it happened in a burger king bathroom

For a very long time, I was absolutely certain I did not want children. I had thought it all out, see. I was not the mothering type. I wanted to spend my money on myself. I wanted to travel and have nice things. I proclaimed this loudly and often to anyone who would listen, and I took great pains to get offended when people would kind of shake their heads and say, “You’ll change your mind,” in response.

I was so mellow back then.

And then I entered this period of great ambivalence about childbearing, which I didn’t share with many people. I wasn’t really sure. Maybe I’d have kids. But I definitely did not want to date someone who already had kids. I’d heard horror stories of what a minefield it was to be a stepparent, and I just didn’t even want to deal with that kind of baggage. I wanted a man unspoiled by life, other women, and offspring.

Silly old mellow me.

So now here I am. I’m in love with the man I intend to marry someday, a man who loves me back and intends to marry me too. Weddings are always best when both spouses-to-be agree to show up, right? So I’m in love with this man – this amazing, intelligent, supportive, divorced father of two. Somehow I’m pretty sure he’s still unspoiled.

We waited several months into our relationship before I met the kids. Their stability is really important to both of us, and we wanted to be sure we were serious and in it for the long haul before we introduced them into our lives as a couple. So for the first few months we were dating, he went on his own to see them and I stayed home. When we began making plans for them to spend the first weekend with us, I was terrified.

I wanted desperately to like them and to have them like me back, but I knew there was a very good chance that they might not like me at all. They might even hate me at first, which would be fairly normal and probably not even about me as a person at all, and more about me as their dad’s new girlfriend. I tried to prepare myself for the possibility of a chilly reception and I hoped and hoped we’d have a good time.

And we did. I wrote about it in the spring. We had our moments of awkward tiptoeing and figuring each other out, but no one seemed to hate me and things were fine. I, of course, fell in love with them immediately. We had a couple of other visits and things continued to go pretty well, and I continued to fall in love. And I knew they liked me, and we had fun, but I didn’t know if they loved me and I didn’t expect them to. I’m not their mama, after all. I’m just The Other.

It’s become a little tradition that when we take the kids back after visits, we stop at Burger King. Seth and I have a thing for Mocha Joes and the kids can hit the Playland and it’s a convenient location. Plus it boosts our mood just a little, because though we never let the kids see, we’re always both a little mopey when we’re taking the kids back. So we stop at BK and the first thing we do, of course, is hit the bathroom.

M, age 5, likes to make small talk in public restrooms. One time we were at IHOP and I was waiting outside her stall for her to finish and from her perch on the toilet, she described to me in anatomically correct detail how babies were made. It’s always unpredictable and entertaining and sometimes embarrassing.

So we’re in the bathroom at Burger King and I’m waiting for her and she says, “Hey Lorie, you know what?” I’m kind of only halfway paying attention and I kind of absently say, “What?” and she says, “Did you know I love you?”

I’m almost certain it’s not the first time she told me that, but I think it’s the first time it came out of the blue and it’s definitely the moment I will always remember. It’s not terribly poignant, my little sorta step-girl on the toilet with her feet dangling down telling me she loves me, but ohh. My heart grows a little bit just in the retelling. She doesn’t have to love me, but she does.

It took me a second to respond that I loved her too, of course I did. She finished and we washed her hands and went out to join the rest of the family and the whole time, all I was thinking is, I want to be a mom. I want to be a mom. I want to be a mom.

10 Comments October 15, 2009

they definitely do not call me mellow yellow

For years, I have been functioning under the stunning misconception that I am basically a mellow person. In fact, if I weren’t so lazy, I could probably search in the archives of this very site just a little bit and find several occasions where I described myself in some way that seemed mellow.

If you have ever worked with me, dated me, been related to me, or hell, encountered me on the street, you are probably reading this through tears of laughter and disbelief. You might even have accidentally peed on your chair a little bit because you were laughing so hard. I’ll wait while you go get a towel and change.

You’re back? Oh, good.

So I’m confessing it now: I am not mellow. I am not even a little bit mellow. I am so not mellow, in fact, that I have often been accused of not knowing how to relax. I’ve been told that even when I think I’m relaxed, I’m actually still tense, still unwilling to let go, still afraid to lose control. If you’re like this, you understand. If you’re not, let me tell you: that shit takes a lot of energy to maintain. It really does. But it’s so hard and scary to let go.

Seth and I emailed and IMed each other for a few weeks before we ever met in person, and during one of those conversations, I confessed to him that I didn’t like watching horror movies because I tended to get very upset when people died. Everyone else in the theater would be laughing and cringing at the gore and the absurdity of the whole thing, and I’d be fighting tears and thinking about who was going to make funeral arrangements and clean up the mess and go through the dead person’s things and close bank accounts and stuff. Because no one was thinking about that in the movie and someone should think about it and it really stressed me out.

“Wow,” he said. “Sounds like someone has too much responsibility in her life.” And, you know, he was probably right.

These days, he’s pretty great at identifying times when I need to let go a little bit, but it’s often hard for me to take his advice. He’ll notice I’m in hypermanaging mode about something or other and kind of take me off to the side and say, “Hey. You don’t have to be in charge of this thing. Let someone else figure it out.” And he’s right, sort of, but on the other hand, who am I if I’m not being responsible for everything?

Of course part of me thinks nothing will get done right, if at all, if I don’t oversee it. But probably an even bigger part of the problem is that I’ve allowed it to define me. I am the person who answers the question. I am the person who solves the problem. I am the person who researches the best airfare. I am the person who makes the reservations. I am the person who decides what time we’re leaving and whether we need reservations and if you should wear a jacket. And I resent it sometimes. Sometimes I really, really resent it. But again, how am I useful to you, how am I productive, how will I have value if I let you do those things yourself?

Here are my greatest fears: being perceived as dependent, stupid, or incompetent. I am more worried about other people THINKING those things than I am about actually becoming them. And how stupid is that? I can’t really control what other people think about me no matter how I behave. But still I try. I work my ass off, wipe myself out, expend all of my energy to be sure that others see me as independent, intelligent, and above all else, COMPETENT.

I don’t know if I can stop making those things so important to me, but I do know that I would really like to be able to just relax and turn off my worries and, you know, maybe watch a gory movie once in a while without stressing out so much about who’s going to clean up those brains on the floor.

4 Comments October 14, 2009

the pivotal fried chicken incident

It all started one night way back in January, or maybe even late December, on the night Seth wanted fried chicken for dinner.

That’s it. Fried chicken. It should have been totally simple.

Of course, I don’t really cook, and I certainly don’t fry chicken, so the fried chicken dinner would have to come from a restaurant.

He probably doesn’t even know how significant this was, but I remember it all very clearly. We’d barely started dating. We had just gotten back into town from a quick trip to Baltimore, we were lounging around my house, I asked what he thought he’d like for dinner, and he suggested fried chicken. And I began to try to figure out how to order fried chicken for just two people.

I was used to getting food for either one person or six people, and I had no clue how many pieces of chicken and sides and stuff you’d need for two people. So I asked him to give me an idea of what I should get and how much and stuff, and he (reasonably) looked at me like I was a total nutjob and said, “I’m going with you, aren’t I?”

Oh. Oh! He was going with me!

We had a brief awkward exchange of “oh, you were going to go?” and “oh, did you not want me to go?” and “no, of course I want you to go” and “it’s okay if you don’t want me to go” and holy crap we’re talking about fried chicken here. But here’s the thing: for me, it was a completely and utterly foreign experience to have someone who didn’t expect me to go take care of it myself.

I thought about that for days afterward. He went with me to get fried chicken! He helped me figure out what to order! He helped me carry it to the car! I didn’t have to do it all by myself!

And now it’d be totally weird if he sent me out for fried chicken on my own. I could do it, of course. I haven’t become dependent on him or anything. But I know he would go with me. I wouldn’t have to do it myself.

Last week we celebrated our first six months as a couple. He sent gorgeous flowers to me at work and we spent a little bit of time talking about how far we’d come and where we are heading.

We. We’re in it together.

In lots of ways, it is very new and novel and amazing for me to be part of a “we.” And I love it. Our relationship right now is so very balanced and healthy that it’s natural and effortless for us to be in this together. We go places together. We make decisions together. We deal with bad stuff together. We celebrate good stuff together. And I find the “we” creeping into the rest of my life in a way that feels absolutely right.

We’re into sushi and anime and video games.
We’re going to a party this weekend.
We’d like to travel to Japan someday.
We’ll get back to you on that.

And I’m still independent. I’m still capable and competent. I can still take perfectly good care of myself. But I don’t HAVE to do it all myself. He won’t leave me on my own. He won’t make me do it for him. He’ll go with me to get the fried chicken.

Of course he will.

6 Comments July 20, 2009

to sleep, perchance to dream a little less

Boy, am I having a strange year.

Several weeks ago, I found myself in my doctor’s office in tears, telling him that I Felt Like Crap. I didn’t have a much better way to describe it. I just Felt Like Crap, and I had been for months on end. I was exhausted, and my head hurt, and my sleep was terrible, and no matter how much I slept I wanted to sleep more, and I didn’t know if we needed to adjust my depression medication or what but seriously, I Felt Like Crap and I wanted to Not Feel Like Crap.

I think most of us deserve to spend most of our time Not Feeling Like Crap. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask, right?

For a seemingly healthy 29-year-old woman, I’ve had an awful lot of health problems over the last couple of years. I get sinus and ear infections so regularly that you can predict the weather by my ailments. Thinking that I was probably allergic to everything on earth, I had a full allergy testing panel, which revealed that of all the 90 million allergens in the world, I am sensitive to exactly three of them: ragweed, dust mites, and dogs. No tree pollens. No grass pollens. Oh, and by the way, they said, you also have asthma. You should probably carry this rescue inhaler so you don’t die. So I went through a hundred batteries of drug regimens to see what might improve my breathing, and settled on one that sort of did, and that was one thing. Well, two things. Oh, and there was this cyst on my hand that kept me from being able to do a whole hell of a lot of anything. So I had surgery on that. And then, of course, there was that whole depression thing.

The depression, of course, has been around for a while, and the thought that it might be time to tinker with meds was nearly enough to make me throw in the towel. I hate tinkering with meds. Tinkering with mood meds makes me feel like I’m trying to paint my house by randomly flinging pudding at it. But I Felt Like Crap. And so there I sat in June in the doctor’s office, and I asked my doctor if we were going to have to go through the meds thing again, and if by any chance there was a chance that I was just a nutjob hypochondriac, and if that was the case could we please just put me away in the loony bin and be done with it?

No, he said. I think you’re actually pretty stable, he said. (oh happy day!)
He said, You need a sleep study.

My doctor has sleep apnea. He’s had it for a long time. He talked to me about how many years, through college and medical school and residency and whatever, where he thought, “well of COURSE I’m exhausted, I’m in college/medical school/residency/whatever.” He told me about how he finally got his apnea diagnosis and began treatment, and he looked me right in the eye and told me that it literally changed his life. He said he thought we might be on to something here, finally, and that if this turned out to be the problem, treating it could actually improve or even solve a lot of the other problems I’d been having. So he signed me up for the sleep study, and I went.

It was totally weird. There were four other people with me, and they grouped us and walked us to the study area together, where we were offered a choice of caffeine-free drinks and had to watch a video. Of course I had researched apnea to death for weeks before the study, but watching the video was the first time I thought, “this sounds exactly like me.” I could have scripted the video. Then I went to my study room, got loaded up with head goop and electrodes, and put to bed. I’d never stayed overnight in a hospital before, so ringing the technician to help me go to the bathroom or get me another blanket was a totally new experience.

I spent the two weeks after the study alternately wishing I had apnea, and hoping I did not.

I’m lucky, I guess. I have it.

So next month I have another sleep study where they’ll determine the amount of air pressure I need to keep breathing through the night, and then I get a CPAP machine, and then, theoretically, I get the restful sleep that I may have been missing for years.

I worry because it’s all expensive and my medical bills are looking ridiculous right about now. I worry because it seems complicated and difficult to manage. I worry because how am I going to sleep snuggled around my Seth if I am wearing an elephant mask and sounding like Darth Vader? And I’m sad, a little, because the apnea sufferer I knew best was one Frank Lauro, and once again, still, for the rest of my life, he’s not around to give me his sage advice and reassure me.

But I’m hopeful, too. Maybe this will let me sleep through the night. Maybe this will force my dreams back a little to make room for the delta sleep I’m not getting. (Did you know that too many vivid dreams are a bad thing?) Maybe this will let me wake up feeling rested and ready to face the day. Maybe this will help me have the energy to focus on my job, on my health, on my relationships. Maybe this will let me function again.

Maybe. Maybe. We shall see.

6 Comments July 19, 2009

carry that weight

I knew I needed to write today, but I hadn’t written anything yet because I was having trouble deciding between two topics that seemed very different.

Today should have been Frank’s 39th birthday. It’s been a hard day, and I have been sad. With the exception of today, I haven’t cried much lately, but the weight of missing him seems to make my steps just a little slower, the effort of living my life just a little heavier. I guess over time I’ll get stronger, and the weight will be easier to carry. But some days it just feels unbearably heavy.

I was going to devote an entire post to Frank, but I was torn because some other things have been happening that are worth writing about, and I could not choose between them. In a weird way, I’m writing about both today.

This weekend I met Seth’s kids. They spent the entire weekend with us and so the four of us spent that time feeling out what I’ve been calling my practice family. We had a super time. We went to the playground, we blew bubbles, we ate too much junk food, we watched movies and TV, and we went roller skating. I used to live in roller skates, but it’s probably been 15 years or more since I skated. I still know how, but it was kind of frustrating that I’m in such lousy shape these days that skating wore me out quickly. Towing a flaily 4-year-old around the rink surely helped me tire out faster, but mostly it’s just that I’m lame and out of shape. It was okay, though, because we all had fun even if skating was a big fat fail.

It was nice, and strange at the same time. I realized that I know exactly how to do this mothering thing, that if I ever have kids of my own I’m going to be really good at it. I think that’s a combination of instinct, growing up the oldest of four girls, and watching my own mom’s phenomenal example over the years. Whatever it is, if I have the chance to bust it out full-time, I’m so on it. At the same time, I felt like an impostor the entire time, and was convinced that someone was going to bust me trying to be a fake mom to someone else’s kids and they’d drag me away to rot in fake mother prison.

There was something amazingly wonderful and right about what we were doing, about our little sunburns and our bubble-sticky hands, our sweaty roller-skate feet, our lazy Sunday morning with Spongebob and Lucky Charms. There was something joyful and giddy about giving a girl time to play laser tag with her dad, about hooking her up with a billion computer games and watching videos with her. There was something so peaceful and pure about dozing on the couch with a bath-fresh little girl sprawled on me, all arms and legs and sweet-smelling goodness. It was right. I was ready for it.

After we handed off the girls last night, Seth and I were walking back to my car in the cool fading light and we both realized that we felt lighter, almost more limber. Even though I ate junk food all weekend, even though I’ve been carrying this immense weight of sadness in my heart, I felt lighter last night. He thought it might be roller skating. I’m pretty sure it was the late spring sweetness of our time with his girls.

3 Comments May 11, 2009

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