One of my absolute favorite things about being in a foreign place is getting lost. Wandering around streets, stopping whenever something catches my eye. Looking up every once in a while, just to notice what’s there. Nothing feels better than hanging out in a public place sipping excellent coffee, people watching and just soaking up the vibe.
Since I’ve settled into Vancouver, my life can mostly be described as trying to fit as many things into a day as possible. It’s my fault that my quality of life has dropped from an 8 to a 5. In a city as laid back as this place, there’s no reason for my cortisol levels to be this insane.
This week my challenge is to treat at least one day like an exploration rather than a mad rush to get from one appointment to another. (more…)
My mother used to irritate the shit out of me whenever we had a party because inevitably she’d haul out the same four stories about the only four interesting things that ever happened to her and tell them over and over. Even though we’d all heard them about nine thousand times.
Sometimes when I was an especially bad daughter, I’d finish the story.
“Ya. Ya. And then the Dalai Lama asked if he could use that line in one of his talks.”
Sadly, three of the four exciting things that happened in her life are completely made up.
This weekend my family hosted a BBQ. Once the drinks start flowing, I get that familiar itch to be the center of attention with one of my witty stories. I’m about four sentences in when my husband fake coughs.
“I think you’ve told that one before.”
“Ya like a million times,” my daughter pipes in.
Some of my friends nod or stare at their drinks.
Not one to so easily give up the spotlight, I launch into another one. When a voice from the crowd says,
That’s not a toast that’s my friends begging me to shut the fuck up
“Isn’t that the one where you meet Tommy Chong at a salsa club?”
And it hits me. Every single notable, exciting thing I’ve done in my life happened 20 years ago. My stories are old and tired. And now so am I. Total humiliation.
So I do what most middle-aged women having an attack of social anxiety do – pretend to be busy in the kitchen.
I recently watched a Netflix special about the Queen of England. In this one scene, Elizabeth realizes that the only two topics she can speak intelligently about are horse breeding and dogs. Bent over the dishwasher, my nose prickles and I frantically blink away tears. I’m just like her. I’m like the Queen, except for my table manners and also I don’t have a yacht.
It’s a scary moment when that realization hits: my life has shrunk. That free-spirited, adventurer who’d take impossible risks has morphed into the cranky, play-it-safe woman I swore I’d never be. What’s next? A pair of mom jeans, a mini-van on the slow, steady descent to death?
Just kill me. Please.
I’m a bit stressed out writing this because all week I’ve been planning this one blog and then I just went and did something stupid and ridiculous, which I just now realized is a much better story. But I have no idea if I can tell it as well.
Also I don’t have any hilarious pictures of this little doozy. For which my husband is exceedingly glad. As I write this, he is sitting on the bed next to me, pretending I don’t exist – so I can tell he’s still pretty mad.
Right after I post this, I’ll call my oldest friend, Stephanie. I can already hear the gasp of astonishment, like she’s saying, “Because I live in a comfortable house with a backyard and a deck and separate floors with rooms and doors that lock – simply tonnes of places to escape my spouse – I can’t imagine why two sane people would sit next to one another on a queen-sized bed, arms crossed, planning their respective divorces and hot rebound sex with some nameless, gorgeous whomevers instead of … oh I don’t know, talking?”
Welcome to married life in fucking Yaletown. This is a community full of 900ft2 apartments, where a family of four tries to pretend that they’re all not seriously getting on each other’s nerves. There are plenty of benefits to this lifestyle, but all I’ll say about that right now is that the small spaces force us to do our living outside.
Which is why I chose to air some dirty laundry on the field in the middle of the school’s annual BBQ Carnival Fundraiser. I have no idea what made me turn to my unsuspecting husband and say, “So where is all this anger coming from?”
He shot me a look, which I can only describe as exhaustion mixed with deep annoyance and said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
To which I replied, “You’re not being honest. I can feel how distant you’re becoming. I feel like we’re not connected at all and I feel like you couldn’t care less.” and with this, I just burst into tears. But I’m instantly embarrassed so try to pretend that I’ve got allergies. While my husband hisses to my daughter, “Get your stuff. Time to go home” And I’m not even drunk. I’m totally sober, wondering if this is what menopause looks like or if my mental illness is becoming even more mental.
But we couldn’t get out fast enough. In the 6 seconds it took my daughter to grab her book bag, 4 moms I know come by to start a friendly conversation, see my face and make a bolt for it. I got a couple of pity looks and one solidarity sista look. And then this one woman passes by making an exaggerated attempt not to notice the scene in front of her, but I can see her taking it all in and I just know what version of the story she’s dying to tell anyone who will listen. By Monday, a dozen versions of my little public meltdown will be whispered in a dozen different coffee shops. She’ll tell mutual friends and strangers too all with fake concern, but will paint a picture putting me in the worst possible light, “Well of course everyone fights from time to time, I mean we’re all only human, but things must be pretty bad for them to do it in public like that. I just feel so sorry for him. He’s such a reasonable, private person.”
And you have a bizarre need to consistently behave like an asshole, but at least I can medicate my problem.
Now what’s rattling around in my head, while I also consider the best way to begin an apology, is – is this little scene an example of me being a hormonally-unbalanced, weirdo or have I just hit that point in my mid-life crisis where the boundaries of who I’ve been trying to be and who I actually am are starting to collide and I’ve just stopped giving a fuck?
I guess time will tell.
What explosive impulses have you been stuffing down these days? Are any starting to trickle out?
All week people have been congratulating me on quitting my shitty job. I won’t lie. It’s such a lovely change when my impulsivity and irresponsible disregard for long-term consequences – which is often regarded as a major character flaw, gets a bit of appreciation for being awesome.
And then I woke up
It was terrifying. I woke up from a terrible dream where a disembodied voice said:
None of this will stop you from turning into your mother.
This fear doesn’t always sit right up front in my brain, but it’s always hanging around the periphery of my self awareness. There was a brief second while skipping down the office hallway for the last time, when I thought: “my mom would totally shit her pants right now.”
How immature am I that this thought gives me so much pleasure – like I’ve tricked fate or something. Still, I carry a looming dread of fulfilling my family curse. This particular curse has been passed down for generations on my mother’s side for as far back as the women in our family can remember. I knew my grandmother only after the curse did its damage. As a teen, I watched my mother battle and finally succumb. The stories she told about herself – all from a time before – may have stirred warm sentimental feelings for her, but for me those stories only served as a warning. So I watch myself closely. Changes – especially physical ones – evoke alarm and I wonder, “Is this how it starts?” Honestly, I don’t really know at what point the curse begins or what its indicators may be, I only know, that when the curse takes hold, every women in my family is always overpowered and when she finally gives in, she follows the same fate as every other woman before her: she becomes her mother.
In my family, when a woman reaches the age of 40 or has two kids, (whichever comes first) she gains 100 pounds and grows a moustache.
I used to joke about how this is the unfortunate result of Eastern European genes. I’d laugh about the suddenness and inevitability of it all. The thing no one mentions, but I have always known is that this is the moment when she stops caring. She is no longer part of the present, but lives in the world of before. She stops doing things. She goes out less and less – eventually only to places she knows like to church and the mall. Dreams, ambitions and interests are reduced to stories meant to reveal why they weren’t worth the trouble or why they could never happen for her, or for anyone else. It doesn’t happen all at once. It starts as exhaustion or a general overwhelm and eventually a past-tense replaces sparks of excitement and previously held interests wither and decay like last season’s garden until no one remembers these women as anyone other than they are – the mother, the grandmother, the bitter old woman.
To make her seem less threatening in this state, I have purposely reduced my mother to a two-dimensional character. After all this is what she has done to herself – flattened out. Even after the kids left and she had time, she wouldn’t get a job – too scary. Or go back to school – too old. Or even travel – what if? She refused to stretch herself in any way. But she would sigh a lot and complain and talk about how the world was going to hell or go on and on about small slights turned into large offences. At first I would listen, terrified, dismayed. Years later she still tells the same stories, but I’ve long since stopped listening – it is simply too boring, too depressing, and now too threatening. Especially since I find myself doing the very same thing.
I have always carried a fear of the curse ever since high school graduation when my grandmother waddled over and laid a heavy hand on my shoulder. With the tone of someone imparting great wisdom she said, “I was as pretty as you when I was 18.” I remember watching her join my family at the table thinking, “Never. Never. Never.”
In my twenties, when I don’t think I was seriously worried, I used to examine myself in the mirror, looking for features that resembled my mother’s — but my ass was still firm then, my upper lip still hairless. I thought I might be exempt. Physically, I take after my father’s side – smaller bones, taller. But because my mother and I are so similar in other ways, I may have over compensated at bit…
I’m terrified of ruts. Before I got married and had kids, I moved often, travelled frequently, changed jobs just when my learning curve began to plateau. I dated outside my type. I lived outside my comfort zone, thinking perhaps it was really comfort and stability that somehow invited the curse in.
But then I got pregnant twice and bought a condo in Yaletown. Comfort and stability are my new goals. I’m slowly entering menopause and trying not to freak out as the sales assistant at Nordstroms described my figure as “sausage shaped.” Or as more and more dark coarse hairs begin sprouting all over my upper lip.
Every night, I stand in front of the bathroom mirror and mutter,
What the fuck? over and over.
Oh of course I am reminded every time I open the Georgia Straight that there are chemical peels and all types of cosmetic surgery available. I know about boot camp and yoga. I know I can diet if I want. But it seems pointless if it only scratches the surface.
What scares me is that for the first time in my life I can see how easy it was for my mother to lose herself – first from necessity because a woman has to let herself go a little to cope with children and the pressures of running a home. Then because it requires so much energy to find or recreate a self. I can see now, for the first time, how it is possible for a life once richly lived to shrink into the shape of a well-worn path from home to the mall and back
What stops you from drinking every night?
I’m writing this blog post in a rush. I finally pulled the trigger. At last I’ve addressed one of the root causes of my restlessness and anxiety. I quit the job I’ve had for the past five years.
When I first got the job I thought it would be help me be less boring. After staying at home with my babies for three years, I’d run out of things to say to another adult that didn’t involve children. I hated myself for compulsively singing Wheels On The Bus, even when I was alone and getting a job seemed like a good way out.
It all started off well. But after a while I started feeling restless, then anxious, then mildly depressed, then hugely depressed about going to work.
I must admit this is a bit of a pattern for me – doing things that I think are going to improve my self esteem, but actually make it much much worse.
Like the time I asked for improv classes for my birthday.
“It’ll be great,” I explained to my husband. “It’s all about getting out of my comfort zone and thinking faster on my feet.”
“That doesn’t sound fun.”
After being married, he should know that the only thing more fun for me than being uncomfortable is making other people uncomfortable. So improv really did seem perfect.
Until I got to the class.
As soon as I walked in the room, my gut did a little roll because it knew right away I was probably in the wrong spot, but as usual my brain completely ignored my gut’s advice.
Eight other people, all under 30, had also registered because they were obviously very serious about improv. Every other person began the class by standing alone in another part of the room, holding a bottle of water, doing yoga stretches or voice warm ups. When we stood in a circle, taking turns introducing ourselves, more than one feigned humility as they listed off their performance resumes and one described the most powerful time in her life as the summer she spent at Second City.
I immediately and completely regretted that I’d shown up sober.
The first exercise involved one person saying a word and making a corresponding action. A second person was to immediately follow by saying another random word with an action and then a third person was supposed to tie it all together with a single phrase.
A statuesque woman, dressed entirely in Lululemon, jumped up on the stage, assumed the position of a cat licking her paws and said, “A baby kitten’s ear.” A guy in very tight hipster jeans crouched beside her and growled, “A rusted out tractor.”
Trying to look natural, I lept up on the stage and said, “What my vagina feels like without lube.”
Silence. The faces around the room twisted into expressions ranging from confusion to disgust.
“Just wait until you hit middle age, then you’ll know that joke is completely hilarious.”
By the mid morning coffee break, the instructor, who seemed confident that he was speaking for everyone in the room, told me I hadn’t enrolled in the right class.
“Ummm. Maybe you should try something else. Maybe something more basic.”
I called my husband as I walked home, somewhere between laughter and tears.
“I thought the class ended at three.”
“ I just got kicked out of my self-esteem-building-class.”
“Of course you did.”
I hadn’t been able to articulate what was making me depressed about my job until I passed by a dog park that morning where I stopped to pull myself together before going home. Watching dogs interact is such an enlightening experience. The dynamics played out are all about these creatures deciding then agreeing to who is dominant and who isn’t. On this day, this little dance seemed very human.
There was one black lab cross, obviously young and a little agressive, who insisted on humping anyone who’d let him. Another white, slightly smaller terrier, just stood there and submitted. Finally the lab wanted to really make a statement, so he moved around to the terrier’s face and started dry humping his nose.
Holy Shit! I thought. This is an exact model of my work dynamic.
Every year my boss asks if I’d be willing to get humped in the face – which would be the dog equivalent of reporting to Angela and every year I respond by making gagging noises. This doesn’t stop Angela from trying to dump her shitty jobs on me. I can tell she’s getting off on the little power surge, knowing I can’t refuse since she’s a Senior Manager and I’m only a Manager. And also because she just came back from a week long holiday with our boss and her kids. I know she’ll take full credit for being a superstar, “Angela, you’re just amazing. I don’t know how you manage to do it all!”
The final straw came a few weeks ago when she insisted I write a proposal for her. “I’m just swamped,” she exclaimed while heaving a pile of file folders onto my desk. “It’s for one of my biggest accounts, so get this to me by Friday.”
Thursday evening, just as I was putting on my coat, Angela marches into my cubicle. “I want to check your progress,” she said folding her arms in front of her.
“Progress?” I ask innocently.
She huffs and juts out her hip. “On the report you were to complete for tomorrow.”
“I”m sorry. Remind me about that again?”
“The report. That you were to complete. For that big account. I gave you all the files.”
“Oh. Wow Angela.” I said looking confused. “I don’t recall getting any files.”
“I put them here. On your desk.” Her voice getting shrill. My cubicle neighbours poked their heads around the partition to see what was going on.
“I gave them to you Monday. I put them right here.”
“I’m sorry Angela, but I’m not sure what you’re talking about and I’m afraid I’ve got to go now and pick up my kids. Maybe we can talk about it tomorrow.”
“It’s due tomorrow,” she shrieks.
“Sorry. I can’t help you right now. Perhaps you should have made time to chat about this earlier.”
Emily texted me that Angela was still tearing my cubical apart looking for the files.
“She’s really pissed off. Where are they?”
“In the filing cabinet, as per our policy.” I wrote back. She found them a few days later, filed in the wrong place.
Fucking up is one way to effectively end this sort of workplace abuse. But not quite enough to gain anyone’s respect.
About a week later, in order to save money on professional development, our boss asked Angela to facilitate a series of mandatory workshops about “respectful communication.”
Angela had taken a course and read some books and was now an expert. To kick off the first workshop, she passed around some scenarios typed out on pieces of paper. She divided us into smaller groups of four in order to read the scenarios and discuss the corresponding questions. Here was the first one:
“Samantha and Chloe are co workers in the same department. Samantha is a Senior Manager and has a lot of important accounts. She has also been given responsibility for managing budgets for the entire team. She is a valued Excel expert and also very busy. Chloe is Samantha’s junior and much less experienced at her job. While she does not report directly to Samantha, she is expected to learn from her and assist as needed since she is not responsible for anything of importance. One day Samantha asks Chloe to complete a simple task on a deadline. Chloe misses the deadline, loses the files and then refuses to take any responsibility for her failure. How should Samantha respond to Chloe’s incompetence?”
So I quit.
Have any of you been humped in the face recently?
If you get on Alice’s good side you just might get to volunteer for the best, most exclusive committee at our kids’ school: the hot lunch program. The group is invite only and if you’re lucky to join in on Friday mornings at the coffee shop across the street to label lunch bags, then you know being a parent is going to get a whole lot better.
All of the women on the committee are gorgeous and so they’re widely known as The Hot Lunch Ladies. I’m more of an honorary member ever since I came up with the idea of a calendar and series of videos for the next school fundraiser. It seems like such an obvious fit, I was actually surprised no one had thought of it before.
“…even if it is tasteful, we can’t make porn to fund our library program,” Alice told me in the hallway after drop off one morning.
Hot lunch erotica,” I corrected.
“Still no.” But I think she was secretly disappointed.
Note To Our Provincial Government: This is what happens when you cut public education to the bone. Hot Lunch Ladies have to consider unorthodox fundraising ideas. We wouldn’t have gone there on our own. You drove us to it.
So when Alice turned 50 last weekend, it seemed like a great idea to Google, “big+male+ stripper+Vancouver.” There was only one listing, so we booked him to arrest Alice at her birthday party for “being too horny.” Which is hilarious because she totally isn’t.
When Alice answered the door, our “cop” quickly ripped off his velcro pants and got right to the gyrating and the dry humping. After he’d finished with Alice at the door he moved into the room and took a turn with each of the Hot Lunch Ladies.
Did I really need to see that?
You may be looking at this picture wondering, “What the hell am I looking at here?” If you were the woman on the bed, the answer would be – a guy’s shaved asshole and ball sack. When he got up, it was obvious he was hoping for some appreciation. We, being mothers, tried our best to say the encouraging things we might offer one of our uncoordinated children on the soccer pitch.
“I can tell you’ve really been practicing!”
Then he made Alice lie down on the floor. What you’re seeing here is him slapping her face repeatedly with his penis. She’s trying to politely indicate that this isn’t working for her, but he’s trying to earn that US dollar under her shoulder. I kept wondering, Where is this guy getting his information? What woman has ever given him the impression that this sort of thing actually works?
“To turn you on.” was the answer, apparently. I didn’t want him to know my flushed face was actually a hot flash because I’m not ready to admit that yet.
But the whole experience initiated a lively conversation about things our husbands and boyfriends do – that they incorrectly believe turn us on. Inspired to correct past wrongs and provide a valuable service to men everywhere, the Hot Lunch Ladies have compiled a list of suggestions:
#1 – This move might seem hot to you, but it really isn’t
#2 – When talking dirty, never ever ask, “Who’s your Daddy?”
#3 – When we’re making dinner and you come up behind us and grab our ass or our boob – please know how badly we’d like to punch you in the face.
#4 – That thing that you do in the middle of the night or early morning where you spoon us so you can push your erection into our backs does not actually equal foreplay.
#5 – Discussion about insurance rates + who should pick up kids from swimming will never = blow job.
Please – for education purposes – add to the list.