Sunday, June 30, 2013

Don't Waste the Pretty

It's what a beautician told me some years ago as she bent over my nails when I was half-crazed with the decision I had just made-- to leave my philandering then-husband and begin anew. Honestly, I didn't know what she meant.

"Don't waste the pretty?" I asked.
"Don't waste the pretty," she said again and proceeded to describe a man she was in a relationship with, the sex they were having (I believe up against the wall was mentioned), and the frustration with her pending divorce. I was still hung up on pretty. What I didn't really realize was, at 35 years old with two kids, no solid career, and a mountain of worry, that I was pretty. And that pretty could matter at that age and at that time-- to me. To someone else who could take that pretty and make me feel... dynamic. Apparently, I was pretty enough for this girl to see it.

A simple thing, a tiny gift, a piece of newness long after the years of trailing a wedding train down a church aisle of ribbons and blooms, promises and potential. I had forgotten what pretty was, and pretty isn't something a woman feels when she learns her husband has been banging someone else for two years. Pretty isn't something I thought about after tending babies and being an accessory to my then-husband's career-- helpful, but invisible, and ultimately, unappreciated. He had, at one time, bragged to his co-workers that he had married me for my smarts but that he didn't find me beautiful. It was a back-handed comment, particularly when at home he would insinuate that I wasn't smart enough to succeed in the world of business. I didn't just feel unattractive, I felt incompetent and abandoned. It was a terrible time. Who knew that pretty could be a defining moment?

But "don't waste the pretty" was the right and unconventional advice I was given at a time when my life was more questions than answers and more fear than foundation.

And I didn't waste the pretty, but I was choosy about it. My pretty blossomed in the attentions of the man I ended up marrying later, not that all stories should end that way. But "don't waste the pretty" gave me permission to break rules and convention and to be, for a little while, a girl again-- that unfettered girl awaiting a date on a porch trimmed in azaleas and twinkle lights, a girl smiling secretly with the knowledge that someone thought she was the poetic drug of love embodied in flame and flesh. A girl, a pretty girl, who could not just be loved, but be... craved.

Pretty is empowering.

A few months ago, I sat in my hairdresser's chair and asked that question that people usually only give the most untruthful answer to: "How are you?" In a conversation that resulted from our mutual discovery that things were for both of us very hard, very bleak, very overwhelming, I was able to turn to her and tell her as she described the end of her relationship and the circumstances surrounding it, the magic words she says she still finds herself repeating: Don't waste the pretty.

This young woman, a mother herself, is a sort of muse in the modern, alternative sense. At not even 30 years old, she is petite and lean with tattoos emblazoning her shoulders, chest, and the backs of her thighs. Ropes of dark hair trimmed with crimson spiral about a most delicate face. There is usually something artfully torn or fitted and leathery across her body. There are piercings. Somehow, running throughout her Suicide Girl image, she is soft-spoken, deliberate, hesitant, sweet, and innocent. I keep waiting for wings to break forth and lift her.  I just want to protect this girl. I tell her, as she asks questions about the things she is thinking about, that everything will be ok, that there is time, and that time is the answer. And I tell her again, don't waste the pretty.

Could a girl who has striven for her indie-punk appeal still be affected by pretty? When I see her, I see so much pretty and fragility. And while I know what century this is and that women aren't supposed to hang expectations for ourselves on armored men astride white horses, that there are those of us who just want, for five seconds, to put everything else aside and be pretty to someone, as she most certainly does. And as I most certainly do.

Those years ago, in what I refer to as my previous life, I sat in a church praying to God that I not waste away and grow old before my time-- unrecognized, unloved, and unappreciated. I felt my sexuality dissolving under the weight of laundry baskets, dirty dishes, needful children, and neglect. I was second to someone else's high-powered career, with his golf dates, expense accounts, slick sales talk, and business plans. I would later pack up my art studio and shelve those aspirations thinking that my goals were detracting from the family I was trying to hold together. I thought I deserved the hand I was taking-- the hand of someone who would rather indulge in Internet fantasy, office trysts, and dishonest business practices. Pretty was a luxury then. I was just trying to survive.

I thank the beautician who first brought back pretty to me, and to the young lady who is taking the turn I once took for reminding me again about pretty. To her, I pass the advice on. Don't waste it. Don't waste the pretty.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Much Ado About Sobriety, or How Not to See Shakespeare

I should be embarrassed to write this about myself, but I see from The Bloggess that putting it all out there may bring me an empathetic sisterhood of sorts (not that I discount male readers). If humiliating myself joins me with the world, so be it. Jenny Lawson, this post is for you. Because wine. (She knows what I'm talking about.)

This week for date night, my husband and I went to have a quick bite at a restaurant before heading to the movies.  The last calorie of the cheese and crackers I had consumed two hours prior had long worn off, but due to time, we had to cancel our appetizer order and plan to eat post-film. Long story short, I saw Much Ado About Nothing-- kind of, sort of, really under the influence of a single ten-dollar glass of Malbec that I drank in a rush so as not to waste money or the beverage itself. Let's say I couldn't quite pull off this wine-consumption very gracefully. Really, this is all my mother's fault since she was a child of very lean times and has long told many stories of going without. "Waste not, want not," she would say. Were it not for her, I would have said, "Damn you, Malbec," and walked away globe-half-full, and I would be able to fully tell you about Much Ado with all the conscious, canny, pithy tell-all know-how of a regular movie-goer and reader of the classics.

I remember slinking into our seats feeling a little warm and goofy, then suddenly being engaged by the full impact of the Malbec, a Malbec designed to take no prisoners. All I could think was, "Holy God. There is two of everyone in this film." My husband would nudge me periodically in his suddenly remarkable ability to single out not just characters, but a plot: "Do you understand what's going on here? Isn't this great? Isn't this funny? So do you know who that guy is and what he's doing?" Really, I wanted to say, I'm not incoherent, I'm just... incoherent. I could hear smatterings of laughter from all the fully-functioning movie-goers around us, smug little Shakespeare-savant giggles and remarks. An elite club of enthusiasts. Alas, I was an outsider-- "An ass!" to quote the constable in Much Ado (the one quotable line I can really recall) because apparently Shakespeare requires some sobriety, and I was, somewhat accidentally, noncompliant in that regard.

Between those excited pokes from my spouse, my internal monologue for most of the film ran like this:
Why is this film full of white people? Isn't this the 21st century? Why is everyone in a suit? I really wish my husband's shoulder was softer because I could totally sleep in here. What do these people do for a living? Lords and ladies aside, someone has to be working here.Why are these rich people consorting with the maids? Whose house is that? Nice house. Doesn't really look like any of those people really live there though... is that judgy? I am being judgy. Isn't this a big deal about virginity that may or may not be intact anyway? Hero could be pulling one over on all of us. And why would anyone sabotage someone else's love life? What kind of person does that? I should have this matter investigated... oh look, a constable.These people have too much time on their hands. Doesn't someone have a job? Besides the constable? Do men really stand around and pontificate about the virtues of love? No, no they don't. I question Shakespeare's sexual orientation... return to judginess.

When it ended, my husband was all high marks and raving commentary, but I was thinking, "There were body doubles in most of that movie and I didn't see them in the credits"...  because wine.  Earlier today, my father called and I mentioned the film. "I'm sorry I can't tell you much about it," I said. I didn't tell him I blamed my mother for why though. :)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

At least he's quiet...

Bill Cosby once spoke of a dinner out with his wife and very young son. At one point, the child was lying on the floor between tables of diners. Bill and his wife deliberated over whether or not to tell the child to get up, and then suddenly Bill's wife said, "At least he's quiet."

There is much to be said for quiet. At the office the other day, as I spoke to one of my colleagues, her child, whom I hadn't known was there, darted out from her cube into the open and proceeded to practice karate moves in the common area. My friend heaved a sigh. "At least he's quiet," I said.

My mom used to say over and over again that children should be seen and not heard. I used to despise that line of old school thought,  but much can be said about not having to listen to whining, banging, or any of the other chaotic noises that accompany children. Seeing the squirt bounce about and having to listen to him tearing apart the house are two different concepts.

I never quote my mother's adage, but my children have still picked up my craving for peace and project it onto their own situations. This morning, our floppy-eared puppy bounded into bed between my son and me. He rolled around for a snuggle and waltzed about the bed squishing us in the process.

"Ugh!" I cried, shoving the dog off the bed.
"At least he's quiet," said Tiny.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Conversation, Nudity, and a Mini-Tyrant: The Relative Social Life of the Working Mother

One evening, my children and I visited an orchid specialist, which is really a blog post in itself, but anyway, the conversation between the shopkeeper and me went the way it often does when I make a new acquaintance: food and family.

"Where's your favorite restaurant?" he asked.
"Depends on what I like to order," I said, and then elaborated.
"So what restaurant do you go to... to be social?"
"Social? I don't have a social life."
"You don't have a social life?"
I pointed to my children who were sucking on mints, swinging their legs on a settee in the shop, and toying with orchid blossoms they had been given. "That's my social life."

I think it was Barbara Walters who once said that there exists family, career, and a social life, but you cannot have all three; you must choose two. I once resented the truth of this and wondered what I was missing socially, but as my children have grown older, I have become better at embracing time with them for the gift it really is. Time is fleeting. We are creating memories. We still have our frustrations though.

Last week, after comical drills about the tennis court, we admired the lightening bugs flitting about, and then dawdled home hand-in-hand. Houses slipped into silhouettes against a dimming sky and the air held the magic of almost-summer... but then the kids' joking and chatter morphed into crabbing and arguing, an obvious signal for bedtime. I sent them in to start baths, planning to take a few minutes of solace before the usual routine of monitoring and tucking in. The youngest suddenly appeared naked on the front porch to hotly voice a bitter complaint about his sister. He made no sense whatsoever. I scratched my head a minute and thought how nice it would be to have a glass of wine at the restaurant around the corner... with someone who wasn't six years old, irrational, naked, and non-compliant.

I often say that my social life is at the office, and I think for many of us, that's true. I have a group of good women friends there-- mostly mothers like myself, some of whom have raised children under extraordinary circumstances and pressures. The peace and wisdom they give me is priceless, and I find that work provides a sense of relief rather than duress because of that. It's been a wonderful cure for the isolation I felt in a new state four years ago, and besides-- no one has ever shown up at my cube naked and irrational. :)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

He might be Tiny, but he's got it going on...

It's been a weird week. I sat down tonight with my son, who is often in trouble, the source of trouble, or party to someone else's trouble, and asked him how he handles stress. I just wondered what he would say.

"Go to Starbucks and have coffee," he said.
"What else?" I asked.
"Go have coffee with people."
"No, seriously."

My son isn't seven yet. He seems to have a good handle on things for a kid who is in constant hot water. But instead of the coffee cure, I opted for a small glass of wine.

"I'd like some wine, cheese, and olives, please," he said, "and then we can sit on the deck together."
"You can't have wine. And I am not up to fixing a cheese plate."
"It's okay," he said. Tiny proceeded to pull out olives, mustard, and crackers, and arrange a rather pleasing looking tapas. "Would you like the recipe?" he asked as he wrote it for me.

I'm not sure when my first grader turned 40, but there he was admiring his plate, which I decided would be his dinner with the addition of some leftover salad. I made egg sandwiches for my daughter and I, and invited Tiny to join us in the dining room.

"You go on ahead. I'm good," he said, motioning us away with the back of a hand. Where does he get this stuff?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Long time, no toothbrush

Yes, I know it's been a while. Six months since a last post isn't exactly regular maintenance, but we've had a lot going on here. To give you a better picture of what keeps us occupied, let me tell you about the latest plumbing fiasco.

Recently, I went to ensure my children had brushed their teeth at bedtime. There was only one toothbrush in the cup, my son's, and it was damp from use.

"Chicken Little," I addressed my daughter, "Where is your toothbrush?"
"I haven't had one for three days," she said.
"What have you been using to brush your teeth then?"
"I used Tiny's."
"GROSS!" I cried.

Then I thought a minute and called my son into the room. "Tiny, what did you do with your sister's toothbrush?"
"Well, you know how it is when you are sitting on the toilet, and I like to suck on my toothbrush," he started.
"No, no I don't know how it is. I don't think about sucking on toothbrushes while I use the toilet."
"Well," he continued, "I reached for mine and grabbed the wrong one and sucked on it anyway, and then I accidentally dropped it into the toilet and flushed it." Riiggght.

Thanks to the plumbing snake, which sees more use than I like to admit, we retrieved the wayward toothbrush and my son went to bed without book time and tucking-in snuggles. And he still owes us a store bought toothbrush to make up for the deed. While  I would like to think that this is his last flushing prank, I know otherwise. My toilets have so far seen blocks of soap, a herd of Littlest Pet Shop creatures, three other toothbrushes, and some markers (and these are just the things I know about). Most of these were part of a strange annual flushing ritual.

One day, there will be an excavation and everything I ever wondered about that went missing will be found in the sewer. I'll ask my son about it, and he'll start with "Well, you know how it is...."