Tuesday, December 27, 2011

9/10ths of the Law

One thing that makes me sad is that the kids don’t seem to be able to love both yet – to be connected to their dad and me and their mom at the same time.  Saying “don’t seem to be able” makes it sound like a failure on their part.  It’s not.  It’s just the grief of the circumstance.  They remain in the discomfort of dichotomy – a subtle feeling of having to take sides still clings to them.  If they are connected to and present with their mom, then they are disconnected and actively avoiding us.  I don’t sense them actively avoiding her as much but that may be simple mechanics.  Their dad is always present.  If they need him, he is there.  It sounds biased, but it’s just true.  They break down, they’re out of gas, they need something at school, they want to sign up for an activity – things like that they always call their dad and he always comes through.  Their mom has a greater tendency to disappear, to get busy in her own world.  They want to be with her when she is available to them because they do not know how long it will last.
It is broken.  The bouncing back and forth.  It’s a rhythm, but not one that I can yet follow. The Divine M is the most obvious.  She has disappeared into the world of her mother.  She does not hang out here, she does not check in.  I don’t want to admit this.  It sounds petty and envious.  There is sadness at her disappearance.  I hate the caring but needing to remain detached.  Putting my heart and soul into them and having them walk away.
This isn’t unique to step-parenting, but the cord between me and them feels so much more tenuous and detached.  It is a failure of the situation.  When frightened, we often look for ways to divert responsibility and the idea that this step-parenting relationship is inherently wrong lends itself more easily to blame.  Inherently wrong in that it is born out of grief, brokenness.  It’s not the way things were supposed to turn out – we are almost surprised when it does work.  The primal marriage and parent-child relationship is supposed to work.  That is the right design.  Everything should work out well if the participants of the bio family follow the rules.  Stepfamily.  How can that ever be right?  It’s not natural.  It’s not the way things are supposed to be.  It means somebody, most likely a few people, failed along the way.  The framework isn’t available to us, we are off the grid.  That’s our societal attitude.  It’s like going upstream when you’re not a salmon.
The Divine M can’t be with me and her mom.  The Divine M really, really wants to be besties with her mom.  She can’t be needed by both of us.  And her mom has a way of making people feel special – it’s more a way of making people feel that she is special and, therefore, if they can be around her and breathe her rarified air, they, too, will be special.  The kids want to be the chosen one, the one who gets to hang out with mom, their friend.  They vie for her favor and attention.  They hope to be child of the week – or maybe even the month.
Stepmom.  What’s up my craw?  Well, it is partly that I felt close to the Divine M.  She hung out here with her friends and they seemed to like us and enjoy being in our home.  Now they are gone.  She still comes home, but she spends a lot more time at her mom’s and her friends don’t come over much anymore.  Me, well, here’s the deal.  I’ll quit dancing around it.  I try, really, really hard, to be open-minded and attentive.  To plan meals, take care of the house, keep up on the laundry, buy them the things they need, help them with stuff at school, go to their events and I really, really do love and care about their lives.  And then, boom, they are gone.  It suddenly feels all one-sided.  It’s not a friendship.  It must be parenting.  It’s pour your heart and soul out, devote yourself, be always ready and ever available (because they are teenagers, you never know when they are coming).  And, poof.  Vamanos.
Case in point.  The Divine M was really tired of sharing a room with Little One, her younger sister.  It was crowded; not enough closet space (too many clothes) and occasionally Dear One, her older sister, sharing the room, too.  My idea – we rearrange the house.  We do away with the game room, really upsetting T-Man who counted that as his own room, and turn it into her bedroom.  Give the 16 going on 30 year-old some space and quiet and privacy.  She’ll have friends over; she’ll feel safe here and know she belongs.  Vamanos!  She lives out of her car and uses the room as her closet.  Our house got smaller and more vacant all in one swoop.
So me, again.  Na├»ve!  I am not a parent and it is painfully obvious to me.  It’s embarrassing to even say this because, hello, parenting is not about what your kids give you.  I didn’t think my motives were off-base.  I was loving with the aim of being loved in return.  But, oh, I feel empty now.  I feel a bit of a fool.  I fell head-over-heels and it turns out I was just a convenience.
The good news, I guess, is that one day soon, I’ll again be convenient.  But the timing, the sequence, is not up to me.  It’s not even up to the kids.  It’s gauged by mom’s wellness.  She is needy now and they want to help her.  She will go away again and they will be needy and come back home.  I want them to come home but I can’t want that because them coming home and feeling free to be with us means that mom is unavailable and that their hearts have been broken just a little bit more.  It means that things didn’t work out.  That they’ve been shunned for a new boyfriend, or the addiction of the moment.  It means she’s found something other than them to feed her need.  Of course, it could mean that she got better.  She is healthy and balanced.  But there are no signs of life in that direction.  The patterns are the same as they ever were.  The kids are anxious and drawn, trying so very hard to keep it all together.
Poor me, I’m feeling.  I try so hard to love these kids and then I’m dropped for the latest fashion.  They’ll come back when they need something (Dear One calls me her reliable parent).  I’m such a stick in the mud they always know they can find me.  But, wow, have I missed the mark.  I pull back and protect my heart, feeling defensive and wounded.  I’m exaggerating to get the sensation out, it’s not always that obvious.  But the more I look, the more I realize it’s true.  I’ve pulled back, afraid of getting hurt and wondering why I should keep putting myself out there.  Why should I keep caring?  What’s in it for me?
That’s not love and that’s not parenthood.  I wanted to modify myself - if I could somehow become more appealing, then they would choose us.  I created the dichotomy.  I can’t lose them if I’m not trying to possess them.  No matter where they are, no matter what they do, this is their home and we are their parents.  I can’t need them.  Well, I can, but the better design is for me to love them without expectation of return.  That works in any kind of family.  To love them and not look for them to meet my needs.  To love them consistently and authentically.  Not to change myself or perform in ways that I think will earn their approval, but to be honestly present.  To hold my heart open to them so that, even when they float away, they are grounded in love. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Confinement of Jesus

I looked into my heart the other day and was surprised to find Jesus there. He was sitting in a barren one-room cabin, its walls and floors composed of ashy-brown, worn, wooden planks.

It was the sort of house I’ve envisioned situated on the Midwestern Plains when reading a Louis L’Amour novel or Little House on the Prairie. Where I would have expected to find a cowboy or Laura Ingalls Wilder, I found Jesus. The air was a tad stifling and the lighting was dim. He was seated in the center of the room on a ladderback chair with no cushion.

Disconcerted, I asked him what he was doing there. He reminded me that I had invited him. I wanted to roll my eyes. I knew that. My question was more basic. “No, I mean in this room – why are you sitting here? Wouldn’t you rather be romping through that meadow out there?” I pointed toward a small, four-paned window through which grasses and wildflowers could be seen swaying in the breeze. At least he had a view.

I don’t recall his exact response. What he did convey, quite kindly, was that I hadn’t extended my invitation of him to include the field, or the greater expanse of my heart.

“So you’ve been sitting in this cramped little room the whole time?” I demanded. “That’s crazy! Haven’t you gone crazy?” It seemed ridiculous to me that, powerful as he is, Jesus would submit to confinement in this drab, tiny space.

“Let’s at least brighten the place up a bit,” I offered. “I can throw a rug on the floor, put a cushion on that chair, hang a valance over the window, a picture on the wall, and stick a floor lamp over in that corner. If you’re going to hang out in here, we may as well spruce it up.”

It’s not that I wouldn’t love to stretch my legs and amble through that field of wildflowers with you, he suggested softly. I’d love to wander the vast reaches of your heart.

“Well, why don’t you? What’s keeping you? Open the door and walk out!” I was, frankly, indignant at what I took to be feigned helplessness. But, strangely, he did not appear timid or even irritated about his plight.

He looked upon me tenderly. It was an expression difficult for me to explain because the images that pop to mind don’t quite fit. It was not a face of condescension, offering pity with a slight shake of the head and a quiet “Tut, tut, Sweetie.” It wasn’t accompanied by an exasperated “Oh, please!” sigh.

What he did convey had such an absence of judgment and defense that I almost didn’t recognize the thing that was present. This sounds corny, but I think it was love. Real, honest love. Suddenly, I realized that Jesus, of all people, respected my boundaries. He only occupied as much of my heart, as much of my life, as I allowed.

I was shocked to find how little and meager that space actually was – so uncomfortably shocked that I jumped to apologetically explain.

“Oh, well, you see . . .” I started in. “I mean, I know that meadow out there looks kind of pretty right now, and I guess I’d be okay with you stretching your legs in it every now and again, but maybe you should let me know before you do – you know, just so I can make sure it’s safe, because conditions change.”

Onward I blurted, “I mean, even right now, I know there are some gopher holes, tangled barbed wire, and rock piles out there. I’ve even seen a couple of snakes. I’m working on getting that stuff cleared up – though truth be told, I’m not sure there’s much I can do about the snakes. Anyway, I’m working hard on cleaning that field up, I really am, and I think I’m making some good progress, but I’m afraid there’s still some pretty dangerous stuff out there and I wouldn’t want you to go too far. I think it’s best, for now, if you don’t have to get caught up in it.”

“Well, anyway, it’s great, amazing really, that you stuck around, especially in here! I appreciate it – it means a lot to me.” I took a deep breath and tried to smile.

I could sense, when offering my explanations of the need for his restricted perimeter, that he already knew my terrain and it didn’t worry him. Though I feared that his aim in getting out would be to expose me or tear me up, I could discern no such motive. But he did want out. He wanted to inhabit my whole heart. He wanted to participate in my full life. And I left.

I left saying, “At least it looks a little better in here, eh? Can I get you anything more before I go? A glass of water, a book to read? Here, I’ll put a little table by your chair so you can set stuff on it. Okay – good seeing you! Take care!”

I left him there free to pace about that hovel in my heart, almost proud that I was so generous as to not bind and gag him on my way out.

Yet, I haven’t been able to leave the encounter. What do I do with the knowledge that I’m keeping Jesus, the God of the Universe, locked in a room in my heart?

Jesus, who wants to be bounding through fields of wildflowers with me, who wants to be mucking through the messes, tearing down fences, and hanging out in the dark places when I hide in bed with the covers pulled over my head.

It makes me nervous, and rather embarrassed, to realize that he remains – eager and ready – available and giving his love to me, as much love as I will choose to receive. He is waiting, simply waiting, on me to be willing.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Myopia

I am selfish.  I did not know that.  I managed to avoid that fact by living alone for most of my adult life.  Then I joined a family.  It turns out I’m a serious narcissist.  Narcissus, enraptured with his own beauty, died while gazing at his face reflected in still waters.  In truth, I may be more like the pond, looking up at the face of Narcissus and hoping to find herself reflected there, certain that he must be bent over staring at her.
My husband predicts I’ll die choking on my own spit – I sometimes forget to swallow properly.  It’s usually because I’m so fixated on what is going on with others around me that I neglect that basic reflex.  I am taken with hypervigilant attention to how others react to me.  I study others in earnest, hoping to discover myself in their word, look, or deed.  I assume that others are as taken with me as me.
I always thought I was self-effacing, deferential, and considerate of others.  Rather than feeding prideful vanity, a trait I always treated with great disdain and viewed as true self-centeredness, I sought the opposite extreme.  I denied ever claiming any rights or asserting any preferences and chose to devote myself to what I thought others wanted from me.
So when the kids complain about dinner, or comment on the dirty floor, or can’t find their favorite sweatshirt, do I ever feel the pressure.  Little do they know, they are serving indictments against my character and my worth.  More evidence of my failure.  And I start choking.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Absence of Motherhood

I probably ought to be careful talking about motherhood.  I’m not one, you know.  Mothers are highly esteemed and much is expected of them.  I’ve no doubt it’s a difficult road.  I would stand up and defend my own mother against some of the stuff I’ve said when whining about how uncomfortable the role of non-mother stepmother can be.  In the midst of critiquing this cultural plight, I encounter Little One once again trying to map out the family tree. 
Recalling a gift my dad gave us, she asks, “He’s my grandpa, step-grandpa, right?” 
My Handsome Man mumbles a response to the effect that at the grandparent level we don’t usually add that term.
She follows up with this little stunner: “I don’t see what’s the difference between moms and stepmoms.”  What?  I’ve been feeling like an outcast, an imposter, an incompetent stand-in and it turns out that’s just parenthood?
Motherhood is one of those edifices that we idolize, like marriage, because as a society we desperately need it.  Inhabitants of marriage, and I suspect motherhood, find that it is at times so excruciatingly painful, so much more difficult than we ever dreamed, that we have to glorify these paths to encourage those on the outside to keep choosing them, and to keep those on the inside from running away.
My problem likely has as much to do with my exclusion from a club that I always assumed I’d become a part of as it does with my inclusion in a club that I never planned to join.  Try sitting through a Mother’s Day church service when you are a childless woman of age, or overage.  It’s nearly impossible for me to stomach all the exaltation of woman as mother without wanting to rip out my uterus and throw it on the floor.  How much I feel I am really not considered a woman, not even much of a wife, because I don’t have children.  What is the matter with me?  Have I no love for God or Country?!  In my pity-party world, the one where other people always have it better than me, it is easier to handle the “you must give birth to be a woman” expectation if there is a principled reason why you elected to not have children.  Or, to truly be absolved of responsibility and acquitted of the charges of being a soulless wretch, a medical reason why it’s just not possible.  But I blanch at even allowing that thought to be uttered because I can’t imagine the pain, the desperate pleadings at night that must accompany such a situation.
The idea that I’ve never given birth because it just didn’t work out that way – oh, I never got around to it.  How lame is that?  I always assumed it would, but it didn’t happen?  Is that the best I’ve got?  Is life really that random?  Or, I fell in love with a man who told me on the second date that he’d been fixed and wouldn’t be having any more children.  Didn’t I even have a care for my unborn babes?  What was I thinking?  That I could change his mind?  Overcome his resolve?  That the children would somehow really become mine?  No.  Really, no!  That God would work a miracle and squeeze just one more little sperm through?  Well, kind of.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Play Your Position


“When I grow up, I really want to be a stepmom.”  Who says that?  Understudy, back-up quarterback, substitute teacher, adjunct. Know the role, play it when something bad happens to the lead, the star, the tenured one. Get ripped by critics, commentators, students. Are these all people who missed the mark? Are stepmoms just failed aspirants?

Mother. Step-Mother. Real Mother. Wicked Step-Mother. Mommy. Step-Monster. Mommy Dearest. Dad’s Wife. There is a chasm of difference between a “real mom” and a stepmom. A mother can fix her identity on her children regardless of her actual success in performing her role – she is a mother by basic biological fact. Even if she abandons her child at birth, she is a mom. A stepmother is the father’s wife. Being a biological mother is a great burden and responsibility, but I’m not particularly interested in talking about that right now. This is my rant. Mothers have tremendous presumptive benefits on their side. I’m not debating the merits of this, just observing. Children, parents, society, we each expect that mothers love their children. We presume that mothers want their children. We assume that mothers are naturally good. We know that being a mother is honorable. These suppositions can create tremendous guilt in the heart of mothers and can be proven false, but it takes a lot of havoc-wreaking to do so. Even in the midst of the rubble, children long to believe that their mothers love them and mothers want to believe that all they did was out of love.

Stepmothers are surmised to be evil. If not evil, at least improper. Certainly inconvenient – a sign of something broken and, many suspect, the cause of the brokenness. If a stepmother exists, someone died or got divorced. And you kind of hope they died because, apart from the burden of following in the footsteps of a now sainted mother, at least the “I came after death” role has some nobility in it. Some might say that marrying into divorce is downright foolish and you get whatever you deserve. Why not do it the right way, like everybody else. Stepmothers are an unnatural phenomenon. Contrary to motherhood, the presumption about stepmothers is we do NOT want these children. Instead, we are awaiting, eagerly, to seize upon the moment when we can lead them into the dark heart of the forest and leave them there, lost and alone, to be baked in the witch’s oven.

I should say we treat stepmothers as if we are an unnatural phenomenon. In terms of frequency, history, and commonness, we are quite prevalent. But, shhh!  Please do not say this aloud in polite society, or around recently married women or new mothers. Inadvertently, they can’t help but think a stepmother is like a black cat crossing their path. A stepmother is an adulteress, waiting to steal husband and children.

When mothers snap at their children, we know they’ve had a hard day. When mothers question whether they really should have had children, we know they are overwhelmed and just need a break. When mothers mess up their lives we know they really love and need their children, and if only those children behaved a little bit better or tried a little harder maybe mommy would be ok.

It’s a baseline thing. From whence do you commence to measure? Stepmothers snap and it proves it, everyone knew we were bitches. Stepmothers wish, for a moment, these children weren’t our responsibility and we are chastised with the “you knew what you were getting into” mantra. Stepmothers make mistakes and it confirms we aren’t fit to have children.

These inferences go both ways – child to parent and parent to child. Some days it feels as if every interaction is tenuous, a constant striving to be on the love side, the family side. People imagine that stepkids are going to be rotten. Stepchildren and stepmoms both fear that they won’t be loved, liked, or wanted. It’s easy to perceive every complaint from the mouth of the child, or, even worse, the teenager, as pointed criticism of the woman playing the part of Mom. Of course, it’s not always this way – not every day and not in every stepfamily situation. But this is the reasonable doubt that must be overcome to prove not guilt, but innocence.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Love-Related

“Well . . .” 
“Well,” followed by a long pause is a much more frequent performer in my verbal repertoire now than before I met and married a man with five children. I think it may have first come on stage in response to T-Man, age 12, plopping down beside me on the couch one morning and relating that something strange was happening to his bed sheets. Though he knew he wasn’t wetting the bed, lately there had been small damp areas on his boxers and his sheets when he woke up in the mornings. He thought perhaps something might be leaking through onto his bed from the ceiling.  “Well . . .,” I replied.
. . .
“Well,” followed by a long pause came up again one summer day when Little One started talking about relatives.  She had just returned from spending a week at her aunt’s for “Camp Melssa” – a summer tradition for the little girl cousins to craft and raft with Aunt Melissa and Uncle Mike.  Little One wanted to ask about how she is connected to my family but she couldn’t think of the right terms or remember some of the names. Our conversation stumbled around for a while, me offering up people I thought she might be asking about and she making the exasperated noises of one who knows what they want to say but can’t get the meaning across. Finally, I recognized that she was asking about my sister’s children, Matthew, Molly and Courtney. I went on to name the children of my husband’s sisters, and told her they were all my nieces and nephews.
I had been sewing and she sorting through the button tin while we worked out this minor bit of genealogy. It got quiet and we both turned our attention back to our tasks.
Then she said, “And I’m your daughter . . . well, half-daughter.”
“Step-daughter,” I replied quickly, hoping it wasn’t abruptly.
“Oh, yeah, yeah. And we’re blood-related,” she offered, with the sound of a question lightly coloring her voice.
“Well . . . no.”
The “no” sounded so loud to me that I wished that I had just left the “Well . . .” hanging in the air. How uncomfortable, to have to say no. To admit, again, that, no, we aren’t kin. I’m not her mother, not anyone’s mother. Blood-related is a powerful thing. In that moment it seemed such a comforting thing. I wanted to let her trust it, to find security and explain our connection through it. I wanted to let her be a real daughter. It wasn’t a mournful longing and I didn’t worry about my own heart aching. Instead, I was more afraid that by contradicting her I’d further disrupt the order of her world. But I said, again, “No.” And then I sought to reassure her that I loved her just the same as if we were “blood-related”, as much as if she were my real daughter.  And I want to believe it, even though I can’t really know.
In truth, she didn’t seem concerned about whether I loved her. Rather, she was still puzzling out the mechanics of things. Me, I was getting a bit sappy and starting to feel that this could be a Really Big Moment. Little One was into classifying. Her Mad Science brain was clicking away, sorting out how all the parts of this family fit together. And so she said, quite matter of factly, “But you and dad are married, so how does that work?  I’m confused.”

All I could offer in reply? “Well . . . it is confusing.”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Positivity

I wish I were more of who my husband wanted me to be. I know he wishes that I believed I am who he wants me to be. I remember being a happy child. Innately curious and generally hopeful. How is it that some are able to maintain a sunny outlook and others get clouded by life? I’ve discovered that I am a faux vase – believing that I had a certain design to me, but finding that it’s been chipped away over the years and that my real composition is different and blander than I’d always presumed.
There’s a general rule that the true nature of a person is revealed in crisis. I’ve never broken my neck or lost everything, but I’m no Joni Eareckson Tada or Job, grateful and worshipping in the most dire of circumstances. The worst I’ve had lately is being let go from a job and a ruptured Achilles tendon – both of which did not reveal much Christ-like resiliency in me.  In fact, I felt rather sorry for myself in each instance and still sometimes do even two years later.
There’s another rule – one attributed to Anton Chekov  that goes something like this:  “Any idiot can handle a crisis, it’s the day to day living that wears you down.” Daily living does indeed get me down. I don’t claim to be a realist, and I hate being labeled a pessimist, but I know I’m not all sunshine and flowers. I also hate being thought a depressive but, when shaving your legs, tweezing your chin, running out of milk, changing the cat litter, finding a parking spot, paying the bills, brushing your teeth, for goodness sakes, when all these daily things start feeling like the rock of Sisyphus, worn down is where I am. When so much of life feels like failure, how do I turn it around?
I want answers to why I am angry with the world. I want to know why I let that rather cheerful little girl get shutdown. I want to believe that she is still me but perhaps I’ve seen too much of the world. Correction – I’ve actually led a relatively mundane life compared to the tragedies and adventures that lives can hold. Though comparison gets me nowhere, what I look at does affect what I see. Rather than deciding that life has beaten me down, it is perhaps more accurate to say that I have spent a disproportionate amount of time looking at the beatings. My focus guided by the mistaken belief that if I scrutinized them long enough, I could somehow learn to avoid them.
My mindset has been very honorable and diligent. It’s even more alarming then to realize that my approach has been worse than ineffective – it’s actually been counterproductive. It has taught me instead to see and anticipate beatings at every turn, creating instances of unnecessary failure and atrophying the skills of victory.
I’ve become an expert in my weaknesses and fostered them, rather than championing my strengths. I know what I don’t like, what to avoid, what I’m no good at, what I need to try harder at, and where I really fell down. Even in the things I do well, I mostly know the areas that I could have done better.
It is incredibly difficult for me to say what I want, what I like, or for what I hope. And I wonder who I think this serves? I’d always envisioned it as being humble and self-effacing.  It is a sort of self-erasing but it makes the scrubbed marks more noticeable than the pencil sketchings all around. Others, too, are wiped out by my efforts to make myself innocuous. I don’t know where to go from here. I don’t know how to live in my own skin and admit that, while drying my hair and vacuuming the floor seem relentlessly tedious tasks to me, there are things I can get lost in. (I’m panicking right now, saying – think, think!  You must know what they are.  It can’t just be Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune.  That’s just a phase; it can’t be as little as that!)

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's Personals


I wanted a really good story about how I met my husband. I didn’t know who he was going to be, or if he even ever was going to be, but I knew wanted an enticing answer to “So, how did you two meet?” when it happened.

My husband and I met online. Neither of us wanted that story. We’ve struggled to come up with another one that we could both tell with a straight face, but we get too embarrassed about lying and find it’s easier to just mumble and walk away. Of course, the longer we are married, the less we care about how we met.  But at the beginning, it seemed devastatingly serious. We could see people assess the odds of our relationship and the trustworthiness of our selves immediately upon hearing our disclosure, and the judgment on both counts was low.

I met one guy at a college casino night. He was dealer and a professor and seemed so mature and intellectual. I was an administrator and played my cards right. I knew I was in love and went overboard. He knew I was a summer fling and went abroad.

I met another guy, a Jamaican Rastafarian, at a reggae bar. Perfect match for a small town Protestant prude from Eastern Oregon.

I met a guy at the restaurant on top of the Hotel Washington when my mom ordered a Sam Adams. He was a waiter and a tennis coach from Morocco and he charmed me. It turned out he was a compulsive gambler and a control freak and two months later we parted ways, but it had the makings of a good story. I should have known it would end badly when he told me I better get cable and a recliner in my apartment or he wouldn’t be coming over. I did know it would end, badly or not, when he tried to open a credit card with my social security number and when he showed up one day, suitcases in hand, planning to move in.

I met another guy at a friend’s backyard barbeque. She was introducing me around and I pointed and asked about the guy at the far end of the deck. My friend informed me, with a smile in her voice, that his name was Dave. I commented, somewhat as an afterthought, that he was kind of cute.  Surprised, she asked if I didn’t remember him. I definitely didn’t and wondered why I ought.

“Well . . .” she replied, “You two dated.”

Shocked, I was. The story unraveled that we had in fact gone out on a few dinner dates, arranged by this same friend, several years before.

“Well, what happened?” I demanded.

We were reintroduced and, apparently, he’d stood me up the last couple of times due to various family problems. Once he named the places we dined, knowing him vaguely came back to me – he’d even met my father! But, somehow, I’d blotted most of the memories out. Here we were, given a second chance at love and a really good story. It turns out we should have stopped at chance number one. This time, a year and a half later, it ended badly. (When you’re looking for love, if it ends, it is most often badly – even if you are better off in the long run.) It was my time to be in tears, told I was “just too intense” and left broken-hearted shortly before Valentine’s Day. Coward.

In my effort to be strong and prove I didn’t really need a man, I became uber-active. I worked out more, skied more, and got a German Shepherd-Rottweiler named Tanya from the pound who drug me around the block to walk more. I filled my schedule up well into March, and then promptly threw out my back. I’d done it before, but this time was worse. I couldn’t walk and I couldn’t feel my right leg. The diagnosis was a pinched nerve due to a herniated disc, but even when sensation, accompanied by severe pain, returned, my foot drug along beside me in a useless and awkward way. 

Laid-up on medication, seeing dot-to-dot pink elephants dancing on my white closet doors, I decided that when life bucks me off, I should get back in its saddle. A few days later, less drugged, I was still spending more time horizontally than vertically and logging lots of hours on my laptop. I was also still clinging to my determination to get back into a social scene. Enter Yahoo! Personals. I made a brilliant profile. It was witty and engaging, carefully constructed to not be too intense and or too silly. It was just right for me, and for the sixty-five men who responded in the next day.

We are a lonely world. I am a woman with some cleavage and a smile. I was stunned and amazed, flattered and overwhelmed. And then I was creeped out. Because, it did seem that the people who spent the most time on the personals were somewhat lower down on the trustworthiness scale and perhaps a bit higher up on the perverted scale.  I made it four days into my seven-day free trial before having enough and jumping off. Keep in mind that during these four days I was still largely immobile and still somewhat recovering from a broken heart, so I, too, was one of those people who spent quite a lot of time in this enchanting land of the personals. This overexposure may have led to me reaching my saturation point sooner than I expected.

All was not lost for there were a few intriguing, if not good, men out there. I decided to create a new email and let these select handsome gents know that, should they wish to pursue me further, they could find me in the land of Gmail for I was departing Yahoo!

I met one guy for a walk in the park with my dog on Saturday afternoon. He was shorter than me, which shouldn’t matter, but it did surprise me because you really can’t tell that sort of thing online. He was quite nice and I felt like I was hanging out with my brother, if I had one.

I met another guy for cocktails on Saturday night. He was a lawyer. He didn’t really try to hide his dismay when I told him I, too, was a lawyer. And, then, he didn’t even try to make conversation.

I met a third guy for coffee Sunday morning. He never looked in my eyes and spent most of the conversation reminiscing about a band he and a friend started in his garage when he was in high school twenty-plus years ago that would have gone really big if the friend would have just stuck with it. I am not kidding. He ended our conversation by complementing my boobs, noting that they were real. He apparently really appreciated this, he generously explained, even though mine weren’t as big as his last girlfriend’s, because hers were fake. He’d moved up to Oregon from San Diego, so perhaps he felt compelled to embrace the Pacific Northwest back-to-nature ethic as a means of fitting in.

And then I met my husband. He looked like a bad boy in his pictures. There was a gleam in his eye that told me he was going to break my heart and I was not even going to care. I went back-and-forth for days, well probably only hours given the overall length of my online stint, before deciding to throw caution to the wind and say “Hi” to him. Yes, I said the electronic hello to him – all these other fellows reaching out my way and I ping him. We had some wonderful email exchanges before we spoke on the phone. This part I remember vividly. Talking to him on my landline cordless phone in the kitchen of the Roselawn House. Going back over the where did you grow up, what do you do territory, and other parts of the making an acquaintance refresher course – so you have kids (me to him), so you went to law school (him to me).

“So you have kids,” I say, because I’m particularly curious about this given that I’m 36, never been married, and currently live alone with a dog and a scared-of-the-dog cat. “How many?” I ask.

“Five.” he says.

“F  I  V  E!!!!!” I mouth, silently and dramatically, as I dance around the kitchen in disbelief. I never in my wildest dreams expected so many. And then, quietly, with a calm, composed voice, I respond, “Five, eh?  Wow, so you Mormon?  Catholic?  Just really fertile?”  What, I wonder, is his story?

And so we began, telling each other our story. Two days later we went out for dinner and two more days after that we went out for coffee and two weeks further on we went to a Cinco de Mayo party in that friend’s backyard who had reintroduced me to the guy I'd forgotten I'd dated, and another month passed till I met his parents and his kids, a few at a time, and then all together. Another couple of weeks beyond that, he made the trek to meet my parents.

The best memory I have from those early days of coming to know and fall in love with him is when I came home one day to find a package waiting for me on my front stoop. I opened it up to find that this man I’d just met and barely knew had sent me a box of books. My heart soared. Books. Shipped directly to my house from an online order. Bliss. I read and read through Jan Karon's Mitford series and emailed him quotes that I loved in the middle of the night and said, “Hey you,” and knew I meant, “I love you.” And I do.

He tells me his sweetest memory, the reason he fell in love with me, was my writing.  The story I told about myself in that silly little personal ad and the emails I wrote him about the daily little details of my life, those books and the thoughts they triggered, and my wondering, hungering, eager asking about him. Now the story is writing itself and writing us into it and it turns out to not really matter how it started, only that it did and it is beautiful.