in the car.

Yes, of course I imagined them grown up someday and contributing to society. I believed they would find their way, even that they might make a couple of wrong turns from time to time, and it was a comforting thought. The bad news, the difficult part for me, was that it was very unlikely that any of the paths they chose to follow would lead directly back to our front door.

But they have walked back in, for a few days at least. It’s the first Thanksgiving holiday where all three of them “came home” from their new lives. And in a very real way, it’s confounding. Growing up, we lived through thousands of comings and goings on a daily basis. And even then, even when separations lasted only hours, not weeks, every single time we reconnected, some part of each one of us had changed. One of us had lived a tremendous day or a crappy day, or had an argument that debilitated us or a stimulating discussion that would be long remembered, or enjoyed a connection made of friendship or love, or a endured a hurtful flash of ignorance or hate. We carried it home with us that day – and whether or not it was evident – it was there. And sitting around the table almost every night, even though we lived together and spent hours and hours around each other daily, it was sometimes difficult to read their faces and hear their tone and pick up the clues that gave away the details of everyone’s day.

So this holiday weekend, I can’t help but look at my boys and think in the most profound way: how have you been? What has changed inside you? I wonder about the thousands and thousands of moments they have lived over the past few months without that physical, daily connection between us. Let me be clear: I don’t expect – nor really want – full disclosure here. I went to college, too, and prefer to leave some decisions I made at that time, and the resulting memories, behind. The activities themselves don’t concern me as much as the remains of those activities. Are they happy? Confused? Despairing? Optimistic? I’m not sure I can get a good sense of that in the next four days.

The truth is, I’m straining to hold onto that web I weaved so carefully and lovingly for the past two decades. It’s showing signs of weakness and it’s not going to last. It can’t. It wasn’t made to endure. It was created to keep everyone connected and safe and secure – for a while.

We’re all way past the web stage anyway. As our webs break – or even stretch thinner for the next few years – I have to believe something less noticeable but even stronger replaces them. The extra long hug or our clasped hands or the strong arm thrown over my shoulder. The shared laughter so hearty that it brings tears. The smile that translates as “you’re still a little bit crazy but you’re my mom.”

My sons are growing stronger, in invisible, untold ways so they can “break the webs of my weaving.” I’m resolved to that (I think.) But maybe, just maybe, we all leave a single thread or two dangling, just in case we need to hang on from time to time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

From the 'Things I Never Imagined I’d Think About' file:

The "perfection” of eyebrows.

This is exactly why I was born too late. I guarantee you not one woman of my mother’s generation ever spent more than nineteen seconds at a time thinking about, contouring, shaping, coloring (yes, coloring), or plucking her eyebrows. Make that eighteen seconds.

And yet, there it is, every time I open my Facebook profile. That ad, encouraging me to enter a contest to win $3,000 worth of laser hair removal. I don’t know if this will take care of my eyebrows, plus one entire side of my body, or just my eyebrows. Three thousand dollars is a LOT of money for just eyebrows, isn’t it? I doubt I even have 3,000 individual hairs that could be removed from my eyebrows without leaving my brow-less. I really do. But the promise in the promotion is that I’ll never have to wax or pluck again. That should be enough to entice me to enter to win the grand prize.

Months ago, I wrote about an MSN homepage article – you know how I love those - when I came across one that discussed the way to “perfect,” even “sexy” if I’m remembering this correctly, eyebrows for women. Sexy eyebrows. Is there some kind of eyebrow beautification movement going on that I’ve missed? Are the eyebrows found on American women wretched and disgraceful? This must be the secret turn-on men never admit to feeling.

I refuse to believe any of this. We have reached some kind of nadir in terms of ‘beauty’ and the pursuit of same when we can somehow get all charged up over the look of our eyebrows.

Then again, maybe my eyebrows are a disgrace and cause much consternation among people who know me. I had a manicure recently and the technician asked me if I wanted anything else done. “Your eyebrows?” she asked helpfully. I’m not kidding. I couldn’t tell if she was simply hoping to add another service to my tab or was honestly dismayed by what she saw above my eyes.

It’s not enough that women are encouraged to worry about every single aspect of our appearance. I know – we’re not forced to do that and I swear I’m getting so much better at ignoring those commercials and magazine covers that tell me what a pathetic case I am on a daily basis. I know I am. Must be that “second half of my life” phase kicking in. But despite all my intentions, like every truthful woman in this country, I'll admit the following: Yes, I think about my hair – the stuff on my head, I mean - the hair on the rest of me, the health and 'glow' and elasticity of my skin, especially the skin on my face and neck - yes, now I'm thinking about my neck on a daily basis - my hands and how “old” they make me look, my nails, my overall measurements and our various other ways I can brood about my appearance.

But. Even I have limits. I draw the (custom brow shaping pencil) line at eyebrows. I really do.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Puma life. Nah - doesn't sound nearly as exotic, does it?

Up until Sunday, I was able to mostly overlook the idea of a website called Cougar life, or something like that. I wrote it off as something of a freak show that advertised on Howard Stern. But it has gone beyond that now.

Let me back up a bit. Before I heard of Cougar life, I had already endured at least a year of radio ads for something called Ashley (Yes, I always hit another channel when the bank of ads begins playing on Howard’s show but it’s impossible to skip all of them.) Who named the company Ashley Madison, I’m not sure – not doubt it’s a combination of female names that tested positively with focus groups of a certain age. But here’s the best part: is basically a dating service for married men and married women who want to have affairs.

Isn’t that admirable? If you’re married, I think we can all agree that it’s basically slimy to join a dating service and present yourself as single and unencumbered. But by joining, you can participate in a dating service filled with people just like you: they are unhappy in their marriages and want to find love elsewhere without going through the hassle of separation or divorce. This is a group filled with honest cheaters, if that kind of person is even possible. You can’t say you weren’t warned.

But back to Cougar life. As the name implies – sadly, the word cougar now “implies” something about women in our society - this is a dating service for women over the age of 40 and younger men who want to date women over the age of 40. (I think age forty is the cutoff. I refuse to fact-check this.)

My dismissive attitude toward something like Cougar and its purpose changed when I read the story in the Times on Sunday. This is no longer some kind of fringe, off-the-radar activity. It is real and even more alarming as a result. has added a monthly “Cougar/Boy Toy” night to its events. At the latest event, the men ranged in age from 23 to 31; the women were between 35 and 56.

And lest you think men might feel confused or unsure of the next steps when they think about dating older women, don’t you worry about it. They can turn to something like to have all their questions answered.

Still need help finding your next relationship? Sign up for the first international Cougar cruise next month.

“ ______.” I’m not sure how to put this.

KUUUUUUUUUSSSSCHH! (That’s the sound of my head banging into my laptop screen.)

In no particular order, here’s what is running through my brain, besides a slight headache:

1. What on earth could possibly attract – in a real, substantive, enduring way – a woman of a certain age to a man who is twenty-four years old? (Okay, besides that. I can appreciate the Orlando Blooms of the world as much as the next person. And sure, no one mentioned “real, substantive or enduring” but I can’t help myself.)

2. Same question, reversed. Let’s be honest here. Not many of these cougars are Heather Locklear or Courtney Cox or Demi Moore. In fact, exactly three of them are: Heather Locklear and Courtney Cox and Demi Moore. I’m pretty sure none of them are hanging out at a Cougar speed dating event on Long Island, looking for a date. Are these guys really looking for woman who could be his mother, who shops in the same stores she does and listens to the same CDs? That's a whole 'nother issue.

3. Are women that needy? That lonely? Have we rationalized our need for affection and “love” to the point that we’ll agree to create some kind of empty relationship with a man who is twenty years younger than we are in order to prop up our own sagging (among other things) egos?

4. Somehow, I don’t think the men in these relationships are all that lonely. This is their way of spending time with women who “have seen how bad things can get” according to one Cougar-dater, and as a result they look like heroes. They get zero pressure for marriage or children from these women. The mature woman will overlook a young man’s minor flaws; they’ve seen worse after all.

5. I hate the title “cougar.” I really hate it. Don’t know who started it but it’s completely aggravating and somehow even more fake and pretentious than almost any other title that could be affixed to this fake and pretentious phenomenon.

Maybe this whole thing will fade away as quickly as it arrived. It’s just sort of embarrassing, isn’t it? For me, there is something kind of pathetic about women who use – yes, use - younger men to help them make peace with being in their forties and fifties.

Come on, sisters. We’re better than that, aren’t we? Right? Didn’t our sisters (and mothers and grandmothers) march for the right for us to be forty and fabulous? Or fifty and fantastic? Or sixty and sensational? It somehow diminishes all their hard-fought battles when we all show up at the company Christmas party with a twenty-six year old.

Call it what you want. Cougar life. Or Cougar / Boy Toy night. I call it female insecurity masquerading as twenty-first century sophistication. May it soon be in our collective rear view mirror.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If he "lets" me? Really?

Okay, I’ve been married for more than twenty-three years – to the same husband by the way – so I may not be the best source for stuff like this but I don’t understand why MSN keeps posting articles about men and how they think. Men aren’t that deep. They really aren’t. [Disclaimer: thoughts included in this post have not one thing to do with my remarkable, amazing, charming, talented, loving sons. They are three notable and worthy exceptions to the “men aren’t that complicated” rule. But they’re wonderfully – not exasperatingly – complex and interesting if you see my point.)

By the way, I don’t particularly think there’s anything wrong with being uncomplicated. I really don’t. In fact, I think I could live a happier life if I took a less intense, less convoluted approach to almost all things in life. But let’s check back in on those MSN home page headlines, shall we?

Yesterday, I read something about why men can’t commit. I tried to find it again and searched this phrase: “why men don’t commit.” In response, I received a list of 5,310,000 links. That’s more than five million places I could go to find out why men won’t commit. No one could possibly be that interested in why men can’t / won’t commit.

I’ll save you the time for God’s sake. Men won’t commit for the same reasons women won’t. Fear. Past mistakes in his painful relationships with women. Maybe he witnessed too many bitter breakups among his family and friends. Perhaps he wants to do something as simple as meet a lot of women and see who appears to be the best fit in all ways. Or maybe he wants to travel, and take a semi-annual golf outing to Scotland, or go on ski trips, or play in chess tournaments around the country or climb mountains, or follow Blink 182 around the world or bowl / play softball / go fishing every single weekend all weekend, or hang out at a bar, or read books or play music or paint or write or build furniture in his spare time, or spend his money on the largest collection of video games or porn on the planet without having to explain it to or hide it from his wife.

Please: I know. He can do every single one of these things while he’s married. Sure he can. Assuming his wife is equally enthralled with doing her own thing without him or she’s in a coma and never even misses him. But not one of the activities will feel the same as it did when he wasn’t married. It’s no one’s fault. It just is.

So while I couldn’t find the commitment-phobe MSN story, today – yes, one day later – they have a new one posted: If he lets you buys his undies, you’re The One. Excuse me – if he “lets” me? I’m kind of cranky about that verbiage. Is this some kind of girlish dating privilege I’ve forgotten about over the past twenty-three years? That makes me “The One?” The one who what? Buys underwear? What an honor.

And I have yet to meet an adult man – or even a boy – who calls his underwear his “undies.” That should be a deal breaker for any women. Rule: Run in the other direction if he talks about his undies, or anyone’s undies for that matter. (The underwear-purchasing article was based on a British study so maybe it’s a European thing, although I doubt it.)

Without giving this report too much credence, it would appear that men buy their own underwear only when they’re dating and looking for a partner. This seems to have something to do with good grooming and looking presentable. Once a man is settled into a relationship, the study reveals that he stops shopping and turns the task of girding his loins over to the woman in his life. (There is mention of a brief flurry of activity once again in the late thirties / early forties… presumably his marriage has broken up and he’s looking for love again.)

The article basically admits that men rely on their mothers to buy their underwear for about two decades or so. Later, they rely on their wives to perform the same task. It’s only when they’re “on their own,” those single years spent as a man who can’t seem to commit, that he finds the time to stock up on the Hanes or Fruit of the Looms.

Let’s face it. How complex is buying men’s underwear? Once you get the waist size right, the decision making is virtually over. Anyone could buy a guy his underwear. Mother Teresa could buy guy his underwear. It’s just that unspectacular and just that sensual.

This is just one more way men are … not complicated. If you’re a single woman who read the MSN homepage article with hope in her heart and a three-pack in her shopping cart, sorry sweetie, buying the boxers doesn’t make you “The One.” It makes you helpful. And if you do it too much, with too much joy, it makes you kind of pathetic. We’ve established that buying men’s underwear is not exactly a challenge, so if a woman is willing to pick some up once in a while at Target, why would a man would turn that down?

In fact, I think just the opposite of this “study” is true. When a woman ‘lets’ a man buy her underwear, he is definitely The One. It’s intimate. It’s personal. There are lots and lots and lots of choices to be made about this purchase. The female timeline on this activity is exactly the opposite of the male timeline. Women buy their own underwear from their teens into their twenties. We may turn that task over – at least partly – to our partners while we’re in our twenties. Then we move past that phase, and the lingerie becomes a blouse that becomes a sweater that becomes a lovely piece of jewelry. Victoria’s Secret turns into Target for us, too.

And for couples everywhere, if all else is well, that arrangement is okay with everyone.

Monday, November 09, 2009

It's November, 2009. Yes: 2009.

I think I must have missed the outrage. Yes, I read the news in the media over the Kellogg’s cereal claims about fiber. God bless them; they tried. How can parents go wrong if they serve a bowl of sugary milk that’s also filled with fiber-rich cereal?

Unfortunately, people didn’t quite take to that notion with as much enthusiasm as Kellogg’s PR team may have hoped. No one really believes they’re buying a wonderful nutritional choice when they take home these kinds of kids’ cereals. Popular with kids from sea to shining sea? Yes. Nutritious? Not so much.

I think we can all agree that no one buys sugary cereal in order to add more fiber to their diet. But Lucky Charms or Reese’s Puffs or Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Apple Jacks were some of the sweet cereals my kids could usually find in our house as they grew up. We weren’t candy buyers, and rarely had cabinets of cookies or other treats in the house. But yes, we had our share of kids’ cereal. So sue me.

The fiber thing isn’t really my issue here. I just watched the Froot Loops commercial again and confirmed what I thought I saw before. I also checked the calendar and confirmed that we have just about completed the first decade of the 21st century. Another way to calculate the time would be to note that it’s almost forty years after the debut of Ms. Magazine.

Here’s the problem. The premise of the Froot Loops commercial is that one child – a boy - is in a doctor’s office and getting his check-up. He gets called into the office by another child, playing the receptionist, or maybe the nurse – a girl. Then the patient gets his check-up by the doctor – a boy.

Ummmm…once again, did I miss the outrage? Is there a reason the ‘doctor’ here had to be portrayed by a little boy and the ‘helper’ had to be a little girl? I’m not some kind of lunatic about political or social correctness or a radical feminist but let’s face it, shouldn’t someone at the ad agency who produced this commercial for Kellogg’s have raised this objection to typecasting straight out of 1956? Did anyone speak up and wonder aloud about the little girl being the helper and at the little boy being the boss?

And what about the people at Kellogg’s? I’d like to think someone at some point raised some objection – or at least a question - about the stereotypes we all thought would be anachronisms by now, that appear to be alive and well in their 2009 commercial. I’m so sorry but I can’t quite get past this. Even if I loved Froot Loops and my kids begged me for them, I’d stop buying them on principle alone.

If I missed the commentary on this, I'd be grateful if someone could post a link to a column or some reaction to this commercial. I may be getting more cranky in my old age - in fact I know I am - but this can't just be me, can it?