Friday, November 20, 2009

The Mother of Reinvention

I know I know. I’ve neglected you lately. Yes, for months, I know. I get it. You’re angry. If it makes you feel any better I’ve been neglecting myself as well, letting myself go, so to speak. I’ve been really really busy trying to find a job you see. What I’d prefer to find is someone to just give me sums of money every few weeks for no reason at all, but that hasn’t happened yet. Figured getting a job would be easier. Well, needless to say, both options are equally viable at this point. Apparently no one wants to pay me for actual work either.

But I digress. I’m in the middle of my annual re-invention phase, a not so pleasant phase to witness. That moment when you feel like your life, your home, your looks, are a stagnant, lifeless pool of fetid water. My home feels disastrous, my hair style dated and unflattering, my clothing a walking advertisement for Salvation Army. I’ve mentioned this phase I’m in to a few friends and my sister, who all retort with something along the lines of, “Puh-leease. You don’t ever look frumpy. Your hair looks amazing! You’re so thin. What do you have to complain about?” To which I want to retort, “Put a sock in it.” I am not trying to collect compliments door-to-door with my self-esteem bucket held high. I’m not even looking for my friends to agree with me. What I’m looking for is to hear someone say, “I sooo know what you mean. I’ve felt like an ugly, outdated bitch before too.”

My husband really hates this phase. I announced to him the other morning while reading the paper, “Just so you know, I’ve had it with my hair.”

“You going to cut it?” he asked.

“I’m going to do something,” I replied. “Oh, and I was thinking about giving away the dining table and moving in the plastic table from the back porch…”

“Why don’t you just go buy a convertible?” he asked.

“If I thought that would do it, I probably would.”

In times like these the poor man doesn’t know what he’s going to come home to. Honestly, I’m never quite sure what I’m going to do next either. The living room might be pink. The furniture could be reorganized. I may have renamed one of the children, or perhaps chosen another tattoo or gotten a body part pierced. I’m needing something drastic, some way to redefine how I look and feel, to regain the joie de vivre that seems to have evaporated. Like someone sucked all the color out of my life and left me with shades of grey. I’m living in Un-Pleasantville.

Deciding that changing myself would be easier (and let’s face it, a little cheaper) in the run, than say, remodeling the house, or the long paper-work hassle of a name change, I went browsing through some stores the other day looking for a new outfit. Buying new clothing for myself is such a rare occurrence.

I have a few gift cards burning a hole in my purse, and I really was hoping to find something,….well, that didn’t belong to my mother. I typically shop once a year through my mother and sister’s cast-off bags, the last stop they make before being donated to those more needy than myself. In fact, the last time I went through my sister’s Good Will bags, (who gave away more clothes than I actually own) I had a nice tidy pile of sweaters and shirts, sprinkled with a couple pairs of pants. I was feeling pretty good about myself since my middle sister is younger, trendier, and thinner than I, and actually employed with a fab job—and maybe, just maybe, wearing her old clothes, would give me some type of cool mojo I lack. As she was loading her pilfered donations back into her car, she glanced at my piles. “Just so you know, everything you picked out of my pile was originally from mom.”


So now I’m wearing cast-off-cast-offs.

But I digress again. My apologies. The first store I hit on my cotton-convertible shopping trip was Chicos. I never heard much about Chicos when I lived in the west, but out here on the East Coast Chicos is HOT. How many racks of clothing a store has, is usually a good indicator to the type and price of clothing (think many racks=Target, vs. fewer racks=Burberry). The second I walked in, I was pretty sure that Chicos wasn’t going to be my thing. Don’t get me wrong, the clothes were beautiful. Vibrant shades of purple, silver metallic dress shirts, pants with an actual crease down the front, and necklaces that would weigh down Cleopatra herself, adorned the mannequins. Clearly, these outfits would be perfect for the employed version of myself, something I could wear to a board meeting, or an editorial department meeting, or even a faculty meeting, if I had any of those jobs. I didn’t see anything that made the statement “freelance-writer-desperate-for-work-and-a-break-from-two-year-old-screaming”. I took long strides in, around the display, and out the shop door. On to store #2.

Coldwater Creek. I have to say, if there is any version of how I’d like to see myself, it’s in a Coldwater Creek catalog. I do like their clothes; colorful jackets, beautiful long skirts that hide un-shaven legs. Clothing fitted to accentuate a waist I still have (thankfully) but not so tight they give me gas. Their style leans towards a Southwest flair-something I’d normally avoid-but it’s not turquoise-and-kokopeli-obnoxious. In my Coldwater Creek version of myself, I live on a sprawling mountain ranch in Montana somewhere, and watch my horses roam in the vast empty acres of my homestead, while drinking hot coffee from a wooden rocker on my rustic front porch. I’m dressed like the woman in the picture, and what I do before or after my coffee on the porch is of no concern because Coldwater Creek is all about living in the moment. What I don’t like about Coldwater Creek are the prices, because this starving writer can’t bring herself to pay $90.00 for a jacket she drinks coffee in. As I breeze through Coldwater Creek, I realize I just don’t see anything on a mannequin that says, “shleping-two-kids-to-the-bus-stop-in-the-pouring-rain,” so I leave. Store #3.

American Eagle Outfitters. Quit laughing. I know I don’t fit the target market for AEO, which is pre-pubescent to college binge drinkers, but perhaps I’ll find some kind of basic t-shirt I can layer with my marmy sweaters in extra-extra-large, because the base size for this store is 0. Quick glance at mannequins: transparent gold sequined tank with frayed seams layered under an AEO jersey-knit hoody with fur trimmed collar. Uh, I don’t think so. Somehow I can’t picture myself doing dishes in this outfit, and sequined anything kills the skin under your arms. Trust me. Next mannequin? V-neck lace cami layered under black tuxedo vest, paired with skinny-crack-showing-acid-washed jeans. Seriously, I’d need to drag my child-bearing hips in a wagon behind me, ‘cause there ain’t no room for them in those pants. Not only do I leave the store—quickly, lest I be mistaken for a mom shopping for a teenager I don’t have—I vow not to ever let my children shop there either. Tank tops in Massachusetts? It’s winter for crying-out-loud.

Store #4. Ann Taylor Loft. I love Ann Taylor Loft. I love the tailored clothing, the sophisticated style, the amazing a-line swing sweaters with a single button front. I adore the way they pair ripped jeans with a button-down and scarf, and you could show up for dinner at the Phoenician. I love the way I feel important when I walk into an Ann Taylor store. My possibilities are endless. If I wore clothes like this everyday, I could do anything. Start my own company. Do book tours. Rule the world. In my head I’m capable of all these things, but my clothes are holding me back. Ann Taylor Loft is like dream-crack; a whiff of new-clothes air, a brushing of the soft fabrics beneath my fingers and I’m suddenly trying to rationalize feeding my family potatoes and rice for the next two months so I can buy one complete outfit. No Christmas for you this year, kids. Doesn’t mommy look TERRIFIC? But that’s not my reality. A glance in the mirror keeps me real. I’m wearing eight-year-old faded jeans coupled with a yellow zip sweater (from my mother) that hits directly at my waist (sooo passé), my hair is slicked back into a ponytail, faded leather mules (from my mother) and socks that don’t match. Yes they show. Sigh. I stand up taller trying to pull off the I-really-wear-Ann-Taylor-clothes-most-days-today-I’m-just-slumming-it, and slink out of the store, too rich to purchase anything today. As if.

That was seriously not a good shopping day. Those happen. It’s like shopping for jeans, bras, or swimsuits. You either come away with everything, or want to sign up for an extreme makeover, body edition.

Decidedly, I am cotton. I am stretchy fabrics that don’t pinch my crotch. I am cozy, warm sweaters, thick socks, and old jeans. I am Target, TJ Maxx, and Department-Store-Sale. As I type this I am wearing post-pregnancy pants two sizes too big, a faded navy blue maternity shirt (one of the few I kept because it’s comfy) and a button front navy blue cardigan that used to belong to my mother, to be followed up with pilling navy blue socks, and yes, navy blue slippers that also once belonged to the woman who gave me life. The rain apparently influenced my clothing decisions today. Deep sigh. I am drinking coffee, but not on a rustic front porch over-looking a meadowland vista, but toys and papers and office mess strewn about, like the settled remnants after a tornado. I’m writing, of course, but it’s not like this blog is paying me.

Well, revamping myself via the clothing route isn’t going to happen. No worries. Today I have a haircut appointment at 1:00. Maybe I’ll go pink. Or Sinead. A bob? Layered locks with bangs? There are so many possibilities that say “yearly-identity-crisis-for-underemployed-overeducated-stay-at-home-mom-of-three.” I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Fun-Sucker: Yes, It's a Blog From Ted

“Don’t worry about a deadline. I just want you to have fun with it.” That was Rachel’s response to my query of exactly when she wanted my last blog entry. “Just have fun with it.”

Oh, Rachel. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. If only it were that easy. If only anything for me were that easy. Alas, nothing ever is, because I have the super-human-like ability to suck every last ounce of fun out of anything. I like to think of it as the mental equivalent of overcooking broccoli. What starts out as a delicious and dark green vegetable winds up a colorless, flavorless mound of something that my guinea pigs refuse to even nibble on. That is exactly what happens to “fun” once it meets my brain.

Let me clarify: it is not a matter of not being able to have fun. I can do that, especially when a couple of beers are thrown in. That is not my issue. Instead, my problem is that I am not “in the moment” for anything because I am constantly anticipating what is coming next. For example, while everybody else is enjoying the beauty of the beach on a sunny summer afternoon, I am anticipating how I am going to arrange the various beach items in the wagon to ensure the most efficient method of getting everything back to the car. On Christmas morning, when the kids are tearing off the wrapping from their presents, I basically have a game of Tetris playing in my head as I anticipate how to get all of that cardboard to fit into our one recycle bin that is allotted to us from our town.

Some (read: my wife) would call me an anal-retentive freak. Others may call me borderline-autistic, someone who could easily pull up a stool and join Rain Man in a hand at the blackjack tables. I, however, like to refer to myself as a “planner.” So, in my organized manner, let me go over the list of those for whom I plan:

  1. obviously, for myself
  2. for my kids, who are usually grateful that I have not forgotten any of the pivotal pieces of sporting equipment for their latest activity
  3. for my wife, who is not nearly as grateful and repeatedly questions in a highly-sarcastic manner how she ever did anything with me not telling her how to go about each and every detail. And…
  4. for fictional characters in movies

You were probably following me up until that last response. I am not one of those film geeks who is seeking out inconsistencies in plot or costume design. That is so not the case for me that I can’t even think of an example to include here (and I really don’t want to ever have to do a Google search for anything that starts with the phrase “Star Trek episodes.”) Also, I am not one of those movie-goers who is upset with the characters for making foolish decisions. On the contrary, I am usually thinking that if that woman is stupid enough to go into the basement when she knows that she is being chased by a homicidal maniac, then she fully deserves to be disemboweled.

Rather, I am the individual who happily pays a small fortune for admission and popcorn, and then sits in the darkened movie theatre unnecessarily obsessing over the logistics of each scene. For example, I can easily become fixated on any romantic scene in a movie that involves candles. The character in the movie is never using just one or two candles—to fully set the mood they have typically lit at least fifty candles. The sight of this overloads my brain with all of the practical elements that involve such an act. First of all, it takes a whole lot of time to light that many candles. Secondly, these are never candles that have been previously used, saving the individual from having to use a butter knife to dig out the remnants of the wick from the wax in order to light it again. No, these are pristine candles, which makes me question if the character has a closet full of dozens and dozens of new candles for this very purpose. These are inevitably not cheap candles from the Christmas Tree Shop. These appear to be high quality candles from the likes of Pottery Barn, where candles cost a minimum of $25 each. $25 per candle multiplied by 50 candles totals $1,250. That’s a good chunk of change I am sure could be spent on more practical matters. Wasn’t the person in an earlier scene complaining about their son having a rare bone disease and how they couldn’t afford the proper medical treatment? Hey, lady: Maybe your kid could get healthy if you stopped dropping a fortieth of your income on freakin’ candles! Come on, where are your priorities??? And speaking of practical matters, who really wants to spend their post-coital moments walking around the house extinguishing fifty candles? I don’t care how meticulous you are, with that many lit items in your home, you are bound to forget at least one. And then what? You are wakened in the middle of the night by the smoke detector, and trust me—that is never, ever romantic.

“But Ted, that’s not the point of the movie!”

I know! But I...just...can’t stop...myself...And again my brain is back on the candles. If the characters actually summon the energy to get up to blow out all of these candles, then I hope that they take an extra minute to make a trip to the bathroom before they return to bed. These characters just made mad, passionate love And look at what they are doing immediately following that act: choosing to fall asleep in one another’s arms. I have fathered four children and have thus been sexually active at least four times in my life. Since I can speak from that vast experience, I have learned that there is usually some clean-up involved after such acts. Yet these characters just lay there, taunting me in their refusal to even glance at the box of tissues clearly displayed right there on the nightstand. Hell, I would be happy if they just picked up the discarded tee shirt from the floor and used that to freshen up with. Please, I beg of you, do something, anything that will ultimately prevent you from waking up after a few hours of sleep and finding yourselves stuck to one another. And don’t even get me started on the female’s increased chances of developing a urinary tract infection if she chooses not to frequent the loo. (I sure hope that she likes cranberry juice, because obviously that is all she will be drinking for the next few days.)

I would love to tell you that I am exaggerating all of this for comedic effect. Sadly, it’s not the case. This unfortunately, is just the way my mind works and I need to accept it. I should get used to the fact that I will continue to almost always be on time for absolutely everything (and if I’m not, there is usually a damned good reason, i.e. alien abduction, anthrax attack, etc.). And I need to get accustomed to the fact that while everybody else is captivated by the interplay between Batman and The Joker, I will continue to be the lone individual obsessing over who is responsible for changing the oil in the Batmobile.