A tale of two couples (pt 1)

Two pairs of sandals left by a stream -

Quite unimportant a sight it would seem.
Two wandering children gone off to play?
A couple trying to get quietly away?
What did I feel dart through my heart
As I witnessed those shoes play their innocent part?
Close as two lovers in bed,
They symbolized everything I'd come to dread.
Stifled tears escaped from my eyes
While scanning to see what I longed to deny.
Up and down the river no one was seen,
Only the evidence left by the stream.
I did not see what my mind unwillingly beheld -
How could they continue to be so uncaring and bold?
In the mountains I faced my fear manifest,
Constantly haunting me despite hopeful trust.
Betrayal was laying there at my feet -
Those sandals together, their owners' retreat.
One pair are his who sleeps by my side,
The second belong to my friend - another man's wife.

I wrote this (admittedly horrible) poem almost 10 years ago. I can now share it because the pain has long passed and I do believe - finally - the anger has too. The (happy) life I now have is all due to the events that took place on September 25, 1999, although the story begins two or three years prior to that.

It was almost midnight on the night of my 27th birthday party and all but two of my guests had left. I was woozy but not drunk, and very sleepy. But when B asked me if we could talk I could tell by his tone that I needed to stay awake a little longer. After we finally got the other hanger-on to leave B and I sat down.

Then the tears came.

Now B is a big guy, a funny guy, a don't-show-your-emotions-marine guy, and here he was sitting in my living room crying - to me, and we hardly knew each other. You see, B was married to a friend of mine, not a close friend, just a member of a group of goofy people I had recently become aligned with for the purpose of partying and Sunday morning brunching. I was not particularly close with any of them - I was a friend of a friend. B and I had only chatted about something deeper than the foam on a Guinness one other time (which happened to be religion). Beyond that he was just one of the gang and he made me laugh, as he did everyone (except his wife - but that's another story... oh, actually it's not).

B came to me because we had something in common - our partners were in love with each other Yes, his (very new) wife was in love with my (by then, ex) boyfriend.

B had given his extroverted, gregarious wife the benefit of the doubt for too long and he couldn't take it anymore. He and I had both put up with their "friendship" for over a year - hanging out every Wednesday night (working on a comic book project, they said), even coming home at 6AM sometimes - and in constant denial that there was anything more between them. The awkwardness and insanity of the situation had finally broken up my boyfriend and me 3 months before, although I was still in denial that he could truly be in love with another man's wife - over me! B had never talked to anyone about the pain and feelings of betrayal and anger he was experiencing. But it was time.

That night two very hurt (and slightly drunk) individuals talked and cried together into the half light of morning. We yelled at those who had hurt us and we beat ourselves up for being so naive. We felt like a couple of door mats - stomped on and caked in mud.

I won't deny that I fell in love with him that night. I have never wanted someone to kiss me quite so intensely. I know it was the combination of wine, sleep deprivation, and a very large dose of emotional overload. But it did not happen. He was married. I was still mourning my lost love. We hugged and we said goodbye.

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Driving ourselves to debt (pt 2)

Hello, my name is Joanna, and I am a Shopper.

OK, I admit, I'm a shoe whore. I also like to be surrounded by pretty things. I love matching dishes and coordinating bedrooms. I prefer to have the perfect weight jacket for the temperature and the most appropriate mode of transportation for my baby (i.e. sling, backpack, jogger stroller, wagon, etc.). Yes, I am part of the problem. I love to shop. I have a credit card balance. (BUT I also buy many things second-hand and I rarely pay full price for anything. I'm just relieved I'm not so materialistic that I just have to have that designer bag or the latest iPhone (I don't even really know what one of those is.) )

Almost a month ago I began a rant. Now I will finish it.

On my walk to work I pass houses of every economic description. Most are well-kept and beautiful, some are shabby, and some are, well, let's put it this way, you couldn't get me to cross their threshold even if the dog chained in the backyard was about to sample my derriere for dinner.

Lawns littered with old swing sets, pools, and discarded toys where no child could safely play. Mud-splattered, plastic Santas smiling pathetically at the cracked Easter bunnies and smashed pumpkins. Old cars, vans, and trucks, tires melting into the mud; no more use than outdoor closets. Through open front doors I see hallways where "stuff" is piled so high and deep a person would have to turn sideways to inch past it. Now, granted, this is (I hope to goodness) the exception, not the norm. (Pack-ratting (is that a word?) is one thing, hording another, but plain ol' lazy is quite another.)

The difference between this house and, say, mine? My crap's hidden.

In closets, sheds, attics... the reality is Americans shop and shop and shop. Whether we pitch it all with equal enthusiasm, yard sale it, or stuff it in our multiple storage units (or cars), it is a national pastime. Our credit card debt, our lack of savings, and Suze Ormon on Orpah every week are all testimony to our addiction.

Why do we need so much stuff? A TV in every bedroom? Read a book. A sweatshirt from every tourist trap along the eastern coast? Highlight a map. Four inflatable, light up, jingling Christmas monstrosities that leave your electricity bill and taste in question? Put some (little) lights on a tree.

Unfortunately, Americans will continue to shop and horde until they are completely shopped out and poor. Maybe then life will become more simple.

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Don't send a man to the grocery store...

... or to get a movie unless you like sodium and fat saturated foam board and a cheesy, violence-saturated flick starring a certain muscle-bound governor.

Is it a missing gene that makes an other-wise intelligent man enjoy the most brainless entertainment and unable to shop or eat responsibly? I dearly love my husband but I do feel the need to "take the mickey" for just a moment. I hope he'll humor me.


Why is it that after living in the same house for many months, even years, he still doesn't know that the yellow mugs live on the same shelf as the other yellow mugs but not with the blue ones?

And how hard is it to close a kitchen cabinet door? Apparently very.

How is it that when I move the hamper (although still in plain view) the clothes still get thrown where the hamper used to be? Maybe he thinks that if he does that for long enough I will eventually give up and put the hamper back. Or maybe he still sees it there... The Phantom Hamper?

Talking of Laundry

I have three categories of clothes:

Clean - either in a basket or the closet.

Dirty - in the hamper.

Still Wearable - laid on the chair (not always neatly, I must confess) or back in the closet.

He has four:

Clean - in a basket or the closet.

Dirty - in the hamper, on the floor next to the hamper (how hard is it to get them in the hamper?), by the side of the bed, or, in the case of socks, rolled in a ball next to the chair that he happened to be sitting in when he removed them.

Still Wearable - in piles in the closet or on the floor, and frequently mixed with the above categories.

Dirty but should be saved for outdoor activities or messy chores - in piles in the closet or on the floor, and frequently mixed with the above categories.


Please explain why this man who cannot take off a shirt without first pulling it into the most unbelievable muddle - inside out and upside down - or god-forbid, put it to rights before throwing it in the hamper or hanging on the hook, can, without fail bundle his socks into a perfect space-saving little ball? Is it because they provide more entertainment when doing a 3-pointer into the laundry basket (can't be that because they hardly ever make it there), or is it the pure joy of knowing that I have to pull apart each slimy pair before dropping them into washing machine? He tells me it's so they won't get lost... well, dear if I were to wash and dry them while retaining their spherical form that might make an ounce of sense.


I don't have it but I do like things done right. The dishwasher, for example. When loading it there are certain items that fit better in one spot and there is a way to maximize capacity. But no matter how many times I gently remind him of these specifics, if left to his own devices, my husband's loading job will be full of holes and inefficient placement.

I have just read this to my husband and for the most part he is humored. But fair's fair... now it's my turn. And I quote (more or less):

You let the gas tank get to practically empty before even thinking about stopping to fill it up (and then you wait until I drive it next anyway).

You refuse to run the dishwasher until every inch of space is filled.

The floor of the closet is entirely covered with shoes - and they all look exactly the same to me. How many brown shoes do you need, woman?

You always have one more thing to write before going to bed.

I have to butter my bread with soup because you always leave it out.

You pack for every possible activity and weather conceivable and every thing in the house has to be left clean before leaving on a trip.

You have a tendency to be penny-wise and pound-stupid... "no, you can't buy that, it's .50, but oh, look at these shoes I got on sale.... $48.95 instead of $50... what a great deal!"

You look like the Abominable Snowman when you dress for bed in the winter.

You can change the most putrid diaper or wipe the baby's nose with your fingers but you gag if someone snorts or clears their throat.

And what about hitting snooze 12,000 times every morning? On, off, on, off, buzz, buzz, buzz...


He had many more. In fact, the list was getting so long I had to stop him before I started forming an inferiority complex.

I guess we're both as bad as each other - that's why we're perfect for each other.

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Utterly random, boring facts

I am sitting next to a basket of laundry which is taking up more room on the couch than me.

I have just put Tater Tot back in his bed for the 6-1/2th time. (The 1/2 time was when he had finally burned off the brownie and put himself back in bed but kept calling, " 'mon Mama" until I followed to give him his 7th set of goodnight kisses.)

Little white paper circles are scattered all over the carpet and coffee table: The entire contents of the 3-hole punch.

My neck keeps spasming.

I am addicted to daily planners, appointment books, and notebooks.

Brownie is still active. Tater showed up again then charged up the stairs in front of me saying, "'eat you, 'eat you..."

I love Obama but I am very tired of seeing his face on TV (although it's still better than that other guy.)

My bag collection may have, for the first time, exceeded the shoes - a malady I must quickly remedy. (I must take this opportunity to state my opinion on designer bags and the ridiculous, sickening amount of money women spend on them - it is ridiculous and sickening. What kind of society are we living in that women feel the need to hang their money (i.e. debt), taste (i.e. unoriginality), and trendiness (i.e. shallow materialism) off their shoulder, and deem it so important that they will actually rent it? The most expensive bag I own cost $45 and that seemed extravagant. I will now dismount my high horse.)

I own one of those stars that everyone has on their houses and garages (I bought mine before anyone else); it is hanging in the stairwell.

Ten times a day I write a sentence in my head that never makes it to paper (or back into my head - or even to the tip of my tongue).

Today I found myself explaining to a young mother that no, the Incredible-Hulk-green "Bug Juice" is not real juice.

Tater will not accept any drink, food, or service from my hand if my husband is within walking distance: "NO! Daddy do it."

My children have been known to fight over whether their oo-ah-ahs are of a monkey or an opera singer.

My name has been officially changed to Tater's and Little Lady's Mom (that's Mrs Tater's Mom to you.)

I still have all my teeth despite the lack of dental intervention.

Clothes don't fold themselves (but do appear to scatter themselves across the floor.)

I haven't drawn a portrait in over 3 years.

I haven't sung with a choir since I was 3 months pregnant.

I have now lived in the U.S. a decade longer than in my homeland.

I'm terrible about downloading pictures off my camera (oh, you hadn't noticed?). (Probably because I can't figure out how to do one or two pictures at a time - it always downloads all photos in the camera. Frustrating.)

I'm running out of fascinating tid-bits (and I really need to go to bed).

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Writers Unite!

I went to a writer's symposium today. Despite being exhausted (this follows two grueling days of workshops on child sexual abuse and other things I'd prefer to remain naively ignorant about), this workshop was just what I needed. Being around other writers (and what colorful characters we are!) is so affirming. Hearing pens frantically scratching across yellow legal pads as we thrash through the mental cobwebs to enter the mysterious, and always miraculous, cave of verbal wonders; being applauded for something you scribbled in a 10-minute sprint and told you have to "keep going with that... I'd read it," is music to the ego and adrenaline to the muse. You feel a part of something; something real, something worthwhile. You might even consider claiming to be a... a... Writer (whoa, slow down there, Nellie!)

Let me throw a little bit of serendipity in here.

I found out about this workshop from a writer whom I contacted through http://www.pw.org/. I was hoping to find a writer's group nearby. I found the name of a woman who lives 20 miles from me. While reading her bio I discovered, amazingly, that she grew up in a town within miles of where we lived in Mississippi. She wrote a friendly, helpful email telling of her publications and current works-in-progress. She also suggested I contact a certain gentleman about a workshop being held the next weekend. It turns out that this very gentlemen and my father just happen to belong to a mutual admiration society, so I was able to [maiden] name drop and register for the workshop just a day before it was held.

Now I have contacts. I will be joining the local writer's guild. I will have people to hold me accountable, who will (hopefully) offer positive feedback and constructive criticism, and who, most importantly, will make me feel I belong. To a "club" of like-minded people, who understand the unbounded beauty of a blank book and a fountain pen, and to whom the ideal day is one spent wringing out words and pegging up phrases.

To paraphrase one of our presenters today, Joni B. Cole, writing may be a lone effort but it doesn't have to be a lonely one.

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Waiting for the serendipity to stir

I realized I hadn't said much about serendipity or positive thinking lately. Since I started the job that was the result of a serendipitous event, life has become kind of run of the mill. Despite having not worked (out of the home) for 4 years I have slipped back into the routine and mindset of being in an office as if I just returned from a extended vacation. Thankfully this job has yet to stress me out like my last "real" job where I had publication deadlines, front-of-house crowd control issues, and the pressure of being a new, working, breast-pumping mother.

Even so, I think I'm a little down. I had finally started writing - or at least got my head in a place where I was (truly) ready to start - and now I'm wrestling The Schedule. I have marked up my planner until it looks like the departure board at Logan airport, blocking out every hour with this chore, that errand, appointments, work, and writing. But then that errand takes an hour longer than it should (due to the rice having been moved from aisle 4 to aisle 13 and pizza dough apparently no longer made) or a staff meeting and work project running over time, shrinking the scheduled writing time from three hours to one (which, of course, means no writing).

I'm glad I'm working and I especially can't wait to write a grant. Plus, we definitely needed the extra paycheck to get through this heating season. But I also feel that maybe - once again - I have put my own dream on hold. Did I do this on purpose; subconsciously sabotaging myself because I was getting too close to actually doing what I have dreamed of?

When you no longer have an excuse to fall back on, the responsibility of a dream can loom large and scary.

I think I have stopped thinking positively and looking for serendipity because my life has become, well, normal, and a normal life - boring life - doesn't foster spiritual thoughts. But I'm pretty sure that's where I'm making a mistake. If I did start thinking more positively about merging my working, mothering, and writing lives into a more do-able, less scary whole, I would most likely start to see the serendipity stir.

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Saying goodbye

Today I took down the crib that cradled my two children through nights and naps from infancy into their toddler years.

And today I cried.

It's not that I want another baby. It's not that I'm attached to the 3rd-hand crib or the space it was taking up in the kids' room. It isn't even because I jammed my finger while trying to wrestle the thing apart (which I didn't, but surely would have if I hadn't enlisted my husband to pry its bolts and screws from their nooks and crannies). No, I cried because... well, I don't know exactly.

Twice I have endured the morphing of my body into an unwieldy monstrosity. Twice I have labored and summoned strength and stamina I could never have imagined for myself. I have brought into this world two babies, two beautiful, smart babies.

I have been splattered and spit up on. Puked on and peed on. I have been sucked on and slept on. I have picked up, mopped up, and been fed up. I have cried, I have laughed, I have felt pride, and I have felt guilt. I have yelled and I have hugged. I have felt alone and I have craved to be alone. I have wanted my life back yet never want to go back to life before I met my children.

I love my children but I know I don't want any more. I am ready to get myself back, to begin the life I have wanted for myself but have had to put on hold. With one child in kindergarten and one ready to take on the world in his new 2-year-old shoes, I am beginning to get a glimpse of that life.

So why the tears?

Maybe I was crying for the babies I will never hold to my breast again. For the times I gently placed them, limp with sleep, into that crib, their soft breath whispering through milky lips. For the first time I found them standing, holding the crib bar for support, triumph beaming on their face.

Or maybe I was crying for the future toward which they are headed now that they sleep snug and secure in their big girl and boy beds? For the patter of feet down the hallway or the thumps down the stairs. For the curly-topped head that seems each day to have grown a little closer to my waist. Or the slammed doors and stands of defiance that mark another step toward independence.

I can't answer the question with one definitive answer because I don't think there is one. Taking apart and stacking in the hallway the biggest physical aspect of my children's babyhood is an obvious metaphor. What is not so obvious is the part of me I was dismantling along side it.

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