Category Archives: Relationships

Quit It

“Nobody likes a quitter”.  This was the sentiment my mother instilled in me from an early age.  She identified what she saw as an emerging pattern during my childhood years that became cause for concern.  It started with Boy Scouts, after a poor showing at the Pinewood derby.  My dad didn’t have time to help me build my car and neither parent had the time or inclination to attend the event, missing the dramatic moment when my car lost a tire in the first race and flew off the track as I watched in horror.  For soccer I lasted a bit longer with maybe 3-4 seasons under my belt before realizing I wasn’t developing as a top-tier player, a fact I’d be reminded of daily when picked near last for scrimmage teams.  I saw no point in torturing myself or my teammates any longer so I opted out around the time I started middle school.   As the years passed I would go on to quit religious school following my Bar Mitzvah, the clarinet right before starting high school, and the cheesy karate class at the local YMCA almost immediately.

My mom called me a quitter, with nary a word minced or a feeling spared.  She said it had to stop.  I had to quit being a quitter.  The question is “when is quitting really quitting and when is quitting simply stopping”?  You can’t do everything forever, there’s not enough time in the day to continue on with every activity you’ve ever attempted.  There are some things you are just not well suited for.  You need to find your passion, something you have an affinity for and want to pursue indefinitely.  If you start something like martial arts or gymnastics what’s the acceptable endgame; earning a black belt or a regional championship, or do you shoot for grand master and Olympic medalist.  If you eliminate the option to “quit” what is the point at which you can say ‘I’ve given this a fair shot, I’ve learned what I can, I’m gonna move on’?

We can all agree that some things are good to quit.  We quit jobs we’re fed up with.  For Lent or New Year’s Resolutions we quit bad habits.  Smokers try to quit all the time with mixed success.  Actually in the case of smoking you have the opposite problem, where quitting isn’t even close to the endgame.  Every day you might be tempted to surrender the struggle to quit and just pick up the bad habit all over again.  You essentially quit quitting.

With all of that in mind, how does the concept of “quitting” apply to relationships? When is quitting really quitting and when is quitting realizing you are not the perfect match you once hoped for?  There are many opinions on the subject especially when it comes to divorce.  On the one side you’re advised to “stay together for the kids”, and told to work through the conflicts because “you made a commitment”.  On the other side you’re offered “happiness above all else” and “you only live once” as friends try to help you move on.  Blind commitment to a relationship seems to leave no room for the potential of a mismatch, whether it takes you seven days or seven years to discover it.  Certainly this sentiment can be overused and exploited as flimsy support of the male polygamy, but I’m talking about honest heart-felt relationships where a deal breaker surfaces for either party or someone simply falls out of love.  How much should you work through it in an attempt to keep the relationship alive and at what point is it time to cut bait and move on.    What is a valid reason to quit?  What differences are too different?  What offenses are too great to overlook?

A sense of commitment is the secret of a successful relationship.  Having a long view perspective on the relationship reduces stress and conflict in the daily grind.  If you can focus on the “we” and “us” in the long-term rather than the “you” and “me” of the short-term you will naturally approach hardships differently.  A national survey stated that 73% of couples sited “lack of commitment” as the major reason for divorce.  But what about conflicts with preexisting commitments; a friend they can’t stand, an in-law that doesn’t approve, or a child they don’t understand.  This leads to worse of all possible endings, where the love never quits.  The expression “sometimes love isn’t enough” sounds like a weak excuse until you’re grappling with it firsthand.  Conflicts with kids and parenting can cause a rift in a relationship that is elsewise resilient.  Can you justify breaking an earlier commitment to make a new commitment work?  How do you quit a relationship you don’t want to leave?

Oprah’s frequent guest, Gary Zukav, spoke of relationships in terms of growth and spiritual connections; a spiritual partnerships is a relationship between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth.  Each is responsible for their own spiritual growth but if the relationship should reach a point where one person is no longer able to grow then the relationship should be terminated.  Thus Mr. Zukav wisely provides a logical end point; when either person stops growing spiritually within the confines of the relationship.  Sounds great in theory but spiritual stagnation may be a difficult metric to measure. How do you separate stagnation from the many spiritual wounds a struggling couple may naturally inflict?

I become paralyzed in indecision, over thinking the whole dilemma but unable to ignore my mom’s voice in my head calling my childhood self a quitter.  I want to make sure it’s not true.  I want to be sure that quitting isn’t a faulty personal trait but a natural expression of free will.  There are plenty of things I didn’t quit.  I never stopped drawing. I never stopped gaming. I never stopped writing.  Some things, the important things, you don’t quit.  I will never stop loving my kids no matter what happens and I know I’m capable of a relationship I won’t quit.

I think in the end we never really know if the decision to quit is right, until after we’ve made it.  If quitting was the wrong call, we feel the strangling of our hearts almost instantly.  If quitting is the right call we feel a lightness in our hearts as it soars with relief and release.  Sometimes that choice is taken from us, and quitting is the only option. Either way we must continue forward.  We must continue to live, and to grow.  We will make mistakes and we will learn, hopefully, from those mistakes.  We must quit torturing ourselves for quitting, even if it was a mistake.

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My Bedeviled Angel

A lot of people persistently struggle when it comes to personal fitness, and in recent days I count myself among their ranks.   On one shoulder I have the ripped Angel with the 6-pack abs sipping the kale smoothie and on the other shoulder I have the pot-bellied Devil chugging malt liquor.  In my world Angel typically wins out in the war on workouts; Devil has a better chance asking me to not shower then asking me not to work out, so instead he contents himself with sabotaging my shopping list and convincing me that the 2g of protein in the Peanut Butter Crunch, twice that of most breakfast cereals I’ll have you know, is a healthy source of protein for growing muscles, so thank you captain.    Angel, satisfied that I’m at least eating my vegetables, settles for a palm slap and a guilt inducing head shake whenever I have a chocolate chip cookie to “cleanse my palate” after dinner.  Left to my own devices I manage to keep them both in check and come out on the healthier side of the scale.  It is, however, a fragile balance easily disrupted by outside influences.  I once dated a girl that newly discovered you could order French fries with a side of gravy, providing a slice of Thanksgiving any day of the week.  Needless to say Devil was giddy with delight and Angel almost passed out while frantically Googling cardiologists.

One of the more serious external threats comes from the wee folk,… not the leprechauns pushing brownie bits samples at Costco but my precious offspring with narrow diets and youthfully unclogged arteries.  These little Devils have no problem feasting on the “bacon platter” for breakfast (that would be a platter stacked with only bacon).  They suck through Otter pops faster than a chain smoker.  They refuse to touch any food tainted with the smallest fleck of green down to trace amounts of dehydrated parsley found on the wildly unhealthy garlic bread.   They are the demon spawn of Domino’s pizza forsaking colorful vegetables and unprocessed proteins.  Worst of all is the fact that the little Devils require so much nit-picky care for the preparation of an acceptable meal that it leaves little time for alternative arrangements and just a bitter choice between choking down dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets with everyone else or working on a healthier alternative through dinnertime and scarfing it down between doing the dishes and chasing down little Devils for bath time.

Parental time management takes the greatest toll on the Great Expectations that is self-improvement.   Most successful workout routines fall into the time range of 45-90 minutes.  Trying to ease your P90X fitness guilt with a handful of sit-ups and a vigorous dash to the mailbox doesn’t fill the void.  I need extended activity; A prolonged cardio burn like running the bleachers at a football stadium which is problematic in the limited circumference of my current dwelling.  Inside this apartment everything is literally a 10ft radius from my desk.  When I had my Fitbit functioning in the previous house I could easily hit my goal of 10,000 steps just from multiple round trips up and down the stairs and delivering laundry to the four corners of the homestead.  It’s hard to make up that difference when time and space are so limited.  I need to either fill all free time with additional gym trips or multi-task when little ones are around, doing speed rounds of sprint tag with alternating pull-ups on the money bars between pursuits as lava monster.  Maybe I can install a giant hamster wheel out on the balcony.

I know some of it is inevitable; we grow up and then we grow out.  Our metabolism naturally slows down over time regardless of how much spice we spike our foods with.  Diets have to adjust to accommodate changes in our aging body and our fading activity levels.  At some point we have to realize our food intake no longer aligns with our daily calorie burn.  Continuing to eat like we’re teenage athletes makes as much sense as keeping those size 30 jeans believing that one day we’ll once again have the waist of a 20-year-old.

By this point my personal Angel, who was meant to be the model of health and virtue, is on the verge of surrendering.  When the Devil upends Angel’s kale smoothie and pokes him the belly like the Pillsbury Doughboy he no longer seems to mind.  I suspect his becoming a little too chummy with his devilish counterpart and the temptations being whispered in his ear.  It’s only a matter of time before he’s stretched out on a recliner during 8oz curls and using the devil as his serving wench.  Time for more stretchy pants.

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Market Placed

Nothing makes you question your ranking in this game we call Life more than a hefty dose of judgement.  Not the simple parental judgement like you never measured up to your sister or you never fully committed to the clarinet but the self-imposed judgement that comes with putting yourself on the market.  Be it the job market or the dating market we open ourselves up to a level of critique that is tough not to internalize and impossible to ignore.  I’d like to think that I have a fairly solid sense of self, with a complete awareness of all my strengths and weaknesses, but then people keep telling me otherwise, so who’s a guy to believe?

While I’m certainly not in a good space to start dating again my return to the job market got me thinking about both pursuits with a classic exercise in “compare and contrast”.  With that in mind here are a few random thoughts about hunting for love vs hunting for jobs;

  1. When hunting for jobs you can proffer an impressive assortment of references and recommendations. When hunting for love it’s typically best to keep a separation between past and present partners.  Not to say all relationships end badly but few leave with a burning desire to fluff you with flattery in front of your next potential mate.  Likely any offered “constructive criticism” would be light on constructive and heavy on criticism.
  2. I’ve never been fired from a job, but I’ve certainly been “let go” of a few relationships. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if there was a corresponding concept of “collecting unemployment”; some form of lesser relationship provided temporarily to tide you over until a full-time position could be secured.  You did your time, you paid your dues, why feel guilty about getting back from the system?  Sure now that I write it down it sounds like state-sponsored prostitution but it started off as an inspired concept,… kinda like the Shake Weight commercials.
  3. There’s no negotiation for better benefits at the start of a relationship; Terms are typically vague or left unspoken. Benefits are offered spontaneously and generously during the initial vetting period… then drop off gradually with each subsequent anniversary.
  4. Relationships typically don’t require relocation and any required travel is usually a good thing. Invasive TSA screenings are more easily tolerated when you’re just hours away from umbrella drinks at a beach-side all-inclusive.
  5. Both markets offer convenient shopping sites online to assist with finding a good match. These sites help facilitate the connection starting with an email inquiry, moving to a phone screen and then finally to an initial meet and greet with the team.  Luckily neither one scores you with a Netflix rating system after the relationship is terminated.
  6. There is no “technical challenge” or “white board coding question” in a relationship, though you have to wonder if woman would approach prospects differently if there were; “you did a solid job in the cuddling and listening portions of the exam but we felt you lacked the depth of experience we’re looking for in the bedroom, so we’ve decided not to go forward with this relationship.” To which you’d think, with smug satisfaction, that it’s probably just as well since she had an annoying habit of speaking in the third person.
  7. When hunting for jobs working with a recruiter is a perfectly acceptable shortcut for finding the right position. When hunting for love though the idea of matchmaker feels old fashion and typically ineffectual in the long run, desperately misplacing you with only the small handful of leads they have at hand regardless of compatibility… ok, maybe they are exactly the same as recruiters.
  8. When hunting for jobs I feel I’m often competing against a much younger generation. When hunting for love at least you can target woman of the same age range. You’ll still be competing against a younger generation but woman will either be more subtle about their preferences, won’t show up in your search criteria or will be listed on a cougar-centric site that you’re too old to register for.
  9. Taking it a step further, when hunting for love we can be specific about not only age, but social class, faith, race and sexual preference. When hunting for jobs, all that crap would be illegal, at least on the employers’ side.  I do still have every right to steer clear of the faith-based radio stations and health care providers however, not because I have anything against them as an organization but because my digital resume would likely be blocked by blasphemy filters.
  10. When saturating the singles scene you very much want to find the perfect harmonic match. You want to be the “one”, without question.  When trolling the job market I’m not so hung up on such minutia; if we both compromise our idealistic views and settle in for a complacent yet mutually beneficial relationship,… I’m ok with that.

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Halos and Mickey Eyes

It was a typically beautiful spring day in Southern California; the skies were a clear, deep, blue and the soft morning breeze kept the heat at bay.   We had just entered the happiest place on earth, Disneyland, and paused to take our iconic picture in front of the Mickey flowers with the train depot backdrop.  I was filled with a sense of joy and nostalgia to be back on the sacred ground that held so many cherished childhood memories.  I turned around to share this joyous moment with my beloved children only find my six-year-old blubbering in tears.  She had been excited about the park in the days leading up to the trip and even moments before but apparently something had gone terribly wrong in the time it took to walk the 100ft from ticket booth to photo opp.  I leaned down to try and make out the soft mumbles between pitiful sobs. My sad little princess proceeded to tell me “there are no rides here, I want to go home”.  And thus our adventure began.

It was at the moment that I realized vacations are a lot like past relationships; regardless of the amount of grief you may have experienced at the time, it all falls away when you look back through the tinted glasses of nostalgia.   I read that for woman they describe a similar “halo effect” after giving birth.  Moms don’t actually forget the pain of delivery despite urban tales, but rather all the positive sensations that flood in following birth leaves a predominantly positive impression of the experience as a whole.  That, to a far lesser extent, is what happens on vacation.  Inching along perpetually winding lines in the heat of the afternoon sun for 60 minutes at a stretch feels downright torturous at the time, but once you finally board the boat and enter the swampy preamble of the Pirates of the Caribbean all that melts away and you’re left with the distilled thrill of Imagineering magic.

Of course when small children are involved the long lines become the least of your concerns.  I think I spent half of my time walking through the park backwards trying to wave my daughter along at a forced march; “Come on, keep walking. Yes, it’s a pretty butterfly.  No, you just had cotton candy.  Yes, there’s another bathroom just up ahead.  No, we’re not shopping for a toy.”  Though I must admit for all my impatience with her slothful speed she was the model of patience through those torturous long lines.  The questions “are we there yet?” and “how much longer?” were not uttered a single time in the park.  Lyft rides, yes, but park, no.

The requests that were ever-present were standard trio of hunger, thirst and fatigue.  Hunger was easily squelched with a backpack stuffed with store-bought staples, and thirst was managed by selling a kidney and investing a small fortune in bottled water.  But it was the fatigue that was hardest to deal with.  As an adult I’m thinking of vacation as an investment in fun and I had planned to suck every last once of fun out of the experience.  Wait, that doesn’t sound right.  What I’m saying is if it was up to me we’d be scurrying about the park from the minute it opened to ten minutes after it closed, having selected the most remote attraction as the final ride of the evening with a fleeting hope that we’d get locked in.  We’d stagger home, collapse into a dreamless stupor and wake up bright and early the next day to do it all over again.  With kids though I have to demonstrate a bit more restraint, lest my slothful rearguard become an unconsciously sack of potatoes.  Not only do we need to take breaks between rides but we also take mid-day breaks where there’s no expectations of movement or agenda and they can just veg quietly by poolside or bedside.  Once I see how much this recharging helps I realize how much we are taxing those little legs with an average of 25,000 steps each day; unless I want to do over a third of those steps with an unconscious sack of potatoes riding on my shoulders the down time is a minor concession.

Even with the rest stops we manage to rack up sufficient park time and all in all it turned out to be a really great trip; Ethan had memories of visits past and so got to enjoy the parks from a fresh teenage perspective while Emma had the height and the spirit to try every ride on our list, many for the first time.  After trying a warm up coaster in ToonTown we even tried her on Thunder Mountain.  This was quite a step up in intensity and I was worried it might be too much for her.  I needn’t have worried though; about half way through the ride I looked back to make sure she was doing ok and found her with arms waving in the air and a fierce smile shining on her lips.  The only hitch in the ride selection turned out to be the Matterhorn and the upgraded animatronics of the yeti; the previously laughable fuzzy dude originally only made a couple of appearances shifting stiffly from side to side.  Yeti 2.0 was transformed into a more terrifying threat jump-scaring around every turn.  Emma did not appreciate that one bit, and even Ethan thought it distracted from what was already not a thrilling ride.  I still liked it and one miss wasn’t such a bad thing.

We spent the final day exploring California Adventure.  At the suggestion of seasoned park goers we made our first stop at Fast Pass kiosk for the new Cars Ride (Radiator Springs Racer).  At the time we arrived, about an hour after the park’s initial opening, the Fast Pass reservations were already backed up to 6pm that evening.  Since we all had flights out later that night this was to be the last ride of the day.  Making good use of the Fast Pass system is key to optimizing your time in the parks, allowing you to alternate waits in the traditional lines with guaranteed slots in the express lines.  Even with the unexpected crowds filling the park on those non-peak Monday and Tuesday we still managed to hit most of the rides on our wish list, including two trips on the new and improved Space Mountain (now Hyperspace Mountain).  As the day wound to a close the only hold outs on our list were Peter Pan’s Flight and Toy Story Midway Mania.  What we did have though was a final golden ticket to one of the most popular new attractions in the park.  We returned to Cars Land a little early which was good because even the Fast Track lane was backed up beyond the ride entrance.   Progress was slow going and time ticked onward at a pucker-inducing rate; we still had to get out to the shuttle, back to the hotel, get a ride to LAX and catch the last flight for Sacramento.  As panic started to creep up the line finally surged forward and at last we were sitting in one of the shiny Car characters, looking around at the beautiful set design and anxiously awaiting the green light to race off into the desert scene.  Then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Until finally the announcement was made; the ride was out of service with no estimated repair time.  The lights dimmed, the musical score silenced and the power flickered as they rebooted the Disney magic.  We filed out with the rest of the stunned crowd with a palpable sense of disappointment.

The chaotic ending made for a fitting bookend to the opening drama, since everything in between was filled with a wonderful collection of new memories.   We didn’t get that final thrilling new experience to instill a lasting halo effect, but all the bumps along the road way will still melt away with nostalgia to leave vacation memories I hope my kids will cherish for a long time,… until they can bring their kids and have them burst into tears in front of the happiest place on Earth.  Seriously?!

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Dolled Up

Last night I almost got lucky with a doll.  No, it wasn’t that kind of doll and it wasn’t as unseemly as it sounds.  It was an ordinary school night and I was enjoying some after dinner playtime with my daughter.  As a rare departure from the typical Ponyville excursions this session featured the dollhouse and its miniature suburban occupants.  I was cast in the role of the character known simply as “daddy” (I’m apparently a victim of type casting) and was living in a spacious house with my young toddler and my ever-present mother who was there to help with the care of the baby and assist with the cooking duties since “daddy” is notorious for always burning things – I tell ya, burn one marshmallow topping on a sweet potato casserole and you’re marked for life!

Anyway as the story picks up we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of “the new girl” and are doing our best to tidy up the house and repaint the exterior in the hope of impressing our guest.  Lucy, the young woman, is a school friend of my mother’s; I can only assume that mom has returned to school in order to get her masters in child development, in order to maintain her personal growth and lord over me with how to best raise my child.   Lucy is quite charming on first impression and very friendly to both junior and me.  She offers to take the little one for a walk to the park, so I decide to tag along in order to better acquaint ourselves and show off my mad skills as lava monster.  The outing is a success and I invite her to stay for dinner.  Mom, in a rare display of trust and encouragement, allows me to prepare the meal, though prompts me several times to be sure I don’t burn everything.  So while Lucy continues to play with junior I make my way to the kitchen to whip up a special dinner for all of us.  We have cherry pie, of course.  It’s cooked to perfection, because mom reminds me yet again to take it out before it burns.  Lucy is so impressed with the meal that she decides to spend the night.  I see this as a very good sign.  She heads up to the bedroom, and falls fast asleep.  Being the gentleman that I am, I let her have her space and go sleep in the bathtub.

The next morning we surprise our special guest with breakfast in bed.  This time mom isn’t taking any chances so she makes the strawberry waffles herself and sets it all up on a tray with tea for me to deliver to the bedroom.    The meal is delicious, and the entire 24 hour “date” ends on a high note.  Lucy is so impressed that she asks if she could stay with us forever.  It seems a little forward but who am I to deny a pretty girl.

The following day starts with a joyous milestone as the toddler learns to walk for the first time and also how to climb walls, and the day ends with an affectionate hug from Lucy.  All in all a pretty darn good day. As evening approaches I decide to take a big risk and try to move things to the next level.  I head up to the bedroom, intending to innocently claim the bed in hopes that Lucy might repeat her previous routine and join me there.  Unfortunately as I lay there waiting breathlessly in the dark, I am instead spooned by my mother while Lucy sleeps downstairs on the couch in order to take care of the baby and make sure she doesn’t start climbing the walls again.  Rats, foiled again.  It’s a disappointment but I figure I would have plenty of opportunities in the future considering Lucy was now a permanent resident.  All that is left to do is figure out a way to gracefully ask my mother to move out.

dolledup

I wouldn’t have the opportunity to attempt any further shenanigans or parental displacement however as things started to decline sharply from there; the next morning Lucy woke up with food poisoning, apparently due to the fact that daddy was allowed to prepare another gourmet dinner – really I’m a good cook, I don’t know where she gets this stuff!  The situation was dire; we needed magic and we needed it stat.  So obviously we called two magical pony doctors who flew in for a magical house call and magically took care of both Lucy and mother who was stricken with the same sickness later that day.  I won’t go into details but thanks to the diligence of those medicinal ponies everyone was restored to perfect health in a few short days.

In the end it was an interesting exercise in imagination.  I often wonder how my daughter experiences the non-traditional family structure in a house divided.  She may have been too young to remember the start of her mom’s relationship but she has experienced a couple from my side of the equation.  What must that role look like to her? What is it like from a child’s perspective to have a new grownup tossed into the family unit?  In all honesty I don’t think the relationship between Lucy and daddy even registered.  Lucy was just a friend of mom’s who came over to take care of a little one.  From my perspective though, it was still an interesting bit of role-playing.  I’m not ready for another relationship and even if I were I have no idea how I’d approach the idea of dating again.  All I know is that whatever path I might choose it will never be as simple as having a beautiful woman delivered to my front door, have her unequivocally adore my kids in a non-creepy fashion, and then decide after couple of extended dates to live with us happily ever after, no questions asked.  That’s all about as likely as a house call from a magical pony doctor,… or a magical doctor, or a pony doctor, or a magical house call or a,…. Well you get the idea, it’s not likely.

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What a Part Meant

Somewhere in my twenties, while away at college I was first introduced to apartment living.  At the time it wasn’t much different than sharing a house with friends, which had been the rental yardstick from which I measured life beyond my childhood home.  In both situations you had your own cramped messy room and shared a more cramped and much messier common area with your fellow roommates.  If anything the move to an apartment was a step up at the time since the first rental house was located in ghetto central, while the apartment was biking distance from the college campus, so less theft and vandalism, more coeds and beer consumption,…. Ok maybe a tie on the beer consumption, but the apartment was clean (when we moved in), the area was safe (no police dogs chasing suspects through our backyard,… yeah, that happened), and most of the appliances were both free and functional; perfect for cooling off your beer and cooking up your Rice-a-Roni.  What more could a young bachelor desire?  We didn’t care how many square feet the unit had, or read through the list of property amenities.   We weren’t concerned about the floor plan or how we were going to fit in all of our furniture.  At that age, having real furniture was like having a carton of cigarettes in prison, you had more sway as a roommate if you owned a comfortable couch; currency to hustle for the larger bedroom or purchase loyalty for future disputes over the last Pop Tart.  That single bit of furniture could become the inspiration piece on which all other home décor would be built upon.  That is if there were any home décor to speak of.  In the pre-Ikea era we filled in the gaps with creative arrangements of plywood and cinder blocks.  There were no picture frames, area rugs or accent pieces.  If you couldn’t eat on it or sit on it then why own it.  The apartment wasn’t so much a sanctuary as a safe place to pass out, and keep your post-hangover food stash.

Throughout my twenties and thirties I waffled between house rentals and apartment living.  My last apartment residence was at a place called “The Cowbarn Apartments” for reasons unknown to me, though considering the location and prevailing smells it could easily have been the previous predominant structure.  The Cowbarn had the distinct advantage of being located at the base of the hills surrounding the Broderbund campus, where I was working at the time.  I had a studio apartment with maybe three feet between the foot of my bed and the back of my couch.  My computer desk was where the kitchen table should be and other than my weird rattan basket chair from World Market the remainder of my possessions were stuffed into the walk-in closet that was about the size of my only bathroom.  A small folding chair sat on the balcony next to my bike to offer the option of outdoor living and a stunning view of the parking lot.  It wasn’t much, but again, at the time, it was all I really needed.

Fast forward roughly 15 years and I find myself in the surreal position of returning to apartment life after having graduated to home ownership for most of those formative years.  Even immediately following my divorce I was able to exit on a more graceful timeline and with the help of my aunt and uncle get a new home a couple of miles away.  At the time I remember coming across an article that stated that kids that grew up in a parentally owned house were more likely to attend and graduate from college than their apartment dwelling counterparts.  That had been the extra kick I needed to commit to home ownership again even though my career was imploding at the same time my escrow was finalizing.  I ended up with a house that was bigger than I needed, more expensive than I hoped, but centrally located by friends and conveniently equipped with every major appliance I was lacking.  It was two-stories, with four bedrooms and a fully open concept kitchen and living space.  It might have felt a bit empty when the kids were away but we really grew to love that house and made it our home for two years.

From there we had up-sized to a house with 5 bedrooms, twice the square footage and a corner lot yard complete with play structure and swimming pool out back.  The space felt expansive but with 5 more people and 3 more dogs, that house never felt empty.  Transitioning from that back to a two bedroom apartment, was jarring to say the least.  Not to say there weren’t some benefits; for all the lost space there was a proportional reduction in chaos and dog hair.   These trade-offs were somehow fitting, in the spirit of rallying the troops.  It was time to take stock of where we’d been and consider carefully the next step forward.

So with careful consideration I gathered up said troops, and started the search for a new home base.  Unlike those earlier, less discriminating years this time around I was all about weighing the options.  There was the balance of location and property rental prices, finding something affordable closer to schools than meth labs.  There was a balance of square footage and layout in the floor plans.  One place had an extra 100sqft but distributed it unevenly into a double-wide bathroom at the expense of a living area only slightly larger than a well stuffed beanbag.  There was a balance of amenities from necessity to trivial.  Would you rather have the in-unit washer dryer, with the clubhouse that smelled like sautéed jockstrap or the enclosed garage with the frothy lukewarm hot tub?  There was even a more subtle balance of presentation and security.  The one I picked lacked the unsightly iron bars on the front door but does require a half-dozen keys and a security card to get around the complex, not to mention the random guy in the hallway eager to provide a TSA style pat down,… I can only assume he works here.

After being here a few months I must admit there is a certain appeal to not having the added burdens of home ownership.  There is no yard to maintain.  There are no projects long neglected.  I have fewer reasons to frequent Home Depot.  I can vacuum the entire space from a single outlet.  The heater has been obsolete, even with my windows open in the dead of winter.  My commute to work is now even faster by one flight of stairs and a hallway.  Ok maybe that last one doesn’t really belong in the win column but all things considered the only two unacceptable compromises to apartment living so far are electric stovetops and noisy neighbors.  As a wannabe chef I cannot abide the use of non-responsive coils that slowly heat to the fires of hell and then slowly pitch down from there once everything has been suitably scorched.  More troublesome though, as a normal diurnal dwelling homebody I also cannot abide inconsiderate people.  I think of myself as a fairly tolerant person and have, over the years, had many a noisy roommate.  Granted, my current neighbors might even be excused their heavy footed stomping about if it were confined to daylight hours but for reasons incomprehensible to me he/she/they seem to stir into action around 11pm each evening and continue to prance about like a herd of drunken wildebeests until roughly 6am when they either collapse into slumber or go out to annoy people elsewhere.  I think it’s this unexplainable nighttime activity that bothers me the most.  I simply can’t understand what someone would be doing awake at dark o’clock.  If you worked the night shift, then shouldn’t you be at work,… and if you worked the day shift, then shouldn’t you be asleep?!  And if you worked the night shift, but worked at home, shouldn’t you be sitting at a desk the whole time like normal people?  That’s normal, right?!

Anyway, noisy neighbors aside I’m trying to make the best of apartment life while it lasts.  For my kids it’s like the excitement of going on a vacation and staying at a cool new hotel,… except all your toys are here.  For me it will serve as a transitional airlock helping me to decompress into a new space; any place I go from here will feel huge by comparison, and anything I’ve managed to live without during this time probably isn’t necessary going forward.  Either way my whole attitude towards ownership has shifted over the years.  No longer is there that pride of ownership I used to have when I was younger.  Back then you wanted to show off your new car or your new house.  It was a representation of who you were and how you’ve grown.  It reflected your personality.  Sharing it with others was like sharing part of yourself.  Most of my friends have had their homes for years, visiting them is like going to their folks place when we were kids.  It still represents who they are, but who they are is grownups, with established lifestyles.  Functionality has replaced fashion.  Those homes are like the worn comfy couches we used to prize during the college days, the ones you didn’t want to get up from for fear of someone taking your place.  There is no substitute for that subtle ass-imprinting aging process that settles into a joint.  I, on the other hand, continue to reset complete with new couch and new carpet smell.  I still have very few picture frames, area rugs and accent pieces.  My place represents me as a bachelor, which doesn’t have the same shiny quality it did even a few years ago.  Now it feels dangerously close to crazy old cat lady or whatever the male equivalent would be minus the cats.  Optimistically I could say this expresses my personality as a blank slate, ready for a rewrite, and not just a repeat loner with a growing list of failed relationships, but it’s hard to squeeze optimism into 1000sqft.  Maybe a new home will rekindle my nesting instincts and provide a fresh perspective. Best to get all this angst out now, tuck it tightly away in my little cramped apartment and leave it all behind along with the nocturnal neighbors, the coils from hell and the inevitable deductions from of my security deposit.

 

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Lock Picking Love

When I was young the key to my heart was a crude thing, made with a single rough groove fashioned to unlock an equally rudimentary lock.  In all honesty it was more like a simple deadbolt that anyone interested could open with an easy twist,…   heck, I let a few people in who weren’t even interested.  After a few false starts with that so-called security system I learned to upgrade my lock to something a bit more complex, like one of the those old fashion tube keys with two or three predominant teeth at the end; I had formed a rough idea of who I wanted and what it would take for that mystery person to find more permanent residence within my heart.  I was ready for the big league; dating.

Regardless of whether you’re starting out in your youth or jumping back in well into your adulthood, the predatory nature of dating seems to encourage a different approach to unlocking the hearts and minds of potential mates.  When you put yourself out there you are presenting the perfect package you perceive yourselves to be.  Like a well-padded resume you may inflate some aspects of your personality while compressing some aspects of your physique so tightly into that sexy outfit that your legs fall asleep from lack of circulation.  You navigate the online pre-date banter and the coffee shop small talk in order to better size up your new acquaintance.  In reality the goal of this interaction is to discover how this person ticks.  Does she love kids? Does she love cats?  Does she vote liberal?  Does she watch FOX?  Does she like wine?  Does she chug whiskey?  With every bit of information gathered you get that much closer to learning how to unlock that person’s heart.  You take it on faith that the person you’re sharing your life story with will use that information for good and not for evil.  You have to trust that the baby kissing, dog-owning, liberal wino she is presenting is a true representation of her personality just as she has to accept that your positive reception of her responses are equally truthful and not just a juvenile attempt to lock-pick her heart or shop-lift the pooty.  For me it was this firsthand experience with how to unlock another heart that taught me the most about what it takes to unlock my own.  Over time that rough idea solidified and through trial and error I added, removed and replaced various locking mechanisms with more refined iterations.  And then I got married.

When you find “the one” the lock is discarded, having served its purpose.  There is a certain degree of relief knowing you’ll no longer have to fiddle with your lock or find your missing key.  You accept the love you’ve found as permanent and make concessions to keep your heart happy while keeping it available to your new partner.  While the old lock may grow rusty your heart continues to grow in size and complexity.  Through that long-term relationship the concept of love evolves far beyond those original crude notions.  You grow in directions you hadn’t even considered.  At times you struggle with the concept of self while you try to become who your partner wants or who your children need.  Where does one heart end and the other begin?  How have all of these relationships changed you?

When you lose “the one” the lock snaps back into place without notice.  In addition to that lingering rust of disuse there are the new levels of complexity that have evolved over time; more pins in the tumbler requiring a more complex arrangement of corresponding teeth.  Not only have you continued to learn what you like and dislike in love, but you’ve also quietly learned what it was about yourself that you surrendered or suppressed in order to make those lasting relationships function.  You have a greater sense of self which requires its own measure of security and consideration.  Now a double-sided key is required to perfectly hit every spring just right.

Dating at this point becomes a challenging pursuit.  While we may develop an appreciation for our own sophisticated complexity, we don’t account for the statistical unlikelihood that we’ll be able to find a suitable key-bearer, and even if we do manage that much there’s still the question of being the proud owner of a reciprocal key.  It’s like one of those games at the fair where contestants line up at a locked door and selects a key at random from a bucket hoping to unlock it and win the prize.  You stand in line again and again trying in vain to find the lucky key.  After countless attempts to gain entry you finally have the satisfaction of opening the door, but rather than being met with some glorious prize you find instead a second door, like the adjoining rooms of a hotel, and realize there is an entirely different line of people standing behind that door trying to do the very same thing that you are.  You return to the back of the line increasingly dejected and start the process all over again hoping by some miracle that you and your perfect mate will somehow manage to open the doors at the same time and share your new communal space.

Frustration becomes your new companion.   Dating prospects come and go, leaving only a pile of discarded keys in their wake.   Are the good ones all taken?  Are only the freaks remaining (present company excluded)?  Is it you or it is them?  (It’s you).  You focus overly much on finding someone to unlock what lies within. You primp and polish the lock to a shiny luster, not bothering to go any deeper, since the deep stuff will likely go unseen,… like wearing ugly underwear on the first date as a guarantee that no one will ever see it.

Once the dust settles though you consider a different approach.  What if you unlocked your own heart?  Open it up with the sole purpose of sharing it with others with no expectation of reciprocation.  An open heart is easier to love and more accessible since the lock is no longer in the way.  You do what you love.  You be who you are.  You are open to everything (some limitations and exclusions apply in considerations of introverts; see manual for complete details on proper care and handling).  It would be like opening the door to your hotel reservation to find the adjoining room already wide open for you to spread out in.  No barriers.  No restraints.  At the very least you have more nooks to explore, and more freedom to enjoy yourself.  If you happen to discover your soulmate waiting in that adjoining room, then all the sweeter,… if it’s not your soulmate you should probably call management because that would just be creepy.

The point is there’s no guarantee I will find that perfect match.  I think there’s something to be said about young love.  It seems so simple in retrospect.  There were so many growth experiences personal and professional that became shared experiences, and so many shared experiences both good and bad that became precious memories.   I cannot replace those memories, just as I cannot recapture my youth.  Any relationship now must deal with that complicated heart regardless of how it evolved, and I must accept that any heart I encounter will be equally complicated by its own evolution.  So, for now, I’ll just go back and focus on opening my own heart,… if I can just remember where I left my keys.

 

TUNE IN NEXT WEEK FOR: “Hot-wiring Your Sex Drive”

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Fostered, Freed

There was a tipping point at which the prospect of being a foster parent felt like a much-needed salvation rather than an act of final desperation.  There are many that approach the foster-care and foster-adopt programs from a purely altruistic place and simply open their hearts and homes to a child in need.  While there was an element of that in the decision-making, there were admittedly some underlying financial considerations as well.  After struggling for years with infertility, the remaining options with IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) were not only pricey, costing up to $10k per attempt, but with a success rate of about 25-30% it risked further frustration and disappointment.  Through random chance friends of ours were considering enrollment in an upcoming training program for prospective foster care parents around this same time.  At first glance it seemed like the perfect solution; it was not prohibitively expensive, it had a relatively good success rate and it felt like it put more of the power back in our hands, and anyone who’s ever been repeatedly disappointed by the results of pregnancy test can understand the benefits of empowerment.  Though there were a few dissenters in the family that feared for the welfare of our son or the potential for further heartbreak, most were extremely supportive, praising us for what appeared to be an entirely a selfless act.

For the next 6-8 months from orientation to final licensing, you become immersed in the foster care culture.  In addition to months of weekly night classes, you are required to submit to home inspections, and have all family members interviewed by a social worker.  You must be tested for TB.  You must go through finger printing and Livescan.  You must learn CPR and first aid.  You must learn to document all medications including any over-the-counter items that could come in contact with a child in your care.  It becomes an interesting editorial on parenthood, knowing that if all parents went through this degree of training and probing there would likely be far fewer kids in foster care in the first place.

Once you are completely official the real adventure begins.  The social worker is able to start calling you with potential matches and you are able to proactively begin your own independent searches.  This search process starts out with the most surreal checklist you’ll ever see, where parents are asked to mark off all of the things they would be “comfortable” with in a prospective child.  These questions range from the more benign preferences on gender, race and religion and build up to psychological issues, like (and I kid you not) biting, cutting, fire setting, and feces smearing.  Needless to say, a great many boxes were left unchecked for the safety of our son if nothing else.

The shopping methods were also disturbingly varied; you could catalog shop, browsing binders stacked high in the office, you could shop online through posted profiles, and you could even window shop at semi-annual picnic days for the local shelters.  Depending on your flexibility and tolerance level the available options could be wide open.  For us, more than anything else it was the siblings that seemed to be the most limiting factor.  There were a number of kids who, understandably, wanted to cling to their remaining family so they came as a package deal that we weren’t equipped to handle.  With that restriction along with other considerations we went through a few months of passing on the offers, until we got the one call we’d been waiting for.

The first pictures we received showed a sweet little girl (we’ll call her Leah) with big brown eyes staring up nervously at the camera.  Leah was staying with a temporary foster family who was helping her look for a permanent home.  Leah’s mother had abandoned her at 11 months old, leaving birth dad and daughter and moving to Washington State.  The young father had his own issues with life and realized he was unable to provide adequate care for his daughter.  The introductions with Leah were slow and methodical.  We visited her at the other foster family’s home a couple of times and then met her for a play date at the park near our house.  She was understandably shy and reserved but did come out of her shell in small bursts of tentative smiles.  Her connection with Jenean was almost immediate.  I think she longed for the missing mommy figure in her life and was able to build trust quickly from that.  The connection with me was slower in coming, which could have been caused by my own fumbling to form a fast bond mid-stream rather than building one slowly from birth.

She found security strapped into a high chair or stroller, which is how her dad often left her.  She hoarded food in her mouth, stuffing her cheeks like a squirrel.  She didn’t want to be left in her room alone.  She had tantrums if I went to get her out of the car instead of Jenean.  None of the problems were insurmountable and honestly many of them were not outside the toddler norm.  She soon found comfort in routine and stability.  She slowly started to thaw emotionally and found her place in the family.   We thought it was all going to work out.

Just as we were about to legally file for termination of parental rights from her birth parents, her mom flew back to California and demanded custody of her daughter.  Despite the abandonment and previous issues with substance abuse the rights of the birth mother in California hold up strong to the very end.  The social workers tried to calm our nerves, telling us it was unlikely that the mother would be able to meet the conditions of the court which were a number of rehab programs and proof of residence and income.    Surely she’d regress, or quit, or be unable to find a job.  It would all be too much and she’d return back to Washington within a couple of weeks.  We were all wrong.  In a way it was some meager consolation that her mom did fight so hard for her in the end.   Unfortunately she didn’t play nice along the way.

As one would expect the initial visitations were hard on Leah;  It was confusing to be taken from her new home to hang out with another woman she never really knew.  That in turn must have been equally hard to stomach for the birth-mom who had to hear references to this other family that was trying to steal her child.  Slowly those visits focused more on fun, like a visit to grandma’s with junk food and playful gifts.  She started telling Leah that we were not her parents and built up how she was going to take her away from all of that.   At this point the tantrums started up again before and after the visitations.  Even though we had been trained for the possibility of supporting reunification with a child and a birth parent, it was difficult to stomach when we had been so close to full adoption.   Over the course of a year and half, I was finally gaining some ground with the daddy-daughter relationship.  She enjoyed the playtime we shared together and I was able to see a future family with her in it.  But now, it was all changing again, and we had to be strong for her and help her get through the transition as best we could.

The last day she was with us, we got her ready for her “mommy time” like we would for all the other visits.  There really wasn’t a good way to explain to a 5-year-old what was about to happen, so we got her dressed, packed her backpack, along with some of her favorite toys and brought her outside to wait for the social worker to pick her up.  I think she started to suspect something was different from the prolonged goodbye hugs we gave her before buckling her in.  As they started to drive away Leah turned to wave goodbye, and I could hear her softly through the window say “goodbye daddy”.  It was the first time I remember her calling me that.  I went inside and cried for a very long time.

After all the work and all the turmoil, foster-adopt wasn’t salvation we had hoped for.   We felt more than a little betrayed by the system that would take a little girl out of a stable home and deliver her into an unknowable situation, and after that it was hard to stomach the idea of hopping back on the emotional roller coaster all over again, possibly multiple times before finding a perfect match.  Somewhere out there though a little girl is growing up with a very different life and maybe just a fleeting memory of the time she spent with another family while waiting for her mom to return.  Will she think fondly of us?  Will she think of us at all?  What started out as a promising solution to our problem, became a footnote in our personal history and the journey to find a child would continue down a different path.

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My Porch Front Days

In January I teeter on the edge of my porch as sheets of rain flow from the overhang and beyond. It is my life raft amid the growing storm. I imagine sailing off on a grand adventure of survival, so I run upstairs to gather my supplies and my plastic glow-in-the-dark sword.

In February I sit on my porch eating Sweetheart candies from classmates as my dad parks the VW Rabbit in the driveway. He has the box of Whitman’s chocolates for my mom and sneaks off to the garage to swap out one of the chocolates with a gold chain before he presents it to her.

In March I run straight off the porch like Wile E Coyote running off a cliff. Behind me is my enraged grandmother in hot pursuit with a rolled up newspaper. I’m not sure what I did to make her so angry, I’m just thankful that I can still run faster than her. This will not earn me a good review when my parents return tomorrow.

In April Johnny West and Geronimo slug it out theatrically on the cliff of my porch trying the toss one another into the canyon below.   Old Mrs. Scott from across the street sees me playing and comes over to deliver one of the traditional sugar eggs with vignettes of little bunnies.

In May I sit on my porch playing with the miniature cap gun fashioned like a western derringer that I just got for my birthday.   The smell of fresh popcorn drifts from the front door as my sister comes out to join me. We wait for the station wagon to back out of the garage so we can pile in for the ride to the drive-in.

In June I fidget on the front step of my porch, watching my dad push the rotary mower. I’ve been pressed into service, required to rake up once he is done, and not permitted to play in my room while I wait; though it seemed a reasonable request to me.

In July I pound on the door frantically pleading with my giggling sister on the other side. After convincing me to play dress up she shoved me onto the porch wearing one of her old dresses and a gaudy assortment of costume jewelry. I need to get back inside before anyone sees me, also I think I hear the ice cream truck.

In August great armies of miniature plastic battle fiercely on the porch, trying to resolve the ongoing conflicts that have raged throughout the summer. A short-lived cease-fire is called so I can sample my mom’s macaroni salad and offer some expert suggestions for improvement.

In September as the acorns begin to fall tiny villages sprout up made entirely of acorn cap structures. I breathe deep the autumn air laced with damp leaves and wood smoke admiring one such village just below my perch. I launch off the step of the porch, crushing the puny village beneath my giant feet with a satisfying crunch.

In October I strike a heroic pose in the doorway before leaping over the already sagging pumpkin on my porch. The unseasonable heat has sweat and condensation already dripping from the inside of my Superman mask before I hit the grass. I press forward knowing there is candy at stake.

In November my porch is the distant safe haven as a neighborhood dog from across the street takes sudden interest in me on my way home from school. The dog gives eager chase to my fleeing form. After his hunt is called off I’m soothed with chicken noodle soup and, ironically, my favorite cartoon, Underdog.

In December the postman makes his daily stop on my porch to stuff our mailbox with holiday cards that we will later shake down for dollar bills. My mom rushes out with holiday greetings and presents him with a box of fresh chocolate chip cookies for his service.

In later years I teeter on the edge of my porch, remembering the fleeting joy of childhood, and wondering what lies beyond. I imagine sailing off on the grand adventure of life, and must leave the safety of the porch to pursue it.

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